Today, as I write this, it’s the 13th of December. The anniversary of the day a meteorite fell to Earth near the village of Wold Newton in Yorkshire, England, back in 1795.
I know this because, believe it or not, that event would eventually result in the greatest ongoing crossover story ever; and incidentally have a remarkable effect on my own life as well.
It started for me back in the summer of 1975, when thirteen-year-old me had made the intoxicating discovery that if I mowed lawns for people they’d give me money and since it was my money, I could blow as much of it on comics and books as I wanted. At the same time, the Sentry Market just up the road changed magazine distributors; and the new outfit supplied far more lurid fare than the previous one. Science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, pulp reprints, and comics.
I told the story of what an amazing discovery that was as far as the comics were concerned here a while ago… but those were not my first purchases from that market.
No, the first thing I bought there with my newfound riches– literally a day or two before the comics spinner rack went in– was this. The Marvel magazine Doc Savage #1.
I don’t know why it was there, because apart from that one issue they weren’t carrying any Marvel or Warren magazines. I never saw any others there. But this caught my eye. I’d read a Doc Savage paperback or two before and thought they were okay, but this was what made me a fan. Doug Moench, John Buscema, and Tony DeZuniga just killed it on the main feature, “The Doom on Thunder Isle.”
I read it as soon as I got home and loved it. Loved it so much, in fact, that I biked back up to the grocery store later that same afternoon and searched for Doc Savage paperbacks. I wanted more. And I got it.
I ended up with The Devil Genghis, featuring the return of John Sunlight– the only supervillain Doc faced more than once. But far more importantly, I also found Philip Jose Farmer’s biography of Doc. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.
It was the Farmer biography that introduced me to what would come to be called “the Wold Newton Universe.” Farmer claimed that when the meteorite hit, that fateful December 13th in 1795, a passing coach and its passengers were exposed to radiation that resulted in a beneficial genetic mutation. As a result, their descendants were tremendously gifted and a great many of them would become famous crime fighters and adventurers. (There were also a few bad apples that became equally famous supervillains.) Here’s the family tree that was printed in that paperback. Click on it to see it full-size.
I was thirteen years old, exactly the right age for Doc Savage as well as pulp and adventure fiction in general, and Farmer’s description of the Wold Newton family members was a gateway drug for me.
Some, I knew already. I’d read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels– first in the library, and then when the lawn-mowing business made me a man of means, I’d started buying the books myself to keep. (The Bantam paperbacks had the cooler covers, but they were a staggering ninety-five cents each. I was thrifty and contented myself with purchasing the cheaper, sixty-cent paperbacks from Signet.)
Of course, I’d already seen the Shadow and the Avenger in comics, though I hadn’t read them.
But Farmer’s Wold Newton idea… I just loved it, and it made me instantly interested in all the heroes he talked about. That family tree, as far as I was concerned, was a shopping list. I got the last issue of Justice Inc. just as DC was canceling it, and made it a point to pick up Ron Goulart’s new Avenger books as well. Sadly, those were ending too– my first of those was actually the last in the series, Demon Island.
The Shadow comics were gone by then but the Steranko paperbacks were still around and I was all over that action.
Solomon Kane, Travis McGee, even Tarzan… there was just so MUCH awesomeness out there, and I was determined to find it all.
Each thing seemed to lead to the next. It was during that summer that I got interested in the Spider and Robert E. Howard and noir detective fiction and all the rest of the stuff that I still read and collect today, but for me it all started with Farmer’s biography of Doc Savage and the Wold Newton family.
And of course there were Farmer’s OWN contributions to Wold Newton literature. I grabbed every one of those I could find, too.
Mr. Farmer is no longer with us, but the Wold Newton Universe is still going strong. The website, here, is maintained by Win Scott Eckert, who has also contributed to the literature of the subject.
In comics right now, the Wold Newton torch is being carried by Dynamite Entertainment, who have been doing a number of pulp-hero crossover comics miniseries squarely in the Farmer tradition.
For example, Michael Uslan’s Shadow/Green Hornet crossover, Dark Nights, was full of little Easter eggs for the alert reader, as is his current follow-up, Justice Inc., which purports to be the first meeting of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and the Avenger.
Of course some may dispute that whole ‘first meeting’ thing, but I’m not such a purist I can’t enjoy all of the various versions out there.
Mostly I like all of these crossovers a lot, though your mileage may vary. There’s been some difference of opinion on the subject among the community of Wold Newton fans, especially about the newer stuff. But as far as I’m concerned I just think it’s great that people are still doing them. They always take me back to that amazing summer of ’75 when I was just wallowing in the stuff.
In addition to Justice Inc, currently on the Wold Newton front in comics we also have Howard Chaykin returning to the Shadow in the mini-series Midnight in Moscow.
If you were wondering if Mr. Chaykin is aware of the Wold Newton fandom, well, you need look no further than #1 of that series. We got a terrific little Wold Newton shout-out, here.
That’s Lamont Cranston– the Shadow– dining with Doc Savage, Tarzan, Bulldog Drummond, and Nero Wolfe. And behind them, just in case anyone out there didn’t get it…
…hanging on Wolfe’s dining room wall is a picture of the monument in Yorkshire commemmorating the Wold Newton meteor strike back in 1795. This is, according to Win Eckert who certainly should know, the first OFFICIAL published acknowledgement of Farmer’s Wold Newton theory ever to appear in comics.
Yeah, I know. It’s nerdy and silly and a continuity in-joke worthy of Roy Thomas back in the day. You got me. I’ll own up.
But I don’t care. I still love it. It just tickles me that this is still going on.
And even more amazing when I let myself think about it, I’ve even gotten to contribute a little something to the ongoing Wold Newton tapestry of pop-culture crossovers myself; I sneaked a couple of references into the stories I’ve already done for Airship 27 and the ones scheduled for publication in the upcoming year. They’re not OBVIOUS references. If you don’t recognize them, it will detract not one whit from the story…but they are there. Getting to play along in the ongoing Wold Newton saga for real publication was (and is) serious bucket-list stuff for me.
And for all of us, from Philip Jose Farmer on, it all started with a rock falling on a farm on this date in 1795. Who knew?
Happy Wold Newton Day, everybody, and I’ll see you next week.
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