Robert Kanigher was one of the most prolific comic book writers of the last century. According to an interview with Christopher Irving, he would write a hundred pages a week. And it showed: after writing for the Blue Beetle at Fox Features Syndicate and Steel Sterling and the Web at MLJ/Archie, he moved over to DC Comics where he became a writer-editor and basically wrote for every single property that DC had at the time. And then he went on to create more for them.
In fact, there are so many characters that he created or co-created, it’s hard to read a current DC comic book and not encounter one. Poison Ivy? He co-created her with Sheldon Moldoff. Black Canary? He co-created her with Lee Elias. The Metal Men? He co-created with Ross Andru. The Suicide Squad? Star Sapphire? The Fiddler? Sgt Rock? Barry Allen himself? All co-creations of Kanigher.
When he first showed up at DC Comics (or, rather, All-American Comics, as it hadn’t been incorporated into National Comics yet) in 1945, he became a writer-editor, writing and then editing his own books, experiencing a freedom most other writers didn’t. He wrote and edited Justice Society stories for All Star Comics, Hawkman stories for Flash Comics, and the main Green Lantern book, where he introduced such characters as the Harlequin and Rose and Thorn.
He was also the editor for William Moulton Marston’s Wonder Woman until Marston died in 1947, at which point he became the writer as well, writing and editing the book for a whopping twenty-two years. During this period, he oversaw the complete revamping of Wonder Woman, removing the bondage and feminist themes of the book and replacing them with more campy stories. In Wonder Woman #93, his long-time collaborator Ross Andru became the main artist and the new art style became more modern. And Kanigher, seeing the popularity of Superboy (stories of Superman as a boy in Smallville) introduced Wonder Girl (stories of Wonder Woman as a young girl on Paradise Island) and soon after that Wonder Tot (you can probably guess).
(Ironically, even as Kanigher changed continuity on Wonder Woman, so did other writers change Kanigher’s continuity — when Bob Haney created the Teen Titans, he decided to include Wonder Girl in their second adventure, not realizing that she wasn’t a new character, but just Wonder Woman as a young girl. This accident ended up creating an entirely new character, Donna Troy, out of a continuity error. Of course, the reason for this was that Kanigher often had Wonder Woman team up with Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot, not through time travel, but...somehow.)
Not everyone liked Kanigher’s Wonder Woman stories though, especially since they so radically diverged from Marston’s deliberate feminist messages. As Tim Hanley wrote in Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine:
“Now, it looks like Kanigher performed a terrible hatchet job on Wonder Woman and blatantly undid everything that Marston instilled in his creation. We should be appalled at Kanigher’s campaign to reverse the very nature of the character. Regardless of which version we prefer, this degree of disrespect for what came before is hardly becoming. However, such outrage would be based on the notion that Kanigher consciously undid Marston’s underlying messages and intentionally replaced them with his own view of the world. Marston was a creator who wrote a message and plan, and submission and female superiority was at the core of every single thing he did. He put a great deal of thought and effort into Wonder Woman.
Robert Kanigher didn’t. By all accounts, Kanigher was winging it; the man just sat down and typed.”
Kanigher’s method was plain and simple: he started with a blank page and wrote down whatever he thought up. From his interview with Christopher Irving, this was, in fact, how he got his first job with Fox:
I answered an ad (things were very bad at our house, economically) and walked into an office about a mile long. At the end of it is a desk about the size of a football field. Behind it is a bald head.
The bald head tells me “Tell me a story.”
Without breaking stride, I said “A skeleton is driving an open convertible from Times Square (not someone in a costume, but a real skeleton) and people are running in sheer panic.”
He said “I like a man who thinks on his feet.” C.W. Scott, my editor. That was it.
Kanigher wrote and he wrote a lot. In 1952, he took on writing and editing DC’s entire war line of comics: G.I. Combat, Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, All-American Men of War, and Star Spangled War Stories. In Our Army at War #83, he and Joe Kubert introduced Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, one of their most popular creations. Kanigher’s war comics were often less about glamorizing war and more about showing the physical and mental stresses of war.
One of the most infamous and retold stories about Kanigher’s time writing and editing DC’s war comics, however, is when he put in a note for an artist to drop an inch on a cover and the artist, misunderstanding the request, instead put that the title of the story was “Drop an Inch.” By the time the cover was done, there was no way it could be changed.
So Kanigher sat down at lunch and wrote a nine-page story called “Drop an Inch!”
One of Kanigher’s most enduring creations was the second Flash, Barry Allen, in Showcase #4. Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino created a completely new Flash with completely new supporting characters (like Iris West) before Kanigher handed over writing duties to John Broome. Other characters he created for Showcase include the Viking Prince, the Sea Devils, and King Faraday.
Kanigher continued writing Wonder Woman and the war comics, introducing such characters as the Losers, Enemy Ace, the Unknown Soldier, and the Haunted Tank with artist Russ Heath. And in Showcase #37, he and Ross Andru created the Metal Men, perhaps Kanigher’s weirdest creations.
Per Kanigher himself:
Metal Men, there is a legend about Metal Men. I produced it in ten days, from a single sentence. With editors, assistant editors, conversations, tapes — they can’t put out a book in two months. I, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito...I stopped by Irwin Donenfeld and he said “I know it’s not your turn to do Showcase [I did two to three times as many Showcases as the other editors], but they haven’t come up with a Showcase, and we need a Showcase. Do you have any ideas?”
I said “Metal Men. I’d write them with human characteristics but, nevertheless, keeping their metallic characteristics.”
And he did just that. The characters in the book were leader Gold, strong Iron, thick-headed Lead, angry Mercury, insecure (and stuttering) Tin, and ditzy Platinum (who was in love with their creator, Doc Magnus). The first story with the Metal Men ended with all of them being destroyed...as did practically every issue with the Metal Men, since they were robots that could be rebuilt. Still, it was an intriguing premise, which Kanigher and Andru managed to turn into one of the weirdest comics ever.
Kanigher, however, was also known to be volatile and quick to anger. He once shouted at John Romita Sr for changing his panels around when it was Romita himself who pointed it out (Kanigher hadn’t noticed). And in the late 1980s, when Kanigher was preparing to do some work for Marvel under Jim Shooter, Shooter recalled that he and Steve Ditko got into an hours long argument outside his office due to their own personal politics.
Kanigher continued writing comics at DC throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. When the backlash at Denny O’Neil’s revamp of Wonder Woman hit (where they removed her powers and made her an expert at kung fu instead), it was Kanigher whom they brought back to un-revamp Diana and give her back her powers. When they needed someone to create a new character in The Brave and the Bold, they got Kanigher, who co-created Ragman with Jim Aparo.
And when they needed someone to write the “Creature Commandos” tales in Weird War Stories, they got Kanigher, who wrote the weirdest stories he could possibly write.
Including the very last story for the Creature Commandos, where they were all sentenced to be fired by rocket into Berlin...and end up being blasted into space along with a man only referred to as “R.K.”
Never let it be said that Robert Kanigher took his book getting cancelled lightly.
Throughout his history at DC, Kanigher wrote everything from romance comics...
...to horror comics...
...to space opera...
...to Tarzan-esque pulp fiction...
For all his volatility, Bob Kanigher knew how to write a story. Sure, the sheer number of stories he wrote meant that he often re-wrote the same story (“Kanigher and repetition go hand in hand,” Tim Hanley wrote in Wonder Woman Unbound) and he often ignored any continuity that came before him, but his sheer output combined with the amount of weirdness he contributed to DC meant that he had one of the largest impacts on comic books today. Kanigher’s stories continue to influence today’s comics and movies and television shows.