Comic Creator Gardner Fox

Gardner Fox

Jefferson Cooper; Bart Sommers; Paul Dean; Ray Gardner; Lynna Cooper; Rod Gray; Larry Dean; Robert Starr; Don, Ed, Warner and Michael Blake; Tex and Willis Blane; Ed Carlisle; Edgar Weston; Tex Slade; Eddie Duane

(20 May 1911 – 24 December 1986, USA)   United States

Gardner  Fox

The First Meeting of the Justice Society of America (All Star Comics #3, art by E.E. Hibbard). 

Gardner Fox was a prolific American comic writer, best known for his work for DC Comics and its predecessors. He was co-creator of enduring superhero characters like the original 'Sandman' (1939, with Bert Christman), 'Hawkman' (1940, with Dennis Neville), 'The Flash' (1940, with Harry Lampert), 'Doctor Fate' (1940, with Howard Sherman) and 'Starman' (1941, with Jack Burnley). Fox was also the brain behind the concept of the Justice League, which he introduced in 1960, and the Multiverse, which made its first appearance in 1961. The brought together characters from different D.C. properties, providing many new narrative possibilities. An erudite man, his stories are easily recognizable due their intellectual style. They often reference history, culture, mythology, science and other trivia. Gardner Fox ranks as one of the most productive comic writers of all time, penning over 4.000 stories, about 1.500 for DC alone. Only Robert Kanigher surpasses him in terms of production for DC.

Early life and pulp stories
Garder Francis Cooper Fox was born in 1911 in Brooklyn, New York City, as the son of an engineer. The boy was a huge bibliophile. He considered Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Harold Lamb, Talbot Mundy, John Dickson Carr and Jeffery Pond his favorite authors. Yet he originally studied law at St. John's College and worked as a lawyer for two years. Fox eventually felt his real heart was in writing. He penned various stories for science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Planet Stories, Amazing Stories and Marvel Science Stories. He was equally adapt with cowboy tales, which appeared in Fighting Western and Thrilling Western. Romances were no challenge to him either, as his work for Northwest Romances and Ranch Romances proved, while he showed a clear understanding of sporting thrills with stories published in Baseball Stories, Big Book Football Western, Football Stories and Ace Sports.

With the same ease in which he switched literary genres, Fox took on different identities as well. He wrote under various pseudonyms. In alphabetical order: Don Blake, Ed Blake, Michael Blake, Warner Blake, Tex Blane, Willis Blane, Ed Carlisle, Glen Chase, Troy Conway (a name also used by Michael Avallone), Jefferson Cooper, Lynna Cooper, Larry Dean, Paul Dean, Eddie Duane, Ray Gardner, Rod Gray, James Kendricks, Simon Majors, Kevin Matthews, Bart Somers (not to be confused with the 21st century Belgian politician of the same name!), Tex Slade, Robert Starr and Edgar Weston. As a novelist he is best known for his sword and sorcery books about 'Kothar the Barbarian' and 'Kyrik the Barbarian'. In 1975 his story 'Kothar and the Conjurer's Curse' would be adapted into a comic book by Marvel Comics, albeit as part of the far more famous 'Conan the Barbarian' franchise. The script was written by Roy Thomas, while John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, Dan Adkins and Dick Giordano illustrated the episodes.

'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (Detective Comics #39, art by Don Lynch).

Steve Malone, District Attorney
Despite a prolific bibliography in the field of novels and short stories, Gardner Fox is nowadays better known as a comic writer. In 1937 he was approached by Vin Sullivan, editor of the then brand new comics company National Allied Publications (nowadays DC Comics), which had been founded by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. In March of that year, the company had just launched a new comic book, called Detective Comics. Like many creators, Fox knew that the best inspiration comes from one's own life experience. He therefore created a comic strip about a lawyer: 'Steve Malone, District Attorney' (1938-1939), illustrated by Don Lynch. Yet Malone's life was far more exciting than Fox's career behind the bench. The "brilliant young criminal lawyer" fought crime predominantly outside the courtroom. He shadows criminals, beats them up en lands them in jail afterwards. In his second story Malone received a sidekick - the Russian strongman Big Jim - and a secretary: Jeanne. Both characters were later dropped from the series and replaced by a new assistant named Happy. 'Steve Malone' ran in issues #18-19 (August-September 1938), #21 (November 1938), #26 (April 1939) and #34 (December 1939) of Detective Comics, but also appeared in issue #38 and #39 of Adventure Comics (May-June 1939).

