Brand Echh: Codename: Danger #1

Comic books attracted the attention of some pretty colorful people, especially when it came to the ranks of would-be publishers. One of the most colorful was David Singer, who for a short period of time in the mid-1980s presided over both Deluxe Comics and Lodestone Comics, and operated as a publisher looking to carve out a piece of this new marketplace–in direct competition with mainstream publishers DC and Marvel. While he only released a handful of titles, Singer had some top-flight creators working for him, and so his offerings made something of an impact. Just as much, though, did his actions, and this is what ultimately led to the demise of his operation.

Not a whole lot about Singer’s background is definitively known. There are a few stories that float around, but they stem from unreliable sources and certainly seem to be exaggerated and even a bit aggrandizing. He first came to prominence working alongside Rich Buckler and John Carbonaro on the 1982 revival of Archie Comics’ super hero properties under the Red Circle imprint. Carbonaro had purchased the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Wally Wood’s 1960s creation, from defunct publisher Tower, and having had his own self-publishing aspirations run up against the realities of cash-flow, was looking for a publisher to back his revival of the Agents. Buckler and Archie Comics turned out to be that backer.

It was here that Carbonaro crossed paths with David Singer for the first time, a meeting that would lead to problems for both of them. Carbonaro and Archie weren’t able to really make a go of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents–one gets the sense that, having made the deal with carbonaro, Archie couldn’t figure out why they would devote resources to characters owned by somebody else, and so support dwindled. However, one thing became apparent that led to the rise of David Singer: having studied the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents books, Singer determined that they hadn’t been copyrighted properly–which meant that the characters had fallen into the public domain, and anybody could use them.

Accordingly, Singer founded Deluxe Comics and, bankrolled apparently by a relative, began lining up talent for a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents revival. Singer was feeling bullish, and he’d had dealings with a number of well-knock comics creators, many of whom he wooed into doing work on his new line by offering better rates than what they were making. Accordingly, the creative line-up on his T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents book included such luminaries as George Perez, Steve Englehart, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Murphy Anderson and Jerry Ordway. As the book was announced and solicited, there was a small hum of excitement about it from fandom. As a side-effect of Singer’s pronouncement, all sorts of other creators hoping to get a leg up in the field planned for their own versions of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. The characters began to show up in other books all over the place, a situation that didn’t remedy itself until the matter of ownership was conclusively established.

One person who wasn’t excited about any of this was John Carbonaro. He maintained that, having purchased the rights to the Agents from Tower, he was the one and only legitimate owner of the property, and what Singer was doing amounted to infringement. So he went ahead and sued Singer, as well as pretty much anybody who was helping him. Eventually, some many months later, when the matter eventually got to court, the Judge ruled that Carbonaro’s ownership did in fact hold up, that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents had never entered the public domain, and that Carbonaro not only owned all of the material that Singer had published, but he was also owed damages from Singer for the misuse. This was enough to decimate Singer’s finances and drive him out of business.

What does all of this have to do with CODENAME: DANGER, you ask? Well, once the lawsuit had been filed, Singer wanted to continue to publish more comics, but he also wanted to indemnify his new publications should the legal decision not go his way. So he established Lodestone Comics as an alternative publisher run by himself and the same staff. Lodestone put out a handful of books which were originally intended for Deluxe, including Dave Cockrum’s FUTURIANS, Keith Giffen’s THE MARCH HARE, a EVANGELINE Special by Chuck Dixon, and a few other things–including CODENAME: DANGER.

CODENAME: DANGER began life as CODENAME: ACTION, a idea for updating and reviving the CAPTAIN ACTION character who had been a super hero/spy action figure in the 1960s. DC had published a well-regarded comic book based on the figure, as far as I can tell the first of the toy tie-in series ever done. Singer’s idea was to bring Captain Action back, but rather than being a single individual (the concept behind the toy was that Captain Action could become other super heroes–and indeed, outfits were sold for the figure that would turn him into Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and almost a dozen other characters) the new Codename: Action would be a team of unique individuals, clearly modeled on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE’s Impossible Missions Force.

At some early point, though, Singer decided to switch gears. I get the sense that he not only never possessed the rights to publish Captain Action, but that he also had no intention of attempting to secure them. Like T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, it seemed like he intended to see just what he could get away with–a course of action he may have re-thought once Carbonaro filed suit against him. So Codename: Action became Codename: Danger (there’s a tiny bit of the word ACTION that you can see in the logo, which has been covered over by the new box for DANGER) All of the more overt references to Captain Action were scrubbed from the first issue, but the IMF set-up was retained.

CODENAME: DANGER ran for four issues, and was by and large a pretty competent super hero/espionage sort of a comic. Each issue was a stand-alone story, and each one featured a different creative team, though writer Robert Loren Fleming was involved with all of them. The level of artistic talent on the book was strong throughout, with this first release penciled by Rich Buckler, and later issues drawn by Kyle Baker, Paul Smith and Paul Gulacy, among others. Eventually, though, settlement costs and some distributors going out of business owing Lodestone a ton of money crushed Singer’s cash flow, and he wasn’t able to move ahead with any further releases. Lodestone and Codename: Danger had reached the end of the road.

One of the ways in which David Singer got people talking was his editorial columns, in which he’d not only plug his own output but also sing the praises of titles from other companies that he was enjoying as a fan, including those from the Big Two. In fact, I believe this column was cited by DC’s legal department when they reached out to Marvel concerning the SQUADRON SUPREME series that Mark Gruenwald was then writing, as evidence that what was being done was too close to DC’s characters. Certain accommodations were made, and thereafter all was well.

3 thoughts on “Brand Echh: Codename: Danger #1

  1. More info here than I knew at the time, Tom! There were labyrinthine spider-webs connecting so many publishers of this time. I somehow started working with Eternity, and that led to art, logos, or designs under Imperial, Pied Piper, Deluxe, Amazing, Wonder…others I’m blanking on. Often I didn’t know the imprint until print. It seemed like every editor worked for multiple tenuously-interwoven companies, and it was always fun to track down your check back in the days of long distance phone charges.

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  2. According to Twomorrow’s book on Captain Action Jim Shooter was thrilled to develop a new, original hero, then discovered how much was mandated by the toy tie-in. As a mythology buff I loved the first two issues even though I knew the Von Daniken approach didn’t make sense in a world where the Greek gods were all established as real.

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  3. The initial reason why DAve paid exorbitant prices was because some person whom he met promised him a deal with the PXs. Dave mentioned he could not afford doing Captain Action so he ended up doing Code Name: Danger after I was let go from the company. (Captain Action Actions and his Agents for Hire was the working title.) One reason I was let go because I was not a Dave Singer yes man, and showed him up subtly in front of Murphy Anderson as well as finding some of his ideas too corny and stupid for the Wally Wood THUNDER Agents book. The inconsistency of the stories in Wally Wood’s THUNDER Agents 1 bore that out with the inconsistency of Raven in the solo story and the team adventure. Raven in the solo story was a combo of Dirty Harry and James Bond while in the team he was overly superstitious. I admit being very naive at the time. Dave Singer’s writing in subsequent issues echoed the worst versions of what John Carbonaro did. Both Carbonaro and Singer pretended to be plotters or writers and both fell very short. I was a novice editor at the time and fell short, too. I was editor of Wally Wood’s THUNDER Agents 1, and these are my recollections. Nasty and bitter experience among a few in the industry for me, most of the time due to me not knowing better. Singer focused more on marketing his product with a lot of flash than solid storytelling even though he hired top talent. (I still recall when Dave Cockrum put a bare ass on a Futurians book as an aside to Dave Singer.) I am not sure that if Carbonaro and Singer did both do the project as partners it would have survived considering all the other solid titles produced in the 1980s. Much like Rich Buckler’s Mighty Crusaders, it was a throwback to simpler stories of the 1960s.

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