Brand Echh: Son of Vulcan #50

As we’ve spoken about in the past, Charlton Comics never really had a motivated interest in getting into the super hero field. They were quite happy most of the time to produce their line of largely-interchangeable war, romance, mystery, hot rod and western comics. But every once in a while, somebody at the organization would be inspired to give it a go–with mixed results. Even the best of these characters tended to peter out, largely due to Charlton simply not having the will to keep driving it forward.

One such character was Son of Vulcan, who made his debut in MYSTERIES OF UNEXPLORED WORLDS #46. The creation of Pat Masulli and Bill Fraccio, Son of Vulcan was Johnny Mann, a war correspondent who had fought in the Korean War and had injured a leg in service. Reporting on the carnage or war, and coincidentally standing in the ruins of a destroyed temple, he was drawn to Mount Olympus, where the god Vulcan granted him godly strength and power in his service, transforming him into Son of Vulcan. If this sounds a lot like the early Thor to you, you wouldn’t be wrong, and both characters draw from the earlier Golden Age Captain Marvel.

SON OF VULCAN honestly was pretty dull stuff. The artwork by Bill Fraccio wasn’t terribly well suited to depicting exciting super hero scenes, and the stories couldn’t quite make up their minds as to how seriously to take all of this stuff. Nevertheless, within a couple of issues, MYSTERIES OF UNEXPLORED WORLDS had become SON OF VULCAN, so somebody up at Charlton thought the strip had potential. The firm had also begun to take notice of all of the fan activity that had taken hold since the Silver Age of Comics had begun, and made a few moves to engage with this new hardcore audience in a meaningful fashion.

The first example of fan engagement happened in SON OF VULCAN #49, and may have come as a complete shock even to the person behind it. Young Dave Cockrum was at this time a fan with aspirations of breaking into the industry. Not being wild about the design of Son of Vulcan and seeing an opportunity, Dave whipped up his own new costume for the character (he would go on to become one of the best super hero costume designers of the 1970s) and sent it in.. Amazingly, Charlton then adopted it, announcing Cockrum’s involvement in a blurb on the cover. I have no idea if Dave was paid for the use of the costume or if he knew that blurb was coming, but I kind of suspect not. But there were even greater things on the horizon, of sorts.

Some time earlier, Masulli had reached out to the fanzines and opened up a line of communications. He was particularly interested in the young people who were producing their own comic stories and who wanted to enter the field. Masulli made an offer that he would look at any script that a fan wanted to submit for either BLUE BEETLE or SON OF VULCAN, with the potential that he would buy and print any script that he found favorable.

I have no idea how many submissions Masulli got to his offer–I expect it must have been a lot. But one person who gave the assignment a crack was schoolteacher Roy Thomas. Roy had become a Big Name Fan from his work on teh fanzine ALTER EGO along with Dr. Jerry Bails, and he was a longtime fan of super hero comics. Clearly Roy had an interest in getting into the field, though at the time this story was written and submitted to Charlton, that must have seemed like an unobtainable goal.

In later years, Roy revealed that the reason he wrote a Son of Vulcan submission was that he reasoned that more potential applicants were likely to try their hand at the more-popular-in-fan-circles Blue Beetle, and so the competition would be less fierce. He said that he approached the assignment in very much a Gardner Fox approach, Gardner having become a regular correspondent of Roy’s who had shared scripts and general information with him. As a look at any of this pages reveals, it was a very wordy script, with perhaps too much copy per panel on average.

Regardless of whatever weaknesses there may have been, Masulli liked what he saw overall, and purchased the story from Thomas. It ran in SON OF VULCAN #50, the final issue of the series. Ironically, by the time the book saw print, Roy was already working for Marvel Comics as a newly-hired staff writer and editorial hand, having left a job at DC as Mort Weisinger’s assistant editor after only a few days. But this was Roy’s first professional sale. (Roy had also submitted a BLUE BEETLE story which was also bought:)

The fact that this story was written by a fan was touted on the cover in a blurb, just as Dave Cockrum’s costume redesign had been an issue earlier. Roy has revealed in later years that when Marvel editor Stan Lee saw this story, he wasn’t impressed at all, and that had Roy not already been on staff at Marvel, it may have prevented him from breaking in.

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