Mystery in Space | Otto Binder: Mysteries of New Planets | Otto Binder Tales of Miscommunication Between Planets | Otto Binder Cosmic Stories | Otto Binder Cosmic Mysteries | Other Otto Binder SF Tales | Edmond Hamilton tales | John Broome's Early Power Stories | John Broome and Politics, Sid Greene and Future Architecture | John Broome and Gil Kane: Stories Related to Green Lantern | Gil Kane and Space Adventure | Gardner Fox SF Tales | Gardner Fox SF Tales: Fox Cycles | Mann Rubin Tales | Sid Gerson stories | Interplanetary Insurance, Inc. | Joe Samachson tales | Knights of the Galaxy | Space-Cabby | The Star Rovers | Extra-Terrestrial Animals

Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)

Recommended Stories

Mystery in Space

The above is not a complete list of Mystery in Space stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazines, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Julius Schwartz.

Mystery in Space contained both Adam Strange and general, non-series science fiction stories. Adam Strange stories are discussed in their own article. The early Knights of the Galaxy tales are marked (KG); Space-Cabby are marked (SC); the Star Rovers are marked (SR), Interplanetary Insurance, Inc. are marked (I).

Mystery in Space

Mystery in Space is DC's most important science fiction comic book. During 1951 - 1964, its stories followed the same paradigms; this is a very long run for a single editorial approach. All of the stories were pure science fiction. They tended to be very dignified. The heroes tended to be idealistic young men. They usually were members of some skilled profession, one that plays a role in the story. If the story takes place in the present, the hero will be in suit and tie; if in the future, the hero will be in an elaborate sf costume.

Mysteries of New Planets

The Man Who Doomed a World (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. The hero of this story is space explorer Hal Burton. Here everything he encounters on a new world turns to stone. He wonders what he is doing to cause this. He explicitly compares himself to Medusa, the character who also turned men to stone in the ancient Greek myth.

Otto Binder wrote a number of science fiction mysteries in which space explorers reach new planets, and encounter strange phenomena, which they have to interpret. The stories are structured as mysteries: the hero tries to figure out the answer, and finally succeeds at the end of the tale. In this story, the hero tries then discards a number of plausible sounding explanations, which just do not work out. This is somewhat similar to the "series" construction one finds in the Superman family, to which Binder also often contributed. It is a bit different however: each element in a series tale often leads to an opposing challenge, something ingenious which prevents the hero from reaching his goal. Here, each new explanation simply fails: there is no opposing, ingenious counter-attack.

The final answer is more ingenious than anything that has gone before it, in the best mystery tradition. It is followed by a brief humanistic conclusion, one that shows the essential decency of Binder and his colleagues in this era.

The Dual Identity World (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. This is another Binder mystery about a hard to interpret planet: here two explorers literally see the world in two different ways. This is a most ingenious tale. It has elements of an allegory and a fable, and should be better known: it would make a great proverb, to illustrate some important ideas about perception.

Earthman, Go Home (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. Binder wrote this tale about a space trader who gets a strangely hostile reception on a planet; in a story within a story, a Martian tells him a similar tale about a Mars explorer's first trip to Earth. This double story contains two mysteries for the price of one: it is as if Binder had a number of ideas, and decided to present them each in a fairly concise format, instead of padding them out. The two tales help reinforce one another: both are sf mysteries, both have similar kinds of solutions. By seeing the Martian story, which as the inner tale gets resolved first, the reader gets educated in the paradigm that Binder is trying to set up, and is prepared for it in the second, outer tale. The solution of this outer story is longer and more elaborate.

The space trader here reminds one of the mountain men who traded furs with the Native Americans, and who were some of the first Europeans to live in the American West. His space costume evens resembles an sf version of such a Western trapper's. Westerns were hugely popular in the 1950's.

At one point in the story, the hero takes a pill which temporarily gives him stretching powers, like Plastic Man in the 1940's. That same year, Binder would expose Jimmy Olsen to a serum that gave him similar powers, starting his career as Elastic Lad.

Otto Binder Tales of Miscommunication Between Planets

The Impossible World Named Earth (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. A Jovian and an Earth author communicate by telepathy, but no one on either planet will believe them. This gently comic story has many elements in common with Binder's later "Riddle of the Counterfeit Earthmen" (1959). Both stories have a double perspective: aliens discovering humans, and simultaneously, humans discovering aliens. In both stories, the aliens are advanced, scientific and basically peaceful. They have a civilization much like Earth's, with political leaders, scientists and average people, and their attitudes and belief systems are pretty similar to those of modern day Earth people. In addition, in both stories the aliens are hampered by preconceived ideas about other planets, ideas that are backed up and reinforced by the prestige of science. In this tale, the aliens are convinced that other planets do not exist at all, so they view the idea of Earth as being simply "impossible". In "Riddle", the aliens are convinced by scientific analysis that Earth people must look a certain way, based on that planet's gravitation, atmosphere, and so on, so they reject the actual Earthmen who arrive as hoaxsters and impostors. All this leads to a great deal of gentle humor. Part of what is being satirized is the clinging to received ideas in face of evidence. Many astronomical ideas common in the 1950's have already been proved wrong, so Binder's tales have only gathered force since they were first published.

Binder had written previous tales about exchanges between explorers on two planets. "The Human Icicle" (Strange Adventures #53, February 1955) deals with an identity exchange between an Earthman and an inhabitant of Pluto. Each one winds up on the other's planet, the first person ever to visit the other one's world. This mild tale is mainly noteworthy as a precursor to Binder's later works. Binder's stories of two worlds communicating anticipate his later tales of the Exchange Ray used to swap people between Earth and Kandor. Just as some of the "two worlds" tales involve Earthmen and aliens exchanging places, so does the Exchange Ray allow similar swaps.

Authors are common as characters in the DC sf comic books. They tend to be sf authors, and the stories they are writing tend to be very similar to the sf tales that actually appeared in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. This allows a recursive effect in the tales: sf stories about authors writing sf stories. It also allows for autobiographical elements: the authors are similar to Binder and his fellow scriptwriters. There is also a broader, sociological angle: we see the background of the sf comic books, and how they are put together. In many of the tales, including this one, the plot turns on one writer coming up with the same sf idea as another; the magazine editors suspect plagiarism, but what is really going on is telepathy. This plot appears again and again in the DC sf magazines. One suspects that it might reflect fears among the writers themselves: they can only sell a story if it contains a new idea that had not appeared in the magazines, and it must have been hard to come up with fresh ideas year after year. Carmine Infantino's art shows the author here, "Wayne Baker", as being very well dressed. He seems to spend most of his time in a suit and tie. Authors were always treated with great reverence in old Hollywood movies as well, depicted as professorial people of high status.

Amazing Mirages of Space (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Murphy Anderson. Just as contemporary Earthmen regard flying saucers as optical illusions, so do the inhabitants of the saucers regard Earth and the solar system as an optical illusion.

This is a fairly static story. It sets up an elaborate astronomical situation, but does little with it to create an actual plot or interaction between the characters. Still, the astronomical set-up is quite rich and imaginative. It ties in with the "cosmic" premises often found in Binder, in which whole astronomical environments are the subject of the story. And in the Binder tradition, there is some astronomical engineering at the end of this cosmic tale, used to save Earth. Murphy Anderson has some vivid astronomical art illustrating outer space scenes.

The story also falls into the Binder First Contact tradition. As is often the case in such Binder tales, there is a symmetry of miscomprehension between the two groups, both aliens and Earthmen, neither of whom can understand the other. As is often the case in Binder, received, conventional ideas turn out to be dead wrong.

Binder wrote some stories dealing with flying saucer hoaxes: "The Flying Saucer Boomerang" (Strange Adventures #52, January 1955) and "The Flying Saucers that Saved the World" (Strange Adventures #76, January 1957). The astronomy professor here also shows how the illusion of flying saucers can occur.

As in most of Binder's tales about flying saucers, there is a bit of special pleading, suggesting that the saucers might be real. This tale tries to explain a central objection of the idea that flying saucers are visitors from another world: "If saucers are alien spaceships, why have they never landed and made contact with humans?" Binder's tale tries to rationalize this quandary, just as other Binder stories such as "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action Comics #252, May 1959) rationalized questions in the Superman mythos.

Riddle of the Counterfeit Earthmen (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Earth astronauts land on another planet; its alien scientists refuse to believe they are Earthmen, because they do not conform to the ideas the scientists have about what Earth people must be like. This tale is just delightful. Like all the Mystery in Space stories, it is short, just eight pages, but it manages to pack a huge amount of plot into them. Although in many ways it is a serious story, both Binder's script and Gil Kane's art have a vein of humor which keeps peeping out.

The hero of this story is also named Hal Burton, just like that of an earlier Binder tale, "The Man Who Doomed a World" (1957). He does not seem to be the same character, however: the two men do not look the same, and the Burton of the earlier tale was exploring the far flung reaches of the galaxy, whereas the later story is set in a less advanced future world where humans are still exploring the solar system, here Saturn's moon Titan. The name reminds one of Green Lantern's secret identity, Hal Jordan, who was appearing for the first time that same month in Showcase. Green Lantern's artist Gil Kane also drew this tale. Burton travels along with co-pilot Gil Hardy; in Mystery in Space, spacemen often journey in pairs.

The purported Earthmen of the title look a lot like the creatures that kept popping up in Kane's early Green Lantern tales. These comic "monsters" are huge, have very long arms in proportion to their bodies, and tend to have whiskers or jowls that hand down symmetrically on both sides of their face. All of them have a comic look, more bewildered than sinister, that suggests they are a good natured parody of the creatures that appeared in 1950's monster movies. Kane's art also has other features in common with Green Lantern. The rescue of the city at the end is also like the feats GL is often performing, with a huge man made science fictional object in the air hovering over a traditional city or other non sf structure below. In the GL stories, the aerial sf object is green and made up of beams from GL's ring; in this story, the aerial object is a giant lead shield.

This shield against radiation also recalls the Argo City shields in a story Binder wrote earlier that year, "The Supergirl From Krypton", Supergirl's origin tale in Action Comics. Other typical Binder features: we see samples of the script used on Titan (presumably drawn by Gil Kane), just as we saw Kryptonese writing in such Superman family tales of the same year such as "Superman's Other Life" (1959) and "The Boy who Killed Superman" (1959) in Jimmy Olsen. And the renegades on Titan plotting dictatorship recall the renegades that often show up on Krypton in the Superman family.

Flying Saucers Over Mars (1958). Writer: Joe Millard. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. Martians begin to see flying saucers in the sky, which they suspect are from Earth. Amusing role reversal story, with many ingenious twists. The story takes place entirely on Mars. The Martians are friendly, normal beings, and not at all the monsters they were sometimes depicted in prose sf and movies. There is perhaps a bit of a political allegory here: people in other countries and other races are a lot like us. This depiction is consistent with the standard approach in the Schwartz sf magazines of depicting alien beings as "normal".

This story is a precursor to Otto Binder's "Riddle of the Counterfeit Earthmen" (1959). Many of the plot elements in Joe Millard's story recur in Binder's. Binder has added most of the scientific elements to "Earthmen", and the ideas about preconceptions of scientists - these do not occur in Millard's tale. The combination of such Binder ideas and Millard's plot elements makes for a very complex story. Millard's story in turn follows a tradition of Schwartz magazine sf stories about flying saucer hoaxes: see two tales written by Otto Binder, "The Flying Saucer Boomerang" (Strange Adventures #52, January 1955) and "The Flying Saucers that Saved the World" (Strange Adventures #76, January 1957).

Millard does a good job at depicting the two Earth spacemen in the tale as thinking beings. One of the spacemen, the more hot headed one, shows logic and skepticism in analyzing what the crooks in the story tell him, and independently arriving at his own conclusions. This character is a role model for the readers of Mystery in Space. People should not blindly accept what is told them, the story is suggesting. Instead they should try to listen with an open mind. Then they should independently compare what they have heard with what they know and what they can learn through investigation, and try to come with an accurate idea of the true facts. Such an approach is useful for scientists, and also for other areas of life. The spaceman here gives sound, logical reasons for his beliefs; Millard shows good story construction with this reasoning about the plot.

Millard treats the two Earth spacemen egalitarianly. Both make a contribution to the plot. The other spaceman, the calmer one, does not contribute to his friend's initial skepticism. But it is he who figures out how to solve the problems that ultimately confront the spacemen. Each spaceman has his own cognitive personality, and his own type of ideas he can contribute to the discussion.

Infantino contributes many Martian desert and rock landscapes here; one (p 5) with a bridge and two large rocks is especially original.

Otto Binder Cosmic Stories

The Boomerang Meteors (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Mort Drucker. Meteors that have already landed on Earth mysteriously start returning upward to outer space.

This tale includes a fascinating attack on racism. The tale allegorically refers to the Nazis and their notorious racial ideas, which the story describes as "vicious propaganda". Binder would go on to write the anti-Nazi classic "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #123, August 1958). This is plainly a subject on which he had deep beliefs.

The Boomerang World (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Frank Giacoia. Space pilot Orton Boone looks for a new source of Dynium, the only known substance that can power space travel. Binder sets his tale at a time when Dynium has almost run out, and the story is of a time when space travel has become nearly impossible.

This story has definite Cosmic elements. But it differs from many Cosmic stories in that these ideas are only one part of an intricate plot.

The Counterfeit Earth (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Joe Kubert. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. To fool war-mongering aliens, Earth creates a duplicate of itself next door in space; two returning Earth spacemen also have to figure out which planet is real. The Earth and space are Binder's subjects here, just as in "Secret of the Moon Sphinx" (1957). Binder weaves a story about them. This story is one of a series of Binder tales that I have labeled his Cosmic stories. These are tales that deal with phenomena on an astronomical scale. The events of the story are actions that happen to the solar system itself, the Earth, the Moon, the Sun and other planets. The scale of such stories is vast, and can span millennia. Binder mainly wrote such tales for Mystery in Space. They rarely appeared in other comics, even Strange Adventures. They form a precious legacy.

The aliens in the story plan to dismember the Earth; in this they anticipate Brainiac, Binder's villain who stole cities.

Binder includes one of his trademark hoaxes here. Such hoaxes were common in the Superman family, and such writers as Otto Binder, Jerry Siegel and Robert Bernstein. They are quite infrequent in the comic books edited by Julius Schwartz, however. Parts of the tale also deal in passing with another Binder interest, means of communication.

The two spacemen in this story are very similar in characterization to Tommy Tomorrow and Brent Wood. One suspects that Binder was so used to writing the Tomorrow tales that he just thought naturally in those terms.

Joe Kubert is making a relatively rare appearance in Mystery in Space here. His depiction of the two Earth spacemen, Jon Quade and Will Starr, is remarkably macho. The story stresses an idealized friendship between the two men. Both of the men are extremely grown-up; one even has a receding hairline.

Secret of the Moon Sphinx (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. An alien creature lives inside a statue of the Sphinx found by astronauts on the dark side of the Moon; he tells his story about his life on Earth in ancient Atlantis. This is one of Binder's tales of Cosmic Consciousness. The Earth, the Moon, and geological and astronomical events on both play a role in this tale. So does what you can see from various positions in space, always a favorite Binder subject in such tales.

The story also has elements of another Binder specialty: First Contact and how differences in perceptions between humans and aliens play a role. There is some good humor in this story, especially in Binder's explanation of why alien UFO's are coming to Earth. Binder always had humane values, and the UFO episode here stands in charming contrast to all the horror fantasies that fill X-Files style television shows today.

Riddle of the Runaway Earth (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. An archeologist in Easter Island discovers an alien device related to Earth's moving out of its orbit. Fascinating story that is one of Binder's best tales of very large "spaceships" wandering through space. Such tales include "Amazing Space Flight of North America", and will climax in Binder's invention of the bottled city of Kandor. The story uses another Binder specialty: the use of unusual devices and media to communicate between humans and aliens. Here, Binder shows what can be done with a planetarium.

The Sky-High Man (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Mike Sekowsky. A trip to another universe causes an astronaut to turn into a giant. For the Superman family of comic books, Binder wrote many stories of transformations. These are tales in which the hero is temporarily changed in some way. Some science fiction event will cause the hero to undergo a transformation. He will have a series of adventures predicated on his new shape and abilities. Finally, some antidote will be discovered, and it will cause him to revert to his normal self at the end of the tale. This story falls into this paradigm exactly. What is different about this tale is the scale of the transformation. When Superboy or Jimmy Olsen are transformed, they usually stay their normal size, or a least remain on a human scale. Here, however, the hero becomes a giant on a cosmic scale, much bigger than the Earth itself. And his adventures are similarly cosmic in tone.

Binder's cosmic stories are oddly similar in tone to his transformation tales. The transformation stories tend to take place against a background of everyday Earth life. The hero repeatedly uses his new abilities to interface with some interesting aspect of modern Earth culture and life. The cosmic stories tend to have the same nonchalant, friendly, low key tone. As his heroes make their way across the solar system and the universe, each new astronomic marvel they encounter is made part of some pleasant, ingenious adventure. The cosmic tales are about beings for whom the universe is simply the stuff of everyday life.

Binder's heroes tend to be contented with their lives before their transformation. Life was good, then zap! They are now 60 feet tall, or invisible. Few of them are obsessed, or in the grip of terrible anxieties or burning emotional needs. Instead they tend to be well balanced and emotionally secure. They are usually cheerful and optimistic during their transformation, resiliently adapting to each new situation. They do not tend to worry too much about their problems; instead they keep trying to find practical ways to adjust. Nor do their stories tend to lead them into conflicts of good versus evil. Just coping with their transformation is a big enough concern.

Otto Binder Cosmic Mysteries

Amazing Space Flight of North America (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Sid Greene. This story spans millennia, and generates cosmic perspectives. It reminds one of the Kandor stories Otto Binder was writing the same year for Action Comics.

Parade of the Planets (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Frank Giacoia. An alien promoter enters Earth in the Parade of the Planets, a display of planets with unusual features. This is an sf mystery; the hero and reader are challenged to guess what unique characteristic Earth has that makes it suitable for a prize in the Parade. The tale is very much in the tradition of Binder's "Amazing Space Flight of North America" the previous year. Both are sf mysteries. Both involve individual aliens with secrets who come to Earth. Both involve unusual space flights of large bodies. Both involve looking at properties of the Earth, over the cosmic perspective of millennia and great distances. Both involve much examination of maps and geography of North America. Both involve much reasoning on the part of the hero, exploring various hypothetical solutions to the mystery, before discarding them after a consideration of the evidence.

The Parade itself oddly resembles Binder's Legion of Super-Heroes. The Legion is a collection of super-beings; the Parade is an assemblage of planets. Each member of the Legion has some unusual power that makes him unique; each planet in the Parade has some special property that makes it unique. In many ways the Parade is the same concept as the Legion, but raised to a cosmic level, with whole plants as members. This is typical of the cosmic perspective of this story: everything is looked at in terms of worlds, and vast spans of astronomical time. Binder's sf mystery "Amazing Space Flight of North America" also has the cosmic point of view, as does his non-mysterious but equally cosmic "The Sky-High Man" (1959).

Binder also wrote other stories about unusual worlds. The cubical moon in this story anticipates the equally cubical Bizarro World that first appeared in Binder's "The Superman Bizarro" (Action Comics #264, May 1960). Binder also wrote about a cubical Earth and Moon in "The Square Earth" (#22, October-November 1954), a story based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. Binder included strange planets in "World at the Edge of the Universe" (Strange Adventures #60, September 1955). Both "The Square Earth" and "World at the Edge of the Universe" are minor as stories, but they point in directions of Binder's later fiction. "The Square Earth" contains the hoaxes that will play a common role in Binder's and other writers' Superman family work. And "World at the Edge of the Universe" deals with a young man from Earth trying to find acceptance into an elite group of youths from many planets, like Binder's later "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958).

Other Otto Binder SF Tales

The Great Space-Train Robbery (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. When his space ship is robbed and damaged, its Captain chooses to stay with it and protect its cargo against the obstacles of space. The first Otto Binder tale in Mystery in Space. The story is a delightful space opera. Like most of Binder's futuristic tales, it takes place in a civilian oriented, non-militaristic future. There is little emphasis on violence; there is instead much science fictional imagination and storytelling vigor.

