Adventures in the Unknown

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The above is not a complete list of Adventures in the Unknown 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.

Adventures in the Unknown

This science fiction adventure series ran in All-American Comics from #1 (April 1939) through #25 (April 1941). Its first artist, Ben Flinton, would soon go on to draw the super-hero the Atom in the same comic book. The Adventures in the Unknown stories were serials; they were organized into a number of multi-chapter adventures, each stretching out over several issues of the magazine.

The Mystery Men of Mars, Part 1 (1939). Writer: Carl Claudy. Art: Ben Flinton. The Grand Comics Database says that this story is based on a book. College students Alan Kane ("Brains") and Ted Dolliver ("Brawn") are recruited by Professor Luytens to accompany him on a trip to Mars. The origin of Alan and Ted. Charming story, showing the preparation for a space flight way back when. The entire enterprise only involves three people, even though it is mankind's first trip to another planet! The tale is absorbing storytelling. The idea of going to another planet is wonderful daydreaming material, and this story imagines it all nicely.

Through all their college adventures at the start of the story, Alan and Ted wear suits and ties, as was considered proper back then. Even when they take off into space, they are still in suits, just as if they were going to class. During part of the space flight, they change over to interesting space suits. The colorist has made them a bright red. These are probably among the earliest space suits in the comic books, although sf pulp magazines had undoubtedly illustrated many previously. When they actually start exploring Mars, they are allowed to wear more informal attire: sweaters.

Alan and Ted are good friends throughout this story, and indulge in a good deal of male bonding. This is typical of early comic books. The heroes in them were usually buddies, who had warm, friendly feelings for each other. Friendship was an important virtue in this era. One suspects that in real life, the friendship was one of the few positive things that people had during the Depression. Histories of comic books stress the close personal associations that sprang up among the writers, artists and editors.

While this origin story is a lot of fun, the later episodes on Mars are too bloodthirsty and grim for my tastes. The plot material has a family resemblance to the writings of H. G. Wells. There turn out to be two groups of aliens on Mars, just as in Wells futuristic saga, The Time Machine (1895). The use of an anti-gravity ship for space travel also echoes Wells' works.

The Mystery Men of Mars, Part 7 (1939). Writer: Carl Claudy. Art: Ben Flinton. Alan and Ted return to Earth from Mars, and are picked up by an ocean liner after their splashdown. The finale of the Martian trip. The storytelling charm resumes when Alan and Ted get back to Earth. This low key tale shows the glamorous fantasies people had of ocean cruises back then. Our heroes wind up in spiffy tuxes.