Since launching this blog back in July, 2015, I’ve endeavored to include my original impressions of the fifty-year-old comics I’m revisiting here, as well as to present my current opinions on same, and, frequently, some historical material about the characters and creators involved. To accomplish the first part of that, I’ve obviously had to rely on memories of a half-century’s vintage. Those memories have been vague and incomplete, without question; still, I’ve generally assumed that what I have been able to remember, and include in my blog posts, has been, for the most part, recollected accurately.
Until this post, that is.
That’s because, if you’d asked me not too long ago how and when I first encountered the character of Deadman, I’d have told you that I first read about him in The Brave and the Bold #79 — the classic issue in which the then-new hero first teamed up with Batman. And that soon afterwards, I picked up the comic book that’s the subject of today’s post, Strange Adventures #212. I would even have told you that I remembered buying that particular issue on the way back from (or, possibly, on the way to) a swimming lesson.
The problem with that account of events, however, is that BatB #79 was published in June, 1968, a full three months after SA #212, which hit the stands in March. Which makes it unlikely that I could have found a copy of the latter book available for purchase after I’d bought and read the former. The convenience stores and other retail outlets from which my ten-year-old self was able to procure comic books rarely, if ever, kept a previous issue of a title on their spinner racks once a newer issue came out. And though Strange Adventures was, by this time, a bi-monthly series, issue #213 had been published in May — meaning it was roughly a month old by the earliest time I could have possibly bought BatB #79, and been influenced by it to give Deadman’s solo series a try. Even my memory’s very specific association of SA #212 with swimming lessons is suspect, since I took those lessons at an outdoor pool, and — even in the Southern city of Jackson, MS, where i grew up — I wouldn’t have been swimming outdoors in March.
So, what to think — and what to do, in regards to covering this comic book for the blog? While it’s certainly still possible that I scored a copy of SA #212 “new” off the stands three months after its release, especially if I got it from some retail outlet other than my usual comic book sources (which my memory suggests to me could be the case) — perhaps a grocery store or pharmacy that wasn’t as particular about refreshing their comic racks as the Tote-Sum or Short-Stop were — I have to acknowledge the possibility that, in this case at least, my memory may be (gulp) not entirely reliable. And, since I have a rule on this blog (self-imposed, I grant you, but still a rule) that I’ll only post about comics within a month of the 50th anniversary of their original publication, I’m going to go ahead and write about this book as though I bought it in March, 1968 — even though I still believe I may well have bought it in June or even July of that year (somehow).
But whatever the case, I’m still confident in making this next statement — which is that, regardless of what the first comic book I read about Deadman might have been, the first time I saw him was in this memorable house ad that appeared in DC’s comics circa August, 1967:
Just look at that great Carmine Infantino cover illustration — that great Ira Schnapp graphic design and typography — that great purple prose by… whomever (“The cold hand of fear rises to clutch your very heart in an eternity of chills!”)! I ask you, how could any self-respecting comic book fan resist picking up Strange Adventures #205?
Well, I can tell you how this particular fan managed to resist. My ten-year-old self almost certainly passed on the book because it looked too scary.
Yep, I’m not exactly proud to admit this — but in my youthful days, I was a bit of a wuss in regards to my tolerance for frightening content in my entertainment choices. I can recall having to leave the room when the Flying Monkeys came onscreen during one of the annual telecasts of The Wizard of Oz, back when I was a tyke; at age 5, I had to leave the theater during a showing of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, when a dragon showed up. By the time I started reading comic books, I was perhaps a bit less skittish, but I was still cautious — for example, I didn’t give Deadman’s fellow DC-superhero-who’s-the-ghost-of-a-murder-victim, the Spectre, a shot until after I’d already seen him in action in the “safe space” of a Justice League of America adventure. So I’m pretty sure that ten-year-old me took a look at this ad in August, 1967, and simply thought: “Pass”.