Binder's story is based on a cover by Murphy Anderson, which shows the robbery of the "space-train". The first sentences of Binder's splash panel explicitly state what the story will be and not be about. Binder announces that he will not focus on the robbers or the robbery; instead he will concentrate on the heroic Captain. This is typical of Binder's interest in good guys. The explicit declaration of the story's subject and intent also seems Binder-like. It anticipates the complex reflective features Binder often included in his Superman family tales, such as Imaginary and Untold tales.

Elements of the plot anticipate Binder's Tommy Tomorrow tale "The Strangest Crew in the Universe" (Action #241, June 1958). Both stories:

This story reflects Binder's interest in media of communication, here live television.

Gil Kane shows his enthusiasm and skill, with art that conveys joie de vivre. The starscapes are beautiful. There is also an aerial view of one of Kane's Constructivist cities of the future (p3).

Destination -- Earth (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Young Galactic Patrol recruit Cadet Lorne Mallory must attempt a desperate solo spaceship trip to Earth with no compass to guide him.

This story is an escapist account of a heroic pilot attempting a dangerous space journey. It is not profound - but it is entertaining. It offers a wish-fulfillment for readers, to fantasize about piloting a spaceship.

SPOILERS. The final plot twist anticipates the one in Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958).

ART. Gil Kane's art is glamorous throughout. The spaceship looks cool and exciting, both inside and out.

And the hero's uniform is glamourous and sharp. It's mainly a vibrating red-and-blue, with white trim.

Rip Van Winkle of Space (#27, August-September 1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. The body of an astronaut frozen for a hundred years is revived in the advanced space civilization of the future. This is a modest but pleasant story whose plot is a little too obvious.

The tale's guided tour of the advanced future society on Mars anticipates a similar tour Binder included in his classic "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960). Both stories show education being aided by videotapes and talking books.

A later Binder tale about a man who spends hundreds of years in suspended animation is "The Man Who Lived Nine Lives" (Strange Adventures #72. September 1956). "The Man Who Lived Nine Lives" features a man from the 1600's who sleeps three hundred years and wakes up in our present. By contrast, "Rip Van Winkle of Space" is about a man essentially from our present who wakes up after a hundred years, in the future.

Sid Greene's overhead view of Marsopolis shows one of his cityscapes. Many of the buildings are purely rectilinear, somewhat atypically for him. These are intermixed with other structures that are purely circular. The overhead pattern of rectangles and circles makes a pleasing design.

Menace of the Falling Moon (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Giunta. A book dealer searches for a ten year old science fiction novel, all copies of which seem to have vanished. This story reminds one of Borges' strange story about an unusual book about another planet, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" (1940). Both tales have a strange, off center quality.

A character in the story is a noted collector of science fiction, Art Forrest. He is clearly a friendly homage to the real life collector of sf, Forrest J. Ackerman. We see the collector's book lined home; it looks just like the collection rooms of Ackerman's real life home, the Ackermansion (I've seen it in a TV documentary).

The art is by John Giunta, who later worked on The Fly. It looks different from that of the other artists in Mystery in Space.

Riddle of Asteroid 8794 (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Frank Giacoia. An explorer searches for his missing friend, a disc jockey who has been kidnapped by bad guys who are looking for some space jewels. Elements of the story recall Edgar Allan Poe's "The Gold-Bug" (1843).

What is most appealing about this story is its look at an advanced future civilization. The world is at peace, and people seem devoted to leading normal lives. The tale opens in a theme park of the future. It recalls some of the festive locales of "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958), also written by Binder, and which also takes place in a peaceful future civilization. Also appealing is the way the two men are genuine friends.

Giacoia's art shows some interesting future buildings, such as the house like structure which contains the radio station. Also neat are the space suits. They have a guardsman like look, with cross straps, shoulder flanges and high collars.

The Man Who Discovered the "Earth" (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Manny Stallman. A space explorer discovers a planet which is almost exactly similar to the Earth, but whose history differs in many small ways. Binder wrote a story using a similar approach a year later, "The "Superman" from Outer Space" (Action Comics #265, June 1960). Both stories are based on the premise that since there are millions of inhabited worlds in the universe, that there must be some that are nearly exact duplicates of Earth, down to such details as clothes, history, technology, etc. This premise is fairly common in science fiction. Usually a slight variant of it is used: the world of if. In such tales, there are billions of variants of Earth that all exist simultaneously in parallel universes. Each Earth differs from ours by some small variation in its history or technology. Binder's approach here is similar, but substitutes the limitless size of our universe to create a world parallel to Earth.

Binder's "Earth" differs from ours in not just one way, but in many ways. His hero spends most of the story discovering all the differences between the two planets. This makes Binder's story richer and more complex than many stories with this theme.

Binder's hero keeps trying to find ways to improve life on the other "Earth", but he keeps being frustrated by technological differences between the two planets. The story construction uses the typical challenge and rebuff construction that Binder often employed:

Binder repeats this cycle several times, as is typical in his challenge and rebuff tales. The hero is defeated again and again, but he is not discouraged. He keeps on trying. At the end of the tale he finally succeeds: one kind of typical Binder finale. In other Binder stories, the hero never succeeds. Note that the structure of these stories pits a human against an environment. The challenge stories typically use this approach. They are usually NOT tales about people versus people, although Binder sometimes does this too. Rather, they tend to be about a human trying to accomplish some goal, and an environment or circumstances that keep conspiring to defeat it. Note I've said "human" here. Binder is not a sexist, and many of the challenge stories have female protagonists such as Lois Lane, Lana Lang and Supergirl.

This story also anticipates Binder's "The World of Bizarros" (Action Comics #263, April 1960). As in the Bizarro World, everything is spelled differently than on Earth: the planet itself is spelled Erth. The story also emphasizes the many ways in which history or customs on Erth are the exact opposite from those on our Earth. This too anticipates the Bizarro World. The motivation here is different: unlike the Bizarro world, this planet is not supposed to be goofy or mixed up - it is simply different from Earth, an alternate approach. Still, the technique of the two stories is similar.

The Earth explorer in this story is part of a long standing family tradition. His father found new planets, and at the end of the tale he looks forward to his son discovering new worlds. The Bizarros will also evoke family life: Bizarro and his wife Bizarro Lois will have a family, as will the other Bizarro couples. So will the Hyperman of "The "Superman" from Outer Space". This theme of "alternate Earths" seems closely linked in Binder's mind with families and children. One might note that none of these planets are imaginary, or in a different dimension. There are all real planets in our own universe.

The Amazing Journeys into Space (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Murphy Anderson. A young man hopes a time machine will allow him to realize his dream of becoming a space pioneer. Idealistic story, about the pursuit of dreams. As in Binder's "The Boy Who Saved the Solar System" (Strange Adventures #95, August 1958), it stars a young man who is a scientific pioneer.

The time travel elements here fuel a complex temporal structure in the storytelling. First we see a key moment of the hero's life on the splash, then a flash back to his life story from the beginning, then travel back in time that revisits and tries to change events in the hero's life and times. This all recalls the even more complex and innovative structure of "Superman's Other Life" (Superman #132, October 1959), Binder's Imaginary Story masterpiece.

This story resembles Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). In both, a young man tries to join an elite group - here of space pioneers. In both, he must perform feats to do so. But more pressing concerns keep distracting him from doing these feats - something that has a Binder "challenge and rebuff" structure in both works. Both stories have a bittersweet quality, which is stronger here. Both also point towards similar moral lessons. There are other parallels to the Superman stories Binder sometimes wrote. The use of lead in the story recalls works such as "The Kryptonite Man" (Action #249, February 1959), in which Superman makes a lead suit against Kryptonite. And the emphasis on time travel and trying to change "fate" in common in the Superman stories of many authors; rare in the Julius Schwartz-edited sf and super-hero comics.

The splash shows busts commemorating the space pioneers we will meet later in the story; Binder's Tommy Tomorrow tale "The Space Hall of Fame" (Action #209, October 1955), features a planetoid is filled with statues of the heroes. Also Binder-like: throughout the tale, we see the heroes announcing their discoveries, often through the mass media of the future. This is typical of Binder's interest in means of communication.

The tale also recalls Binder's "The Sky-High Man" (Mystery in Space #49, February 1959). Both focus on a solitary space traveler, who embarks on a universe-wide flight full of astronomical marvels. Binder's heroes tend to be self-reliant, and resilient in the face of calamity. The sadness experienced by the hero here is fairly rare among Binder heroes, who usually respond to setbacks with a smile and an attempt to make things better. The sad, permanent difficulties he faces here recall "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960) a bit.

The feats the young man performs here are smaller in scale than the re-workings of planets and solar systems in Binder's cosmic engineering stories. But the feats still do involve the forces of space and time, and still take place in an astronomical environment. So they have many similarities, on a slightly smaller scale, to the cosmic stories.

Edmond Hamilton tales

The Comet Peril (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Murphy Anderson. In 1986, a professor of astronomy at Gotham Observatory in New York City is alarmed about what a comet might mean to Earth's orbit. We tend to associate the Cosmic story with Otto Binder, because he wrote so many in the later 1950's. However, the first Cosmic story in Mystery in Space is this one in issue #2, and it was written by Edmond Hamilton. Binder often shows a pattern in his work of being influenced by Hamilton (and vice versa). Hamilton's story is very well constructed and paced. He includes a young assistant astronomy professor, Guy Dover, who is an excellent rocket ship pilot, adding a figure of combined intellect and adventure to the tale. Hamilton and the sf comic books in general revered intellect, and both Guy Dover and the professor are figures of deep admiration in this story. The professor is like many of Hamilton's heroes in that he is out of sync with popular thought throughout the story; he always seems to be ahead of the conventional ideas around him, using his astronomical expertise to focus on the genuine issue. The professor eventually addresses the UN, the first of many such scenes in Mystery in Space. Hamilton also shows idealism by describing the future of 1986 as one of peace and prosperity.

Murphy Anderson's art is dignified, even majestic. He vividly recreates the scenes of the story, which flash all round the Earth, then move into outer space. His depiction of the tow-beam is good. He also excels at his uniformed heroes, such as the sea Captain (p5) and Guy Dover in his pilot's jacket.

The End of the World (#4, October-November 1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Murphy Anderson. A man warns that using atomic power might destroy the planet. This is a minor tale. It might have some interest to sociological critics who are interested in attitudes to atomic energy. The protagonist is one of Hamilton's outsiders who expresses ideas that are not popular with society's mainstream.

This tale is best for Anderson's futuristic suits. These are very serious and macho looking, especially the trenchcoat like great-coats the men wear over them.

The Man Who Walked Through Walls (1951). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Gil Kane. Dr. John Arden of Coast Technical University in Los Angeles develops an apparatus that allows people to walk through walls. The transparency of the walls here anticipates Hamilton's later "The Incredible Eyes of Arthur Geil" (Strange Adventures #77, February 1957). In that story, the hero can see through all walls and physical objects; here the characters can walk through walls and other obstacles. The story thoroughly explores various objects through which the people might walk. It draws a complete blueprint of what this might be like as a power. This story could easily have served as a pilot for a potential super-hero series. I do not know if its creators had any such idea in mind; 1951 was not a propitious time commercially to launch any new super-heroes, a genre that had fallen out of favor.

This tale is rich in Los Angeles local color. This is quite rare in the DC sf comics, which tend to be New York City oriented, when they are not featuring remote, exotic locations. Coast Tech, as it is referred to in the tale, is a thinly disguised version of a major real life technical university.

Dr. John Arden is depicted as one of Kane's heroic leading men. The sf magazines always presented a glamorous image for scientific heroes. He has one of Kane's snazzy costumes, one with a chest logo of a triangle within a circle. Such pure geometric figures are appropriate for Kane, whose art often follows the Constructivist approach of being built up out of geometric patterns. The costume has a control switch, which sticks out in a straight line from the front of the hero's belt. This is a very unusual effect, which I do not recall seeing in any other comic book costume. It is referred to in the script of the story, and is probably the result of a collaboration between Hamilton's script and Kane's art. At the end of the tale we see Dr. John Arden in a good suit, which is perhaps a more typical real-life garb for a professor than a super-hero costume!

The Patent Planet (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sid Greene. Solar System Agent John Carrick goes undercover to probe crimes at the Patent Planet, an entire artificial satellite created to hold patent models in the year 2256. This tale is a nice blend of science fiction and the mystery. Tales of government agents going undercover had been very popular in semi-documentary crime films, especially from 1945 to 1951. Hamilton's tale is a little later. It does have the high tech background popular in such movies, although in Hamilton, it is the whole world that is high tech, not just the hero.

The story takes place in one of Hamilton's pleasing "peace and prosperity" futures. The way the solar system is run by the United Planets Government echoes the idealistic hopes many DC sf writers had for the United Nations during the Silver Age. Hamilton's finale also shows his idealistic spirit.

Sid Greene opens the tale with one of his beautiful overhead panoramas. The landscape is cheery and joyous looking. It represents a future architecture of humanity. Greene has made the world a little less curvilinear and less surreal than some of his landscapes. It is supposed to represent the "normal", advanced world of the future.

The New Year's Eve of 2000 AD (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sid Greene. In this story, a scientist tries to prevent a disaster from happening when a bell is run on the New Year's Eve of December 31, 1999. With all the interest in the millennium today, it would be nice if this tale were reprinted, so that today's readers could see how the event was imagined in 1957.

Sid Greene's art shows his usual interest in futuristic architecture. There is a drawing of a clover leaf highway interchange that is especially beautiful. They show a excellent pattern of curved lines. I also like the depiction of some moving sidewalks.

John Broome's Early Power Stories

The Doom from Station X (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. A young man grows up under a sinister dictatorship, but an abandoned space station gives him new powers to rebel against it. This story gives a complete, sinister picture of a totalitarian state. It appeared at a time when Stalin was still alive and in power, and when Hitler had been dead only eight years. So such themes were very much on people's minds. Broome shows the whole civilian population quivering in fear under a dictator. He does not explore or consider the ideas advanced by several modern historians: that large groups of civilians in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany collaborated with their governments on their programs of evil.

Powers in Broome tend to be associated with outer space. In Green Lantern, the hero gets his from the Guardians of the Universe; here the hero obtains them from a space station. The power tends to be cosmic: Green Lantern's rays, the power rays from the space station, the new force found in "The Man Who Moved the World". These powers at first glance look like traditional comic book super powers, but there are differences. Superman's powers are located within his body. They are part of his biological identity as an individual. So are most of the super powers in the Superman family, such as those of the Legion of Super-Heroes; the same is true of Marvel super-heroes. In contrast, the powers of Broome's heroes are external: they involve a technology used by the hero, such as Green Lantern's ring or the space station here. Because of this, the powers can be shared with other people, such as the Green Lanterns of multiple worlds.

Murphy Anderson favored simple, lightly colored costumes that revealed the hero's musculature. He liked space suits, and other form fitting costumes. Here his hero is in a simple pullover shirt and pants. Such simplicity, and emphasis on depicting the body, recalls Anderson's classical approach.

The Day the Earth Split in Two (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. A couple who were born and lived all their lives on another planet return to Earth for the first time, but discover it split in two. A space metal discovered by the husband Jym Furnes provides the anti-gravity power needed to reunite the planet. Once again, a power from outer space helps save the day. Broome's dialogue points out that it is literally saving the world here - a reference to one of the most popular traditional themes of prose pulp fiction.

One could contrast this story with Binder's "The Counterfeit Earth" (1957), which appeared just four issues later. Both stories are based on covers by Gil Kane. Both covers are very similar: this tale's shows Earth split in two, "Counterfeit" shows two Earths. But the stories the two writers have constructed are radically different in approach, and reflect the two writers' literary personalities. Binder's is one of his Cosmic tales: it deals with a series of events that take place on an astronomical scale. Binder's is also an adventure story, stressing upbeat excitement and escapism. Broome's story, by contrast, is mainly political: the tale is an allegory of Cold War hostility between Russia and the West. The splitting of the world here stands for the isolation the Communist dictators imposed on the people of the countries they controlled. The way the split threatens to send one half of the world falling into the Sun evokes the terrifying nuclear standoff of the era. Broome evokes such complex ideas with extraordinary grace and naturalness. As in many of Broome's stories, we get a detailed, step by step history of the events leading up to the world split, and then its eventual cure.

Sid Greene's art is not as flamboyant here as in some tales. But he does create a consistent architecture for this future world. It emphasizes trapezoidal buildings, with titled windows.

The Man Who Moved the World (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. A young man who is rejected for most jobs discovers a power that could save the Earth from the soon to explode Sun.

Broome's early sf stories often deal with young men who are marginalized in society. They come from humble backgrounds, and grow up without influence or prospects. Then they somehow obtain enormous power - science fictional power, not conventional political power. They use this power purely for good, to help other people. Often times, they do astonishingly large things that benefit everyone. Then they become heroes of their society. They are often transformed by these events, even physically, and often wind up as different beings by the end of the tales. Such a story line clearly is a day dream or wish fulfillment fantasy. It speaks to the deep needs of a lot of people. It is interesting that Broome's characters seem completely lacking in malice. They do not use their power to pay anybody back, or to hurt others. Even Broome's villains, such as Sinestro in the Green Lantern stories, seem more interested in acquiring wealth and prestige with their ill-gotten powers, than in harming anybody.

Despite the sheer directness of this brief story as day dream fantasy, the tale is not lacking in humor. Some of the hero's job experiences seem like especially funny sf take-offs on clichés of 1950's work.

The power in this story is never fully explained, or given a deep scientific rationalization. After all, it is just a six page tale. The story is based on a cover by Gil Kane, which shows the power in question being used to move the Earth. Broome's tale was probably an attempt to "explain" Kane's cover, an attempt to include it into a meaningful story. This was a common procedure in Silver Age comics, writing a story that rationalizes an imaginative cover. The cover anticipates Kane's later Green Lantern stories, and the use of fantastic powers to perform huge, large scale deeds. As in the Green Lantern tales, the power assumes pure geometric shapes on the cover here.

John Broome and Politics, Sid Greene and Future Architecture

Honeymoon in Space (1953). Writer: John Broome. Art: Murphy Anderson. Based on a cover by: Murphy Anderson. Young newlyweds win a space-cruise for their honeymoon, on a TV program. But things go odd, especially as they near Saturn's moon Hyperion. Nice thriller-like take, with good twists and turns.

SPOILERS. Hyperion is inflammable, and all fire has been banned. This is an original science fiction idea. The tale shows a number of aspects of this, including the "chem-craft" used for travel. Broome's "The Wooden World War" (1956) shows a world without wood. Hyperion is a world without fire.

SPOILERS. Broome eventually shows his interest in political intrigue.

SPOILERS. The end of the story shows the hero as part of a hierarchical Chain of Command. His "superior", as the tale explicitly calls him, has a large black leather chair behind his desk, as a symbol of authority. There is also a phallic skyscraper visible through his large window.

ART. Murphy Anderson has a flair for drawing macho men in spacesuits. Both the cover and the closely-linked story are examples. The spacesuit has metal areas that add to its attractiveness.

There are numerous illustrations of different men throughout the tale. A systematic look at how men dress in this futuristic era is built up. For such a brief story, a lot of consistent imagination has been put into this. Men wear clothes with what seem to be lapels in front: maybe an odd type of jacket. They also wear huge colored belts, neck scarves like a cowboy's, and shoes with what look like puttees. It's a "look" unlike anything I've seen. The "lapels" are especially original.

We get glimpses of futuristic cities and architecture on Earth (pages 1, top of 2, bottom of 6) and Hyperion (bottom of page 4). This architecture is less original than the clothes. But it is still carefully futuristic. Some of the cities are seen in silhouette.

Station Mars on the Air (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sy Barry. Kind-hearted Martians discover a future Earth in which life has vanished. Complexly plotted story that weaves back and forth in time.

