Archive for May 16th, 2012

Take something you love, tell people about it, bring together people who share your love, and help make it better.  Ultimately, you’ll have more of whatever you love for yourself and the world.  –  Julius Schwartz

A few days before writing this I had a dream in which I was Hawkgirl, probably because we’ve been rewatching the Justice League animated series.  And though she’s a bit different in the show than in Silver Age comics (in the show she’s single, more belligerent and naturally winged) the dream still made me think of my column of one year ago today, in which I discussed my love for her and two other comic-book heroines, Wonder Woman and Alanna of Ranagar.  As I stated in that column, all three ladies…

…shared something…in common; they…appeared in titles edited by the late, great Julius Schwartz, father of the Silver Age of comics…Schwartz loved strong women and was a supporter of women’s rights at least since the 1940s, and most of the ladies (whether heroine, love-interest or villainess) who appeared in the titles he helmed were interesting, well-developed characters who stood out in sharp relief against the flat, stereotyped females who appeared in most other comics of the time (such as the rightfully-mocked Silver Age depiction of Superman’s girl friend Lois Lane, whose life was entirely dominated by schemes to trick the Man of Steel into proposing to her).

The job of a comic book editor is to coordinate the efforts of artist and writer, to set standards for his titles and to reject work which falls beneath that standard; he has to set a tone and ensure that it is maintained, and to help plan the “big picture”, the framework into which stories in that comic are expected to fit.  So even though the typical editor neither writes nor draws comics (though there are notable exceptions), no other single person is more to thank if a title is good and to blame if it’s bad.  Schwartz produced the best comics of the 1950s and early 1960s, bar none; he was a wizard at inspiring his people to superior work, and could steer a course through stormy waters where lesser men foundered.  In 1964 two of DC’s most important titles, Detective Comics (for which the company was named) and Batman, were failing due to years of mismanagement by veteran editor Jack Schiff; the company did not want to fire him but the Caped Crusader had to be saved.  So Schwartz was offered the helm of the two Batman titles…on condition that he give Schiff his two best-selling science fantasy comics, Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space (the title featuring Adam Strange, whom I discussed last time).  Schwartz accepted the deal, and Batman and Detective soon soared in quality and popularity; Mystery in Space was cancelled two years later, and Strange Adventures limped on until it was rescued by another editor in 1967.  Schwartz then went on to revive the various Superman titles in 1971 and Wonder Woman in 1974.

One of the most important elements of Schwartz’ managerial style was concentration on characterization.  Though the restrictive “Comics Code” foisted on the industry after the Kefauver Hearings in 1954 tied creators’ hands in many ways, nobody was to blame for flat, static characterizations but the creators themselves, and Schwartz insisted on a higher standard.  You can see an example of it in the story “Earth Victory – By a Hair!” which I introduced in “My Favorite Authors”; though the characters are necessarily simple (it’s only an eight-page comic story, which doesn’t leave much room), they are comparatively round and “The Wrecker” grows beyond his initially sexist attitude toward the strong female lead.  Such competent, interesting female characters are quite common in Schwartz’s titles, and today I’d like to tell you about two others, one created by Gardner Fox and the other by John Broome, the two writers most closely associated with Schwartz.

The first, Zatanna the Magician, was the dedicated and courageous daughter of the crime-fighting Golden Age magician Zatara, who had mysteriously vanished.  She was working to find him, and her quest intersected the paths of virtually every hero whose adventures were edited by Schwartz, starting with Hawkman and Hawkgirl and ending with the entire Justice League.  This clever stratagem allowed Schwartz to tie his various titles together (an unusual idea at that time), and to present a new character without a magazine of her own in a multi-part story which made her popular enough to eventually gain her own strip (a back-feature in Supergirl’s title during the early ‘70s).  I first encountered her in mid-‘70s reprints, and like many other readers I was enchanted by the sweet, vulnerable but plucky young sorceress, who later grew into one of the most powerful characters in the DC universe.

The other, Katma Tui, was originally intended as a one-shot character in Green Lantern.  For those unfamiliar with the mythos, I’ll explain that Earth’s Green Lantern is only the local representative of the Green Lantern Corps, a sort of cosmic order of knighthood dedicated to justice and presided over by the mysterious Guardians.  From time to time our hero encounters other alien Green Lanterns, and in issue #30 he was sent to dissuade a promising young Lantern who had decided to resign.  But the Guardians, who are obviously less sexist than Terrans of the 1960s, neglected to tell him that this other Green Lantern was female…because they simply didn’t consider it an important detail.  Our GL succeeded in his mission, Katma stayed in the Corps, and the readers demanded to see more of her; she eventually became the most popular guest star in the series.

Both of these ladies, like those I discussed last year, showed my young and impressionable self that a woman could be tough, resourceful, intelligent and powerful, yet still be beautiful, graceful and wholly feminine.  And since all of them were to a large degree shaped by Julius Schwartz, one might say that, ironically, one of the first people who taught me about female power and self-esteem was a man.  Of course, as a child I didn’t really think about that; young girls see female characters as women rather than as the fictional constructions of men.  I don’t know what sort of negative garbage most neofeminists read that convinces them that most men prefer weak, stupid, useless sex dolls; Julius Schwartz and his crew taught me that men of quality like strong, resourceful women with minds of their own.  And you know what?  They were right.

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