And so, I missed out on Deadman’s debut tale, “Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?”, written by Arnold Drake and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. Drake had come up with the basic character concept — Deadman is the unquiet spirit of a murdered circus aerialist, mystically empowered to seek out and take justice on his own killer — and successfully pitched it to the new editor of Strange Adventures, Jack Miller, as the basis for a new ongoing series in that long-running anthology title. Infantino had enhanced the new hero’s visual design and drew the first story, one of the veteran artist’s last interior art jobs before he moved into a new executive role at DC as the Art Director (and, not long after, the Editorial Director) for the publisher’s entire line.
By the time of Deadman’s second appearance, however, Drake had already left the series, apparently over creative differences (in fact he’d soon be jumping ship from DC completely, to go work for Marvel). Infantino stayed on, but only as a contributor to the story plotting and of cover layouts. The job of pencilling (and, after one issue, inking) the series went to a young artist Infantino recently had begun championing, Neal Adams, while the scripting was taken up by the book’s editor, Jack Miller.
By all accounts, over the next several months “Deadman” became a sensation — at least in the professional and fan communities. Readers wrote in with effusive praise, with future pro writer Marv Wolfman proclaiming in #209‘s letters column: “Never did I expect such an adult theme in a comic mag, and your handling of it was unbeatable.” As for current pros, well… in later years, Adams would remember Stan Lee approaching him the first time about coming to work for Marvel with the comment, “I’ll be honest with you. The only DC book the guys at Marvel are reading is Deadman.”
Such accolades didn’t translate into sales, unfortunately — Strange Adventures‘ publication schedule was downgraded from monthly to bi-monthly, even as the book essentially became a one-man-show for Adams. (Infantino’s contributions as plotter ceased after the first few stories, while Miller dropped out both as editor and writer after issue #211 — passing on the former duty to new DC arrival Dick Giordano, and the latter to none other than Adams himself.)
But, of course, none of that was known to my ten-year-old self at the time these books were coming out. All I knew about Deadman was what I could glean from DC’s “Direct Currents” columns promoting upcoming comics — and, of course, house ads* like this one:
I can recall that particular ad, for issue #211 (which, as already noted, happened to be the last scripted by Miller) as being particularly intriguing — though not quite intriguing enough for me to purchase the book. Still, it may have influenced my ultimate decision to pick us #212 (though I can’t say that for certain).
If I had read #211 when it came out (instead of a couple of decades later, when the story was reprinted), I’d have seen Deadman, aka Boston Brand, follow the trail of his killer, “the Hook” — so-called, because the fact that he has a metal hook in the place of one of his hands is the only thing we (or Deadman) know about him — to a Mexican town called El Campo, which lies just across the Rio Grande. There, he’s surprised to discover his estranged twin brother Cleveland**, who’s living there with his daughter and running a hotel — but is making most of his money on the side, smuggling migrant workers back and forth across the U.S. border at the behest of a crooked Texas rancher. Boston helps Cleve go straight, shuts down the criminal operation, and, along the way, satisfies himself that his brother had nothing to do with his own murder; though, by the end of the tale, he still hasn’t found the Hook.
But as I hadn’t purchased #211, I was pretty much at a loss when I opened the cover of my brand new copy of #212 — and entirely dependent on the new (and also uncredited) scripter, Neal Adams, to bring me up to speed…
… and, as it turned out, even though Adams didn’t tell me what exactly Boston and Cleve had been up to in El Campo, he did quite a creditable job in establishing all three of the pictured characters, and the relationships between them, through the captions and dialogue in this first-page splash. Which, when you get right down to it, is pretty much all I needed to know regarding the last issue to be able to follow the story in this one.