Many of Broome's stories deal with massive change coming about, through small, step by step increments: see "The Wooden World War" (1956) for a classic example. This story poses the question: what if someone interfered at the earliest small steps, thus altering the whole process? This is an interesting moment for Broome's focus; most of his stories show the total process of change.

ART. Sy Barry shows a Martian city, in the futuristic Art Deco mode frequently seen in the comics (p3). It is full of ramps and balconies, like a typical such city. However, Barry shows us a closer view than do many comic book artists. Details are bigger and more vivid, and their geometry plays a more forceful role in the composition. There is also an excellent view of a Martian rocket launch viewed from a balcony (p2).

The speech balloons have interesting zigzag lines.

Later, he includes an elegantly dressed Earth scientist in suit and tie.

Earth Is the Target (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. A party of scientists on Mars, working with an undercover Earthman, cooperates with a group of Earth scientists trying to thwart a Martian warlord's attempts to blow up Earth, by constructing a duplicate planet of Earth to serve as a decoy target. The duplicate Earth gets one of Broome's full "biographies". He shows how it started out as a scientific experiment having nothing to do with Mars, and gradually got involved as a defense against the dictator. Broome interweaves this Earth story with a whole tale of a Martian underground working against a dictator, one of his favorite themes.

Broome went on to write stories about aliens disguised as humans on Earth, such as "The Martian Masquerader" (Strange Adventures #67, April 1956) and "The Skyscraper that Came to Life" (Strange Adventures #72, September 1956). Here he role reverses that situation, having a human disguise himself as a Martian on Mars.

The brief sports element here reminds one of Broome's future contributions to Strange Sports Stories. It also shows how people can convince themselves of ideas based purely on social custom. This is a theme that will recur in depth in Broome's later "The Wooden World War" (1956) and other tales.

The story is somewhat typical of Broome in that it has two protagonists. One is the scientist who invented the duplicate Earth, Robert Wylie. The other is the adventure hero of the story, the man who goes underground on Mars as a Martian, Captain Ordway. Wylie gets more of the emotional development in the tale. He is also a bit more of a character with whom the reader identifies, whereas the scientist is seen a little bit more from the outside. This two-hero construction shows up in other Broome tales, such as "The Sculptor Who Saved the World" (Strange Adventures #56, May 1955). Broome always deeply admires the scientists. But he identifies emotionally more with the non-scientists in the tale, the person undergoing the adventures.

The story also contains a sympathetic Martian scientist. He reminds one of the alien, morally noble refugee from Qward in Broome's "The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts" (Green Lantern #2, September-October 1960).

The great variety of plot situations, heroes, planets and groups of characters make this a rich and complex story.

The duplicate Earth in this story resembles that in Binder's "The Counterfeit Earth" (1957). Both also anticipate the Krypton Memorial planet in the Superman mythos, created by Jerry Siegel in "The One Minute of Doom" (Superman #150, January 1962). All of these are man-made, full scale duplicates of real planets.

Greene has one of his spectacular cityscapes (p8), depicting the advanced buildings on Mars.

Mystery of the Mind-Reading Jewels (1955). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Jewels, known as telegems, are discovered that give their wearer mind-reading abilities. Well done sf-mystery hybrid. In the mystery story "The Case of the 14 Clueless Crimes" (Strange Adventures #162, March 1964), the most important clue was that there were no clues. This tale has a somewhat similar feel. Everything looks completely normal, and this itself is puzzling and mysterious, in the sf context of the story.

In his personal tradition, Broome includes a whole history of the discovery and use of the telegems. This leads to one of his two-hero stories, with the scientist who discovers the gems in the story's first part, and the detective hero in the second.

Alfred Bester had written a prose sf-mystery, The Demolished Man (1953), about a world filled with telepathy.

ROBBER BARONS. The telegems turn into a source of social power. This is a common theme in Broome's work. They become controlled, each individually, by a handful of wealthy capitalists. These capitalists remind one of the 19th Century diamond millionaires that came out of Southern Africa or the gold mining millionaires of the American West; the whole tale evokes such a late 19th Century milieu. Broome does not comment pro or con about this arrangement, and his hero is not given the ability or opportunity to change it. It can be argued that such an outcome is merely a realistic expectation about what might happen if a handful of telegems were introduced into a capitalistic society. Also, Broome has only so much room to plot in a short comics story, and this tale is already overflowing with plot inventiveness already.

However, it seems different from the sf comics' usual concern that inventions be used for the common good. Nor were robber barons of any sort common in the sf comics; their presence here seem surprising. The wealthy men seem to be using the gems to make money, and to prop up their business enterprises, rather than exerting control over the lives of their fellow men. Broome's hero does spend much effort preventing the gems from falling into the hands of a war-mongering dictator, a deep concern of all the DC sf writers.

TELEPATHY. Broome's locating of telepathic powers in objects, such as the telegems, rather than in a human telepath's mutant biology, also seems innovative. It reminds one of his Green Lanterns to come, whose powers come from the rings they wear.

Prose sf writers were often obsessed with promoting the idea that telepaths were real, and that human beings right now in real life had psychic powers. John Campbell practically turned his prose sf magazines into commercials for such ideas. Scientific experimentation has not been kind to this idea: there is little scientific evidence for the existence of psychic powers in people. By contrast, Broome has no ax to grind here. He is purely trying to let his science fictional imagination soar.

The Wooden World War (1956). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. Based on a cover by: Sid Greene. A future Earth bans the use of wood, but its antique World War I wooden airplanes turn out to be the only devices that can counteract an alien invasion. Inventive tale that has been a reader favorite over the years.

Broome shows the steps leading up to the banning of wood as a gradual, evolutionary process. Each step takes the Earth closer and closer to a complete ban. Broome often wrote stories that contained the life histories of his protagonist. A tale like this one can be considered the "life history" of an entire planet. Broome's tales containing a biography of a single hero often end with the hero taking some radical action, one that puts him at opposition to conventional ideas or values. Broome shows how the hero arrived at this position. Usually the hero starts out by sharing society's ideas, but gradually goes through a step by step process of turning away from them. Each step is small, carefully motivated, and illustrated by realistic, plausible detail that allows the reader to feel what the step was like. Similarly, in "The Wooden World War" Broome takes us on a series of plausible small stages, showing the decline in the use of wood. Each stage is illustrated by a concrete action in the life of some "typical" Earth person. Broome starts out with the "conventional" idea, our current love of wood, and shows how this gradually changes over the centuries to its complete opposite, a total ban.

Mail Rider to the Stars (1958). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. A lone rocket pilot delivers mail to far flung planets, despite all obstacles. It is notable for being one of the first depictions of a "black hole" in fiction.

ART. Probably one of the best features of this story is Sid Greene's art. There is some of his distinctive future architecture. One tower has a spiral ramp around it, reaching to its top.

There are also some good shots of the rocket ship zooming around through the asteroids. The combination of the curving lines of the rocket exhaust and the circles of the asteroids, makes for some pleasing visual patterns. Such scenes of space flight often recur in Greene's tales.

Also notable: the overhead shot of the planet Soria, showing fields and cities. Such overhead shots were typical of Greene. They show a planet in almost schematic form, with its buildings, roads, bridges looking like the miniature structures people put on electric train sets and model cities. Greene tends to emphasize the alien or futuristic quality of the planet's architecture in the stories, with spectacularly curved or designed buildings that look utterly unconventional by today's standards. These overhead schematic shots are some of the richest, most inventive artwork in Greene. Other Greene fiction with overhead vistas: "The Prisoner of Space X" (Strange Adventures #78, March 1957).

Behind the Space Curtain (1959). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. A promoter tries to hire a musician who lives on a planet that has been closed off by its government. The script is by John Broome, who was already busy writing the early Flash and Green Lantern tales. The tale clearly is inspired by the real life problems of musicians of that era in the Soviet bloc, and their difficulties communicating with the outside world. The Soviet dictators kept their people prisoners behind what was known as the Iron Curtain: the origin of the name "the Space Curtain" in the tale. The story also refers at the end to Admiral Perry, and his opening up of Japan to the outside world in the 19th Century. Broome would go on to write a major story about refugees trying to leave a dictatorial society, "The Secret of the Golden Thunderbolts" (Green Lantern #2, September-October 1960).

The raffish promoter is a type we do not always see in comics. He is clearly both a sophisticated man of the world, with lots of experience at putting on shows and concerts, both high brow and low brow, and something of a low life, a man who is always gambling on the success of the events he promotes. Greene' s illustration depicts him as 40ish, a man who has been around the block a few times. Broome gave Green Lantern a "sophisticated" background, and he is clearly at home at writing about such a world.

The concert artist is young, and has the serious refined look of a classical musician. He plays an instrument, the Crystalet, that is a combination xylophone and light organ. The 1950's were a time of real life interest in "light music", such as the Vortex Concerts (1957 - 1959) put on by filmmaker Jordan Belson in San Francisco.

Sid Greene's art rises to new heights here in its depiction of futuristic architecture on the planets of Neptune and Athena. The architecture is beautiful, featuring serene, friendly looking squares full of futuristic buildings and trees. Unlike many of today's grim visions of the future, it looks like a wonderful place to live. Green liked buildings with spiral ramps around them. He also depicted rising spirals as decorations, and towers with repeated flat disks or rings on them. His buildings often contained repeated, planar projections, all short, flange like extensions of the surface. These projections will be numerous, and packed very close together. They could be oriented either vertically or horizontally on the buildings.

Glory Ride to Pluto (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. When teleportation makes spaceships obsolete, an aging pilot and his son take the spaceship Queen Astra out for one last run. Sweet, sentimental tale that is emotionally satisfying. The son wants to be a spaceship pilot, a profession that is about to become officially extinct. He is one of many young men in Broome whose choice of a profession is in conflict with society, which does not seem to want to let them do anything.

This story resembles Broome's "The Wooden World War" in that it deals with a technology becoming obsolete. There is an interesting paradox in the story, in that today we think of spaceships as a futuristic technology, something that is yet to come, while this story is already looking ahead to their days of obsolescence.

This story has no villain. SPOILERS. Instead, the hero has to confront 1) social change, 2) a menace: the space tornado. The tale is refreshingly non-violent.

STAR ROVERS. Celebrity passengers like the TV actress and the big-game hunter (page 3), anticipate the Star Rovers, who will debut one year later in "Who Caught the Loborilla?" (1961).

COMPUTERS IN CONTROL. Technological change is not the only theme of "Glory Ride to Pluto". It also looks at a future society in which all romantic relations are determined by an advanced computer. The heroine eventually finds herself in unwilling rebellion against this. She just can't stand the man the computer has prescribed for her.

Broome wrote a number of stories in which humans revolt against the rule of a computer. Please see my discussion of John Broome Computer Stories in "Strange Adventures". There is no full scale revolt here - just a small rebellion by the heroine and then the hero. But this tale is part of the same Broome tradition.

ROMANTIC FREEDOM. This subplot can also be read as a plea for romantic freedom in general. This includes sexual freedom. The heroine and hero want to pursue their own sexual feelings. They do not want society, in the form of a computer, telling them what to feel.

The sexual freedom aspects of "Glory Ride to Pluto" are underscored by the art. The spaceship console used to fly the ship, is loaded with "phallic symbol" equipment. These symbolize sexual satisfaction for the hero. This aspect of the tale is gleeful to the point of naivete. Especially noteworthy is the hero's final triumph as a space pilot, which also cements the heroine's love (top of page 8). Phallic control sticks are standing straight up in front of him. Earlier, the hero thinks of himself as "the man at the stick of the spaceship" (page 7).

Much of the actual sexual emphasis in "Glory Ride to Pluto" is on the hero's sexuality. The combination of a call for being able to follow personal sexual desires, and a celebration of male sexuality, suggests a gay dimension or subtext to "Glory Ride to Pluto".

ART. The spaceport (page 2) is shown in one of Greene's trademark overhead landscape views. It is full of circular forms.

The spaceship controls are a terrific bunch of machinery (pages 1, 7, 8). They are one of the "drawing cards" of this kind of story: readers, including myself, wonder what it would be like to pilot a spaceship.

Mystery of the Synthetic Man (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene. This story deals with racial prejudice between humans and androids, the synthetic men of the title. It sends a strong Civil Rights message. Broome would introduce the first non-white continuing character in a Silver Age superhero comic two months later, the Inuit Thomas Kamalku in Green Lantern. Broome clearly had one of the deepest on going commitments to political relevance in the Silver Age in his stories. He was especially committed to the insulted and injured: victims of racial persecution, and refugees. His is a humane vision, one that is greatly needed today.

Stories Related to Green Lantern

Prisoner of the Electric Eye (1959). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. To help prevent an interstellar war, an escape artist faces his greatest challenge: to escape from a room guarded by four cones of light. This short but satisfying tale is by the writer-artist team that went on to create Green Lantern. The cones here are typical of the geometric shapes used by Kane. Also, the fact that the tale revolves around beams of light recalls all the rays emitted by Green Lantern's power ring.

In Green Lantern, the character that is constantly being placed in "escape proof" traps is Sinestro. Sinestro is a bad guy, whereas this tale's hero is a good guy. However, this story's magician hero actually looks a lot like Sinestro. Neither man at all looks like Gil Kane's classically handsome heroes. Instead, both men have a sophisticated, "satanic" look, one appropriate to certain kinds of stage magicians. There are also several villains in Green lantern who are actually stage performers, before they turned to a life of crime. These men also recall to a degree the hero of this tale.

Both Gardner Fox and John Broome regularly included traps in Adam Strange and Green Lantern, respectively. Fox's traps tend to be designed to kill the hero. By contrast, Broome's traps seem designed to keep someone permanently a prisoner, but not to kill him. Green Lantern was always catching Sinestro, and putting him in apparently escape proof cells, one designed to hold him permanently. When we next see Sinestro, usually in a later issue of Green Lantern, he has miraculously escaped. Soon we learn the simple but very clever gimmick he used to do this escape. These tales form little sf mysteries: the reader is challenged to figure out how Sinestro could possibly escape from his new cell. In this tale, the sf mystery element is even more heightened. The reader is actually challenged at one point by the narrator to determine how the hero will escape, based on clues within the story. This is similar to the "Challenge to the Reader" found in Ellery Queen detective novels, occurring when both the reader and the detective have enough clues to solve the mystery.

Raiders of the Waterless World (1959). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. A spaceman carrying water to another planet is the only one able to help when the planet is subject to a sneak attack by war mongers.

This story is one of the most "space opera" like of all tales in Mystery in Space.

The story is especially notable for its beautiful art. Kane does an excellent job with his space ship interior. Such interiors tend to be very elaborate in Kane's work, full of complex machinery, instrument panels, monitor windows, which are often circular. The elaborateness of the interiors make them look far more believable as real high tech space ships than many other artists' conceptions, which often seem too simplistic. Many of his stories show the space ship interior in just one or two panels; however in this tale we see it from many different angles and views throughout the story.

Broome's stories are full of life histories. In this tale, the hero has one, a series of events that stretch back into his childhood. And at the end of the story, we also see the next steps in the hero's life. Broome seems to resort readily to life stories as an aid to characterization. We see not just how people are, but how they became that way. One might also point out that the water itself in the story has a "life history". It is not in its conventional form in the story. We learn first how it got that way, and why it is being carried in space. Then we see new things that happen to it. It is almost a character, like the hero. It goes through the same sort of series of evolutionary steps as the hero in the story, being gradually transformed from something conventional to something very eccentric and unusual: the typical progression of Broome's humans. This evolution from the conventional and the ordinary to the extraordinary is Broome's typical path. At its end, the characters are at their most imaginative, their most original, and most influential and significant. They are also sometimes at their greatest opposition to society.

SCIENCE FICTIONALIZING. Broome sometimes developed plots by taking an idea, then adding science fiction ideas to it. In this tale, we start with a standard plot: the hero as water-boy for a football team. Then this idea gets turned into a science fiction equivalent: the hero delivering water vis spaceship to a remote garrison on another planet.

GREEN LANTERN. The hero of this story is one of Kane's classically good looking leading man types. He reminds one strongly of Green Lantern himself. Like Green Lantern, he is a pilot. Kane uses many of the same gestures and body postures with this hero that he later used with Green Lantern, especially while in his Hal Jordan identity. One panel shows the hero rubbing the back of his neck while mildly perplexed: this is a classic GL gesture. Another GL like posture shows him crouching over the instrument panel of his space ship. As in the Green Lantern stories, the figure of the hero is at the center of many of the compositions, the focus of Kane's attention.

Some of the effects at the end of the story remind one of the figures Green Lantern made with his power ray.

UNIFORMS: SPACE. The hero, Sgt. Carr Malcolm, wears a space pilot's uniform that looks fairly similar to Green Lantern's clothes (page 1). We eventually see that the uniform includes boots (page 5). The uniform has an erect collar, a macho feature.

The uniform has Sergeant's chevrons on its sleeves, indicating the hero's rank. Usually chevrons point upwards, and form a phallic symbol. But these chevrons point oddly downward, looking a little less macho. The angular chevrons are themselves enclosed in a black circular patch. This makes the uniform look even more geometric. The black circle with the V-like chevrons at its base seems like a female symbol. It makes Malcolm look open and receptive.

Throughout the story Malcolm is shown from above. It makes him look dominated. By contrast, his phallic spaceship is always shown from below, looking as dominating as possible.

Sgt. Carr Malcolm's uniform definitely looks confining: it has a high erect collar, long elegant gloves, a tight belt full of equipment and a complex looking buckle, and big boots.

Two other men take part in the high-ranking officer's ceremony at the tale's end. They wear uniform helmets with phallic flanges, circular ear-pieces, and intimidating metal masks over the eyes (top right, page 8). The hero is never shown in these macho helmets; only these men. By their special uniform helmets, these men are likely officers, and thus superior in rank to the hero. The two men are on either side of the hero, like cops making an arrest. The two men know how to position themselves with precision. This officially is to honor the hero during his citation; but it can also be seen as intimidation.

Super-heroes often wear masks, and the masks can be considered an influence from super-hero costumes. But their metal structure is unusual.

The high-ranking officer wears cross-straps on his chest, something we also never see the hero in (middle left, page 8). These too are dressy. The suggestion is that the officer is in a formal, dress uniform.

UNIFORMS: FOOTBALL. There's a flashback to school football events in the hero's youth. The football uniforms are old-fashioned, like something out of the 1930's. But they are combined with boots, like those of a comic book super-hero. This is typical of the costumes in the sf comics: they combine real life clothes with comic book traditions. The stadium is also traditional looking, but the lights on the football field are Kane's futuristic machinery.

The boots have wicked-looking cleats on their heel and toes: aspects of the boots serving as football uniform gear. The cleats are strongly curved.

Also making the football uniforms more science-fictional: the complex curves that modify the jerseys and trousers. And the curving lines on the helmets. These are all futuristic elements. The erect collars of the jerseys are also neat, non-standard and futuristic. (Curves are also found on the hero's space-pilot uniform. And the space-pilot uniform also has an erect collar, but one shaped differently than the football jersey's.)

The brutal looking football helmets might not be futuristic, but they are unusual. They make the players look like thugs. They shade their wearer's eyes, like a visored cap. They thus help conceal a player's individuality. So does the way in which the football uniforms have numbers but not names.

The hero's water boy uniform is in the school colors, and at first glance looks identical to the football uniforms. But it lacks their complex curves, helmet or a team number. The water boy uniform seems specially designed to call attention to the water boy's subordinate status.

PARALLELISM. The hero and the freighter captain are parallel figures. Both are in charge of peaceful spaceships transporting something to the planet Paladra. Both unexpectedly experience danger from the enemy warmongers.

Similarly, the football team and the Space-Navy are parallel organizations. Both are organized hierarchically, with men from top to bottom:

  1. An older man in charge: the football coach, the high ranking officer.
  2. A group of younger, macho men in fancy uniforms and macho helmets, who operate as a team: the football players, the two Space-Navy men in ornate masked helmets.
  3. The hero, at the bottom.
In both organizations everyone is uniformed. In both organizations the hero is part of a hierarchical Chain of Command. In the football team, the hero is evaluated by the coach, and given an angry order by a football player. Both evaluations and orders by superiors are part of a Chain of Command. Both the coach's evaluation and football player's order take place in public, with other uniformed football players watching everything that happens.

