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Bridwell Appreciation Day

Seeing as how we recently had a mention of Superman’s 70th birthday, at least as defined by E. Nelson Bridwell, I thought it might be nice to talk a little bit about the man himself — Bridwell, that is, not Superman.

The man himself.

For those of us that grew up reading DC Comics in the 60’s and 70’s, Mr. Bridwell really was an enormous influence, though you might not know it from just looking at his credits.

Although his credits are remarkable. He wrote extensively for Warren and for Mad Magazine (ever hear the punchline, “What you mean, WE, white man?” That’s Bridwell’s, from Mad‘s “Lone Stranger.”) He created several properties for DC that are still being used today, though other hands have altered them to the point where Bridwell himself might not recognize them.

Not nearly the sexpot she'd become in later years.

The Legion’s White Witch has been through quite a few transformations since this first one, but she began as a Bridwell original.

Likewise, Beatriz DaCosta has gone through a number of looks and characterizations since her first appearance in Super Friends as one of the Global Guardians… but she’s one of Nelson’s too, along with her gal pal Ice who premiered in the same venue.

Say hello to Beatriz DaCosta. The original... Tora's actually Icemaiden II, for those keeping score.

And as long as we’re on the subject, Bridwell’s scripting over Ramona Fradon’s art was just about the only iteration of the Super Friends I could stand. Even when I was a kid I could never stomach the cartoon. But there was a goofy charm about the comics.

Pretty much the only incarnation of the Super Friends I could stand.

Bridwell was generally the go-to guy throughout the 60’s and 70’s for thankless assignments like that; the non-glamor, non-fan-favorite stuff. It’s to his credit that he did so well with all those countless 8-page backup stories and text pages and 2-page filler features.

Which is not to say that he couldn’t kick ass when he was given the chance. Most of us that were reading DC in the late 60’s have very fond memories of The Secret Six, one of the smartest and coolest strips to exploit the then-current superspy craze. And it was completely original to comics, which is probably the reason it failed.

The coolest spy book anyone did till Queen and Country.

I’ve often thought this would have made a killer movie or TV show. Such a great premise — the idea that one of the Six really is their anonymous leader Mockingbird is a hook that’s irresistible.

This was one of the best spy series ever done. Pasko and Spiegle's revival of it was pretty good too.

I even enjoyed the followup-sequel-conclusion in Action Comics Weekly twenty-some years later by Martin Pasko and Dan Spiegle.

This actually revealed the identity of the original Mockingbird, but you won't hear it from me.

C’mon, DC, it’s a Showcase waiting to happen. Since you’ve finally gotten around to reprinting the Diana Prince/I-Ching years of Wonder Woman, this is the other ultracool series we really want to see a collection of. I’m begging here.

Despite my helpless adoration of the Six, though, objectively I have to admit that where Bridwell the DC writer did his best work was in humor. There are two series that are very fondly remembered by fans to this day, though for whatever reason they never seem to get reprinted.

Our own Bill Reed mentions Angel and the Ape as a Reason To Love Comics, and I absolutely agree.

When Bridwell and Oksner were on, there was no one to touch them.

With an ex-Madman like Bridwell scripting it and the wonderful Bob Oksner on art, you really can’t lose.

This was a delightful book.

This was just a fun, fun book. So of course it didn’t last.

Neither did Bridwell’s other fun book, which Bill didn’t get to — I choose to think it will get slotted in one of the blank spots in the 365 Days Archive if one of us ever gets around to writing it up. Because certainly The Inferior Five is also a reason to love comics.

Probably not Bridwell's most famous creation, but his most beloved by fans.

There have been many super-hero parodies before and since, but there was something so adorable about this one… even though it got laughs, there was an endearing innocence about the Five, as well.

Probably Bridwell's most fondly-remembered creation.

Everything Bridwell wrote had that charm, actually. The gentleness and warmth of the man shone through in whatever he was working on.

(Incidentally, in case anyone at DC is thinking of reviving the Inferior Five, my pal Jim MacQuarrie has a great idea for it…)

I would SO buy this.

Hey, I’d buy it. In a heartbeat. If ever something deserved to be parodied…

*

Despite his delightful humor comics, though, Bridwell’s lasting impact at DC was in a completely different area.

Bridwell's real gift: his amazing command of DC lore.

Where Bridwell shone at DC, and where editors used him most, was as an archivist. He served as a combination of librarian and archaeology professor, putting together the reprint collections that educated so many of us in the history of the DC universe.

This was where Bridwell really made his mark on so many of us.

Even in the DC offices, Bridwell was a human index, the person that always knew whatever arcane piece of DC lore that was needed. What exactly did Jewel Kryptonite do to Superman? Was Jim Harper a patrolman or a captain? What the hell was the last name of that kid “Stuff” that used to pal around with the Vigilante? Bridwell would know it and, sometimes, when DC was doing new stories in the front of the books and reprints in the back, he’d line up a relevant reprint to go with the new story.

