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These best Tommy Tomorrow of the Planeteers stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number.
Tommy Tomorrow was basically a policeman. He was a member of the Planeteers, a law enforcement group concentrating on policing space travel and outer space. He and his partner Brent Wood were co-pilots of a small space ship, the Space Ace, and flew all over outer space and other planets on their missions. Tommy is a Colonel and Brent a Captain, and Tommy is known as the "Ace of the Planeteers", all of which gives the stories a flavor of tales of early 20th Century airplane pilots. Despite these titles, the stories have no military flavor at all. Tommy and Brent are policemen, not military men. They solve crimes. There are no alien invasions, and Tommy is never in combat. Encounters with aliens are usually resolved peacefully, and without any threat of war.
This story is remarkably prophetic of the real future history of space travel. Many elements of it accurately portray mankind's first journey to the Moon in 1969. (Humanity has still not yet gone to Mars). It is mainly a documentary look at what such a Mars flight will be like. In many ways it is hardly fiction. Tommy is as much an archetype here as a character. He is called Tommy Tomorrow to indicate that he is typical of the space pilots of tomorrow.
One can see similarities between Tommy Tomorrow and the later space pioneer Chris KL-99. Both:
The rocket on the splash panel is highly rounded. It is almost as biomorphic as the one in Chris' story.
Sherman's art stresses the complex machinery inside the rocket (page 3). This is not a control panel, as in the later work of Gil Kane. Instead, it seems to be machinery used by the rocket itself. It vaguely resembles dynamos, and other electrical equipment.
This is an early example in comic books of a time machine that is a transparent sphere. And like many time machines to come, it has a seat inside and a control panel, for the occupant/pilot.
The story has elements of a repeated challenge and response structure. Such a structure will be common in Binder's Silver Age tales. In "Tommy Tomorrow's Trip to Today", we get repeated episodes of (SPOILERS):
Otto Binder and Curt Swan will be giant names in the Silver Age to come.
Binder later wrote "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #36, April 1959), an even more elaborate story about a man time traveling back into the past. Both tales take their hero to a large, dynamic urban city.
The End of the Planeteers (1953). Writer: ?. Art: Jim Mooney. A scientist claims to have invented a teleportation device, which means the end of space ship travel - and the Planeteers. This tale shows a vivid awareness of the impact of technological change. It is perhaps ancestral to John Broome's "Glory Ride to Pluto" (Mystery in Space #59, May 1960), which deals with a similar situation. Broome's story takes place at a slightly later stage, when teleportation is already a recently established mass phenomenon. This Tommy Tomorrow story deals with the first lab demonstrations.
The tale is also a vivid look at capitalism, with companies and the stock market playing a role similar to modern day America. The tale appeared in the same issue of Action as the Superman tale "Muscles for Money", which also shows financial sophistication.
The Space-Mail Mystery (1953). Writer: ?. Art: Jim Mooney. When mail rocket ships begin disappearing, Tommy goes undercover as a space-mail pilot to solve the mystery. In several stories policeman Tommy was assigned to look for people who had disappeared in space. This tends to get Tommy and Brent exploring some alien worlds, looking for traces of the missing people along the way. These tales are a unique fusion of mystery and sf, with no close analogue in either genre.
Tommy gets to wear a mail pilot's space suit, which is a big step up from his ridiculous looking Planeteer uniform. The suit is orange, with green trim, and a big white star on its chest and the green gauntlets. Tommy actually looks dignified and grown up here.
The Space Ace looks much like real life train engines, especially the streamlined ones of the 1930's and 1940's. Streamlining was very big during the Deco era, and it was applied to everything from trains and autos to coffee pots. The streamlining gives the Space Ace an elegant look, recalling the luxury trains of a great era of railroading.
Mooney gives the Tigers an Art Deco city. It looks startlingly like one of Carmine Infantino's Art Deco cities. Both artists favor multi-paned, frameless windows on their circular buildings, a key Deco feature.
The Space Hall of Fame (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy looks for crooks on an asteroid filled with giant sculptures commemorating the great heroes of space exploration. The landscape of the asteroid, with its numerous statues of spacemen, is more interesting than the crime story that takes place in it. This big exhibit, like a huge outdoor museum, gives a whole history of space travel. It is one of Binder's innovative "media of communication", an unusual but effective way of communicating information. This story is probably closest to Binder's sf story "Riddle of the Runaway Earth" (Mystery in Space #40, October-November 1957), which deals with a planetarium. Both the planetarium and the museum are huge structures, much bigger than humans. Both contain elaborate machinery, and secrets set aside to help humanity.