The water boy hero looks as if he is under the control of the football team, but not a full member of the team. His water boy uniform makes clear that he is not a football player. The "real" football players and the water boy have a superior-inferior relationship.

GEOMETRY AND DESIGN. Kane has set this story in a universe where everything is a geometric abstraction, except the human figures. The football helmets are modified spherical. The helmets have complex curves on their surface.

The water globes have three circles of various radii on them; the two biggest circles intersect. Plus, depending on the light, crescent-shaped shadow regions appear. Spheres are a key image in Kane's Constructivist design. They sometimes have circles inscribed on their surface, as in this tale. A beautiful panel in the story shows the hero holding a water sphere in his hand (end of page 5). It evokes classic images, of people holding globes in wonder.

The alien spaceships are also of complex design. Like much of Kane's work, they emphasize circles. They are largely flat, circular disks. At their rear they have two large vertical flanges, gripping the surface of the horizontal disk, containing the jets. These flanges are rounded with complex, 3D curves. Kane displays them at several different angles, and from the front and rear of the ship; they look surprisingly different from all these views. This demonstrates the complexity of 3D design.

Kane's futuristic machinery is full of components that look like contemporary traffic lights. These are circular patches, recessed within a cylindrical tube, that have a semi-circular projection overhanging their front, like the shield above a red or green traffic light. As in contemporary lights, sometimes the circular patch has horizontal slats over it, sometimes it does not. Such lights are very common on street corners, but otherwise this is a design that is little used in our contemporary world. Kane employs them everywhere, on every kind of machinery. They add a unique looking touch to his elaborate machines. They look distinctly different from what we are used to today.

CARR. Editor Julius Schwartz once opined that John Dickson Carr was one of his favorite authors. One wonders if Carr Malcolm's first name is a homage to John Dickson Carr.

"Terra" of the Spaceways (1960). Writer: John Broome. Art: Gil Kane. A handsome spaceship repairman romances a beautiful but haughty heiress. The couple in this tale recall Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris in Green Lantern. Like Carol, the woman here is the heiress to a great manufacturing company. Carol's firm made airplanes; the one in this tale makes spaceships. Like Hal, the hero here is employed by the woman's company, and is a subordinate of the woman. Both men are noticeably good looking, and rely on their personal charm in their wooing. However, there are some differences between the two couples, too. Hal is a successful test pilot. He always maintains a middle class status, dressing in sharp suits. By contrast here, the hero is a working class man, and his job of spaceship repairman lacks the glamour of Hal's. And while Carol actually ran her firm, and was a terrific businesswoman, the heiress here seems to be little more that one of the idle rich, cruising around on her space yacht. She is haughty and considers herself of a class above the repairman, while Carol tended to treat Hal as more of a social equal.

The story shows a refreshing lack of malice. The hero eventually impresses the heroine, but there is no Admirable Crichton style of "putting the woman in her place" here. Instead, the couple learns to relate more on a position of social equality. This is closer to Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) and other 1930's screwball comedies.

The hero's futuristic suit is close to that worn by Green Lantern. This is unusual for Kane: he had a whole repertory of futuristic costumes, and rarely reused Green Lantern's "look" in other tales. Here, there are curving designs rippling over muscles and the shoulders. Features that recall Green Lantern: the gauntlets in both cases have tight fitting sleeves.

The hero's pet is the cute little mon-cat from Uranus. It has features related to Kane's comic "monsters": big eyes and long arms. Here, however, these alien features are not on a large monster, but on a small little pet.

REPAIR EXPERT. Aaron Marc Stein wrote detective novels about his series hero, detective Matt Erridge. Matt traveled the world as a trouble-shooter fixing factories. He debuted in the novel Sitting Up Dead (1958). This is similar to the hero Jorg Randall here, who travels through space repairing vehicles.

FLYING VEHICLES. We learn that the flying vehicle known as the 'Terra" was invented by Harl Dru. They were mass-produced, and made millions for Dru. Today this business empire is run by Harl Dru II. This is like the real-life inventor of the Model T, Henry Ford. By 1960, the Ford empire was run by his grandson Henry Ford II.

Turning Ford and his car into a flying vehicle of the future, is science-fictionalizing Ford's car. Broome's stories are often constructed by science-fictionalizing some situation.

Gil Kane and Space Adventure

The Sleeping War (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. An empty star ship suddenly appears near Earth, the gift of aliens; a troop of scientists and Space Marines use it to make an interstellar flight. Gardner Fox's Mystery in Space tales put way too much emphasis on future wars. However, even a pacifist like myself can enjoy the adventures of these Space Marines. Gardner is clearly of two minds about fighting. The story pays homage to pacifist ideals. The villains are evil war mongers who attack helpless people with high tech weapons; the Marines disarm them and clean up their men with good old fashioned fisticuffs, which they claim is the traditional Marine way of fighting. At the end of the story the bad guys are disarmed, then allowed to join the futuristic UN of the era.

This story has outstanding art by Gil Kane. Kane has a distinctive style of space craft, as seen here and in the origin stories of Green Lantern. His star ships tend to have long cylindrical bodies, tapering to sleek rounded cones at the front end. Towards the base, there are two rounded rectangular flanges on either side. These rounded rectangles have nearly flat upper and lower surfaces. They make the star craft bilaterally symmetric, with a distinct upper and lower side. The space craft is shiny and metallic. It is hard to imagine anything more phallic looking.

The uniforms of the Space Marines are also outstanding. They are green, and have white sleevelets, reminding one of the white gloves Green Lantern wears over his green uniform. There are white cross straps and high stiff collars. The Space Marines have shiny silver helmets. The Marine Commander has a silver dove with outstretched wings on his helmet. This is typical of the mixed messages sent by the tale about fighting. The dove is a traditional symbol of peace. And these Marines are out to attack the thing they hate more than anything else: "warmongers". However, this is the most macho looking dove you've ever seen. It is a spectacular piece of imagery, and one that makes the Commander look incredibly sharp. One suspects that Kane is on to something here. This might be the perfect uniform for today's peace keepers, a role that soldiers are increasing asked to perform.

Other parts of the story emphasize the geometric objects out of which Kane built his Constructivist architecture. The space ship has a circular viewing port, through which we see an equally round Earth. This panel, which shows a Space Marine flying the star ship by grasping a lever and pushing a button, is one of Kane's most gratifying fantasy images. Also noteworthy are the Marines' tents, which are truncated spheres with circular flaps, one of Kane's most geometric images.

Mystery Message From Fort Nova (#67, May 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. Major David Manders of the Solar Legion of Space tries to get a new weapon he invented through to a besieged outpost on another planet. This sf story draws on French Foreign Legion fiction. This minor tale shows how deeply Gardner Fox was getting into sf war stories in Mystery in Space. The tale's chief merit is Gil Kane's art. It is similar in many ways to that of his earlier story, "The Sleeping War" (1960). The uniforms of the Solar Legion are similar to those of the Space Marines. Cross straps, stiff high collars, helmets, belts are all features in common. The uniforms are more brightly colored than the Space Marines' green: the boots are red here, not brown, and the gauntlet-like sleevelets are gold and shiny. The helmets here have flanges and visors. They have a sideburn like structure that goes down on the side of the head, leaving an opening for the ear - this is pretty cool looking. The helmets also have a cloth covering hanging down over the back of the head; this is similar to the traditional caps of the French Foreign Legion. Like many of the space uniforms in Mystery in Space, this has features that recall some tradition real life Earth uniform, combined with features typical of comic book costumes.

Kane also includes a Legion spaceship, the Flammarion, with a similar design to that in the earlier story. The enemy here also have a spaceship; it is more bluntly conical in its two parts. Like most of Kane's space ships, it is very long, narrow and nearly cyclindrical. The Earth ship is rounded at the tip and more biomorphic; the conical enemy ship is more purely geometric and Constructivist. It too is extremely macho looking. Its sheer aggressiveness is not suitable for a good guys' ship; such naked, pointed aggression is usually reserved for villains in fiction.

Gardner Fox SF Tales

Kidnapped in Space (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. An Earth atomic scientist is kidnapped by aliens, who demand he tell them Earth's atomic secrets. This tale is explicitly structured as an sf mystery, one with clues which the reader is challenged to solve. It is brief and well done. The hero goes through one of Fox's "trip to another planet" cycles: he starts out on Earth, is taken to outer space by powerful forces over which he has no control, and winds up on Earth again at the end of the tale. This is the paradigm of the Adam Strange stories, and other such individual Fox tales as "The Perfect Planet" (1952). As in other Fox mysteries, the hero has to penetrate what is illusion and what is reality.

The Case of the Counterfeit Humans (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: John Giunta. Aliens on another planet disguise themselves as exact duplicates of an Earth astronaut, thus confusing his partner as to which one is the real human. This is a brief, clever story that thoroughly explores the difficulty of telling the real human apart from his impersonators. The ideas in this tale would be frequently revived in both the Superman family and the Schwartz magazines: see "The Plot Against Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #71, September 1963) and "Trail of the False Green Lanterns" (Flash #143, March 1964). The story involves Fox's familiar theme of doubles.

Interplanetary Enemy Number One (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: John Giunta. A Earthman is put on trial for murder before a jury composed of aliens from many planets. This is a combination of the sf story and the courtroom mystery. It is well done, and one wishes there were more such sf-mystery hybrids. The ingenious trick his defense attorney uses has nothing to do with science fiction, and would have worked just as well for Perry Mason. Fox wisely keeps the reader from knowing whether the hero is innocent or guilty till the end of the story, thus adding suspense and mystery. The solution to the mystery is related to, but different from, one Fox would use in his Adam Strange tale, "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (#59, May 1960). One small flaw: Fox does not give the reader quite enough clues to deduce the solution.

John Giunta once again shows his skill with aliens. They always look dignified and intelligent in his stories, as well as strikingly different from Earth people. He tends to show aliens as members of highly civilized societies. His stories tend to have a whole range of alien beings - this tale, like Giunta's "The Boy Who Saved the Solar System" (Strange Adventures #95, August 1958), shows beings from the entire solar system.

The Unknown Spaceman (1953). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Bob Oksner. When aliens are about to land on Earth for the first time, everyone begins to speculate about what they look like. Clever story which goes through a huge variety of imagined alien creatures in just a few pages. The human characters in the tale are in the position of Fox and Oksner, trying to come up with ideas about what aliens might be like. This gives the tale a reflexive or recursive quality. It is the sort of brief, imaginative philosophical fable that one associates with Borges. There is an attempt to include people of many races in the tale; among the human characters are people from India, and Navajos. The end of the story also contains a lesson against prejudice. Alien beings in sf stories of the 1950's and 1960's frequently stood in allegorically for people of other races.

Two night sky scenes drawn by Bob Oksner are memorable: one on page 2, showing trees on a hill, with the night sky in the background, and a final shot of the monument on page 6, with the stars in the background.

Riddle of the Vanishing Earthmen (#32, June-July 1956). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Aliens threaten to destroy Earth with an advanced weapon. This is a not-bad little tale of interstellar adventure. Earth people show ingenuity, not force, in their response to this situation, in Fox's traditional manner.

The tale's most interesting feature is Sid Greene's art. The splash shows an aerial landscape of the alien planet. Unlike many such Greene views, this one contains not cities, but chains of mountains over the planet's surface. The zigzag mountain ridges form pleasing, almost abstract patterns of design, that remind one a bit of abstract-expressionist paintings. The story contains some later aerial views as well.

Mystery of the Moon Sniper (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. A colonist from Antares makes himself the double of an Earth scientist, then tries to take over Earth. Everything in this story works smashingly. The tale reflects Fox's theme of the double.

Infantino's art has the multi-media features of his work on The Flash. Especially notable here: a trip into the Fifth Dimension, a place where everything is represented by sketchy art. This conveys an impression of how immaterial and vague everything is in this other dimension. The art looks exactly like a traditional "rough sketch", something we are not used to seeing in the realistic world of the comic book. The transition to the other dimension is interesting too, the brilliant energy represented by radiating lines and the hero's moving hair. I also liked the depiction of the starry skies of outer space, and a star map on a wall. Antares has one of Infantino's Art Deco cities, and the colonist builds a tower on Earth not unlike the Potsdam Tower that seems to have inspired so much of Infantino's architectural work.

Mutiny in High Space (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. This story deals with a mutiny on a space ship. It is in the tradition of such popular 1950's works as The Caine Mutiny (1951). As in that novel, Fox includes an elaborate trial scene. However, the sf background of the story allows Fox to introduce some ingenious plot twists. Fox has also coined some lingo for space flight.

ART. Greene's art contains one of his elaborate outer space scenes: here it is a swirling region full of cyclones.

The uniforms combine space suit features with elements of traditional sailor suits; they are a clever visual pun. Like most of Greene's space uniforms, they have a rounded quality. Greene's space suits tend to be less like 19th Century European army officers than are Gil Kane's. The men usually wear slipper like shoes, not boots, and the collars are usually not the stiff military collars of Kane's. Greene's collars tend to be wide, and follow the curve of the shoulders and chest, not erect. They tend to be rounded, and look as if they are stuffed. They look very firm, like the pillow or arm rest of a sofa. All of the clothes worn in Greene tend to be very rounded: the shoes, the collars, the arms and chest. One sees muscles under these clothes components, each of which bulges out to form a three dimensional rounded surface.

Weapon of the Giant Brains (#65, February 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Space-Fleet Admiral Jeffrey Cooper seeks help from a planet full of advanced brains that live underground; they request a flask of Earth sea water in return. He is trying to stave off a group of evil alien invaders called The Strann. This is a not bad tale. The Strann remind one of The Shing, in such Ursula K. Le Guin novels as City of Illusions (1967).

Greene's art contains an impressive picture of the vault filled with all the brains. He also does a good job of illustrating Cooper. Although our hero is already an Admiral, he looks about 30! He is clearly every boy's fantasy of a space traveling hero - he wears a space suit through the entire tale. I enjoy this sort of wish fulfillment, vicarious adventure, too.

Our Home is in the Stars (#65, February 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. A young man is trained to have a "homing" instinct, like a pigeon. This starts out as an interesting idea, but the tale eventually degenerates into militarism and a lot of fighting.

Fox's heroes often spend their whole lives searching for things. Each step takes them a little closer. A moral is being drawn, about the nature of scientific search, and the endless perseverance it requires. These stories also double as bildungsromans, tales of young men growing up, although Fox does not lean on this aspect heavily.

The best part of the story is the Art Deco house the young man's family lives in. We see two views, from the front and the side. It has curvilinear shapes, and is really cool looking. The story is set a little bit into Earth's future, and Infantino is projecting what a typical futuristic Earth dwelling will look like.

The Language-Master of Space (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A young expert in linguistics has many space adventures, including tricking a group of aliens who are trying to invade a peaceful planet. This story is narrated in the first person by its young scientist hero; this is a pattern Fox and Greene will repeat later in "Next Year -- Andromeda" (1963). Our hero has an intense wanderlust, and a desire to visit as many planets as possible, and to learn as much about their languages as possible.

ART. Sid Greene has an astonishing variety of space ships in his tales. The central region of the star ship will often consist of more than one component, arranged in a sequence along the main axis of the ship. A space ship can consist of two large components, or of up to a dozen small ones. Often there is a smaller component inserted in a depression in a larger one. The effect is something like an orange juice squeezer, with its central cone emerging from a round basin inside the larger bowl. Each component tends to be radially symmetric. One can consider each of these components to be "surfaces of revolution", the result of revolving a curve around the axis. Sometimes these components are straightforward cylinders or cones; more often they are the surface of revolution generated by what are themselves complex curves.

Greene uses similar shapes on weapons. These weapons are usually the size of modern day tanks, or larger; they are not hand held weapons. They tend to be made up of similar series of components, each radially symmetric and the result of the rotation of a complex curve. The weapons also use the "insertion of a smaller component (higher on the axis) inside a circular depression in a larger component (lower on the axis)" construction used by the space ships. There is one common set of Greene design principles here that are applied to large constructed objects, whether space ships or weapons.

Usually on Greene's star ships, there are three projections, sometimes flanges, sometimes rockets. Unlike Gil Kane, whose space ships tend to be bilaterally symmetric with an upper and lower surface; Greene's tend to be tri-symmetric. Most of the main components of the ships are round, and fully radially symmetric; off these center regions, there usually are trilateral projections, such as flanges, rockets and so on. These projections can be elaborate; the central cylinder will have rockets attached, which in turn will have flanges, for instance. Sometimes even the flanges will have flanges. The rockets tend to be large, radially symmetric series of components themselves. They use the same "insertion" design principles found in the central axis of the space ships, and it Greene's weapons. This introduces the principal of recursion into Greene's construction. A space ship can be made of large components in its central axis; projecting along it in three directions are three rockets, each on which also consists of a series of components, smaller in radius but following the same design principles.

There are two other common design features of Greene ships:

Gardner Fox SF Tales: Based on Fox Cycles

Gardner Fox often built his plots out of what I've dubbed Fox cycles. A Fox cycle is: a repeatable series of plot events that leave its protagonist in the same state at the finish as at the beginning. Please see my article on Adam Strange for a detailed discussion of Fox cycles.

The Perfect Planet (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Frank Giacoia. An Earthman trying to invent an interstellar drive accidentally goes to a planet where all his day dreams mysteriously come true. This story anticipates Lem's Solaris, although it is much cheerier! Frank Giacoia's art showing super-beings is excellent. I also liked the hero's uniform. With its big collar, epaulettes, striped trousers and circle emblem on the chest, it is pretty cool looking.

FOX CYCLE. This tale is structurally similar to Fox's "The Dream Adventurer", in the next issue. These tales form an early example of a Fox cycle. As usual, the hero ends up where he began, at the conclusion of the cycle. The cycle has these steps:

  1. Both stories start out with a hero who is moderately dissatisfied with his Earth life.
  2. Both move next to a highly satisfying dream world, in which the hero gets to live out his most pleasurable day dreams. This fantasy world is solipsistic: the hero is the only real person there; everything else is an illusion. These tales are very close to modern ideas of Virtual Reality.
  3. The hero then leaves his pleasant fantasy, and goes back permanently to the real world.
  4. Here he makes a major scientific discovery, and has a strong positive effect on the lives of the people around him.
  5. He gets the Solar Medal of Honor.
  6. The hero resumes his daily life, with a new perspective on reality.
The article on "Explorers of the Crystal Moon" (Strange Adventures #56, May 1955) lists other comic book tales about virtual reality.

The Dream Adventurer (1952). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Bob Oksner. A man who is too weak physically to travel to other planets experiences them through virtual reality-like "dream movies"; later he innovates as a scientist.

The hero's moving in and out of the dream world resembles Adam Strange's passage to Rann and back. The hero here fantasizes about fighting villains and rescuing the heroine, just as Adam Strange does on Rann. It is perhaps odd that what is presented as reality in the Adam Strange tales is constructed as fantasy here. Fox would not repeat this virtual reality approach in later tales; instead in Adam Strange and other later stories, he would insist on the hero's adventures as being real.

One can see Fox's pacifist convictions here. The hero fights in his dream sequences, but does scientific invention in reality. One sees a message about what is valuable in the real world: science, not war and combat.

The Surprise Package Planet (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. Captain Samuel Jenkins and his crew have a series of misadventures after they land on a deserted planet.

PLOT. This story falls into two parts: the first deals with the city discovered on the planet, the second with metals on the planet. Each part is relatively independent of the other, and has its own plot. They are similar in tone, however, being complexly plotted sf adventures that lead to frustrating and bewildering experiences for the Earth explorers.

The first half's plot is ingenious. In its complexity, bringing in a historical series of events, it anticipates "The Sleeping Peril of Mars" (1961), although it covers a much shorter period of time. In its conflict between surface appearance and underlying reality, it anticipates Fox' Star Rovers series to come.

