Master of the Multiverse And Legend Of The Justice Society: A Tribute To Gardner Fox
Gardner Fox is one of the most prolific and eminent comic book writers in the medium's history. Born May 20, 1911, Fox had a career that spanned five decades. It's estimated that Fox wrote around 4,000 comic stories for National, All-American, Timely, Columbia, Marvel, and EC, and scores of prose stories and novels. But he's best-remembered as the man who gave the DC Universe its soul.
Like many creators of his generation, comic books were never Gardner Fox's aspiration; they were an emergency chute at best. He was a lawyer for two years before the Great Depression made his practice untenable, and started scripting comics at the suggestion of his school friend Vin Sullivan, then editor at National Allied Publications.
Fox took to writing quickly, and contributed to just about every major comic published by National, Detective Comics Inc., and All-American Publications, the companies that would eventually come together as DC. Starting in the late 1930s, he penned Zatara for Action Comics and a long list of Speed Saunders tales for Detective Comics beginning in the late 1930s, and began writing Batman stories in just the third issue to feature the startling new character. Among the many contributions that Fox made to the Batman mythos are the utility belt, the batarang, and the chilling early villains Dr. Death and The Monk.
Through the 1940s, Fox was a regular Johnny Appleseed, planting the acorns that would grow into the nascent DC Universe. As the head writer for All-American, he created and/or co-created most of the biggest stars in All-American's lineup, including the Flash (the Jay Garrick version), Hawkman, Starman, the original Sandman, and, inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Dr. Fate. When All-American editor Sheldon Mayer got the idea to put eight characters together in one book, he chose Fox as the writer, and with the Justice Society of America, the superhero team was born.
Fox's scripts were known for being a little light on plot and heavy on exposition, but most importantly, filled to bursting with interesting facts and weird ideas. An erudite individual who seemed to hoard information, Fox filled his comics with some very specific details across a very broad range of topics: science, history, economics, politics, mythology, and whatever else he happened to learn that week. His stories were smart, fun, and engaging, and made inventive use of the superhero world, where strange concepts went unrestrained by the strictures of reality.
It was those qualities that made Fox one of the key midwives of the superhero revival. After the doldrums of the late '40s/early '50s and the inception of the Comics Code Authority, superheroes were effectively rudderless, and Fox was one of the first writers that editor Julie Schwartz conscripted to revitalize the DC lineup. Sources vary as to who exactly encouraged Schwartz to re-introduce the Flash --- some say it was Fox, some say "father of comic fandom" Jerry Bails, who had been corresponding with both Fox and Schwartz --- but the end result is that Fox's old creation was updated by Carmine Infantino and Robert Kanigher in Showcase #4, the official origin point of The Silver Age.
From the late '50s to the late '60s, Fox produced clever science fiction tales and snappy, energetic stories for the colorful new breed of heroes at an alarming rate. With Schwartz, he developed a new version of the Atom (again, probably at the gentle prodding of Jerry Bails), reworked his own character Hawkman, co-created Zatanna, daughter of Zatara, and wrote an extended run of Adam Strange stories for Mystery In Space that won critical acclaim when such a thing was only beginning to exist.
Having already created the first superhero team in the 1940s, in 1960 Fox brought together DC's new wave of heroes as the Justice League of America, who always had to out-think their opponents rather than overpower them. With Mike Sekowsky on art, Fox turned out one bizarre science adventure after another for the Justice League for eight years. And over on The Flash, Fox did little more than engineer one of the biggest turning points in superhero history.
It's hard to say who first came upon the concept of multiple worlds. Schwartz was certainly a big part of the process, and the whole thing only came about because Carmine Infantino liked to start off with outlandish covers. But given his exorbitant curiosity and quest for knowledge, Fox seems most likely to have been aware of physicist Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation at an early state. (He probably had a lot to do with the random and informative "Flash Facts" too.)
It had already been established that Barry Allen read Flash Comics starring Jay Garrick and written by Gardner Fox, and in Flash #123, "The Flash of Two Worlds," the three met. The Flash discovered two Earths separated by vibrational frequency and crossed between them, and nothing was ever the same again. The concept blew superhero comics wide open, and creators have been playing with the literally infinite possibilities ever since, each successive generation exploring the lands that Fox discovered.
Fox continued writing for just about every big DC book in the Silver Age: Justice League and Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman, and a long run on the "new look" Batman that returned actual detection to the world's greatest detective. Nearly sixty years old and in the business for thirty years, he showed no signs of slowing down. He was so far ahead of his time he was writing metafiction before anybody even knew the word.
But comics never fails to deliver the heartbreak. In 1968 Gardner Fox, Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, Otto Binder, John Broome, and Bill Finger approached Schwartz about health insurance benefits, and brought up the possibly of unionizing. In return they all stopped receiving work from DC, replaced by their own fans.
After his dismissal from DC, Fox wrote a few stories for Marvel and Warren and dabbled with Eclipse, but he didn't really need comics. He focused on prose, writing over a hundred novels under a legion of pseudonyms into his twilight, and on Christmas Eve 1986, tuned to a different vibrational frequency and crossed over into another world. He left behind a wife, two children, four grandchildren, and more ideas than one universe could handle.