Later, Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky would create a series of stories about the Space Museum. This was not an outdoor park; it was a more conventional museum in a large building. Otherwise, the idea is the same: a museum honoring the pioneers of space travel. The Fox-Sekowsky museum mainly looks at people who have helped mankind reach the stars, while the earlier Binder-Mooney museum concentrates on travel within the Solar System.
Movie Makers From Outer Space (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy suspects that various Earth disasters are really caused by alien film makers who are using Earth as a location for science fiction disaster movies. Truly demented plot that is one of the funniest and most bizarre of all the Tomorrow tales.
There were quite a few plots about futuristic movie making in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. These stories often had the producers of science fiction movies shooting films on actual alien planets, to get "realistic", spectacular looking sf background footage. Binder's story is in this tradition. Sometimes the producers of these films were humans; sometimes they were aliens, as in the current story.
Binder satirized modern day Hollywood in "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (Lois Lane #2, May-June 1958). "Movie Makers" has a similar satirical tone, with lots of funny lines making fun of 1950's Hollywood. The tone here is even more astringent that in the Lois Lane story, with many of the events forming extreme black comedy. The film makers here are utterly unconcerned with all the damage they are causing Earth. Binder eventually "explains" this in sf terms. But there is also an element of satire. It is hard not for most ordinary people to suspect that the mass media are a huge juggernaut, utterly indifferent to the public they are trying to exploit.
Tommy is not a humorous character, and his dead pan seriousness throughout the story shows him utterly oblivious to the satirical side of the tale. Binder gives him dialogue that verges on the Campy. I suspect that Binder deliberately gave Tommy over the top dialogue, to add to the overall "humorous + bizarre" flavor of the story. Tommy's announcement of his theory (lower left panel of p3) is memorably absurd. Binder's dialogue is usually quite naturalistic.
Many of the Tomorrow tales have their own future landscape. Here, Binder shows us the Seven Wonders of 2055 Earth.
The Paul Revere of Space (#212, January 1956) A masked rider travels through space, alerting people of pending disasters; no one knows how he manages to predict them. This minor story is notable for some mechanical ingenuity:
Binder's interest in strange cosmic phenomena shows up in the pinwheel comet.
The Robot Crook of Space (#213, February 1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. The newest addition to the Planeteers is a robot, who suddenly turns criminal. This story shows some ingenuity. Its two-part role for its robot, first law enforcer, then crook, allows Binder to explore the special possibilities of robots in both fields. The story itself points out how a robot crook might do things differently from a human one. The tale also has an ingenious finale. However, while I respect the tale's imagination, it falls flat as a work of storytelling.
The Most Wanted Man in Space (#214, March 1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Criminal "Meteor" Murdock puts out of huge reward for the capture of Tommy, but only if he is taken alive. This is one of the most purely crime oriented of all the Tomorrow tales. Its plot could have been set in an urban 20th Century city, or in a Western. The plot has a certain ingenuity, and leads to an unexpected ending. However, the story is not especially fun to read. Tommy does not treat several of the criminals he encounters especially fairly, it seems to me, and this leaves a somewhat bad taste.
"Meteor" Murdock had appeared in the previous issue. This is an unusual example of a continuing bad guy in the Tomorrow series. However Murdock is largely off stage in both tales, and the stories are more oriented to the heroes than the villains, in the Binder tradition.
"Meteor" Murdock's name follows conventions for crooks. They have a tough sounding nickname, like a 20th Century hood, but the nickname is also science fictional. The nickname also alliterates with the crook's last name. The previous story also contained a scientific crook named "Labs" Logan.
The art shows cleverness in its Wanted poster for Tommy. It includes his Planeteer number, G7-244, in the spot where a criminal's serial number would go. This is witty, and also tells us a nice detail about Tommy's career.
Binder shows his interest in media, in all the different methods the crooks use to broadcast their reward for Tommy's capture.
The Space Safari (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Brent quits the Planeteers after he apparently makes a navigating mistake, and becomes the tour guide for a space safari group. This is one of the most emotional Tomorrow tales. It explores the friendship between Tommy and Brent in depth. In this it anticipates Binder's "Superman's Enemy" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959), which looked at the relationship of Superman and Jimmy Olsen. Tommy's disguise in this tale, and going undercover in a new role, also reminds one of the many stories by Binder and others where Jimmy Olsen did the same thing. Jimmy often took on new roles to infiltrate crooks; he rarely had such a personal mission as Tommy does here. Jimmy did sometimes spy on his friends, something Tommy does here for much nobler reasons: he is trying to watch over and protect Brent. Please contrast this story with such spying tales as "The Boy Who Hoaxed Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #31, September 1958) and "Lois Lane's Sister" (Jimmy Olsen #36, April 1959), both by Binder.