Events in both halves are initially mysterious. It is Captain Jenkins who figures out what is going on, in each half.

FOX CYCLE. Each part is based on its own Fox cycle: a circular series of events that come full circle to their original state at the end. For an in-depth discussion of Fox cycles, please see the article on Adam Strange. Fox frequently used such cycles to construct his stories.

Typically, a Fox cycle will be repeated more than once, either within a particular story, or across a series of stories. The first half's plot is different: it occurs exactly once. However, the characters realize at the end (page 9), that if they go through the space-warp again, that the whole first half's plot will repeat again. This establishes the first half's plot as a true Fox cycle. (The characters choose not to go through the space-warp again, not wishing to repeat the events.)

The story implicitly suggests that the second half's plot will recur every time night falls. However, this is not discussed. So perhaps I am going too far, in suggesting that the second half's plot is a true Fox cycle.

TECHNOLOGY AND FOX. The spacemen make a spectrogram of the ship (page 7). Spectroscopic analysis is used by the heroes of Fox's "Starro the Conquerer" (The Brave and the Bold #28, February-March 1960), the first Justice League of America tale.

A wire recorder is used by the spacemen (page 3). A wire recorder also appears in Fox's "The Slave Ship of Space" (Justice League of America #3, February-March 1961).

HIERARCHY. The spaceship emphasizes hierarchical chains of command. The Lieutenant calls the Captain "sir" (page 2). The plaque goes out of its way to credit an accomplishment as by "the officers and crew of the spaceship" (page 3). See my discussion.

MOTIVES. The depiction of the spacemen is mixed. Their uniforms and glamorous appearance are likely designed to be fun.

But it is also clear that something seriously bad is at the core of their mission. They need the planet's metal to fuel their spaceships and power their weapons (page 3). This is a militarized society centered on the building of weapons. The story does not directly critique this. But the many disasters they face have a dark comic edge. It suggests the spacemen's failures are something to be celebrated. They are bad people getting a comeuppance.

Oddly we do not see these spacemen doing any fighting. Instead the tale emphasizes their constructive actions: building a city, running scientific tests. These are skilled activities, which a good society could turn to better uses than making weapons. These positive skills add a layer of ambiguity to the portrayals of the spacemen. They are people with a bad mission but good skills.

ART. Anderson does a good job with the Captain and crew. They are typical of his macho men, here looking muscular in some of Anderson's best space suits. The Captain's brush-cutted hair is always visible, even under his glass domed breathing helmet. His crew wear solid helmets with repeating sector ridges on the helmet flange. Flanges are a glamorous form of display. The space suits have a machine-like quality, with what look like rivets in a metal collar.

The Captain and his men look highly capable and tough, which adds to the quiet comedy of their endlessly unexpected encounters with strange phenomena on the planet. These men of action would clearly much prefer to encounter a fight, rather than the intellectually puzzling, jaw-droppingly mystifying and surreal events with which they keep having to deal.

Anderson's futuristic city is also good (page 2). It is full of curving ramps, and follows Anderson's own individual traditions of such cities, as in his "The Doom from Station X" (1953). There are later interesting illustrations of the city as well (pages 4,5), the latter with a rocket blasting off nearby.

The flying construction platforms are also neat (page 4). They are a technological dream fulfillment, merging flying and technological construction power. They are full of phallic equipment of every type, from control levers to ray-beams.

As a science fictional idea, the rapid construction is fascinating. It's a high point of the story, both as science fiction and as art.

Secret of the Scarecrow World (1958). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by: Gil Kane. A new teleportation device accidentally leaves a giant scarecrow off Earth's North Pole. This story shows many Fox techniques and themes:

FOX CYCLE. The story features a Fox cycle - for a discussion of Fox cycles, please see the article on Adam Strange. This Fox cycle is simple, but complete:
  1. Teleportation from one location to another.
  2. Then back again, to the original location.
As usual in Fox cycles, this leaves the original situation unchanged at the end.

This cycle is close to the zeta-beam cycle in the Adam Strange stories:

Another structural use of the cycle recalling other Fox tales: the story includes a "change of protagonist for the cycle, on a massive scale", as in the Adam Strange tale "Planets of Peril" (Mystery in Space #90, March 1964).

This story also deals with another Fox concept: the cycle with a flaw in it. The time travel in "The Two-Way Time Traveler" (Strange Adventures #143, August 1962) is also flawed. Fox's dialogue actually uses the word "bug" to describe this engineering problem: an early use of this computer term in a fiction story.

COVER AND STORY. While the story is based on a cover by Gil Kane, it twists the cover situation around, giving it a different meaning than it has in Kane's cover. It is more a rationalization of the cover, a plot dreamed up to "explain" it, than a straightforward use of the cover's idea as a story premise. This is typical of the way Fox did not always closely use Kane's cover concepts.

The Runaway Space-Train (1959). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Gil Kane. Based on a cover by Gil Kane. A train full of Earth tourists is transported to an alien planet; meanwhile aliens impersonate them on Earth and continue their tour. This light hearted story is one of the sunniest and most delightful Mystery in Space tales.

DOUBLES. The story has a two part construction: the Earth people undergo a tour of the galaxy, while the disguised aliens undergo a similar tour of Earth. Both of these events are mirror images of each other. This continues Fox's theme of doubles, characters who mirror each other's condition and behavior. As in many Fox tales, such doubles involve actual impersonation. The aliens have only good motives: they want to take a tour of Earth, and this is their standard way of seeing other planets. It is often the good characters in Fox who impersonate, not the bad guys. The impersonator is often the good guy hero of the story.

PROCESSES. Each tour group is attacked by bad guys. The unexpected presence of aliens on the Earth train and humans among the outer space tour group causes these twin attacks to fail. This plot development also follows Gardner Fox's personal approaches of story construction. First of all, each attack by bad guys is part of a well defined process. For example, when robbers hold up the train on Earth, the attack follows the time worn script of such hold-ups as seen in countless Western movies. The reader knows every step of this process, and knows exactly what to expect of such a train robbery under "normal" circumstances.

These circumstances are not normal, however: there are aliens on board the train. These "out of place" characters cause the train-robbery process to go awry in delightful ways. This use of out of place characters who interfere with a process or cycle is a Gardner Fox paradigm of plot construction. He employs it above all in his Adam Strange tales, where the presence of Adam Strange typically interferes with the cycles of the menaces attacking Rann. The article on Adam Strange discusses this in depth.

Note: A process like "train-robbery" differs from a true Fox cycle. A Fox cycle leaves the protagonist in the same state as the beginning. By contrast a train-robbery leaves people in a different state from their start: the passengers are poorer and the robbers are richer. Despite this difference, a process like train-robbery is otherwise close to a true Fox cycle.

FOX CYCLE. Each half of the story can be considered as an example of the following Fox cycle:

  1. Good guy passengers are taking a tourist trip on some public vehicle (a train or spaceship).
  2. Thee aliens from a war-mongering planet tale control of the vehicle.
  3. The aliens start a well-known criminal process (robbery or highjacking).
  4. Unexpected passengers on the train, use their unique backgrounds to defeat the criminal scheme.
This cycle is run twice, once in each half of the story.

ART. This tale contains one of Gil Kane's most elaborate alien cities. He often uses repeated elements in his architecture: a series of curved forms repeated again and again in a row, for example. One of the main buildings is a large sphere, with various planar extensions. It looks a great deal like one of El Lissitzky's Prouns.

The Magic Lamp From Space (1960). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Murphy Anderson. A scientist finds a magic lamp on another planet, which he uses to battle an evil green cloud which destroys planetary life. Fox and the other Mystery in Space writers often evoked legends and myths in their tales; here the hero finds a "magic" lamp that can grant wishes, just like Aladdin's lamp. The lamp works off principles of alien science: it is not really "magical". Like everything else in Mystery in Space, it is science fiction, not fantasy or supernatural fiction.

FOX CYCLE. Use of the lamp involves a typical Gardner Fox cycle. The hero has to transform himself as part of this cycle. Later, at the end of the story, a mass group of protagonists undergo the lamp cycle: a typical Fox use of a cycle in his plot constructions. Still, it makes for a very startling effect, as always in a Fox tale where the cycle protagonists change into a mass group.

ART. The alien planet buildings in the story show Murphy Anderson's interest in classical architecture. The buildings tend to be fronted by columns, topped with arches or low domes, like that of Ancient Rome's Pantheon. The effect is very similar to that of Ancient Greece or Rome. However, the buildings are much larger and more solid looking: they are the products of an advanced alien civilization. There are many towers, and many of the buildings have features of the modern Bauhaus school. Background shots of the city often show a skyline of buildings in silhouette, a common feature as well in Carmine Infantino. There are differences between the two artists, however: Infantino's cities are fully Art Deco, whereas the only Deco feature in Anderson are the rings on some of the buildings. The towers in Anderson's silhouettes are all carefully separate from each other, too, unlike Infantino.

Clothes in Anderson include his typically elegant, form fitting space suits. Soldiers in the tale are in Guardsman like uniforms, with helmets, gloves, belted tunics and striped trousers - there is a bit of a comic opera effect.

The Sleeping Peril of Mars (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A plot about sleeping sickness on Mars intersects with a tale about an alien invasion. Fox had a fascination with stories about mass sleep descending on an entire population. This is one of his most elaborate and complex.

FOX CYCLE. The attacks of sleep can be considered a cycle, in the Fox sense. The cycle consists of:

  1. Being awake.
  2. Undergoing a long sleep of many years that interrupts daily life.
  3. Then waking up again good as new.
As usual in Fox cycles, the state of the protagonist at the end is the same as at the beginning.

Here Fox goes through nearly four complete iterations of the cycle, with a different protagonist each time. Fox rings every possible change on the protagonists the sleep affects. Changing protagonists in different iterations of a cycle is a Fox tradition of story construction.

Intersecting with this is another cycle about alien invasion. Using one cycle to affect another cycle is a Fox tradition: here the sleep gives our hero a chance to outwit alien invaders.

As one can gather from this description, Fox manages to pack a huge amount of plot into just a few pages here. Readers who've spent the last ten years reading nothing but modernistic short stories in which, essentially, nothing happens, will find this tale giving them especial cultural shock.

ART. Sid Greene's art is at its delirious best. He manages to trot out nearly every signature theme of his personal style, and portray them at their most dynamic:

Captain Baboon's Space War (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Mike Sekowsky. A man with the ability to change minds with animals goes undercover as a baboon to thwart an invasion by a dictator.

SOCIAL COMMENTARY. This is an entertaining tale that paints a powerful negative portrait of a war-mongering dictator and his thuggish bodyguards. Dictators were a major worry in the year 1961, and Fox gives a full picture to his young readers as to why he finds them so objectionable.

Fox's protagonist is a former Earth military hero who has grown "tired of war", and who has started a new peacetime career among the stars. The ambiguity of this character summarizes Fox's contradictory attitudes towards war and peace. On the one hand, the character expresses pacifist attitudes of disgust for war, and suggests that mature vision will reject it. On the other hand, he is a full fledged military hero whose youthful exploits are seen in flashback.

FOLKLORE. Fox's character's new career of spreading plant life among the stars is explicitly suggested by the Earth legend of Johnny Appleseed. Fox often included events in his tales suggested by Greek mythology; here he is using American folklore.

FOX CYCLE. Our hero's ability to exchange minds with animals is a Fox cycle, in the formal sense:

  1. The protagonist changes minds with an animal.
  2. He switches back to his own body again.
Like all Fox cycles, the protagonist is in the same position at the end as at the beginning.

As in many Fox stories, we see several complete iterations of the cycle in the course of the tale.

The cycle also keys in with Fox's theme of doubles: here the hero and his animal alter egos form doubles who trade places with each other.

ART. Mike Sekowsky is well known today for drawing the Justice League of America. He also did the first stories of Adam Strange in Showcase, before Carmine Infantino took over the character. Here his art is most notable for drawing the space men who are the hero's former military colleagues and friends. They are extremely macho, and evoke an era in American life and its conceptions of manhood, with their space suits and their crew cuts.

Mann Rubin Tales

Cowboy on Mars (1952). Writer: Mann Rubin. Art: Jim Mooney. A cowboy, a member of the Cattleman's Protective Association, is transported to Mars, where he enters a Martian rodeo and tracks bad guys. Entertaining blend of the Western and the sf story. Rubin left an opening at the end, suggesting that the cowboy might return to Mars and fight bad guys again, but as far as I can tell, no such sequel ever appeared.

This story shares formal elements with Rubin's next story for the magazine, "The World Where Dreams Come True":

Having a hero linked to a Cattleman's Protective Association, is a fairly standard gambit in Westerns. Such characters function as cowboy-detectives. The hero of the Western movie The Last Stand (Joseph H. Lewis, 1938) is a cowboy hunting down a murderer. He joins forces with a local Cattlemen's Association, who are trying to discover some cattle rustlers.

The World Where Dreams Come True (1952). Writer: Mann Rubin. Art: Alex Toth. Sf writer Marty Reed is transported to Venus, where mobster gamblers exploit his prophetic dreams to predict racing outcomes. Marty Reed is the first sf writer character to make an appearance in Mystery in Space. He is the start of a long tradition of sf writers that will appear as heroes in the sf comic books, a series that will culminate with Gardner Fox's "Flash of Two Worlds" (The Flash #123, September 1961). Like his successors, he gets his story ideas through visionary means - in this case, he dreams their plots. Also like his successors, his story ideas turn out to be based on reality. All of these sf writers will eventually get involve in real life adventures, based on their talent. Unlike many of the later stories, this tale does not give a clear, logical explanation of how the writer's dreams are linked to sf realities. Despite this flaw, this pioneering story is a clever piece of fiction.

Marty Reed is clearly a glamorous projection of Mann Rubin himself: note the similarity of initials. This too is the start of a tradition: Gardner Fox will later write a story about sf writer "Gregory Farmer". All of these writers will visit an editor, and try to sell him their work. As in some of the later stories, the author is a highly glamorized figure, while the editor is a fatherly person who is much more everyday looking. In many of the later stories, the writers mainly write for comic books; here the hero writes instead for a prose science fiction magazine, "Wild Worlds". Great things happen to Marty: his editor pays him a huge bonus, enabling him to buy a new car! He looks extremely affluent anyway, in his pinstripe suit.

This story thoroughly denounces gambling, which is treated as a destructive vice. This is one of several anti-gambling tales that will appear in the DC sf magazines. All of the DC sf comic books were very straightforward about presenting their opinions on social issues.

The Seven Wonders of Space (1952). Writer: Mann Rubin. Art: Bob Oksner. An Earthman helps Jovians collect material for an exhibit, that will show the greatest wonders of the planets. This nice, low key tale is both a museum story - always a popular setting in the DC comics - and a travelogue of the Solar System, also a tradition.

Other Stories

The Chain Gang of Space (1954). Writer: Jack Miller. Art: Jerry Grandenetti. Based on a cover by Murphy Anderson. Kidnapped scientists mysteriously appear in cages floating in space. This story is a strange stew of incidents and sf ideas: Similar space-cages will pop up on the cover of "Crisis on Earth-Two" (Justice League of America #22, September 1963), art once again by Murphy Anderson.

The heroine who has to fight going to sleep to avoid an alien take-over will recur in "The Sleeping Doom" (Lois Lane #18, July 1960).

MYSTERY AND DETECTION. The cage scene contains a mystery puzzle: Which planet is behind the crimes? Duncan Blair solves this mystery. Along the way, he uncovers an ingenious hidden aspect of the mystery. And he uses a clue he notices to do it. Both as a mystery puzzle and example of detective work, this episode is solid.

ART. Jerry Grandenetti's spaceport (page 2) is a sea of verticals, mixing Art Deco towers with equally vertical rockets. The narration says this is Spaceport 18, and one of the towers has an 18 at its top. More futuristic buildings can be glimpsed at the end (top right of page 6).

The spaceport also shows a man in a striking futuristic uniform, with a gleaming helmet, shoulder projections, cape and gauntlets. The heavy gauntlets have the same S insignia as his ground vehicle. The S might stand for Spaceport.

The uniform is dark orange and black-brown, with purple cape and gauntlets. The hero's spacesuit will be in the same colors, dark orange with purple trim.

The pilot's console of the hero's spaceship is juttingly phallic (page 1). Two circles on either side of the erect console add to the symbolism.

The hero's spaceship is phallic, with a rounded tip and two struts at its base (top of page 3).

The hero's spaceship reappears for the big final homecoming celebration. People are looking up at it. The political leaders are in shiny top hats, white tie and tails for the celebration. Top hats are also phallic symbols. Please see my list of comic book characters in white tie and tails.

The Science-Fiction Story That Saved the Earth (1954). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Carmine Infantino. An astronomer asks to science fiction writer friend to write a story based on the astronomer's idea. Nicely done tale.

This story is a bit atypical for the sf comics, in that its hero is not a scientist, but rather a science fiction write. The writer wears tasteful sports clothes rather than a suit, indicating he works an home and by himself. He is very dignified, as authors generally were in American popular culture of the era.

The story-within-the-story is very interesting. It is full of science fiction ideas. But we never learn if it has any protagonist or characters. Instead it is pure science fiction events. This works fine in a nested tale-within-a-tale - because the frame story has characters, such as the writer and the astronomer. But it would be harder to publish in Mystery in Space if it were the sole substance of the story without the frame.

Sid Gerson stories

Planet in Reverse (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Alex Toth. A man leaves for Humanity's first trip to Mars; at the same time a Martian blasts off on Mars' first trip to Earth. Odd, inventive story showing difficulties of First Contact. First Contact was a frequent subject in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. But such tales usually featured the creativity employed to establish successful First Contact. "Planet in Reverse" shows the difficulties and obstacles instead.

"Planet in Reverse" is also interesting form and structure: it tells two stories in parallel, one about the human going to Mars, the other about the Martian going to Earth. There are many parallelisms and especially reversals, between the two tales. This gives the tale ingenuity and formal interest.

The Super-Luck of Mr. Luke (1954). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Frank Giacoia. Luke, a prospector in the asteroids, keeps finding his claims being jumped by two crooks.

ART. Giacoia has vivid art in the tale. The sky full of asteroids (page 5) is the sort of rich starscape favored by Mystery in Space artists.

Also very nice is the map of the asteroids (page 4). Comics allow such diagrammatic maps and blueprints to be intermixed with other kinds of visual material. The map is full of the same sort of small spheres as the starscape.

Interplanetary Insurance, Inc.

The Thought Pirate (1953). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Carmine Infantino. Bert Brandon tries to track down space pirates, but is captured by them instead. This is the second Interplanetary Insurance, Inc. tale, and the first in which Brandon gets his role as insurance investigator (in the first tale he was an insurance salesman, a less interesting role for fiction).

This tale is an amusing riff about pirates, depicted here with traditional characteristics. The tale is a bit of a comic burlesque of the typical pirate tale. The head pirate's beautiful niece Betty adds comedy.

The best part of the tale: the science fiction animal "parcat" (which I guess rhymes with "bearcat"). It's original in conception, and gets the best scenes in the story. Its actions are the main things that make "The Thought Pirate" different from a typical, routine pirate tale.

ART. Infantino does a good job again with one of his specialties: the night sky in outer space (page 2).

The Runaway World (1954). Writer: Sid Gerson. Art: Carmine Infantino. Interplanetary Insurance, Inc. investigator Bert Brandon tries to help a society whose planet is about to be destroyed by a runaway star. This tale has a lively, logically constructed plot, with many interesting developments. While not grim, it is less farcical than many of the I.I.I. stories, as well as being more internally consistent.

SIMILARITIES TO SPACE-CABBY. The ten "Interplanetary Insurance, Inc." tales ran from #16 (October-November 1953) to #25 (April-May 1955), all created by the Sid Gerson - Carmine Infantino team. They came to an end around the same time that Space-Cabby became a regular series. Both series:

If the Space-Cabby tales have a slight edge over those of the I.I.I., it is partly because the Cabby's profession of piloting his cab among the stars is more directly science fictional, and partly because his stories tend to show more imagination.

ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN. The plot requires Infantino to depict the architecture of Cetus as ramshackle. He uses his typical futuristic Art Deco buildings, but has them tilting in all directions, and with windows coming loose from the buildings. Deco aspects aside, the whole thing looks like the slap-happy architecture of the Bizarro World to come. (You can learn more about the Bizarros in my articles on Superman and Superboy.)

An overhead view of an apartment interior, shows Infantino's interest in modernistic, geometric furniture. The furniture's style is both related to, and distinctly different from, the furniture Infantino will create some years later for The Flash.

France E. Herron stories

The Human Fishbowl (1955). Writer: France E. Herron. Art: Carmine Infantino. Based on a cover by Ruben Moreira. Martians cause bodies of water on Earth to rise up in the air against gravity; they accidentally bring humans with them.

Joe Samachson tales

There's No Place Like Earth (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Sid Greene. The hero trails a man on the street who he suspects is an alien, and for whom the laws of nature seem to be different. Otto Binder had written some major stories dealing with worlds where the laws of science had been changed, such as "The Man Who Discovered the West Pole" (Strange Adventures #64, January 1956). Here we have a tale by Joe Samachson using the same concept.

Samachson's stories often have a noir atmosphere. Here we have a "typical" urban street, and a hero trailing a suspect through it.

Samachson created J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. He was an alien good guy who was trapped on Earth, who had alien powers, and who went to work as a police detective. This tale has something of the same feel. Once again, we have a noir like atmosphere, involving the detective work on urban streets. And we have an alien with unusual abilities. The roles are reversed here: here it is trailed person who is the alien, whereas in J'onn J'onzz tales it is the detective who is an alien.

Fix-It Men From Outer Space (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Carmine Infantino. Alien fix-it men stop by Earth, and repair it so that it no longer tilts on its axis. Delightful story that is almost pure science. Samachson explores the consequences of the aliens' change to Earth's characteristics. The point of view in the tale alternates between the aliens, and humans who cope with their changes. The humans and aliens never meet, which somehow adds to the story's tongue in cheek tone. This story has the same alien-human polarity as Samachson's J'onn J'onzz tales, with the aliens have much greater powers than human beings.

The story has a serious side. Many of the changes anticipate today's concerns with global warming. This story should be reprinted. It would serve as a vivid textbook for today's readers, educating them about climate change on Earth. This subject matter is shared with another sf story Samachson wrote, "The Earth-Drowners" (Strange Adventures #64, January 1956).

Stranger on Earth (1956). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Sid Greene. As a test, alien John Carr is sent to Earth, to see if he can find his way back to his home planet. Terrific story that is full of plot invention.

The hero's situation, as an alien being trapped on modern day Earth, is similar to that of Samachson's hero J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars. In both:

Samachson's heroes all tend to be extremely resourceful. Although they are often put in dire situations, they tend to keep their cheer and come up with creative ideas.

Stories of tests used as initiations are fairly common in the comics. One thinks of the many initiation tests for members to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. This tradition was started by Otto Binder right in his Legion origin tale, "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958).

Knights of the Galaxy

The Knights of the Galaxy appeared in the first eight issues of Mystery in Space. There were essentially a group of space policemen, fighting pirates and bad guys in the wilds of space, but they were organized like a medieval knighthood. The central figure here is "Lyle, Space Commando", as he is billed at the start of the tales. All of the tales were written by Robert Kanigher, with art by Carmine Infantino.

Nine Worlds to Conquer (1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. The first Knights of the Galaxy tale. January 3, 2900: New recruit Lyle tries to prove himself worthy of becoming a member of the Knights of the Galaxy, by stopping the villain Korvo, who is threatening to disrupt all space travel. Lyle will go on to become the central character of the series. We also meet Artho, the commander of the Knights, and his courageous daughter Ora. Ora is certainly a character with plenty of feminist fire. She is idealistic, caring, and as we learn in later episodes, a gifted scientist. She is certainly the most interesting person we will meet in the eight episodes of the series.

Lyle has to show plenty of grit and determination in his quest to become a Knight. He has very difficult missions that require him to show all his effort. This will be a continuing part of the series, and a major component of Lyle's characterization. By contrast, the fact that Lyle is the newest recruit to the Knights will soon be dropped. It is mentioned once more, in the second story, then never referred to again.

The Knights remind one in many ways of the Adam Strange series that will appear seven years later in the same magazine. Both series have just three characters, a courageous and intelligent young hero who battles menaces, a beautiful and equally courageous woman who loves and is loved by the hero, and her father, a benevolent and not very demanding authority figure on the world the hero is trying to join. In both sagas, the woman grew up on the planet and is an insider to its ways, while the man is an outsider and trying to learn the ropes. Both fathers are genial and good-natured, and tend to recede into the background as much as possible, unless they are needed by the demands of the plot. Both series are pure science fiction. There are no super-heroes in the stories, and no one has a secret identity. Both consist of exciting science fiction adventures. Both focus on another world to which the human hero is an immigrant: the planetoid Gala in Knights, and the planet Rann in Adam Strange. Both planets are full of futuristic Art Deco architecture, drawn by Carmine Infantino. Both heroes are drawn as some of Infantino's leading men, elegant, dreamy, and serene. Neither has any emotional tics or complexes. Both look extremely pleased to be doing exactly what they are doing. Neither looks at all upper class or aristocratic: Lyle looks working class, and Adam middle class.

One hesitates to call this first story the Origin of the Knights. We do not learn here (or anywhere else) how the Knights came into being. We also never learn anything about Lyle's background. We do learn that the Knights are dedicated to protecting the "free people" of the galaxy. The villains of many of the tales are would-be dictators. This emphasis on bad dictators trying to take over good democracies will be a constant theme of Mystery in Space over the next fourteen years. Here it is, right in the first story of the first issue. This ringing political theme ushers in what will be one of the most politically idealistic and committed of all comic books.

The title "Nine Worlds to Conquer" is misleading. The nine worlds are the nine planets of the solar system. Presumably, the villain wants to conquer them all. However, the story plainly takes place against a galaxy wide background, as the phrase "Knights of the Galaxy" suggests, and the solar system is just one small piece of this. The title is thus inconsistent with the actual plot of the story. One wonders if an editor came up with the title, and if the writer only concocted the story later, all though I have no real evidence of this. Also confused: the story refers to January 3, 2900 as being part of the 30th Century. It is not: the 30th Century will start on January 1, 2901.

Gala is full of Infantino's Art Deco architecture. There are Art Deco windows without frames on the corners of the buildings. A panel depicting Lyle descending an elevator in the midst of Gala's buildings is especially good. Gala has some unique features, even within Infantino's personal architectural traditions. There are curved roofs, with nearly circular tops. There are many roof pipes, tall, narrow structures that usually curve over to one side at their tip, reminding one a little bit of the unusual pipes on the top of Gaudi's apartment buildings.

Jesse James -- Highwayman of Space (1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. A space robber of the future adopts the name, persona and tactics of the 19th Century Western train robber Jesse James. This is mainly a routine story. Its basic concept, a revival of the past in a science fictional context, would be used in several tales in the DC sf comic books. So would its idea, that people of the future would be confused and defenseless against "primitive" crime tactics of the past; this is an idea that has always seemed dubious to me. The 1950's were an era in which Westerns were intensely popular. So this hybrid of Western and sf elements was probably inevitable. Robert Kanigher was the author of the Johnny Thunder tales, so Western comics were part of his regular writing schedule. The double hyphen used in the title -- will be an ongoing stylistic feature of Mystery in Space; it will still be employed in the 1960's, a small indication of the astonishing stylistic continuity of this magazine from 1951 to 1964.

Carmine Infantino shows us two street-like regions on Gala, open areas surrounded by Art Deco buildings. These are some of the best close up looks at Gala's architecture. Infantino shows his gift for composition using vertical lines, with a panel showing Jesse James and his gang using ropes to descend on the top of a spaceship. The spaceship seems Frank R. Paul-ish. The explosion in space (p6) is also in Infantino traditions.

Duel of the Planets (1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. A dictator arises on the planet Mercury, and threatens to conquer the Solar System; the other Knights question the loyalty of one of their members, who was born on Mercury. This story has a strong Civil Rights message. The Mercurian is a member of an alien race, and the prejudice he faces is shown to be wrong. The hero Lyle sticks up for him, but many of the other Knights turn on him. This is the first of several Civil Rights tales that will appear in Mystery in Space. In some ways it is preparatory to an even better Civil Rights tale in the Knights series, "Challenge of the Robot Knight" (1952).

There are several innovations to the artwork of this tale. We see the planetoid Gala as a whole for the first time. I had always envisioned it as an asteroid or small planet, a small spherical object. It is small, all right, but it consists of a flat circular disk with buildings on top. It looks completely man-made. Had the series lasted longer, a flashback story about the building of Gala would have been welcome.

The Knights also get new uniforms in this tale. They are more formal that the flight gear shown in previous stories, with high stiff collars and gauntlets. They have the middle European military look beloved by Infantino, and which will show up later in his Adam Strange costume. These uniforms will not replace the original ones; later episodes of the series will show the Knights in their earlier gear.

The story includes a giant pendulum, invented by Ora; this is the first indication in the series that Ora is a scientist. It anticipates a similar giant pendulum hanging in space on the cover of the first Showcase devoted to Adam Strange, the cover illustrating the second Adam Strange tale, "The Planet and the Pendulum" (1958). Adam Strange's pendulum was malevolent, the product of destructive villains, but Ora's is beneficial, designed to help break through the dictator's force field around Mercury.

The transforms undergone by Lyle and Ora here show Infantino's tradition of using sketchy art to denote unusual physical states. The sketchy art here is subtly different from other Infantino images in this mode.

Master of Doom (1951). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. The evil Master of Doom shows up in our galaxy, challenging Lyle to solve astronomy-based puzzles, and threatening to destroy planets if he fails. The Master of Doom is the last survivor of an alien race with very advanced scientific knowledge. He is bored, and finds amusement only by playing his vicious Game of Doom with victims he encounters. Such all powerful, ancient alien beings pop up quite frequently in the Adam Strange stories. Sometimes they are benign, but they are always at the very least eccentric and strong willed, and often times they are malicious and destructive as well.

This is one of the best Knights tales. It is an early example of the Cosmic story, a tale in which the heroes manipulate astronomical objects in ingenious and direct ways. Like most of the later Cosmic tales, this one is quite light hearted. Such stories were a specialty of Mystery in Space; many of the later examples were written by Otto Binder. Just two issues previously, the first Cosmic tale appeared in Mystery in Space, "The Comet Peril", written by Edmond Hamilton.

This story also contains elements of the Puzzle story. This genre of story, where the hero has to solve a riddle, often one posed by a very intelligent alien being, occurred several times in later Superman family tales, such as "The Secret of the Space Souvenirs" (Superman #122, July 1958) and "The Eight Impossible Missions; The Amazing Winner of the Great Proty Puzzle" (Adventure #323, August 1964). The riddles in these tales all have similar kinds of solutions. One suspects that there are other examples, and that one is looking at a long standing comic book tradition.

Tales like these emphasize the intelligence of the hero. He succeeds in this story, not by violence, but by use of brain power. This emphasis on the "thinking hero" will become an important part of the characterization of Adam Strange.

The Rings of Saturn (p8) are depicted as one of Infantino's inclusion of abstract art patterns within a realistic image. The surface of Saturn is also depicted as a beautiful abstract pattern of wavy lines. The curve of Saturn's surface echoes the curve of Saturn's Rings, making the image composed of circular arcs.

Also notable: the ray gun blast (p9). Infantino knew how to make spectacular abstract designs out of energy waves. This recalls the wavefronts in his Adam Strange tale "The Beast From the Runaway World" (Mystery in Space #55, November 1959).

Outcast of the Lost World (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. A glowing, radioactive Lyle voluntarily separates himself from the other Knights, all the while trying to defeat a space villain. This is a fairly minor tale. I liked the hero's helmet. Elements of the story anticipate Otto Binder's "The Radioactive Boy" (Jimmy Olsen #17, December 1956), in which Jimmy similarly becomes radioactive. Both tales have similar plot developments towards their end.

The Day the World Melted (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. The Master of Doom returns, and sends Lyle and Gala back in time to 20th Century New York City. Space opera on a grand scale, but unfortunately also a war tale, a genre that I just don't like or approve of. This is a minor tale, which does not do much with its time travel theme. It is interesting that the entire planetoid of Gala returns to our era; the panels showing it flying over New York City's skyline are surrealistic. The way the Knights deal with their problems in the past and return to the future in stages is also interesting, especially the handling of Alpha Obscuri. I also thought the treatment of energy in the tale was interesting. We all tend to be more conscious of energy since the Energy Crisis of the 1970's; but here is an early tale that stresses it.

Infantino shows the skyline of New York City melting in the heat. This anticipates the many wrecked skylines of Ranagar he drew in the Adam Strange stories. Infantino also includes many fine starscapes, filled with the Knights' spaceships; the one at the upper left of page 5 is superb. Two of these include thick lines of radiation anticipating the Aurora Borealis and other sky lines of the Adam Strange tales to come. The starscape depicting Gala fading out, starting its journey through time is also striking. It is an image of remarkable stillness. It is the Infantino tradition of sketchily drawn objects undergoing transitions.

Challenge of the Robot Knight (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Both a woman and then a robot apply for membership in the Knights, shocking the chauvinist leaders of that institution. This classic story has both feminist and Civil Rights elements, at a very early date. The dialogue dealing with the robot's application makes it clear that he is being treated the way black people were in the America of 1952. Kanigher would go on to write the classic "I Am Curious (Black)" (1970) for Lois Lane. His commitment to such themes was clearly very long lived.

Infantino's art here at this early date is good, but not as creative as his work during the Silver Age (1958 - 1965). The most personal quality: the architecture of the futuristic buildings on pages 3 and 5. This shows the beginning of Infantino's personal version of Art Deco. The buildings are very elaborate, almost as complex as his Silver Age work, but not quite so unusual. Also personal: the beautiful depictions of the night sky full of stars in outer space. Infantino's version of space looks like that of no other artist. The stars of various sizes are positioned to make beautiful patterns across the page. It is a form of abstract art, made up out of the tiniest materials: the little shapes of the stars.

Lives of a Rocket Lancer (1952). Writer: Robert Kanigher. Art: Carmine Infantino. Good story invoking parallels between the Arthurian legend and the Knights of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, the last of the Knights tales. This story develops underlying themes in the Knights series, ideas that must have been present from the start in Kanigher's mind, but which were buried below the surface. I am glad he got a chance to get them out, before the series ended. The tale has a resonating quality. Its sf ideas are interesting in themselves, and also for the meanings they convey.

Most of the splash panels in Mystery in Space are literal depictions of events that will take place in the story. But Knights of the Galaxy sometimes took a different approach. This story uses a symbolic splash panel, an illustration that symbolizes the spirit of the tale. This one shows the Knights riding horses equipped for medieval jousts through space. This is an impossibility - horses don't travel in space, of course, even within the sf context of the series. It symbolizes the fact that the Knights are like their medieval namesakes of old, and yet do their work in outer space. It is a vivid and delightful image.

It's a Woman's World (1952). Writer: John Broome. Art: Bob Oksner. In a future world where men stay home and women have all the jobs, a man struggles to demonstrate that he can be a space man. This is not a Knights of the Galaxy story, but its women's lib theme relates it to them. This tale does an exact role reversal of 1950's attitudes towards men and women. By suggesting that in some future world that attitudes could be completely reversed, it suggests that such attitudes are completely arbitrary. The hero of the story suffers from every possible form of gender based discrimination. Broome knows where all the bodies are buried. His hero gets discouragement at home, rejection from job applications, ridicule from colleagues. Everybody "knows" that men are incapable of doing serious work, just as in the 1950's most people were absolutely sure that women were incapable. The story holds a complete mirror up to every form of discrimination against women, suggesting that all forms are unjustified.

Broome's protagonists often struggle against a very bad society, one that rejects them and which prevents them from leading a fulfilled life. Often times, this society is a dictatorial institution, one that recalls the Soviet Union. He wrote several powerful stories about refugees from such totalitarian states. Here he takes on sexual discrimination, in a society that looks like 1950's America.

It is somewhat astonishing to see a magazine like Mystery in Space publishing serious women's lib stories in 1952. I have never seen any such massive resistance to gender norms of the 1950's from any other male artists or writers.

This story is quite different from the Amazon societies ruled by women we sometimes see in science fiction. Those societies resemble ancient Greece or Rome. Women rule in barbaric splendor in such tales, and men are often collared slaves. This story is utterly different. The society shown is a "modern", hi-tech one, calmly run in an efficient low key manner recalling the 1950's. Men are kept down not by force, but by systematic discrimination. There is an eerie quality to this tale, in that everything in it seems like the "normal" 1950's America, but one which has undergone a surrealist transformation of gender role reversal.

The hero of this tale has to show a similar grit in his quest to become a spaceman, as Lyle did in his first Knights of the Galaxy tale, "Nine Worlds to Conquer" (1951). Both have scenes where they have to hold on despite pain. This is another link between this story and "Knights".

Bob Oksner's art is quite lively. His red haired hero looks like Jimmy Olsen.


Space-Cabby was a series of sf tales about a nameless cab driver who traveled between the planets of the Solar System. He was always getting involved in mysteries, by picking up various people in his cab. Sf elements aside, this is similar to the classic series of 1940's pulp detective stories about Los Angeles cab driver Steve Midnight, written by John K. Butler. The Space-Cabby also resembles Steve Midnight, in that he is a "hard luck" character who is always getting in trouble through his efforts to do his job and help his passengers.

The Space-Cabby tales tend to be terrible. They are inoffensive, G rated stories, like everything else in Mystery in Space, but they tend to lack imagination and pizzazz. The tales ran from 1954 - 1958. Most of the ones I have read were written by the normally reliable Otto Binder, but this still does not make them better. This article will concentrate on the better Space-Cabby tales.

The character of the Space-Cabby himself is likable. He narrates his stories, and his dialogue is full of pulp detective story style metaphors and slang.

While the dialogue is pure 1940's pulp, the setting of the tales evokes the 1950's: drive-in restaurants abound, billboards are frequent along the space travel lanes, and one whole story turns on the difference between a new fast route and the old slow scenic route, just like the then new expressways of 1950's America versus the old two lane highways.

UNIFORM. Although many characters are in futuristic costume, the Space-Cabby is not. Instead he is in a 1950's cab-driver uniform, with a peaked, visored cap and jacket the same color as his trousers. This adds to the 1950's feel of the tales. One thing atypical about his uniform: he wears tall boots, like many comic book heroes, but unlike most real-life uniformed cab drivers.

The Space-Cabby's taxi uniform is fairly similar to that worn by tough hero John Payne as a cab driver in the film 99 River Street (Phil Karlson, 1953). Both uniforms have a peaked, visored cap and bow tie. The similarity might NOT be due to direct influence - instead, both uniforms might simply reflect how real-life cab drivers dressed in the 1950's.

HUMOR AND ENERGY. The Space-Cabby tends to resemble Binder's portrait of Jimmy Olsen, in that he is a comic hero, often a hapless victim coping with forces much more powerful than himself. Jimmy, the Space-Cabby, Lois Lane all show good cheer and resiliency in these situations, however, doing the best they can, and usually coming out all right in the end. In some ways, Space-Cabby is the direct opposite of such heroes as Lyle of the Knights of the Galaxy, and Adam Strange. These are serious men who do great deeds in the heroic tradition, while Space-Cabby is an ordinary guy trying to get by. Space-Cabby does share their high moral code of conduct, however. The world of Space-Cabby is closer to us than that of Lyle or Adam Strange. While they have adventures on planets far away, Space-Cabby's environment is often similar to 20th Century Earth's. It is full of wonder about the future, however.

The Space-Cabby wears a bow tie, as part of his cabman's uniform. Men (in the comic books) who wear bow ties are often comic heroes in humorous adventures: Slam Bradley, Johnny Thunder, Jimmy Olsen. All of these men show lots of energy and bounce, in coping with the situations in which they find themselves.

