Some fans love him (I'd count myself among them for most, not all, of his works), some loathe him, and there's a whole bunch of contemporary comic book readers who probably had never even encountered him until he returned to Marvel and DC in the past few years. (I'm lookin' forward to Avengers 1959 from Chaykin later this year). If you like Chaykin, you'll like The Scorpion. In many ways the book is the archetypal Atlas/Seaboard title: big-name creators, big splashy first issue with intriguing concepts and ideas, but swiftly descending down the slippery slope until the final issue #3 or 4 bear no resemblance to #1.
Cover of The Scorpion #1 (February 1975), art by Howard Chaykin
Hey, this Scorpion guy looks kinda familiar, huh?
Cover of Marvel Premiere #56 (October 1980), Howard Chaykin and Terry Austin
That's because, more or less, Marvel's Dominic Fortune is the Scorpion. A combination of missing deadlines and arguments over control of the character led Chaykin to depart The Scorpion after #2, but it's clear he had plenty more stories to tell about the character almost immediately: Fortune debuted in Marvel's black-and-white magazine Marvel Preview #2 later in 1975. He's never been a major headline character, but the backlist of Dominic Fortune adventures (both by Chaykin and by others) is fairly extensive. He's appeared in a backup series in The Hulk magazine (a series never finished when the magazine was cancelled), a one-shot Marvel Premiere issue, various appearances in Spider-Man and Iron Man books, Marvel Comics Presents, and a couple miniseries, only one of which was collected as a trade. Fortune completists, start haunting those back issue bins!
But let's get back to The Scorpion. Ish #1 kicks off with a couple of stylish splash pages which lay out the concept of the character...no complicated or drawn-out origin tale for this guy!
First two pages of The Scorpion #1 (February 1975), script, pencils, and inks by Howard Chaykin; letters by Annette Kawecki
I especially love the first page with its snapshot history of this mysterious long-lived man and his business card reminiscent of This Gun for Hire's Paladin, one of fiction's most famous calling cards.
The Scorpion is your classic Chaykin character: both smooth and suave but rough and rugged, he's a troubleshooter/soldier-of-fortune in the 1930s whose only duty is to the job at hand and the payment he collects on finishing it. But of course, as with virtually every Chaykin character, there's plenty of gorgeous gals...
...and high-adventure action and endangerment. Here's a nicely-designed single-page sequence showing The Scorpion's skill in the clouds aboard classic planes of the '30s.
In fact, the action centerpiece of issue #1 features Chaykin's detailed and authentic art of planes, cars, and a motorcycle. A chase sequence in comic books is really tough to pull off; it never has the pace or immediacy of a similar chase on film. Chaykin uses three small panels to set up the action with style and energy; you're never left wondering what's going on here. This stunt would make James Bond or Indiana Jones green with jealousy.
Nicely done, Scorpion One! You can see the erosion set in, though, immediately on sight of the cover of issue #2. Ernie Colon's a great artist, but his style isn't Chaykin's, and this is another "this scene does not happen in this comic" cover. Yep: sadly, the Scorpion does not battle Frankensteins in this book.
Cover of The Scorpion #2 (May 1975), art by Ernie Colon
There's still some great Chaykin artwork in this ish, but it's wildly uneven, being inked by a wide assortment of artistsBernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, and Walt Simonson all chipped in to help Chaykin hit the deadline. Fine artists all, but too many inkers in one book can give you reader-whiplash if you turn the page too quickly! Here's a nice action sequence, but it doesn't look much like Chaykin to me. Whether he was rushed or the pencils were overwhelmed by the inks I don't know, but I have a feeling this sequence would have been stronger if Chaykin had inked himself.
First two pages of The Scorpion #1 (February 1975), script and pencils by Howard Chaykin; nks by Bernie Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Walt Simonson and Ed Davis; letters by Annette Kawecki
Still, there's moments of charm. Here's one of the female characters showing she's nobody's dainty hostage:
And there's a lovely sardonic fade-out at story's end which reminds us exactly why The Scorpion does his job.
By issue #3, Chaykin's gone completely, and WHAT THE SAM SCRATCH IS THIS?!?!
Panel from The Scorpion #3 (July 1975), script by Gabriel Levy, pencils by Jim Craig, inks by Jim Mooney
Our pal Scorp is now a 1970s swing-from-the-buildings hero in the vein of Spider-Man or Daredevil. Wha...huh? How did the 1930s character turn into a modern-day superhero? "That's another story for another issue," the narration promises us. (Of course, this is Atlas' final issue of The Scorpion.) So, just another high-wire super bashing evil megacriminals in the face, right? Well, not quite: the 1975 Scorpion fights Nazis. Which, admittedly, could just be a way to have a fairly easy superhero career. "Hey Scorpion, c'mon! We're all teaming up to fight Major Mayhem and Colonel Panic in Megalopolis Park!" "No, thanks...I'm busy lookin' for Nazis."
Luckily for him they seem to be as ubiquitous as in the Marvel and DC Universes, and not just Nazis...Super Nazis.
The thinking here apparently being "Hey, the Red Skull and Doctor Doom, those are two cool characters! Can we use them?" "No!" "Okay, let's Amalgam them!" Then there's a heck of a deus ex machina in the shape of a mystical vision of the World Trade Center, the only building in New York with a "sewage-to-energy converter."
Um, okay! We can buy that, story! Just as long as there's no more fantastic deus ex m's being tossed at us further on in the story...
Oh, for crying out loud, story!
Now this is interesting: the only published letter column for The Scorpion, from issue #3. Oddly enough (and to Atlas's credit), much of the response was negative. One complains "the art wasn't so great" (well, sure, your appreciation of Chaykin may vary). Another kevtches that there's not enough backstory to enjoy the character. Hey, I liked that a lot. It would have been fun to gradually learn more about his past later on rather than an origin story or huge infodump in issue #1. And then there's a reader complaining that the 1938 setting prevents team-ups and a cohesive "Atlas Universe." Oh boy, fans...you really do just want the same old stuff again and again and again, don't you?
Letters column from The Scorpion #3
And thus rides The Scorpion off into the setting sun of Atlas/Seaboard, but at we've got Dominic Fortune, huh? (Psst, Howard, your secret is safe with me: I'll never tell Marvel he started out as an Atlas character!)
"What's Happening with Atlas" text (half-)page from the April '75 Atlas comics: