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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, February 9, 2017

SIMON SESSION

     


As I’m going to be devoting some essays to a Joe Simon creation—though not in a review per se—I decided to devote some space to Simon's career.

In this essay I argued that it’s hard to assess the authorship of anything Jack Kirby “wrote” in his two long-term collaborations with, respectively, Joe Simon and Stan Lee. But at least with Kirby, he was solely responsible for both art and script on a assortment of later works, and a critic can examine said works to garner some idea of Kirby’s creative tendencies. And though Lee never drew any of his comics-work, one can also gain some idea of his creative propensities from those works in which the artists largely followed his scripts without much personal input.

Following the dissolution of Joe Simon’s partnership with Kirby, though, almost nothing Simon authored has accrued a fan-base. I’ve argued that he may have provided “quality control” for Jack Kirby, whose wild creativity sometimes resulted in incoherent narratives. However, very little of the material Simon authored without Kirby shows even modest creativity.

I confess that I’ve no personal acquaintance with Simon’s work on SICK MAGAZINE in the 1960s—and I’ve the impression that few fans from the period paid close attention to what seemed like just another MAD imitator. The most one can say is that it must have had something going for it to have lasted as long as it did.

Considerably less successful was the superhero line Simon engineered for Harvey Comics in the mid-1960s. Most if not all of the features edited, and sometimes written, by Simon have a tedious, gimmicky quality to them. Some fans have speculated that the line only came out because someone at Harvey knew about ABC-TV’s impending adaptation of the Batman franchise. Most of the Harvey superheroes have a constipated 1950s look to them, and even the most formulaic of Jack Kirby’s DC work, during the actual 1950s, looks good by comparison.




Discounting the last collaboration of Simon and Kirby on DC’s 1970s SANDMAN title—which indirectly gave birth to the franchise associated with Neil Gaiman—only the two-issue wonder BROTHER POWER—THE GEEK seems to have earned a modest following in fandom.

I did not read BROTHER POWER back in the day, and what little I initially heard about it made it sound like another misguided attempt by way-over-30 comics-makers to appeal to young readers by trying to sound “hip.” Moreover, the covers of the two issues were both unusually dark and suggestive of horrific interiors. In actuality, the interiors, drawn by Simon’s SICK collaborator Al Bare, would have been better represented by covers depicting antic humor.



To this date, I have not read the second BROTHER POWER issue, and don’t have the first one close to hand. I recall a few interesting mythopoeic touches in the first issue, though. One is the protagonist’s origin. He—or rather, it-- starts out as a tailor’s dummy. A bolt of lightning brings the dummy to life in the tradition of the cinematic creation of the Frankenstein Monster, and upon gaining sentience the dummy acts much like the movie-monster: perpetually baffled by the customs and contrivances of humankind. The now-living dummy is adopted by a handful of lovably goofy hippies, who give him clothes and face-painting to make him one of them.

They also give him a name with a certain mythic resonance: Brother Power. Simon was certainly exposed to the catchphrase most often associated with hippie culture: that of “flower power.” The idea was slightly oxymoronic in that the hippies knew that flowers had no power as such: that they could only seduce people away from the paths of militancy and violence by inculcating a love of beauty and fellowship. Simon may have concocted the name “Brother Power” out of a partial understanding of this ideal, for the hippie-hero—never a superhero in the accepted sense of the word—tended to use his ill-defined powers mostly in a defensive manner.



Finally, in his initial outing Brother Power is called a “geek” by someone or other; hence the additional name in the comic book’s title. Originally Simon had wanted the character to be addressed as a “freak,” because he apparently realized that this was an early instance of insult-reclamation. Squares called hippies “freaks,” and the hippies reclaimed the epithet to connote their ingroup’s specialness, as seen in Gilbert Shelton’s FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS. The story goes that DC was afraid that the word “freak” would suggest the drug-culture to readers, even though drugs are not even referenced in the initial issue. Thus Simon was obliged to substitute the sound-alike “geek,” simply because it too could be used as a term of opprobrium. 

Simon completed a third issue of the comic book before the DC hierarchy shut the magazine down, but that issue remains inaccessible to most fans. The second issue ended with Brother Power being trapped inside a space-rocket and launched away from Earth by Ronald Reagan himself, who at the time had become a conservative icon during his stint as the governor of California.  

 And that is the point from which Neil Gaiman started, when he briefly brought the Geek back into the hallowed halls of DC.

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