Jimmy Thompson's Tenure on "Robotman"

This week, guest blogger Frank M. Young continues his encyclopedic look at the life and comics of Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret

Part Two:
Jimmy Thompson's Tenure on "Robotman"

by Frank M. Young

Jimmy Thompson did not create "Robotman." The concept came from "Superman" creator Jerry Siegel, via Eando Binder's "Adam Link" science-fiction stories. Despite its obvious debt to the Binders' concepts, "Robotman" was a genuinely fresh idea for the comics.

Siegel infused the character, as with his creation, the Spectre, with a sense of fatalism also seen early installments of "Superman." Siegel's heroes, like Steve Ditko's "Spider-Man" of the 1960s, all exist on the periphery of the regular world. They mingle with the "little people" but cannot truly be a part of them.

This troubles them, and they talk at length, to themselves, about this aspect of their existence. In this sequence from the feature's second story, Paul Dennis/Robotman asks a flesh-and-blood woman out for a date, then slumps into a chatty depression about how things can never really work out with a real live girl:

Robotman comic book scans SS8-EXC

Siegel soon abandoned the feature, which began a predictable slide into mediocrity. Like most DC secondary features, it was filler--sometimes-clever, sometimes-lively, but still filler.

When Jimmy Thompson inherited "Robotman," it had most recently been illustrated by Don Cameron, whose characters' lock-jawed grimaces often suggest the less pleasant sensations of a colonoscopy.

Such angst--and such perfunctory status--were not part of Jimmy Thompson's agenda.
He gave "Robotman" a whimsical, breezy touch from the moment he inherited the feature, with issue #25 of Star-Spangled Comics.

Thompson contributed a six or seven-page story for the next 57 issues--plus another 17 for Detective. Thompson left the series after issue #154. It would prove his last work in the super-hero genre.

The Grand Comics Database credits Joe Samachson, with the scripts for this series. (God bless the GCD, which is as riddled with errors as the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide!)

Regardless of who scripted the stories, Thompson's sensibilities take center stage in this series. His staging, direction and "acting" are unmistakable.
As we have seen in Part One of this series, a bold sense of design, innovative use of typography, a deft blend of comical and dramatic elements and a tendency to explore eccentric characters and narratives distinguish Thompson's seven-year run on "Robotman."

In his tenure on the feature, Thompson created a DC equivalent to Jack Cole's popular "Plastic Man." The features share a frequently whimsical outlook, and interlace cartoony drawing with serious, sometimes-sinister themes of crime and punishment.

--Frank Young
Text ©2009 by Frank M. Young
Coming up next: "Robbie, Come Home!" from Star-Spangled Comics # 69, is a charming example of "Robotman" at its least super-heroic. Thompson's graphics are at their smooth, cartoony and designy peak here. Don't miss it!

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