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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.
Series tales are marked: (KL) are Chris KL-99; (CC) are Captain Comet; (M) are Space Museum; (SH) are Star Hawkins; (SR) are the Star Rovers.
Issues 54-73 of Strange Adventures have been reprinted in an inexpensive paperback, Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 1. Recommended.
Issues 74-93 of Strange Adventures have been reprinted in an inexpensive paperback, Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures, Volume 2. Recommended.
Warning: I have only been able to find and read selected issues and reprints of Strange Adventures. The above list of stories in this magazine that I've read and enjoyed. It is a start at finding the best stories to appear in this comic, but is certain to be full of gaps.
Strange Adventures also published several tales about sf writers and their work. Usually these men would themselves get involved in science fiction situations. These tales were often self referential in their plotting, with figures standing in for the authors themselves. These tales tended to be humorous in depicting the author and editor Julius Schwartz, but serious in their sf imaginings.
The Silver Age sf comic book is a missing link in popular culture. Its ideas about sf used to be available to everyone in society, being sold in every supermarket and pharmacy. These ideas are very rich. One could argue that they are more imaginative than anything in prose science fiction on the one hand, or in film and TV sf on the other.
The Star Oscar (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Frank Giacoia. A small, friendly but mischievous alien tags along with an actor in Hollywood, using his alien powers in various ways in the film industry. Silver Age comics books occasionally did stories about the movie industry: it was assumed to be a subject of interest to all Americans of the era. This story contains, at a very early date, a whole compendium of plot ideas and attitudes that will appear in later Hollywood stories. It anticipates plot elements of Otto Binder's "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (Lois Lane #2, May-June 1958) and Jerry Siegel's "Private Monster" tales (Jimmy Olsen #43 and 47, 1960), for instance. It shows considerable knowledge about the film industry.
An assertion that some films were "artistic successes, but financial failures" is an intelligent approach. Perhaps there is something self-referential about this. The sf comics such as Strange Adventures were reportedly not big money makers in the 1950's; apparently they were kept going in part because their creators liked working on them so much. Perhaps the writers and artists saw their comics as artistic but not financial successes. Also, the desperate search of the Hollywood producers here for a money making formula that will keep the studio afloat mirrors the real life search of the financially troubled comic book industry at this point.
A neat moment in the tale: the alien makes himself the exact duplicate of an actor in a cowboy film; both wear the elaborate buckskins popular in the 1950's. The white tux worn by the hero at the opening Academy Awards ceremony is also cool. It has huge shoulders, and folds in the sleeves at the shoulder join. It is worn with a carnation and handkerchief. As usual, Giacoia makes his men look very classy and sophisticated. Hollywood figures were widely viewed as wearing sportier clothes than the rest of America, and this tale is a vivid evocation of this.
The 21st Century Film Library (1954). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Henry Sharp. A couple likes to rent "how-to" films, but the latest batch seems to have arrived from the future. Just as Gerson's "The Star Oscar" deals with the possible impact of an alien on Hollywood, this story looks at what would happen if films of the future somehow were made available today. These films are "how-to" films: little documentaries on do-it-yourself technology. So they spell out in detail how to create advanced, highly useful products. I had no idea that there were documentary film rental libraries in 1954; I knew of catalogues that rented classic fiction films, but not this sort of "home improvement" movie that this couple rents.
The Hunters from the Stars (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Mort Drucker. Sgt. Tom Mason, just home from Korea, is hunted by aliens for sport in the woods around his home town. This is a science fiction version of Richard Connell's famous suspense short story, "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924). In that tale, a vicious hunter makes the hero become his human prey. Connell's story has been much filmed, and this tale should be considered as a comic book adaptation.
Both aliens and humans use some ingenious technology in this story. The two part locus of the tale, both Earth and the aliens' spaceship, echoes the two location construction of such Gerson stories as "30th Century Coin Collector" (1953).
Drucker has some good art showing the night sky; this was a favorite subject of mystery and wonder in the sf comics.
30th Century Coin Collector (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Carmine Infantino. A cash register allows the exchange of rare coins between the years 1953 and 2953. This is a fun story. It shows ingenuity in its treatment of events in both time periods. Once again, Gerson deals inventively with the arrival of alien or futuristic artifacts in our Earth. This story seems ancestral to John Broome's "Interplanetary Swap Shop" (1955). Both tales deal with small, box like machines, which one day mysteriously open as portals between worlds, allowing the swapping of small objects, but not people. In both tales, people have to use ingenuity to make effective use of the transport portal, experimenting with different kinds of objects.
Do Not Open Till Doomsday (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Carmine Infantino. Aliens send Earth amazing high tech devices, but what are their motives? Once again, Gerson has written a story about high tech marvels showing up in the present. This tale has some different construction, however. Many of Gerson's stories focus on the marvels showing up in one location on Earth, and focus on one or two persons who receive them. The arrival of the devices is a secret from everyone else on Earth. By contrast, in this story the devices show up in public, are received by numerous different people, and are a public phenomenon known to all.
Experiment in Destiny (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Murphy Anderson. Aliens Dzan and Kridu allow an Earthman, chemist Calvin Tate, to relive parts of his life as an experiment in making the right choices. This story has a serious, meditative, somber mood. It looks at the serious choices we all make in our lives.
Stories like this tend to use either time travel or parallel "worlds of if" as their rationale. By contrast, in this tale the aliens create doubles of humans, allowing them to relive experiences. It is a completely different approach to this situation.
The Wonder Toys (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Gil Kane. The new worker Doom Baw at a toy factory is a young man from the Fourth Dimension, who introduces amazing new techniques. This story shows some resemblance to Gerson's film stories. In both, high tech wonders show up from a different time or place, and both lead to light hearted fun in the present. Both stories deal with entertainment: film or toys. This story is more whimsical and less scientifically plausible than Gerson's film tales. In fact, it borders on science fantasy, not science fiction. The striped paint in this tale reminds one a bit of the rainbow scoop in "The Invaders from the Nth Dimension" (1951)
Kane uses Constructivist techniques for the dimensional doorway, composing it entirely out of triangular regions. This is imaginative and creative. Kane depicts Doom Baw as a juvenile version of one of his leading men. He is dressed much more casually than most sf book characters, in a tee shirt.
The alien beings that show up at the end are genuinely surreal. Their body plan is already set forth in Gerson's dialogue, and Kane's implementation of this completes the bizarrie. Alien beings this strange did not appear in the sf magazines after the arrival of the Comics Code censorship in April-May 1955, although it is pure speculation to suggest that there is some connection here. I have no idea if the Code censored alien beings or not.
The Amazing Secret of Jules Verne (1954). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Gil Kane. In the 19th Century, Jules Verne gets involved with a space launch; in the 20th Century, astronauts stuggle to recover the shell he launched in space. Straightforward, exciting tale of space adventure, with an episodic but logically constructed script. Here the high tech shell hunted for in the present, comes from the past, rather than the future or another dimension, as in other Gerson tales. The outer space locale is also a new wrinkle in this story.
Kane's art, showing the competing spaceships looking for the shell, is delightful. The Soviet ship has a needle-point on its front; the American ship has a rounded - and phallic - nose. Both are in the full Kane geometric mode.
Interplanetary Postcard (1954). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Henry Sharp. A boy who gets taken by aliens on a tourist trip through the Solar System, sends postcards back to his puzzled parents. Cute, sweet story. The parents think this is some sort of tall tale hoax their little son is pulling. The story is a simple piece of wish fulfillment for the comic book's young readers: wouldn't it be cool to go on a trip through outer space? The postcards are innocently hilarious, too: they are just what every little kid would like to send home.
The postcards are another Gerson object, from another world that winds up on Earth. However, in most such stories such objects have a major role on Earth life, and their recipient is the protagonist of the story. Here, the postcards are just cute objects that intrigue the parents, without affecting their lives. And the boy is the protagonist, not the parents who get the cards.
Like most Strange Adventures tales involving children, this story is careful to avoid violence, and to stick to the most unobjectionable material. It is just a wholesome tale of an outer space tour.
The Brain-Masters of Polaris (1951). Writer: John Broome. Art: Alex Toth. An Earth spaceman suspects that the Polaris military is building a forbidden computer to use as a war weapon. Broome has the gift of creating an exciting adventure story. John Broome is astonishingly prescient about futuristic technology. This and "Revolt of the Humans" must be two of the earliest portraits of a computer outside of prose science fiction, such as Isaac Asimov's I, Robot (1950). The friction free road is also an imaginative concept. Other comics writers also used giant computers in their stories in this era: Otto Binder included both a cyclotron and a giant "mechanical brain" in his "Captain Marvel Battles the Plot Against the Universe" (Captain Marvel Adventures #100, September 1949). Both Binder's and Broome's computers are huge devices, the size of small houses. The word "brain" is used to describe both.
The universal language Speranta is an interesting concept (page 3).
ART. Toth's art is full of large machines and spaceships that look like animals. They have features that look like eyes, mouths, ears and so on. This gives a mischievous quality to these machines, as if they were really alive. They resemble to a degree the anthropomorphic machines that sometimes show up as characters in kids' picture books, such as human-faced trains and trucks.
The hero of the story resembles actor Robert Mitchum. He wears a cool, Blackhawk style uniform. A panel on page 5 is especially striking, showing the squared shoulders and flared coat tails of the uniform, as seen from behind. The hero is standing alone in a sea of grass. It is a powerfully evocative image, recalling early days on the US prairie. It also evokes childhood. I remember spending much time as a kid in fields, vacant lots, school yards and other open places, all of which seemed vast and endless to a small child.
Page 2 shows skies full of planets. On page 9 there is a scene of multiple flashing lights; their round shapes look like the numerous planets in the earlier illustration.
Dream-Journey Through Space (#58, July 1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. An Earth engineer who builds computers is translated every night during his dreams to a strange world whose people are ruled by intelligent machines. This is another Broome story warning of the dangers of intelligent computers taking over Earth life. This is a grim and fairly minor tale, and one that sees little good of any sort in computers. It anticipates such later anti-computer tales as Edmond Hamilton's "The Team of Luthor and Brainiac" (Superman #167, February 1964). Kane's illustration of the computers makes them look large and menacing. The computers have the elaborate, "many panel and device" construction of Kane's spaceship interiors. Unlike his beautiful spaceships, however, the computers are ugly and menacing looking.
The hero Howard Wright has been "chosen" for his role, just like Hal Jordan will be chosen by the Guardians in Kane's later Green Lantern stories.
The idea of a human's dreams leading to transportation to another world will recur in Broome's much more light hearted "The Secret of the Tom Thumb Spacemen" (1957). Kane's art during the transportation scenes is full of the brightly colored circles that will later appear during the passage from the dimension of Qward to Earth in Green Lantern. Such abstract art extravaganzas seem to have been a comic book tradition, for depicting travel through time, or from one dimension to another.
The second part of the tale shows the boy exploring an alien moon, thanks to a high tech television the aliens provide. The boy feels he is actually on the moon, and that he is experiencing the adventure in real life. In many ways this is a precursor of today's "virtual reality". There are some differences, however. The technology in Broome's story is call "hypnocasting". This implies that it somehow uses hypnotism: that the viewer is hypnotized into believing that they are actually having this adventure. The illusion is partly in the viewer's head. By contrast, today's virtual reality is a purely sensory experience: the viewer sees elaborate computer generated patterns, and has the illusion that they are in some new reality. It is a purely external experience, one not caused by anything inside the viewer's mind. Still, the hypnocasting in this tale is remarkably similar in ultimate effect to today's VR technology. It would be good to see this tale made available to today's readers - it would probably fascinate people.
A technology similar to hypnocasting is popular in the bottled city of Kandor, in "The Boy in the Bottle" (Jimmy Olsen #53, June 1961), written by Jerry Siegel. John Broome wrote for Strange Sports Stories a tale in which future sports are conducted through virtual reality: "Saga of the Secret Sportsmen" (The Brave and the Bold #47, April-May 1963). John Broome also went on to write some Flash and Green Lantern stories dealing with vast, realistic illusions, such as "The Man Who Stole Central City" (Flash #116, November 1960) and "The Amazing Theft of the Power Lamp" (Green Lantern #3, November-December 1960). A Legion of Super-Heroes tale depicting a vast illusion is "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" (Adventure #305, February 1963) written by Jerry Siegel. Gardner Fox wrote virtual reality tales "The Perfect Planet" (Mystery in Space #9, August-September 1952) and "The Dream Adventurer" (Mystery in Space #10, October-November 1952). Gardner Fox explored an unusual variant on virtual reality in "Illusions For Sale" (Atom #15, October-November 1964). Tommy Tomorrow studied at a space police Academy, with a training dome that could simulate the environment on any planet, in "Frame-Up at the Planeteer Academy" (Showcase #41, November-December 1962) written by Arnold Drake.
Prose science fiction tales featuring virtual reality include by "Shadow Show" (1953) by Clifford D. Simak.
The Sculptor Who Saved the World (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. A 20th Century sculptor suddenly becomes a success, when strange futuristic sculptures start appearing in his studio. This story is notable for its inventive abstract sculptures, beautifully drawn by Gil Kane. These bear some resemblance to the machines and futuristic buildings in Kane's stories. This is not too surprising, at least in terms of the plot of the tale: they turn out to be future weapons, accidentally teleported to our present. The story's sympathetic depiction of abstract art is unusual for popular culture. Many works, such as Ernie Bushmiller's comic strip Nancy, never missed a chance to poke fun at modern art, although Bushmiller also showed a fascination with its visual forms. Here, however, the text is completely admiring. Everyone keeps praising the art's "imaginativeness". And indeed, Kane's versions of the sculptures show considerable imagination. There is much empty space in them, like the sculptures of Henry Moore. But in addition, Kane shows the flanges and repeated elements that frequently adorn his futuristic buildings and machinery. The complex, beautiful curves of the pieces are also much more elaborate than anything in Moore.
The story contains one of Broome's life histories for his central character, sculptor Paul Paxton. We see his initial obscurity, his rise to fame, and his eventual fall. He is a very sympathetic character, and in general is depicted far more favorably than many artists in popular culture. He is one of a number of Broome characters who eventually makes a heroic sacrifice for the good of humanity. Paxton is one of Broome's heroes who is an artist, like the high tech musician in his "Behind the Space Curtain" (Mystery in Space #55, November 1959). The hero in the DC sf comics almost always has a profession related to subject matter of the story; here he is an artist, not a scientist or engineer. There is also in fact a scientist in the tale, the Professor Gwinn who travels from the future, and who originally created the machines.
The Martian Masquerader (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. A Martian comes to the offices of Strange Adventures, and tries to sell a story about his own life. The frame tale in the comics office is hilarious. The editor, Mr. Black, seems to be a thinly veiled version of Julius Schwartz, and Broome gets in some funny digs at him. Kane's version of Schwartz is less flavorful and more normal looking than Sid Greene's many caricatures of him. This is the earliest tale of which I am aware that features the DC sf comics as characters in one of their own stories. As is usual in such stories, the words "comic book" are not mentioned. The books are treated simply as magazines or periodicals, and the writers are "science fiction authors". There is perhaps some issue of prestige involved here. Like most of the subsequent tales, this one deals with a writer's attempt to sell a story to Schwartz. Such sales attempts seem to be the central nexus of the relationship between Schwartz and the writers.
The office is full of large framed copies of covers of Strange Adventures; later tales showing Schwartz' office do not contain these. Perhaps this is a fantasy of Kane's to make the offices more colorful. It does visually convey the fact that this is the office of a comic book; if the covers were not there, this would look just like any typical American business office. Also, Kane was a frequent cover artist of the magazines; perhaps he is trying to show off his wares, and stress the importance of the covers in the magazine's work.
The Martian tale itself is routine. We see the whole life story of the hero, as is typical of Broome. Also typical is the way the Martian has left his own society, gone into exile in another, and is carrying out a program that is in radical opposition to his own societies' standards and mores.
The bird-like appearance of the Martians anticipates Kane's later creation of Tomar-Re in Green Lantern. The tale is based on a cover by Gil Kane, showing everyone about to unmask at a "Science Fans Masquerade Party" - this is perhaps like a typical real life sf fan party of the era, with everyone dressed as spacemen or aliens. Kane does a good job with the space suit of the man leading the party.
The Skyscraper that Came to Life (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. An alien general planning an invasion of Earth disguises himself as a human and travels to Earth, to find out why other alien spies sent to Earth have disappeared. As in "The Martian Masquerader", here we have another John Broome tale of aliens coming to Earth and disguising themselves as human. In neither story does humanity have any idea it is being infiltrated. Both stories take place in the daily life of the 1950's Earth, a realm that is treated as realistically and non-science fictionally as possible. This stress on typical daily life is characteristic of Strange Adventures, which often focused on the surrealistic incongruity of normal life encountering the science fictional. Both Broome stories also deal with aliens becoming part of science fiction media: in the previous story the alien becomes an sf comics script writer; here he becomes a producer of science fiction movies. DC's sf comics often had sf creators in them, specializing in all the different media which purveyed sf in 1950's America: books, films, television, and the comics themselves. When a writer appeared in the sf comics, which he frequently did, he was nearly always an sf writer. He was rarely a creator of "literary" fiction, or of such popular genres as Westerns, mysteries or love stories.
This tale contains many typical elements of Broome's political tales. The alien planet is clearly a Soviet style dictatorship. The spies it has sent in have gone native on Earth, turning against their society. They are typical of the many sympathetic portraits of exiles and refugees in Broome's work, and anticipate the refugees from Qward in Broome's "The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts" (Green Lantern #2, September-October 1960). The plot here recalls the delightful old comedy film, Ninotchka (1939), which also deals with Soviet agents who go "native" once in Paris.
Broome includes a 3D camera in the story, used by the alien general to snap a picture of the Earthman he will impersonate. The Earthman is noticeably handsome and well dressed, in a spiffy suit and tie. Such civilian suits are perhaps atypical of Greene's often more casually dressed heroes. All the aliens in the story have disguised themselves as exceptionally good looking young Earthmen, and all are equally well dressed in sharp suits. This serves several functions. It visually indicates that they are good guys. It creates a strong sense of male bonding among the heroes of the tale. It also conveys a sense of the appeal of Earth life. These are aliens who have given up their own war mongering planet in favor of new lives as Earthmen. They are dressed in clothes that suggest they are having grown up careers in glamorous 1950's professions. They look like the sort of successful men that the readers of Strange Adventures would like to grow up to be. There is an element here of adolescent allegory. The young readers of the magazine, many of them teenagers, will soon be putting on adult roles. Teenagers often feel like aliens entering an adult world, and the adult identities they assume often feel just like masks, just like the aliens and the new identities they assume here. This story suggests that these new identities as adult Earthmen are infinitely desirable, that they have overwhelming appeal and promise, and that people will want to spend their lives in them, just like the aliens here.
Secret of the Space Giant (1958) Writer: ??? Art: Mike Sekowsky. Alien conquerors of Earth are tricked by humans, including a science fiction movie producer who creates fake footage.
The author of this tale is unknown. With Broome, it shares the theme of revolt against a totalitarian dictatorship. With Binder, the plot contains an elaborate hoax. However, the tone is unusually grim and somber for Binder. His characters are usually much blither in the face of trouble. Here people recognize that they are staking the face of Earth on a desperate gamble. The fit of the tale is closer to Broome. Its elements of media hoax remind one of the sf movie producer in "The Skyscraper that Came to Life" (1956), and the sf film within that story. In both tales, we actually see parts of the movie produced. The tale also shows what life is like under the dictatorship, and the loss of freedom and control imposed: also typical of Broome's tales.
ART. Henry Sharp's art includes a striking image of a giant bird feather found in the water, below the hero's boat (p2). The feather forms a perfect circular arc, and is part of a geometric composition.
The city built by the birds is in the comics' Art Deco mold, with towering buildings connected by high ramps (p4). Somewhat unusually for the comics, it appears to be made up of separate stone blocks, which can be plainly seen in the drawing. This perhaps indicates that the birds have not fully mastered technology, and are simply capable of shaping blocks of stone and piling them together.
The story is also notable for its Naval figures (p6). Their snazzy uniforms are typical of the interest of Strange Adventures in uniformed heroes. Some of the men wear radio earphones right over their high, peaked white caps.
The Human Pet of Gorilla Land (1959). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. An Earthman becomes the pet of a little boy Gorilla in a world populated by giant, intelligent gorillas. Broome does a complete role reversal between humans and apes in this tale. Such role reversals between a human and animal species were common plot gambits in the DC sf comic books, including some previous stories written by Broome. This is probably the best of them. This is in part because of the absence of horror material. The gorillas in this tale are thoroughly nice, not nasty, and they behave decently towards both the humans and the Jovians in this tale. There is more of a sense of wonder here, that a tone of fear. It allows for thoughtful contemplation of humans' relationship to nature.
The young Gorilla is one of the sf comics' typical boys, even though he is not human! His good nature, and his loving, decent parents, are a typical Strange Adventures family, one that shows up in several stories: see the discussion below under "Yes Virginia -- There Is a Martian" (1963). Infantino is gentle with his depiction of the gorillas. The gorilla family is the subject of the beautifully drawn opening panel : always an indication that they are one of the major features of the story. Throughout this story, Infantino's compositions are largely based on groupings of his figures. In the opening splash panel, we see the repeated curves of each of the three gorillas, echoing one another. Each also has a stone on a chain around their neck: another repeated figure. Infantino often built up compositions out of such repetitions. The Jovian con-men are some of Infantino's comic aliens - he had similar beings in other tales, such as "Giants of the Cosmic Ray".
I particularly liked Infantino's Art Deco depiction of the gorilla boy's motor scooter. Infantino often made his lab machinery look Art Deco, but this is a unique Deco version of a much more common machine. Other Deco features: the grid lines in the space ship instrument panel (page 2). A panel on page 4 is unusual in that it is a combined cityscape and starscape, all in one image. On page 9, Infantino uses the curves and flanges of a parked, standing rocket as background lines in his compositions. We see the rocket from different distances and different framings in different panels, allowing Infantino to employ its curves in varied ways to build up compositions. This too is a classic Infantino strategy.
The human in the story is much smaller than the gorillas. Broome wrote several tales for the sf magazines about shrinking or tiny beings, including "The Secret of the Tom Thumb Spacemen" (1957) and "Secret of the Shrinking Twins", as well as such early stories as "The Boy Who Saved the Earth" (Mystery in Space #6, February-March 1952). Infantino does what he can to preserve the Earthman's machismo under these circumstances. His space uniform is close to an explorer's outfit, with epaulette shirt and fancy boots.
Gorillas in Space (1956). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by Gil Kane. American human scientists working on a building Earth's first man-made satellite discover they have been scooped by gorillas, who've launched their own satellite into space. This tale opens with the observation that a real life race was on in 1956 to launch the first artificial satellite. This would climax two years later in 1958 with the Soviets launching Sputnik. The appearance of Sputnik came as a huge, shocking surprise to most Americans; it was treated as a wake up call for the entire nation, underlining the need to boost science and technology education. By contrast, Kane, Finger and Strange Adventures know all about this space race, and have made it the subject of a story.
The cover inspiring this tale is something of a classic. Strange Adventures and the other DC comics loved Gorilla tales; their appearance on a cover was enough to boost circulation, according to Les Daniels' DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World's Favorite Super Heroes (1995). So in some ways, this cover had to happen. The idea of Gorillas in outer space has a delightful inevitability, combining two great obsessions of the sf magazines, gorillas and space travel. The whole idea has a humorous, zany, almost campy quality, as well as some real imagination. Kane's cover shows gorillas looking out on large, circular space stations, filled with rockets and other equipment. It is a spectacular vista, one that would be repeated in the inside art of the story. Kane shows good imagination in depicting what a space station might be actually like.
The idea behind this story and its cover is deliriously nutty, and Finger's story carries forward the tone of light hearted escapism, complete with a good deal of derring-do. The actual story is something of a mixed bag. Bill Finger only occasionally wrote for the sf comics. This tale shows his fascination with hoaxes and down right lying, usually to victimize someone. The story is well plotted, but it does not open up the grand science fictional vistas of the best sf magazine tales.
ART. Infantino's art is good. The flat circular space stations are shaped somewhat like the planetoid Gala in his Knights of the Galaxy series. Infantino has stuck to Kane's geometric cover designs, and the ship's exteriors mainly show nothing of his personal Art Deco approach. However, a view through a window depicts something closer to Infantino's typical Art Deco (first panel of page 5).
The starscapes (pages 3 and 4) are in Infantino's grand tradition.
Infantino does a good job with the panel showing his hero putting on a gorilla suit (page 5). Such suits were common on TV of the era, but I've never seen anyone wear one in real life. They should be revived for the new millennium!
The 1951 columnist is another of Broome's men who start out by being failures at the careers. Allyn Drake's column completely fails to generate and response from readers: another Broome hero who is out of touch with his times, marching to a different inner personality from everyone around him. Like other Broome heroes, he goes on to a big success. Here, that success has nothing to do with his own talents - it depends on the communications he gets from the future. This success is more like that of a Broome villain, than of a Broome hero, who tends to draw more on his own hidden talents. However, his success does has positive consequences for humanity, like Broome's heroes, and unlike his sinister villains.
This is another Broome story, in which the efforts of a lone hero to lead others in revolution, destroys and evil dictatorship, setting the populace free. While some Broome tales have this revolution as their sole plot, this tale interweaves the revolution with its complex science fiction plot about communication from the future. So the story is an example of Broome's "science fictionalizing" a previous plot: adding another sf dimension to a previous plot-line, to come up with a new, and more complex tale.
Toth does a good job of portraiture, contrasting the black-haired contemporary reporter, and the blond future scientist.
The Mad World (1951). Writer: John Broome. Art: Bob Oksner. A spaceman has to go to the planet Illumia where everyone suffers from strange delusions. This is another Broome tale, about a revolt against a dictatorship that uses high tech methods to keep a population in thrall. As is often the case in Broome, people have been brainwashed to accept an inferior reality. They have to fight mentally to move on to a better way of thinking. They also have lots of anxieties about having mental problems, also a Broome theme. The story also has a central mechanical station that powers the dictator's control: also a frequent Broome device.
The hero, Lt. Thon Blayne of the Space Patrol, is the sort of blond leading man in the Aryan Flash Gordon tradition that Strange Adventures would tend to avoid in the future. There is also more emphasis here on military rank, than in most Strange Adventures stories to come.
The best part here are Bob Oksner's space suits, which are really coolly designed. They are red, with huge curving white projections over the shoulders and chest. They also have white bulges on the elbows and knees: curved exaggerations of the human form jut out everywhere. They are some of the most glamorous outfits of the early 1950's comic books.
Oksner uses visual puns in his space ship design. The Black Ships piloted by the bad guys look like giant insects. And the hero's ship is one of the most phallic looking ever drawn, pink and with a nose-shaped head on top of a cylindrical shaft.
The sinister being, made up of geometric shapes that come together, is an unusual combination of abstract and representational art. Its conception depends both on Broome's dialogue and Oksner's drawing.
The Return of the Conqueror (#40, January 1954). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. One of two brothers will become famous, as we see their life stories in flashback: either a military man seeking fame and publicity, or a shy scientist interested only in his work. This is one of many Broome tales criticizing men who seek celebrity, always a key motivation for Broome villains. The two brothers here are also among a lineage of other brother acts in Broome comics, including the Jordan Brothers in Green Lantern.
The military brother here does a lot of things that Strange Adventures usually found reprehensible, notably invading and conquering peaceful beings on other planets. The tale rejects the military brother as a whole, but it never specifically comments on the morality of this individual action. The military brother also gets involved in a patriotic stunt, something also rarely found in the DC sf comics, but not explicitly criticized either.
The most interesting aspect of this tale is its astonishing scientific prophecy: it centers on the threat to Earth from holes in the ozone layer. This event has come true today. Broome's tale includes both causes and cures for this event, both of which are imaginative, but neither of which have much real life relevance. Broome liked stories that took place among large, diffuse objects in space: see "Raiders of the Waterless World" (Mystery in Space #56, December 1959).
Last Day on Earth (1954). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sy Barry. After meeting and falling in love with a mysterious woman, a young physicist starts shrinking. Pleasant love story. This simple, short work reminds one of other Broome tales in which a hero finds happiness with aliens.
Sy Barry has a good portrait of the hero in a white tux. He is at a fancy restaurant with the heroine. Such clothes were a cultural ideal in the 1950's. The detective in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) wears a similar tux at the end of the film.
The Metal That Mastered Men (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Jerry Grandenetti. A scientist warns his students, about a sinister new kind of metal he once created.
Broome highlights two moments of scientific discovery in the tale. Both are also key moments that transform the hero's life. Such moments of discovery-and-transformation are a powerful Broome theme.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Deadly Star (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. Scientists can tell that alien beings from Vega are hiding somewhere on Earth, because they give off traces of radiation. The story has Broome's systematic quality. Here, he shows in a step-by-step way, what a throrough search of Earth for hidden aliens might be like. This is interestingly detailed. Often, Broome's systematic works show how civilization slowly gets transformed. But in this story, Broome applies his systematic imagination to a search, instead.
There is satire at the end, when we learn what the Vegans are up to, and why they are on Earth.
Today when we hear the term "vegan", it usually refers to a specific kind of vegetarian. There is no such meaning in this 1955 tale. Vegans are simply aliens from the planet Vega.
Interplanetary Swap Shop (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. A California husband and wife find a device that swaps objects between Earth and another planet. Outstanding story full of imaginative plot detail. The story starts out simply, and keeps building more and more plot developments out of its central idea. Broome often featured such step by step construction of a tale, in which the characters get deeply involved in an sf situation through a series of small, gentle steps.
The husband and wife do not become radicalized, unlike some of Broome's characters; they never move into opposition to conventional society. However, they do become world saving heroes, another Broome tradition. Both their idealism and intelligence mark them as Broome heroes. The couple do have the initiative to take action on their own, without promptings by society. They are original thinkers.
The finale here is one of the sf magazine tales in which the hero and heroine look up to the stars in wonder. This is a powerful image. Also good: a portrait of the hero, when he has his glasses off (p2).
The Electric Man (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sy Barry. Based on a cover by: Murphy Anderson. A man searching for power sources in the ground, stumbles across electricity beings.
This tale combines two favorite Broome subjects. One, it looks at power sources and their role in civilization. This is a subject that seems ever more relevant fifty years later.
Second, it shows a man facing temptation to become a big shot, but at the price of personal corruption. Many Broome characters reach such a point of personal transformation in their lives. Sometimes it is positive, more often it leads them into a sinister life style.
In addition, this story is a well developed sf tale. It tells a coherent story of the hero's search, and where it leads.
Sy Barry has some nice overhead panoramas, of the electrical plant grounds.
The Day the Sun Exploded (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. Earth keeps getting hotter, in this early look at Global Warming. This is one of Broome's best science fiction stories. It shows a whole step-by-step transformation of Earth life and civilization, as it slowly adapts to the ever rising heat.
The end of the tale is a scientific coda, showing the scientist hero making a major discovery. This too is impressively imagined.
In this tale, Broome is unaware of modern scientific ideas about Global Warming being caused by human-based carbon emissions. The warming in Broome's sf tale is simply a possible future for Earth, and is caused by natural forces. Still, the tale is remarkably scientifically sophisticated.
The Fish-Men of Earth (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Carmine Infantino. Aliens make the air on Earth so dense that humans are able to swim through it. This story invoked one of the most common and most powerful dream images: that one can fly through the air, swimming in it as one would a lake. The story is based on a spectacular cover by Carmine Infantino, which shows the air swimming with dream like brilliance. Broome explores the consequences of this change with his usual thoroughness. Like his women's lib tale "It's a Woman's World" (1952), this story looks at genuine change coming to society, a complete social transformation. This story is also one of several in the sf magazines that makes the process of scientific investigation vivid and real to their readers.
The Emperor of Planet X (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. A minor handyman on a big science project stumbles into a dimension filled with primitive people. This is a simple story. It embodies the wish-fulfilment of some Broome stories, about men with low status jobs who get to have glamorous adventures in outer space or another dimension. But it also creates an interesting moral at the end of the story, about where real values and success in life lie.
The other dimension happenings draw on plot ideas from Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889). The people in the other dimension have a civilization recalling the Middle Ages on Earth, while Twain's story sent his present-day hero back to the actual Medieval time of Earth.
The Man Who Couldn't Drown (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Ruben Moreira. A scientist who falls off a ship discovers that he can breathe salt water; he becomes the center of a massive scientific investigation. The tale gives a vivid picture of scientific investigation. The hero is himself a scientist, and takes part in the investigation as an experimenter, as well as a subject. The tale shows how new hypotheses are generated, the role chance plays in coming up with new concepts, and the need of scientists to use their intelligence to turn such chance events into new ideas for testing. It depicts the need for scientists to include as many good ideas in their testing as possible. Such a picture of how scientists work must have been very educational to the young readers of Strange Adventures, and all in the context of an exciting tale.
This tale shows several earmarks of Broome's construction. It includes a whole life history for its hero. It shows him getting more and more involved with underwater life, in the step by step approach Broome loved. Finally, at the end of the story the hero takes a drastic, radical step: this too is a traditional Broome climax. This approach of Broome's requires significant plot inventiveness and logic. The tale comes to a peaceful, constructive conclusion, reflecting Broome's idealism. This was also typical of the sf comic books: they felt social issues were important, and wanted them to be explicitly resolved by the ends of the stories.
The hero of the tale becomes the center of national publicity. This is quite common for Broome heroes, and even more often for Broome villains, whose head gets turned by their celebrityhood. The investigation is led by the National Science Foundation, which is a very much real institution. This is fairly rare in comic books, whose legal departments usually keep them from portraying real life people or places.
The underwater Atlantis city here is in Infantino's full Art Deco style. The city has curving pipe shaped towers, like Infantino's planetoid Gala in the "Knights of the Galaxy" tales (Mystery in Space #1 - 8).
Ruben Moreira's cover and the splash show the scientist underwater. He is fully dressed in shirt and tie, doubtless to underscore the fact that he is living underwater and fully operational in this environment, just as if he were a surface man. It is a surrealist image. Broome has included dialogue in the story to "explain" this - otherwise readers surely would have questioned this. He has his tie loosened: this is as casual as one gets in the dressy environment of the sf comic books! Another sequence shows him in sports clothes, white slacks and black shirt. This too is somewhat unusually casual in the sf comics.
The World that Slipped out of Space (1957). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. A convict in prison in contacted telepathically by aliens, who need Earth's help to save their planet. This story is based on a cover by Gil Kane. It recalls others he did, showing prisoners using unusual sf methods to escape from jail: see #81, as well. Broome treats this as just one episode in the story, and one remote from the main structure of the tale.
This tale shows Broome's idealism. Everyone on Earth pulls together to save the new planet. Women are explicitly involved in this; Broome stresses their intelligence and willingness to make an effort beyond the ordinary. Broome wrote several major stories about refugees; this tale is about a whole planet of refugees, fleeing from a natural disaster in another dimension.
US Government scientist Darwin Jones appeared in numerous Strange Adventures stories, right from the start in #1. He was rarely the protagonist of the tales. Often he was a supporting player. He and the Department of Scientific Investigation he headed would be plot catalysts. The DSI resembles a scientific version of the FBI. It is in charge of government investigations that involve science. It is usually treated with the serious dignity that marked most depictions of the FBI in its era. The Darwin Jones tales do not have the marks of a series. They did not appear in consecutive issues, or on any regular schedule. He appears in stories by many different writers and artists. Darwin Jones seems to be a character who is available to any Strange Adventures writer, who might find his appearance helpful in the tale.
The Alaskan landscape on the splash, showing a frozen wilderness with a starscape above, anticipates Infantino's moonscapes in "When the Earth Turned into a Comet" (1963). The vertical and vertically angled lines are also much employed in Infantino compositions.
The Secret of the Tom Thumb Spacemen (1957). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. This tale combines two famous plots: an ordinary Earthman is tapped to impersonate a look alike alien king of another planet who is ailing and who cannot attend to his duties (the Prisoner of Zenda story), and the Earthman must pull out a sword as a test of his kingship (the Excalibur story). There's lots more plot in this compact story: why are the space travelers the size of toy soldiers? And what is the hero going to do about his bad dreams? This story anticipates Broome's two Green Lantern tales about dreams. Always in Broome, dreams lead to surrealist adventures, often ones that contain great wish fulfillment fantasies, as well as release of subconscious drives.
Sid Greene's art is pleasantly escapist. As is usual in Zenda stories, the emphasis is on elegant fun. Here the hero gets to dress like the spacemen, who wear fancy outfits with red pants, white tunics and green boots: Christmas colors. The spacemen look like Nice Guys in these clothes, which are both fancy and wholesome. There is a sense of belonging in this aspect of the plot: the hero is now a member of a group of friends, all of whom have mild social prestige and dignity. The hero is shown as a workman leaving his factory at the beginning of the story, lost in the crowd, and social acceptance and brotherhood like this must be gratifying. I also liked the bed containing the ailing king: it is modernistic, like most of Greene's furniture, with a rounded head board marked with repeating flanges on either side. Greene created his own world in the comic books, one in which the buildings, furniture, machines and space ships all had their unique, highly personal designs. He is as much a total designer as was Frank Lloyd Wright or any other modern architect.
Secret of the Shrinking Twins (1957). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Twin brother detectives go undercover in a prison to uncover a breakout, but soon are shrunk by an insect scientist into his microscopic world. This story shows several elements that will appear in Broome's later Green Lantern stories. The brothers here recall the Jordan Brothers in that comic book, being a series of grownup, look alike men who work to defeat criminal schemes. There are similar choices of profession in the two groups of brothers, and even some similarities in personalities. Furthermore, the men wear rings, which behave in many ways similar to the power rings in Green Lantern.
The villainous scientist here is a would be dictator, trying to take over his home world, which is ruled by a "Democratic Council". This is exactly the same political situation that will appear in Otto Binder's Krypton stories, such as "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #123, August 1958).
The twin brothers are a bit more macho looking than many of Infantino's ethereal looking heroes. Perhaps this is because they are detectives, and work undercover in hard-boiled environments, such as prisons. Also, they are based on a cover by Gil Kane, and reflect the more robust appearance of his leading characters. The brothers are well characterized, and it seems a pity that they are not series characters. By contrast, much of the art in the tale is squarely in the Infantino tradition. The alien cities are Art Deco, and so is the equipment in the scientist's lab. The warden's office is a typical Infantino seat of authority, with its large desk, and multipaned floor to ceiling windows behind. There is also an Infantino starscape (page 3).
The Indestructible Menace (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Giant toy dolls from a prehistoric advanced civilization are excavated, and innocently cause havoc in contemporary times. A scientist has to figure out the principles of the dolls' behavior, and how they can be stopped. Broome treats this apparently simple subject with a wealth of invention. Since dolls are toys and not dangerous, there is a slightly comic edge to the story, a realization that nothing bad is going to happen. The reader can relax and concentrate of the sf events and their scientific investigation: Broome is inventive with both.
This story seems very unusual within Broome's work, and the sf comics as a whole. The various devices recall a little bit the ingenious traps with which Green Lantern would imprison Sinestro. The dolls also have a thematic link to Broome's stories in which pets or thinking machines become gigantic and take over humans' lives. However, they are much more comic and good natured than the sinister computers in Broome's tales. This story resembles some of Gardner Fox's sf mystery tales involving large robots and their control. The idea of giant robots from a prehistoric civilization being revived and undertaking mysterious tasks in modern times recalls Otto Binder's "The Warning from One Million B. C." (#109, October 1959).
Greene shows his architectural gifts in this tale. The splash shows an Earth skyscraper, while flashbacks to the prehistoric past depict strange curving ramps with rails on buildings (p2).
Captain Comet was a series super-hero whose work appeared in Strange Adventures (1951 - 1954). His stories took place in the present, and were often set on Earth, like much of the rest of this magazine. Captain Comet was a mutant, a representative of a super-species of Earthmen that would appear in the future. This gave him unique powers, such as invulnerability. He is often referred to as "the man of destiny", because all humans will be like him in thousands of years - he is the destiny of our species. Broome's heroes were often unique persons, different from society around them, and with unique powers.
Captain Comet had a secret identity: he was Adam Blake, a reference librarian in Midwest City, an information clerk who could answer almost any question on any topic. Despite their huge contributions to society, there are few librarian heroes in popular culture. I personally owe much of what is good in my life and work to libraries.
Captain Comet's origin is similar to that of the Golden Age Flash, in that it involves a college age youth who discovers that he has miraculous powers. Both heroes have a professor as a mentor.
ABILITIES. This story stresses Adam Blake's mental abilities. It does not focus on super-strength, unlike many comic book super-heroes. Even when Adam is shown to be an amazing athlete in college, his success rests on his ability to outmaneuver opposing players by anticipating their moves - a mental gift. This emphasis on thinking and brain power will be a constant in the entire 14 year run of the Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space.
Some of Adam's abilities are linked in the script to psi powers, such as mind over matter. This link will tend to disappear in later stories. Captain Comet will still have amazing mental abilities, but the stories will no longer serve as commercials for research into ESP. His powers will "just" be startling futuristic abilities, without any attempt to describe them in terms of contemporary ESP research. The elderly scientist who tests Adam in the first tale, Professor Emery Zackro, will also disappear as a series character.
COSTUME. While performing his feats, he wears a bright red uniform, with white and blue trim. Captain Comet's visual appearance was created by Carmine Infantino, who did the cover for this origin story, as well as the art for the actual story. Infantino had a flair for red costumes, and Captain Comet's anticipates that of Adam Strange to come.
Blake wears his Captain Comet uniform under his suit, just like Superman. He often changes in a cubicle in the basement of the library, just like Superman uses a storeroom at the Daily Planet.
COVER. Infantino's cover is one of his most spectacular. It shows a giant Captain Comet, symbolically standing on top of a modern city's skyline, filled with skyscrapers. The skyline is curved in a circular arc. Behind Captain Comet is one of Infantino's beautiful starscapes, representing his connection with the world of the stars and outer space. Trailing behind Captain Comet's lower body is a giant red comet, which is also curved into a circular arc, one whose curvature is in the opposite, balancing direction from the skyline.
Standing in front of Captain Comet, but around half his size, we see the Captain's secret identity of Adam Blake. Adam Blake is dressed in a modern suit, and carries a brief case. It is rare to see a portrait showing both a hero and his secret identity. Infantino would later show a hero in both his star fleet uniform and in a suit with briefcase in the splash panel of "The Secret of the Space Jewel" (1959). In that tale the one man is looking at the other. Captain Comet and Adam Blake are standing immediately in front of each other, however. The two seem closely linked in the image. It is as if they shared a single body.
Adam Blake's white suit on the cover is sporty, stylish, and more like sports wear than a business suit. Fred Astaire wore similar clothes in 1950's movies.
The Air Bandits from Space (1951). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Bob Oksner. Aliens try to get rid of Earth's atmosphere. The origin of Captain Comet's space ship, the Cometeer. Both the Cometeer, and the alien space ship, are full of biomorphic curves and projections. Infantino shows both on the splash, and later in the story. The story also has some of Infantino's depictions of the hero looking up to the night stars in wonder - always one of Infantino's most involving, haunting and hopeful subjects.
In addition to his space ship, Broome has some good ideas about his hero's perception of light and electromagnetic waves in general. This allows him to do detective work, tracking down the alien ship. Broome stressed the hero's step by step tracking down of a mystery in his non-science fiction detective comic book, Big Town.
While the previous Captain Comet origin story was set completely on Earth, with him battling a gang of typical crooks, this tale tries to be as science-fictional as possible. Throughout the rest of the series, Captain Comet would regularly travel to other worlds, to battle alien menaces, as well as getting involved with Earth-set crime. One suspects this tale was viewed as the origin, part 2, one designed to demonstrate other aspects of Captain Comet's persona and subject matter.
The Day the Past Came Back (1951). Writer: John Broome. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Bob Oksner. Dinosaurs appear, and wreck the city. This is the first tale in which Adam Blake goes to work as the library information clerk at Midwest City Library. Since Adam Blake has astonishing mental powers and abilities to gather information, it makes sense that he will work as a reference librarian, those amazing people who know everything about all subjects. This is also the origin of Adam's fellow librarian, the beautiful Miss Torrence.
This Captain Comet tale has an evolution machine, like that in Gardner Fox's "Evolution Plus", three issues previous in #8. It leads to some similar complications, although here these are worked into a complex thriller plot.
The museum guards have huge boots, as part of their uniforms.
Destination Doom (1951). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Aliens demand a typical Earthman be sent aboard their spaceship for purposes of study. This tale combines a couple of Broome themes, which probably found richer treatments elsewhere. One is the theme of a regime of evil robots dominating humans; the other is that of a hero starting a revolution against oppression. The hero of this tale attacks the regime's power supply, just as in Broome's later non-series tale "The Doom From Station X" (Mystery in Space #15, August-September 1953). This story is notable for an unusually complete demonstration of Captain Comet's various powers. His powers are almost as varied and unlimited as Broome's later hero Green Lantern. However, while GL's can make his ring materialize anything his mind imagines, Captain Comet's are based in his unique biology, both physical and mental. While vast, they are fixed in scope and nature.
Broome's version of a machine civilization oppressing humans has some resemblance to E. M. Forster's prose sf story "The Machine Stops" (1910). Both envision a final end to this machine era. Broome also links his picture of war against humans with bigoted stereotypes robots have about people. He is very insightful here, knowing that discrimination is almost always supported by an ideology of prejudice and negative stereotypes. This makes his tale resonate allegorically with the Civil Rights and feminist struggles of his era. It is hard not to see the picture he paints of humans facing up to negative images as representing the real life struggles of blacks and women to overcome prejudice. Broome's "It's a Woman's World" (Mystery in Space #8, June-July 1952) gives a detailed look at stereotypes faced by women.
Captain Comet is a seriously grown up man, in Anderson's version. He is definitely not a juvenile. In full figure, he resembles Gary Cooper; in his close-ups he recalls Howard Duff, especially around the eyes. Captain Comet's space ship is bright red, just like his uniform. Its needle cone rises to a sharp point, while two rounded jets are on each side. It is hard to imagine anything more phallic looking. It seems to be a one person space ship, much like the planes flown by real life test pilots.
The hand in a glass bowl (p4) is one of Anderson's archetypal images. It is very beautiful. The hand is reaching in to draw a name from the bowl. It also conveys some of the "classical" feel of Anderson's futuristic architecture. Plazas and fountains in Anderson can be built around a large jewel, which resembles the clear circular bowl of this illustration. Towers in Anderson sometimes have an all window area at the top, which also resembles these jewels and bowls. There is something extremely dignified about all of this. All of the areas represent some elegant Shangri-La of the imagination. They are a dignified and majestic place, centering around some perfect jewel of great rarity and beauty.
Beware the Synthetic Men (#17, February 1952). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. What's most interesting about this tale is the use of television. One of Captain Comet's seemingly endless powers is the ability to read thoughts. After all, he explains that thoughts are merely electric waves, which his advanced senses can pick up. But it turns out that thought waves are actually broadcast by TV, along with the picture and sound, so while watching at home Captain Comet can read the thoughts of a man who is broadcasting on live TV, right over the air waves! Green Lantern's ability to look into people's minds and see the truth is one of his most important capabilities. Here Captain Comet can do something similar. Television was so new in 1952 that it was still regarded as an sf invention. It seemed plausible that it might have undiscovered properties or potentials, such as thought broadcasting. There are also aspects of social commentary or even satire, here. The story explicitly contrasts what is being said by the broadcaster to what he is actually thinking. Even in the 1950's people were skeptical about this.
The Guardians of the Clockwork Universe (1952). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson.
Broome will make the Guardians of the Universe central characters in his Silver Age Green Lantern stories. It is startling to see an early version of them in his Captain Comet tales. The two versions of the Guardians show both similarities and differences. Similarities: both Guardians are nearly all wise beings who care for the well being of the entire Universe. Both have chosen an Earth hero (Captain Comet, Green Lantern) to be their champion. Both summon him through sending voices to Earth. Both send him on missions to other planets, of vital importance.
Differences: these early Guardians seem to be members of a single alien species of beings, all of whom live on a single planet. The entire race of beings seem to collectively be involved in the Guardianship. By contrast, the origin and nature of the Green Lantern Guardians seems mysterious. They form a council, and seem much smaller in number than a planet full of beings. And despite their similar appearance, they are never identified with an entire species of beings. Other differences: these Guardians are not the source of Captain Comet's power; they have a named leader Nestro; these Guardians are not "men of action", which is why they pick Captain Comet to be their agent of action.
