This was another wonderful issue of MYSTERY IN SPACE that I got in my Windfall Comics purchase of 1988. Just looking at the book, you can get a sense as to how much more invested editor Julie Schwartz was when working on science fiction material. He’d started out as an SF fan, and eventually found himself in the comic book business after several years of being an author’s agent for many noted science fiction writers of the period. So MYSTERY IN SPACE and its sister title STRANGE ADVENTURES were close to the editor’s heart. Unfortunately, he’d lose oversight on the both of them a few years later, when the powers-that-be at DC needed his help in revamping BATMAN. But at the time of this issue, everything was business as usual.
MYSTERY IN SPACE wasn’t a super hero title per se, but it straddled the line a little bit in its lead feature, ADAM STRANGE. Adam had a costume and fought bizarre menaces to his adopted planet Rann 25 Trillion Miles away from Earth. But he didn’t do so with fabulous super-power, but rather through scientific knowledge and courage and heart. Adam Strange was the thinking man’s hero, cast very much in the mold of John Carter, but with a greater emphasis on the power of brains over brawn. The creative team that produced most of the Adam Strange stories, including this one, was top notch. They were written by Gardner Fox, and illustrated by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. Infantino’s work was looser and more expressive than Anderson’s penciling, but Murphy put a nice slick finish on Carmine’s pencils. it was a great match (though not always to Infantino’s tastes.)
Despite being the lead feature the Adam Strange stories were still very short at this point, only 9 pages long in this instance. In it, Rann is under attack from what seems to be a mysterious enemy planet–but which is actually the work of Kaskor, second in command of Ranagar, who has ambitions of becoming a dictator. Kaskor has developed his own weaponized Zeta-Beam which transports Rann’s defenders to the planet Rhynthar, where they are wiped out by strange Dust Devil creatures. But Adam figures out that the Dust Devils will be transformed into glass and perish if they’re mixed with sand, and thereafter he’s able to devise a method of blocking the enemy Zeta-Beam weapon using a radio transmitter. And so he’s able to turn the table on Kaskor in the scant pages available to him before returning to Earth to await the next Zeta-Beam to Rann. It’s a tight little story, expertly illustrated.
I’m sharing this single page public service strip written by Jack Schiff and drawn by Bernard Baily simply because it’s so fundamentally absurd. I don’t know what readers they thought they might convince with such a sketchy argument as this. But it makes for a fun time capsule if nothing else.
And following that comes a really terrific house ad for BRAVE AND THE BOLD and SHOWCASE crafted by Ira Schnapp.
The balance of the issue was filled with a pair of similarly short one-off scientific adventure stories, of the kind that had been the title’s bread and butter before Adam Strange had been introduced. None of them were especially memorable, but they were both solid examples of the sort of thing you’d find in these pages month after month. This next story was the work of writer Gardner Fox and artist Sid Greene. Though he’s best remembered as an inker in the latter half of the 1960s, Sid Greene has a fun, playful penciling style, which he used on one-off stories like this for Schwartz frequently, until the demand for anthology series fell off.
The story is a bit complex for its length, but it concerns astronaut Captain Alan Woods who is on a flight to Mars, when he’s exposed to a strange radiation band that envelops the red planet and which puts him into a deep sleep for 125 years. In that time, Earthmen have successfully colonized Mars. But when Mars and the Earth are threatened by the Klurr Empire of space, the forces sent to Mars are likewise put to sleep for 125 years along with the colonists. Only Captain Woods is left to prevent the remaining Klurr forces from devastating the earth–which he does using remote control drone spaceships which he coordinates from a central hub.
Next up is another mock letters page installment of WONDER OF SPACE. While it’s set up to appear like a letters page, it’s actually more like one of the science fact features that Schwartz would scatter throughout the issue. The letters here are clearly fake, setting up particular points that Schwartz wants to speak about.
The final story in the issue is also the work of writer Gardner Fox, but it was drawn by Mike Sekowsky, who was simultaneously working on JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and who would one day edit WONDER WOMAN and the Supergirl feature in ADVENTURE COMICS. He was one of the fastest artists in the business, but he also had a way of manhandling human anatomy that often made his figures appear stiff and awkward. Definitely something of an acquired taste, at least in super hero fan circles.
The story is a light-hearted and frankly dopey adventure concerning astronaut Gordon Walters, who was a sort of Johnny Appleseed of space, seeding a variety of planets with potential life. In his travels, he comes across an alien device which allows him to transfer his mind into other creatures, which he uses for self-defense. But he happens upon a world where the deposed space-criminal Ekthinor is planning a revenge attack against the civilized worlds. Cut off from his space ship, the only way he can warn the Earth in time is by inhabiting the body of Ekthinor’s pet baboon, Koko. (No, I don’t know why he’s got a pet baboon either.) It’s fun and unchallenging, and not really taken all that seriously. But that tongue-in-cheek humor was a recurring factor in the Schwartz science fiction books, and really one of the appeals of them.
3 thoughts on “WC: MYSTERY IN SPACE #68”
From Rann’s point of view, Adam was definitely a superhero. In one early story, he’s accused of theft from Ranagar’s weapons vault because it’s impenetrable — but “obviously” a guy who can teleport from Earth can teleport inside a sealed vault!
Schwartz’s books always felt better than they needed to be. The extra effort shows.
The shot of the Shadow Thief cover reminds me how awesome I found him in his return appearance. The idea of “I can hit you but you can’t hit me” is way scarier for a villain to use than the Vision or Phantom Girl.
Adam Strange is definitely a superhero as we use the term nowadays. But he’s of the type well-equipped explorer/adventurer, and that subgenre has withered away over the years. He’s genre kin to Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, who were much more in public consciousness back then than they are now (note both are non-powered humans). His design strongly resembles Buck Rogers too – helmet, blaster, jetpack, etc.
His stories were basically the part of the adventure story where the hero can’t just smash the menace and has to out-think or strategically outmaneuver it, with a scientific twist. It’s sad there doesn’t seem to be room for that kind of character anymore.
Even Batman isn’t as much of a detective as he used to be.