The late Harlan Ellison was one of the most famous and successful science fiction and fantasy writers in the United States during the 20th Century. His success and his fame made him a hero to many and that idolization led to Ellison actually appearing as a character in an issue of Justice League of America in one of the strangest Justice League stories of all-time, as Ellison wreaks havoc while trying to date Black Canary.
Science fiction and fantasy have always had a large impact on the world of comic books and right from the earliest days of the comic book industry, there were comic book editors who looked to their idols in the science fiction industry to see if they wanted to write comic books, as well. Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger had been literary agents for science fiction authors early in their career and when they each went to work for DC Comics (then actually two companies, National Comics, where Weisinger worked and All American Comics, where Schwartz worked, which was owned by Max Gaines and operated as a sort of independent subsidiary along with National Comics – Gaines then sold the company to National outright and Schwartz went to work for National), they each found work for their favorite science fiction authors, with Schwartz hiring Alfred Bester on All American Comics’ Green Lantern in the mid-1940s and Weisinger later hiring Edmund Hamilton when Weisinger was put in charge of the Batman and Superman titles in the late 1940s.
For the early comic book creators, their idols were science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Bester, Hamilton and more.
After twenty or so years, however, we began to see the second generation of comic book writers start to break into the scene around 1966. These were the first writers who grew up reading comic book and thus they were the first comic book writers who were initially comic book fans. These writers were also, of course, fans of the same science fiction and fantasy writers as their previous generation of comic creators, it was just that they were also fans of Stan Lee, Gardner Fox, Bill Finger and more. It was during this period where famed science fiction and fantasy writer Harlan Ellison was probably at the peak of his popularity, as well. Ellison was not just young and acclaimed, he was also famous and making quite a good deal of money writing for Hollywood as well as his own short stories (which he wrote prolifically). Here are just the short story collections he released in the last five years of the 1960s: Paingod and Other Delusions, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, From the Land of Fear, Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled and The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. Most of those became classics and they were just in the last five years of the 1960s alone!
For this new generation of comic book writers, Harlan Ellison was a true icon. Not only that, though, he wasn’t even 40 years old during all of this, so he wasn’t so much older than they were. These new writers ranged from their late teens/early 20s (Mike Friedrich, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber) to their late 20s/early 30s (Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neil and Archie Goodwin), with Steve Skeates somewhere in the middle of the group. Being one of the older writers in the group, O’Neil would often host parties in New York City and Ellison would often attend them.
This had a huge influence on Mike Friedrich, who was a huge comic book fan whose fan letters had been appearing in comics since the early 1960s, when he was not barely a teenager. He sold his first script when he was 18 years old. He took over the assignment on Justice League of America with issue #86. His stories were full of youthful optimism and vigor. In one of his earliest issues, though, he also included a tribute to Harlan Ellison that has to be seen to be believed…