Lights, Camera -- Invasion! (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. A teleplay about a Martian invasion of Earth is taken over by real Martians. This tale refers to Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" (1938), although not by name, and depicts a TV remake. It is related to the many media stories Broome wrote for Strange Adventures. This story takes place in the Golden Age of live TV. It is only practical as a plot during a live broadcast.
The exiting adventure elements in this story resemble Broome's classic "Raiders of the Waterless World" (Mystery in Space #56, December 1959). Both tales involve a solitary man who must single handedly prevent a surprise alien invasion. The man is engaged on peaceful, unrelated activities when the surprise attack occurs. In both stories, the hero has an off base approach to preventing the alien attack, something they do not expect.
Anderson's art is superb here. His depictions of the Martian spaceships show excellent geometry. His depiction of Captain Comet in his red uniform is also at his most macho. He also does a good job with the Army officers here. These men fail, as they always do in 1950's sf movies and comics! Our hero then has to take on the aliens all by himself.
The Human Beehive (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Captain Comet visits an island where radioactivity has turned insects and other animals into giants. Elements of this story anticipate Gordon Douglas' science fiction movie Them! (1954).
Captain Comet is always going on journeys to other places: often planets, here an island. Broome often liked his heroes to travel. We also learn here that Captain Comet is resistant to all forms of radiation, just like Broome's Atomic Knights to come. This story is crammed with small details and little plot ideas of all kinds. Although the Captain Comet tales are short, usually six pages, Broome tried to get as much story into them as possible.
Murphy Anderson always liked characters in uniform caps. Here he has Adam Blake on board ship in a nautical cap, plus a simple white sailor's shirt - Anderson always favored pure white shirts for his heroes. This is a rare view of Blake dressed in anything other than a suit. Anderson has some very good portraits of Captain Comet here. Page 5 shows him kneeling on one leg, holding a tiny human on the palm of his outstretched hand. There is also a portrait of Captain Comet standing, seen from the back.
The Cosmic Chessboard (#35, August 1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. The Guardians of the Universe return and send Captain Comet on a second mission: he has to enter a chess tournament on Pluto.
The Guardians are the most interesting aspect of this story, which is mainly a fairly minor tale. The chess aspects anticipate Broome's work on Strange Sports Stories, showing the future of a popular sport. Here Captain Comet looks ahead 279 moves to win a chess game. This anticipates Deep Blue and other modern computer chess playing programs.
This story recalls Broome's Big Town tales. Like them, it tales place in a zone of advanced civilization: Big Town is a thinly disguised New York City; this story is at a solar system chess tournament. Like many of the Big Town tales, it takes place at a sophisticated event: here the tournament. This event is the background around which a mystery plot is woven.
Anderson has a good close-up of Captain Comet (p2). There are shadows mid-face.
The Invaders From the Golden Atom (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Lucy Torrence, Adam Blake's colleague at the library, has strange dreams where she is ordered to build a machine. This is one of the most detailed looks at Lucy Torrence anywhere in the series. She is a continuing character, and this close-up portrait is welcome.
This story is one of many Broome wrote that involve dreams. It is oddly gripping throughout. Other Broome themes are also present: such as rings that have strange powers, mysterious messages from cosmic sources, woman executives, unrequited love by the hero for the same, the color gold (like the color yellow), sinister realms run by the evil, gateways between worlds, flight, the ocean, helping friends from work who are in trouble, strange events and mysterious machinery at home, shrinking down to atomic universes, and one hero taking on a large group of villains. All of these ideas reappear in Broome's classic early Green Lantern stories. They seem to form a suite of ideas, one that resonates together in Broome's story telling imagination.
Storytelling is a mysterious enterprise. One story will absorb the reader's attention; another will be dull. It is often hard to understand why, at least on the surface of things. "The Invaders From the Golden Atom" fascinated me, just like Broome's Green Lantern stories. The way the two tales share common imagery suggests some clues. They create a psychological landscape, one filled with interesting ideas, plots and feelings. "The Invaders From the Golden Atom" is much shorter than the Green Lantern saga: just 6 pages, rather than the 19 issues that make up Broome's first Green Lantern tales. Still, both show the storyteller's art.
The Seeing-Eye Humans (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Alien beings are kidnapping humans with exceptionally strong eye-sight. Simple, dignified tale, with messages about overcoming adversity. The story is linked to the series of tales Broome wrote about giant animals making pets out of humans. Here humans are similarly put into the role of seeing-eye dogs for aliens.
The Guilty Gorilla (#39, December 1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. The rogue Gorilla escapes from his courtroom trial, and organizes a gang of human crooks in Midwest City. DC comics in the 1950's published endless stories about intelligent gorillas; Broome himself wrote some classic stories about smart gorillas in the late 1950's. This one is at the adequate level, but is no great shakes. However, you have to love the deliciously absurd newspaper headline in this tale: "Mystery-Gorilla Leads Gang in Crime Wave". There is definitely something surreal about seeing an animal in a human leadership role. It also suggests that other 1950's myths about leadership might be false, such as those suggesting leaders should always be straight white males.
Murphy Anderson's cover is both beautiful and tongue-in-cheek. It shows the gorilla defendant seated on the witness stand. Captain Comet is standing there, in full red uniform, prosecuting him in the role of noble District Attorney. He stands ramrod straight, and holds a rifle he is submitting as evidence and discussing before the court. All of this is done with Anderson's superb draftsmanship and sense of drama. I've always had fantasies about being a crusading District Attorney, and this cover is an embodiment of them. Broome's story makes it clear that Captain Comet is not actually the DA, or any other court official; he is instead a "star witness". Still he is allowed to stand up and roam around in the front of the court, just like a District Attorney.
The tale is atypical in being a Captain Comet story involving organized crime. Usually the tales were purely science fictional. Unlike many comic book heroes, Captain Comet was not basically a crime fighter or detective.
The Case of the Counterfeit Credits (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Hawkins' robot secretary Ilda cracks a case involving counterfeiters who bet on races. Like many of the Star Hawkins cases, this one has a Damon Runyon like feel. The crooks are dim-witted common gamblers, and the adventure is full of comic touches. Ilda is in a popular tradition of highly intelligent, decent but naive intellectuals who innocently get involved with crooks, and who defeat them in the end. I always enjoyed such tales, partly because I am an intellectual myself, and can identify with the heroes. The intellectuals in these tales are always mild mannered, and lacking in street smarts. They have formidable brain power: here represented by Ilda's robotic brain.
As in other of Broome's tales, there is a gradualist approach here. We see the relationship between the cooks and Ilda start off with small steps, then gradually escalate into her being held hostage. Broome is always careful to provide such a detailed history of situations.
Sekowsky's depiction of Ilda is a comic gem. She is purely geometric, contrasting with all the realistically drawn humans around her. She has considerable feelings, even though she is a robot.
CLUE. Hawkins figures out something is wrong, when he notices a clue (first two panels of page 6). Such deductions from clues were an important part of many John Broome detective stories. See the detective tales Broome wrote for Big Town.
Immediately afterwards, this first discovery leads Hawkins to a second discovery (third panel of page 6). Broome liked logical chains of detective work, with one discovery leading to another.
HAWKINS. Hawkins twice uses thumb gestures, where he erects his thumb (fourth panel on page 2, first panel on page 6). This is a jazzy gesture, often associated with leading man types in the comics. Here it suggests that Hawkins has a conventional masculinity. Please see my list and analysis of Thumb Gestures in Comic Boooks.
Hawkins wears a sort of shirt-jacket. It is both casual and a bit futuristic. It reminds one of the windbreaker often worn by Sekowsky's hero Snapper Carr in the Justice League of America. The shirt-jacket has a fitted waist, popular in real-life jackets. Its collar can be turned up, conveying jauntiness and a bit of an edge (fourth panel on page 2).
Hawkins' shoes have wide spreading tops, a futuristic touch (second and sixth panels on page 7). Comic books liked elaborate footwear for men, often boots.
OFFICE. The office desks have the elaborate phones with numerous buttons, that were considered cool in that era.
The Case of the Red-Hot Robot (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Ilda's dreams start showing real life robberies; she and Hawkins get involved with robbers who use a heat gun. The idea of a dreaming robot is quite creative. Broome has a persistent interest in dreams; they often lead to massive revelations of truth, just as they do in this tale. Ilda has a very wide set of personal powers, just like most of Broome's heroes, such as Captain Comet and Green Lantern. The scene in this tale where Ilda broadcasts her dream visions on the wall recall the scenes in Green Lantern where Hal uses the ring to explore people's thoughts and make them visible. It is a moment of considerable imagination.
The real star of the series was Hawkins' robot secretary Ilda. Despite being the title character, Star Hawkins is clearly a mock heroic figure of fun here. He gets the build up: the title billing, the glamorous private eye job, the handsome portraiture. But all of this just comically underscores the fact that the long-suffering Ilda has all of the talent, and does most of the detective work. There is more than a bit of social satire here. In the 1960's, women were mainly restricted to lower level jobs, such as secretaries. Many of these women were far more talented than the men they worked for. In many cases, it was their ability that was actually running the business, and keeping it afloat.
Mike Sekowsky scores in this tale with the rocket jet "motorcycles" ridden by the police of the future. Riding such devices would be really cool. They would also make a great arcade game. He has his cops in head to toe blue uniforms, complete with helmets. These too are neat.
The Case of the Robot Detective (1961). Writer: John Broome. Art: Mike Sekowsky. When Star Hawkins is laid up after a case, he sends robot Ilda out on her own to solve a case.
MYSTERY. "The Case of the Robot Detective" is a genuine mystery story, with a mysterious situation investigated and solved by Ilda. Like most mystery stories, Ilda gives a detailed solution at the end, recounting the entire story of the crime. Notable features of the mystery plot:
However, the tale does establish that Hawkins is brave and willing to fight bad guys, however dangerous (page 2). This bravery was in his previous case, the one that caused him to be laid up at the start of the story. He does nothing at all in Ilda's case, the main mystery in "The Case of the Robot Detective".
The same point about Hawkins' bravery was made in "The Case of the Counterfeit Credits".
Hawkins has solved the case at the start, by what the story calls "clever detective work".
ART: THE FUTURE. There is a nice pair of cityscapes, showing the advanced, glamorous city of the future (page 4). It features both straight lines and dramatic curves. This futuristic city recalls 1960's design of the Mad Men era.
Next we see a kid's toy, a scale model of "Space City" (page 5). It too has nice futuristic design. It is full of curving buildings. This model city contrasts with the actual city on the previous page.
The policeman has a good uniform, with conspicuous Sergeant's chevrons (page 8). The uniform is partly traditional, but the chevrons have a dramatic geometry that is a bit futuristic and glamorous. The way the uniform is starkly black-with-white-insignia also looks futuristic. Everything in this future looks more genteel, more glamorous and more luxurious than the present day. And the police uniform is no exception.
Star Hawkins is still wearing his futuristic shoes with the spread-out tops (third panel on page 2). The bad guy with the sledge hammer (on the splash) has somewhat similar shoes, although they are not as good as Hawkins'. He is the only one of the bad guys who is the slightest bit glamorized.
The Case of the Interplanetary Imps (1961). Writer: John Broome. Art: Mike Sekowsky. Seven tiny Neptunian acrobats temporarily share Hawkins' office, raising comic havoc. Simple, pleasant bit of silliness. The story is a brief anecdote. It has crime elements, but no mystery or detection.
The splash panel reveals what is going to happen in the story. Oddly, it doesn't matter: the story is still enjoyable.
There is a satirical look at that favorite idea of old-time science fiction, the scientific rehabilitation of criminals. It doesn't denounce the idea. But it does suggest some humorous glitches.
ART: THE FUTURE. There are some simple but nice futuristic cityscapes (page 2).
The Case of the 14 Clueless Crimes (1964). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Mike Sekowsky. While speaking to a police convention in another city, Star Hawkins accepts a challenge to find a thief whose 14 robberies have left no clues. The last Star Hawkins tale in the Julius Schwartz edited run of Strange Adventures. (Star Hawkins will be continued by other hands, under Jack Schiff's editorship.)
The tale is a straightforward sf detective story, with a nice use of both deduction and investigative sleuthing. Hawkins eventually traces the villain to his lair. Hawkins makes his first deduction from the fact that the robber has in fact left no clues. There is a Borges-like, paradoxical feel to such a deduction. This part of the plot is constructed with convincing logical detail.
The mystery is entirely solved by Hawkins, with little or no help from Ilda. This is consistent with the theme of the story, that 21st Century humans are relying too much on machines, and too little on their own powers, a thesis advanced by Hawkins at the start of the story. Such a thesis is consistent with Broome's anti-computer stories of the 1950's. It is a contrast to Ilda herself. The character of Ilda, and her many robotic features depicted throughout the series, showed some of the great possibilities of robots. Although the series is comic in tone, it offers one of the more imaginative and detailed looks in fiction of what robots might actually be like.
Conventions of people in given profession, like this tale's police convention, were fairly common in DC comics of the era. So were professional clubs and associations. They were almost always treated positively. These groups tended to have a middle class feel. They were open to anyone in the profession. They were not exclusive clubs open only to the rich.
The idea of aliens disguising themselves as conventional looking, handsome young humans will pop up again in Mark Clifton's prose science fiction novel, When They Come from Space (1962).
Gil Kane breaks the splash page up into two vertical panels, just as he will often do later on in Green Lantern. One shows the aliens as they appear to humans, looking like handsome young Earthmen in glamorous space suits. The other panel shows the aliens as they really are. The two vertical sections are "in parallel". Both are occurring at exactly the same time, and together make up a composite portrait. The splash can be thought of as a "compound panel", a single panel made up of multiple sections.
Kane depicts the aliens as some of his classic leading man types. The aliens are so wholesome and conventionally good looking that some slight elements of satire sneak in. These men are downright bland in their conventional appearance. Most of the actual heroes of other Kane stories have a bit more of an edge than this. They also tend to have more individual personality. The aliens are almost a satire on what Americans admire in people. Their utter blandness and WASP like appearance has a mindless quality, as well as large elements of social convention.
The ending of this story involves 3-D films. Herron liked three dimensional effects: see the buoy in his "The Prisoner of Space X" (1957). This concluding part of the tale shows good logic.
Warning From Another World (1954). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Henry Sharp. A woman doctor, who is a professor of space medicine, tries to revive an alien fished out of Earth's ocean, and determine what planet he is from. This tale is a feminist classic. It is a rare Strange Adventures tale with a woman as its scientist-hero. The story is explicitly feminist; the heroine Dr. Grant has to face down surprise from her colleagues that she is a woman. Feminism was a major subject in the DC sf comics in the early 1950's, with such tales as Robert Kanigher's "Challenge of the Robot Knight" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952) and John Broome's "It's a Woman's World" (Mystery in Space #8, June-July 1952).
The story reminds one of several Otto Binder sf mysteries to come. It was written at a time, however, when Binder was just beginning his work for DC comics on a large scale. I do not know what precedents it had it the work of Herron, Binder, or other writers. Just as in Binder's "Back Window into Space" (1958), the heroine has to figure out what planet the alien is from. And as in Binder's "The Spaceman Who Came to Dinner" (1958), she has to figure out correct physical conditions in which the alien can flourish.
Herron liked stories in which mysterious alien beings appeared on Earth, and the difficulties humans had in communicating with them. His "The Volcanic Man" (1957) is also of this type. The Volcanic Man comes from an underground civilization; the alien here is from another planet, but is fished out of the sea here on Earth for his first appearance. Herron's work has strong chthonic qualities. It often involves geology or underground exploration or technology.
The Strange Thinking-Cap of Willie Jones (1955). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Sy Barry. A young lighthouse keeper suffers from indecision, till an old scientist friend gives him a cap that helps organize his thoughts. Charming, light-hearted tale.
This story probably draws on some plot elements found in Bill Finger's "The Invisible Masters of Earth", which appeared three issues before.
The Prisoner of Space X (1957). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Sid Greene. A space pilot breaks through a dimensional barrier, only to meet a hostile reception. The story explicitly compares this flight to the breaking of the sound barrier in 20th Century aircraft flight. Herron shows some good imagination in his depiction of space flight. I also liked the "space buoy" towards the end. It serves to warn of danger, just as a 20th Century buoy does in water. But it emits warning lights in all directions, as befits the three dimensional nature of space.
Sid Greene's art is very rich in this tale. Greene often showed alien cities from above: a space ship will approach the planet, and look down over an alien city, complete with buildings, roads and landscape, all spread out below. The architecture shown in this tale is some of his most curvilinear and outré, with spiraling ramps and unusually curved buildings abounding. In the large introductory panel, we also see some of these buildings from close up, once again from the slightly elevated angle Greene often preferred for these introductory splash panels. Greene often took advantage of the large size of the splash panels to reveal both a panoramic view of several alien buildings, and their architectural detail.
The Friendly Enemies of Space (#81, June 1957). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Gil Kane. Aliens land on Earth; their repeated friendly attempts to communicate with Earthmen keep leading inadvertently to scientific disasters for Earth people. Otto Binder was not the only writer to use of the theme of "the difficulty of communicating between Earthmen and aliens". Here is a First Contact story by Herron on the same theme. Herron's piece is far more awkward than Binder's. It is full of Herron's strange invented pseudo-science which runs through his stories. Herron's work is G-rated, wholesome, and inoffensive. But it is also truly weird. It is not a favorite of mine. However, I suspect that Herron's weirdness contains unusual ideas, and strange ideas always have value.
Most noteworthy is the synesthesia passage. One side-effect of the aliens' science is to temporarily swap the senses of hearing and sight in humans. Gil Kane's art here strangely transforms comic book conventions. Instead of word balloons contains dialogue, as they usually do, here instead they contain colors. This shows that people are talking in colors: part of the synesthesia in the story. Kane did a similar effect in a Green Lantern tale to convey a silent world in which men have lost the power of speech: "Zero Hour in Silent City" (Green Lantern #12, April 1962). In that tale, he showed people speaking with empty balloons, to convey the effect that they were trying to talk, but no sound was being produced.
I also liked the slightly futuristic naval officer's uniform Kane depicts on page 3.
The Volcanic Man (1957). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Sid Greene. A giant from an underground volcanic civilization appears on Earth. The opening of this tale is much like 1950's sf films, with a giant monster running amok on Earth, wrecking havoc in its path. However, the splash panel explicitly asks whether the giant's mission is good or evil, and the scientist hero of the tale makes every effort to find out, and to communicate with the giant. Herron returns to the theme of First Contact, and the difficulties of communication, a theme he shares with Otto Binder. The geological approach also seems personal for Herron. This is one of his most satisfying tales.
The giant makes a diamond out of compressed carbon, just like Superman.
The splash shows one of Greene's aerial cityscapes. It is smaller than some of his other efforts, but still very good, with curving circular ramps and windows.
The Future Mind of Roger Davis (1957). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Gil Kane. While on vacation at a mountain resort one winter, Roger Davis develops the ability to foresee future disasters.
This minor tale is mainly notable for Gil Kane's art, especially his portraiture of the hero. We see him a large variety of sports clothes - something unusual for the DC sf comics, which usually had their heroes in coats and ties. He wears a T shirt (p2), and a Blackhawk style jacket much of the rest of the tale. The portrait with his collar turned up (p4) is especially good. Kane also does a good job with the panel depicting snow overhanging the resort, before the avalanche (p5). This looks much like the tidal waves he often drew of water in other stories. The avalanche reminds us that Herron is very interested in events that involve movement of the Earth or its surface.
Earth for Sale (1958). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Carmine Infantino. Aliens try to conquer Earth to exploit its natural resources; an Earth scientist proposes somewhat ironically to sell Earth to the aliens instead, while using properties of alien sand to defeat the aliens' schemes. This story is not to be confused with "The Man Who Sold the Earth" (#47, August 1954), a minor Otto Binder story about a con man who "sells" the Earth to aliens in the same way that modern con men "sell" the Brooklyn Bridge.
Infantino's art is fascinatingly schematic here. Much of the story keeps returning to a single location, a giant hour glass the aliens have set up to indicate that time is running out. Infantino keeps showing the hour glass from different perspectives and distances. He also uses the panel to cut off and frame the hour glass in different ways. All of the illustrations are dominated by the giant X formed by the hour glass' sides. They also show the aliens' rocket parked near by, from a similar series of perspectives and views. It too is a nearly purely geometrical construct. So much of the tale becomes one of Infantino's largest pictorial sequences, showing similar action from different points of view.
The geologist hero of the story, John Prentiss, is a typical scientist hero of the sf comic books. He is backed by the United Nations in the story, an institution always treated with admiration in DC Silver Age comic books. Infantino depicts him wearing a pin stripe suit, something that is rare for his heroes. More typically they are dressed in a more modest middle class style in sport coat and tie.
The Immortality Seekers (1963). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Sid Greene. An alien being in ancient time creates the Earth's continents to encode a message in their outlines and shapes in his planet's writing system. This tale shows Herron faithful to the tradition of the Cosmic tale four years after it was given up by Binder with his 1959 retirement from scripting DC sf comic books. Herron was always especially interested in geology, so the breakup of Earth's once unified land mass is a natural for him. Herron is accurately referring to a real event: at one time all of Earth consisted of a single continent, and its breakup and the subsequent drift of the pieces have formed Earth's current continents and islands. Herron shows further ingenious geological events in this tale, which is fully developed as a plot in the best sf comic book tradition.
The aliens who come to Earth view the outlines of the continents from high above, from their space ships. Such views of Earth features from space were an important part of Binder's Cosmic tradition: see Binder's "Amazing Space Flight of North America" (Mystery in Space #44, June-July 1958) and "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959), both of which deal with continental outlines.
Greene shows his architectural flair on the splash, with spiral towers surrounded by circles of broadcast waves. Such spiral towers often showed up in his futuristic plazas. Here they are stand alone feature on a modern Earth island.
Captives of the Eclipse (1964). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Sid Greene. Darwin Jones intervenes when an eclipse causes people on Earth to have a strange glow. As is common in Herron stories, it is hard to tell throughout the tale whether the glow is beneficial or not. Herron keeps us in suspense till nearly the end. Such a framework by Herron reminds us how important thinking is in real life. Things are not obviously true or false - one has to think hard to understand them.
Sid Greene often includes a portrait of editor Julius Schwartz in his tales. His appearance here is one of the most comic. It expresses in a rueful way all our problems as being part of the human condition.
Edmond Hamilton's Framework for the Chris KL-99 tales. The Chris KL-99 stories tend to have a common framework.
This framework is original to Hamilton. It does not seem to derive from other writers. Cosmic Engineering was a specialty of Hamilton, both in his prose science fiction, and in his comic book tales. In an interview, Hamilton said he learned about Cosmic Engineering plots from science fiction writer Homer Eon Flint, whom Hamilton read while young.
Variations in the Framework. Not every aspect of this framework is present in every Chris tale. Most importantly, Cosmic Engineering is not present in the first two Chris tales. It only emerges with the third, "The Metal World". From that point on, it is always present.
Also, quite a few Chris stories do not include the first step, that of brief visits to other planets. They simply begin with the next step, showing Chris on Earth at exploration headquarters. And Chris may or may not visit other planets while following the signal. Both kinds of visits are similar, and tend to show an exotic planet built around some unusual sf idea. They often have the most tenuous links with the rest of the story.
Some of the tales also have more elements of mystery about them, than others. It is a variable step.
Not a Formula. This is a serviceable framework for the tales. It tends to seem a bit cut and dried. Still, it offers Hamilton plenty of opportunity to come up with science fiction ideas. The planets, the way Chris follows the signal, the situation on the planet, the hi-tech way to defeat the bad guys, and the cosmic engineering, all require ingenious sf plotting. One hesitates to call anything that demands so many original ideas and ingenuity in each story a "formula".
The actual ideas in each step, such as the planets or the feat of cosmic engineering, are far more important than the framework itself. The creativity is in these specific plot ideas. These ideas are fresh and new in each individual Chris story.
The Chris stories seem like a dry run for the tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes tales that Hamilton would write in the 1960's. The Legion tales also often revolve around space exploration. And they frequently go to planets with strange properties. These planetary episodes tend to be longer and better developed in the Legion stories than in the Chris tales, where they can be as brief as a single panel.
