Comics

Justice League: exploring the creators of DC comics characters

They are the characters that have captured the imaginations of generations, through the pages they originated on, Saturday morning cartoons, successful television serials and Hollywood blockbusters. Stemming from modern-day myth builders, creating the closest that we have in these troublesome times to the mythologies of old, they combine epic tales of heroism with lessons on morality.

With the release of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the same year as Wonder Woman itself (and Justice League), there is heightened interest in the intriguing back story of Diana Prince’s creator, someone who put a lot of his own life’s interests and background into a character who would, in the end, complete a trinity of characters who became the most iconic and famous at the heart of the DC Comics empire, and yet, as is the case with the creation of what are three of the most famous fictional characters in the world, they didn’t come without controversy.

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

Of course, one cannot miss it in practically ever live action Superman production, be it the television serials of Lois and Clark and Smallville, to movies such as Man of Steel and Batman v Superman; created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and yet the story on how they created one of the biggest fictional characters of all time, and selling the rights to what was then National Allied Communications but now DC Comics, has become one of pop culture’s most famous cautionary tales.

Selling the rights to the character for $130, as well as a contract to create the strip, the contract they signed meant they never got the chance to enjoy the spoils of a character that became a lucrative cash cow. Years and years of lawsuits followed, but it’s these law suits and court cases that sometimes overshadow the interesting back story on how Siegel and Shuster created their character.

Superman initially began as a bald-headed supervillain, but when that approach didn’t work, they rebooted him to become a more noble hero. Being Jewish immigrants, one cannot help but see some of their background seeping into a story of a hero who comes from another world and settles in America, whilst the death of Siegel’s father in a robbery is also said to have contributed to certain aspects of the character’s powers.

After years of trying to get their due credit and financial remuneration, the industry would come together to ensure the two were given their byline credit and a lifelong stipend, not to mention their eventual induction to The Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1992.

Bob Kane & Bill Finger

One year later after Superman’s debut, another iconic character would make his debut, this time within the pages of National’s Detective Comics. Credited solely for many years to Bob Kane, Batman, like the other trio of the Trinity, has weathered through many changes in the pop cultural landscape to remain as popular as ever.

Starting his career working on what were pretty much the “funny papers”, the eagerness for a new character in the wake of the success of the Man of Steel prompted Kane to develop an idea that would become Batman, gaining inspiration from Zorro and a Leonardo Da Vinci diagram of the ornithopter. However, whilst Kane came up with the basic concept of the character, it was in fact Bill Finger who thought up many of the elements that are synonymous with the Dark Knight; the resulting debate and controversy over Finger’s omission from the created by credit would last for years and it wasn’t until 2015 when Bill Finger’s name would be put next to Kane’s.

It was Finger’s idea to give the character a cowl, instead of wings, and to make his costume black and grey, instead of having portions of red. In fairness to Bob Kane, he did credit in interviews Finger’s role in crafting the character. Finger has continued to be regarded as one of the best writers in the history of the medium, thanks to his role in creating the Dark Knight, many of his rogue gallery (although there is still debate as to who created The Joker), as well as his work on the original Green Lantern.

William Moulton Marston

Two years after Batman’s debut, the trinity would be complete when, in the pages of All Action Comics, Wonder Woman would make her own debut, the creation of William Moulton Marston. The idea that the character be female came from Marston’s wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, whilst the visual look of the character has often been said to have been inspired by Olive Byrne, a woman Marston was also involved with whilst married to a knowing Elizabeth.

Unlike Kane, Finger, Siegel and Shuster, Marston had no background in comics before unleashing his famed creation on to the world, and his forte had actually been in psychology. He was one of the contributors to what would become the lie detector test, as well creating the DISC theory, a noted behavioural tool in psychology circles. Although the character was an Amazonian and equally as strong as her male counterparts, the primary idea at the heart of Wonder Woman was that she would use love a means to triumph over her adversaries.

Also a feminist, he used his creation of the development of the character as a mean to tell stories about how women could be stronger and not conform to basic feminine stereotypes. The character has become an icon not only in comic book circles, but as representation of feminism and in 2006 Marston was inducted to The Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Who do you think is the most important creator in DC Comics history? Let us know.

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