By the late 1960s, a whole new niche market had opened up on the newsstand for comics. That was the niche of the black and white magazine, a format primarily pioneered by Warren Publications but one that almost every publisher and would-be publisher would experiment with. The great value in producing a black and white magazine was that the difference in format put the work outside of the oversight of the Comics Code Authority. (This is how MAD Magazine was able to flourish for all of those years.) So in theory, a black and white magazine could be more graphic and more violent and more adult than what was being published on the four color racks. In practice, you wound up with the first two a whole lot more than the third.
Not too many people tried to pursue super heroes in the B & W magazine format, particularly after the short-lived SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN magazine. One outfit that did attempt it was Skywald, though their offering only lasted a single issue. Skywald was something of a bottom-feeder publisher for a few short years around the turn of that decade. It was the outfit run by former Marvel production man Sol Brodsky and low-rent publisher Israel Waldman (the guy who had illegally reprinted dozens of golden age comics in the 1960s under new covers.) Skywald came from the combination of their names, and one of the few books they put out was this initial issue of HELL-RIDER, attempting to create a super hero title for the times.
ADDITION: I’ve since learned that there was a second issue of HELL-RIDER released, which I even now cannot wait to read!
The book opens with a fanciful, almost Marvel-style recounting of its genesis, penned by writer Gary Friedrich. It’s particularly amusing to watch him try to frame the middle aged men who were behind much of this comic’s production as young-thinking with-it radicals. Apart from maybe Gary himself, nothing could be further from the truth–which isn’t to take anything away from the skills of the gentlemen involved. They simply weren’t a part of the generation about which they were trying to write.
Hell-Rider was a motorcycle-based super hero concept–Skywald was attempting to create a character that would tap into the culture created by biker movies such as the earlier Easy Rider while also appealing to the mainstream super hero crowd. In addition to Hell-Rider himself, the issue also introduces the Butterfly, who is the first female African-American super heroine ever created. The more pedestrian Wild Bunch, a sort of Howling Commandos group of bikers, also receive a strip in this initial issue, but they were particularly bland.
Friedrich himself wrote the Hell-Rider origin story, and it was illustrated by the perennial team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. The pair were long time collaborators and had worked for all of the established companies at one time or another–this was before Andru began his tenure as the regular artist of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN throughout the 1970s.
Sadly, while it’s heart is in the right place in terms of trying to create a more realistic super hero concept, one more in line with the kinds of characters that were just then starting to break out as serial paperback fiction, the reality is that Hell-Rider was kind of dull. The most notable ting about him really is the fact that he served as a kind of quasi-prototype of Ghost Rider, whom Friedrich would go on to develop shortly hereafter. But reading HELL-RIDER #1, distribution notwithstanding, it’s no great surprise that it didn’t catch on. The whole thing is pretty bland.
Just for the sake of completeness, here are the splash pages to The Butterfly (art by John Celardo) and The Wild Bunch (art by Dick Ayers).
4 thoughts on “Brand Echh – Hell-Rider #1”
Great piece on an interesting B&W experiment, Tom. I wouldn’t describe Skywald as bottom feeders of the Myron Fast nature though. Their Horror Mood magazine experiment, under Archaic Al Hewetson, produced some of the most innovative and groundbreaking horror comics of the late 20th century for a brief two and a half year period Psycho, Nightmare and Scream published some of the best horror in any medium.
That’s a fair assessment. I don’t tend to think of those books as being Skywald publications.
I can appreciate that, would you consider them Horror Mood Publications then? Skywald certainly put out some awful color comics that nearly bankrupted the company before they really got going in the B&W market.
For decades I thought that Storm was the first black superheroine in comics, only to learn a few years ago that it was actually Butterfly. Kind of unfortunate these two characters are likely to be lost in comics Limbo forever. Despite their lackluster debuts, they could have some potential.