The Menace of the Green Nebula (1950). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Howard Sherman. The first story about space explorer Chris KL-99. Chris explores the universe with two close friends: Halk, a giant Martian adventurer, and Jero, a small green Venusian scientist. These color choices are appropriate to the two planets, as people thought about them then: Mars was a place of red deserts, while Venus was green, wet and fertile. The two personalities of the aliens also seemed appropriate: Mars was silent, vast, noble and forbidding, like Halk, while Venus was friendly, good humored and intellectual, like Jero They also have an alien pet, Loopy, a dog like animal who changes colors according to his emotions. There is plenty of sense of alien adventure right here among the crew, with friends from four worlds. Hamilton's series loves alien beings. They are regarded as friends, and meeting people from another species is considered the greatest experience anyone can have. It is hard not to see symbolism here about race relations, and a suggestion that diversity of races is good.
Chris has a mission from the government: "to discover and explore new worlds and protect their inhabitants". The universe of the future is filled with rapacious merchants who would like to loot newly discovered planets of their natural resources, and exploit their inhabitants. It is the job of Chris and his crew to prevent this. This gives this tale a two part structure. In its first part, Chris finds a new world; in the second, he and his friends protect the planet from greedy colonizers.
One sees immediate parallels here with Earth's own history of colonialism. Hamilton clearly hates colonial exploitation, and has created a group of heroes who work against it. Hamilton clearly sees colonialism as one of the great tragedies of human history. There are some ironies here. Chris KL-99 is known in the stories as the "Christopher Columbus of space": note the similarities of their names. Like the real Columbus, Chris is a great explorer. Unlike the real Columbus, he is the protector of the people he meets, not their exploiter. Today, people with Hamilton's political and moral beliefs would never have invoked Columbus as a hero. This shows naiveté on Hamilton's part, and an ignoring of the real facts of Columbus' life. However, reservations about Hamilton's scrambled history aside, this is as morally admirable a series as one could wish.
In this first tale Chris' last name is KL99; in later tales a hyphen has been added, making him KL-99. He seems to be better known under the latter version among comics historians. The 99 is an honorific: it was added onto his name to honor his achievement in getting a 99% grade at the Space-Academy. Intellect is deeply honored here, as it almost always is in the comic book world. His name recalls that of pulp sf pioneer Hugo Gernsback, and his novel Ralph 124C41+ (1910). The + at the end of Ralph's name is also an honorific.
ART. Howard Sherman's art is among the most spectacular of any story in Strange Adventures. It creates a whole future universe. A planet is full of rounded towers that look like chess pieces or giant mushrooms. There are square buildings with rounded dome like towers above them, like an observatory or a stupa. The government center on Earth is full of Art Deco buildings in the Moderne Deco style, with flanges and streamlining.
There is an unusual, curvilinear space ship. Its complex 3D curved surfaces anticipate those of Curt Swan in "The Super-Brat From Krypton" (Superman #137, May 1960). Sherman also does a good job with the clothes, including Chris' uniform and the space suits. His work is a riot of visual invention, just as Hamilton's tale is one of the best tales of space exploration in the comics. A story like this expresses a great sense of wish fulfillment. It would be great to explore the universe, and see all the wonders it contains.
Howard Sherman's art in this tale is very rich. Virtually every panel conveys a future world. The illustrations are joyous, suggesting fun things emerging in the future. They are quite busy: every region of every panel is loaded with imagery. The colorist painted these building and space ships with a huge range of bright colors. The overall effect is a kid's delightful dream of the future, where every object is rich is detail with gizmos, and all in a wild Technicolor palette.
Sherman's underwater city (p2) recalls Mikolajus Ciurlionis' painting, Star Sonata Allegro (1908). That Symbolist work shows wavy lines extending horizontally through the air; Sherman's has actual water waves in his under ocean scene. Later, the Green Nebula will allow him to have similar complex curving lines through outer space. Even space or the sky is rarely blank in Sherman, in contrast to other artists.
The biomorphic spaceship "The Pioneer" piloted by Chris (p3) is quite different from the geometric, Constructivist space ships in the works of most DC artists, such as Gil Kane or Sid Greene. When he does use pure geometric forms, Sherman is fond of circles. The map room is filled with spheres representing different planets; the room also has ingenious circular doors. The two combine together for a rich and original looking composition. Hamilton loved map rooms and maps; one would love to visit such a room, and look at maps of all the known planets in the galaxy. There will also be circularly arched doors in the Space-Academy Hall (p4). Sherman will also use truncated spheres on the joints of his space suits (p 10). These recall a bit the Constructivist costumes designed by Alexandra Exter for Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924).
Sherman shows us a very nice city of the future, the government center (p4). The style has Art Deco features, like most comic book futuristic cities, but it also has some innovative features. One might call it Deco Plus. In addition to Deco like flanges, there are many circular features, with domes, and numerous repeated round or arched windows. Sherman also has flanged scientific equipment that is Deco in feel (p5). Chris' spaceship the Pioneer also has elaborate equipment and controls inside (p7); these anticipate the similarly very detailed controls of Gil Kane's space ships.
When Sherman gets to alien worlds, he goes all out. There are men with polygonally faceted bodies on the radioactive planet. Such polygonal men will also pop up in the work of Carmine Infantino, especially when he deals with crystal beings, as in his Adam Strange story "The Challenge of the Crystal Conquerors" (Mystery in Space #71, November 1961).
The World of Giant Robots (1950). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Howard Sherman. Chris goes to an advanced planet overrun by giant robots. This is perhaps the weakest of the Chris tales, although it is pleasant enough. There is no tracking of a signal through space, no mystery elements, and no cosmic engineering, so there is less sf ingenuity here than elsewhere in the series.
The Metal World (1950). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Howard Sherman. Based on a cover by: Howard Sherman. Aliens steal landmarks from Earth and other planets.
This is the first Cosmic Engineering tale in the Chris series. The engineering is complex, in that it involves a puzzle. Chris has to figure out a way to perform a seemingly impossible feat of engineering, and he figures out a loophole that will allow it to take place. Such a puzzle makes this part of the story doubly complex in terms of plot.
One of the worlds looted by the aliens is devoted to The Temple of the Stars. Its inhabitants are dressed like the Golden Age super-hero Starman: perhaps an inside joke.
Sherman's art is excellent, rich in the patterns and geometric forms he brought to the Chris series. The spaceship, shown in most detail on the cover, is a complex mix of cylinders and domed top, reminiscent of a building in the first Chris tale.
The World Inside the Atom (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Howard Sherman. Chris and friends shrink down to an atom-sized planet inside a pebble. Hamilton will later write a tale involving an explorer expanding to a larger universe: "Search for a Lost World" (Strange Adventures #67, April 1956).The shrinking adds a whole new story-telling dimension to this tale, in addition to the framework. The shrinking helps construct the plot implementations of many of the framework steps.
In this story and the next Chris tale, "The Lost Earthmen", Chris actually fixes something that was broken long before the story opens. This seems audacious; he goes far beyond what any of the characters, or the reader expects. He also uses apparently useless things, that he encountered on his trip to the planet in peril. There is perhaps a message here. Things that seem unimportant, or beyond the boundaries of what people have always believed is relevant, might actually change their whole lives positively. This is perhaps related to Hamilton's theme of the outsider. Just as social outsiders struggle to prove their usefulness to society, so do objects and regions outside of social boundaries prove to be the key to fixing those societies' problems. These stories can also been seen as science fictional mystery-problem tales, the mystery being, how will Chris solve the problems of the planets he visits? Hamilton's solutions are both logical but surprising, in the tradition of mystery fiction.
The Lost Earthmen (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Carmine Infantino. We learn the secret story of what drives Chris to be a space explorer. This story looks at Chris' tragic early life; the next tale, "The Exile of Space", shows Halk's back-story. Both tales also resolve the issues affecting their heroes.
Edmond Hamilton would return to the subject of space explorers rescuing people from a doomed planet, in his Legion of Super-Heroes tale, "The Mutiny of the Legionnaires; The Castaway Legionnaires" (Adventure #318, March 1964).
There are no bad guys in this tale. And therefore no story step involving the defeat of the bad guys. This somehow adds to the tone of the story. Here Chris has a personal and purely idealistic goal: rescue his family and their colleagues. Villains would dilute this, and distract from the central idea.
The Exile of Space (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Murphy Anderson. We learn the secret, tragic background of Chris' companion, Halk the Martian. Halk is that familiar Hamilton character, the ostracized outsider, trying to prove his worth to society at large.
This story anticipates plot elements in the John Broome-written "The Doom From Station X" (Mystery in Space #15, August-September 1953), which also has art by Murphy Anderson. Broome and Anderson will also have Captain Comet battle a regime's power supply in "Destination Doom" (Strange Adventures #14, November 1951), a story that appeared five months after "The Exile of Space". The giant crystals here anticipate similar art in Anderson's XXX.
Halk's back-story is only tenuously linked to the rest of the tale. It gives this story a dual plot construction, with Halk and the main framework story being told in parallel.
The Missing Moon (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Murphy Anderson. When Chris learns that Earth had two moons in the ancient past, he tries to discover where the other moon has gone. Somber tale that preaches a strong anti-war message.
Defeating the bad guys here involves outwitting them, more than using a technological gimmick.
The Rival Columbus of Space (#15, December 1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Murphy Anderson. I have not succeeded in tracking down a copy of this issue, and do not know if the tale follows the same framework as the other Chris KL-99 tales.
The Crime Chase Through Time (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Ed Smalle, Jr. A modern day detective chases a crook into the world of 2950. This is a definitive time travel adventure story, in which people from the present visit the world of a thousand years from now. It is similar in several ways to the later Otto Binder time travel classic "The Boy Who Killed Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #28, April 1958). Both of these stories show modern day people exploring a great city of the future. Both involve crime and detection elements. In both, the hero has to obtain clothes of the future era to become less conspicuous. Both heroes have to struggle to adapt to the future world. Neither is an invited guest of the future city; each has just stumbled in using time travel, and each has to adapt on his own to the marvels of the future.
The story is typical of Hamilton's idealism, in showing a future era of peace, prosperity and scientific advancement. The absence of crime and violence in the future recalls Clifford D. Simak's City.
Hamilton includes a imaginative invention in his future world. Travelers simply point to a location on a map, and vehicles take them there. This anticipates today's computerized Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS). Hamilton showed a fascination with maps in his tales.
Ed Smalle's beautiful art shows a consistent design vision for the architecture of his future, based in Art Deco elements. The city is full of great skyscrapers, built in the Skyscraper Deco style popular on Earth in the late 1920's. They are connected by high ramps, running from building to building. These ramps are a science fiction innovation, and do not correspond with anything in our reality; one recalls somewhat similar ramps in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1926). However, their style recalls that of Public Deco constructions, such as Hoover Dam. Smaller individual buildings in this future city use the Moderne Deco style. Especially delightful is the Jewelry Bazaar building. This is a circular, streamlined structure, with a horizontal flange running around it in the Moderne Deco style. Its sign uses Deco style lettering. The systematic use of Art Deco here is somewhat typical of DC artists, many of whom used Deco to build cities of the future, or of advanced planets.
The Gorilla Who Challenged the World (#55, April 1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sy Barry. Based on a cover by: Murphy Anderson. A scientist's formula turns a gorilla super-intelligent. This is a minor, mildly pleasant tale. It shows the Hamilton story template of two characters who take on each other's roles. Here the human scientist and gorilla swap activities and roles. It also shows Hamilton's interest in Evolution, and stories in which humans speed it up.
"Smart Gorilla" stories were hugely popular in the 1950's, for reasons now lost in time. This story is mainly an excuse to put such a gorilla on the cover, which would be expected to increase sales. The tale has some pleasantly nutty lines of dialogue. XXX
A sequel "The Jungle Emperor" appeared in the next issue (May 1955), by the same Hamilton-Sharp team. It is also mild, but has an interesting sf idea with the main gorilla's gorilla-assistants.
Movie Men From Mars (1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Henry Sharp. A film director suspects that disasters to Earth monuments, are actually being staged as backdrops to Martian movies. This is a nutty but clever plot. The film director uses his technical knowledge film making, to figure out what is going on - and later, to resolve the situation. Heroes of the sf comic books were usually scientists, who used their professional skills to meet the plot's challenges. Here is a story with an artist hero, but one that stresses his technical skills once again.
Otto Binder would rework this plot a few months later in his Tommy Tomorrow story "Movie Makers From Outer Space" (Action Comics #210, November 1955). Binder often followed Hamilton's lead in constructing stories.
Search for a Lost World (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sid Greene. A scientist from a micro-solar system that is an "atom" in a larger universe becomes bigger to fight a threat to his world. The sf comic books had essentially three ways of developing another world:
Perhaps for the sake of variety, the sf comics tended to use all of these approaches with relatively equal frequency. Hamilton's story is one of the best treatments of the solar system as atom theme. It treats the idea with startling literalness, and a wealth of imaginative detail. Hamilton's enlarging scientist anticipates Otto Binder's "The Sky-High Man" (Mystery in Space #49, February 1959). Binder's story took place in our universe, and started on our planet Earth, while Hamilton's takes place in a sub-atomic world. Both stories use real logic, and feature a steadily expanding scientist. We see Hamilton sharing themes with Binder in his Strange Adventures stories: the cosmic perspective here, issues of perception in "Arthur Geil". Hamilton used expansion later in his "Superman in Kandor" (Superman #158, January 1963).
Sid Greene's art is excellent here. The scenes among the atoms are in the Greene tradition of outer space scenes showing many planets. Greene's space scenes typically have long curling lines running through them that are the exhaust trails of rockets. The curling lines and the planets make beautiful abstract patterns. Here there is no rocket - the expanding scientist is travelling by himself in a space suit. The curling lines are provided by a "Vibration-Vortex" behind the scientist that propels him along. These lines are much more tightly coiled that the typical rocket exhausts, but serve a similar structural purpose in Greene's compositions.
The young scientist in the tale, Vern Aiken, is one of Sid Greene's typical young men. He looks naïve, good natured and trusting, like all of Greene's young scientists. He is wearing a tee shirt, which also gives him a youthful look, and is trying to date a young woman at the start of the story. He looks more like a 1950's hot-rodder than a lab coated scientist. The T shirt has a contrasting color V wedge on the front that is quite striking: one could imagine it becoming a fashion hit in 2000 if some current designer saw it and copied it!
The scientist volunteers for the expansion mission, and becomes one of Hamilton's lonely, alienated, but courageous and socially constructive heroes by doing so. His story has considerable pathos, as do all of Hamilton's heroes.
Reverse Rescue of Earth (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sid Greene. A young scientist invents a time machine, and travels into the future. This tale borrows the premise of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895). But what Hamilton's scientist discovers in the future is quite different from anything in Wells' novel.
ART. Greene does a good job with the portraits of the hero. The future men are also appealing.
A space scene involves some of Greene's curving lines (p2). But they illustrate something different here: changing positions of stars as the time-traveller passes through thousands of years.
Several of the buildings are charmingly eccentric. Sid Greene specialized in off-trail futuristic architecture.
The Incredible Eyes of Arthur Geil (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sid Greene. A man's vision is transformed, so that he sees only organic objects, such as people, plants and cloth. This is a genuinely imaginative tale. It is contemporary with, and slightly earlier than, a Superman family story by Otto Binder that also involves vision: "The Super-Hallucinations" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957).
Hamilton's protagonists are often rejected from society, because society dislikes their ideas. Here his hero undergoes a similar isolation, but for different reasons. His changed vision makes it terribly difficult for him to work, travel, or lead any sort of normal life. Despite this, he struggles valiantly to keep his job and his connection to society. Even so, he becomes one of Hamilton's involuntary outsiders. Like all of Hamilton's outsiders, he maintains his idealism and good will, attempting to do only what is helpful to other people and society. The use of vision as an alienating factor might be significant. We often say that people with unusual ideas have vision, that they see things differently from everybody else. In Arthur Geil's case, that is literally true, not just a figure of speech or a metaphor. Arthur Geil's different vision might be a symbol for a different world view, a different perception of reality: the causes of most of Hamilton's heroes' isolation. One also wonders if there is significance in Arthur Geil's ability to see people, but not most things. This might be a metaphor for someone who is far more conscious of human beings than of social conventions or impersonal traditions. All in all, Hamilton has come up with one of the most powerful allegories since Hawthorne.
This tale contains a well done mystery sub-plot. The story's blend of a mystery against a science fiction background recalls Hamilton's "The Patent Planet" (Mystery in Space #30, February-March 1956). Both stories come up with ingenious solutions to puzzling, almost unexplainable events.
Sid Greene's art is full of inventive 3D "landscapes", that show people and objects floating in space, often in regular patterns. They recall Greene's flair with planetary landscapes, although these are composed out of contemporary Earth objects. Greene's illustrations are beautiful.
This tale starts out as a Binder transformation tale. The Paramecium become giant sized, for them, and also much smarter. The tale then modulates into one of Binder's parallel Earth tales: the Paramecium go through the same stages of evolution and history as our Earth. Binder shows his interest in media of communication, as well.
The Millionaire Robot / The Robot Dragnet (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Henry Sharp. A scientist leaves his fortune to the robot he invented. Two-part story, that appeared in successive issues of the comic book. The first half, "The Millionaire Robot", is a strange science fiction version of an old-fashioned mystery story. Every plot development familiar from whodunits occurs in the first installment, "The Millionaire Robot": but given a robotic twist. The tale opens with that old mystery standby, the reading of the will. It goes on from there, with pleasant ingenuity, to develop a whole mystery thriller.
While the story is serious in tone on the surface, underneath there is an element of humor. It is quite nutty to see familiar cliches be given a science fictional coat of paint.
The tale's second part, "The Robot Dragnet", is a science fiction thriller. Binder shows ingenuity in inventing a robot with many powers, and who is nearly invulnerable. In many ways, this is a robot analogue of Superman - although Superman is never referred to explicitly by the tale.
Binder includes one of the diagrams that sometimes appear in his tales (page 2). Such diagrams show the varied potential of comics as a medium.
SPOILERS. The second half of "The Robot Dragnet" has a plot structure often found in Superman tales: a series of linked hoaxes, designed to persuade someone of false ideas. As is typical of such tales, the explanation of each hoax shows ingenuity.
The 3D projection machine, anticipates a similar device in XXX.
The early sections of "The Robot Dragnet" (page 1-4) are full of the phallic symbols sometimes found in Binder. A fireplug is especially memorable (page 2). We see Binder's typical depiction of Male Power: a combination of phallic symbols and male Social Authority Figures (in this case the police and armed forces). As usual in Binder, such Male Power winds up being hopelessly ineffective. See my list of Binder's Tales of Male Power.
Henry Sharp does a good job with a group of uniformed policemen (page 1). They are armed with phallic guns. A phone also serves as a phallic symbol.
The World's Mightiest Weakling (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. A scientist's machine causes a skinny man to weigh much more but without changing his shape or size. This is one of Binder's transformation tales. The hero develops into a new state. Like most of Binder's transformations, the story is basically comic and upbeat. As usual, the inventive Binder milks the transformation for every story incident he can imagine. Binder will later write many such transformation sagas for the Superman family of comic books.
Interplanetary Camera (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. An Earth camera suddenly starts producing snapshots of scenes from outer space. This is another Binder tale, of communication between Earthmen and aliens, through pictures.
World at the Edge of the Universe (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sy Barry. A young Earth boy's outstanding scholarship wins him a place on a space ship learning cruise with other smart youths from around the galaxy. This story anticipates Binder's later Legion of Super-Heroes (1958). In both tales, an Earth boy with whom the reader can identify meets up with a group of awesome youths, here from other planets, in the Legion story from the future. In both works, the hero is humbled by the qualifications of the group he is placed in: here by the deep knowledge the alien youths have of the galaxy, far beyond that of most people on Earth. In both stories, he struggles to blend in, and show that he can operate on the same level as the other youths in the story. I love the hero's intelligent attitude here: when confronted by a wide array of knowledge with which he is unfamiliar, he decides "I'll take notes, and learn all I can!". This is good advice for the young readers of the magazine, too - and older ones as well. It is idealistic and practical - the hero plans to share the knowledge with others back on Earth.
This is an early example of a Cosmic tale by Binder, a story in which the heroes re-engineer some astronomical feature, in order to solve some problem. Binder would write a number of outstanding Cosmic tales for Mystery in Space.
The Mirages From Space (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. People see mirages in the Mojave Desert, that are actually images of Jupiter.
In Kane's cover, the person seeing the mirage is a cowboy: a logical choice for a desert-set tale. In Binder's story, the hero has been switched to an astronomer. Like most tales in Strange Adventures, this one has a scientist hero. He is also in a suit and tie, like almost all heroes in this comic book, rather than the cowboy garb on the cover.
The Thermometer Man (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. After an alien from frozen Pluto crash lands on Earth, he starts undergoing changes in Earth's heat. This is another Binder transformation story. As is sometimes the case in Binder, the transformation bestows what are essentially super-powers on the Plutonian, enabling him to perform heroic feats. "The Thermometer Man" appeared in 1955, when super-heroes were completely out of fashion, after the Golden Age, and before the start of the Silver Age. The Thermometer Man, as the Plutonian is nicknamed, is close to being a super-hero. This is a kind of character that did not really show up that often in the science fiction comics books. The feats he performs, are similar to those done by Superman. They are public services, rescuing trapped miners and other benevolent deeds.
Binder works in some basic physics about "changes of state". This material serves as science education for the young readers of the comic book, as well as creating an intriguing science fictional premise.
The ending anticipates the finale of Binder's classic "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960). It is emotionally involving here, as well.
The Amazing Two-Time Inventions (#61, October 1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. A contemporary Earthman learns that many modern inventions will be independently rediscovered in the future. This is a minor and somewhat awkwardly told tale. It does embody the Binder subject, of cyclical growth and decay of human civilizations, often along parallel lines to Earth history. Here ice ages cause human knowledge to be lost, which is later re-invented.
The Watchdogs of the Universe (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. An Earthman discovers a group of alien heroes who secretly aid beings in trouble all over the galaxy. The group has similarities to the later Legion of Super-Heroes (1958), which Binder also created:
This tale is constructed as a bed-time story the hero tells to his son; such use of bed-time tales is frequent in the DC sf magazines. Such bed-time tales would be familiar to most of the magazines' young readers; and they allow the writers to invoke the traditions of fairy stories and tall tales.
The Watchdogs have universalist ideals: they recruit from all worlds and help all worlds (page 3). This is an anti-racist message. The art does indeed show a wide variety of alien species as members of the Watchdogs.
Some of the feats performed by the Watchdogs are planet-wide in scope. These are examples of Cosmic Engineering.
SYMBOLISM. The rocket on the hero's medal, and the rocket picture on the wall (page 1), are phallic symbols. Devices used to perform two of the feats - a giant upturned magnet, a harpoon-needle - are also phallic symbols. So is the the Dangerscope machine (page 4). The medal, the feats, the Dangerscope and the Watchdogs are seen entirely positively.
"The Watchdogs of the Universe" stands in contrast to a series of social-criticism tales Binder wrote. Binder's Tales of Male Power are negative critiques of Male Power. Binder symbolizes Male Power in these tales by a combination of phallic symbols, and men with links to male Social Authority Figures. However, the positively-viewed Watchdogs are the exact opposite of Social Authority Figures. Instead, they do their deeds in secret, and have no interest in any rewards. Binder regards this as the correct approach for men.
STRUCTURE. Much of the plot consists of the Watchdogs helping various planets. These episodes essentially have the series of challenges and responses plot structure often used by Binder. In this case:
Binder often wrote tales of transformation, in which the hero is transformed. The hero of "The Watchdogs of the Universe" is not actually transformed: he always remains himself. However, he is kidnapped into outer space and a new life there: which is a bit like the transformations in other Binder tales. Like the transformations, it does radically alter the hero's life. And like many Binder transformations, it occurs against the hero's will.
Binder transformation tales often end with an antidote, which ends the hero's transformation and restores him to his original state. "The Watchdogs of the Universe" ends with something analogous to an antidote: the Watchdogs ingeniously restore the hero to his original life on Earth.
The Maze of Mars (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. A man stumbles into a strange underground maze out West, that has some unexplained connection with Mars. Delightful tale, that creates a fascinating environment.
There are large scale environments in some of Binder's Tommy Tomorrow stories. See "The Space Hall of Fame" (Action Comics #209, October 1955) and "Destination Unknown" (Action Comics #246, November 1958).
SPOILERS. "The Maze of Mars" has the Cosmic point of view often found in Binder, in its look at Mars' "canals". And there is engineering in the story. But unlike some other Binder tales, this is not Cosmic Engineering. In other words, the engineering does not cause major change to planets, stars or other astronomical objects - the definition of Cosmic Engineering.
