Johnny with unidentified bad guy. Artist: Pete Morisi.


Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Comic Media
First Appeared: 1953
Creators: Ken Fitch (writer, using the name "William Waugh") and Peter A. Morisi (artist)
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Just as flamboyant spies from acronymic agencies caught the public fancy in the 1960s, resulting in comic books about organizations …

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… called S.H.I.E.L.D. and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. — so, in the prior decade, did popular interest in hard-boiled private detectives inspire comic books about Sam Hill (Archie Comics), Ken Shannon (Quality Comics) and Johnny Dynamite, from a small and short-lived publisher named Comic Media.

Probably the leading prose fiction representative of the genre at the time was Mike Hammer, created by former comic book writer Mickey Spillane (Human Torch, Sub-Mariner). And with the exception of Spillane's own Mike Danger, Mrs. Dynamite's little boy was quite likely the most Hammer-like of the detective's comic book compatriots. Billed on several covers as "The Chicago Wild Man" or some variation, Johnny was first seen in Comic Media's Dynamite #3 (September, 1953), in the process of being beat up — but once he got his hands on a gun, he put a rapid end to the indignity. His most prominent attribute was an astonishing ability to inflict and/or absorb pain. His second-most prominent attribute was his eye patch, which he acquired the following issue in a shooting incident. It didn't do a darned thing for his already-unpleasant disposition. He had the usual rocky but working relationship with police Lieutenant Hennesy and the usual tough-but-soft secretary, Judy Kane.

Johnny Dynamite was created by writer Ken Fitch (co-creator of Hourman and Tex Thompson for DC Comics), using the nom du plume "William Waugh"; and artist Pete Morisi (Thunderbolt, Kid Montana). Fitch and Morisi continued to write and draw the character until #9 (May, 1954), after which the title folded. The company itself followed it to oblivion shortly after.

Johnny was next seen after the advent of The Comics Code Authority — which meant not just less violence, but also less certainty about what the detective and the female client would be doing after wrapping up the case. Charlton Comics, which picked up quite a few titles from failing publishers during the '50s, brought out #10, retitled Johnny Dynamite, with a cover date of June, 1955. Fitch didn't follow, but Morisi did — he wrote as well as drew the material, as did a few other Charlton creators, such as Nick Alascia. It ran three issues under that name, then three more as Foreign Intrigues, with Johnny retooled as a government agent. With #16 (November, 1957), it dropped Johnny and took on the title Battlefield Action. As such, it ran, sporadically at least, until 1984, but Charlton never used Johnny Dynamite again.

Widely regarded by fans of the genre as the best and most interesting of the 1950s comic book private eyes, Johnny Dynamite was a favorite of crime novelist and comics writer Max Allan Collins, one of Chester Gould's successors on Dick Tracy. Collins acquired the character in 1987, when many Charlton properties were sold. His first use of Johnny was as reprints in the back pages of his own Hammer-inspired character, Ms. Tree's comic book. Since then, he's branched out into new adventures from a couple of small publishers. His most prominent modern publisher is Dark Horse Comics, where Concrete and Hellboy started.

Johnny Dynamite hasn't been seen in several years, but now that he's owned by a creator who is interested in the character, that's not necessarily a permanent situation.


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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Max Allan Collins.