Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy
When I was a kid, there weren’t many things in comics that would creep me out. I would read my brother’s collected editions of Tales From the Crypt and laugh; I got the gags in the stories – the fun hidden behind the horror. But within DC Comic’s Solomon Grundy, I felt something… something sad, something angry. Whatever it was, it creeped me the hell out.
The first time I saw Grundy was on Challenge of the Superfriends. He was different from the other DC characters on the show. Everyone else, the heroes and villains alike, wore bright costumes of blue, red, green and yellow, even Scarecrow was a bright brown/yellow. Solomon Grundy, on the other hand, was almost colorless, all grays and blacks. His clothes were tattered, his eyes sunken in and dark. He stood a good three feet above everyone else and spoke with a broken Southern, and on at least one occasion Cajun, accent.
It was a moment I won’t forget anytime soon, though I can’t tell you the date. I’m pretty sure I was five or six the first time I saw Monolith of Evil, the Superfriends episode that gave us all a peek into the origin of Solomon Grundy. In it, Grundy has a plan to destroy the Superfriends by using a device called, you guessed it, the Monolith of Evil – the very thing that gave Grundy his powers. To show his evil teammates how powerful the device is, Grundy shows them what is, I guess, a home movie. The video he plays starts with the lifeless body of Cyrus Gold, laying face first in a swamp. The man is full on dead, and the camera just focuses on him for a moment so all of us kids can get real uncomfortable. The Monolith of Evil pops up and shoots the dead Cyrus Gold with a ray. Cyrus turns gray, gets up and is now Solomon Grundy.
Little Derek didn’t sleep that night, and to this day the concept of Solomon Grundy is one I both love and find terrifying. Zombies man, they creep me out.
Created by Alfred Bester and Paul Reinman, Solomon Grundy made his first appearance in All-American Comics #61 in August of 1944 (cover dated for October). At the turn of the 20th Century, aptly named rich guy Cyrus Gold is murdered, and his body is left to rot in Slaughter Swamp, just outside of Gotham City. His body sank into the swamp where it rested for fifty years. When two goofball criminals enter Slaughter Swamp to escape the police, they disturb Gold’s place of rest, and he rises as a hulking zombie, his flesh and bone replaced almost completely by plant material. The zombified Gold kills the two morons, takes their clothes, and leaves the swamp. He finds himself in a hobo camp, unable to remember his own name. What he can remember is that he was born on a Monday. With this in mind, the hobos named him Solomon Grundy.
Sure enough, Solomon Grundy, a mostly mindless husk, turns to crime for a living, killing nine more people. This attracts the attention of Green Lantern, who shows up, and a rather nasty fight ensues. The Golden Age Green Lantern’s ring was weak against wood, and Solomon Grundy was partly made of wood. Also, Grundy just wouldn’t die. At least, he wouldn’t die until Green Lantern threw him under a train.
The dead body of Grundy was next seen when a mad scientist brought him back to life. This time, Green Lantern just trapped Grundy inside a green sphere, planning to keep the undead killer locked in there for all time. Sure enough, Grundy got out, and in the next battle, it would take the entire Justice Society of America to stop the monster.
Looking to get revenge on Green Lantern, Grundy began a cross country trek to the base of the Justice Society. Green Lantern goes to head Grundy off, and they begin fighting. Grundy pulls a tree from the ground and begins to beat the life out of Green Lantern with it. Then, he takes Lantern by the throat and starts drowning him in a river (Golden Age comics were seriously violent). Lucky for Green Lantern, the rest of the JSA shows up and they are able to subdue the beast. Green Lantern, not wanting to take any chances, puts Grundy into another sphere, flies him to the moon, and leaves him there.
This being comics, Grundy would get off the moon to bother the heroes a few more times. Grundy also made it his mission to track down the descendants of the killers of Cyrus Gold and kill them. Batman put a stop to that. For the most part, Grundy fell out of the comics, possibly because throughout the 50s and 60s, the Comics Code Authority would not let zombies show up in comics, so Grundy was something akin to persona non grata.