Fox also crafted stories for Bill Finger and Bob Kane's 'Batman' in Detective Comics. He introduced various gadgets for the Dark Knight, including his utility belt (issue #29, July 1939) and the boomerang-like Batarang (issue #31, September 1939).

Speed Saunders
An additional feature with scripts by Gardner Fox was 'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator' (art by Fred Guardineer). It starred a crime investigator whose eternal battle with thieves, crooks and gangsters lasted until the 58th issue of Detective Comics (December 1941). 

'The Sandman', from Adventure Comics #57 (art by Creig Flessel).

The Sandman
For the company's other long-running magazine, Action Comics, Fox made stories about 'Zatara the Magician' and the boxer 'Pep Morgan' with Fred Guardineer, and about the adventurous 'Three Aces' with Chad Grothkopf in the period 1939-1942. In Adventure Comics, Fox first wrote the feature about adventurer 'Cotton Carver' (1939-1941), mostly illustrated by Ogden Whitney. In the 40th issue of Adventure Comics (July 1939) Fox created 'The Sandman', designed by Bert Christman, and subsequently drawn by Ogden Whitney and Creig Flessel. The Sandman is a superhero, but closer in spirit to characters like Lee Falk and Ray Moore's 'The Phantom' and Walter B. Gibson and Vernon Greene's 'The Shadow'. Just like them, he is a somewhat mysterious personality with no real super powers other than his strength and wit. Wesley Dodds, as is his real name, works as a detective and wears a gasmask to conceal his identity. Whenever he encounters criminals, he uses a gas gun to put them to sleep or force them into confessions. The Sandman's love interest is Dian Belmont. Contrary to most superhero stories at the time, Dian is more than a damsel in distress. She actively helps the Sandman solve his cases. Later Golden Age adventures of 'The Sandman' were produced by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris, and subsequently Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Later renditions of the character took completely different directions. The 'Sandman' of the 1970s by Simon and Kirby (and then by Michael Fleisher and Ernie Chua) was more mystical, and got a new backstory by Roy Thomas in the 1980s. Neil Gaiman reinvented the Sandman as the personification of Dream in his award-winning DC/Vertigo series (1989), returning to the concept of the folkloristic Sandman. Gaiman later interwove the two previous versions of DC's 'Sandman' into his new narrative. Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner and Teddy Kristiansen, however, retold of the adventures of DC's original 'Sandman', the one by Fox and Christman, in 'Sandman Mystery Theater' (1993-1998).

'Adventure Comics' (issue #40, July 1939) and 'Flash Comics' (January 1940).

The Flash
Besides National Allied Publications, Gardner Fox was also active for another DC predecessor, All-American Publications, founded by Max Gaines. Gardner Fox's two most enduring superhero characters made their debut in the first issue of this company's Flash Comics (January 1940), namely 'The Flash' and 'Hawkman'. The Flash was co-created with Harry Lampert, who illustrated all his early stories. The character is a college student named Jason Peter Garrick, who suffers a serious lab accident when he accidentally inhales hard water vapors. They give him the ability to run at incredible speeds. First he uses them primarily to win American football matches at his college, but then he decides to use them for a more common good. He creates a costume and becomes a superhero. Fox modelled the character's uniform after Hermes/Mercury the winged messenger from Greek-Roman mythology who wears a similar winged helmet. With equal speed The Flash quickly became one of the most popular characters in DC's universe, although his backstory and real identity has changed on several occasions throughout the years. He starred in his own television series, 'The Flash' (1990-1991), portrayed by John Wesley Shipp, and 'The Flash' (2014), where he is played by Grant Gustin. A film adaptation is planned for 2023, starring Ezra Miller, who already portrayed the Flash as a supporting character in the pictures 'Batman v Superman. Dawn of Justice' (2016) and 'Justice League' (2017). In all media the intriguing (and enduring) fan question "Can the Flash out-run Superman?" remains unsolved, despite the characters having organized various competitions over the decades...

'Hawkman' in Flash Comics #18 (art by Sheldon Moldoff).

Gardner Fox' creation Hawkman is also a superhero inspired by ancient mythology, in this case ancient Egypt. Fox co-created him with illustrator Dennis Neville. The character is the alter ego of Carter Hall, an archaeologist who discovers he is the reincarnation of ancient Egyptian prince Khufu. Khufu and his consort Chay-Ara were murdered centuries ago by the evil priest Hath-Set. Carter later meets a young woman, Shiera Sanders, who turns out to be the reincarnation of Chay-Ara. As he is inspired to become the superhero Hawkman, she becomes his female counterpart Hawkgirl. Carter's costume is empowered by a special metal named the Nth metal. Soon they discover that the evil priest Hath-Set also reincarnated into a modern person, namely the equally diabolical scientist Anton Hastor.

Dr. Fate
In 1940, Fox created another superhero with ancient Egyptian origins. In issue #55 of More Fun Comics (May 1940) 'Doctor Fate' made his debut, illustrated by Howard Sherman. His stories were inspired by Fox' love for the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Fate is the alter ego of archaeologist Kent Nelson. Nelson obtained his super powers when he and his father Sven discovered an ancient Egyptian tomb and accidentally revived farao Nabu the Wise from the dead. While the mummy was reanimated, Kent's father died by breathing in poisonous gas. Nabu had a good heart, though, and taught Kent various mystical and magical skills which made him devote his career to becoming a crime fighter. Later 'Doctor Fate' stories were created by writers and artists like J.M. DeMatteis, Shawn McManus, Steve Gerber, Justiniano, James Robinson, Brett Booth, Paul Levitz and Sonny Liew.

Cliff Cornwall
Another feature written by Fox for Flash Comics issue #1 (January 1940) was 'Cliff Cornwall', drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. It starred the adventures of a brave F.B.I. agent. 

'Doctor Fate' (More Fun Comics #57, art by Howard Sherman).

In April 1941, in issue #61 of Adventure Comics, Fox and Jack Burnley created 'Starman'. Starman is the alter ego of Ted Knight, an astronomer who invents a gravity rod which enables him certain powers and the ability to fly. At the suggestion of his female cousin, Sandra (A.K.A. the Phantom Lady), he decides to become a superhero. The most important woman in his life, however, is Doris Lee, who is later murdered.

Importance for DC Comics
Gardner Fox was one of National/DC's earliest writers and therefore much in demand. He became even more prominent during World War II, when several of his colleagues were drafted and he stayed behind to ghostwrite their series. Various superheroes also signed up to join the army during this period, which resulted in action-packed stories where the characters fought Nazis and Japanese soldiers. During his long career, Fox would pen about 1.500 stories for DC. Apart from quantity his work also offered quality. He elevated superhero comics by frequently referencing topics as versatile as history, mythology, economics, science, literature and politics. Whenever he stumbled upon some interesting trivia, he couldn't resist to add it to a story. Originally Fox did this merely for his own entertainment, but eventually he felt it made his work more educational and meaningful. He collected numerous books, magazines, file cabinets and newspaper clippings to look for interesting facts. It's this aspect that makes a Gardner Fox story stand out among his  colleagues. Even if an episode was somewhat formulaic, readers could still learn something they didn't know before.

'All Star Comics' and 'Justice League of America'. 