Some other basics — including our hero’s invisibility and intangibility — were made evident in the first panel of the next page, through a single, succinct visual of Deadman’s passing through a solid wall, with no attention whatsoever paid by his brother or niece:
As the story’s plot kicks into high gear on page 3, Adams shows us the last essential thing that a new reader needs to know about Deadman; namely, his primary superpower. Such useful attributes as invisibility, intangibility, and flight could be considered pretty much par for the course for any ghost — but Boston Brand also has the ability to enter, and control, a living person’s body:
Having gotten the information he wants, Deadman quickly exits his unknowing host’s body — but decides to re-enter when the suspicious local he’s just pumped for information decides to start a fight. This leads into a sequence that demonstrates how, throughout the run of the series, Adams and his collaborators could generally manage to include action in stories about a hero who can’t be seen or touched — because, although Boston is limited by the physical capabilities of the body his spirit is temporarily inhabiting, he’s still able to use his acrobatic skills, as well as the hand-to-hand fighting savvy picked up through all those years spent in the rough-and-tumble world of the circus.
A single one-on one match soon turns into a free-for-all, and the fact that Boston is “in the wrong body for this kind of stuff”, as he puts it, presents a bit of suspense — a device that Adams and company return to again and again in these stories, as a subtle means of creating dramatic tension.
As it turns out, however, the “little man” is ultimately up to the challenge, thanks to Boston’s prowess:
With that out of the way, Deadman flies back to the U.S., and to Hill’s Circus (and while we’re never told what his actual rate of speed is, one gets the impression it’s pretty damn fast).
In some ways, this return to the circus brings the story almost full circle, back to where it started. Arnold Drake’s origin tale had strongly implied that whoever killed Boston was probably associated with the circus; indeed, there were several employees who’d recently come into sharp conflict with the hard-bitten but honest aerialist (who, in addition to his trapeze duties, had also served as the right-hand man of the circus’ lovely young owner, Lorna Hill; predictably, a long-smoldering mutual romantic attraction between Lorna and Boston was strongly intimated), just prior to his untimely demise, Granted, the idea here is somewhat different — Cleve hopes that his pretending to be a miraculously-survived Boston will bring the killer out of hiding, as he returns to the circus to try to finish the job. (Of course, Boston’s Mexican intel, which he’s unfortunately unable to share with anyone, indicates that that is exactly what’s happening.) Still, that doesn’t mean there are no potential suspects left remaining at the circus itself.
Before Boston (or Cleve) have a chance to encounter any such suspects, however, they run into the circus’ “character analyst” (i.e., its fortune-teller) — the mysterious Vashnu:
As had been previously related in the very first Deadman tale, on the night that Boston Brand would be killed, Vashnu — whose name Arnold Drake almost certainly derived from that of the Hindu god Vishnu — had told the aerialist that he had been given a great destiny by the mystical entity Rama Kushna. Then, after Boston’s death, Rama Kushna — whose compound name was, again, apparently based on those of two Hindu deities, Rama and Krishna (themselves both avatars of Vishnu) — appeared to his ghost, and explained that he was being granted the opportunity, and the power, to avenge his own killing.
According to various accounts Drake gave in later years, the writer was hoping to tap into the new fascination with Eastern religious mysticism emerging in the West in the mid-to-late Sixties; just from the evidence of the stories, however, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to conclude he wasn’t terribly concerned with providing an authentic representation of Hindu religious ideas. Vashnu, in particular, is obviously a stereotype of an inscrutable Asian wise man; though it should be noted that, in the very next Deadman story after this one, Adams ameliorates this seeming cultural insensitivity at least somewhat, by introducing an Indian-American medical doctor into the storyline.
But getting back to our story… leaving Vashnu, Cleve and Boston proceed on the lion cages, and to one of those murder suspects I was telling you about earlier:
A-ha!!! Yeah, that does look pretty suspicious. On the other hand, Kleigman wasn’t yet the lion tamer at Hill’s at the time Boston was murdered, so… hmm….