Bridwell often wrote the second features, text pages, and so on as well as being the de facto reprint editor.

His finest hour as an editor came in the 70’s, with the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars. Those were an education in themselves.

These were really the books that served as my education in DC history.

Check out that magnificent wraparound cover… and on the inside, Bridwell would give you a KEY.

THIS is why we adored Bridwell. It wasn't just commissioning the cover... he'd write a key for it too.

I’m not going to try and reproduce the micro-text underneath that key here, so you’ll just have to trust me, it’s accurate and they’re all there. First time I ever learned there were two different versions of the Red Tornado was from one of these carefully annotated Bridwell commissions. This was also where I finally was able to get a definitive roster of both the Legion and even of their Super-Pets.

Artists must have hated Bridwell commissions. Maybe they took it as a challenge.

Which, granted, is probably kind of a goofy thing to wonder about. But Bridwell knew there were those of us out there who would look at those covers and want to know who was who.

Bridwell’s eidetic memory was also useful in putting together and introducing DC’s hardcover “30’s to the 70’s” collections.

A great many of us learned our DC history right here.

There were three of these books and I think they were treasured by every comics fan who discovered the wonders of the 740’s Dewey Decimal classification at the public library.

The introductions were as informative as the reprints themselves.

Certainly I checked the Batman one out a number of times… and by “a number,” I mean “hundreds,” until finally I bought one of my own in college.

And it’s a damned crime that THIS one is out of print.

DC really, REALLY needs to bring this back into print.

You can find the Superman and Batman ones relatively easily from a number of secondhand dealers… but boy, the Captain Marvel one’s hard to come by.

Not only did Bridwell choose the reprints but he wrote all sorts of introductions and in-between comments and things. I think my favorite of all the hardcover collections he put together for DC is this one, here.

Bridwell's finest hour as an archivist.

The Great Superman Comic Book Collection really IS great, with a nice mix of classics and newer material. Much, MUCH better than the later Greatest Stories Ever Told collections, even with all the vaunted editorial debate and voting that went on for those later books. Personally, at least for the Superman Greatest Stories book I think DC could have tacked on Alan Moore’s “For The Man Who Has Everything” and maybe something from John Byrne to the end of this collection, commissioned a new cover, and called it done.

*

There is damnably little written about E. Nelson Bridwell, the man. All I can find is that he was born in 1931; he was fearsomely intelligent and well-read about everything, not just comics; and he was from Oklahoma and was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame in 2005.

And finally, he was universally beloved by everyone in comics who knew him, fans and professionals both. That’s what comes up over and over in all the different memorials and obituaries written about him when he passed away in the late eighties. “He was a great guy… who knew everything.”

As for his legacy, well, Bridwell was a fine writer and his work retains its charm even after several decades. That’s worth a writeup all on its own. But there are writers and artists that have had more individual impact on DC comics.

However, as an editor, and especially as an editor responsible for shaping the look and the lore of the company’s entire line, not to mention working on all its book projects and promotional giveaways — which is to say, the face DC presented to the wider world — I think Bridwell is second only to Julius Schwartz in creating what we think of today as the DCU.

Certainly he was the guy that was probably more responsible for my becoming a comics fan than anyone else. It may have been Adam West and Filmation Studios that got me interested in comics… but it was E. Nelson Bridwell and his magnificent 80-Page Giants that got me hooked on them.

Where it all began... How awesome would this be for a kid wanting to know about Batman?

So you can blame him, everybody.

Thanks, Nelson. You’re still missed.

See you next week.

22 Comments

Bridwell is definitely an unsung hero of comics. Kudos for giving him some recognition.

I have a reprint of the DC 100 Pages Super Spectacular #1 from a couple of years ago. I’m not sure if it is a reprint, but the issue used exactly the same wraparound cover and key of characters inside. It collects reprints of Golden Age and Silver Age stories. Including the first ever Crisis and meeting between the JLA and the JSA.

I knew all of this and it was still great to see it all laid out like this! The only thing I might add was that Nelson did all this in spite of being burdened with a debilitating disease (the exact nature of which I forget right now).

Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s was one of my favourites as a kid – I recently bought it again on e-bay. Bring back Ace the Bat-hound!

Nice piece, Greg. Bridwell is important. I loved those hardcover books as a kid- was finally able to get a used copy of the Superman:30s-70s book a few years back. I really wish they’d reprint the SHAZAM one.

I think it was too bad that he wasn’t able to write for the Superfriends cartoon as his comics based on the show were excellent and really showcased the DC universe.

Nice tribute to ENB, Greg. I just wanted to mention two more key credits:

Bridwell was the only writer at DC in the ’70s who actually understood the fundamental appeal of the Marvel Family and could download it (so to speak) onto the comics page. His long run on Shazam!, both in its own title and in its berth in World’s Finest, managed to respect the Fawcett material while updating it to contemporary storytelling standards, a feat no one else (except, arguably, Jeff Smith) has ever repeated.