The Justice Society
Gardner Fox and editor Sheldon Mayer also widened the narrative possibilities of superhero tales by having characters and storylines make crossovers. The third issue of All Star Comics (Winter 1940-1941) was a landmark in comic book history. For the first time, several superheroes from the back catalogues of both All-American Comics and National Allied Publications were brought together in one team, known as The Justice Society of America. Until 1947, Fox wrote several of the stories, as did John Broome and Robert Kanigher. Several of Fox' original creations, such as Doctor Fate, The Sandman, The Flash and Hawkman, were members of the Justice Society, but also Hour-Man (created by Ken Fitch and Bernard Baily), The Spectre (created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily), The Atom (created by Bill O'Connor and artist Ben Flinton), and Green Lantern (created by Martin Nodell). The idea wasn't just notable because it brought together characters by different authors and artists, but also because different companies gave their legal permission. In 1944 these crossovers became a bit easier (and less spectacular) when All-American Comics, National Allied Publications and Detective Comics Inc. merged into National Comics Publications. In 1977 DC Comics became the official company name.

Other post-war DC work
Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Gardner Fox continued to work on many DC titles. As superhero stories lost most of their appeal, Fox moved over to other genres. With 'The Three Mouseketeers' (art by Harris Steinbrook) and 'The Dodo and the Frog' (art by Otto Feuer) he briefly dabbled in humor comics for Funny Stuff (1947-1948). Afterwards Fox worked on several DC anthology titles. In the western genre, he wrote the celebrity comic 'Jimmy Wakely' (1949-1952, often with art by Gil Kane), the title feature 'Hoppalong Cassidy' (1954-1957, art by Gene Colan) and features like 'Rodeo Kick', 'The Nighthawk', 'The Wyoming Kid' and 'Pow-Wow Smith' in Western Comics (1948-1961), and 'Strong Bow' and 'The Trigger Twins' in All Star Western (1951-1961). He was also a regular in the sci-fi title 'Mystery in Space' from 1951 to 1964, and in 'Strange Adventures' from 1950 to 1964.

Work for other companies
In addition to National Comics, Fox also wrote for several other comic book companies during the 1940s and 1950s. Already in 1940 he joined his editor Vin Sullivan to the Columbia Comic Corporation, for which he scripted 'Skyman' (art by Ogden Whitney), 'The Face' (art by Mart Bailey) and 'Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians' (art by Fred Guardineer) in Big Shot Comics between 1940 and 1943. Between 1947 and 1956 he penned a great many features for Magazine Enterprises, another Vin Sullivan enterprise. There he initially wrote for the anthology titles 'Manhunt' before contributing extensively to the celebrity western titles 'Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid' (1949-1955) and 'Tim Holt' (1949-1954), as well as 'Straight Arrow' (1950-1956), 'Black Phantom' (1954-1955), 'Red Mask' (1954-1956). He also scripted stories with horror/western feature 'The Ghost Rider' (1949-1955). Fox notably created one of the company's two superhero characters, 'The Avenger' (1955), with Dick Ayers, as well as the jungle heroine 'Cave Girl' (1953-1954) with Bob Powell.

Together with writer Ray Krank and artists Joe Certa and John Belfi, he made a newspaper strip of 'Straight Arrow', distributed through Bell Syndicate from 19 June 1950 until 4 August 1951. In 1947-1948 Fox also wrote for EC Comics, before this company launched its groundbreaking line of New Trend comic books. Fox stories appeared in issues of 'Crime Patrol', 'Gunfighter', 'International Comics' and 'Moon Girl', among other titles. His short-lived feature 'Crom the Barbarian' (1950-1951) ran in some Avon Comics titles and had art by John Giunta, while Fox also contributed work to publications of Timely Comics (nowadays Marvel).

