Brand Echh – Heroes, Inc. #1

By 1969, with comic book sales beginning to fall as the 60s fad for super heroes ran its course, enterprising creators began to look for greener pastures, to get out from under the thumb of often-unscrupulous publishers and to be their own bosses and make their own way. One of these creators was Wally Wood, one of the foremost artists in the history of comics. Wood had been one of the key artists in the EC line, had assisted Will Eisner in the final year of The Spirit as a newspaper circular, contributed to the Marvel Age on DAREDEVIL, and created the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower Comics. But with Tower looking like it was going to fold up, Wood was on the lookout for new opportunities.

Wood found it among the armed forces. His studio had begun creating regular weekly strips syndicated in Military News and Overseas Weekly. Having previously published his high-end prozine Witzend for a number of years, Wood saw an opportunity to package an all-new adult-oriented comic book that would be distributed through PXs and Army Bases worldwide for a prospective audience of soldiers on active service. In 1969, there was no shortage of those.

The specific details of how the book was decided upon and why it ultimately failed have been largely shrouded in mystery. All I can tell you is that Wood and his studio produced one issue of HEROES INC. intending to distribute it as described above, but for some reason the deal appears to have fallen through, as what must have been virtually the entire print run was warehoused and eventually sold off to the growing collector’s market over a period of decades. (Heritage, in fact, auctioned off a lot of 70,000 unopened copies in 2005 for $5,500: )

HEROES INC. carried no standard indicia and did not conform to the Comics Code. The only indication as to who had put it together was on a text page written by Wood, including an address to which prospective readers could write, and small copyright notices at the start of each of the three strips to be found within its pages. While these stories weren’t especially gory or violent per se, they did take some advantage of their theoretical adult serviceman audience and the freedom not being under teh Comics Code allowed them.

The lead story starred CANNON, Wood’s emotionless action hero character. After HEROES INC. failed to launch, Wood and company recycled the character for his own syndicated strip series which also ran in Military News and Overseas Weekly. The final story in the book, Dragonella, was a one-off fantasy tale of the sort that Wood would return to again and again over the course of his career.

But it’s the middle story that we’re looking at here. This was The Misfits, a quasi-super hero story about a trio of characters with superhuman abilities who find themselves battling an alien invasion. Wood worked this story up with Ralph Reese, one of his assistants, and while both men are credited on the splash page, it’s impossible to tell who might have done exactly what on the story.

The Misfits are Shag, a small furry being who is the last survivor of a crashed space ship from another world, Mystra, who was an artificial android being with telepathic abilities, and Glomb, a huge and slow mutant who had been an attempt to genetically engineer a life form that could live on Jupiter among its heavier gravity. This trio of characters was a combination that Wood would return to again and again in his sketching–there was something about the child-man, the nubile woman and the huge, neckless rock moster that intrigued him.

I don’t know exactly why HEROES INC. fell apart, but when it did, the second issue was already in production. Some years later, in 1976, a group of fans who had been publishing a CPL (for Contemporary Pictorial Literature) arranged to publish both the second CANNON and MISFITS stories, backing them up with a fan character created by Mike Vosburg in a magazine-sized black-and-white fanzine. Copies of HEROES INC. started to trickle out into the fan market as early as 1970, so there was an awareness among those in-the-know of the project. And either way, it was a new Wally Wood comic book–who wouldn’t be excited at that prospect?

Unused cover to HEROES INC. #2 from 1969

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