Nov 16, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Writers #9: Otto Binder

Welcome to another installment of our countdown of the top 10 most influential writers of all time! Click here for the archive!

Today's influential writer is Otto Binder!

Why Is He #9?

The late Otto Binder won the Bill Finger Award this year at the Eisner Awards. This is the award for writing excellence that is given to those who did not get the credit they deserved. And he was just right to get this award, because Otto Binder was criminally undercredited. In fact, I'm willing to bet that 90% of the people reading this right now have never heard of him. 

With artist CC Beck, Otto Binder was not the creator of one of the two bestselling superheroes of the Golden Age, Captain Marvel, but he was the main writer of the world's mightiest mortal.

With Binder writing Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese had whimsical, fantastical adventures, the kind that would endure and last for decades. Ask any fan today, ask anyone who's read them, and ask Golden Age collectors - when you see comics from the 1940s, one of the very few comics that still hold up is Otto Binder and CC Beck's CAPTAIN MARVEL.

Binder co-created such characters as Mary Marvel, the first (prominent) female version of a superhero, predating Batgirl and Supergirl by at least a decade.

He also co-created character such as Mr. Tawky Tawny, showing no fear of mixing two genres together under the guise of a superhero adventure.

Whimsical as that may be, Binder also co-created Black Adam, the first prominent evil version of a superhero, showing that even the most lighthearted superheroes can have a dark side as well. Black Adam appeared once in the Golden Age and was recently the protagonist in a DC Universe mini-event. That's how strong and enduring this character is, due solely to Binder's concepts and Beck's design.

Binder and Beck also worked on longform stories, about 40 pages each, which was a breakthrough in a time when very few artists were doing such a thing well. (The only other guy to be able to do it shows up in this list later.) These longform stories, at one point, added up to an epic, and Binder was responsible for writing THE MONSTER SOCIETY OF EVIL, which lasted two years and is the first epic story told in American comic books.

Later on in the 1950s while working for DC, Binder also co-created Supergirl, Elastic Lad, Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, Brainiac, and the Phantom Zone, but Binder's influence had already been felt and made. Kids and pros alike from all over were reading CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1940s, and they went on to create worlds of whimsical and fantastic wonder of their own.

For fantastic stories and a plethora of whimsical ideas that captivated the imagination and stood the test of time, and for proving that longform comics could be written, and written well, Otto Binder is number 9. Unfortunately, Binder was a little unfortunate about where he worked. In the 1940s, he was working for Fawcett, which eventually folded, and the history books started being written by DC. He also got some work for EC Comics, which of course, eventually folded. And he did great work for DC Comics, but only unfortunately before the Marvel explosion. If he'd only been slightly luckier with where he worked, he might have been higher.

Where Can I See His Influence?

In addition to the mixing of genres and the proliferation of ideas, making it obvious that in this industry, in this medium, in this genre, anything can happen, Binder's work on Captain Marvel spawned a plethora of imitators, and not just American ones at that. In Britain, we had Marvelman:

And here in the Philippines, two of our leading heroes are greatly inspired by Captain Marvel. One, Captain Barbell, is a tiny man who turns into a powerful, flying man when he lifts his magic barbell:

And the other, Darna, is a little girl who swallows an agimat (magic swallowable stone) and exchanges places with a powerful alien from another world.

What Works of His Should I Read?

There is no subtitute for Otto Binder's CAPTAIN MARVEL/SHAZAM stories. None at all. These are wonderful, whimsical tales that are the very definition of "all-ages." You can find them in the SHAZAM! ARCHIVES from DC.

For those of you who love SUPERMAN and the wonderful ideas brought forth in Superman, Binder was responsible for the writing end of a good number of those as well, including "Return to Krypton" in SUPERMAN #141. (This used to be available online, but now is not.)

 You can check out a more extensive database of Binder's work with THE KRYPTON COMPANION.

Who's next on the list? Come back tomorrow for the eighth most influential comics writer of all time, same Cube time, same Cube channel!

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