By Steve Perrin
At one point in my early active fan days, the 1960s, before internet and cellphones and the like, I was living in the Santa Barbara, California, hills. I was being totally amazed at the concept of a Justice League of America.
I had already determined that I was going to be a writer of science fiction and had some idea of the concept of fantasy stories. I was ready to turn my back on comic books entirely – and then my big question was answered.
Why don’t the costumed heroes get together?
And the comic books suddenly had letter pages. These were early days. The letter writers were identified by name and perhaps the town and state they lived in. Finding other fans was possible, especially if they lived in the same city or town as other fans. In Santa Barbara it was not possible.
But the actual comic book companies were showing complete addresses to write to. I started my letter writing career, but I also had an address that had to be at least next door to the address one sent in stories. After all, Gardner Fox and John Broome had to take a break sometime, though they never seemed to.
Of course, I shot for the top, and put together a script for the Justice League, tossing in references to Blackhawk and other DC non-JLAers, and featuring my first fan hero, Tele.
I‘m not quite sure why he is blue. Atlanteans in the Aquaman stories are white as a Mid-Western Bar-B-Q, and the Submariner wasn’t in print yet.
Nevertheless, I decided he was blue, and he was an Atlantean mutant (there were a lot of mutant psi stories being featured on the drug store paperback racks those days) with all the “tele” powers like telepathy, teleport, etc. I also saddled him with one of the worst possible weaknesses. Aquaman ran out of oomph if he was out of the water for an hour, Tele had to alternate hours in the air and under water. 12 hours out of 24 he had to be underwater. Good thing he could teleport.
I realized what I had done to the poor lad when I actually played him in a short-lived Champions campaign in the 80s.
Strangely enough, Julius Schwartz did not immediately scoop me up as a pitch hitter for Gardner Fox. Given that I was still in high school, it’s probably just as well.
But Schwartz did print full addresses in the second issue of the first Hawkman tryout in Brave & Bold, and that got me in touch with a teaching student in Missouri named Roy Thomas. That in turn made me a subscriber to the first issues of Alter Ego, and that gave me a whole raft of new correspondents, including George R.R. Martin.
And I found that other folks were printing fanzines – more or less based on the Alter-Egomodel. Those first issues of AEfeatured a proposed revival of the Spectre, which generated a “don’t do that anymore” letter from DC. Before the displeasure of DC became known, I connected with a fan named Parlely Holman who was publishing Spotlight, and I wrote a revival of Dr. Mid-Nite for Parley.
I came up with a costume that evoked the original but also streamlined him a bit, just as the Flash and GL had been streamlined from their former incarnations.
Parley went from thanking the “kind permission” of Julius Schwartz to sending me a note explaining the DC attitude towards revivals. So for the second story Parley published, Doctor Mid-Nite became Doctor Darkness.
Doc was somewhat innovative in that he is a Mohawk Indian, who paid his way through college by doing high iron work on New York skyscrapers. And of course he’s a chemist specializing in atmospheric conditions. As one of the few characters of mine who managed to get beyond an origin story, he has a concealed ground effect vehicle called the Nite-Flyer (So I got the Nite in there somewhere), a cop girlfriend, a sidekick who is another hero in his own right (I’ll get to Captain Liberty later) and he’s also had a career as a Championsand Superworldrole playing character.
Oh, and his blackout bomb also suppresses sound.9
Those last two years of high school were a whirlwind of activity. Between theatre arts and my comic fan fiction and occasional articles, I barely had time for homework. Marvel was just getting going, Some of my printed fan letters were Stan Lee chosen, but my concentration was on DC. I started by taking some slightly askew looks at mythology. An archaeologist digging in Greece came across the stasis chamber holding the aliens who had inspired the Greco-Roman mythology. (They came from the Asteroid Planet, and when it blew up, they went into stasis) (seemed logical at the time). They in turn needed someone to offset a criminal who had stumbled across their Titan equivalents.
Space Ghost had not been seen as yet, but I hit upon the concept of a belt of many colors, each color being a power, or in this case, each color signifying a suite of powers. As pictured, he is in Hades/Pluto mode, a nice deep purple.
One of the buttons tapped the disguise power that runs rife through the Greek gods which is just as well, as he has no way of actually taking off the clothes. In his original concept, the powers came from a skin tight suit that could not be removed. I didn’t even have to play him as an RPG character to realize this was a bad idea.
I felt the need for a truly supernatural character, but ghosts were already taken. One of my favorite comic book characters was a Genie who appeared in the comic books handed out as promotional items by the Buster Brown shoe company. Never much cared for their shoes but the comics had a lot of first rate art by uncredited artists.
Genie is a Djinn who resided in a lamp sold by accident to a gentile who tried to make use of his windfall. This essentially freed the Djinn because by the contracts with Solomon and then Mohammed, only Sons of the Prophet (Muslims) could command a djinn. This Djinn was grateful and assured his liberator that he would only do good in the world. But Good-Djinn was confronted by the previous owner who also had a Djinn in a ring. They fought, and the Lamp Djinn was aided by the lamp seller’s young son, who proved to be the deciding factor. The Djinn remained free, and took possession of the Djinn-ring, and freed that djinn, who was his brother.
The Djinns decided to leave Earth behind, but the Lamp Djinn bequeathed his great powers to the boy, who called himself Genie because he was just a kid and read the same Buster Brown comics I did.
Genie did not have any more solo stories, but he actually crossed over to one of Bill Dubay’s stories, and was also very important in the origin of my Dreamsman and Lucky characters.
See, that’s what I needed a supernatural character for.
In the few times I’ve played him as an RPG character, I altered things so that the boy is the possessor of the lamp. The Genie is the character but (1) he has to keep the boy safe and (2) the boy has to give him the commands to use his powers. It’s like Golden Age Johnny Thunder, but the boy is younger, and smarter.
There’s more to come if folks want to know. Captain Liberty, Law’s Angel, Nite Rider (there’s that “Nite” again), a passing mention of Cyclone, who I’ve already gone into too much detail on, Golden Comet, Isis, Queen of the Cats (I really didn’t know as much about Egyptian mythology as I thought I did.), Medico – whose main weakness was he was an intern and getting no sleep, and others.