Deadman doesn't seem to be dead. Artist: Mike Sekowsky.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1967
Creators: Arnold Drake (writer) and Carmine Infantino (artist)
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

Dead but functioning superheroes were nothing new in American comic books of the late 1960s. From DC's Spectre to ACG's Nemesis, they were …

continued below

… all over the place. But none had made quite so big a schtick of being dead as the one that had "dead" in his actual name, DC's Deadman.

Deadman's adventures began when he was murdered, in Strange Adventures #205 (October, 1967). In earlier years, Strange Adventures had featured straight science fiction, and its series had included the likes of Darwin Jones, Captain Comet, Space Museum and Star Hawkins. More recently, however, it had switched to fantasy and mild horror, with occasional series such as The Enchantress and The Immortal Man. Deadman was the most prominent character of its late years (tho it could be argued that Animal Man, also introduced there during that period, later eclipsed him).

The story, which was written by Arnold Drake (Stanley & His Monster, Doom Patrol) and drawn by Carmine Infantino (The Flash, Elongated Man), concerned a circus aerialist, Boston Brand, who used the name "Deadman" as part of his act. As Deadman, he wore white makeup and red circus tights — which, since circus tights had been part of the superhero style ever since Superman was introduced wearing an outfit based on them, fit right in with prevailing trends in comic books. One day, while performing his act, he was shot by a sniper in the audience and fell to earth, dead.

But a supernatural entity called Rama Kushna took interest in his plight, and kept his spirit alive so he could find and punish his killer. What's more, tho invisible, intangible and inaudible in spirit form (to the other characters, at least — readers saw him looking like he had when he died), he gained the ability to act in the material world by "possessing" human bodies (whose owners were left with no memories of the possession after he released them). With no clues other than the fact that the killer had a steel hook in place of his right hand, the series closely resembled the popular TV show, The Fugitive (1963-67), in which accused murderer Richard Kimble searched endlessly for the one-armed man who had actually killed his wife.

Infantino became a DC executive shortly after Deadman began. The art was taken over by Neal Adams, the illustrator most closely associated with the character. Adams had started out in the late 1950s at Archie Comics, and came to DC by way of Warren Publications (Vampirella, Creepy). He went on to become one of the most highly acclaimed comic book artists of the 1960s and '70s.

Since Deadman had a specific goal, the accomplishment of which was expected to end his series, it became somewhat wearing on readers to see him go on issue after issue without coming noticeably closer to achieving it. In Strange Adventures #216 (February, 1969), he was replaced with reprints of Adam Strange and The Atomic Knights — a return to the sci-fi that had sustained the title in the beginning. Deadman continued to search for his killer in guest appearances with Batman, Aquaman, Challengers of the Unknown and other DC stars — usually, at least in the early years of his post-series existence, drawn by Adams. With less relentlessly regular looks at him and his quest, readers were apparently better able to accept his minimal progress.

But eventually, he did track down The Hook, and was especially galled to find he hadn't even been killed for any meaningful reason — it was merely an initiation stunt, so the killer could get into The League of Assassins. What's more, the League itself did in the murderer before Deadman could exact his revenge, which leached a great deal of meaning from the quest itself.

But Rama Kushna again took an interest, and allowed him to remain on Earth as an agent for the forces of Good, to help balance those of Evil; and here he'll remain until he considers the balance to have been struck. Since then, he's been in mini-series, crossovers, specials, etc., by various writers and artists, a prominent recent one being Kelley Jones (Sandman, The Hammer). That balance is unlikely to be achieved as long as DC Comics considers him a valuable property.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


Purchase DC Comics Archive Editions Online

Purchase DC Comics Merchandise Online

Text ©2003-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.