In the history of science fiction, there are very few authors who were able to make the transition from the early days of pseudo-science into the harsh reality of the post-nuclear world. Of those who made the transition, still fewer were able to adapt to the changing moods of the Cold War or the social upheavals of the 60s. But, there were a very few authors who managed to write stories and novels throughout it all—from the time of the Space Opera through the first landing on the moon and beyond. One of these authors was Edmond Hamilton.
Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett Year Unknown
Edmond Hamilton was born in 1904 in Youngstown, Ohio. A child prodigy, he completed high school and entered into college at the age of 14 with the dream of becoming an electrical engineer. Unfortunately, the age discrepancy between Hamilton and the other students made it very difficult for him to adapt socially to his new surroundings and he never completed his degree. He flunked out during his third year and took a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad while he tried to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
Hamilton had always been a voracious reader, particularly of the works of A. Merritt and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Although he had never shown any inclination towards writing before, he decided in the mid 20s to be an author. Whether this decision was just an intellectual exercise or was born out of necessity is not known, but his first attempt, the short story “The Monster-God of Mamurth,” was submitted to Weird Tales and published in 1926. A second story was accepted with equal ease and within a very short time, Hamilton was an established author, writing both atmospheric horror stories and science fiction stories in the space opera style of E. E. “Doc” Smith for a variety of outlets. The early science fiction stories also gained Hamilton the nickname of “World Wrecker” since most of these tales involved a major menace to the galaxy that had to be defeated, usually, by a space armada and the destruction of a planet or two.
From the 20s to the mid-40s, Hamilton worked solely as a freelance author and was very prolific, often writing several short stories simultaneously while working on a novel-length serial. His style was constantly evolving—eventually leaving behind the space opera style of story in favor of stories that explored humanity, man's place in the universe and even sociological themes; told within a science fictional or horror setting. In addition, he also expanded into the field of mystery and detective stories. Some estimates suggest that his short story output alone may have numbered in the hundreds, but, because some of Hamilton’s work was published under pseudonyms as well as his own name, the true number of stories may never be known. Always creative, Hamilton established a number of firsts during this extremely fertile period, including the first use of a space suit in science fiction, the first space walk and the first use of an energy sword, the prototype for what George Lucas, a Hamilton fan, would later dub a light saber. He also found time to travel during this period and visited much of the US and parts of Mexico, often in the company of his friend, author Jack Williamson.
Batman #11 Cover by Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson
In 1946, Hamilton’s output slowed and with good reason. First, he married author Leigh Brackett and they began to restore a 130 year old house in Kinsman, Ohio, which became their primary home for many years. Secondly, Hamilton embarked on a secondary career as a comic book writer.
Exactly how Hamilton entered into comic book writing is a bit of a mystery. The long accepted sequence of events (a chronology substantiated in later years by Hamilton) is that he was contacted by his old friend, and former editor and literary agent, Mort Weisinger in 1946. Weisinger had been the senior editor for Standard publications prior to moving to DC Comics in 1941, just after he and Hamilton had created the pulp character, Captain Future. Back from a stint in the military, Weisinger was looking up many of the writers he had worked with in the pulps to offer them jobs writing comic books for DC. Research, however, would suggest differently.
Prior to joining DC in 1946, The Grand Comic Book Database shows a credit for a Hamilton story in Batman #11 (1942), followed by a story in Detective Comics (1944). In addition, there is a single story in Green Lantern #18 (1945-46) that is also credited to Hamilton by the GCD. Of even greater interest are a number of Black Terror stories that appeared in America’s Best Comics and The Black Terror from 1945-46, which the GCD attributes as having possible Hamilton authorship. While all these stories may have been mis-indexed (records of comic book stories are often sketchy), there are other possible explanations for these early efforts.
Weisinger and Hamilton had a long term relationship that stretched back into the mid-30s. Weisinger’s first assignment at DC was as editor of the Batman titles, and even though he entered the military in late 1942 or early 1943, one, or both of the Batman stories, might have been tryouts of some sort on Hamilton’s part, written at Weisinger’s request before he entered military service, with the latter story being held in inventory until its publication in 1944. The Green Lantern story might also be explained due to the arrival at DC of Julius Schwartz in 1944. Schwartz was the editor of the Green Lantern character and had also been partners with Weisinger in the literary agency they co-owned, prior to Weisinger’s move to Standard.
The Black Terror stories can also be explained in a similar fashion, as The Black Terror was published by Standard Comics, one publishing arm of Standard publications, the company where Weisinger had been employed as senior editor. Hamilton, through Weisinger, began writing for Standard in the mid-30s and continued to write sporadically for Standard’s science fiction pulps after Weisinger’s departure, and also wrote most of the Captain Future novels for the company throughout the 40s. It is not a stretch, then, to suggest that Hamilton was tapped by an unknown editor to try his hand on Standard’s comic fare.
Starwolf #1 The Weapon From Beyond Ace 1967 Cover art by Jack Gaughan
Exactly how (or why) these earlier stories have been left out of most chronologies is not known and why Hamilton chose not to mention them is yet another enigma. What is known, however, is that the pulp market was slowing, Weisinger was looking for writers, Hamilton was interested and, at some point in the mid-40s, he began his second career as a comic book writer.
Writing for comic books presented a new venue for Hamilton. Comics paid better than pulps in the post-war years and he could do as many, or as few, as he wanted, even to the point where he could put his comic writing on hold to work on a novel or short story. Hamilton was also allowed to mail his scripts to DC, which meant trips to New York were unnecessary. Originally hired as one of Weisinger’s stable of writers, Hamilton soon became part of Shwartz’s group of writers as well and even continued to write Batman after Weisinger turned the Batman titles over to Jack Schiff. Over the next 20 years, Hamilton proved himself to be prolific as ever creating some fondly remembered stories for Superman, Batman, Adam Strange and others, including a long run in the 60s on the ”Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes“ series in Adventure Comics. Along with his comic book writing, Hamilton also traveled for pleasure, made trips to Hollywood (as part of his wife’s screenwriting career), attended science fiction conventions and still found time to turn out out novels and short stories on a fairly regular basis, but by no means as quickly as he had in the previous twenty years.
By 1966, Hamilton decided it was time to think about retirement, so he resigned his position at DC. He and Leigh divided their time between the restored house in Kinsman and their second home in Lancaster, California, where they spent the winters. They also traveled a great deal to various destinations around the world. Hamilton still found time to write the occasional short story and even wrote a three novel series about the Starwolves in the late 60s that were done in the style of his earlier “World Wrecker” days. Yet, his health became increasingly frail and by the early to mid 70s he was under fairly constant medical care and not allowed to travel too far from either home. Eventually he passed away in 1977.