This is a bit of a lesson in how one moment of false reporting or lazy journalism, can result in a falsity becoming a fact among fans. This one is a bit of a light controversy, but it’s interesting the path it took until the truth was finally revealed about the credit of the Mercury short story in Timely Comics’ Red Raven 1, 1940 and who actually wrote that story.
Although the art has that classic Jack Kirby-Joe Simon look of the early Timely books, the credit says Martin A. Bursten.
Many can look at this and see the Jack Kirby art a mile away, so was this a writer credit for another person or was this a pen name for the artist, Jack Kirby? Well it was assumed for a very long time that this name was one of Jack Kirby’s pen names, and this was the thought for decades, but as time went by, it turned out Martin Bursten was actually a real person with a very interesting life, who wrote very interesting things. As we analyze the panels from the Red Raven Comics 1 story about Mercury, there seems to be a strong international, almost geopolitical sense with a commentary on Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.
This makes for a very fascinating story because most comics at the time were not so analytical of world events, and it wouldn’t be the first time that Jack Kirby illustrated a critique on Adolf Hitler which he did in 1939 when he worked for Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate.
Marvel Super-Heroes #14 (May 1968) the editor, credited to editor-in-chief, Stan Lee claimed that Bursten was a Kirby alias and reprinted the story for people to celebrate Golden Age Jack Kirby comic art. Now, when someone says a name is an alias, it gives an impression that name and even the idea that its a separate person, as not real.
In 1970, 30 years after the Red Raven Comics 1, and a couple years after Marvel Superheroes 14, Jim Steranko wrote his first of two incredible volumes on the history of the Golden Age of Comics that Martin Bursten was a pen name for Jack Kirby, likely getting that from the Marvel Superheroes 14 reprint. There is so much incredible detail and historical description in those volumes, that gives credence to this statement.
Likley not caring or not knowing thie mix up going on with his name thought to be an alias for Jack Kirby, the real Martin Bursten wrote about his geopolitical life in a book he published from Greenwood Press over 200 pages called Escape from Fear, 1973. There is no mention of comics here, so it was likely not very important to him.
Turns out that this Bursten helped coordinate 168,000 Hungarians who fled Communism to find sanctuary in the United States when the Hungarian Revolt erupted in October 1956. This Martin A. Bursten was also among the first to reach the Austro-Hungarian border giving aid to those who were in desperate need. We would think that maybe when Bursten released his book, that would get his name back out into the world of literature and someone would notice the names are similar and catch that, to potentially clear up if this was the real Martin Bursten who wrote the Mercury story, however no one made the connection and in the Marvel Fanzine, FOOM (Friends of Ol’ Marvel) issue 11, 1975 two years later, wrote that there never was a Martin A. Bursten! This myth continued for many more years.
The writer at FOOM, just like the Steranko history and the Marvel Superheroes before that, wrote again that name was just a pen name for Jack Kirby. In The Comics Journal 134, 1990 Gary Groth interviews Joe Simon who writes that “one of the guys who worked with me on … Captain America, … had him as a synonym for Jack Kirby…”
“Misinformation just mulitplies ’til it becomes part of the history.” Later that year in 1990, Joe Simon published his biography Comic Book Makers which goes in full detail the interesting geopolitical life of his friend Martin Bursten who had left comics behind living a very interesting life that took him all the way to Washington, D.C. After his work writing comics with Simon and Kirby, including this Red Raven Comics story, he knew that comics were not his career goal in life. With his strong international sense, Martin Bursten went into politics, and joined the Republican Party, becoming a mover, organizer, shaker, as well as a person helping displaced Jewish immigrants find a place in the United States.
Bursten had gone beyond comics to such a great deal, that him not being remembered in comics wasn’t anything that he worried about, but to set the record straight, Joe Simon reestablished his friend’s legacy in Comic Book History.
Join us for more discussion at our Facebook group
check out our CBH documentary videos on our CBH Youtube Channel
get some historic comic book shirts, pillows, etc at CBH Merchandise
check out our CBH Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google PlayerFM and Stitcher.
Use of images are not intended to infringe on copyright, but merely used for academic purpose.
Red Raven Comics ©Marvel, Escape From Fear ©Greenwood Press, History of Comics vol 1, ©Steranko, FOOM ©Marvel, The Comics Journal ©Fantagraphic Books, Chamberlain Cartoon ©Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate, Photos ©Their Respective Copyrightholders