War of the Mind Readers (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. Carnival mind-reading magician Merle Mallory tries to outwit invaders from Uranus. In some ways this can be considered as one of Binder's First Contact tales - it does indeed involve the first contact of humans with aliens from another planet. However, the subject of the story is not the difficulty of communication, as in a true First Contact tale, but rather a well done complex plot about trying to deter the attempted alien invasion.
The "telepathy-translator" is this story is an intriguing device, a machine that translates telepathic thoughts into audible human words. This is consistent with Binder's interest in media of communication.
This tale has many elements of the sf mystery. However, it is not "fair play": that is, the clues seen by the hero and used by him to solve the mysterious elements are not shared with the reader before the mystery is solved. Instead, we learn about these clues during the hero's solution. This problem aside, this is a well constructed plot with many pleasing elements.
Binder only rarely wrote anything resembling a war story. Binder wrote hundreds of tales of peaceful science fictional futures, but only a handful of war stories. This tale resembles his "The Counterfeit Earth" (Mystery in Space #35, December 1956 -January 1957). Both are stories of war in outer space; both are frighteningly casual about the use of nuclear weapons in such an environment. Neither war is at all glamorized. Both deal mainly with hoaxes and counter-hoaxes; both contain dummy objects designed to confuse or mislead the other side. Both stories are almost entirely tales of strategy, with no elements of personal combat or space pilot dog fights; both emphasize thinking and careful plotting, not aggressiveness. Binder's heroes are involved in these wars only by accident, and against their will when invaders put their finger on them. None of them wears a uniform.
Infantino does a good job with his portraits of the hero. Merle Mallory is dressed in the magician's traditional white tie and tails. Once again, Infantino's hero looks very elegant, but he does not look upper class; Mallory looks as if his tails are his working costume, which indeed they are. Infantino has given Mallory jet black hair, to match his tail coat. Just as in Mike Hodges' recent film Croupier (1997), Infantino has noticed that black hair seems to go especially well with evening clothes.
The Paul Revere of Time (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. A mysterious Voice warns crowds of people around the world of an impending natural disaster. Binder had long been interested in media of communication. Typically, his stories employed these to communicate between humans and aliens. Here, however, they are used on Earth itself, in a story with only human characters. All the communication in this tale is purely acoustic, something that is also rare in Binder. This is appropriate to a story of human-human communication, because the Voice uses English, Russian and Japanese to talk to the crowds, something that works great with humans, but which would have been useless in First Contacts with alien beings. The Voice spreads itself around the world. This gives it a scale near to that of Binder's Cosmic tales, which have an astronomical scope. The Voice thus combines two of Binder's fundamental approaches, the Means of Communication and the Cosmic Story.
The hero of this story is a newspaper reporter. This is a rare profession in the sf comic books. It is a common one in the Superman family stories, for which Binder also wrote, and sure enough, the reporter's editor wants a "scoop", just like Perry White. Heroes of the sf comic books rarely have "broad" professions such as reporters, policemen, lawyers or private eyes, the sort of people that serve as general purpose detective characters in books, films and comics. Instead, the sf comic book heroes tend to be in a specialized profession related to the story: astronomer, pilot, inventor, naturalist or artist.
In addition to the Voice contacting both USA and Russia, we see Soviet and American bomber pilots working together to attack the menacing (and uninhabited) icebergs that threaten Earth. This glamorized view of Soviet-US military cooperation must have been rare in the Cold War era. Binder wrote several World War II-era stories in the early 1940's in Masters Comics glorifying the Soviets' battle against the Nazis. None of these stories I've seen deals with Communist ideology or politics. But they were deeply pro-Soviet, at a time when the US and the USSR were allies against Hitler. William P. McGivern's prose thriller The Crooked Frame (1952) is a mystery novel set against a background of comic book publishing in New York City. In it, a writer fears that he might be blacklisted in 1952 for the pro-Soviet propaganda comic book stories he wrote in the early 1940's, when the US and USSR were military allies. The blacklisting never happens - no one notices or cares about his past. Aside from stray observations like this, The Crooked Frame is largely lacking in good inside information about the comics industry, unfortunately.
Gil Kane has some interestingly constructed machinery in his art. The airplanes in the story look like his bilaterally symmetric spaceships; they also resemble the test planes flown by Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern stories to come. These airplanes are both beautiful and exciting. They convey a tremendous sense of the drama of flight. As is usual in Kane, there are two different designs in his panels, assigned here to the Americans and the Russians - his sf stories often have both human and alien spaceships, each with a separate design.
The design of the "super-acoustic machine" was reused two years later in Kane's "Raiders of the Waterless World" (Mystery in Space #56, December 1959), as part of the control panel of the spaceship.
The most spectacular object in the story is the Time-Car. This is a time machine holding a single passenger, in the tradition of H.G. Wells. However, it is a car as well, and is on four wheels. Only the automotively oriented 1950's would combine a time machine and a car. In DC tradition, the time machine is a transparent sphere: Curt Swan had included a similar time machine in Strange Adventures in "The Endless War" (1950), and such time machines would later be used by the Legion of Super-Heroes. Kane has circles on the surface of the sphere; the whole sphere is suspended in a large, horizontal circle, serving as a flange, four points of which curve off in complex 3D ways to attach to the car's circular wheels. The whole design is a Constructivist object based on circles and spheres. It somewhat recalls the space ship he designed for the cover of "The Unknown Spaceman" (Mystery in Space #11, December 1952 -January 1953), which is also a circle covered sphere, with wheels.
The finger like rocks that appear towards the end are some of the most biomorphic figures in Kane's otherwise geometrically oriented Constructivist art.
The Boy Who Saved the Solar System (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Giunta. A young boy discovers a cure for the blight which threatens all vegetation in the solar system, and which threatens everyone with famine. This is a classic story about the scientific process. Its model is probably the real life discovery of penicillin. A piece like this must have been deeply educational to its young readers, and one wishes it were available to young people today. Binder showed considerable knowledgeability about botany. The otherwise minor "Assignment in Eternity" (#83, August 1957) by Binder deals imaginatively with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, those all important beneficial bacteria that live in the roots of members of the bean family and other closely related plant families.
John Giunta's art shows a special flair for the depiction of alien beings. He shows the races of all the planets in the solar system. These are representatives of the United Worlds, an extension of the United Nations of our own time. The DC Silver Age comics were always highly enthusiastic about the UN. The story also shows how international cooperation aids scientific development, something that also must have been educational for its readers.
The Man Who Aged Backwards (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Manny Stallman. An Earthman lands on a primitive planet, where he begins to grow younger and younger. This minor but pleasant tale is an example of a Binder transformation story. The basic idea is a commonplace of science fiction - F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" did it long before, for example. It also recalls Gardner Fox's early tale, "The Ghost Planet" (#23, August 1952). It frequently showed up in the Superman family of comic books as well, where it was usually treated as a comic theme. Here the tone is serious, however.
Throwback World (1958) Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Giunta. A space traveler from Earth prospecting for red diamonds visits a planet whose inhabitants seem to be de-evolving back into cave men. The rise and fall of civilization on this world recall Isaac Asimov's classic prose sf story, "Nightfall" (1941). The tale also evokes Binder traditions. The new world exactly parallels Earth's development during its positive phases. The cave-men in the story talk like the Bizarros to come. Their devolution recalls the way in which Bizarros are defective copies of humans. Parallel worlds and defective Bizarro like behavior are twin themes that often march together in Binder's works. Such worlds appeared in Binder's "The Man Who Discovered the "Earth"" (Mystery in Space #51, May 1959); please see that article for more details.
The unusual stellar formations the hero encounters on his space travels recall the unique planets met by other Binder heroes: see the article on "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959). Other parts of this story reflect Binder's Cosmic mode, notably the Cepheid variables and the black sunspots. Both the cosmic imagery and the unusual solar formations concentrate on suns - they are the central astronomical subject of the tale.
The story involves Binder's anthology or recursive style of construction: parts of it resemble his Cosmic works, parts his tales about unusual astronomical objects, other parts his parallel earth / Bizarro tales. When Binder constructs a tale recursively, each section uses a different technique, a technique he has previously used to build an entire story.
I Delivered Mail From Mars! (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Mort Drucker. A mailman on contemporary Earth who is always complaining about his hum drum existence finds one morning that he has to deliver a letter from Mars that mysteriously appears in the Post Office. Delicious comic tale, with a tongue in cheek quality. The story has some of the same comic, whimsical feel that Binder's Captain Marvel tales had had. Binder had just come off a ten year stint on Captain Marvel. This story is perhaps the first he wrote for DC's sf comics; it appears in the first issue to which Binder contributed. Binder will be a prolific writer for the magazines: nearly every issue of Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space from 1954 to 1959 will feature at least one Binder tale, often two or more. There is still perhaps a touch of fantasy to all this: nothing about the Martians is treated with raw scientific realism. Such a "science fantasy" approach was typical of Binder's previous Captain Marvel work. Later Binder stories for the DC sf magazines will find him much more purely oriented towards science fiction. By the way, nearly all titles of DC stories end with an exclamation point. I have just treated this as a convention, and have usually stripped off this exclamation point in these articles. But "I Delivered Mail From Mars!" needs its ! to create its full comic effect. The title is deliberately a bit exaggerated, a spoof of over-blown science fiction stories.
The hero of this tale undergoes experiences somewhat similar to those in Binder's transformation stories. In those tales, the hero gets super powers, or undergoes some personal transformation, such as becoming large or small. The hero of "Mail" does not undergo any physical transformation. But his contact with the letter from Mars affects him in a similar way as acquiring super powers does the transformation story heroes:
Mort Drucker would go on to fame with his delightful work for Mad Magazine. Here he shows that he might have had a successful career as a sf comic book artist.
I Flew a Flying Saucer! (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. At New York City's Liar's Club, a man tells a tall tale of piloting a flying saucer he found parked in the woods. Exuberant tall tale with many comic touches. The outer space adventures remind one of some of Binder's Tommy Tomorrow tales to come. Because the hero is making everything up, Binder can throw caution to the winds, and add any outré element to his story, however extravagant.
Infantino makes the Liar's Club look like an exceptionally respectable place. Everyone is in a sharp looking suit and tie in Infantino's best leading man tradition. The Club is open to the public, anyone with a tall story can go there. So it is not in any sense an exclusive club. Such clubs never appeared in the sf comics - the editor would have regarded them as anti-democratic, as indeed they frequently are. But the tale does not go to the other extreme. Everyone in the club looks like the acme of 1950's respectability and middle class values - it is not a place for the socially alienated or disenchanted. Talks before large crowds in the DC comics tend to take place in front of professional organizations. Lois Lane and Clark Kent often spoke to newsmen's associations, for instance, and one also saw explorer's clubs, police organizations, scientists' meetings, and so on. These would be open to anyone in a certain profession. Everyone at these organizations would look middle class.
The Riddle of Animal "X" (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. A zoologist's young son adopts as a pet a mysterious animal, one which clearly seems to be an alien being. This story is in Binder's tradition of the difficulties of First Contact between humans and aliens. It is very hard for the human scientist in the tale to recognize the animal as an alien, or to communicate with it. Once again, Binder shows how mental preconceptions hinder such communication.
This is one of the most detailed depictions by Binder of an alien. He wrote a number of tales about alien beings, such as "Supergirl Under the Green Sun" (Action Comics #337, May 1966).
As in all tales in the Schwartz sf magazines involving children, the tone of this story is gentle, friendly, upbeat and humorous. The innocence and good nature of the material is stressed.
The Sign Language of Space (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. A Native American who works as a forest ranger out West uses his traditional sign language skills to communicate with aliens who just landed on Earth. Fascinating story that embodies Binder's traditional theme of the difficulties of communication during First Encounters between humans and aliens.
The Spaceman of 1000 Disguises (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. An Earth scientist and an invading alien transform themselves into many different animals to fight a duel with each other. Binder loved stories about transformations; here transformations are the entire plot of the story, as the Earth naturalist hero Hal Carson and the alien transform themselves into a huge variety of creatures. Carson's animals are all real Earth creatures, whereas the alien's are imaginary beasts of his home planet. Binder manages to include a great deal of science into his story, as Carson becomes the fastest bird, the fastest mammal, and so on: he clearly loved to incorporate science lessons for his readers into the tales. Each transformation is very brief, lasting a panel or two; this is different from the typical Binder transformation tale, in which one transformation lasts an entire story, and is explored in depth. The effect is closest to Binder's "The Insect Queen of Smallville" (Superboy #124, October 1965), in which Lana Lang assumes the powers of many different insects in turn, to perform super-deeds.
The use of a naturalist as a hero is appropriate, because a naturalist would know all these remarkable facts about animals. The DC sf comic books always featured the appropriate kind of scientist in their tales. If a story involved rare minerals, a geologist would be the hero. If a story features animals, out comes a naturalist. There is a bit of a coincidence here - why would a naturalist just happen to be the one facing an alien with animal transformation powers - but it does make for an appropriate hero. It also serves to glamorize a scientific profession. One suspects the writers of Strange Adventures were trying to inform their young readers about various kinds of scientific specialties. They hoped the aspiring young scientists would learn about what geologists, naturalists, astronomers and so on did, and be inspired to seek careers in these areas.
Sid Greene's art is realistic in depicting all these creatures. The animals are clearly modeled after photographs, perhaps found in some encyclopedia. They lack the up close familiarity a 1990's artist might have for animals, after decades of nature shows have made us much more acquainted with wild creatures. Hal Carson is a rare hero not shown in a coat and tie. Here he is exploring in the wild, and wears a white tee shirt: a common 1950's costume, but one not frequently shown in Strange Adventures. He is young, and especially muscular for a Greene hero.
Back Window into Space (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. The back window of a scientist's house suddenly looks out onto another planet; he finds a way to help the primitive men of that planet in their struggle with dinosaurs. The same issue of Strange Adventures #95 contained the story "The World at My Doorstep", about a man whose front door suddenly opened on outer space one morning. This was also the cover of the magazine. Usually the cover is created first, then a story is written around it. One suspects that Binder's tale was also inspired by this same cover. Binder's tale is quite different from "Doorstep". Unlike "Doorstep", there is no conflict here with an alien villain. Instead, Binder centers his tale around his perennial theme, the difficulty of communicating with an alien planet. The method of communication he eventually devises adds to Binder's repertory of unusual approaches. This story makes a good companion piece to "The Sign Language of Space" (1955). One might note that the scientist is repeatedly helped by his young son. Such intelligent little boys were frequent characters in the sf comic books.
Binder's scientist first faces the problem of discovering which planet he is seeing. Binder and Greene show what the Sun would look like from the main planets of the solar system; this page is one of the virtuosic pieces in Strange Adventures. Its beauty and imaginativeness make it by itself worthy of the price of admission to this story. Binder liked to include scientific diagrams in his stories: see for example "Riddle of the Counterfeit Earthmen" (Mystery in Space #54, September 1959). Both of these tales' illustrations show the solar system as a whole.
The Spaceman Who Came to Dinner (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Manny Stallman. When Professor Wilson expresses skepticism on a TV panel about the existence of life on other planets, an alien from the star Aldeberan shows up at his house for dinner to prove him wrong. Comic tale that shows Binder's interest in First Contact. The spaceman stays and stays, long after the first dinner, just like the cantankerous hero of Kaufman and Hart's play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1935). While this story starts out as a clever comedy idea, it gradually brings in many of Binder's ideas about the difficulties of aliens adapting to other worlds. This turns it into a full-fledged science fiction tale.
The Warning from One Million B. C. (#109, October 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. Clyde Harrison, assistant to archaeologist Prof. Beatty, helps him unearth some prehistoric robots who begin to execute some puzzling tasks. This is a minor but pleasant story. Its finale is a mild version of the Cosmic tale in which Binder excelled. Clyde Harrison shows the resourceful, calm planning of many Binder heroes, who tend not to be fazed by even the most outlandish events, but who always come up with a plan to deal with them.
Greene does a good job with his portraits of Clyde Harrison. At first he is in a T-shirt, a costume favored by many of Greene's young heroes, but later he is in a suit and tie.
The story's flood of sf ideas reminds one of Broome's "The Wooden World War" (Mystery in Space #33, August-September 1956), which would appear a few months later. In both stories, some of the events happen to the protagonists, but many others instead involve typical Earth humans. Both stories show events changing typical life on Earth. Both tales contain many one or two panel vignettes, each with a different central character, and each illustrating some new idea. This method of narration would not be extensively employed in the sf comics, although there would often be a short sequence like this embedded in an otherwise conventional, one protagonist tale.
Binder's tales in which the laws of science go wild are not numerous in number. They have links with other series of stories Binder wrote. This story often shows how typical ways of doing things on Earth get reversed by the change of some scientific law. This makes them resemble Binder's tales of parallel Earths: stories about planets where life is largely like Earth, but reversed in ingenious ways. Such parallel Earth stories will climax in Binder's creation of the Bizarro World in "The Superman Bizarro" (Action Comics #264, May 1960).
'The Man Who Discovered the West Pole" also recalls Binder's Cosmic tales. The idea of West and East electric poles matching Earth's North and South magnetic poles gives the story a Cosmic dimension. Binder's hero eventually starts manipulating such large scale astronomical features, just as in the Cosmic tales.
Raiders from the Ultra-Violet (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. The new gem of inventor Todd Knox causes changes in color. This ingenious story is close to Binder's "The Day Science Ran Wild" (#82, July 1957), which deals with changes in scientific laws. "Raiders from the Ultra-Violet" is not strictly speaking a tale about a change in scientific laws - but it is allied to them.
Here, Binder wisely restricts himself to a single subject, color perception, exploring it in delightful depth. The change is systematic, and caused by a single principle, just like the "change in law" events.
The story also recalls Binder tales which look at different modes of perception. Usually these perception tales involves aliens and humans; but this story deals with modern everyday humans only, working them into a plot about chasing thieves.
ART. Greene's art is charming here. He especially excels in outdoor scenes, showing sidewalks and houses of a suburban neighborhood. Greene often depicted tree lined plazas of an idealized future; here he shows a similar affection for modern day homey locations. Greene's modern day scenes here are usually full of sidewalks. They contain well defined paths through his scenery. There is always a clearly defined "landscape architecture", a visually and intellectually interesting layout of paths and buildings.
Greene has set up some of the title letters to reflect all the colors of the rainbow. Greene was always creative with his story title lettering, often depicting them in unusual shapes. In fact, I can often tell I am about to read a Greene tale, simply by looking at the curving title lettering. Greene and the unknown colorist also do a good job with the hero's suit, which changes from blue to a bright yellow. Such a color is both pleasant, and absolutely surrealistic: American men just do not wear yellow suits. Its bright color recalls that of uniforms worn by future characters in the comics. Yet at the same time, it is a very conventional, non-eccentrically shaped suit.
The Day Science Ran Wild (#82, July 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. Aliens cause the laws of nature to be transformed, disrupting much of life on Earth. This is an ingenious idea for a story, but it needs a much better treatment. Binder actually comes up with quite a lot of interestingly transformed scientific laws. However, the story does not build up any logical consistency, or develop any truly imaginative new laws of nature.
Binder will later introduce some transformed laws in his classic "The Sky-High Man" (Mystery in Space #49, February 1959).
This story has a terrific Infantino cloudscape (p4). Here, the white clouds cover nearly the entire panel, except for one opening of sky. The edges of the clouds in this opening are full of rounded knobs and protuberances. They make a beautiful abstract art picture. Infantino often used aerial patterns and effects to work abstract art ideas into his art.
The Flying Saucers that Saved the World (#76, January 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. Scientist David Baker shows General Wright and other UFO witnesses how various natural phenomena can be mistaken for flying saucers. This story is more Cosmic in its orientation than "The Flying Saucer Boomerang" - many of its ideas are on a much larger scale.
This tale is unusually static in its construction. The main body of the tale is little more than a series of scientific demonstrations given by scientist David Baker showing how Flying Saucers can be faked, or be the results of natural phenomena. Such an approach is consistent with Binder's interest in science, and the many scientific ideas that interweave in his stories. The comics medium is ideal for illustrating scientific processes. Its combination of words and pictures can convey information vividly, accurately and completely.
The subplot in the tale of the growing friendship between David Baker and General Wright recalls the tales of friendship Binder wrote for the Superman family, and for Tommy Tomorrow. Friendship was always one of Binder's most important themes.
Sid Greene does a good job with his portraits of the two men. General Wright's uniforms are unusually fancy, and show plenty of pizzazz.
Most of the scenes with Hal Crane are witty and light-hearted, with some nice self-referential moments. This tale gives Binder's version of what a successful sf writer's life might be like. Just as in Mann Rubin's "The World Where Dreams Come True" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952) and Fox's "Secret of the Cosmic Bullet" (1960), this sf author is wildly successful. Schwartz apparently encouraged his authors to indulge in such daydream fantasies of great success. The author has his work adapted to many media, and is writing directly for the movies, just as the sf author in Binder's "The Day I Became a Martian" (1958) is scripting for television. This is clearly Binder's dream. Unfortunately, there is little sign this happened, other than the Superman TV show, which was written for by TV scriptwriters, not comic book authors.
There is also an interesting Cosmic moment in this tale, where Crane deduces Jakkon's location. This recalls in a small way Binder's "Back Window into Space" (1958), which involves discovering the location of a planet.
Greene's art shows advanced architecture and rocket cars (p5). The space ships (p6) have some of his most unusual designs, with large curling wings, and curving cross-sections near the base.
The Day I Became a Martian (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. While going about his daily life on Earth, a science fiction writer is repeatedly transformed into a Martian; each time, a different one of his senses is put to the test, revealing a different, unusual fact about Martian senses. Binder wrote a whole series of tales for the DC sf comic books in the 1950's dealing with first contact between aliens and Earthmen, and the difficulties of communication between the two groups. Many of these tales deal with perceptual difficulties that inhibit communication. This story is one of the most straightforward. It concentrates on the sensory differences themselves; it does not show actual communication going on between Earthmen and Martians. Thus, it takes place at an earlier stage of the Contact process than most of Binder's tales on this subject. The tale has the serial construction familiar in Binder, with a series of recurring events: each fresh transformation reveals a different aspect of Martian senses. Some Binder tales are set up as sf mysteries, with the reader challenged to guess the hidden difficulties in communicating. By contrast, in this story the reader knows about each fresh perceptual anomaly immediately. There is no mystery plot.
Binder loved tales about transformations. At first glance, this story falls into the transformation paradigm. Binder even has the sf writer-narrator cite Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) as one of his favorite books. He is plainly speaking for Binder himself, and paying tribute to the source of Binder's many transformation stories. However, the story that unfolds here is different from Binder's usual transformation tales. Here the transformation is tightly focused on a single purpose: testing the hero's new Martian senses. The transformation seems purposive and deliberate. By contrast, in most of Binder's real transformation tales, the heroes' metamorphosis is an accident. He then proceeds to have a remarkably varied and diverse series of adventures, exploiting every possible application of his transformation to his life. The hero might join a circus, solve crimes, work puzzles, help out neighborhood kids, appear on television shows, or even clean out his cupboards or fix his auto with his new powers. This whole approach is absent in the current tale.
This is one of several Binder characters who is an sf writer; in this case as in others, he gets ideas for stories which turn out to be telepathic messages from another planet. The writer Rhett Mason is depicted with the extreme dignity and class with which authors were depicted in Hollywood movies. He smokes a pipe, a sign of intellectuality in the 1950's, and is obviously extremely intelligent. He shows considerable analytic skills, as well as being a creative person. He is the author of sf plays for television. The writers of the DC sf comic books must clearly have wanted to write for TV; they would have had much to contribute to the Golden Age of TV drama in the 1950's. However, as far as I know this never took place: I have never seen a single teleplay by any comic book author of that era. This seems like a huge pity.
The teleplay in this story is explicitly described as being in color. Color was still not common in 1958. It still had the air of being a high tech innovation, and perhaps this is why Binder specifies this. There are other possible reasons. Color has always been very important to the comic books; they had been in full color since the 1930's. So color would seem both natural and important to Binder. Also, the story shows glimpses of the teleplay, depicting blue Martians. The story then shows the hero turning into a similar blue Martian in real life. The effect is of illusion becoming reality. Had the show been in black in white, illusion and reality would have been different: the illusion of the TV show would have been in black and white, while the hero would have become a blue Martian in the real world. The effect of fantasy becoming reality would have been disrupted here.
