Wonder Man stops a plane in mid-flight without even bracing his feet. Artist: Will Eisner.


Original Medium: Comic Books
Published by: Fox Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1939
Creator: Will Eisner
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Of all the many notable creations of cartoonist Will Eisner — creations such as Blackhawk, Doll Man, Sheena and, most notable of all, The Spirit — the one he was least proud of was undoubtedly Wonder Man, which is notable for being both the very first imitation of Superman, and the first to be legally driven out of existence by Superman's owner, DC Comics. In fact, …

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… Wonder Man (no relation) was a special kind of wonder, a one-issue one. He was effectively dealt with before the second went to press.

Wonder Man's single 14-page adventure appeared in the first comic book published by Fox Feature Syndicate, Wonder Comics #1 (May, 1939). Superman himself had debuted only 11 months earlier. It took much longer, back then, to shepherd a publication through the process of creation, production, printing and distribution, than it does now, and it's a remarkable achievement to have so close an imitation on the stands so quickly. Allegedly, Fox accomplished it through the use of inside information — founder Victor S. Fox had been DC's accountant, and acted without delay the very moment he saw Superman's sales figures. This story is refuted by comics historian Gerard Jones (El Diablo) as being inconsistent with known facts about Fox's early career, but one way or another, he was the first to field a Superman clone.

Eisner (with his partner, Jerry Iger) was running a studio that supplied ready-to-print comic book feaures to publishers such as Quality Comics and Fiction House Magazines. He was given a single specification for this job: make it as much like Superman as possible. Eisner complied, not very pleased with the creative aspects but not yet fully aware of the legal ones. Tho his origin was different, Wonder Man was exactly like Superman in every way that really mattered.

He started out as Fred Carson, an ordinary guy if a little on the meek'n'mild side, who worked as a radio engineer for a company called International Broadcasting, and did some inventing on the side. While vacationing in Tibet, that universal source for all things mystic, he fell in with an ancient yogi, who gave him a magic ring to bash evil with. Wearing the ring, Fred was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound … Also, reasonably invulnerable. The Lois Lane analog was Brenda Hastings, who had only scorn for wimpy ol' Fred, but was fascinated by Wonder Man.

Just as Fox had wasted no time before launching his Superman rip-off, DC wasted no time before suing him. The action started the moment Wonder Comics reached the stands. Fox was hit with an injunction against the use of Wonder Man until the matter could be settled in court, so instead, Wonder Comics #2 introduced Yarko the Great, one of those magical superheroes wearing a stage magician's outfit with a turban, like Ibis the Invincible or Sargon the Sorcerer.

When the case did get to court, Fox carefully instructed Eisner on how to testify. Instead, Eisner told the truth, and that put an end to Wonder Man for good. It also put an end to the Eisner-Iger Studio's prospect of getting paid for the work it had already done, making it the first of many comics industry creditors stiffed by Fox.

DC went on to sue Master Man, Steel Sterling, and eventually Captain Marvel off the face of the earth, but before too long the crowd of Superman imitators became too thick to deal with, and the world became safe for super-fast, super-strong, invulnerable, flying, spandex-wearing champions of truth, justice and the American way.

Fox went on to publish The Bird Man (a rip-off of Hawkman), Jo-Jo the Congo King (a rip-off of Tarzan), Junior (a rip-off of Archie) and many other comic book characters before succumbing to fallout from his business practices. He went bankrupt in 1950.


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Text ©2005-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Fox Feature Syndicate