Brent has a somewhat odd appearance. With his small black mustache, he looks like a Society playboy in a 1940's movie, someone frivolous and upper crust. Actually, Brent seems to be devoted to his work, and to be a serious, decent person. He is certainly revealed to be quite sensitive in this story.
Pre-Silver Age 1950's comic books were full of stories about men who had lost their confidence, and who had career trouble as a consequence. Usually, all these men need is to get their belief in themselves back, and they will start having a career and a good life. This story is a little bit in that tradition, with Brent losing his faith in his ability as a space ship navigator. However, it also looks deeply into friendship, something much more profound.
The tale is in the best Tomorrow tradition in that includes many wonders of outer space. These appear in the series construction that is common in Binder. Here, we are mainly on asteroids, each with its own unique properties. These are Binder's favorite settings in the Tomorrow stories. Most of these planetoids are very poetic.
The cadet's uniform Tommy wears here as a disguise has a star insignia, somewhat in the tradition of the mail pilot's space suit in "The Space-Mail Mystery" (1953). It is certainly an improvement over the regular Planeteer's uniform.
The Sleeping Beauty of Space (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy and Brent find a sleeping woman in a glass case floating in space; they have to determine if she is a real woman from the past, as she claims, or a hoax to promote a new movie. This tale is full of Binder's movie satire, and shows a welcome sense of surrealistic humor. It is also an sf mystery story in Binder's Cosmic tradition, with Tommy looking for clues in the woman's responses to various astronomical phenomena. Binder will write such later Cosmic mysteries as "Amazing Space Flight of North America" (Mystery in Space #44, June-July 1958) and "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959), but this has a different basic structure than these two tales. Binder calls the story a "subtle game of wits". This is typical of the intellectual approach of his tales. Like Isaac Asimov, he regards the life of the mind as the most exciting adventure.
This tale "rationalizes" the fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty, turning it into a science fiction story. Binder had also done this with Beauty and the Beast, in such Superman family works as "The Lady and the Lion" (Action Comics #243, August 1958) and "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis" (Jimmy Olsen #44, April 1960). The two tales have similar features:
Mooney also excels with some of his astronomical art, including a panel showing Jupiter from space, and a "space rainbow", a concept invented for the story.
The Secret of the Space Signs (#226, March 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. A "sign artist" who creates space billboards is attacked by crooks. This tale is another example of Binder's interest in media. The sign artist creates both signs and skywriting.
The "space comic strip" that is created is an interesting touch. It is reflexive: a comic strip created inside this comic book tale.
Like Binder's Space-Cabby tales in Mystery in Space, this story is an example of Binder's interest in "car culture" transposed into the future. The space billboards the artist creates are much like those dotting 20th Century highways. Their content has been updated to give them a science fictional feel.
The controls of the spaceship are satisfactorily complex and fascinating (splash panel). Anyone would enjoy piloting this ship. They look like the controls of a contemporary airplane. They are not "futuristic".
The art is noticeably phallic. Both the sign artist's ship, with paint shooting out from its forward nozzle, and the space platform with its jutting central observatory, are phallic.
The Trial of Tommy Tomorrow (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy is put on trial for the murder of Brent. This is a courtroom drama, with frequent flashbacks showing events leading up to the crime. The story contains a clever mystery plot, although it is unfortunately not well clued.
As in "The Space Safari" (1956), we learn much about the friendship of Tommy and Brent, especially from what the narrator tells us at the start of the tale. Tommy and Brent have been roommates since their days of training as space cadets. Theirs is a "famous friendship". This reminds one of Binder's "Superman's Enemy" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959), in which the progress of Jimmy's and Superman's friendship makes headlines in the Daily Planet. Binder spent much of the fifties writing two series, Jimmy Olsen and Tommy Tomorrow, that centered on close friendships between two men.
The finale of the tale includes an attempted alien invasion. This is one of the few such military encounters in the Tommy Tomorrow saga. It is very brief, and mainly serves as a McGuffin explaining and motivating the mystery plot.
