What if I told you the artist that co-created the following characters:
Power Man (would later become Goliath, then Atlas)
The Living Pharaoh/The Living Monolith
The Rainbow Raider
Alex Summers (would become Havok)
Lorna Dane (would become Polaris)
Dr. Bill Foster (would become Black Goliath)
Captain George Stacy
…is perpetually viewed as a lesser creator?
Don Heck doesn’t get the respect he deserves. People often compare Heck to Kirby, Ditko and other creators that were working at Marvel during the 1960s and I think that’s really unfair. I get people look at their respective art/storytelling and prefer Kirby, Ditko, etc.. to Heck and find him the lesser of the bunch.
My argument is regarding his ability to co-create popular, long lasting characters. Many creators have tried to do this, be it for Marvel, DC, or somewhere else. Most attempts fail at reaching the level of success that any of the above list of characters. It’s really, really hard to come up with a character that other writers want to use in shared universe, that in the hands of other creators are entertaining enough that readers will be satisfied enough with the comic they purchased and buy the next one. It’s not like you can tick off a series of boxes in a ‘create a popular character’ manual and get guaranteed success. Don Heck came up with a bunch of those characters, collaborating with a variety of writers and did it for damn near 20 years.
I think if you were to look at his accomplishments and instead of comparing him against Kirby and Ditko, and instead compare them against everybody else who worked in the comic industry from the late 1930s to today, you’ll find that there are only a tiny handful of creators that have done more in that regard than Don Heck has. Many who’ve done less get a more respect than Don Heck does and I’m not saying they don’t deserve their respect, I’m just saying Don Heck gets a lot less than he deserves. Heck gets compared to Kirby and Ditko and he is the only artist that gets compared that way. Nobody looks at say, Jim Starlin or Walt Simonson and decides they are lesser creators because they weren’t Jack Kirby. Nor should anybody do that and they shouldn’t also do that to Don Heck.
Also, please note that list above is only a partial list of characters Don Heck created. Earlier today I was researching who created a character named Iron Cross. The character made its debut in Invaders #35, but wikipedia said he appeared in issue #36. Checking on Grand Comics Database and reading the actual comic made it clear the character first appeared in #35. Wikipedia also says Frank Robbins was his co-creator despite not having drawn either comic. Don Heck was the artist who drew the first appearance of Iron Cross.
So I reached out the writer/editor of the comic and co-creator of Iron Cross, Roy Thomas and asked him who co-created Iron Cross with him. Below is his response to my e-mail (reprinted with permission):
Hi Jamie —
The artist who designed and first drew Iron Cross was Don Heck, fitting since he was also the first story-drawing Iron Man artist. Much of THE INVADERS #35 is taken from the abortive LIBERTY LEGION #1 that was prepared but then never published as a stand-alone comic; I had Alan Kupperberg add the sequence at the start of the issue, which of course doesn’t feature Iron Cross.
Thanks for the kind words,
So add Iron Cross to that list of characters that Don Heck co-created. I recognize that the character is not very well known or popular compared to the list of characters above, but he has very occasionally been used by other creators since his creation. The last appearance (outside of reprints) that I could find was a 2011 mini series called Invaders Now! done by Alex Ross, Christos Gage, Caio Reis, Vinicius Andrade and Simon Bowland. A new version of the character was created by James Robinson and Steve Pugh for a 2014 New Invaders series.
Something that’s a part of the Eisner Awards that I really like is the Bill Finger Award. It’s for comic book writers who were under appreciated and is given to a deceased and living creator every year. I wish there was a similar award for under appreciated artists. Personally I think it ought to be named after Harry G. Peter, who we have proof co-created Wonder Woman but is not officially recognized as such. All American editors at that time really didn’t like Harry’s work and didn’t want him drawing the title and only got the job at the insistence of Wonder Woman’s co-creator William Moulton Marston. Among the artists I think should be considered for such an award is Bob Brown, Dick Ayers, Paul Ryan, Alan Kupperberg and Don Heck.