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Obituary: John Broome

THE FLASH, a superhero who wore a winged helmet with booties to match, also bore a subtitle to live up to: "The Fastest Man Alive!" except sometimes it read: "The Fastest Thing on Earth". Perhaps his creator, Gardner Fox, could not make up his mind.

Perhaps also writers of American newspaper obituaries are unable to make up theirs, for they have all credited John Broome as the creator of the Flash. This, perhaps unhappily, is not so; neither is the statement that he created that equally colourful superhero the Green Lantern. Unhappily, because Broome was a bright talent in his own right. For he not only scripted both these comic book characters throughout their successful revival during the Sixties, he also created a fair few of his own. In fact, research shows that he was a much-admired writer of Super-strips and would be the last person to claim creation of those "Golden Age" guys, being quite content to make them over for new adventures during the slightly less treasurable "Silver Age" of comics.

He was born in 1914. As a young reader he had been fascinated by science fiction, and he tried his hand at writing scripts for comic books using science-fiction themes. This began during the Forties and he was soon made a contract contributor to D.C. Comics, the company which had risen to the top of the comic-book tree on the cloak-tail of Superman.

One of Broome's earliest credits seems to have been on Captain Comet, whose alter ego was librarian Adam West, who appeared in Strange Adventures from 1951. However, he had to suffer a pen-name provided by his editor, Julius Schwartz. It was policy for every series to carry a different creator's name. Broome was already appearing as himself and under the name of "John Osgood". Schwartz, a long-term science-fiction fan, came up with "Edgar Ray Merritt", clearly coined from a combination of three fantasy writers, Poe, Bradbury and Abraham.

Another earlier super-person of Broome's devising was the Phantom Stranger, who made his debut in his own comic title in September 1952. This curious character was sometimes an avenger of crime, other times the shadowy narrator of a crime yarn, popping up between pictures as drawn by Carmine Infantino. After a sinister interval of some 10 years or so, the Stranger was brought back from the dead in a new series beginning in February 1969.

Broome's best-remembered series of his own creation was probably "The Atomic Knights". Drawn by Murphy Anderson, the first chapter ran in Strange Adventures no 117 (June 1960), and they appeared regularly until their final strange adventure in no 160. The leader of the group bore a name typical of virtually all comic book heroes - Gardner Gayle. He awoke from an amnesiac sleep 20 years into the future (1980 as that then was) to find the world devastated by the super-H bombs of World War Three. Ruler of what is left is the Black Baron: "If you want to eat you have to lick the Black Baron's boots!" Gayle soon finds five like-minded lads, and, clad in convenient suits of armour, they set about righting the wronged new world. It is said by some students of the form to be the only anti- science story ever published by Julius Schwartz.

But it is as the takeover talent who revived a whole sequence of Golden Age superstars for the Silver Age that Broome will be best remembered. First came the Flash: "Faster than the streak of lightning in the sky! Swifter than the speed of light itself. Fleeter than the rapidity of thought is - The Flash!" So wrote his true creator Gardner Fox, describing Jay Garrick, the simple and shy student of Midwestern University, who breathed in gas emanating from hard water and turned into the "reincarnation of light itself!"

Broome's revival in March 1959 was a somewhat different personality. In place of Jay Garrick, student, we had Barry Allen, police scientist, and in place of Harry Lampert's simple, almost comic drawing, we saw the much better artwork of Carmine Infantino. And Broome added a string of original villains ranging from Grod the Giant Gorilla to Captain Cold, controller of ice.

The Green Lantern, originally by the cartoonist Martin Nodell and Batman's writer Bill Finger, introduced himself in 1940 thus: "And I shall shed my light over dark evil, for the dark cannot stand the light - the light of The Green Lantern!" He was really Allan Scott, newscaster of the Apex Broadcasting System, who had only to touch his mystic ring to an ancient artefact to change, clothes and all, into a cloaked and costumed crime- buster, who could walk through any obstacle. Revived by Broome in 1959 he had changed again. Now he was Hal Jordan, test pilot, who won his super powers from a dying red alien. The new artist was Gil Kane.

Third and perhaps least of Broome's Golden Age revivals was the Atom, who debuted in the October 1940 edition of All American Comics. Ben Flinton was the first artist to draw this hero, who was five-foot-tall Al Pratt. He turned super by donning a blue mask, leather trunks and a yellow shirt that had a neckline plunging to his navel. Broome's 1961 version was a scientist named Ray Palmer, who altered his weight and size by dosing on stuff from a white dwarf star. Dwarf star, get it? This Atom shrank so small he could transport himself through a telephone wire.

By the late Sixties Broome had begun a much-needed life change. He and his wife moved to Paris, from which base he mailed his scripts into the D.C. Comics' New York office. He was much missed by his fellow writers, who had got together in a pressure group to demand better pay from the publisher, plus a share of the profits. The publishers won the day by sacking all their writers, including the faraway Broome.

His last strip appeared in the March 1970 issue of The Green Lantern. Broome became a teacher of English to the French, leaving comics for good. He suffered a heart attack whilst swimming in a hotel pool in Thailand, where he was on holiday with his wife Peggy.

Denis Gifford

John Broome, comic-strip writer: born 1914; married; died Chiang Mai, Thailand 14 March 1999.