Return to DC's superhero comics
With the revival of the superhero genre in the late 1950s, Gardner Fox became the regular writer of the science fiction superhero 'Adam Strange', with art by Mike Sekowsky and later Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. The character made its first appearance in DC's 'Showcase' #17 (November 1958), and then got a regular spot in 'Mystery in Space' in the following year. Fox was also involved in the reboot of many classic characters from the Golden Age. Also in 'Showcase', Fox and artist Gil Kane rebooted 'The Atom' in 1961. Whereas the Golden Age version of the character had limited super strength, the 1960s interpretation was the secret identity of physicist Raymond Palmer, Ph.D., who could shrink down to subatomic size. 'The Atom' got its own title in 1962, written by Fox until 1968. The tireless scriptwriter also succeeded Alfred Bester as the regular writer of 'Green Lantern' (1962-1969, art by Gil Kane), and worked on new versions of 'Hawkman' (1964-1967) and 'The Spectre' (1967-1968) with Murphy Anderson.

The JLA in 'The Brave and the Bold' #29 (art by Mike Sekowsky).

The Justice League
The 28th issue of 'The Brave and the Bold' series (February/March 1960) repeated the concept of the all-star team-up. Again, several by-then already legendary superheroes were brought together in one story. Fans were already over-excited to see Superman (originally created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), Batman (created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger), Wonder Woman (created by William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter), The (new) Flash (created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino), Aquaman (created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger), The Green Lantern (created by John Broome and Gil Kane) and Martian Manhunter (created by Joseph Samachson and Joe Certa) together in one crossover. Yet instead of making this a cheap cameo fest, Fox actually gave them a reason to come together. The superheroes establish a league to bundle their powers, named The Justice League of America. The first story was illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and after two issues 'Justice League' became its own individual comic book series. The JLA played an important role in the revaluation of superhero comics during the so-called Silver Age of Comic Books, and prompted rival company Marvel Comics to launch its own superhero team, 'The Fantastic Four' (1961) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Fans loved the concept so much that the 'Justice League' has often been adapted in other media. It spawned five animated TV series: 'Super Friends' (1973-1986, animated by Hanna-Barbera), 'Young Justice' (2010), 'Justice League' (2001-2004), 'Justice League Unlimited' (2004-2006) and 'Justice League' (2016). In the field of animated films 'Justice League: The New Frontier' (2008), 'Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox' (2011) and 'Justice League Dark' (2017) were created by Jay Oliva and 'Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths' (2010) and 'Justice League: Doom' (2012) by Lauren Montgomery and Sam Líu. A live-action TV special, 'Legends of the Superheroes' (1979) and Félix Enríquez Alcalá's TV film 'Justice League of America' (1997) exist too. In 2017 a live-action cinematic picture 'Justice League' (2017) was released in theaters. It wasn't well received, but a longer director's cut of four hours in length, 'Zack Snyder's Justice League' (2021), was released four years later to much better reviews. 

'The Flash of Two Worlds!'.

Fox is often credited with introducing the multiverse concept, but in reality it had already been used in 'Wonder Woman' issue #59 (May 1953) by Robert Kanigher and Harry G. Peter, in which the superheroine travels to a twin Earth. But Fox vastly expanded upon this initial idea in the Flash story 'The Flash of Two Worlds!' (issue #123, September 1961). The story was a crossover between the old Flash character, Jay Garrick (created by Fox and Harry Lampert) and the then current Flash character Barry Allen (created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino). They meet one another on a twin version of Earth named "Earth-2". Older readers enjoyed the nostalgia of seeing older characters make a comeback. New generations were introduced to classic characters, stories and creators of DC's early years. It also opened a door to new stories about extraterrestrial characters, doppelgängers, planets, monsters in space and time. However, critics also felt it was an easy excuse to rewrite continuity errors as "just taking place in Earth-2". 

