November 2, 2011
The Return of MLJ? by Mark Heike
I heard an interesting snippet on the radio last week, during the morning “financial minute” of all places. It was an announcement that Archie Comics was planning to revive it’s superhero properties in 2012, for distribution through a digital platform. Unfortunately, I can find nothing referring to this currently on the Archiecomics.com official blog site, but I did talk to someone I know who works for Archie, and I was able to confirm this. Contemporary comic book readers may not be aware of the involvement that the company now known as Archie comics HAD with superhero characters, since the last two incarnations of their costumed-hero line were produced (under license) by DC. Between late 1939 and 1943 (before the creation of Archie), MLJ Comics (named via the first initials of it’s three founders; Morris Coyne, Louis Silberkliet and John Goldwater) was one of the costumed hero/adventure comics heavy-hitters in the industry, presenting the exploits of such stalwarts as The Wizard, The Shield (the FIRST patriotic costumed superhero, predating Captain America by almost a year) The Black Hood, Steel Sterling, The Hangman, Mr. Justice, The Comet, The Firefly, Bob Phantom, Captain Flag, Inferno, Mr. Satan, The Scarlet Avenger, Blackjack and The Web. Though revivals of the characters in the 1960s and 1980s were met with lukewarm receptions, some of the original Golden Age material was quite excellent, much of it in fact produced by comic book greats like Jack Cole, Charles Biro, Mort Meskin, Irv Novick, Mort Leav, Bob Fujitani, Everett Raymond Kinstler, plus the underrated Warren King, Harry Lucey and Sam Cooper. I would like to see King in particular get more credit. He had a very unique and dramatic style, and might have gone on to become highly regarded in the comic book field, had he not left it early on to pursue editorial cartooning. I was first introduced to these characters as the “Mighty Heroes” during their brief mid-60s revival, as drawn by Paul Reinman and Mike Sekowsky, and written by Superman creator Jerry Siegal. Whether their attempt to meld the Stan Lee/Marvel approach with the camp sensibilities of the Batman live-action TV series worked or not is a matter of opinion, but I became fascinated with them, and began collecting the original MLJ’s in the early 1970s. Archie Comics started a small reprinting program in the early 2000s, releasing color trade paperback compilations of their early Silver Age superguy The Fly, the ’60s MLJ revival supergroup The Mighty Crusaders, and the first half-dozen Golden Age stories of The Shield. I was lucky enough to get a chance to do some inking work on the cover of The Shield when the Archie folks hired my wife Stephanie to draw the cover. If you don’t own this volume, you should; and now would be an excellent time to get it, as it is currently priced at $3.99 postpaid in the online store at www.archiecomics.com. Actually, we tried to coordinate art salvaging services for Archie on future MLJ Golden Age projects, since that is one of our specialties here at AC Comics, but were unable to work out an agreement. But what you probably didn’t know is that between official revamps and revivals of the MLJ characters, I “art-directed” an entire, 25-page proposed revival comic book teaming all of the original MLJ characters plus their Silver-Age heroes The Fly, Flygirl and Jaguar against a team of the best of the MLJ Golden Age villains. Developing it as an outside, freelance project for AC’s regular artists at the time, one chapter each was penciled by Brad Gorby, Eric Coile, Chris Allen, Stephanie (before she was my wife) Sanderson and myself. We drew up the whole thing in finished pencils, I wrote a script for it, and we submitted the whole thing to Richard Goldwater at Archie. We can only assume that they were not interested, as we never got a response. (If you are wondering whatever happened to the material, we re-purposed it as Sentinels of America #1, currently available in the AC Comics store here on the site.) The MLJ heroes are a solid group of supercharacters, somewhat lost in the shuffle of comic book history, overshadowed by the incredible success of Archie himself and all of his supporting cast. I’m glad they are coming back, and I’ll be checking them out online, once they reappear.