Infantino depicts the hero as one of his elegant but middle class men. I do not know if he bears any resemblance to Binder himself. Mason's bookshelves include such titles as The Age of Reason and Space Science. When Infantino included a portrait of John Broome in "The Secret War of the Phantom General" (Detective Comics #343, September 1965), he similarly showed some books behind him.
This is a sort of prelude to the series of Fox tales in which fiction becomes reality. There is no specific fictional work transformed into reality in this tale. But the general idea of "life on Mars", popular as a story-idea among science fiction fans, startlingly becomes real in this tale.
We learn, briefly but trenchantly, that there has been no war on Mars for a thousand years, and is in fact outlawed. The Martians do not even own military weapons (page 5). Since the Martians are depicted as good, the story is implicitly advocating these concepts. This is one of a handful of comic book tales of the era that advocate giving up weapons. See my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "disarmament" to find other examples. You can also search for "anti-war", to find pacifist tales in general. Fox will return to the subject of disarmament in Strange Adventures with "Star-Actor of the Starways" (1960).
This is another Gardner Fox tale to offer ideas on teleportation.
The teenage science fiction who is the tale's protagonist, has several model spaceships in his bedroom. They are full of triangular flanges, like those artist Gil Kane was drawing for the Space-Cabby tales in Mystery in Space.
Private Eye of Venus (1957). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. An actor whose plays a private eye on TV is brought to Venus to solve a case.
This is one of several stories by Gardner Fox in which fictional works are brought to life, usually in an sf context. Here, the star of the contemporary 1950's TV show gets to "live" his role on Venus. Significantly, we never learn the real name of the actor; instead, everyone on Venus refers to him by his TV character's name, Mark Gordon. Not only that, but other Venusians have been re-enacting Gordon's cases, which they have seen on TV. Watching these shows has introduced new ideas into Venusian society. Fox creates a whole society on Venus, complete with social institutions, economy, and use of the Venusian physical environment. Fox had a gift for creating such worlds: see his "The Green Lantern Disasters" (Green Lantern #23, September 1963). Furthermore, he shows how the broadcast of Gordon's show to Venus is changing its society. The whole effect is quite intricate and ingenious.
Gordon is brought to Venus by teleportation, one of Fox's favorite themes. Fox's treatment is straightforward here, compared with his baroque variations in Adam Strange and the Atom. He is understandably so busy creating the world of Venus that he goes lightly with the teleportation aspects.
There is a tradition in the DC Sf comic books, of Earthmen is specialized professions being yanked out of their daily lives, and brought to other planets to solve problems related to their skills: see Mann Rubin's "Cowboy on Mars" (Mystery in Space #6, February-March 1952) and Rubin's "The World Where Dreams Come True" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952), which sends an sf writer to Venus. Fox's story is directly in this tradition. He has greatly extended it, both in the elaborateness of the Venusian society he has created, and in the Pirandellian effect of introducing imaginative fiction (such as TV crime shows) into real society.
The actor in the tale also seems to be the creator of the show. He is not the director - we see a separate director character at the beginning on Earth - but he seems to have invented the character of Gordon. This makes him a writer. Fox loved writers; so did the other DC sf authors, and writers are the most common creative figures in the magazines.
Menace of the Shrinking Bomb (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A writer, named Gregory Farmer, presents science fiction story ideas to an editor, named Julian Sloan, at the offices of Union Publications; one of them, about a shrinking Earth, turns out to come true in real life. This is a funny inside look at DC, known officially as National Periodical Publications in that era. The writer and editor are thinly veiled depictions of Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz themselves, as one could guess from the similarities of the names. Fox often liked to include doubles in his stories: here he invents doubles for both Schwartz and himself. The three story ideas pitched here are very similar to the tales that actually appeared in Strange Adventures; one can easily imagine any of these plots being published in the magazine. We see the story ideas here in detail: it is typical of Fox's inventiveness that he is able to toss off three perfectly good plot ideas merely as sub-units of another story!
The process of attempting to sell a story to an editor is depicted by Gardner Fox as one of his typical cycles. We see the writer pitching the main idea to the editor, summarizing the story and its ramifications; then the editor gives his response. There are three such cycles in the tale, each one containing a different story idea the writer is trying to sell to the editor. Such multiple runs of a cycle are typical of Fox's plotting. The editor does not just analyze the individual story idea pitched by the writer; instead he attempts to set direction for the writer's work as a whole, often trying to change its basic direction or approach. In some ways, we can see the writer and his story inventiveness as the main elements of the cycle, and the editor playing the familiar Fox force of the person interfering with the cycle, interrupting it and changing its direction. Twice Sloan stops the writer's story inventiveness in mid stream, cutting him off before he can completely develop a plot.
Sid Greene's art shows his architectural gifts. The futuristic plaza (p2) is full of a crazy, curling, angling architecture. Green's buildings often show unusual curves; this is one of the most unusual. There are repeated triangular windows that are also atypical. More familiar Greene elements include the trees, and the piled-up sphere sections. There is also an interesting Greene space scene (p4), travelling through many different colored spheres.
Sid Greene's art also shows personal traditions. Greene regarded Schwartz as his favorite editor, according to Schwartz in the letter columns of his comic books! Greene tried to include a portrait of Schwartz as a character in each story he published in one of the Schwartz-edited magazines. Often times, this was just a one-panel cameo appearance. Schwartz would show up as the model for a bit player in the story, or as an alien. Here, however, Greene gets to depict Schwartz in detail, over many panels, and in a habitat approaching his real life environment as an editor. Clearly, he had a lot of fun doing so. I do not know if "Gregory Farmer" is modeled after Fox himself.
Secret of the Cosmic Bullet (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Sf author Lucius Trent sees his creations the Golden Gladiator and the Star Amazon come alive on another planet. Once again, as in "Private Eye of Venus", Trent and the aliens teleport to the planet, this time Duarda near the star Rigel. This is perhaps Fox's richest treatment of science fiction writing coming to life. Every aspect of the tale focuses on writing and fiction, with few side digressions. The sf writer here is perhaps an idealized projection of all of Fox's hopes and dreams: he was an sf writer himself. There is much meditation on the role of science fiction in literature and life. Trent was an sf writer in his youth, who has converted over to mainstream, non-sf writing. The story does not criticize mainstream fiction. But it does repeatedly point out different kinds of merit to science fiction.
The Golden Gladiator and the Star Amazon are a male-female team. In this, they resemble Fox and Greene's Star Rovers to come. The story also has them solving a puzzle, just like the Star Rovers. Both teams are essentially comic characters. Greene's art affectionately caricatures both team members, making them look impossibly heroic. The Golden Gladiator is ridiculously blond, as well as being hugely muscled. Strange Adventures never glorified blond types above others - it was not at all interested in Nordic supremacy, and the magazine was not at all guilty of the kind of Nordic super-heroes this tale is lampooning. This satire instead seems directed at Flash Gordon and other earlier blond space heroes. Also somewhat over the top: the early view of Trent at home, in shirt, tie, smoking jacket and pipe, looking like every cliché of "the great author". Get real! Greene was probably having fun with this.
Greene shows many of his artistic trademarks in his depiction of the planet Duarda. There are curving buildings (p 6,7) and an aerial view of the planet (p8), smaller in detail than usual. The unusual shaped cars recall the spaceships in other Greene tales, both in their design and their variety. So do the boats in the tale.
David and the Space-Goliath (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. An Earth boy encounters a giant android sent to explore our planet. Based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. This tale is rich in humor. The little boy is a comic book reader, and makes references to such DC comics as Strange Adventures - a nice reflexive touch. The humor comic Dobie Gillis plays a major role in the plot. I loved the Gillis TV show as a kid, but never read the comic based on it. Fox once again shows fictional ideas coming to life and being re-enacted in the real world: this time the events come from DC comics. It also brings to life the Biblical image of David and Goliath, which appear on Anderson's cover, and which are incorporated into the story. Fox's incorporation of these ideas is quite ingenious, and involves the visual or situational equivalent of a pun: a situation which first looks one way, but which has a different actual meaning in the overall course of the plot.
This tale is also rich in other ideas. Space exploration by an advanced alien civilization is done by android proxies. Fox gives a thorough sf treatment of this idea. Space exploration had been a staple of Strange Adventures since "The Menace of the Green Nebula" in the first issue. Here Fox shows the results being stored in computers, just as in his "The Dreams of Doom" (#32, September 1961). Fox was very intelligently prescient about the use of computers in astronomy, to maintain large databases of information.
The Aliens Who Raided New York (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Aliens equip New York City buildings with rockets, and have them travel to another planet. Zany sf story with plenty of exuberant invention. The buildings are all real life, famous landmarks, such as the United Nations. The story is serious in its surface tone, with alien invaders and New York under siege, just as in countless 1950's science fiction films. Underneath, the loopiness of events make the reader laugh. This is one of Fox's tales with two different groups of aliens, with humans interacting with both.
This story also has an unusual reading approach. The spacemen of the future talk in a way initially incomprehensible to the inventor and the reader. Fox gives us their dialogue, but we cannot understand it. Later on, both the inventor and the reader learn to interpret it. The reader can now go back to the early sections of the story, and understand what the spacemen are saying. This second reading gives new and deeper meanings to the tale. This whole story construction is most unusual, and leads to a pleasantly different reading experience.
The tales also resembles such Fox stories as "The Machine That Made 'Miracles'" (Atom #4, December 1962 - January 1963), in which aliens or future beings land on modern day Earth, are severely limited in what they can do to repair their ship by various science fictional obstacles devised by Fox, and who need the help of a modern day Earthman to repair their ship and leave.
Lost -- 100,000 Years! (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. People from the future Galactic Time Patrol time travel back to the present, to prevent modern day scientist Alan Parker from making a mistake that will plunge the Earth into 100,000 years of barbarism. This tale is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (1955), with an organized group of time police trying to change history. It also deals with Asimov's concept of a galactic empire of humans on many planets, a concept that rarely found its way into Fox's work. Even the descent into barbarism echoes Asimov's anxieties in The Foundation Trilogy (1941 - 1950), although here the barbarism is biologically-based, not cultural, as in Asimov.
This story shows great vistas of future history. Thinking about mankind's future in this way can be a fascinating experience. There is a similar look at future history and attempts to change the past in Fox's "The Man Who Lived Forever", later that year. That story echoes Wells' The Time Machine (1895), not Asimov, and deals more with a solitary time traveler than with a successful future humanity.
During 1962 Fox wrote a number of inventive time travel stories. The time travel stories show a wide range of perspectives and techniques. They are not built up out of common elements or Fox cycles. Instead, each one has its own design.
The Two-Way Time Traveler (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. A 1962 American begins to experience mysterious trips, which alternate between going back into the past, and into the future. This is one of Fox's classic sf tales. There are many elements in this tale that recall Adam Strange. Adam Strange took part in a cycle, that caused him to travel from one world to another. Here, the hero travels from one time era to another. At the end of each trip, he fades away, just as Adam Strange does. Also, in each story the traveling is caused by the hero being imbued with radiation, just like Adam Strange. Fox eventually starts developing variations on the cycle, using an approach similar to that of his Adam Strange stories.
The Man Who Lived Forever (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. A scientist discovers the secret of immortality; through his millions of years of life he becomes involved in a complex plot involving alien invaders and devolution. This tale is based on a cover by Anderson, which shows the immortal scientist of the future using time travel to come back and warn his earlier self not to use the immortality formula. This time travel paradox is at the heart of Fox's story. Fox rarely used time travel paradoxes in his fiction. His "The Two-Way Time Traveler" (1962) of two issues previous had adopted a radically different approach. Because his future self changes his earlier self's original actions, the hero essentially undergoes two different versions of his actions. These two versions are an incipient Fox cycle: a series of actions that can be undergone repeatedly in different contexts.
This story made a profound impression on me as a kid. The key scene: the one in which the immortal scientist uses his endless time to learn everything that ever was discovered in every branch of science. This struck me as a fascinating ambition. It recalls Leonardo Da Vinci, who mastered all the knowledge of his era. When I have worked on learning things later in life, I have often recalled this story.
Much of the imagery of this tale recalls H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895). The scientist is essentially seen in two future eras: a time dominated by degenerate humans, recalling Wells' Morlocks, and a far future era in which he is the only human left on Earth, and in which astronomical changes occur: also recalling the final stages of Wells' story. The scientist here uses immortality to "travel" into future eras, not a time machine, but otherwise the two eras he visits recall the two main epochs of Wells' tale.
Anderson's art is full of his classic dignity. This is appropriate to the somber but sweeping vistas of the story. The many futuristic plazas and buildings, done in Anderson's neo-classical style, have an imposing grandeur, and form an ironic contrast to the devolved humans of the tale. Also noteworthy: the diagram-like drawing on page 2, showing the underground passage leading to the scientist's vault. This diagram combines realistic features of the vault's architecture, with a long range view of the dimensions of the passageway. It shows a unique feature of the comics book medium, in its ability to offer schematic views of architecture. Also personal to Anderson: the white space suits, showing every detail of their wearer's musculature.
The Dawn-World Menace (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Two cavemen and two pterodactyls are transported to modern Earth by a time-warp. This story shows several features in common with the Adam Strange stories. The time-travel charges the cavemen's spears with radiation, just as the zeta-beam does Adam Strange. And since the cavemen are riding the flying pterodactyls, much of the story takes place in the air, just as the Adam Strange tales often do. The time-warp in the story also takes place in the air, like the Aurora Borealis in the Adam Strange tale "The Planet That Came to a Standstill" (Mystery in Space #75, May 1962). It is another colorful, essentially abstract art construction integrated by Infantino in the realistic matrix of his art.
Gardner Fox's story has a strong pacifistic message at its end. This message is not only on the surface of the tale. It is also embedded in the plot structure of the tale. Many different groups in the story are arguing with each other, or actually fighting. As long as they do this, they are grid locked, and unable to do anything. When they put aside their differences and learn to work together, they start making tremendous progress. The whole tale shows a progression from fighting to peace. Some steps towards peace often have a triggering effect on the next one: it stimulates ideas, and shows people how they can move further along the road to peace. The story is quite moving and affecting. It also has one of the best romances in the sf comic book tales.
In some ways this tale is a version of an archetypal 1950's sf monster movie. In those tales, menaces, often prehistoric creatures, are unleashed destructively on the modern world, just like the cave men of the present story. Scientists are brought in to help control the menace, just as naturalist Toni and physicist Bill Webster are here. The scientists spend a lot of time debating with each other; one of the scientists is a woman, and there is a romance which takes place in the story. The military uses all its modern weaponry to try to control the menace, but it proves ineffective, just as it does in this story. All of these typical features of 1950's sf monster movies occur in this tale. But Fox subverts and undercuts the meanings and conventions of the sf films, as well. His pacifist ending is especially subversive in meaning. Menaces in monster movies can be destroyed at the end of the film, or they run away triumphantly to wreck havoc in a sequel, but they can never be reasoned with or made peace with, as the cave men are in Fox's tale. Nor is the use of force attacked in most sf films as worthless or ineffectual as Fox does.
The Dream House (1950). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Jim Mooney. A high tech house provides all its inhabitants' needs. This story is filled with charming ideas about what a really fun roboticized house would be like. Fox has let his pleasant day dreams soar.
These fall into that Gardner Fox specialty, the story of the near future world full of inventions that definitely improve daily life. These stories are not far future utopias. Instead, they look at useful inventions that could make today's living better. Fox's first look at Hawkman's home planet Thanagar is also in this tradition: "The Menace of the Dragonfly Raiders" (The Brave and the Bold #42, June-July 1962).
Push-Button Paradise (1951). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Alex Toth. A new household machine called the Dinet-Table seems to generate any food people want. This is a well constructed science fiction mystery. At first, it seems to have ties with Fox's "The Dream House" (1950): another story about a future world where technology makes people's wishes come true. But here, Fox probes more deeply behind the causes of this situation.
Professor Don Walker is skeptical, and serves as the detective figure, using his brain power and investigation to determine the truth. Walker's profession is not specified beyond being a university teacher, which is a bit vaguer than most heroes of this magazine to come. But otherwise he is the archetypal hero of most non-series stories in Strange Adventures and its companion Mystery in Space, a brainy, idealistic young man who uses his skills to solve the problem and uncover the truth.
Fox had a deep interest in teleportation. Here a limited form of teleportation is the base science. It is used to "explain" the other events in the story - the phenomena are largely reduced to things that can be done with teleportation. This is perhaps indicative to how central teleportation was to Fox's science fictional imagination. Such an explanation also helps Fox build up a plot - the events of the story have some logical interconnections.
At the end, humans begin struggling heroically to return the Earth to normal. As in a Fox cycle, the story ends with Earth resuming the same state it had at the start of the tale. Earth itself can be considered as the protagonist of this story. It goes through changes in its state throughout the tale, as each new sf event has its effect on how life on Earth is conducted.
The Interplanetary Restaurant (Mystery in Space #14, June-July 1953). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. Fox will create a variation on "Push-Button Paradise" in "The Interplanetary Restaurant". Here alien food is served in a glitzy New York City restaurant (lavishly designed by artist Gil Kane as the science fictional equivalent of a place the Rat Pack might hang out) - and teleportation is used again as a base technology to explain this.
The hero is famed columnist Walter Winters (whose name suggests real life Broadway columnist Walter Winchell). Both heroes Don Walker in "Push-Button Paradise" and Walter Winters in The Interplanetary Restaurant":
The Stranger From the Stars (1950). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Dan Barry. An invading alien has the ability to impersonate any human. This story shows Fox's interest in doubles. It also has a simple Fox cycle:
This cycle is repeated again and again, while the alien impersonates various characters.
There is also some detective work, in which humans track down the trail of alien impersonations.
Evolution Plus (1951). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Bob Oksner. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. A human goes through many stages of evolution, controlled by a machine.
The progress through each stage of evolution forms a rudimentary Fox cycle. In each stage, the anti-hero:
As in a Fox cycle, the anti-hero repeats these steps over and over, going through five full cycles in the story. However, there is a key difference between the above steps and a true Fox cycle. Real Fox cycles leave the protagonist is the same state as when he started out. The above cycle does not: it leaves the anti-hero in a new, more evolved form each time. There is no return to ordinary humanity.
ART. Bob Oksner shows both the anti-hero and his acquaintance looking glamorous in tuxes, for their "dinner date". The anti-hero's camel hair coat with the peaked lapels is also sharp. This is the glamorous New York City that figured in so many people's dreams in 1951. He also has a delightful nocturne of New York City, showing skyscrapers, streets, and many window rectangles lit up for the evening in the buildings (page 6). Oksner's depiction of the golden-skinned, highly muscled men of the future is also glamorous.
Zero Hour For Earth (1956). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sy Barry. 20th Century scientific experimenters with telepathy contact future humans in 2066, who are trying to figure out how to defeat a plot to destroy Earth. The use of contemporary characters who make repeated contact with a group from another time/dimension/planet is a familiar Fox theme, in his Adam Strange tales and elsewhere. The contact is repeated: one is dealing with a Fox cycle here, a series of events that occur more than once. As usual, Fox stresses the difficulties of making contact, and comes up with some pleasant variations on the initial events in later cycles. Also Adam Strange-like: the way the contemporary people rescue the other world from a menace.
Another Fox theme: the value of an outsider offering fresh, original ideas. There are lessons here for readers, about how thinking actually occurs, and the importance of people offering new and unconventional opinions. These ideas often save the day in Fox tales. Such ideas often come from outsiders to a main group, frequently from people whom the main group looks down upon, and feels is intellectually inferior to them. This outside group comes through anyway. The outsiders often have the benefit of a fresh perspective.
The future architecture in this tale is good. The city of the future is filled with towers, connected by elevated highways and curving circular roads and walkways. Many of the buildings are curving or circular as well; one is spiraling upwards (a personal favorite of mine). Many of the walls, seen up close, are full of repeated vertical lines, regularly spaced around their circular bends. This gives a striking effect. It reminds one of moving grids of straight lines, often seen in film and computer animations. Also unusual: an ellipse shaped window, covered with regular vertical bars.
Also notable: the wide variety of futuristic costumes. Especially good: the leader of a futuristic troop, with his purple Blackhawk style shirt, peaked cap and gold epaulettes.
The Martian Barrier (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Manny Stallman. A barrier near Mars has prevented any Earth rockets from going there; a pilot volunteers for the first manned space flight to Mars. There are two Fox cycles in this tale: one involves the destruction of unmanned rockets to Mars; the other cycle involves the Martian scientist, his inventions and his relationship to Earth. This tale is distinctive in that both cycles are associated with bad guys, and are basically negative in their consequences. The Martian scientist cycle involves one man and his special relationship with two planets, Mars and Earth: in this it resembles Adam Strange's cycle, and his unique relationship to Earth and Rann. However, Adam Strange is a good guy, and the scientist is corrupt. The Martian cycle holds a sort of magic mirror up to Adam Strange's and suggests what would happen if Adam became corrupt, and started exploiting his cycle for personal gain. Similarly, Sinestro is a sort of dark parody of Green Lantern in John Broome's "The Day 100,000 People Vanished" (Green Lantern #7, July-August 1961), and shows what would happen if Hal Jordan sped down the slippery slopes of corruption.
The Earth hero of this story has a familiar Fox role: he is the interrupter of the cycles. The fact that he is a human pilot, not an unmanned rocket, allows him to evade the Martian barrier of the title. This is pointed out explicitly by the story. Fox is always suggesting the value of individual people doing new and innovative things. The extra effort they put into something different often causes the problem facing a large group of people to be solved.
Manny Stallman shows a flair for architecture in this story. I particularly liked the fountain, and the alien council room.
The Dreams of Doom (#32, September 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Aliens go into a dream sleep, during which they create new weapons that allow them to peacefully conquer other planets. There is a whole Gardner Fox cycle here describing the creation and use of dream weapons. The story also ties in with the Gardner Fox theme of sleep being somehow related to war.
This is a minor tale that is much too war oriented. Its chief interest is in its opening pages. The aliens explore the galaxy by using giant star maps: these are huge 2D maps of space. They are drawn with Infantino's usual interest in maps of space. If the aliens want to find info about a specific world, they use a small machine that glides along the surface of the map. This is an "Index-Listing Machine", a computer like device that indexes and contains information about the stars in the map. This seems like a really imaginative anticipation of today's computer technology, both its hyper-media interfaces, and its highly indexed databases.
The World of Giant Ants (1951). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Bob Oksner. Based on a cover by: ?. Ants grow to giant size, and attack New York City. This story anticipates all those monster movies of the 1950's, in which giant insects wreck havoc, such as Them! (1954). It now seems like pretty conventional stuff, but it might have been more impressive in 1951.
The scientist hero, Dr. Edward Manders, is one of Bob Oksner's handsome leading men.
The Genius Epidemic (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Irwin Hasen. Comic tale in which a meteor's radiation transforms some backwoodsman brothers into scientific geniuses. This story is sweet. Once again, Fox uses a meteor's radiation as a transformative power, raising up the lowly and giving them abilities beyond the ordinary - see his later "The Dawn-World Menace" (1962). Fox contrasts the good nature of the brothers with the exploitative nature of the military and the government. This was a favorite subject for satire in the 1950's, when all Americans had to undergo a compulsory draft, and people were eager to see the military brass lampooned. There is also a good use of a mock-heroic tone, in which one of the military officers addresses the reader with what he regards as all seriousness. Such super-serious narrations were often part of 1950's monster movies.
The Ghost Planet (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: John Giunta. A human spaceman lands on Mars, but it seems mysteriously and recently deserted, in the manner of the real life mystery ship Mary Celeste. This little story (just 4 pages long) is notable for Giunta's outstanding art. It creates a whole picture of an advanced Martian civilization. We see gracious, futuristic streets, and the interiors of homes. They remind one in tone and feel of Sid Greene's equally appealing futuristic plazas. Both artists are gifted with the ability to show us a beautiful future world. Also notable: a ship hulk in a rocky Martian landscape, filled with biomorphic forms (p 1).
While most of the story is in a representational mode, Giunta also incorporates abstractions into his tale. The splash panel uses line drawings of a globe of Mars and its canals, together with other astronomical objects and straight lines to create a spectacular abstract design. Similarly, a depiction of a "microwave shower" (p 3) is full of abstract geometric shapes, a bit in the tradition of Miro, although more geometrically regular than his work.
