OTTO BINDER, THE LIFE AND WORK OF A COMIC BOOK AND SCIENCE FICTION VISIONARY, by Bill Schelly. Schelly’s biography of writer, Otto Binder, is well worth reading. Binder wrote, (with his brother, Earl, and without him) ground breaking science fiction stories in the 1930s and 1940s. These appeared in many pulp magazines including, Astounding, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. (I love the names of the magazines.) His 1939 Adam Link story (and others featuring Link), was a first in the genre, a compassionate robot with human emotions. The original Outer Limits TV show did an adaptation of the Link stories in the 1960s, featuring Leonard Nimoy. The new Outer Limits show, in the 1990s did a remake of the earlier episode, also featuring Nimoy and directed by his son.
Despite writing these and many other SF short stories, Binder’s larger acclaim lies in his comic book work. This is incredible since his vast body of comic book writing (over three thousand stories) was published for decades without a byline! (In the early days of the industry, artists and writers seldom received credit.) It was only in the 1960s, through the persistent investigation of curious fans, that then led to press coverage, notably, articles in Roy Thomas’ magazine, Alter Ego (which is still being published, and better than ever), that Binder’s sizable contributions eventually came to light.
Captain Marvel, copyright DC comics
Otto Binder wrote hundreds of stories for the original Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was the superhero whose secret identity was young radio newscaster, Billy Batson. All Batson had to do to become Captain Marvel was to say the word, “Shazam.” This instantly transformed him into the muscular, red costumed, white caped, magic powered Marvel. In the 1940s, when Binder was writing the character, Captain Marvel was the most popular comic book in the world, selling a million copies a month, far surpassing Superman.
Binder’s work on one of the most iconic characters of comic’s Golden Age would alone have earned him a special place in pop culture history, but Binder went on to also write for comic’s Silver Age, in the 1950s and 1960s, creating such beloved characters as Supergirl, Bizarro and the Legion Of Super-Heroes. In addition to his comic book writing he also authored numerous science fiction novels and non-fiction books about science, astronomy, and U.F.O.s. While Schelly’s biography chronicles Binder’s considerable accomplishments, it also delves into his private life, including his long marriage, problems with alcohol and his personal tragedies. Often, Binder was experiencing very difficult daily challenges while writing his escapist fantasy stories for children. The contrast is quite poignant. This biography is a fascinating look at a prolific pioneer and the early years of the comic book business.
By the way, the forward to Schelly’s book is by Richard A. Lupoff, author of many fine SF and mystery novels, and co-editor, with Don Thompson, of an excellent collection of essays about comic books called, All In Color For A Dime. This book, originally published in 1970, contains eleven essays, by wonderful writers, about comics of the 1940s, and is a must read for anyone interested in the medium’s history.