Joseph Samachson died of complications from Parkinson's disease on June 2, 1980 in Chicago, Illinois. He was survived by his wife, now deceased, a son, Michael Samachson, and a daughter, the photographer Miriam Berkley.
A graduate of Rutgers University, he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale at the age of 23. He was an assistant professor at the College of Medicine, University of Illinois. He also headed a laboratory in metabolic research at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois, a research unit dealing with diseases that affect the skeleton. Comics historian Jerry Bails wrote that Samachson worked as a research chemist for the American Molasses Company until 1938, leaving to become a "freelance technical writer".
As a writer, Samachson translated a number of scientific papers, and in addition to his scientific work, earned a well-deserved reputation as an author, writing books for young people such as Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars, which was also published in a Dutch translation.
Science fiction and pulps
He wrote a number of science fiction works (under the pseudonym William Morrison), including two novels published in Startling Stories, the 1937 pulp title Murder of a Professor and short stories for a number of magazines, including Money from Heaven (1942). He also penned a couple of Captain Future pulp novels c.1941–1942 (under the house name "Brett Sterling"), and had work appear in the science fiction magazine Galaxy. His young adult novel Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars was published by Gnome Press in 1954.
He is believed to have begun working for DC Comics in late 1942, working on comics scripts for characters notably including Batman. He also wrote scripts for comics and characters including Sandman, Green Arrow, Airwave and Robotman, as well as "a string of 17 science-fiction stories in 1955 and 1956".
In 1955, he created (with artist Joe Certa) the Martian Manhunter in the pages of Detective Comics #225. Usually credited as author on the initial strip, some commentators believe that he may have produced the plot, but that writer Jack Miller (who most believe succeeded Samachson in writing the character with the next issue), may have produced the first script. Don Markstein's Toonopedia also suggests that Samachson wrote "many subsequent" appearances of J'Onn J'Onzz rather than just the first. Jerry Bails also lists Samachson as having co-created the historical DC character Tomahawk. In 1943 Samachson also created the character Two-Gun Percy, which first appeared under the DC Comics imprint All Funny Comics and was drawn by Bernard Baily.
With his wife Dorothy Samachson, he wrote about theater ("Let's Meet the Theatre" and "The Dramatic Story of the Theatre"), music ("Masters of Music" and The Fabulous World of Opera), ballet, archeology (Good Digging) and a number of other titles, including Rome, a Rand McNally "Cities of the World" title.
In addition, Samachson was a frequent contributor to scientific journals and the author of The Armor Within Us: The Story of Bone.
- "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VM2Y-X2D : accessed 19 Mar 2013), Joseph Samachson, June 1980.
- Biography by Joe Desris, in Batman Archives, Volume 3 (DC Comics, 1994), p. 224 ISBN 1-56389-099-2
- Who's Who in American Comic Books: Joe Samachson. Accessed May 8, 2008
- "The Captain's Unofficial Justice League Homepage": Martian Manhunter. Accessed May 8, 2008
- Toonopedia: J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars Archived 2016-02-13 at WebCite. Accessed May 8, 2008
- Samachson obituary, p. 61 of the June 5, 1980 Trenton Evening Times