Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Creators of Mars: Joe Samachson
I've been putting off a biography of Martian Manhunter co-creator Joe Samachson for several years. Information about the man readily available to me outside of the internet is not substantial, and resources on the 'net are well written enough that any effort on my part would be fumbling plagiarism. Still, it's somewhat criminal to not have a spotlight post for the man largely responsible for this blog's existence, so I'll do my best to at least augment preexisting materials.
Joseph Samachson was born in Trenton, New Jersey on October 13, 1906. The son of David and Anna Samachson, he graduated Rutgers University, and at twenty-three earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale. According to Wikipedia, "He was an Assistant Professor at the College of Medicine, University of Illinois. He also headed a laboratory in metabolic research at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois, a research unit dealing with diseases that affect the skeleton. Comics historian Jerry Bails wrote that Samachson worked as a Research Chemist for the American Molasses Company until 1938, leaving to become a 'freelance technical writer'. Dr. Samachson also taught himself Russian."
Samachson's first known fiction novel was "Murder of a Professor," published in 1937. Through 1941, Samachson wrote a string of short pulp stories, under pen names like "Professor William Morrison" and "John Miller" (leading to understandable confusion later with comic writer/editor Jack Miller, his successor on "Manhunter from Mars.") His association with pulp editor Mort Weisinger likely began around this time. Weisinger created and edited the popular sci-fi hero Captain Future, and while the character's stories were usually written by Edmond Hamilton, Samachson ghosted a couple of tales under the Thrilling Publications house name of "Brett Sterling." Their titles were "Worlds to Come" (Spring, 1943) and "Days of Creation" (A.K.A. "The Tenth Planet," Spring, 1944.)
Depending on who you ask, Samachson started in comics between 1941-1943 on other Weisinger creations, Johnny Quick, Vigilante, Green Arrow and/or Air Wave. He even wrote a whole team of them eventually, The Seven Soldiers of Victory. Regardless of the exact year, Samachson would work with all those characters in their Golden Age by his late thirties, along with Batman & Robin, Alfred, Congo Bill, Crimson Avenger, Manhunter, Mike Gibbs- Guerrilla, the Sandman, the Shining Knight, Star-Spangled Kid & Stripesy, Starman, and Superman.
In 1943, Samachson co-created Two-Gun Percy with artist Bernard Baily. The lighthearted strip debuted in All Funny Comics #1 (Winter, 1943-44) and ran through #23 (May-June, 1948.) The strip was revived for two issues of World's Finest Comics in 1954.
After the war, Samachson added The Boy Commandos, Liberty Belle, the Newsboy Legion & the Guardian, Penniless Palmer, and Zatara to his resume. Aquaman joined in from 1946 until 1950. Samachson also had brief brushes with Darwin Jones and Robotman. In 1947, he co-created the western series Tomahawk with artist Edmond Good. That same year, he contributed to the General Electric Company's Adventures in Electricity.
In the early 1950s, presumably related to a general downturn in comic sales (especially his adventure strip specialty,) Samachson's DC output dipped significantly (with nothing released in 1952.) Instead, he continued his scientific and prose science fiction writing, as well as crafting the 1954 children's book Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars. With wife Dorothy Samachson, he wrote "Let's Meet the Theatre" (1954) and "The Dramatic Story of the Theatre" (1955.)
Following a few contributions to anthology titles, Samachson's return to regular comics work was marked by the co-creation of the strip "John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars," beginning in the November 1955 cover-dated Detective Comics #225. Although he only wrote the first three installments, Samachson developed the character's name, origin, powers, basic personality/motivation, key weakness, and supporting characters Professor Mark Erdel & Lt. Saunders. Old associates
Edmond Hamilton and Mort Weisinger also contributed. From there, Samachson became a regular contributor to Strange Adventures, and occasionally Mystery in Space. As with John Jones, these tales often mixed science fiction with qualities of noir fiction. Perhaps Jones was only intended for the one initial tale, and his editors saw enough potential in the concept to allow other hands to make it a series. This was likely for the best, as Samachson's return to comics was brief, and he left for good in 1956.
Samachson's wife Dorothy was a ballet-pianist, and she joined him upon his return to the book world for a series of young adult non-fiction books. Dorothy and Joseph Samachson authored "Good Digging: The Story of Archeology" (1960,) "The Fabulous World Of Opera" (1962,) and "The Cities of the World: Rome" (1964.) 1966 saw the publication of his non-fiction children's book "The Armor Within Us: The Story of Bone." Again with Dorothy, Samachson published "Masters of Music: Their Works, Their Lives, Their Times" in 1967, "First Artists" in 1970, and their final book together, 1971's "Russian Ballet and Three of Its Masterpieces" Much of Joseph and Dorothy Samachson's work remains in print, with the collection "Dead Man's Planet and Other Science Fiction Stories" re-released just last year for the Kindle.
Joseph Samachson passed away in 1980, due to complications from Parkinson's Disease.
I'd like to briefly add that both of Dr. Samachson's children have offered contributions to this piece. Mike Samachson added that his father, "was the last writer of 'Captain Video'... I remember when I was 11 I went to a taping of the show in Manhattan." The popular early television series (1949-1955) has mostly been lost to the ages, due to Metromedia shortsightedly ordering the destruction of the DuMont film archive in the 1970s. It's ironic that the Manhunter from Mars debuted the same year those final episodes aired, and will likely better stand the test of time as part of Samachson's creative legacy, despite the writer's brief association with the strip.