Space Taxi (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Howard Sherman. The Space-Cabby tracks down a crook who commits robberies while invisible. The first story about the Space-Cabby. (Confusingly, he is called a Space-Cabbie in this tale.)

JETS. There is some good dialogue referring to jets, a feature of the spaceships in the tale. In Binder's earlier Tommy Tomorrow tale, "The Hotrods of Space" (Action Comics #186, November 1953), the spaceship hot-rodders are referred to as "hot-jetters".

In general, "The Hotrods of Space" is ancestral to the Space-Cabby tales, as a work which treats flying space vehicles as science fiction versions of 20th Century car culture.

MYSTERY. This tale has a mystery puzzle: what is the hidden pattern controlling the locations of the crook's robberies? Finding the hidden pattern in a series of events, was a kind of puzzle sometimes used by prose mystery writer Ellery Queen.

This tale is a hybrid of "science fiction" and "mystery":

There is one of Otto Binder's educational bits, informing readers about the names of Saturn's moons.

POLICE SKEPTICISM. The police refuse to believe the Space-Cabby's tales about an invisible crook, until the finale of the story. Having a hero met with skepticism by the police is a common plot in prose mystery fiction in general, including pulp mystery fiction.

But this situation also has elements personal to Binder's tales. Binder's early tales often show Supergirl encountering men who have social ties to male authority figures, forming a network of "male social power", while the female Supergirl has to act independently and alone. In "Space Taxi", the skeptical police similarly form a male social group and have authority. But it is the male hero Space-Cabby who has to act alone. The male Space-Cabby thus is in a fairly similar social position as the female Supergirl.

INTERPLANETARY POLICE. The police force is known as the Interplanetary Police; they are seen patrolling the moons of Saturn. They will be a continuing plot element in the Space-Cabby tales. They will often be called by their nickname Ippy (probably pronounced like the letters "I P").

The term "Interplanetary Police" has precedents:

There are also precedents of the uniforms of the Interplanetary Police: The Interplanetary Police wear head-coverings or helmets, and goggles that mask their eyes. Helmets were a favorite of artist Howard Sherman. See: ARCHITECTURE. The police station has Art Deco features: flanges on the roof, a circular multi-paned window. The curving rail of the station steps is a nice geometrical feature.

Hitchhiker of Space (1955). Writer: France Herron (earlier ascribed to Otto Binder). Art: Howard Sherman. When his stolen cab turns up on Jupiter, the Space-Cabby has to stowaway and hitchhike from Earth to Jupiter to recover it. The second Space-Cabby tale, and the first to be part of an on-going series. Murphy Anderson's cover shows a man sitting on a tiny asteroid, trying to thumb a ride from a passing space ship; this scene duly turns up as an episode in the story. The tale evokes all of the wonder of the asteroid belt - the asteroids have always been my favorite place in the Solar System to set a science fiction story.

This tale is carefully dated: it takes place on June 12, 2154. One wonders if this was 200 years after the day the author wrote the story.

The space-video teletype fits in with Binder's interest in media of communication. However, this tale might actually be written by France Herron, not Binder.

ART. Howard Sherman's art shows us the space-ports of the future. They look startlingly like Cape Canaveral to come. There are huge rocket ships in upright positions, which are accessed by elevated platforms and gantries. The gantries are steel constructions, in a style similar to the Eiffel Tower or certain kinds of bridges. Sherman shows such gantries in every sort of direction: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, even curved over the domed tops of buildings. They make interesting compositions in his images, together with the rounded platforms they support. He also uses search lights beamed up from the ground to add to the geometry of the compositions.

Sherman's rocket-ships are curved. They look less biomorphic than those he drew for "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950), however. They tend to look like the streamlined luxury liners of contemporary ocean travel. Looked at from the front, they tend to have "faces", with windows that look like eyes and nose-like cones on the front. Sherman also does a good job with the many aliens in the tale. The uniforms of the Jupiter police are unusual.

Mystery of the Counterfeit Space-Cabby (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. A duplicate of the Space-Cabby mysteriously appears, and the pair has trouble determining which is the original Space-Cabby and which the duplicate.

Please see my discussion of Identity Theft in comics. This story shares subject matter and imagery with other identity-theft tales.

SPOILERS. The tale eventually reveals that a crook's duplicator ray, which he used for counterfeiting, had been shined on Space-Cabby. This anticipates one of Binder's most important series: his tales of Bizarro in Superman (1958-1960). The Bizarro's too are created by a duplicator ray.

There are differences: the Bizarros are imperfect duplicates of Superman, while Space-Cabby's is a nearly perfect duplicate of him. This "imperfect duplication" is a big creative step up in the Bizarro tales. It makes the tales much more imaginative.

MYSTERY PLOT. At the tale's end, the real Space-Cabby figures out which one is the duplicate. This is clever. It forms the solution to the mystery of "who is the duplicate?"

The solution is clued. And ingeniously clued, too.

ART. Gil Kane's art is creative throughout. He draws Space-Cabby as one of his glamourous leading men. The splash portrait of the two Space-Cabby's in their identical sharp uniforms is outstanding. The uniform jackets have peaked lapels. The visored caps are sharp too.

There are some of Kane's geometric cityscapes (pages 1, 4, 5). Kane often stressed geometric shapes in his art.

The geometric furniture inside Space-Cabby's modest apartment is fascinating (page 5). It shows Gil Kane's view of interior design - something more common in the works of Carmine Infantino. There is also interior design at the Interplanetary Police headquarters: curved forms on one of those high authoritative desks for the policeman (page 1).

Outside the police station, there are two blue globes standing on pedestals (pages 1, 3). These are apparently futuristic versions, of the real-life green lights outside many contemporary police stations. The blue globes have yellow orbiting bands: a nice astronomical touch.

Kane has kept the Interplanetary Police uniforms (page 2) fairly consistent with those in "Space Taxi", the first Space-Cabby tale. The uniforms have a circular ear-piece, and a flange on top of the head, just as in "Space Taxi". Kane's uniforms do show his geometric sense and style, making the curves of the ear-piece and flange subtly different.

The Robinson Crusoe of Space (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Space-Cabby tells the story of how he got his space-parrot Gabby, and of how he once became radioactive and lived on a deserted asteroid, like Robinson Crusoe. Like the later "Riddle of the Glowing Space-Cabby" (1958), this is a tale about our hero becoming contaminated with radioactivity. This was a new anxiety of the 1950's; it was a real life problem, and it was eventually lessened with the test ban treaty of the 1960's. In many ways these stories are like Binder's transformation tales. The hero undergoes a change at the beginning, and spends the rest of the tale living with his change, and searching for an antidote, which he finally finds at the end of the tale. The transformations often drive the hero into isolation from mainstream society; often times he joins a circus or side show. Here the character goes into even more extreme isolation: he goes to live entirely by himself on a deserted asteroid. However, the transformation tales usually have the hero undergoing some positive change, such as becoming a giant or invisible, that triggers adventures; here the change is purely negative, that of contamination. This contamination does not by itself give the hero any positive or unique experiences.

The tale eventually builds up a nice mystery or puzzle: what is neutralizing the radiation? Binder comes up with a clever solution.

The group of alien animals the hero tames resembles a very small version of the zoos that run through Binder tales.

The Space-Cabby uses two different methods to communicate with a passing spaceship (p5). This is typical of Binder's interest in means of communication.

Binder includes an educational bit about Cassini's Division (p2). Binder liked educational asides about science in his stories.

We see the space station that serves as Customs for Earth. Binder will take a similar look at Earth's Space Port Customs in the Tommy Tomorrow tale "The Forbidden Robots" (Action Comics #233, October 1957).

ART. Gil Kane was one of several artists who drew Space-Cabby; he did more stories than anybody else. This tale is notable for a space-station (p2), and for several cute alien animals. There is a beautifully composed panel showing an alien forest (p3). There are several nice starscapes in the tale, with the space clouds that were a prominent feature of his work. There are two spaceships, one long and strikingly cylindrical (p5), the other circular (p3): two more interesting variations on his archetypal ships.

Kane's portrait of a man in a space suit (p2) is also neat, full of curved forms of machinery. A second panel shows a whole group of men wearing the space suits.

The big triangular flange on the back of the cab, recalls the Arrowcar in Green Arrow. The Arrowcar was created in 1941, long before the Space-Cabby tales.

And before the Space-Cabby got Gabby, the 1940's hero Air Wave had his pet parrot Static. Both parrots have plenty to say.

Search for the Space Sparklers (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. After losing the diamonds he discovers in the asteroid belt, Space-Cabby joins the meteor sweepers. Here Binder returns to one of his favorite settings: the world of asteroids and meteors. This tale is one of several in Mystery in Space dealing with mining and prospecting in the asteroids. The Space-Cabby makes a welcome change from driving his cab here: he is a prospector in the tale's early segment, and works with the meteor sweepers after.

The meteor sweepers get rid of dangerous meteors that might damage space traffic. They remind one of the bomb-sweepers in London in World War II. They are clearly linked with the heroes of Binder's Cosmic stories. The Cosmic heroes manipulate large astronomical objects such as the Earth, Moon and planets. Here, the sweepers get rid of meteors, a smaller but still fairly large sized class of astronomical objects. The techniques they use show continuity with Binder's Cosmic tales, and this story is very much in Binder's Cosmic tradition. One difference: the heroes of the Cosmic stories usually get involved with astronomical objects on an ad hoc, one time only basis. By contrast, the meteor sweepers are an organized group of professionals, who manipulate meteors on a regular basis. This professional organization reminds one of such Binder good guy groups as "The Watchdogs of the Universe" (Strange Adventures #62, November 1955) and "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958).

Binder comes up with a series of strange meteors, each with a different, special property. These are analogous to the strange planets that appear in some other Binder stories, such as "Parade of the Planets" (1959) and "World at the Edge of the Universe" (Strange Adventures #60, September 1955).

The tale develops into one of Binder's series:

Binder manages to work in some science education: this time about neutrinos.

The splash shows a meteor that has split in two, with the Space-Cabby on one part and his cab on the other. This echoes the cover story of the issue, "The Day the Earth Split in Two". That cover is by artist Gil Kane, too. However the story "The Day the Earth Split in Two" is by a different team: (Writer: John Broome. Art: Sid Greene).

The Space-Cabby has one of Gil Kane's interesting space suits, with curving machinery on it. It is less complex, and less glamorous, though, than the suits in "The Robinson Crusoe of Space". However, the suit is elegant and classy. The suit shows good color design. The purple-and-white suit is included in my list of Purple Costumes.

The Expanding Space-Taxi (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. Astronomical forces cause the Space-Cabby's taxi to keep getting bigger. This story is related to Binder's "The Sky-High Man" (1959). In that tale, the hero keeps getting bigger; here his taxi keeps getting bigger, while the hero remains normal sized. This is a Binder transformation tale, the only one I know of in which an object rather than a living being is transformed.

Like "The Sky-High Man", this story also brings in Cosmic elements, on a spectacular scale. This tale is much more light hearted and humorous than most of Binder's Cosmic tales. Its zany humor is more typical of Binder's transformation stories. This seems to be the most imaginative and elaborate Cosmic story that Binder had written up to this date.

The enlarging and shrinking in the story remind one of Binder's Kandor tales to come. The Kandor stories often showed the tiny Kandorians coping with a large world; this tale has something of the same effect, with its normal sized humans and the giant space taxi.

The story has three brief panels in which the hero speculates about the future growth of his taxi. These anticipate Binder's Imaginary tales to come, in the Superman mythos. They show a potential future experience that never actually comes to pass.

The Space-Cabby seems a little more confident here than in many of his stories. He takes intelligent, successful action throughout the story. Also, he gets cooperation from the authorities here. So the tale has a more constructive atmosphere, something that makes a welcome contrast to some of the "hard-luck" misadventures he experiences. The tone is positive throughout.

Binder includes some of his educational tidbits: this time about the expanding universe, and about variable Cepheid stars.

The spaceship is a combination of one of Gil Kane's circular ships, but with a rectangular front.

One-Way Ride to Eternity (#37, April-May 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. When he and his taxi are hijacked by a crook, the Space-Cabby tries to alert the Interplanetary Police. Minor tale with an occasional nice touch.

The Space-Cabby repeatedly tries to commit some traffic infraction, hoping that this will cause the Police to stop his cab, and capture the bad guy. The story uses the typical challenge and rebuff construction that Binder often employed:

Like most such Binder tales, "One-Way Ride to Eternity" goes through many cycles of such challenge and rebuff.

ARCHITECTURE. The space-station used to monitor one-way traffic is an interesting structure.

Menace of the Space-Nectar (#43, April-May 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Gil Kane. The Space-Cabby develops a craving to eat a new food flavoring called Space-Nectar. This is a sort of Binder transformation tale, with the hero transformed into a man obsessed with eating Space-Nectar. Most Binder transformations alter the appearance of the transformed character; this one exclusively changes his psychology and behavior, without altering his looks.

As in many Binder tales, the plot of the story's first half is a series of episodes. Each episode starts with the hero devising a new plan to defeat his craving; the episode ends with the craving finding a way past the hero's new defense.

The space suit the hero hopes will guard him against the Nectar, anticipates the lead suits worn by Superman and Superboy, in Binder's "The Boy of Steel versus the Thing of Steel" (Superboy #68, October 1958), "The Kryptonite Man" (Action Comics #249, February 1959). Both the space suit and the lead suits have high tech features that enable their otherwise insulated wearers to navigate.

The button in the cab that calls Ippy, is an example of Binder's interest in means of communication.

The drive-in movie is especially delightful. It is full of Gil Kane's geometric spaceships.

Riddle of the Glowing Space-Cabby (#44, June-July 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Bernard Sachs. This is one of the last and best of the Space-Cabby stories; they would cease with #47. It is one of Binder's transformation stories.

It has more of an actual mystery than the other Space-Cabby tales, which tend to be crime thrillers without elements of mystery or puzzle plotting. The mystery is one of Otto Binder's sf mysteries, and is not bad at all. Binder would develop a somewhat similar plot, without a mystery, in "Superboy's Last Day" (Adventure #251, August 1958); there are also elements in common between these tales and "Superman's Enemy" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959).

The Traffic Cop of Space (Strange Adventures #43, April 1954). Writer: Jack Miller. Art: Howard Sherman. A 20th Century traffic cop is brought 100 years into the future, to help bring order into the chaotic personal rocket travel of the era. This minor story seems like a predecessor to the Space-Cabby tales:

The traffic cop of this tale also anticipates Tom Doyle, the New York City traffic policeman who appears in several humorous Adam Strange tales. One suspects that Julius Schwartz saw something pleasant and comic in the traffic police.

This story was itself perhaps influenced by the Tommy Tomorrow tale, "The Hotrods of Space" (Action Comics #186, November 1953). Tommy goes after speeding hot-rodders in that tale; the traffic cop in this story has to pursue a speeding playboy.

The Star Rovers

Gardner Fox often built his plots out of what I've dubbed Fox cycles. A Fox cycle is: a repeatable series of plot events that leave its protagonist in the same state at the finish as at the beginning. Please see my article on Adam Strange for a detailed discussion of Fox cycles.

Who Caught the Loborilla? (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Each member of the Star Rovers claims to have caught the Loborilla for a zoo, the Loborilla being a cross between a giant lobster and a gorilla. The first Star Rovers story. I imagine the alien's name is pronounced lahb'-ore-rill'-uh, which has a nice ring to it.

The Star Rovers were a trio of space adventurers whose tales occasionally appeared in Mystery in Space (7 stories, 1961 - 1963) and Strange Adventures (the last two stories, 1963 - 1964). They consisted of playboy Rick Purvis, sharpshooter and glamour queen Karel Sorensen and novelist, hunter and family man Homer Glint. Karel Sorensen was one of the few women protagonists in what was typically a magazine that focused on male heroes; she is a completely non-sexist portrayal, and one that is notable for the early 1960's. There were nine Star Rovers stories all told, appearing roughly ever three issues. The tales all had art by Sid Greene, his only series for the Schwartz magazines, and were all written by Gardner Fox.

THE SERIES: STORY STRUCTURE. The Star Rovers adventures were comic in tone, and tended to be shaggy dog stories, of a very special sort. In each, the trio is trying to solve some mystery, and each member of the trio comes up with a solution. Although each member's solution is supported by considerable evidence, the three solutions are always completely different from each other. They all also turn out to be dead wrong - eventually, the true explanation of the facts in the tale emerges at the end of the story. The title of the story summarizes the mystery: it is always a question. In prose mystery fiction, such multiple-solutioned mysteries were associated with E.C. Bentley and his disciple Anthony Berkeley; Ellery Queen also wrote a classic one, The Greek Coffin Mystery (1932).

This first tale sets up this basic paradigm of the series, one adhered to in four of the nine Star Rovers tales. One can see that this is a fabulously complex architecture to follow. That Gardner Fox was able to create four stories in this complex pattern is a tribute to his ingenuity. Poets have traditionally composed poems in complex rhyme schemes and meters, such as the sonnet or Spenserian stanzas. There ability to work creatively within these complex formats has always amazed and delighted their readers. Something similar is accomplished by Fox in these Star Rovers tales. Only here, Fox's form is not verbal, as in the sonnet, but involves complex patterns of plot.

The stories in the paradigm:

MORE ON STRUCTURE: THIS TALE. This first story is constructed in layers, with the plot of each layer building on the preceding. Fox used a somewhat similar layered approach in "Space-Island of Peril" in the same issue, and in "Mechanical Masters of Rann" in the previous (both are Adam Strange tales).

However, such layered constructions are not typical of the Star Rovers tales, after this first story.

NOT A FOX CYCLE. The three Star Rovers' encounters with the Loborilla run in parallel. One can plausibly suggest that these three adventures are therefore all examples of a Fox cycle. However, the "layered" way the three adventures build on each other's plots is NOT part of how Fox typically constructs his cycles. So, perhaps arbitrarily, I'm not going to label these tales as being based on a genuine Fox cycle.

CHARACTERS. Homer Glint's name reminds one of Homer Eon Flint, the early 20th century sf writer. Edmond Hamilton once credited Flint with pioneering the sort of cosmic engineering stories that Hamilton and Otto Binder would go on to create. As a novelist-sportsman, Homer Glint also resembles Ernest Hemingway, who was extremely famous in both roles in 1961. The media attention Hemingway often received is also echoed in this tale.

What Happened on Sirius-4? (#69, August 1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. The Star Rovers try to solve the disappearance of the inhabitants of the planet Sirius-4. This is a labored tale; Fox is keeping to his paradigm in this second story, but it is forced and without much inspiration. The story also suffers from being one of the routine war tales that often appeared in the magazine in the early 1960's; these were hardly any good.

Sirius is a real star. It's fourth planet Kalmoral is fictitious.

FOX CYCLE. Like many of the Star Rovers tales, this story sets up a Fox cycle, which is enacted three times, each time with one of the trio serving as a protagonist. The cycle has the following steps:

  1. The Star Rover discovers some technological device or environment on the planet.
  2. The Star Rover makes plausible deductions from this, about the history of the planet.
  3. At the tale's end, we learn that the Star Rover's deductions about history were false. And learn the true explanation of how the planet's actual history gave rise to the device or environment.
The title "What Happened on Sirius-4?" does indeed ask what historical events happened on the planet Sirius-4. This is exactly what each Star Rover is trying to figure out.

The tale treats the scholarly discipline of History as a mystery story, one that is solved by deducing "solutions" about History from the "clues" formed by devices that have been left behind. This "History as mystery story" is an interesting idea.

PROLOGUE. The opening prologue (page 2), before the introduction of the Star Rovers, is pretty good. Fox refers to Project Ozma, introduced just the previous year, a project to radio-listen to the stars in hopes of finding alien communications. This is typical of the sf comics, in the way they kept up the latest developments in science. This must have been very educational for their readers.

The story introduces the concept of a Rosetta Stone for alien languages; Fox would return to that in depth in his Space Museum tale, "Rescue by Moonlight" (Strange Adventures #157, October 1963).

