Thursday, May 21, 2015


If any character deserved to survive the collapse of Atlas Comics, it was The Scorpion -- and he did! And also he didn't! And also he was immortal so he's around forever anyway, whatever the case!

The Scorpion was a period piece throwback to the pulp era of adventure storytelling, created and initially both written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, and embarked on his second adventure with the assistance of Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta and Walter Simonson. So, whatever else the Scorpion had going for him, his pedigree was impeccable.

Uh, that's clearly just a doll, Scorpion.

A seemingly immortal - or, at the very least, exceptionally youthful and long-lived - adventurer, the Scorpion had served the Union Army during the American Civil War as "J.C.Clellan Lowe," advised Teddy Roosevelt as "Virgil Torrent," flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War I as "Ben Turck" and "Michael Christy" respectively, and then decided to throw caution to the wind with the least inconspicuous alias in history, "Moro Frost," also known as the Scorpion!

An amoral adventurer-for-hire ("Altruism is for Albert Schweizer," he explains to one reporter who mentions his steep "consulting" fee), aided by his gorgeous and typically Chaykinesque assistant Miss Bishop, The Scorpion apparently boasted no other amazing powers besides his otherwise unexplained immortality. Not that he needed it, being an expert pilot and driver of pretty much every contrivance on wheels or wings, and a two-fisted tough guy of the classic variety.

If the whole book was nothing more than this panel, it would've still been worth the two bits.
The Scorpion also spanned the gamut of pulp-style adventure, taking on a gang of saboteurs in his first issue and following up with a pop-eyed witch and a small army of magical lions and straight-up voodoo. Whatever its shortcomings, it was easiest the classiest looking book of Atlas' sporadic and often baffling line-up of books.

"These savings!"
Like many of those books, of course, The Scoprion suffered a Third-Issue Switch - possibly the most dramatic of them all. With a complete change of setting, timeframe, creative team, costume and even identity, the Scorpion's third issue opens with Moro Frost straight-up dying in a plane crash, for convenience's sake. The mantle of the Scorpion passes - for no discernible reason - to crusading newspaper publisher David Harper. Clad in a teal-and-tangerine ensemble, Harper leaps around the city seeking out evil which no newspaper can touch, and ends up battling a Neo-Nazi throwback with a distinctly Red Skull-like flair who calls himself The Golden Fuehrer.

The Golden Fuehrer avails himself of the unwilling service of an elderly survivor of the putsches of Prague. Naturally, the only reason old Jewish men ever show up in mainstream superhero comics is so they can create a golem, so the old Jewish man ends up creating a golem who the Scorpion slaps around for a while in a generally uninspired slugfest of the typical Bronze Age comic variety. Then the series ends and the world isn't particularly any the worse for it.

What's most interesting about the second interpretation of the Atlas-Seaboard Scorpion has little to do with the character itself, though. The letters page - filled, almost undoubtedly, by fake letters hand-crafted in the Atlas offices for utmost convenience - is working overtime to bury Chaykin and the original Scorpion.

His sole super-power: A sound-sensitive butt.
"The story wasn't really so fantastic, and the art wasn't so magnificent either" claims John Tomanio of Annapolis, while Warren Czerniawki of Charlotte dubs the original Scorpion "a loser" equal to "any jerk with a bag over his head," adding that the Scorpion was Atlas' "First Catastrophe" (oh my, not even close) and spells out his take on the character: "F-A-I-L-U-R-E!!"

Lastly, Ann Carrier from Montreal predicates contemporary fandom by complaining that the 1930s setting of the Scorpion (and other time-tossed Atlas heroes) presents a problem, as they can "never team-up, or battle each other." Even back then, goddamn nerds just wanted to see super-heroes punching each other. When will we learn?

As for the original Scorpion, Chaykin schleps him a few blocks over and reintroduces him at Marvel Comics, bearing pretty much the same outfit but bereft of his immortality and now bearing the name Dominic Fortune, who still occasionally pops up in contemporary Marvel books. He doesn't always have Chaykin on art and scripting duties, but he certainly found a more appreciative audience at one publisher than the other.

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