Brand Echh – Nukla #1

Dell was a powerhouse in the industry from the mid-1940s all the way up to the start of the 1960s when a series of bad decisions cost them their market share and also bifurcated the company into two competing operations, Dell and Gold Key. Their big money was made on their Disney comics, and they produced not only books dedicated to the animated films and shorts but also for live action properties as well. One thing they didn’t do, for the most part, was super heroes. But in 1965, with the super hero revival in full swing and the company’s fortunes falling, they couldn’t help but try to get a piece of that market. They produced a few different attempts at a super hero concept, including this one: Nukla

ADDITION: Mark Evanier correctly points out that it was Western Publishing, not Dell, who both held the licenses to the Disney properties and others and who created the Art and Editorial for the Dell magazines for many years; Dell financed the operation and distributed the books, but they were a separate operation. He’s got a more complete description of the breakdown of this relationship posted at https://www.newsfromme.com/iaq/iaq07/

Nukla was the creation of Joe Gill, one of the mainstay writers over at poor-paying Charlton. This may explain why, when tasked with coming up with a new super hero for the Dell line, Gill simply ripped off his own origin for his Charlton creation, Captain Atom. In this case, Matthew Gibbs wasn’t an astronaut like Captain Adam. Instead, he was a U-2 pilot, and thus a bit of a spy as well as an airman. Like his earlier counterpart, though, Gibbs gets atomized in a nuclear explosion (hence the name.) And like Captain Atom before him, Gibbs somehow survived and was able to reassemble his atoms, putting himself back together.

For all that this seems to be the ingredients for an exciting story, it’s actually one of the dullest comic books of the period. Gill writes just tons of prose, crowding the illustrations in virtually every panel but not really saying much of anything–there’s scant characterization, and even the plot is pretty basic.

The artwork was produced by Dick Giordano on pencils, moonlighting from his own job at Charlton, with inks by his brother-in-law Sal Trapani. Giordano would often ghost-pencil for Trapani during this time, using his relative as a way to bring in more freelance opportunities without jeopardizing his day job. Dell didn’t run any manner of creator credits in the first place, so even if caught, it was difficult to prove who the work had been done by.

Anyhow, the resurrected Gibbs swiftly discovers that he possesses phenomenal cosmic powers when in his intangible state, but that when he once more becomes a flesh-and-blood human being, he loses those traits, apart from the ability to go unsolid and return to that powerful state once more. This was an interesting way to go, although it didn’t really make for much suspense of jeopardy. Whenever Gibbs powered up, he became unsolid and impossible to strike or to kill–and he gained the ability to do pretty much anything that the story required. Yes, he was vulnerable in his tangible form, but whenever the action kicked off, he wasn’t likely to remain that way.

Nukla would adapt his white flight suit into his super hero costume, and he’d fight the usual international spies and secret conspiracies of the era. His series lasted all of four issues, the last of which was penciled by Steve Ditko, making it even more of a faux CAPTAIN ATOM release.

ADDITION: Reader Russ Maheras points out that NUKLA #1 would never have gotten past the Comics Code, which would have objected to Gibbs disintegrating his enemies. Fortunately in that regard, Dell never joined the Comics Code–their Western-generated content was usually so squeaky clean that they didn’t feel a need to bring in an outside body to oversee them, and their reputation was strong enough that they still maintained their distribution.

3 thoughts on “Brand Echh – Nukla #1

  1. I had the first issue of this ,and I was not very discriminative at that age, but it was indeed too dull to buy any more. I wish I had stuck around to buy the later Ditko issue though. The costume by modern standards was great, the problem with the powers was no less irretrievable than Superman or the Spectre. Dell got far weirder with their super spy werewolf and their green skin Frankenstein. Simply put, I don’t think their heart was in it. Put me down for the Nukla revival.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I remember the excess prose being such a deterrent to the reading enjoyment. Being a completist I just had to get a copy and read it, agonizing as it was to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

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