Born 104 Years Ago Today: Remembering Otto Binder, Comics’ Forgotten Genius
The names of many of comics' greatest creators of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics — Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jerry Siegel, and, increasingly in recent years, Bill Finger — are deservedly well known by the average comic fan. However, the name of the writer of some of the best-selling comics of all time, and the creator of some of comics' most enduring characters, Otto Binder, is utterly unknown to many comics readers, making him perhaps the medium's most underrated writer.
Otto Oscar Binder was born on this day in 1911, the youngest of six children of Austrian immigrants, in Bessemer, Michigan. By 1930, Binder was contributing science fiction stories to such magazines as Amazing Stories, in collaboration with his older brother Earl. Together they wrote under the pen name Eando Binder (“E” and “O”; Otto would continue to use this pseudonym for his prose science fiction work even long after he stopped collaborating with Earl).
Failing to make enough money to live on as a science fiction writer, Binder worked in various jobs, including as a literary agent, until he followed his older brother Jack, an artist --- and the creator of the original Golden Age Daredevil --- into comics in 1939.
After a year of working at the studio of Harry 'A' Chesler, Binder would find himself at the publisher where he would first make his mark, Fawcett Comics. At first Binder was assigned to write for such Fawcett characters as Bulletman, Golden Arrow, and El Carim, but by 1941, he was given a chance to work on Fawcett's flagship character, Captain Marvel, and there is where he really began to shine.
Between the years of 1941 and 1953, Binder wrote 986 stories featuring Captain Marvel and his extended family, nearly sixty percent of the 1,743 total stories starring those characters over the course of twelve years. During that time period, he co-created, primarily with artist CC Beck, such enduring elements of the Marvel Family mythos as Mary Marvel, Tawky Tawny, Black Adam, Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil, Ibac, King Kull, Mister Atom, and Dr Sivana's two evil children, Georgia and Thaddeus Jr.
Binder's scripting on Fawcett's Marvel Family titles exhibited a playfulness that was a perfect match for the child's wish-fulfillment narrative at the heart of the Captain Marvel story. His storytelling had the verve and improvisational dream logic of a child at play: in any given story, Cap was just as likely to enter a fairy world or a dimension of surrealist art, or as likely to punch an entire planet as to knock out a Nazi. It was this sense of whimsy and a childlike-but-never-childish approach to storytelling that made Captain Marvel Adventures the best-selling comic of the Golden Age.
After Fawcett Comics was shuttered in 1953, Binder would go on to contribute comics to publishers such as Timely, Quality, and EC, but ultimately spent most of his time at DC Comics (where he had first begun writing in 1948) working with editor Mort Weisinger, with whom he had worked on the science fiction magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories. Although he would write stories for science fiction anthology comics such as Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, it was as writer for the Superman family of titles that Binder would go on to contribute more to the Superman mythos than perhaps any writer other than Jerry Siegel.
From 1948 to 1969, Binder wrote stories for the entire Superman line, contributing to Action Comics, Superman, Adventure Comics, Superboy, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, and World's Finest. During his tenure on the Superman titles, he co-created such characters and concepts as Supergirl, Brainiac, Kandor, Krypto, Streaky the Super-Cat, Beppo the Super-Monkey, Titano the Super-Ape, Lucy Lane, Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, the Imaginary Story, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. While the creation of Bizarro is somewhat contested, Binder certainly created the best-known version of him, as well as such elements as Bizarro World and the “Bizarro #1” medallion.
Besides such enduring characters, Binder's style in this period was the epitome of the Silver Age DC, with bizarre twists, puzzle plots, anxiety-derived conflicts, and dream logic resolutions. In addition to his most popular creations, Binder also co-created such oddball and cult favorite characters as Space Cabbie, Kid Eternity, Merry the Girl with 1000 Gimmicks, and Fatman the Human Flying Saucer.
Though the average comic fan may not recognize him, let this not apply to you, the well-informed regular reader of Comics Alliance. We will continue to fly his banner high, and soon, we hope, everyone will know his name.
The Top Ten Otto Binder Superman Creations