Brand Echh: The Scorpion #1

As we’ve discussed multiple times in the past, Atlas Comics was Martin Goodman’s short-lived publishing endeavor in which he attempted to prove that he, not editor Stan Lee, was responsible for the success of Marvel Comics after the ouster of his son Chip Goodman from the firm. Goodman wasn’t so much interested in selling comic books as he was in driving Marvel right off the stands, and he chose to do so by launching an entire line of 20 titles all at once in a bit of a blitzkrieg move. To secure the services of top flight talent, he made a bunch of promises about the return of original art and character equity and so forth–many of which were reneged on in practice. But for a brief shining moment there in 1975, Atlas Comics looked as though it might become a viable third mainstream action-adventure publisher.

Atlas Comics’ material ran the gamut, both in terms of the popular genres it released titles in as well as the quality of a lot of the product. Speaking plainly, Atlas Comics put out a lot of drek, albeit fascinating drek. What’s more, as time went on, even the more interesting titles were plowed under, their concepts and creative teams overhauled on the fly in an attempt to make them more like what Goodman thought Marvel’s books were like. For years, these titles were plentiful in the bargain bins of seemingly every comic book shop, at least the ones on the East Coast.

There are a couple of contenders for the best series that Atlas published, but for my money it was THE SCORPION. Created as well as written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, the book starred Moro Frost, a man with an unusual longevity who had already lived for almost a century by the time of the 1930s when the series is set. Moro’s adopted a succession of names over the years–Moro Frost isn’t his true name at all–as he’s needed to relocate and set himself up elsewhere in order to prevent people from realizing that he’s not aging. He also plies a trade as a mercenary adventurer known as the Scorpion.

THE SCORPION was one of Chaykin’s earliest attempt to craft a lead character that reflected his own sensibilities. Unable to believe in the broadly altruistic activities of most common super heroes, Chaykin preferred characters who did what they did for understandable reasons–including, sometimes, altruism–but who also evidenced a collection of vices and foibles, not the least of which was routinely a prurient interest in the opposite sex. To put things plainly, Chaykin’s heroes fucked.

THE SCORPION was less a super hero title than a pulp adventure series, and Chaykin delighted in evidencing the styles of the period. It’s an era that maintains a fascination for a certain sort of a person, even today. So in a way, THE SCORPION presaged the appeal of later characters such as Indiana Jones.

The artwork is also really nice and stylish. Chaykin was only just beginning to get his sea legs as a solo professional, having worked as an assistant for Gil Kane for some time, where he learned the basics of the craft. There’s also the hint of an influence from Walt Simonson in these pages, who was then sharing studio space with Chaykin. (In fairness, that might be a reverse-influence, where it was Simonson whose approach was affected by Chaykin’s work.)

But a pulpy 1930s adventurer wasn’t at all what Martin Goodman was looking for, and so Chaykin found himself butting heads with his editors about the direction of the series and the overall approach. In the end, Chaykin was ejected from the series, which was tragically revamped into a modern day super hero title of the same name that tried to emulate Spider-Man or Daredevil. It really wasn’t much good at all, and it died after a single issue. We looked at it at length here:

Chaykin, meanwhile, found further success in the industry. A few years after Atlas Comics; demise, he followed in the example of creators such as Rich Buckler and pretty much ported the character over into the Marvel Universe for a series of back-up adventures in HULK magazine to start with. In this incarnation, the character was renamed Dominic Fortune and the backstory involving his seeming immortality was dropped.

Launch-time house ad for the new line illustrated by Ernie Colon.

And the first Atlas faux-Bullpen Bulletins page.

10 thoughts on “Brand Echh: The Scorpion #1

  1. People will often say that Dominic Fortune was the Scorpion with the serial numbers filed off, but, as you say, the immortality angle was completely dropped for DF. And DF actually went in the completely opposite direction, where Fortune was always just “Davey Fortunov from the old neighborhood” (usually deflating his swagger).

    Both series were delightful, and I dearly wish Marvel would publish a complete Dominic Fortune at the magazine-size (and giving Chaykin’s blue-line art on the Hulk issues some decent reproduction, difficult as that may be…)

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  2. I spoke to Chaykin at a convention years ago, and asked about the character. He said that he hadn’t wanted to do an origin story, at least not in the beginning, but he thought that it would involve a village in the Pyrenees which, every 100 years, produced an immortal child.
    As to Atlas, in general, I think that Neal Adams said it best, ” Too many dollars and not enough sense”

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  3. Thanks for that, Tom.
    I’ve never previously had the opportunity to enjoy The Scorpion in its Chaykin version. Very good.
    As far as Dominic Fortune is concerned, let me add my voice to the suggestion that the time may be right for a Dominic Fortune Omnibus / Masterwork / Epic Collection.

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  4. This was right on the money, in terms of Howard’s impact on the industry at the time and the stupidity of Goodman in not understanding the Scorpion gem that hid among his line of comics. Great article!

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  5. Chaykin just effortlessly hits the ground running here with pulpy power. And one of the Scorpion’s final lines — “Things should settle down around here now.” — reminds me of Toshiro Mifune swaggering off at the end of Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’.

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  6. Howard Chaykin was soooo important to the teenage me that bought these two wonderful Scorpion issues at a local 7-11. With Howard’s stuff I was always on a quest to find it since he did what was needed to be release his visionary work. I was reading his Ironwolf stories at DC when Weird Worlds was cancelled and was delighted when Cody Starbuck made his debut in Star Reach. Dominic Fortune was another high water mark in 1970’s comics, and still cherish his Empire, Swords Of Heaven, and The Stars My Destination graphic novels. In the 1970’s I loved Howard Chaykin, Vaughn Bode, Richard Corben, Berni Wrightson, Wallace Wood, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Shary Flenniken, Jeff Jones, Jim Starlin, Alex Nino, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Joe Staton, Dave Cockrum, and Jean Moebius Giraud. Such variety in those days before everything turned into super hero epics. The 1980’s started strong with Nexus, American Flagg, Grimjack, Love And Rockets, and Dreadstar. So many good memories and of course I kept these beloved comics. Thank you for your wonderful articles. They do capture the magic of past times.

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  7. I remember when the third issue of the Scorpion came out. The term ” Bitter disappointment” doesn’t do justice to what I felt. Where’s the 1930s? where’s Moro? And most of all…where’s Chaykin?

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