Friday, October 02, 2015

Number 1795: Spacy Stories Week: Wallace Wood “Deadlock!”

This is the third and final posting for our theme week, Spacy Stories.

EC publisher Bill Gaines had a word for them: “springboards.” Springboards were ideas he got when going through books and magazines. The less generous in use of language would call them swipes, since he was stealing someone else’s ideas. (He and editor/writer Al Feldstein got caught at it, too, by Ray Bradbury.)

“Deadlock!” (here in the form of scans from the original art, thanks to Heritage Auctions) surprises me, not by being a swipe of Murray Leinster’s 1945 story, “First Contact,” but by the notation in the EC reference book, Tales of Terror!, “Wood plotted; probably scripted.”

Published in Weird Fantasy #17 (1951).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Number 1794: Spacy Stories Week: A machine to take you under control

This is another in our theme week, Spacy Stories. In this story an alien entity, in the form of a metal box, takes control of human minds. That sounds a lot like the Influencing Machine, made famous in psychiatric circles by Victor Tausk in 1919, in an essay titled “The Influencing Machine in Schizophrenia.” Tausk, described as a disciple of Sigmund Freud, quoted several cases of mental illness where the patient believed he was under the control of a machine. I don’t know who wrote the Space Ace story, but it was probably Gardner Fox, who wrote regularly for Magazine Enterprises. It would not surprise me if Fox wrote it, because Fox was an educated man who had a large reference library to use in his writing.

In some cases, the Influencing Machine was described as projecting images. In the pre-movie era, more like a magic lantern, but to our modern minds sounding like television. Our worst nightmares are realized...the Influencing Machine is real and in everyone’s home.

Where was I? Oh, yeah...there is a comic book story involved. “The Thing in the Box” is a reprint, drawn by Fred Guardineer. It was originally published in ME’s Manhunt #2 (1947) as “The Being in the Box,” and scanned here from its appearance in Space Ace #5, a one-shot comic book from 1952.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Number 1793: Spacy Stories Week: Joe Kubert’s Star Pirate

To end September and welcome October, we have another theme week, to wit, Spacy Stories Week, where each story will take place in that fictional space of the imagination. First up is Star Pirate, a Planet Comics strip that featured some great artists, including young Joe Kubert, whose familiar style is evident here.

Ever notice something about this style of science fiction? It is a pirate story, transplanted from Earth’s seas into outer space. One of the tricks used to make it sound more spacy is to insert the word space: space billiards, space coppers, space racketeer. Here's my friendly advice to would-be science fiction writers: do not emulate that outdated and cornball technique.

From Planet Comics #32 (1944):

Friday, September 25, 2015

Number 1792: Revenge of the hunchback

“The Horror of Gaul” is an oddball story; published in a crime comic, it has some crime at the center of it, but mainly it is about the “crime” of being ugly. Quartrino, who according to the splash panel, “ . . . could very well have served as the model upon which [Victor] Hugo penned his famous classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” is a hunchback, bullied and insulted by his master. It takes place in 1527 in France. Crime comics often used historical settings for crimes. I have no idea whether this is based on truth or not.

It wasn’t uncommon for comics to have stories about pathetic characters who are ugly and treated horribly because of it. It evokes emotion in the reader, leading to a revenge ending. (“Hop-Frog” by Poe springs to mind as one of the best examples.*) There is a lesson in tolerance in there, somewhere, or at least a warning. If you are a bully and ridicule someone you may end up thrown off the battlement. You would deserve it, in my opinion.

From Atlas Comics’ Crime Can’t Win #43 (actual #3), 1951. Signed by Myron Fass.

*Henry Kujawa has been doing an exceptional job collecting all of the comic book versions of Poe stories, either direct adaptations or swipes, for his blog. Here is “Hop-Frog”.