The story is rich in the alien beings and outer space settings that populate the Tomorrow saga. We go to the Interplanetary Zoo on asteroid Z-42. This anticipates the Kryptonian Zoo that will be such a popular locale in Binder's Superman stories. One of the unique alien beings in this tale reflects Binder's continuing interest in unusual media of communication.
Mooney's depiction of the Space Ace's life boat is interesting. The Life Ship is a one man miniature space ship. Its occupant lies face down on his stomach, and sticks his head and arms up to pilot the controls. It gives an unusual effect I've not seen in other artists. Mooney was always creative with space ships.
The Strangest Crew in the Universe (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. When a law requires that a prospector have five witnesses to his discovery, Tommy rounds up four more non-human "witnesses" who can talk. This story is in the tradition of a Binder specialty: unusual media of communication. Here Binder finds all sort of non-human beings who can "talk", in the broad sense. (Tommy needs to do this because he and the prospector are the only humans near the isolated asteroid. Tommy is one witness, but he needs four more.) The splash panel shows three of the witnesses, giving away part of the plot. Like many splash panels, it sets up the basic ground rules of the story. This helps the reader understand what is going on, and appreciate all the fine details of the events to come.
The splash panel also challenges the reader to solve a small mystery: the identity of the fifth and final witness that Tommy plans to dig up. Binder often did something special with the "last element of a series", such as the final witness here. Examples include his Kandor origin story, "The Super-Duel in Space" (Action Comics #242, July 1958), and "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961), although both of these stories do mathematical manipulations with the count, a feature not present in "Crew".
This story is low key, friendly, and full of humor. Tommy is doing all this to help the prospector. Tommy's eagerness to help other people is his most appealing personality trait. Binder gives each of the witnesses Tommy rounds up his own distinctive style of speech. This adds a lot to the humor of the story. There is something both funny and heartening about characters who persist in their own characteristic traits, no matter what the circumstances. It is a triumph of personality over environment.
This story extends Binder's interest in odd shaped planets; please see the article on Binder's "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959) for more details.
The Gambling Asteroid (#249, February 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. A crooked casino on an asteroid cheats patrons out of their money. This is one of the anti-gambling tales that regularly appeared in older comic books. It offers an expose of the dangers of both gambling addiction AND crooked gambling dens. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "anti-gambling" for other comic book tales on the topic.
The Space Bingo game is inventive. It is based on an interesting astronomical fact. Binder liked to write tales that educated readers about some aspect of science. See this list.
Tommy is accompanied by a young rookie Planeteer, Private Hale. Hale looks a bit like the young men to come who would romance Supergirl in Mooney's art, such as Dick Malverne.
The Boy Planeteer (#250, March 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. A five year old genius joins the Planeteers; there is also an sf mystery about his apparent "sixth sense" that allows him to predict disasters. Binder builds up a whole science fiction look in this story about advanced children. These perhaps cast a new light on the tales he wrote about regression to infancy, such as "The Man Who Aged Backwards" (Strange Adventures #96, September 1958).
This story has a great deal about the United Worlds. This is a future organization strongly modeled on the real life United Nations. It is known as the U.W., and has a General Assembly, whose building we see. DC Silver Age writers idolized the UN, and it frequently appears in their stories.
Mooney depicts the huge Space Port as a mass of futuristic Art Deco buildings. These are in a common tradition with other DC artists. The buildings are shown on the horizon in silhouette (p2) in a way similar to Carmine Infantino. And the jewel like space tower on the splash recalls the towers of Murphy Anderson. The launching ramp later on in the tale is also Art Deco in style. Mooney's silhouette is subtly different from Infantino's. He puts greater emphasis on curved, circular arcs. These include the tops of buildings and towers, and some of the ramps connecting the buildings and the ground. There also seems to be a bit of a different rhythm to the sequence of the buildings, and the blank space between them.
The latter parts of this tale are a mystery involving the mind-stealing robots. There is too much horror material here for me to enjoy it. The story lacks the joie de vivre of Binder's later "The Traffic Cop of 2058, A.D." (1958). There is a small sf mystery, with a clue involving distances between the planets. This is typical of Binder's approach, mixing in educational facts about the solar system with his mystery plots.
Tommy and Brent once again get to wear new uniforms. This time it is mainly a helmet, with the letters SI on it, presumably standing for Space Inspector. The helmets have elaborate visors, like a modern day motorcyclist's, and circular ear covers, like those that would soon be worn by Adam Strange. The helmets seem more like those of civilian motorcycle cops, and less like anything military. This is typical of the civilian orientation of Tommy Tomorrow's world.
