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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

Current Installment >> Installment Archives | About Alvin | Alvin Store | Round Table

AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 10/07/2002
Volume 2, Number 52

THE B'S HAVE IT, CHARLEY BRO-er-CHARLEY GREENE-er-JOSEPH GREENE

I had all sorts of ideas lined up for doing this week's column. But when I sat down to write it, all I could get was a jumble of stuff that I couldn't tie together. Stuff like "Les personnes qui m'ont dit ne se rien rappeler les prémières anées de leurs enfances m'ont beaucoup surpris." 'People who would tell me they couldn't remember anything of the first years of their childhood really used to surprise me.' I had learned that line in a high school French course some seventy-two years ago from an early novel by Anatole France, Le Livre de Mon Ami. So why should it pop out now when I'm trying to do something else?

Anyway, the odd line wasn't alone. It came with a note I'd left lying on my desk: "Why does the administration of George W. Bush remind me of Bizarro world?" Hey-I'm the guy who invented Bizarro, so why shouldn't I recognize another one when I see him? But when it came to doing the column, it seemed so obvious that I couldn't bother trying to develop the connection between Bush and Bizarro. I had this nagging feeling that my readers expected something different from me. I meet some of those readers in the flesh from time to time and I can sometimes sense the expectancy in them. They seem to be waiting for me to say something that'll clear everything up in this muddled world. I think there's a little trick in my writing that tends to induce such expectations. But the truth is, it only works a very small part of the time. And I simply didn't know how to clear up the muddle that was associated with George W. It's just that I've enjoyed enough years and poked around in enough places to have picked up a lot of stuff, plus I do have a sort of talent for putting a lot of it together. So some of it sometimes works for me. And from what I hear, a little bit for others too. At least that's what they tell me.

n a sense, however, there's something behind the Anatole France quote. I do have a prodigious long memory. So when something like that pops up, I realize it's trying to tell me something. I stretch out on my couch and let myself sink into a cloud of illogic. Any thought that comes to me is welcome. I recall that Anatole France was one of the most elegant stylists of his time. Then I fix on style for a moment and the name Joseph Greene pops into my head. Then I recall that yesterday morning the mail had brought me a copy of the German version of Batman Archive No.4. Then it all came back to me.

I'd received the English version a long time ago. And had noticed that five stories had been attributed to a writer named Joseph Greene. Oddly, the writing was in MY style. I asked around at the time, but nobody seemed to remember who Joseph Greene was. Besides, in one of "Greene's" stories, there was a character I knew very well. He was called Benny the Gimp. And he was a real person. In fact, I knew him. He was a member of a notorious gang known as Murder Incorporated that hung out in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. There was a lot of news coverage about that particular gang in those days because they'd knocked off an awful lot of people and most of them got the chair for it. But getting back to Benny the Gimp-he wasn't exactly a buddy of mine, but I had two very literary friends living in Bedford Stuyvesant at that time. They were, in fact, the models for the characters Archie and Fred in my first novel, The Blowtop. And they lived near the pool hall where the Murder Inc mob hung out. That was before they moved to the West Village and got into The Blowtop.

My friends and I went to play pool one day and I was introduced to Benny the Gimp among others. He was a wizened little man who walked with a limp. But the sound of the name echoed when I was writing a Batman story, so I used it. And there it was, just as I'd written it, under the name of Joseph Greene, the writer nobody seemed to know.

I looked at the other four stories attributed to Joseph Greene and began to note familiar stylistic elements. Certain turns of phrase, certain habits of vocabulary, longish sentences. I realized that Joseph Greene was--me. But how did they ever succeed in hanging that monicker on me?

I have half a solution. The first Batman I ever did was a collaboration. My collaborator was a man named Charley Greene. In fact, it was Charley Greene who first introduced me to the world of DC Comics. He took me to a Christmas party at DC in 1941, not long after Pearl Harbor. He'd been invited because the editors were all transferees from Standard Magazines; Charley had been one of the regular writers for Standard's "The Phantom Detective" and the editors were hoping to recruit him for Batman. As everyone knows by now, there was a lot of Phantom Detective in the early Batman anyway.

But Charley didn't feel comfortable about doing comics. He knew I'd been doing comics for some time now at the lower Manhattan office where Max Gaines had a comics operation mostly handled by Shelley Mayer. So Charley thought he might be willing to give it a try if he had me for a collaborator.

We had already collaborated on plotting the Phantom Detective. In fact, it was from Charley that I'd learned a lot about pulp plotting. And so, at the party, to get Charley, DCs editors recruited us both. Charley and I collaborated on one Batman. It wasn't great. And I don't think I ever saw it in print. But the title was "Seven Stones to......" The last word of the title escapes me. But Charley decided that writing comics was not his thing. So he left and I stayed. But apparently, he left his name behind. At least, he left the last part-Greene. No one seems to know where the Joseph came from. But in those days, when almost nobody got credit for stories they did, what did it matter. So those five stories were among many more I did over the years that followed in which I received no credits. To complicate matters a little further, I used the pen name Vernon Woodrum (it was my then wife's name) to separate my comics work from my novels. And somehow, out of the confusion came Joseph Greene. I believe, since Joseph Greene's existence has never been demonstrated, that the record will not show any check issued to Joseph Greene when Batman Archive #4 came out. Nor, in fact, was any issued to me, except for one story credited in that issue to Alvin Schwartz. But there's another and more important moral to this story.

As I said, I started to do this column with a hodge podge of leads, not quite certain which way to go. I have this nagging sense that becauses of that note I left myself about George Bush and that other character whose initial is also B, that there's an affinity between the presence of the non-existent Joseph Greene in Archive Number Four and the presence in the US of a president who was not elected, not chosen, so much as created by the Supreme Court in order to lead us into a war against someone who is apparently threatening to threaten us with weapons he doesn't yet have, is not likely to use until he decides he doesn't want to survive himself anymore, so that Al Queda who is totally opposed to the unIslamic Iraqi state Hassein runs, will get so confused by Mr. Bush's position that they'll throw down their arms and apply for membership in the UN Security Council. We've arrived folks. Welcome to the Bizarro World.

--Alvin

<< 09/30/2002 | 10/07/2002 | 10/14/2002 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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