The Life Battery (1957). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. A scientist discovers that a radiation found in meteors is necessary for life on Earth, and that its dying out caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Strange, inventive little story, full of unusual twists and turns. Today we know that ecological destruction caused by a meteor led to the extermination of the dinosaurs. This story posits the exact opposite as its sf premise: it imagines that meteors contain a force that sustains Earth life.
Elevator to the Future (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. A 20th Century guy, a proofreader, finds that an elevator at work transports him to a future world in which humans are enslaved by aliens and their mind control machine. There are parallels between our hero here, and Fox's Adam Strange. This man repeatedly travels to the future and then back to our time using the elevator, the same way that Adam Strange keeps traveling to other worlds then back to Earth. While in the future, he discovers that he is the only human not subject to the aliens' mind control machine, due to his status as a time traveler. Similarly, Adam Strange's use of the zeta-beam to space travel often made him the only person on Rann who was independent of some villain's scheme, and the only one who could interfere with it and defeat it.
No attempt in the story is made to demonize the aliens as a biological group, or suggest that they represent a racial "otherness". Instead, the aliens are motivated by the same forces that cause 20th Century Earth dictators such as Hitler and Stalin to enslave people. Stories like this are about the terrible menace of totalitarianism, a subject that weighed deeply on the minds of people in 1958. This whole approach is typical of Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. This story, like others in these magazines, shows that such dictatorship is just one choice, a very bad one, open to the alien beings. If a group of beings on an alien planet are trying to conquer others, there is always a peace party on the same planet that is opposing this approach. And there is always hope that the planet will reform, get a new democratic government, and take part in a peaceful future universe. Here, one of the aliens on Earth is opposed to his planet's dictatorship and war mongering, and is attempting to end the use of the mind control machine and help free the Earth men.
The hero is depicted as one of Murphy Anderson's super-macho men, with a crew cut and muscles bulging under his white dress shirt. Like many of the stories in Strange Adventures, this one takes part against a background of everyday work. Here the hero spends most of the story in white dress shirt and loosened tie, the typical clothes of a white collar worker of the 1950's.
Prize Fish of Venus (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox Art: Manny Stallman. A young boy entering a fishing contest and a visitor from Venus both want a fish the boy has caught. Sweet tale that rings many changes on the theme of sf fishing. It combines this with a gentle look at a kid meeting a friendly alien in the woods, a staple theme in the Schwartz sf comic books. The story also involves a human hero helping an alien detective with a case: also a regular Fox theme.
Mystery of the Twin Spaceships (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Frank Giacoia. The Earth spaceship Stardust and its duplicate return to Earth, after visiting an alien planet that possesses duplicating technology; Earthmen have to decide which is the real ship and crew. This story continues to explore Fox's theme of the double. Its look at duplication is unusually thorough, and extends Fox's previous ideas on this subject. Usually a duplicating event happens just once in a Fox tale, and the characters have to try to unravel it and clean up its effects. Here, Fox explores the concept of duplicating technology, something that can be used on a systematic basis.
The two parallel groups in this tale, each returning to Earth after a less than successful outer space adventure, each with similar but conflicting stories, reminds one somewhat of the three character Star Rover tales to come. So does all the lying and illusion here. The comedy in the tale reflects the fact that the characters are less than perfect. Fox tends to treat his heroes seriously, and to use comedy to point up flaws in his characters' personalities.
Giacoia once again shows his skill with drawing uniforms. These are very fancy, and combine a modern day naval officer's with a 19th Century guardsman's. The uniform officer's caps recall those of modern naval officer's, making their wearers look serious and authoritative, whereas the black and gold color scheme, cross straps, elaborate epaulettes and boots are from the guardsman tradition. The whole effect is extremely dressy. Their formal qualities are emphasized by the fact that they are being worn by doubles: each of the three crew men is faced by his double, who is wearing the identical uniform, exact in every way.
The Case of the Stolen Faces (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A detective's wife figures out what is happening when all of the men in town are changed into aliens. Classic feminist story, with plenty of gusto shown by its heroine. The story is constructed as an sf mystery. The heroine has to figure out what is going on, and how to change things back to normal. She functions as a full detective in the classic sense, investigating the mystery using techniques she learned from her husband, before his transformation into an alien.
The tale shows a variation on a familiar Fox theme, that of the double. Here all of the men are transformed to look exactly alike. They have the identical appearance, that of an alien being. Such mass doubles had appeared in earlier Fox stories, such as "The Case of the Counterfeit Humans" (Mystery in Space #7, April-May 1952). However, most Fox tales about doubles are clearly designed around the theme of "the impersonation of the hero". By contrast, in this story the meaning of the mass change is not immediately clear. It is a subject of the mystery in the tale.
This story bears some relationship to Fox's later Space Museum tale, "The Mass-Energy Robbers of Space" (1962). In that story, aliens immobilize all the adults; here all the grown men in town are transformed into aliens. In both cases, the effect is to allow some person to come to fore as a detective, a person who normally does not get to perform such a role: a woman in this tale, a child in "Robbers". In each case, the detective has to rescue a loved one, the grown man who more often has the detective role in the family, but who is now incapacitated from the alien attack. The mysteries solved in each story are similar: what is causing the mass attack described in each tale? The detective-hero has to trace each crime to its origin.
In both stories, the detective has to mobilize resources from other members of the unaffected group. The detective serves both as their leader and their brain power, giving them ideas to direct their activities. Adam Strange played a similar role when he served as a Fox detective in "World War on Earth and Rann" (Mystery in Space #82, March 1963). Many Fox mysteries ultimately require such collective sleuthing.
Space Scoop - 2159 A.D. (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Manny Stallman. Rival reporters try to scoop each other with big stories throughout the Solar System.
The two reporters in the tale are nicely characterized in terms of art. Barnes is blond and wears red, while rival Adams is black haired, and dresses in green. Both men are in the one color from head to toe. The color becomes a sort of signature theme for them. Later, when we see each man's spaceship, Barnes' is the same bright red color as his clothes, while Adams' is the same bright green! This is an amusing touch. Each man wears an emblem on his chest, Barnes' is a starburst, while Adams has a blazing comet. The same elements also show up on their spaceships! The use of a chest emblem for men recalls Krypton, whose men all seem to bear such a device. Men on Krypton seem to always wear the same costume throughout all their activities; the same seems to be true of Barnes and Adams. However, Kryptonese men never seem to extend their emblems to spaceships or other objects, the way the two reporters do. It is unclear whether all men in this future world dress this way, or whether this is just a private style of the two men. It has plenty of swagger and panache. It also suggests that they are on two opposite teams, as in a sports contest. The two men are friendly rivals in the Front Page tradition, and obviously get a lot of pleasure out of their attempts to scoop each other. Manny Stallman had worked on many issues of Big Town, the comic book about present day reporters, so he is right at home with this material.
Sid Greene's future worlds often show each person flying their own spaceship. These ships show an astonishing array of variety in shape, as well as usually being in some brilliant monochrome color. They are usually personalized by a ID number reflecting the hero's last name. By contrast, in this Manny Stallman tale the hero has a logo on his ship, something I cannot recall in any Greene tale.
Barnes' clothes anticipate Sun Boy's costume in the Legion of Super-Heroes. Both are bright red with a yellow multi-point starburst on their chest, and both have blond hair. The starburst looks more like a "sunburst", in both cases, to be strictly accurate.
The friendly rivalry between the two men anticipates Fox's Star Rover tales. So does all the illusion and reality in the story, with Adams lying through his teeth about the real mechanism of his scoops. Such good-natured lying will often pop up in the Star Rovers stories.
All sorts of reportorial traditions are evoked in this tale. In addition to The Front Page, the search for the famous lost scientist recalls Stanley's search for Livingstone in Africa. Here, the professor is found on Pluto. Nineteenth Century reporters like Stanley used many ingenious methods to get news stories back to their editors, such as homing pigeons. These traditions are science fictionalized in this tale, with the reporters using telepathy and other high tech methods to communicate stories with their home base. The unexplored wilds of the solar system are just as out of touch with Earth communications grids in this tale as Africa's interior was in Stanley's time. This makes for a good story, and one that introduces young readers of Strange Adventures to traditions of reporting. In the real world of 1959, such traditions were already becoming obsolete, however: modern science was already bringing every region of the Earth into fast communication with each other, a trend that has only accelerated to the present day.
Genie in the Flying Saucer (#106, July 1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. Based on a cover by Gil Kane. When an Earthman rescues an alien whose flying saucer has been buried under some ice, the alien grants him three wishes. As the story points out, this is a translation into science fiction terms of traditional legends of a genie, here the alien Flojal of the planet Balamar of the star Arcturus. The plot does unusually logical things with the idea of wishes. Fox looks under the surface of this idea, trying to find its logical consequences and implications. He eventually bends its paradigm in strange ways. The whole effect reminds one of Fox's treatment of the Absorbascon in Hawkman, where Fox also tried to find subtle implications of ideas. Fox uses such personal techniques as the "change of protagonist on a large scale" (eventually one of the hero's wishes affects everyone on Earth); the use of the double, with characters exchanging places; and people escaping from fixed cycles of behavior those unusual events. However, even for Fox, this story is a bit off trail, with an approach not seen in his other works.
This tale is notable for Kane's portraiture of its hero. He is in Kane's leading man tradition. He wears an unusual variety of clothes, including an snow costume that includes special goggles. Later we see him in an extremely sharp pinstripe suit, looking dressed up to the max. He also wears sports clothes, something rare in the sf magazines, whose heroes are usually in suit and tie. These include a black jacket, white tee shirt and slacks.
The World Inside the Earth (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. An apparently malfunctioning computer leads to contact with beings inside the Earth. This story has elements of the Cosmic tale. Cosmic stories are most often written by Edmond Hamilton, France E. Herron and above all, Otto Binder; Fox participated in the tradition much less frequently. Also, this tale is less purely Cosmic than a typical Binder story in that mode; Fox mixes other more personal elements into his tale, with the Cosmic aspects being just one plot thread. Fox became especially interested in computers around 1960. They tend to be machines that help people store information, and which solve problems: just like the actual use of computers today.
Raiders of the Giant World (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. Kind hearted aliens try to stop a sinister metal dissolving alien creature; later they enlist humans' help.
This space opera involves both humans and two different kinds of aliens. This three way split allows Fox to create complex plot interactions. It is both hard and easy for one of the aliens in the tale to get around in space; Fox centers much of his plot around the attempted movements of this alien villain. Fox rarely made it easy for people to get around. Many of his Adam Strange and Atom tales involve the difficulties of teleportation. Few of Fox's sf tales seem to be set in the cliché future world, when space travel is as routine as plane or car travel is today. Instead, his universes seem to be just starting out on exploring different modes of travel. These modes seem to be full of complex challenges out of which the stories are built.
Murphy Anderson's art is rich throughout. His style is uniquely well suited to space opera adventures in the grand manner, with its huge classic vistas and noble looking characters.
The Wand that Could Work Miracles (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Magician Tom Morgan is given a wand by an alien that can perform real magic.
Although this story is credited to Fox, it shows themes that are much more common to Broome. There is a complete life history for the hero, showing how he came to take up his profession. The hero saves millions of people at the end, by using his great personal powers. The climax is worked up to step by step, by degrees. He is involved with performance art, and is shown working in a theater in front of large crowds. The hero is a magician, and escapes from traps. Water plays a major role. All of these are familiar Broome themes.
Greene created a magnificent splash panel depicting Time Square. Amusingly, it has big ads for Mystery in Space (showing the "Threat of the Tornado Tyrant" story, #61, August 1960) and Strange Adventures! I doubt if such ads ever existed in real life; one suspects Greene made them up for the story. The curved theater balcony (p6) is an example of Greene's curvilinear architecture. Greene also does a good job with his magician hero's tuxedo.
The Interplanetary Tourists (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. 20th Century Earth tourists on a "surprise" vacation package wake up one morning to discover they are on another planet. This delightful tale is a variant on earlier Fox story, "The Runaway Space-Train" (Mystery in Space #50, March 1959).
Just as "The Runaway Space-Train" is one of Gil Kane's best works, "The Interplanetary Tourists" offers a showcase for Sid Greene's art.
Battle of the Bouncing Bombs (#127, April 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Newlyweds Ken and Laura Palmer are brought to the far future, where they play a role in defying a barrier built around Earth to protect it from alien invasions. This plot involves a popular Fox construction: people of present day Earth, who go to another world and back again, and whose special characteristics give them the unique ability to interfere in some events on the other world. The interference here is the most inventive part of Fox's plot, being logical and imaginative.
This is a minor tale, mainly interesting for Greene's depictions of the hero in his tuxedo. Most of Greene's contemporary heroes wear suits. Here is a rare opportunity for him to depict something fancier. Tuxedos were very big in real life in the Silver Age era, and the dressy clothes give a party atmosphere. Palmer's descendent Rawn is also clad in interesting clothes, a futuristic green outfit with single broad black stripes down the back and sides: one of Greene's best futuristic suits.
Emperor of the Earth (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. A science reporter for a newspaper finds a jewel that is the twin of one that has long been in his family; it leads him to a princess of a lost race, and an elaborate underground machine in the Andes of Chile. Fox occasionally wrote tales that were elaborate romances. This is a full Lost Race tale, of a kind that was popular in 1915 pulp magazines. It has a love story, exotic travel, a lost race of ancient origin, science fictional machines, a romantic destiny for its hero, an ignoble villain who wants to wreck the Earth, gems with near magical properties, and more atmosphere than you can shake a stick at. Murphy Anderson's art is perfectly suited to such a romance. His stories often create an atmosphere of an Earthman entering a classically perfect, beautiful world, one remote from modern day life, and filled with elegant formal beauty.
Fox loved the Southern Hemisphere. His stories often equate travel there with adventure. This is most notable in the Adam Strange stories, each of which opens with Adam traveling to some remote location in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to the underground machines in "Myorthis" in Chile, Fox posits a whole lost civilization under the Antarctica ice cap here, "Zaldarone". Fox's idea that Antarctica was once ice free is scientifically sound. Although humans probably never lived there, it was once full of plants and animals similar to those of modern Australia, such as marsupials.
The Invisible Dinosaur (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. A typical American small town is invaded by aliens riding invisible Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaurs; only the town's watch repairman is able to resist them. This synopsis only begins to cover the abundance of plot that Fox has crammed into this tale. He is especially interested in the dinosaurs, who are made the locus of every plot idea that Fox can dream up. It is the dinosaurs themselves who oscillate between two planets, a typical Fox theme. There is so much plot here, that the reader can feel pleasantly lost. The story does not at first seem to have a clear center; instead it seems like a rich outpouring of sf ideas. It is hard to anticipate where it is going, something that adds to its reading enjoyment.
The watch repairman is that typical Fox figure, the hero who can evade the bad guys' capture cycle. This is the role taken by Adam Strange in his stories; Adam typically uses the zeta-beam to escape participation in the menace's cycle. Here, it is the many watches worn by the repairman that give him immunity to the aliens' cycle. Fox used a similar concept in the Space Museum tale, "Secret of the Tick-Tock World" (1959).
Murphy Anderson's art depicts the small town as a place of dignity. Anderson loved a classical approach, and the "typical New England" style of building he used here is an expression of his serene temperament. The hero of the tale is introduced on the clock tower, which symbolizes his masculine qualities. Like other Anderson heroes, he is wearing a white dress shirt. Anderson liked such shirts, partly because they aid his style of simple but dignified and classy characters. Also, they allow the portrayal of the musculature that is important in Anderson's macho heroes.
Secret of the Dinosaur Skeleton (#138, March 1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. A villain from a prehistoric civilization causes havoc on modern Earth, including the animation of a dinosaur skeleton. This minor tale combines dueling prehistoric empires, such as in "Emperor of the Earth" (1961), with dinosaur imagery, as in "The Invisible Dinosaur" (1961). The tale's best feature is Gil Kane's art. His portraits of good guy explorer Jim Hanson are some of his leading man types. We see Hanson in a red wet-suit (p3), and a good suit and tie. He also appears in sporty clothes, a suit with sports shirt (p5), an image that evokes the glamour of the early 1960's. There is also a beautiful final image, in which the story's trio of sympathetic characters looks up at the stars at night in wonder (p7): a classic finale for sf comic book stories.
Secret of the Marble Starmen (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A human sculptor on present day Earth is inspired to make statues of alien beings. The sculptor Robert Starr here is sympathetically presented. He is a middle aged, retired detective, who has now taken up sculpture full time. Fox wrote a number of Adam Strange stories about statues. They were always statues of beings, and often formed doubles for his hero. The story also recalls menaces in the Adam Strange tales which immobilized people.
This tale shows many creative features of Sid Greene's art. The aerial view of the asteroid (p2) is a miniature version of Greene's patented landscapes. With a single small building, mountains, and a crack in the asteroid, it is the smallest and most toy like of all his aerial landscapes. It has a charming quality. We can see the entire surface of the asteroid, unlike most of Greene's landscapes, which typically show just one region of a large planet. The building is just three sections in the shape of an L; it is the smallest possible building that could still have a creative and unique shape. Later, we see the simple building face on. The tale ends with a final blast-off of the rockets, making some of Greene's patented curving trails in space.
Also notable: the nocturnal landscape with trees and path (p5). When a rift opens in the ground (p6), it forms a complex, sinuous curve. This curvilinear form has the same beautiful meandering quality as a stream or brook. Greene is gifted at curving forms and lines.
World of the Doomed Spacemen (#104, May 1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. About contact lenses in the Space Museum: the first manned space flight to the stars disappears near Procyon, and a rescue party finds only a giant spaceman on a deserted world. This is the first Space Museum tale, and the origin of the series. It is the only story with Mike Sekowsky art; the rest have work by Carmine Infantino. Sekowsky creates the look of the Space Museum: it is a Bauhaus style Modernist work, very plain and functional, and very different from the typical Art Deco architecture of advanced future civilizations in the comics.
This first tale is a very ordinary work. The fact that this is the first flight to the stars is largely non-used in the story; once we get to Procyon, we have just another outer space adventure of a conventional sort. Fox does set up an interesting sequence of exploration: first the ship goes to Alpha Centauri, then Sirius, then Procyon. Alpha Centauri will be the home of Fox's other main series, Adam Strange, although there is no reference to this here. Fox's view encompasses the nearest stars to Earth. It is certainly not a grandiose Galactic Empire type of future yet, with routine travel between any two points.
The best part of Sekowsky's art is the splash panel. It shows a beautiful starscape. There stars are arranged in Milky Way like sweeps, with beautifully irregular groups of small white stars in each patch. There are slightly larger stars and bigger stars scattered throughout. The sweeps are more or less in straight lines. Also more or less straight are the exhaust trails of the spaceships. These too are beautiful works of abstract art. The exhaust trails are irregular in their details, with many curved protuberances jutting out from their basic straight lines.
The Secret of the Space Jewel (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. About a jewel in the Space Museum: good guy Ron Madden once saved the planet Thalar of the star Procyon from an alien invasion, but when he returns as ambassador, he is mysteriously given a chilly reception by its inhabitants. This is the second Space Museum tale, and the first with art by Carmine Infantino, who would do the rest of the series. It is a first rate story, and a much better starting point for the series than "World of the Doomed Spacemen". Infantino is clearly going all out with his art, trying to develop a work that would show off the series to its greatest potential.
Fox's story is full of events. There is a tale of alien invasion, and a detective plot, all in one work. In the background, we see the whole history of the relationship of Thalar to the rest of the galaxy. Fox enjoyed working in full future histories into his plots: see "Lost -- 100,000 Years!" (1962) and "The Sleeping Peril of Mars" (Mystery in Space #68 June 1961). Here the background tells the impressive story of a new planet. The background story is set up to have "typical qualities". It attempts to convey to readers what the typical historical course of a new planet will be like. It is very idealistic. The story is actually trying to educate readers about what an idealistic future might be like.
There are twin jewels in the tale, which are sensitive to each other's presence. Fox used this romantic idea in other tales, such as "Emperor of the Earth" (1961). "Attack of the Crocodile-Men" (Hawkman #7, April-May 1965) has twin objects involved in teleportation. Such paired objects have some of the emotional or symbolic resonance of magical talismans. They are not magic, of course - this is a pure science fiction magazine - but they have some of the feelings and sense of wonder evoked by magical objects. By the way, the name Thalar anticipates the name of Hawkman's home planet, Thanagar. Both of these T planets are "nice" places, friendly and filled with decent, civilized and democratic aliens.
The detective plot involves such Fox themes as disguise and doubles. Here the hero has to track down a sinister double of himself, just as Adam Strange will do later, in "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (Mystery in Space #59, May 1960) and "The Spaceman Who Fought Himself" (Mystery in Space #74, March 1962).
The Fox theme of statuary is also invoked in the tale, as in "Secret of the Marble Starmen" (1962), and just as Adam Strange will encounter it in "Menace of the Aqua-Ray Weapon" (Mystery in Space #69, August 1961), and "The Metal Conqueror of Rann" (Mystery in Space #79, November 1962). The splash panel shows the hero in one stage and role in life looking at a statue of himself in another era and role of his life. This is a very powerful and emotionally effective idea. It triggers all sorts of odd feelings, and recalls the symbolic romances of Poe and Hawthorne. Infantino's art is also superb here, as it is throughout the tale. The statue is as heroic as possible. It depicts the protagonist in his role as the savior of Thalar, and is in the tradition of statues of public heroes, as is Adam Strange's statue in "The Metal Conqueror of Rann". It is certainly a day dream fantasy to think of contemplating a statue of yourself as a hero. The statue is in military uniform, one of Infantino's simplest and most elegant dress uniforms. It has the noble purity and simplicity of the uniforms later worn on the original Star Trek, and is in much the same mode. The hero is depicted in an aggressive stance, with one leg put forward and slightly raised. His hair is trimmed in a short, bristly brush cut. It is quite spectacular. The living man is in a suit, carries a brief case, and has his haired trimmed longer. He is clearly in a civilian role, and looks a bit older. He is the newly arrived ambassador to Thalar. He looks great, but very much like a responsible middle class man in a suit, the archetypal hero of a Silver Age sf comics story. The two roles are deeply contrasted. It took me a while to realize they were of the same man; the two men are dressed and groomed so differently.
In the middle of the man and the statue, we see a receding vista showing a walkway between two rows of Thalar houses. The buildings are in Infantino's full Art Deco style. We can see the individual houses close up, and with full architectural detail. Such medium close-ups of Thalar buildings recur throughout the story. They are one of the most close-up views of an Infantino futuristic city anywhere in the DC sf comics. It is one reason why this story is such a treat. One suspects that Infantino did this architectural drawing to give his story a special character and distinction.
Secret of the Tick-Tock World (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. About a watch in the Space Museum: the spaceman pilot of the Pathfinder, the first faster than light speed spaceship, wears a watch to verify Einstein's predictions about time dilation; then visits a world parallel to Earth threatened by magnetic storms. The planet is one of a series in its solar system, each corresponding to a different era in Earth's development: the Roman Empire planet gives Infantino an opportunity to depict ancient Rome, complete with a notable portrait of a centurion. The various historical eras anticipate Fox's tales of the Atom journeying back in time using the Time Pool. Also Atom-like in the tale: the bit of history of science lore Fox incorporates into the plot, complete with a detailed explanatory note for the reader. These would go on to be common features of the Atom tales to come.
The Pathfinder is a one man spaceship; it looks much like the experimental aircraft flown by real life test pilots of the 1950's. The spaceman Harvey Drake in the tale is younger looking than Infantino's typical heroes. He has a doe-eyed, faun-like look, that is unusual among the serious looking heroes of the sf magazines. It is like the Greek god Pan come to life. While young, Drake is a bit divine in the way he saves a whole alien planet from destruction. He is also Pan-like in his defiance of one of nature's limits, the barrier against faster than light travel. His clothes look like a futuristic version of an Air Force pilot's jump suit. This is fairly atypical for the comic books; more often the hero is clad in some sort of super-hero costume. All the belts and straps he has fastened around his jump suit make his clothes somewhat resemble Adam Strange's. Other aspects of his clothes also reflect those of real life test pilots. Drake wears a geometrically complex breathing apparatus on his chest, and earphones that curve around the back of his head; all of this is really cool. One panel (p 3), which shows the pilot, his control panel, and the night sky filled with an evocative Infantino starscape seen through the front window of the ship, evokes all the wonders of flight.
