Age comics, dies
February 12, 2004
By Franklin Harris
This week the comics world is mourning one of its giants. Julius Schwartz, a longtime editor at DC Comics, died Sunday at Winthrop Hospital in New York of complications from pneumonia.
Schwartz, 88, was one of the guiding forces behind the Silver Age of comics and, before that, a player in literary science fiction's formative years. He helped create organized science-fiction fandom, founding, along with Forrest J. Ackerman and Mort Weisinger, the first SF fanzine, The Time Traveller.
As a literary agent, Schwartz, again with Weisinger, formed Solar Sales Service, the first literary agency specializing in science fiction. The agency represented such then up-and-comers as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch ("Psycho") and Alfred Bester ("The Stars My Destination"). It also represented a struggling writer who posthumously would become the most respected horror storyteller of the 20th Century, H.P. Lovecraft. (According to Schwartz's friend Lisa Feerick Pollison, Schwartz was the last person living who actually met the reclusive Lovecraft.)
During the '40s, the pulp magazines that formed the primary market for Schwartz's clients began to fold, and Schwartz found himself in need of a new career. In 1944, aided by a recommendation from Bester, he got a job as an editor at National Publications, the company that would become DC Comics. He worked on such titles as "Green Lantern," "Flash Comics" and "All-Star Comics."
Nowadays, comic-book editors seem almost invisible, except when they're causing "editorial interference." But in Schwartz's day, strong editors were seen as a vital part of the creative process.
These were the final years of comics' Golden Age. The superheroes who dominated the industry during the '40s were falling out of favor, replaced by Westerns, romance and sci-fi. Of course, sci-fi was Schwartz's specialty, and so he helped launch two SF titles, "Mystery in Space" and "Strange Adventures."
But it was in 1956 that Schwartz began making his mark. That was the year he used a new anthology title, "Showcase," to debut an all-new, all-different version of one of DC's most popular Golden Age characters, the Flash.
Today, "Showcase" No. 4 is regarded as one of the most important comic books ever published and as the beginning of comics' Silver Age.
With Schwartz leading the way, DC Comics revived other Golden Age superheroes, giving each a sci-fi makeover. For example, Hawkman, who during the Golden Age was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince, re-emerged as an extraterrestrial police officer. And the Green Lantern, originally just a man with a magic ring, returned to duty as a member of a spacefaring corps.
As time passed, Schwartz oversaw the creation of the Justice League of America and the "new look" Batman of the late '60s, easily recognizable by the yellow oval on his chest.
By the late '60s and early '70s, comics were struggling to be "relevant," and, in particular, DC Comics was struggling to compete with rival Marvel Comics. Schwartz adapted to the times by teaming Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams on "Detective Comics" and "Green Lantern/Green Arrow." These O'Neil/Adams collaborations are probably the most respected superhero comics of the '70s.
In 1971, Schwartz became editor of the Superman titles and oversaw a revamp that made the character more realistic, or as realistic as a man from Krypton can be, anyway.
Schwartz remained an editor at DC until 1987, staying on, appropriately enough, just long enough to see DC replace his Silver Age Flash with yet another iteration. Afterward, he continued to act as DC's "goodwill ambassador," representing the company at conventions across the nation. In 2000, he published his memoirs, "Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics."