Thursday, December 15, 2011

Remembering Joe Simon; and his first superhero.

 What a sad month December is turning out to be. Today, yet another comic book legend has been lost: Joe Simon; one of the true giants of the Golden Age, has passed away. While his own artwork was rough and frequently unfinished looking, his storytelling abilities and sense of design helped to anchor a young Jack Kirby’s work, and the two became one of the most successful teams during the 40s (when they weren’t being screwed over by publishers, that is!).
Most famously of course, he created Captain America.
 Simon was also the first editor Marvel Comics (then known as Timely) ever had. It was there that he created his first superhero; The Fiery Mask. Let’s take a look at the character, shall we?
 Here’s his first appearance from Daring Mystery Comics #1, as reprinted in The Golden Age of Marvel Comics Vol. 2. Sorry about the blurry scans and not being able to post the whole thing, but I spent a long time tracking this volume down and I didn’t want to damage it any more than necessary. All © Marvel.
 We begin with Dr. Jack Castle, a forensic investigator (15 years before Barry Allen) who is called on by the police to investigate mysterious deaths of people who had previously been reported missing, where the victims inexplicably come back to life with homicidal impulses, ranting about “the master” (no, not that one).
 Jack decides to investigate the bowery since a large number of the victims were homeless. Note how much effort Simon put into this panel. Clearly he was drawing on memories of his own youth in such areas. Both Simon & Kirby would create series about the lives of kids in the slums, notably the Newsboy Legion.
 Jack gets a hunch that whoever is responsible for the zombies has been using a great deal of electricity. He asks the PG&E people for records, and decides to investigate one house which has racked up a huge electrical bill. His hunch is right; the person who greets him is a walking corpse! The zombie then pulls a gun on him and leads him through the secret passageways beneath the deceptively small house.
 Several people are being kept prisoners, including a beautiful girl who has been able to resist the experiments, and who is kept in a glass case (a visual borrowed from the 1934 film The Black Cat, perhaps?). She briefly makes eye contact with Jack.
But women in cases aren’t the only wonders within the caverns. There are also giant buzzards!
 Jack then meets the Master; an 8 foot tall bearded man with yellowish-green skin. His motivation for making people into zombies?
Oh, it was society’s fault!
Jack tries to reason with the Master, but is instead strapped to a table and bathed in the light of the zombie ray, where he then makes the funniest wisecrack in superhero history:
 Get it? “Roses are red, violets are blue, I think you’re screwy, sho’nuff?” Ha Ha Ha Ha. ;_;
Because Jack is skilled in hypnotism, he is able to resist the ray’s power. The Master continues to apply power until the machine overloads and explodes. Jack escapes with only his clothes in rags, suffused with a strange energy.
 He then finds he has super-strength and gives the Master what-for.
He also super-breath, which he uses to, well, see for yourself:
 Jack and the girl escape the burning house and he returns her to her home.
 After a talk with his police captain friend, he decides to go into the superhero business as---The Fiery Mask!
 Yeah, it’s a silly story, more reminiscent of a Hugh B. Cave pulp horror story or a Republic serial than anything else, but Simon’s artwork shows hints of greatness. The Fiery Mask also deserves props for being the first Marvel superhero to gain his powers from radiation; something which would become rather common for most Marvel heroes.
 The Fiery Mask had only a few more adventures after that (including J. Michael Stracynszki’s The Twelve), most infamously one where he battled a demonic baby:
Still, he was the first superhero created by Joe Simon, and that’s enough to make him a character worthy of revival in my book.

RIP Joe Simon. Whether you were drawing radioactive forensic investigators blowing buzzards around or revolutionizing comic art with Jack Kirby, you were a legend.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting FIERY MASK. I've read the reprint, but you selected the high points.

    LOL: "it's all society's fault!"

    Timely Comics may've been, pound for pound, just as grotesque as the EC's, if only one could compare them side by side...