Brand Echh: The Cougar #1

We’ve looked at a bunch of different titles from the short-lived Atlas Comics line of 1975 in the past (and no doubt will continue to in the future), so I’m just going to hit teh basics here one more time. After his son Chip Goodman was passed over for the position of publisher at Marvel Comics in favor of stan Lee, Marvel’s former owner Martin Goodman started up Atlas Comics in an attempt to drive Marvel off the stands and to show that he (and by extension, his son) were the real drivers of Marvel’s success. This didn’t pan out–but for one year, there was a third company putting out mainstream adventure comic books in America. Most of them were shlock, or turned into shlock as Goodman attempted to make them more like the Marvel books, but there were some gems scattered among them. And almost all of them had some potential . THE COUGAR was one of the latter.

THE COUGAR was one of the later books launched at Atlas, which exploded onto newsstands with an entire line all at once. Even as returns were coming in, the outfit was attempting to find some silver bullet to turn their fortunes around. THE COUGAR Was apparently the brainchild of Steve Mitchell, an inker and production man who worked around the industry throughout the 1970s but never really became known for any series or character in particular. There’s some evidence that the series had a troubled birth: on the Atlas Bullpen Bulletins page, the series is described as being illustrated by Ernie Colon. I’m not sure what happened along the way, but when the issue finally came out, the penciling work was split between Dan Adkins and Frank Springer, with Springer inking everything to provide some consistency.

THE COUGAR has an interesting premise, and wore its influences on its sleeve. Its lead character was stuntman Jeff Rand, who is nicknamed “the Cougar” because of his catlike speed and agility. Rand works in Hollywood, of course, where he winds up crossing paths and swords with a variety of supernatural menaces. And for no particular reason other than that he’s a comic book character, he wears a costume–one that nobody in the story comments on, and which I thus suspect was an afterthought insisted upon by Goodman. The Cougar was essentially a comic book version of the television series Kolchak, the Night Stalker, with a stuntman rather than a newspaper reporter in the lead role.

THE COUGAR #1 isn’t a bad comic book by any means, it’s just maybe a little bit pedestrian. All of the characters are sketched broadly, without a whole lot of nuance to them. The whole thing’s kinda dopey, in a decidedly 1970s way. And the narrative flow is somewhat choppy. The underlying idea of a stuntman who becomes a super hero is straight out of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s STUNTMAN series from the 1950s, but that environment provided a potential colorful backdrop for an adventure series, so there was something to the whole endeavor.

This first story was also influenced by Mitchell’s love of the daily gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS, and even goes so far as to dedicate the issue to the show’s creator, Dan Curtis. In this inaugural adventure, the Cougar encounters a vampire, of course.

Costume shows up out of nowhere at this point.

The Atlas titles were constantly being tinkered with in a desperate attempt to make something commercial out of them, and THE COUGAR was no exception. The second issue ends with the Cougar breaking his back while battling a werewolf, resulting in him being paralyzed. This was intended to be the set-up for some transformation of the series in its third issue, but there was no third issue coming. Atlas went out of business, and so that was all she wrote for poor ol’ Jeff Rand.

5 thoughts on “Brand Echh: The Cougar #1

  1. In its style and look this was a bit dated even for 1975 – I could imagine it being an issue of SHOWCASE c.1968. Though of course the Comics Code didn’t yet allow vampires then.

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  2. Reminded me a bit of Archie Comics’ Red Circle hero, the Jaguar. Maybe because it’s another “big cat” predator name, & the red “jumpsuit”. I liked what Dan Adkins & Frank Spinger did here. I didn’t know Steve Mitchell wrote. I knew his work as an inker in the 80’s. I thought he had connections to Dick Giordano; & some light similarities in their inking. He seemed like an inker who stayed busy, but was never namechecked much by fans or the comics press. Bob Smith was like that, though Bob’s inks seemed softer, maybe more polished. But Steve’s inks showed up maybe most notably on Norm Breyfogle’s “Batman & Detective” Comics work. I think he also inked Luke McDonnell, Mark Bright, maybe early Dennis Cowan.

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  3. I had no idea that Steve Mitchell wrote and, will confess, that I’d largely forgotten about him as an inker. Without looking it up, I’m pretty sure he inked both McDonnell and Cowan. Visions of both Iron Man and Suicide Squad are popping into my head at this point.
    I picked up a few three bags of Atlas Comics in the late Seventies – largely when there was nothing else available – and always ended up dissatisfied; I suspect “The Cougar” #1 would have elicited the same response.

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