The magnetic storms are depicted by Infantino as full of lightning. The zigzag streaks of lightning all interconnect together, to form jagged lattices of light. These are remarkable abstract art images. The lightning here recalls another Infantino story, "Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt" (Showcase #4, October 1956), which is the Origin of the Flash. Both tales also show one of Infantino's specialties: the ability to convey loud noises through the apparently soundless medium of the comics. Here Infantino steadily escalates the Tick-Tock sound through a series of panels, with ever larger and more dramatically shaped lettering. The panels also contain montage like effects, showing different images all crowded together in a single panel. Also creative: the depiction of the ship breaking through and traveling faster than light (p 3). This is an abstract image, showing the ship against a series of straight horizontal lines. Infantino would develop a whole visual vocabulary for indicating speed in his Flash stories.
Earth Victory -- By a Hair (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox Art. Carmine Infantino. About a human hair exhibited in the Space Museum: A Major General of the Space-Marines known as "The Wrecker" and Admiral Blondy Gordon fight to stop an alien invasion.
This is a full blown war tale, perhaps influenced by Robert Heinlein's prose sf novel Starship Troopers (1959). I am uncomfortable about recommending such a tale. However, I also have to admit I really liked the two central characters, and enjoyed reading the story.
The Mass-Energy Robbers of Space (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox Art. Carmine Infantino. Alien invaders set up a device that immobilizes all adults on Earth; Tommy Parker and his young friends have to figure out how to disable the device. This Space Museum tale is unusual in that Tommy Parker becomes the genuine protagonist of the story. It is not a flashback.
The beautiful home lived in by the Parker family is in the luxurious Infantino tradition. It looks like the gracious homes occupied by people in the futuristic city of Ranagar. There is a great deal of space, with open, elegant areas. Everything is well proportioned, and nothing is too big or intimidating. Infantino sticks to similar design principles in his Earth homes in The Flash, although these do not quite evoke such an entire way of life as does this tale or the Ranagar stories.
The Evolutionary Ensign of Space (#148, January 1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Space pilot "Blondy" Gordon struggles to complete her mission, despite evolving into an energy being of the future.
The previous Space Museum tale broke paradigm to give us a contemporary adventure starring young Tommy Parker himself. This tale also varies the basic pattern of the series, but in a different way. This tale is a tale told to Tommy about an object in the museum, just as usual. The big difference: the teller is not Tommy's father, but his mother, and the adventure is one that happened to her, as a young woman. We learn that she was a major space pilot herself. This gives us a picture of a very non-sexist future, one where women are space pilots serving in combat. The mother is the best of all the pilots, also a very unusual and feminist theme.
This tale gives the clearest idea I have ever seen about DC Silver Age concepts of the future evolution of humans. These ideas seem to be shared by many writers: not just Fox, but also by Otto Binder, and to a degree, by John Broome. I have no idea of their origin, whether they trace to science fiction traditions, or whether they are based on speculations by real life scientists.
Rescue by Moonlight (1963) Writer: Gardner Fox Art. Carmine Infantino. Space archaeologist Alan Strange investigates ruins of an ancient civilization on another planet, Uralore of the star Spica, trying to decipher its ancient languages. What's best about this story is a delightful surprise about its protagonist, one I'm not going to spoil here.
Infantino's art creates a dreamy, meditative mood. The deserted planet, the ruins, the nocturnal atmosphere, are all depicted with Infantino's personal mise-en-scène. The story reminds one of the equally haunting moonscapes in Infantino's "When the Earth Turned into a Comet" (#150, March 1963). There are other personal aspects to Infantino's art. During this era, Infantino was especially concerned with depicting his heroes in interesting postures. These often seem meditative: postures of people doing deep thinking. See, for example, the Adam Strange story "Planets in Peril" (Mystery in Space #90, March 1964). Here the protagonist is drawn sitting, with one knee extended, standing, and kneeling with one hand on the ground - the last being an especially vivid image. The color of the hero's space outfit contributes to the tale's meditative mood, with a cool but dream like combination of a green jump suit and white boots, belt and gloves.
The writings in two alien languages that appear in the tale both have curling, curving scripts. They remind one of the interesting Rann scripts that sometimes popped up in the Adam Strange tales. It is notable here that the hero is trying to advance scientific progress here by deciphering the scripts. This is a typically idealistic Fox viewpoint, with an emphasis on scientist heroes. Such a story is also designed to be educational for the young readers of the magazine, showing them how linguists work.
An odd feature of the Space Museum frame story: we see men wearing bow ties along with their futuristic suits (p2). Infantino loved bow ties, and he especially had Barry Allen (The Flash) wear them, as his personal signature. Twenty five years later in real life, bow ties have completely disappeared for day time wear with suits, so this feature now evokes another era. The bow ties here do convey something of the feeling of the 25th Century as depicted in the Space Museum tales. The era is one of advanced, peaceful civilization. It shows continuity with the 20th Century; both are eras of scientific progress. The suits worn by the men of the period are recognizably similar to the suits worn today, although with mildly futuristic twists. Both the suits and the bow ties create a feel of normalcy, that this is a civilization like ours, but more advanced: a possible future for us.
The Man in the Mystery Mask (#18, March 1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. A 20th Century murderer escapes by time travel to a future city on Earth, where he makes friends with a mysterious masked man. This minor tale is mainly notable for being an early example of one of Infantino's futuristic Art Deco cities. Infantino's depiction at this early date is not as serene or as harmonious as his later versions. The cityscape on page 3 is a wild riot of Art Deco, notable for its exuberance and inventiveness. It includes roads on very high pillars above the city, and buildings with overhangs. The forms are more curvilinear than is typical of Infantino's cities. Different architectural forms also seem crowded together in individual buildings, leading to baroque constructions. There are more conventional, but still energetic and profuse, cityscapes on the splash, and in the background of a moving road (p4). On page 7 we also see one of his typical interiors, with large multi-paned windows and floor to ceiling curtains.
Also interesting on page 3: the melting effect used to depict time travel. This is one of many kinds of sketchy or blurred effects Infantino sometimes included in his tales, to represent unusual experiences of his characters. These sf experiences gave Infantino an opportunity to include unusual art approaches in his stories.
The future police are in uniforms that unusually combine both Graustarkian dress uniform splendor, with armored gear. The uniforms have formidable looking helmets, with chin straps, that could be worn in a foxhole. This practical gear is on top of a fancy uniform worn with a high formal, ornamented collar, and a draped cape attached on front in an elaborate way. The cape and uniform are in two shades of Army green, further giving a militaristic effect.
The Menace of Saturn's Rings (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Aliens send Saturn's rings to Earth, where they cause disastrous climate changes. Like Joe Samachson's "The Earth-Drowners" (#64, January 1956), this story anticipates Global Warming: the polar ice caps melt, and Earth's coastal cities are flooded. Fox also constructs an interesting history for his aliens, mixing both science fiction ideas, and social commentary on warfare. The aliens are split into two permanently warring factions, which Fox uses to point out the futility of war. They might also allegorically suggest the US-Soviet Cold War. Similar warring factions appear in Fox's "The Million-Year-Long War" (Hawkman #12, February-March 1966).
The story contains astronomer Edward Gawain, and his young son Tommy Gawain, one of many intelligent, sympathetic kids in the sf comics. Their name suggests the medieval English poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", but the story makes no reference to this.
Many of Infantino's illustrations here are striking, including the panoramic views of Global Warming. There is some of Infantino's excellent space art, showing the rings and Saturn through a circular mask representing a view through a telescope (p2). This image contains beautiful circles.
Star-Actor of the Starways (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. An Earth actor is made 40 years younger by sinister aliens, and asked to impersonate a planetary leader to wreck a peace conference. This story explicitly compares itself to Anthony Hope Hawkins' The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), the grand daddy of all such stories where an ordinary man temporarily impersonates a look alike political leader. As in Zenda, there is plenty of romance and derring-do. Also as in Zenda, the tale takes place against a background of elegant escapism and sophistication. The Peace Ball as depicted by Infantino is an especially romantic image, with its dancing and emotional yearnings.
This is one of Gardner Fox's most pacifistic tales. The romantic, Nineteenth Century trappings of the Zenda plot grace a story about nuclear disarmament, surely a Twentieth Century theme if there ever was one. Fox is completely gung-ho about disarmament. Some writers make the subject sound wimpy. Not Fox: this must be the most macho story about disarmament ever written.
This fairly long story also gives a full sf treatment to the theme of rejuvenation. Gardner Fox treats the whole process of rejuvenation and aging as a cycle, a process the protagonist goes through that can leave him the same at the end as he was in the beginning. As is typical of Fox, this cycle interferes constructively with another cycle in the story, that of the mental blocks. The anti-aging rays also allow Infantino to employ a favorite approach: the scene shows the hero as the focus of many diagonal lines of the rays. The same page, page 5, has a fine depiction of a spaceship and starscape.
Page 6 has some striking art. One panel shows the walk ways of the planet. Another panel shows a conference room. Much of the panel is taken up by a strong perspective view of the ceiling, treated as one of Infantino's trademark blank spaces. The room itself occupies a frieze like strip at the bottom of the panel, with its curtains and windows in a line below. The whole effect is most unusual and striking.
Battle Between the Two Earths (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. A small scale model of the Earth at the World's Fair comes alive and starts shooting out rays that cause disasters on the real Earth.
When the Earth Turned into a Comet (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Astronauts on the Moon have a series of strange adventures. The chief merit of this tale is its art, which recalls that of Adam Strange. The story is full of dazzling moonscapes. The drawings are made up of irregular lines, which create nearly abstract patterns in the landscapes. The moonscapes are dark and uniformly twilight lit. This is a contrast to the bright daylight that typically floods Rann in the Adam Strange tales. As usual in Infantino, any sense of darkness brings on strong emotional moods. The dark gray landscapes contrast with the astronauts' bright, glowing white space suits. Infantino often favored bright colors for his heroes' clothes, often red with accents of white or yellow. Here he has his good guys in pure white costumes. They look terrific in them: both glamorous and romantic. They have a dream like feel as they are wandering through these dark poetic landscapes. The white also combines with the gray of the landscapes to create a world without any bright color.
Yes Virginia -- There Is a Martian (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. A little boy keeps telling his skeptical parents about the very nice Martian he's met in the woods. This gentle, upbeat tale milks the "what an imagination Junior has" situation for some classic comedy. The title refers to a famous real life newspaper editorial, "Yes Virginia -- There is a Santa Claus".
Young boys showed up several times in Fox's tales. They seem to be stand-ins for the youthful readers of the comic books. Fox always depicts them as innocent, naive, but courageous young people with a yearning for adventure, and a willingness to get involved and help out when the heroes of the story need assistance. Often times they play a key role in rescuing the hero at the end of the tale. The kids have a fondness for gadgets as well: Fox usually depicts them as mechanically inclined, and proficient at the use of various hand held toys: a facility that always winds up playing a role in the plot. The kids like to dress in "hero" costumes, such as cowboys or spacemen, and show a tendency towards hero worship. The parents of the kids are always depicted as nice people, caring and loving. The kids are not at all smart alecky. But they sometimes come up with very good ideas that turn out to be practical and useful. Fox included a young boy in the Adam Strange tale "The Multiple Menace Weapon" (Mystery in Space #72, December 1961); there are some thematic links between that story and "Virginia".
The Martian in this story turns out to look just like Earth humans. This is rare in sf comics. One suspects it is designed to make him look less frightening: during this era, horror material was considered as inappropriate to mix with children, rightly so in my judgment, and Fox and Infantino have taken pains to make this story as un-frightening and upbeat as possible. Instead of horror, it is filled with science fiction material. The Martian eventually tells a long sf history of his planet. This involves duplicate worlds: Fox often included doubles in his stories, and here he has come up with the idea of duplicate planets. Just as Fox sometimes extended the protagonists of his cycles from single people to mass populations, even whole worlds, here he has extended his idea of doubles to take on an entire solar system.
I Was The Man In The Moon (1955). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Jerry Grandenetti. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. A young eartch mechanic and inventor suddenly has his face appear as the Man in the Moon. Strange, poetic tale. In many ways, this is just an attempt to write a story around the idea of Gil Kane's cover, that the hero has his face show up as the lunar man. But it's a poetic idea, and Samachson is successful at weaving a good story out of it. The art in the story keeps showing the face in the background of the panels, also underscoring the image, as a poetic refrain in the tale.
The moon characters invoke the idea of Fate: here they believe they know the hero's future, based on a prediction from a computer. This enables Samachson to incorporate concepts of Fate into the plot. This is a concept that will recur in later Samachson tales. As usual, while it is emotional and haunting, it is not as pessimistic here as it often is in books and movies.
The Earth-Drowners (#64, January 1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Jerry Grandenetti. Aquatic invaders from Venus use mind control to force an Earth deep-sea diver to plant devices that will melt the polar ice caps and flood the Earth. The early parts of this story show the diver and his high tech devices. This is quite upbeat and entertaining. Samachson shows nice imagination in the hero's equipment. The diver Don Grayson goes right down to the ocean floor. The bottom of the ocean was a region that fascinated DC Silver Age comic creators; it frequently showed up in both the Superman family and Schwartz comic books. This part of the world is not easily explored even today, and was even more exotic in the 1950's. It formed a intriguing realm for science fiction stories. Such tales always had a ring of plausibility: the ocean floor is very much a real place, and readers would have had at least glimpses of it through photographs and movies. The hero also keeps a trophy room; it reminds one of the room in Jimmy Olsen's apartment where he keeps his Superman souvenirs.
The later sections of this tale show the diver struggling against the destructive obsessions to plant the devices that the aliens have programmed into his mind. These sections are in the noir tradition that Samachson often employed in his stories. I thought these sections were nightmarish and unpleasant. They are like a bad dream in which one is somehow compelled to do something unfortunate. They make the story as a whole not enjoyable. One prophetic note: even in the 1950's, sf writers were aware that melting the polar ice caps would cause disaster for Earth. Today, global warming has turned this into a frightening real life possibility.
Jerry Grandenetti gives the hero good costumes. His purple plastic diving suit is a neat outfit. So are his fifties sports clothes of a white sport coat and black pants, an outfit that would have looked cool on any Rat Pack hipster of the era. At the end of the tale, the now released hero celebrates by driving along in his convertible, while a beautiful starscape appears behind him. This combines the 1950's romance of the convertible with the timeless awe of the stars, always one of the most evocative images in the sf magazines.
The Flying Raincoat (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Sid Greene. Aliens planning an invasion of Earth mistake astronomer Burt Hansen for one of their own undercover agents. Moody piece that evokes the nocturnal rainy streets of film noir. This story ranges from Earth cityscapes at the start, to one of Sid Greene's typical, beautiful outer space scenes on page 6. The raincoat of the title was standard equipment for film noir heroes - they were always wearing one, usually a trench coat, over their suits. So it is appropriate to see one gain sf properties here. 1956 was at the very tail end of the film noir movement. A revival of this story today would interest people, giving them a chance to see how noir was adapted into another genre, science fiction, and another medium, the comics.
Man of a Thousand Shapes (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Carmine Infantino. A human looking alien can stretch his body large or small in any direction. Samachson's plot recalls Hal Clement's prose sf novel Needle (1949), in that the alien hero is a good guy hunting another alien hiding on Earth. Both stories are hybrids of sf and the crime tale. The title echoes protean silent film actor Lon Chaney's nickname of "The Man of a Thousand Faces". The hero of this tale seems oddly anticipatory of the later Atom. He can shrink to any dimension, and he claims to fight better as a small man. He can move faster, and still has the same body weight as when bigger, thus causing forceful punches. This is similar to the Atom's rationale for his fist fights.
This story has Infantino's elegant art. No matter how much he changes his appearance, the hero keeps the elegant dignity of the Infantino leading man. I almost wrote "aristocratic" dignity, but this would be wrong: the alien hero here is clearly as middle class as all of Infantino's heroes.
Strange Gift From Space (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Sid Greene. When he saves the life of an alien passing as a human being, Bob Fallon is given a mysterious super power that he is told will appear in the future. Once again, Samachson's work has a noir feel. Here it recalls Cornell Woolrich. The power recalls Woolrich's The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945), and the finale where the hero keeps haunting the same street over and over, searching for clues, resembles Woolrich's The Black Curtain (1941). Samachson's tone is far less doom-laden than Woolrich's. The final scenes are delicate and haunting, and the early section where Fallon speculates on his power are exuberant and comic. Samachson is much more optimistic than many noir creators. He has the moods of noir, but not its unhappy endings. People tend to try and succeed in his work, usually something that helps other people. One might also note that while fate and coincidences abound in Samachson's work, as they do in noir, they are not always bad fate or coincidences, unlike the usual noir pessimistic chance.
Sid Greene's art is up to conveying the rich moods of this tale. His colorfulness and emotional expressiveness make everything look interesting. The airplane (p2) is in the same tradition as the many spaceships that appear in Greene's tales. Everyone is dressed in contemporary clothes, but this does not prevent them from looking sharp. The army Captains (p3) wear some of Greene's spiffiest uniforms, and the hero looks good in his suit in the latter half of the tale.
The Man Who Ate Sunshine (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Jerry Grandenetti. A chemical salesman accidentally absorbs chemicals that make him radioactive and able to manufacture bodily energy from sunshine. Samachson's stories often invoke film noir. This tale recalls Rudolph Mate's film D.O.A. (1950), whose hero is poisoned by radioactivity, and who has only twenty-four hours to live, and track down his killer. Both comic and film reflect the nuclear anxieties of the 1950's. The hero of this comic book story is initially almost as distressed as the film noir victim, but gradually a change occurs. The idealistic hero of the comic decides to do something worthwhile with his situation. This is a whole different attitude. The hero of this tale is desperate, but he is not defeated. Instead, he is thinking about other people, and what he can accomplish for them. Also notable: the careful detail with which Samachson works out the plot and science of the story.
The Invaders from the Nth Dimension (1951) Writer: Mann Rubin. Art: Jim Mooney. A fisherman from Earth is scooped up by giant crystalloid aliens from another dimension. This tale is mainly notable for its spectacular art. The scoop is a pure series of rainbow colors, without any black lines or outlines; it makes a startling contrast to the heavily drawn NYC cityscapes of the tale. The rainbow scoop appears on both the cover and the interior story; it is depicted by the same unusual techniques in both locations. Also notable: the microscope scenes, featuring a checkerboard background. This forms a regular grid, against which other regularly spaced machinery is overlaid.
Mann Rubin contributed a number of tales to Mystery in Space during the early 1950's. These often involved aliens and animals. Here we see analogies drawn between the human fisherman hero, and the new fish he captures at the start of the tale, and these aliens fishing for humans in the story.
Hollywood: 3000 A. D. (1951). Writer: Mann Rubin. Art: Gil Kane. The making of a contemporary Hollywood science fiction film about the future develops time travel links to the actual future. This is a pleasant story. But it has some plot weaknesses. The time travel is never given any real explanation, and does not function with any internal logic. The resemblance between the modern day actor and the director in 3000 A.D. is just an unexplained coincidence. And further, it does not seem to play a coherent role in the story. The tale also seems to have no overall point, moral, or internal logic. Still, it is fun to think about movie making, and comparisons between the present and the future.
The look-alike heroes of the story are some of Gil Kane's handsome leading men types. They both wear a futuristic headgear, with ear-pieces, and a band that circles the forehead, but which leaves the hair free. It is a striking costume head piece. Kane will create a similar head gear in "The Paul Revere of Time" (1957), although this version completely covers the hair. The hero and the director look good in black tuxes, at the finale. The futuristic architecture of the set shows off Gil Kane's Constructivist, geometric approach to buildings. This is a nice looking, if small, addition to Kane's work.
The Man With 100 Lives (1951). Writer: Manly Wade Wellman. Art: Jim Mooney. Earth police agent XC-112 goes after gangland thief Brawne in the high tech Jupiter City of the future. This story is notable for its depiction of the city. Wellman has the city constructed in what he calls layers, that range from the underground crypts known as "the cellar district", to the high tower tops connected by ramps. Wellman has probably seen Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927), and other depictions of amazing futuristic cities. Lang's city also has underground vaults beneath mighty towers with ramps. Jim Mooney does an especially good job with the tower tops. The towers are huge round structures, whose varied geometry leads to beautiful art work. Mooney shows both awesome cityscapes (both on the splash and p5), and close-ups of a round, dome-like tower top surrounded by pedestrian ramps (p5).
Mooney does a good job with the hero's outfit. It is a nice version of typical comic book attire, with a red tunic and tights, offset by green gloves, boots and cape - a striking color harmony. Red and green are complementary colors.
The Other Earths (1951). Writer: Manly Wade Wellman. Art: Murphy Anderson. Bram Hilton visits other planets that are just like Earth, and tries to change history for the better on them, by preventing wars. Anti-war tale, one of several in early Strange Adventures. The finale is pro-United Nations, glorifies "peace-mongers", and traces world conflict to "bosses who want to stay rich".
The Reign of the Elephants (#11, December 1951). Writer: Manly Wade Wellman. Art: Jim Mooney. Look at a future world in which intelligent, peaceful elephants are the major species. This story is most notable for panels showing what a high tech elephant city might look like: homes, vehicles, etc. Wellman and Mooney show imagination with this elephant-world. As in "The Man With 100 Lives" (1951), Wellman has imagined a logically detailed future city.
In the 1930's Manly Wade Wellman wrote a connected series of science fiction short stories for the pulps, including Argosy magazine. These outline a whole future universe, set in the 30th Century. One I've managed to read is in the old science fiction anthology My Best Science Fiction Story (1949) edited by Leo Margulies and Oscar J. Friend. "Space Station No. 1" (1936) gives a detailed look at the physical layout of a future space outpost. One suspects the futuristic cities in "The Man With 100 Lives" and "The Reign of the Elephants" spring from a similar artistic impulse as these prose sf tales.
The Endless War (1950). Writer: H. L. Gold. Art: Curt Swan. Pacifist tale, recounting a long future history of humanity, and showing the disaster war brings. H. L. Gold is best known as a prose science fiction writer, and as editor of Galaxy science fiction magazine. This is a rare comic book story by him. One can speculate that he did this tale, in hopes its message would reach a different group of readers, the kids who loved comic books. It is a bit preachy, but its anti-war message is still timely. One wishes that people would listen to it!
The future history breaks down into a series of episodic future stages for humanity, like Olaf Stapledon's prose science fiction novel Last and First Men. Both the time travel elements, and a look at future men living underground, seem to derive from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.
The time traveler has a spherical time machine, transparent, big enough to seat two people, and which tends to hover four feet or so above the ground, so that people outside it are slightly below the hovering machine. This is exactly the sort of time machines that will later show up in the Superman mythos, used by the Legion of Super-Heroes.
The Moonmen and the Meteor (1955). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sy Barry. A young Earth couple encounter a meteor, which they treasure as part of their courtship - but which is desired by others. This is a sweet story. It shows that Bill Finger plot standby, the ingenious hoax.
The Invisible Masters of Earth (1955). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Sid Greene. A young man tries to stop an alien invasion of Earth. This is another Bill Finger story centering on a clever hoax.
Earth Shall Not Die (1970). Writer: Denny O'Neill. Art: Murphy Anderson. A scientist and a tough sergeant eventually become partners aboard a space flight. The scientist is a civilian astrophysicist who has been created a Commander in the Space Fleet to command the flight. The story draws on the What Price Glory tradition of rivalry between an officer and a sergeant. This sort of brawling competition between two ultra-tough guys who love to fight with each other is the main subject of this story. Sgt. Kevin Tempest here is created as the toughest, roughest fight sergeant in the space force. By contrast, Commander Glenn Merritt is equally macho, but is an intellectual who is an expert scientist and who loves to read Shakespeare. Sgt. Tempest himself is supposed to be extremely brainy, with a flair for space ship machinery. This is the comics, where brains are deeply respected.
Murphy Anderson has always made his characters macho looking, but here he has pushed this to extremes. The rocket fleet uniform worn by Sgt. Tempest near the beginning of the tale is especially tough looking, with erect looking rockets on the lapels. So are the space suits worn by both men in the second half of the tale. They are the climax of a long Anderson tradition of white space suits that reveal their wearers' musculature. The 1970 era was a peak period in comics for action scenes and macho men, and the veteran artist has clearly responded to these currents of the times.
The scientist-Commander is drawn in the tale with iconography usually reserved for DC's most important character, Superman. This hero has black hair, a handsome, serious face, and a muscular physique. Clearly the intent was to make him as admirable and as heroic as possible.
For another macho Murphy Anderson hero, see the futuristic policeman on the cover of Strange Adventures #27 (December 1952).