13 July 2011

Cei-U love Rod Keith as much as I do? He's so cool!

In the amazing world of digital media, the concept of penpals has exploded into a social relationship of it's own.  I've made great comix art friends, great car fabrication friends, and one heck of a superhero toy box friend- The Man, The Myth, The Rod Keith.

Rod is a bona fide fanatic of comic eras gone by.  My *sense* is that his passion is old National and DC Comics, ranging from the heyday of the Golden Age to right around the DC Explosion/Implosion of the Seventies.

That would describe a lot of people, but Rod is in a category of his own when it comes to creating the toys on his own shelf.

Rod has an uncanny ability to translate comic pop art into three-dimension media, while completely maintaining the original aesthetic, such as his devotion to the DC Comics' dabbling into Strange Adventiure heroes with Ultraa the Multi-Alien:

Rod Keith (Ultraa)
Jor-El, father of Superman:

Rod Keith (Jor-El)

Or his Magnum Opus (in my opinion), The Black Orchid:

Rod Keith (Black Orchid)

Together, Rod and I have built a whole bunch of super hero figures that have never made it to the toy stores, including The Sandman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl.  He shows me great pictures of his artwork and I drool.  We tweak each other's stuff.  We kick one another to get stuff done.

The truth is, I may well have never started making figures and focused solely on Batmobiles if it wasn't for Rod's enthusiasm.  One of our shared pet peeves was Toy Collection Interruptus- when a toy company begins making members of a super team but stops production before they complete the entire roster, thus ruining the collection.
Originally, when we began working together, I held off on making Golden Age figures from the DC Universe because MATTEL had just acquired the license with a 6" collectors line.  Flash forward several years and it has become clear that MATTEL is likely too busy focusing on all the new characters  and new looks for current characters to delve deep into the WWII-era Justice Society.

Sure enough, the email starts coming in.  It's Rod and he wants to finish the Justice Society.  

"C'mon", he whispers into my ear, "It's only three figures.  We'll bang this out."

He was like Rasputin.  I couldn't resist.

Sure, Mr. Terrific and The Star Spangled Kid are easy enough, but what about Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt?  

Cei-U don't know about Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt?  Ahhh, the answer rests in one beautiful cover:

Justice League of America 37
Johnny Thunder was a charter member of the WWII-era Justice Society, a team of popular and not-so popular characters from DC and National Comics.  When DC revived it's superhero comics in the late Fifties, the writers revamped many of it's characters to the times (The Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman) while leaving some others to rest.  Johnny Thunder was one of the latter.

Fred Hembeck (Johnny Thunder)
Johnny Thunder would never sell in today's market because he was a goof.  Johnny was bequeathed a magic genie- a pink thunderbolt that would respond to his wishes if he said the magic word "Cei-U" (pronounced "Say You").  The gag was that Johnny didn't realize he had a thunderbolt nor did he know the magic word.  He blundered about, getting by on luck.

It was funny the first time.

DC put Johnny in the JSA as a sidekick, and quickly earned a spot on the team because his heart was in the right place.  He eventually figured out the pink lightning bolt that was around him quite a bit wasn't happenstance and he even became aware of the magic word, although his personality prevented him from becoming a powerful character in the DC Universe.  He was phased out of the JSA mid series for a attractive young woman, The Black Canary.  Cei-U think that's it for Johnny?  You'd be right for twenty plus years.

Until JLoA 37, when suddenly an evil Thunderbolt is beating up the semi-retired JSA (as depicted on the cover).  It's a ripping Gardner Fox tale of an alternate universe Johnny Thunder (Holy Goatee Evil Spock!) taking command of the T-Bolt and kicking ass.  It's one of my favorite Silver Age comics of my childhood love of the JSA and it also inspired Fred Hembeck when he drew this wonderful commission for me.

Additionally, the IDEAL toy company was making tons of BATMAN toys in 1966 and decided to branch out to some of Batman's friends in the Justice League.  Friends need enemies, and so the executives grabbed some comicbooks and looked for cool covers with neat-o villains.


Esoteric Super hero genie cum villain cum rare action figure:

The Thunderbolt vs the JLoA

Johnny Thunder, with the wrong bowtie
So, my good friend Rod now wants to finish up the Justice Society on his shelf.  Mr. Terrific and the Star Spangled Kid are forthcoming (more on those in another blog entry), and Johnny was a dunker.  What about this pink Thunderbolt?

The Thunderbolt is an interesting challenge.  I'm not sure if characters in the Golden and Silver Age stories can see the Thunderbolt.  I don't recall any of the other JSA members speaking to or with the Thunderbolt.  I'm really certain that the T-bolt has never been drawn with legs, standing around with all the other fellas.

So how do you add a T-Bolt action figure?

For me, the pink plastic IDEAL figure has the general shape down, with the possible exception of the raised clenched fist grasping a lightning bolt.  That's pretty darn good.  Alternatively, Alex Ross did a jim-dandy rendering of Johnny riding the T-Bolt in mid flight in a lithograph.  That's probably my perfect (dare I say IDEAL) pose, but it probably wouldn't fit well with a group of standing figures.  Plus,  my Johnny figure has limited pose-ability due to his suit coat.  I could create a pair of straddled legs to snap onto the T-Bolt base, but that gets complicated.

There's also the consideration of the resin.  In my mind's eye, the T-Bolt is translucent pink resin, with a frosting of white metal flake.  However, clear resin is a huge pain to cast without bubbles.  Not impossible, just not cheap.  Plus, those lightning bolts on the head are likely gonna have to be separate parts, which means mold lines.

Ach.  Listen to me.  Just look at those beautiful figures Rod has done.

Time to dig out the clear resin.

Cei-U will have to tune in to a later installment to see the END OF THE JSA TOYS!!


  1. I'm very proud to own a Rod Keith Johnny Thunder - he's a talented man!

    That Ultraa is off the hook - and I have never actually used that expression before! I really mean it!

  2. You gotta lurve RK!! Hembeck is so much fun too!

  3. Ah... but is he FRENCH-Canadian? then he'd be NON!