On the next page, Cleveland tells Kleigman they’ll have this all out later, and then leaves — but watching him go is the circus’ strongman, “Tiny” — a seemingly simple-minded, but unquestionably big-hearted guy who’s tremendously loyal to Lorna Hill, as well as to the memory of Boston Brand:
It certainly looks like Cleve’s ruse has worked, as the Hook has indeed returned to the scene of his original crime. Well, a Hook, anyway.
In the next scene, a subtle difference in the coloring between Boston’s costume and Cleve’s is used effectively to help the reader more easily distinguish the two otherwise identical characters:
Things are looking bad for Cleve — but, luckily for him, his brother’s ghost immediately takes over his body, and begins using his own tremendous acrobatic skills to good effect.
And as this bravura action sequence continues, one good reason for the series’ creators to have introduced Cleveland Brand as a character, and then have him impersonate his dead brother, becomes evident — it allows Adams to portray our hero in physical action, while also in costume, for the first time:
Stunning an enraged lion with a single karate blow? I guess we’ll have to take your word for it, Neal.
While Deadman seeks Kleigman, the parade begins under the big top. (The show must go on, and all that, right?)
“Boston” lays into Kleigman, demanding to know why he killed the real Boston Brand all those months ago — but Kleigman protests, saying he’s not really the Hook at all:
Having felled both Kleigman and “Boston”, the Hook flees. The circus people and Deadman, responding to the sound of gunfire, arrive on the scene to find:
And with that somber, silent depiction of inarticulate anguish and rage, this chapter of Deadman’s saga comes to a grim, but memorable, close.
Issue #212 was the first issue of Strange Adventures that I ever bought; and, as things turned out it would also be the last (at least in terms of buying comics new off the stands). How come? Well, maybe because only 17 story pages of the issue were devoted to the headliner, Deadman (actually only 16, since both pages 8 and 17 were half-story, half-ads), while the remaining 7 1/2 were taken up by the tale heralded by the following splash page:
“The Man with the Op Art Eyes”, drawn by Lee Elias and scripted by some writer whose name has been lost to time, is the kind of low-key, competently crafted, contemporary science fiction tale whose like had filled the pages of Strange Adventures prior to Jack Miller’s taking over as editor from his predecessor, Jack Schiff. It’s entirely possible that the book’s regular readers considered its inclusion a step up from the issues that immediately preceded it, since the backups that Miller had been running since #205 had all been “Demand Classic” reprints, and “The Man with the Op Art Eyes” was at least new. But as far as my ten-year-old self was concerned, it was filler; and Strange Adventures, taken as a whole package, probably didn’t appear to be a good value for my twelve cents. Of course, from the perspective of fifty years later, even sixteen pages of prime Neal Adams material seems like a great bargain, especially when one considers that most comics publishers would be offering up only seventeen story pages per issue within less than a decade; but, of course, hindsight is always 20/20.
Perhaps I would have eventually picked up another issue of Strange Adventures, regardless of the uninteresting backups, had the “Deadman” series but lasted longer than it did; unfortunately, the character’s last appearance in the book came a mere four issues later. Issue #216 would, alas, mark the end of the original Deadman series — one of the landmark achievements in American comics in the late Sixties, by almost anyone’s critical reckoning.
Of course, the conclusion of his series was hardly the end of Deadman himself; the ghostly hero would, almost immediately, finish out his current storyline with another team-up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold, and from thence would go on to a five-decade career appearing in backup features, as a guest star or team member, and in the occasional miniseries. Speaking of which…
It would hardly be appropriate to post about Neal Adams’ first “Deadman” story as a writer and not mention the fact that DC is currently publishing a new 6-issue limited series that represents the first time that Adams has drawn and written the character since 1970. I’d like to be able to tell you more about that project, but in all honesty, I can’t — as I have yet to sample an issue. (I did sample an issue of Adams’ Batman: Odyssey a few years ago, you see, and I fear that pretty much put me off the artist-writer’s current output.) Maybe I’ll get around to reading it once the whole series has been published and collected in a single volume. In the meantime, if any of this blog’s readers have been following it, and would like to share your thoughts, please feel free to sound off in the comments section, below.
