With the death of Stan Lee, much deserved attention has been paid to the impact on popular culture of the many iconic heroes and villains he co-created. But he had a counterpart… Julius Schwartz.
Schwartz got his start as a teenaged science fiction fan. A recent emigre to the Bronx from Romania, he fell in love with science fiction and would hang around the offices of some of the many science fiction magazines in the hope to talk to authors. It developed into his first real job; authors recognized that he lived nearby and was willing to go to the offices, while they tended to live further away and only visited because editors of the day were notorious about “forgetting” to send payment for stories. Schwartz was hired by many authors to pick up their checks – really, to bother the editors until the checks were produced – and to then mail them out. He became a literary agent.
As the science fiction magazines dwindled with the advent of television, Schwartz – now an editor – segued into an editorial spot at what was to become DC Comics. Because of his experience with science fiction, he was selected by the upper management to revitalize their flagging comic titles.
Schwartz, unlike Lee, had a stable of existing characters who had existing copyrights the company wanted to maintain. The readers were bored with them. Schwartz got together with a couple of writers and artists and charted the new course. That, he decided, was going to be with new characters who simply shared traits with the classic creations.
Again unlike Lee, Schwartz didn’t actively write the books, but he was an active part of the teams that created what became known as the “Silver Age” of comics. New looks were given to characters. New identities. New origins. The Flash became Barry Allen, police scientist. Hawkman was now an alien, instead of a person possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian. Green Lantern went from a person with a magic lamp to an unsubtle theft of E.E.”Doc” Smith’s Lensman. Adam Strange was created, as was Elongated Man. Atom went from a bodybuilding brawler to a man who could shrink. Batman was given a complete update, including the creation of the modern Batgirl. Following this, he was given control of the Superman titles, which again were moved away from campy, silly stories into their current format. In addition to the heroes there needed to be new, regular villains in the books, and Schwartz, the writers and the artists would bounce ideas off each other to develop them. Julie claimed exclusive credit for none of them (except, sometimes, Adam Strange) but he had a strong hand in them all.
Along the way, he was responsible for co-creating “Justice League” and the multiple-earth concept for bringing older characters back to interact with their new iterations.
After he retired as a regular editor, he became DC’s “Goodwill ambassador” whose job was to go to conventions and talk about the old days, attending many of the same events as Lee up until his death in 2004.
He was never as charismatic as Stan Lee, and he didn’t measure up to Stan’s creative legacy, but he was as close a runner-up as exists in comic book history.