The story shows reporters of 2160 carrying what we today call laptop computers or palm devices to take notes. The story refers to them a "nuclear jot-pads". Well, thank heavens, the real life devices aren't nuclear! But otherwise, this is very prophetic of technological advance. Fox was interested in information technology. Such stories as "The Dreams of Doom" (Strange Adventures #32, September 1961) and his look at Hawkman's home planet of Thanagar, "The Menace of the Dragonfly Raiders" (The Brave and the Bold #42, June-July 1962), are other early 1960's tales that display this.

ART. Greene's art is also good in the prologue (page 2). He includes three of his patented aerial views, one of 1960 Ozma, the second pair of a Martian extension of it in 2060. The curve of the radio dishes steps right up into Greene's interest in curvilinear forms. Also, the repeated imagery of the dishes enables Greene's device of showing repeated, unusual shaped objects of different sizes and perspectives in his panels.

The spiral ramp (on the splash and elsewhere) is also striking. It anticipates another "curved form in the air", the outdoor restaurant in "Where Is the Paradise of Space?".

I also liked the introductory image of the Star Rovers strolling arm in arm (page 3).

The splash panel refers to the Star Rovers stories as being "comedies of errors". This is the only series Greene did for the Schwartz sf magazines. It is perhaps significant that he worked on the magazines' most comic series. Greene's stories are often essentially comic in tone. I do not know whether he choose such stories as a personal preference, or whether Schwartz assigned comic scripts to him. Also, the stories perhaps tend to seem more comic because Greene created an upbeat, richly joyous atmosphere for them with his art. Greene's exuberance of invention, with its constant parade of inventively designed landscapes, star ships, machines, architecture and furniture, also gives his stories an upbeat, comedy mood. There is a sense of fertility and fecundity to them, that is part of the comic tradition.

Where Is the Paradise of Space? (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. The Star Rovers find a space island where all their wishes for competition are granted. This is a minor story. As the splash proclaims, Fox here breaks his paradigm for the series: all the Rovers agree on what they find in space, and there is no mystery to be solved about conflicting interpretations. The mere fact of the paradigm change is mildly intriguing, but it leads to a simple, flat story.

There are three separate adventures in the tale, one for each Rover, and the three Rovers are united at the end. Each adventure involves a different competition on the planetoid. These are all controlled by an alien intelligence. All of these features were included as plot elements in later, very complex Space Rover tales that do follow the paradigm, such as "Who went where -- and why?" (1963) and "When Did Earth Vanish?" (1963). They are more interesting there, when they are threads within the large mystery plot.

However, on rereading this story years later, it now seems better than my earlier negative assessment above. The tale is no classic, but it is full of pleasant story telling detail.

FOX CYCLE. As often in Fox, the story is built on a "Fox cycle". Each Star Rover experiences as their individual story:

  1. The Star Rover encounter an alien being.
  2. The alien challenges the Star Rover to an athletic contest.
  3. The alien beats the Star Rover.
  4. The alien's victory is often due to some special biological ability.
  5. The Star Rover's competitive spirit begins to rage.
  6. The Star Rover gets an ingenious idea.
  7. The Star Rover uses the idea to win the competition.
This cycle is run three times, once for each Star Rover.

In a standard Fox cycle, the protagonist is in the same state at the end as they were at the start. However, that is not true of the above steps. The Star Rover protagonist is in a different state at the end: they have won the contest. So the above series of steps is not quite a standard Fox cycle.

Step 5 is split into two parts in the Homer Glint episode, and put in a different order. His competitive spirit first shows up in the middle of step 6, and again at the very end of Glint's episode.

Some of these steps are modified, in particular episodes. In Step 2, Homer Glint's alien encounter is less like an athletic contest, and more like a fight for survival. And in Step 4, Karel's alien rival uses skill rather than any biological property for her initial wins.

ART. Greene's art has notable images. The outdoor restaurant (p2) has a long, curving seat that zigzags in and out in different directions. The curved regions make booths, at which different groups of guests can sit. The long curving seat reminds one of the walls in Antonio Gaudi's Park Güell (1900 - 1914) in Barcelona. Greene has Julius Schwartz making a comic appearance as one of the guests.

I also enjoyed the outdoor spiral staircase (top of page 2). And one of Greene's aerial views of a futuristic landscape (last panel of page 2).

Where Was I Born -- Venus? Mars? Jupiter? (1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. When the Star Rovers find a very valuable radioactive sword, officials on Venus, Mars and Jupiter each try to convince members of the trio that they were born on those planets, even though they all originally came from Earth. This zany sf story is full of strange gimmicks. The way the characters keep finding themselves in artificially constructed "realities" reminds one of the work of Philip K. Dick, although the tone is much more light hearted.

FOX CYCLE. As often in Fox, the story is built in cycles. Here, each cycle describes the "homecoming" of a member to a planet:

  1. A member of the Star Rovers goes "home" to what he suddenly remembers is his home planet.
  2. The planet's officials greet him, in a hero's welcome.
  3. He is reunited with his family and loved ones.
  4. The planet officials describe an alien menace threatening their planet.
  5. They explain why the sword would help solve their planet's problem.

Fox repeats this cycle three times, once for each member of the Star Rovers. Later in the story, each character in turn describes something odd about the reception that convinced him that everything was phony. This can be considered as the final element of the cycle. As usual in Fox, it returns the characters to the state in which they started: each at the beginning believed correctly that he was born on Earth, each is convinced by the events of the cycle that he is really from another planet, and finally each becomes skeptical again.

It is the Star Rovers tale that shows us the most about the personal lives of the characters.

ART. Sid Greene's art is good throughout. He shows us the three space vehicles of the trio, each one a different, inventive Greene space ship design. The scene on the asteroid on page 3 is especially evocative, with the stars and other asteroids in the background. I also liked the "locking" performed by simultaneous blasts of the trio's ray guns. Each ray is of a different color. It reminds one of the delightful color coded magic in the animated film Sleeping Beauty.

The reservoirs of Mars are imagined by Greene with unique architectural features. Greene also shows his flair for architecture in the modernistic buildings and plazas on Venus, the typical beautiful architecture of the advanced Greene city of the future.

Rick's glamorous girlfriends recall the "sophisticated" New York City women in Vincente Minnelli film comedies.

Who Saved the Earth? (#80, December 1962). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Each of the Star Rovers is told that he or she saved the Earth. This is the poorest of the Star Rovers tales. A big problem: it breaks the paradigm of the Star Rovers tales, in favor of a much simpler and less ingenious story pattern. There are none of the "conflicting stories from each Star Rover, followed by a different final revelation". Instead, we get simple accounts of how each Star Rover performed a different feat.

Very bad: language which embodies one of the ugly racist conventions of its time (top of page 2). This is the low point of the Star Rovers series, and Mystery in Space as a whole.

A good science fiction idea - that I wish were in a better story. Rick Purvis is in a solar sailboat race: something that soon would be made famous in a prose science fiction short story by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Wind from the Sun" (1965). Clarke's version is far more scientifically detailed,

ART. And Sid Greene's art has some mildly good moments:

Who went where -- and why? (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. (The title "Who went where -- and why?" is one of the few tales in the comic book which are not in all caps, but which are written with a mix of upper and lower case characters. I've followed the capitalization used in the story. The title also uses the double hyphen frequently used in Mystery in Space.) Duplicates of the Star Rovers mysteriously show up on Earth; the trio each recall a recent adventure on another planet where a disembodied intelligence created a duplicate of them.

FOX CYCLE. Like many of the Star Rovers tales, this story sets up a Fox cycle, which is enacted three times, each time with one of the trio serving as a protagonist. The cycle has the following steps:

  1. The protagonist goes to a little known alien planet.
  2. The protagonist meets a disembodied alien intelligence there, a very powerful creature who is pure mind.
  3. The intelligence creates a duplicate of the protagonist.
  4. The protagonist and the duplicate fight a duel, in which the life of the protagonist is at stake.
  5. The protagonist wins.
  6. The duplicate fades away.
  7. The protagonist leaves the planet by rocket ship and returns to New York City on Earth.

FOX THEMES. One can see some traditional Fox themes here:

STRUCTURE. "Who went where -- and why?" does not follow the earlier Star Rovers paradigm of three false answers to a mystery, followed by the truth.

Instead, it has three parallel adventures by each Star Rover, which do not contain any apparent mystery. Then the information from all three adventures is put into a large shared pool of knowledge - which is then, at the end, used to solve a puzzling mystery. This is an ingenious, worthwhile mystery fiction construct.

The title "Who went where -- and why?" is also atypical for a Star Rovers tale. It is not the actual mystery solved by the story. By contrast, some Star Rovers titles are the mystery investigated by the Star Rovers.

ART. The aerial garden floating over New York City at the opening of the tale is a beautiful Greene image. Greene often included plazas of futuristic cities in his tales; they were lovely, civilized and peaceful looking. They almost always contained trees, as this one does. The difference here is that the trees, tables and other pieces seem to be on a series of floating platforms. This is definitely true of the table and chairs on which the Star Rovers are sitting; but we never actually see the base of any of the floating trees in the story.

When Did Earth Vanish? (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. After separate trips to other planets, each of the Star Rovers returns to Earth, which mysteriously vanishes shortly after their arrival. Each blames himself or herself and their recent trip for Earth's disappearance; each is also sure that Earth vanished at a different time. This is the most baroque, complex and detailed of the later Star Rovers stories. Depending on your point of view, it can seem either frighteningly labyrinthine or wonderfully detailed. One problem with the story: every small incident in the tale seems disconnected from every other plot element. This makes the story a series of numerous new plot developments, each original. The Star Rovers' three adventures, each recited in flashback, are not all in parallel, either, although two of them involve the running Star Rovers theme of sneaking up on alien animals.

There are some common themes throughout the tale. One is that of other dimensions, and passage from one dimension to another. This is a standard Fox theme.

ART. The curving diving platform used by Rick Purvis shows Greene's love of complex architecture. The top is strangely rounded. And it has an elaborately twisted base. This whole sequence reminds one of the elaborate aerial effects Fox sometimes included in his Adam Strange tales.

Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth? (Strange Adventures #159, December 1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. The Star Rovers recount three separate adventures, each of which makes it look as if they will never be able to return to Earth again. This story emphasizes solidarity among the three Star Rovers. When the series first started, they were mainly competitors with each other. But as the series progressed, they try more and more to help one another. One can see this in the finale of the previous tale, "When Did Earth Vanish?". One can also see a theme of homesickness for Earth running throughout the series.

The story is a bit off from the full Star Rovers plot paradigm. The three stories told by the Rovers do not contradict each other. Rather, they are three separate accounts of each Rover's adventure on a different planet. They do all run completely in parallel, however, and Fox does interesting things with the interactions of the stories. There is also an sf mystery running through the plot, just as in the original, full Star Rovers paradigm. So the story as a whole is a pleasant variation of the Star Rovers approach. It is simpler than the full paradigm, but still much more complex than many other authors' works.

FOX CYCLE. Fox pleasantly develops a whole new cycle here for the Rovers' tales, something that warms the heart of any true Fox fan. Each Rover goes through the following steps:

  1. The Rover goes to another planet to take part in some sporting event, one which involves the alien life forms of the planet.
  2. The Rover accidentally gets poisoned on the planet.
  3. The Rover goes to another part of the planet, a geologically interesting one, where there is a traditional cure for the poisoning.
  4. The Rover is mainly cured.
  5. The Rover is told by specialists that he is now recovered, but can never go back to Earth, because its heavy gravity will lead to a return of the poisoning.

Fox adheres to this cycle fully for the first two tales; he shortens it slightly in the third one, perhaps in the interests of space.

One notes that this cycle does not quite restore its protagonist to his original state, as most Fox cycles do. This is left for the finale of the tale as a whole, when each Rover can once again walk on the Earth. This last step can be considered the concluding step of the cycle. Fox leaving such an implied final step of the cycle in suspense helps create reader expectations for the story. It is like structure in music, where an unresolved chord creates expectations in listeners' minds that there will be a resolution at the finale of the piece.

ART. The fullest and most interesting of the tales is the second, which belongs to Karel. Her version takes place on the floral planet, Xar. Greene includes an aerial view of an alien suburb (p5), in his patented style, showing buildings and landscapes from above. Greene also does an outstanding job on the geological "cure" region of the tale, a series of stepping stones shooting up beams of light (p8). Such geographical formations are one of the fascinating possibilities of an sf tale on an alien planet. Greene liked landscapes involving gaps in the Earth, whether caused by earthquakes, rivers, or anything else. At the finale of the story, Greene has another aerial view, this time of some buildings on Earth's Moon (p 11).

Greene always included a humorous portrait of editor Julius Schwartz in every one of his tales. Here he shows up as one of the medical specialists. Greene liked to depicts Schwartz as part of medical consultations, either as a doctor or as a patient. There is something inexpressibly humorous about this. It suggests that Schwartz is linked to human weaknesses, the fragility of the body that we all share as part of our human condition. Schwartz becomes a sort of Everyman, inheriting all the common troubles of the world.

How Can Time Be Stopped? (Strange Adventures #163, April 1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Two of the Rovers are captured by aliens near Antares, whose sinister time ray machines cause Homer to age and Karel to rejuvenate down to a 15 year old. This is the final Star Rovers tale. The tone of this minor story is different: it is only partly a tale of exotic outdoor adventures on alien planets. Instead Fox adds a spy story, complete with Errol Flynn like derring do.

Fox abandons his Star Rovers paradigm here nearly completely, and the story is quite minor and simple compared to the rest of the series. Once again the tale consists of three adventures, one for each Rover. The first two, Karel and Homer's, follow a common, and newly invented, Fox cycle. However the third, Rick Purvis', is a separate work. It is the Star Rovers' response to the first two adventures, Rick's attempt to defeat the evil invasion plot of the aliens. It occurs after Rick has heard and meditated on the stories of Karel and Homer. Rick's story interestingly combines elements of the first two adventures. This is something new and different in Fox constructions. Had Fox continued the Star Rovers adventures, he might have made this part of a new paradigm. However, Schwartz left the editorship of Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures at this point, after 14 years, and nearly all the series in the two magazines stopped completely, except Adam Strange and Star Hawkins.

The best part of this story occurs in Homer Glint's tale, which involves him sneaking up on an alien animal to capture it alive. Hunting alien animals for zoos is a classic Star Rovers plot, one that occurred in the first tale, "Who Caught the Loborilla?" (1961). It is pleasant to see Fox including an ingenious version of it here, in the final Star Rovers story. The tale also recalls the non-series "Next Year -- Andromeda" (1963), in that Homer uses an ingenious method to sneak up on the animal.

FOX CYCLE. Both Rovers Karel and Homer go through the following steps of a "Fox cycle":

  1. The Rover attempts a feat on another planet, related to hunting an alien being.
  2. Just as the Rover is achieving success, he or she is captured by villainous lizard-men.
  3. The Rover is forced to take a pill, that enables tracking by the lizards.
  4. The Rover is subjected to an "aging machine" at a lizard-man laboratory.
  5. The Rover is put into a special room where they are held captive.
  6. The Rover can confirm, from looking at themselves in a mirror, that their age is changing.
  7. The Rover steals a piece of equipment from the lizard-men, and escapes out of a high window.

ART. Greene does some atypical things in his art. There is a beautiful starscape (p 10). Greene shows a city in silhouette in the background. It looks like one of Infantino's Art Deco city scapes; if I had just been shown this panel as an image separate from the story, I would have sworn that it was by Carmine Infantino.

Greene's rocket ships are also strange here. They have the main body of the ship below the rockets, instead of above, as is typical of Green. They are connected to the rockets above by struts. This is a very odd looking design for a space ship. Even stranger, once you realize it, is that these spaceships are bilaterally symmetric, instead of trilaterally, as is typical of Greene.

Extra-Terrestrial Animals: Works related to the Star Rovers tales

Doom-Trap for Earth (1961). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Young Captain Thom Bancroft is sent to a remote planet to obtain a large supply of a metal that can rescue Earth from doom. This story has many elements in common with the Star Rovers tales. It deals with a series of gentle adventures on a remote planet, filled with extra-terrestrial animals and unusual geography. The planet has ingenious features, and sets challenges for its hero, and obstacles that impede his mission. Also, at the end of the story, there are two different contradictory versions of reality told by two different people; both are plausible, and the story has to resolve the true nature of events. All of these features link it to the Star Rovers stories. At the end of the Star Rovers tale, one learns that all versions of reality told by the leads turn out to be false. Here, however, we instantly realize that Bancroft's version of reality is true, a difference in paradigm between this work and the Star Rovers.

Fox also includes radiation found in metals. This is a perennial theme of his stories.

Sid Greene's depiction of an aerial restaurant is delightful (p3). It shows tables floating in three dimensional space. In this it recalls the 3D spacescapes of Greene's "The Incredible Eyes of Arthur Geil" (Strange Adventures #77, February 1957), which also showed people and furniture floating in space.

The spaceship (p4) is one of Greene's most complex. It seems full of phallic symbolism. Also interesting: the small one-man rocket with which the hero skims over the ocean (p4). He is lying down at full length in this, on his stomach, an interesting posture that recalls some kinds of sledding.

Next Year -- Andromeda (1963). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. Young scientist is assigned to the planet Alikrann in star Alpha Cygni, and solves a science fiction puzzle there. Mort Weisinger was not the only DC editor whose sf works contained mystery elements. Julius Schwartz' sometimes did too. One tale in the Schwartz world has stuck in my brain for a long time, since I read it as a child in the 1960's, "Next Year -- Andromeda". In it, scientists try to solve the mystery of how a cute little alien animal can teleport itself. They hope to use what they learn to build spacecrafts using the same teleportation process used by the animal. The tale is both logical and ingenious. It gives a very vivid and thorough picture of the scientific process. I also loved the depiction of a peaceful future of advanced science in this tale.

This story is one of a series Fox did in which young Earth people try to cope with wily extra-terrestrial animals on other planets. All the tales are light-hearted and upbeat, with some welcome comic touches. They also have considerable science fiction imagination. In their looks at early encounters between humans and aliens, they somewhat resemble Otto Binder's stories of First Contact, although Binder's tales are all about highly intelligent beings, not animals like Fox's tend to be. These stories go back in theme to Fox's first Star Rovers tale, "Who Caught the Loborilla?" (1961). The story also resembles the Star Rovers (and other Fox works) in involving traps and obstacles on the alien planet from which the hero must escape.

Teleportation is a standard Fox theme, showing up in both his Adam Strange and Atom tales.

The learning device here, the Telempathometer, recalls the Absorbascon in Fox's Hawkman tales, which Fox introduced two years previously, in 1961. Both machines are put to similar uses - to learn about a planet and its beings - but the Telempathometer deals with much smaller chunks of knowledge. This change of scale somewhat recalls the change of protagonist, from individuals to huge populations, in Fox's cycles.

The Telempathometer also reminds one somewhat of teaching devices in Robert Heinlein's prose sf novella "Gulf" (1949), once again showing the influence of Heinlein on Fox.

The No-Name Planet (1964). Writer: Gardner Fox. Art: Sid Greene. A young explorer who specializes in finding new worlds and lost space travelers looks for a missing Space Patrol Lieutenant; he encounters an animal who can disguise himself as anything. This is the last of the non-series sf stories in Mystery in Space, and it is pleasant that they go out with a bang here, in this inventive and delightful story.

This story contains a large masquerade ball. Such parties were common in the DC sf comics. They were visually striking. They seem to be a common locus of romance in the tales. This is one of several romance tales written by Fox, the most important being the long running series featuring Adam Strange and Alanna. The heroine in such stories shares many of the characteristics of the (male) sidekick in traditional Westerns. She is definitely not a stay at home woman, shrinking from danger. Instead she is right by his side, sharing all his exciting adventures. She is just as brave and as adventure oriented as the hero. Like the hero, she too is in an sf uniform, signifying that she is a lead character in the sf tale. However, through no fault of her own, she is frequently is jeopardy, and she needs to be rescued by the hero. This makes her less central than the hero in the tale: he is the lead character, and she is the supporting character that needs rescuing.