Grundy would come back with a vengeance in Starman, but he would be very different than his previous versions.
In Starman, it would be revealed that Solomon Grundy is reborn every time he dies, and each time he is reborn, he has a different personality (kind of like Doctor Who!). This version of Grundy is innocent and childlike, more interested in chasing butterflies than fighting superheroes. Starman takes Grundy home and they become good friends. So good, that Grundy sacrifices his own life to save Starman. Sad face.
Grundy returned again, this time back to being evil. It becomes clear that Grundy was created by the Parliament of Trees, a group of plant elementals that also created Swamp Thing. Grundy is a failed creation, with each resurrected version being a new attempt to fix the problem.
The similarities between DC’s Solomon Grundy and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are pretty easy to see, and I think that as time moved forward, especially with writer James Robinson’s version of the character in Starman, the character becomes more sympathetic, much like Frankenstein’s Monster. This take on Grundy is possibly best known to audiences today due in part to the animated Justice League cartoons.
The animated series Justice League used Grundy as something of a fool, tricked into being evil, then later tricked by the Justice League, into saving the world from a snake god. Grundy forms a relationship with Hawkgirl, who he calls Bird-Nose. He clearly has a crush on her, and she uses it to get Grundy to face off against Icthultu (the snake god), telling Grundy that Icthultu has Grundy’s soul. In the battle Grundy loses his life.
In Justice League Unlimited Grundy is brought back to life by a bunch of kids screwing around with magic and goes on a rampage. He is a mindless creature lashing out with no real aim. Grundy finally stops his wave of destruction when he sees Hawkgirl. It becomes clear to the Justice League that the only way to stop Grundy is to kill him. As Doctor Fate explains, Grundy is looking to return to the peace he was ripped out from. Hawkgirl volunteers and heads into the sewers where Grundy is hiding. There, she finds him and ends his life.
Both Alfred Bester and Paul Reinman, co-creators of Solomon Grundy, were Jewish, and I believe that their religion, or more exact, Reinman’s religion, plays a part in the creation of Solomon Grundy. Though Bester was not raised religious (his mother at some point converted to Christian Science), Reinman was an Ashkenazi Jew, who was born and raised in Worms, Germany, one of the oldest Ashkenazi communities in the world. While I can’t find any evidence of what I’m about to discuss, it seems likely that Reinman was well versed in the Ashkenazi myths about the Golem.
The Golem, in Jewish myth, is a creature created from the Earth and brought to life by reciting the secret name of God (in some stories, the name is said while dancing around the creature, in others, it is written on the forehead of the creature). The Golem would then take on any task given to it by the person who brought it to life. One of the most well known stories of the Golem comes from Ashkenazi stories about the creature. In the story, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel created a Golem out of clay to protect the Jewish community from Christians who believed the Jews were killing their children to use the blood in the making of matzah. Depending on which version of the story you read or hear, either the Golem becomes uncontrollable and begins to kill innocents, forcing the Rabbi Loew to destroy it, or the Golem escapes from Rabbi Loew and vanishes in the night, still wandering the Earth to this day.
As for his name, I’m pretty sure that was all Bester. A member of the Philomathean Society – a literary club of the University of Pennsylvania, Bester was well versed in poetry, likely knowing of the old children’s rhyme, which was first published in 1842 in a book of nursery rhymes collected by James Orchard Halliwell. Who created the nursery rhyme has been lost to the ages, as well as the knowledge of which version was the original – there are at least three versions of the poem.
Solomon Grundy has become, in many respects, one of the best known zombies in history, up there with Bub from Day of the Dead. Like any good monster story, there is a real tragedy to Grundy – a man killed and brought back filled with anger, forever stuck trying to reclaim his soul. Grundy is forever stuck in a cycle of death and resurrection, never allowed to rest, always missing an element that will make him whole. In many ways, this is what we, the not yet dead, do every day.
Art Sources (in order of use):
Warner Brothers Animation (in the style of Bruce Timm)
Der Golem by The Silent Giants
Photos: DC Comics