While I didn’t buy the issue following #212 off the stands, and thus didn’t learn the final fate of Tiny until years later (spoiler warning — he gets better!), I do have vivid memories of the dramatic full-page house ad that DC ran for SA #213 in its comics that went on sale in May, 1968:
The thing is… my memory of when I first saw this ad includes my ten-year-old self wondering, “Who’s Tiny?” (I mean, yeah, obviously he’s the big bald-headed guy lying prone in the center of the picture, but who is he to Deadman?) Which is not a question I should have been asking, if I’d already bought and read SA #212.
And thinking about it some more, when I go back and look at the penultimate page of “The Fatal Call of Vengeance” — the scene where the false “Boston” is unmasked as Tiny — I can vaguely remember reading that same page in 1968 and thinking, “Oh, so that’s why Deadman was telling Tiny not to die in that ad!”
The more I think about this whole business, the more certain I am that I did — somehow, someway — manage to score #212 new off the stands in the summer of 1968, three or more months after it had been published, and after I had already met Deadman in the pages of Brave and the Bold #79. Hmm. Maybe I should put this post aside until July or thereabouts, rather than publish it on March 10, as I’m currently planning…
I realize that this has already been a long post, but I’m not quite done with Strange Adventures #212. There’s one more thing I’d like us to take a look at, and it’s the book’s letters page:
Prior to this issue, only two letters pages had been run by editor Jack Miller in Strange Adventures since Deadman’s debut, appearing in issues #209 and #211, respectively. This third lettercol — the first with an official name of its own (and nicely decked out with a new header illustration by Neal Adams, besides) — was also the first for the book’s brand new editor, Dick Giordano.
Giordano was a new figure on the scene not only at Strange Adventures, but also at DC Comics as a whole. Having previously worked at Charlton Comics as an artist and, since 1965, the company’s Executive Editor, he was one of several artists brought on to the editorial staff at DC as part of an initiative by Carmine Infantino, following the latter’s move to an executive role in 1967. Traditionally, comic book editors had come from the ranks of writers; Infantino, however, thought that comics, as a visual medium, would benefit from having artists at the helm. Over the next couple of years, his vision would reshape much of DC’s line; and thus, Dick Giordano’s editorial debut at DC can be seen as a harbinger of the end of the Silver Age of Comics (or, if you prefer, of its transition into its latter phase).
The illustration of the editor shown at left (which I’d long assumed was a self-portrait, but which was in fact pencilled by Giordano’s fellow new artist-become-DC-editor, Joe Orlando, according to Giordano’s own account) didn’t appear in SA #212’s letters column (where it would have had to compete with Adams’ flashy new header), but did accompany the identical “Hey Friends” introductory blurbs that ran in the lettercols of Giordano’s other “first” issues published the same month (including that of Teen Titans #15, from which this image was scanned). That introduction, as simple as it was, was probably the most personal statement I’d yet seen from an editor at DC; and it was memorable enough to me at age 10 that this portrait is frequently still the first image that comes to mind when I read or hear Dick Giordano’s name.
It should also be noted that this issue of Strange Adventures marks the beginning of the professional relationship of Dick Giordano and Neal Adams — a relationship which would eventually lead to a business partnership (the Continuity Associates studio, founded in 1971), but even before that, to an extremely productive artistic collaboration, with Giordano becoming Adams’ regular inker on most of the former’s projects at DC — including widely celebrated work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Batman, and Detective. So, this issue is a harbinger of big things to come in that way, as well.
But getting back to the “Deadman’s Chest” letters page… in his first SA lettercol, Giordano offers some interesting remarks concerning the book’s frequency of publication, as well as the optimal length for “Deadman” stories — but the bulk of the space is given over to “news” about the lettercol-naming contest instituted by his editorial predecessor, Jack Miller; a contest in which the prize for both the winner and the first two runners-up was “a ‘liberal’ amount of Neal Adams artwork”. Read on its own, today, it’s an amusing account, with Giordano singing the outgoing editor’s praises in a humorously overstated way (“…a wonderful man!” “…generous to a fault!”) while also bemoaning the enormity of the task that Miller (with a “smug, almost [but not quite] gloating smile”) has bequeathed him. (It’s also likely to spur envious fantasies, or at least speculation, in the minds of fans both young and old. How much Neal Adams art was ultimately deemed to be a “liberal” amount, anyway? What pages did Sylvester Naliborski, Don Bain, and Robert Solomon actually receive? And do they still have any of them?)
Considering his length of service at DC Comics, information about Mr. Miller’s life and career isn’t as easy to come by as one might think; unlike many of DC’s editors of the Sixties, he doesn’t have his own entry in Wikipedia (at least, not as of this writing). About the best account I’ve found comes from Michael Eury’s book Hero-A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters, & Culture of the Swinging Sixties, published by TwoMorrows in 2017; the following passage comes from Eury’s discussion of a comic book series Miller conceived of and edited, but didn’t write, The Inferior Five:
His scripting credits for DC stretched back two decades, including Aquaman and Manhunter from Mars… Born Jacob Edward Miller, Jack had writing credits in other media including animation (The Mighty Hercules, The New Three Stooges), and took an editor’s chair at DC in 1964, chaperoning its romance line. Miller was sometimes blustery, with lavish tastes, sporting pricey suits personally tailored for him. After a couple of years of blue-penciling heart-jerkers… Miller added to his workload two new humor comics he developed, the Beatlemania-inspired Swing with Scooter…, which he co-edited and co-wrote with his assistant editor, Barbara Friedlander, and The Inferior Five. (A year later, Miller took over Strange Adventures…, and even later, he picked up from Robert Kanigher DC’s Metal Men and Wonder Woman books.)
Eury’s succinct overview of Miller’s career answers one question I had when I started my research for this blog post — when he departed from Strange Adventures, both as editor and as the writer of “Deadman”, where did he go? But since its focus is on Miller’s involvement with Inferior Five, it doesn’t go into details about how Miller’s career at DC ended, or what became of him after that.
To put it simply: In late 1968, Miller was fired. Less than two years later, as of January 9, 1970, he was dead.
To put it less simply makes for a longer tale, which one is required to assemble from multiple sources. To begin with: In 1968, two young comics pros named Len Wein and Marv Wolfman — the latter of whom, you’ll recall, had a “Deadman” fan letter published by Jack Miller in 1967 — who had just recently broken into the business as writers for DC, suddenly found themselves blackballed from the company over suspicions that they had stolen original art from DC’s offices. As Wein remembered years afterward in an interview for Comic Book Artist, : “A bunch of original artwork, back when they started to realize it had value, disappeared from the office over a short period of time. And since we were the only kids there — everyone else had been there for many years — it was assumed that we had stolen the stuff.” In his own interview for CBA, published in the same issue as Wein’s (#5), Wolfman added the detail that the work that was stolen from the DC library included bound volumes of old comics, as well as original art.
Later, as Wein recalled, DC “discovered that the person who had actually stolen the artwork… was one of their old editors of many, many years, who was selling the artwork to keep up payments to his mistress.” According to Wolfman, the truth came to light when comic book dealer Phil Seuling reported to DC that one of their editors had offered him the illicit goods, which he’d stolen because he “because he needed to raise money for hospital treatments”. In a later interview with Alter Ego, Wolfman elaborated on this statement, saying that the guilty party was a DC editor “who had cancer and needed money for health reasons who’d been taking the art [as well as] bound volumes and selling them to pay for chemo.”