He also made several important contributions to Earth-Two lore during his tenure as scripter of the “Mr. & Mrs. Superman” series in Superman Family. Few people realize it was Bridwell, not Roy Thomas, who brought the Man of Tomorrow’s first recurring foe, the Ultra-Humanite, back from Golden Age obscurity.

I, on the other hand, have never read his Super Friends run, an oversight I hope to rectify sometime this year.

Nice tribute. I, too, was hooked on comics because of the DC 80-Page Giants. And as a MAD fan and a DC fan, it was nice to spot a familiar name and style floating between the two.

Why are the Super Friends fighting the Village People?

Why are the Super Friends fighting the Village People?

That joke might’ve worked better had there been any Village People counterparts besides “Indian Chief” anywhere on that cover.

Oh, whoops, I forgot the cowboy Village Person. That still leaves you four short for your gag, and with added trouble of having to figure out how “spaceman,” “knight,” and “pirate” don’t scupper the bit.

Man, I was weaned by those awesome Superman/Batman 30s to 70s collections, fantastic stuff. I actually saw the Shazam one several years ago for like $30 in a bookstore and for some absolutely insane reason didn’t get it… and will never see it again. Argh.

Those Batman and Superman “30s to the 70s” collections were a wonderful thing, I must have taken them out of the library several dozen times each as a kid. They were great for giving me a crash course in the characters different eras.
Funny thing, I remember that the stories with the 50s Batwoman were in black and white and assumed her outfit was black or gray, and I was kind of shocked when I finally saw the bright colors of her costume something like twenty-five years later.

I always dug Kurt Busiek’s sly tribute to the man in Astro City, where the alien advance scout who’s been cataloguing minutiae about all the superpeople uses the alias “Mr. Bridwell” and represents the Enelsian empire.

John Trumbull

March 8, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Enelsian. God, after 13 years, I JUST got that.

You’re not the only one who just got the “Enelsian” thing John… Thanks for the light Omar!

What a nice tribute to E. Nelson Bridwell!
His contribution needs to be recognized.
While he was alive and working at DC, I get the impression that Bridwell work/importance was always taken for granted.

The saddest thing about E.N.B. as that he had to suffer many years as Mort Weisinger’s assistant. Weisinger was litteraly a tyrant with the people who worked under him. Mort could really be just plain mean. Just ask Roy Thomas who couldn’t last even 2 weeks with him. Since Weisenger’s often stole ideas and took credit away from his writers, I can’t help but wonder if some of Weisenger’s “great contributions” to the Superman mythology really came out of Bridwell’s brilliant mind…?

I remember fondly all those giant 100-pagers and 80- pagers, but I think what I remember most about E.N.B. was his letter pages (another thankless job) in the Superman titles of the Bronze Age. Not only was he informative, but was very patient even with those with negative comments.

His contribution to DC great Silver Age and Bronze Age must not be forgotten.

Oups!
Forgot to add my vote for a SECRET SIX book.
I never read the original run, but heard only good things about it. I don’t even remember ever seeing any reprints of the original series.

But I’ve read and appreciated the Pasko/Spiegle series from the ACTION COMICS WEEKLY run. I sensed a great respect for the original run from Pasko.

I would prefer a Archive edition of the series over a Showcase one (would there be even enough material for a Showcase edition?)

The saddest thing about E.N.B. as that he had to suffer many years as Mort Weisinger’s assistant.

in Comics: Between the Panels, Curt Swan is quoted saying that Bridwell had a wonderful relationship with Weisinger because Weisinger found him so easy to manipulate.

(Bridwell is also described in the same article as “a nudist,” which i always thought was a strange thing to mention… anybody know anything about that?)

secret six was a good comic, and if that was all ENB contributed, he would still be worthy of tribute. Do a secret six showcase, DC.

And thanks for the tribute to a big part of why DC was fun in my childhood. I never realised how much ENB was involved at DC. Al ot of my faves are listed here. The group covers with the keys were awesome.

[…] Comics Should Be Good at Comic Book Resources has a column up in appreciation of DC Comics writer and editor E. Nelson Bridwell, born in Sapulpa in 1931.   He was an inductee into the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame in 2005. […]

I’ve read that Weisinger actually fired Bridwell in order to hire Roy Thomas, and then re-hired Bridwell when Roy left. It’s interesting to speculate about what might have happened if Roy had stayed at DC and Stan Lee had hired Bridwell.

my mom got me shazam from the 40s to the 70s when i was 11.yrs later it was stolen.in 06 i found a copy on line from a calif,book dealer.it was in great shape and for 115.00 i couldnt pass it up.alot of wonderfull storys and art from the early yrs.while not the one my late mom got me(i realy wish i still had it,miss u mom)i still am glad to have a copy of my favorite childhood book.SHAZAM!!!!

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