Return to Batman
In 1964 Fox was brought back to breathe new life in a classic comic series he previously wrote stories for: 'Batman' (1964-1968). He let the nearly forgotten characters Jonathan Crane, The Riddler and The Scarecrow make a comeback, but also added new cast members to the franchise. Together with Carmine Infantino, he introduced the villains The Blockbuster in the 345th issue of Detective Comics (November 1965) and The Cluemaster in issue #351 of May 1966. The Blockbuster is a chemist who experimented on himself to become stronger and taller, which partially succeeded, but also made him mindlessly aggressive. Guarded by his brother Roland, The Blockbuster is manipulated to commit crimes, while Roland sits back and escapes the blame. The Cluemaster, on the other hand, is more comparable to The Riddler in the sense that he too leaves clues behind where he will strike next. Fox also played an important role in the development of Batgirl. A female counterpart of Batman was already an old idea. In issue #233 of Detective Comics (July 1956) Batwoman made her debut, created by Edmond Hamilton and Sheldon Moldoff. In the 139th issue of 'Batman' (April 1961) another female version of Batman, Bat-Girl, was introduced by Moldoff and Bill Finger, but this was a different character, namely Betty Kane. Six years later, the role of Batgirl was given to a new young girl, Barbara Gordon, thought up by William Dozier and Julius Schwartz, drawn by Infantino, while Fox wrote her earliest stories. Barbara Gordon, A.K.A. Batgirl, made her debut in issue #359 (January 1967) and remained the official Batgirl ever since. In Detective Comics, Fox additionally made the feature 'The Elongated Man' (1964-1968) with art by Carmine Infantino.

'The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!' (Detective Comics #359, art by Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene). 

Leaving DC Comics
Even though Fox has worked for several comic book publishers, he remains most associated with DC Comics, for whom he worked more than three decades. That collaboration came to an abrupt end in 1968. Fox had joined other comic writers like Otto Binder, John Broome, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger and Bob Haney, signing a petition to ask DC for more financial benefits, particularly regarding health insurance. Since the company regarded writers as expandable people, they were all fired without mercy and replaced by more obedient newcomers. Fox therefore returned to his previous existence as a novelist and writer of short stories. Under the name Rod Gray, he wrote various erotic novels for Tower Books, Belmont and Belmont-Tower starring 'The Lady from L.U.S.T.' (1968-1975). Together with Rochelle Larkin and Leonard Levinson, he also penned stories starring the equally sexy 'Cherry Delight, The Sexecutioner', but again under a pseudonym, this time Glen Chase. Under the name Lynna Cooper he also penned numerous romance novels. 

Marvel Comics
After 1968, Fox occasionally wrote some comic scripts too, but never again for DC. Instead he went to their rival, Marvel, to contribute to 'Red Wolf', 'The Tomb of Dracula' and their 'Doctor Strange' feature in 'Marvel Premiere' (1972-1981). At Warren Publications he penned stories for the horror comic magazines Creepy and Eerie. In 1985 he also penned stories for the sci-fi anthology 'Alien Encounters' at Eclipse Comics. In order to find some financial compensation, he donated his personal writings for DC at the University of Oregon so he could benefit from tax deduction.

During his lifetime Fox already won three Alley Awards, namely for the story 'The Planet that Came to a Standstill' in the 75th issue (May 1962) of Mystery in Space, illustrated by Carmine Infantino, 'Crisis on Earths 1 and 2', part of the 21st and 22th issue (1963) of 'Justice League', illustrated by Mike Sekowsky, and 'Solomon Grundy Goes on a Rampage' (issue #55 of 'Showcase', 1965), illustrated by Murphy Anderson. He was posthumously honored with a Harvey Award (1998) and a Bill Finger Award (2007). The legendary writer was inducted in the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame (1998) and the Eisner Award Hall Of Fame (1999).

Death, legacy and influence
Gardner Fox died in 1986 at age 75 from pneumonia.  He left behind a legacy of immortal superhero characters, whose adventures still continue to this day. His 'Justice League' and 'Multi-verse' concepts have inspired many writers. Fox also proved that superhero comics could be a vehicle for more thoughtful narratives and interesting pieces of knowledge, which also guaranteed continuing modern interest in his classic stories. His name lives on in the superhero character Guy Gardner in the 'Green Lantern' franchise, whom writer John Broome and illustrator Gil Kane based on Fox as a tribute.

Gardner Fox by Gil Kane.

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