As most of my readers will know, both Wein and Wolfman went back to work for DC Comics once the truth came out, and both would ultimately enjoy considerable success at the company, with titles like Swamp Thing (for Wein) and The New Teen Titans (for Wolfman). And perhaps it’s because things ended up working out as well as they did that neither man was inclined to name the guilty editor in their interviews — though, as it turned out, two other individuals working at DC at the time were less circumspect. Dick Giordano, when asked in an interview for the first issue of Comic Book Artist what happened to Jack Miller, replied simply, “He was accused of stealing stuff from the library and was fired…” Carmine Infantino, in an interview published in Jim Amash and Eric Nolen-Wethington’s Carmine Infantino: Penciler, Publisher, Provocateur (TwoMorrows, 2010), was even more blunt, and also provided more details of the matter than anyone else has to date:
…He [Miller] was stealing stuff all over the place — artwork and books… I wasn’t totally fond of him. He showboated a lot. He was having an affair with his assistant. He used to go have lunch with her all the time, and he’d write these stupid romance stories. He held the department in his hat, you know what I mean? But he ran out of money, because he’d taken her to lunch and dinner, lunch and dinner. He didn’t make that kind of salary, so he had to steal…
Phil [Seuling] came to me and said Miller offered him the first couple editions of Superman from the office. He said, “Carmine, I’ve got a problem here.” I said, “What did you do?” He said, “I bought them.” I said, “You bring them right back. Whatever you paid, I’ll give you.” I saw the old man [DC President Jack Liebowitz]. “Jack, we’ve got a problem,” and he went through the roof. “Get that S.O.B. out of here. Get him out of here now.” And we had to get rid of him. I had to do it. He knew they’d caught up to him. I discovered later he was dying.
Infantino’s description of Miller’s attitude and conduct is certainly unflattering, even damning; but it should be placed against the words of Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, who both deigned not to out Miller as the thief whose acts caused them to be temporarily blacklisted, and who called him both “a good man” (Wolfman, referring to the thief) and “a very dear man… a very talented man. An old gentleman…” (Wein, speaking of Miller in a more general context). I’d also take Dick Giordano’s warm words from the Strange Adventures #212 letters column into consideration; sure, they’ve obviously been exaggerated for comic effect, but to my eye, at least, they still seem to suggest genuine affection.
Was Jack Miller a high-living dandy who stole for the sake of a romantic relationship with a subordinate in the office? Or was he a desperately ill man driven to steal to pay for the medical services he hoped would keep him alive? Or was he both? At this late date — with Jack Miller dead and gone for almost five decades, and most of the other people with first-hand knowledge of the matter — including Infantino, Giordano, Wein, Liebowitz, and Seuling — having since passed on as well, we may never know for sure. In any case, the notion of Miller sorting through, and then selecting, a “liberal” amount of original Neal Adams artwork as a reward for a fan — as described in Dick Giordano’s inaugural “Deadman’s Chest” lettercol — can hardly be read by anyone familiar with Miller’s latter career without a sense of sad irony.
I’m ending this post on a more downbeat note than usual, I know; and if I’ve temporarily dulled your comics fan buzz, I apologize. But I think that it’s important to remember that the four-color fantasies we cherish have real, and messy, human lives behind them. And in real life, sometimes the good guys win, while other times, they don’t; and sometimes, you don’t even know who the good guys are. Even so, to quote Linda Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: Attention must be paid.
All comics panels appearing below the portrait of Dick Giordano are from “How To Make A Bomb!” in Inferior Five #6. Words by E. Nelson Bridwell, pencils by Mike Sekowsky, and inks by Mike Esposito.
*Later house ads were at least less misleading than the one for issue #205 — which, for all its graphic and literary wonderfulness, sold the first appearance of Deadman as a spooky creepfest, rather than as the relatively realistic crime drama (with supernatural elements) that it turned out to be.
**Yes, a real twin brother — unlike the situation discussed in last week’s post.