The Traffic Cop of 2058, A.D. (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy and Brent temporarily get re-assigned to traffic duty, and encounter a wide variety of situations. This story recalls Binder's Space Cabby tales. Like them, it humorously recalls Earth traffic and roads of the 20th Century, transposed into outer space and space ship terms. Many of Binder's transpositions and correspondences are quite ingenious. While the Space Cabby stories tend to recall the freeway system of the 1950's, "Traffic Cop" reminds one more of urban policemen, especially officers who stood at busy corners of great American cities of the 1930's and directed traffic. Tommy also encounters a mysteriously vanishing hot-rodder here, in a small sf mystery. Tommy had previously dealt with a group of young space ship speedsters in "Hotrods of Space" (#186, November 1953), a less inventive tale than this one. I also loved the whistle, which reflects Binder's interest in media of communication.
Tommy's stories always took place exactly 100 years in the future. This story was published in 1958, so it took place in 2058. Dates were frequent in the Tommy Tomorrow stories, and the plots underlined this century-shifting effect. This whole structure is unique to the Tomorrow tales, as far as I know.
This tale shows how much objects weigh on different planets. This was a recurring feature of Binder's Tommy Tomorrow tales. Partly, this is educational. It is also in the Binder tradition of comparative looks at the Solar System's planets: see "Back Window into Space" (Strange Adventures #95, August 1958).
There is a disk jockey here, just as in Binder's "Riddle of Asteroid 8794" (Mystery in Space #50, March 1959). Binder presumably like such characters because of his interest in means of communication. They are also familiar figures of 1950's America. Binder like transposing elements of contemporary life to the future and outer space; it gives the homey, civilized future he liked to convey. Also: Binder's stories are rich in the feel of civilian life. Unlike a great deal of recent sf TV and films, which take place against a military background, Binder's tales are set in a purely civilian, non-militarized environment. Including characters like disk jockeys, traffic cops, hot rodders, circus stars and cab drivers conveys the delightful texture of civilian life.
Destination Unknown (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. Tommy is plucked out of space and teleported to a mysterious civilization by aliens who need his help, and winds up on a space flight through utterly unusual territory. This tale is an sf mystery: both Tommy and the reader are challenged to figure out where Tommy is, and the explanations behind the weird phenomena he encounters on his flight. Binder has seized on a certain logic of teleportation here. The aliens who teleport Tommy to their planet move Tommy and Brent instantly into completely unfamiliar turf. Tommy has no way of knowing where he is: he has just arrived mysteriously at point X. The whole story is oddly reminiscent of Roland Phillips' pulp prose mystery story "Death Lies Waiting" (1944). In Phillips' tale, the hero is knocked out, then transported somewhere while unconscious. When he wakes up, he has no idea where he is. He has to discover all the geography and architectural layout of the rooms he is in. This is similar, in science fiction terms, to the experience Tommy and Brent undergo here.
Once again, Binder has come up with a strange landscape, full of architectural features. As is often the case, the landscape is full of three dimensional features. Space travel is inherently 3D, as Binder pointed out in "The Traffic Cop of 2058, A.D.", and Binder takes advantage of this to construct his strange environment in every direction.
The green sun Tommy and Brent encounter here will reverberate in such tales as Bill Finger's "Superman Under the Green Sun" (Superman #155, August 1962) and Binder's "The Green Sun Supergirl" (Action #337, May 1966).
The Planeteer Academy is known as the "West Point of the Solar System" in the tales. Lee Elias' cadet uniforms are crosses between today's West Point uniforms and super-hero costumes. They are purple with yellow stripes, gloves, belts and Sergeant's stripes and black boots, collar and holsters. It is one of the snazziest costumes in the comics. Purple and yellow are contrasting colors; they make a vibrant combination.
The two parts of this tale, while sharing common characters, each have their own plot, resolved at the end of the part. This "sequence of stories" approach is very common in comic book history. Many of the two or three part Superman family tales use this approach. The first part "Frame-Up at the Planeteer Academy" is a mystery about the sabotage of Tommy's activities at the academy. The second part "The Criminal Who Couldn't Die" is a solar system wide adventure, set partly on Venus. The story is full of little mysteries that get resolved, and is quite pleasant. The astronomical sections stress the importance of mathematics, a nice educational touch. Once again, Drake shows his persistent interest in space travel, a subject that always opens broad perspectives and futuristic vistas in his work.
Also notable: a dome at the Academy which can simulate the environment of any planet. This sort of virtual reality used for training is quite imaginative and ahead of its time.