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With just three weeks to go before I attend the comics-themed science fiction convention in the Los Angeles area known as "Wonder Con," I think it's high time for an update on what's going on in the world of Marvel Comics. As I related earlier, Marvel (formerly Atlas) seems bent on rebuilding a stable of superheroes to complement their line-up of Westerns and Model mags.

Last year saw the introduction of the Fantastic Four, which is now up to issue #4. More on them later. This month, the new superbeing is The Incredible Hulk. I hesitate to use the word "hero" since The Hulk doesn't seem to be a good character, at least, not yet.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Erica Frank and I have both extolled the virtues of superhero comics; I pumped Marvel while she was a National fan. Now, famed comics expert Jason Sacks weighs in, mostly to tell us that Erica's taste is far better than mine. He's probably right...


by Jason Sacks

Several weeks ago, the Traveler posted a short, mostly complimentary review of the new Marvel Comic The Fantastic Four. He liked the comic’s heady mix of fact and science fiction, as well as its inclusion of a female character in its cast.

That review troubled me because it praises material I consider to be second rate. Marvel is, unfortunately, a schlock-house. Several years ago Marvel specialized in Twilight Zone-style twist-in-the-tail yarns (which the Traveler discussed in 1959). Recently, though, Marvel’s output has descended into juvie monster stories. The Fantastic Four #1 is not much more than a full-length version of those same moribund tales with the addition of derivative super-powers. The ugly art from Jack Kirby only makes things worse. He should go back to drawing love comics and leave heroes alone. I can confidently say Jack Kirby has no future in costumed-hero comics.

A look of the covers of any month’s releases from this second-rate publisher proves this point.  The enormous monster on the cover of The Fantastic Four#1 is similar to the titanic creature featured in nearly every other Marvel book released recently. The outrageous Monsteroso from the October Amazing Adventures #5, the Mohawked Brutto in the October Tales of Suspense #22, and the ridiculous green giant Fin Fang Foom in that same month’s Strange Tales #89 all fit the same general template.


the Marvel monster who wears shorts!

These Marvel creatures are all bites from the same rancid apple. They represent a juvenile collection of clichés and ridiculousness barely suited for even the most dilapidated drive-in.

Conversely, industry leader National Comics is delivering truly outstanding science fiction comics.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Here's a treat! Our Copy Editor, Erica Frank, is not only a demon at formatting manuscripts, but she is also an avid follower of our rich fan culture. She now takes up the quill for her first article for The Journey – I think you will be as glad that she did so as I am...


by Erica Frank

For some reason, comic books often aren’t considered science fiction, even though they’re full of aliens, time travel, futuristic weapons, genetic mutations, and villains with the goals and technology to destroy the planet, who have to be thwarted by heroes with fantastic powers and specialized training. There is no Hugo award for comic books, and comic book authors and artists are not usually asked to be guests at science fiction conventions. Many people, however, consider comics a perfectly valid medium for fantastic stories that touch on universal themes.

Around every medium of science fiction/fantasy, you've got Fanzines. Fanzines are amateur magazines published to discuss those stories and themes; they are generally available for the cost of postage and sometimes a small charge to cover printing. You've probably heard of or even read a few sf zines, but did you know that comics also have zines? Now you do...and many of them are well worth keeping an eye on.



For instance, Alter Ego, a new comics-themed fanzine, got its start earlier this year; it’s now on its third issue. Jerry Bails, the main editor, noted in the first issue that publication was likely to be irregular. As is the case with many amateur publications, production may slow down after the initial rush of enthusiasm fades. Currently, it has a mimeographed print run of over 300, and is available for 50 cents in coins or stamps, with unfolded “collector” copies available for a few cents more to cover the cost of the special envelope.

Issue 3 focuses on Green Lantern, a superhero of DC Comics fame, with a couple of side articles and the obligatory letters column. Like many classic characters, he had a heyday in the 1940s, disappeared, and returned to print recently. Alter Ego #3 includes a retelling of Green Lantern’s origin story by George Paul and two related articles from different authors; they discuss the history of the original Green Lantern from the 40s and what’s similar and different in the modern version.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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There's no question that we are in the Space Age. Our headlines are dominated with space flights, the movies feature missions to the Moon and invaders from other planets, and our comic books incorporate the very latest scientific discoveries delivered from beyond our planet.

Not that comics employ the most rigorous application of science, but it's the thought that counts. If you follow my column, you know that I am an unabashed fan of these junior pulps. Call me a kid if you like, but I dig these mags. The Westerns, the romances, the science fiction anthologies.

But what I fondly remember from the War Days are the superhero comics. Though Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman are still around, it seems caped crusaders have fallen out of vogue with the populace.

Until now...



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If the United States is doing well in the Space Race, it is in no small thanks to a group of German expatriates who made their living causing terror and mayhem in the early half of the 1940s. I, of course, refer to Wehrner von Braun and his team of rocket scientists, half of whom were rounded up by the Allies after the War, the other half of whom apparently gave similar service to the Soviets.

I don't know if the Russian group is still affiliated with the Communist rocket program--I don't think so. Last I heard, they had all been repatriated. But bon Braun's group is still going strong. Until last year, they worked under the auspices of the Army, but now they are employed in a civilian capacity by NASA. Their giant Saturn project is the backbone of our nascent lunar program.

Of course, the fact that an ex-Nazi is playing such a pivotal role in our space program may not sit well with some. Perhaps to address this concern, the rather hagiographic movie, I Aim at the Stars has been released.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Two conventions in as many weeks! What as I thinking? And yet, despite the undoubted ardor of the undertaking, it was well worth it. San Diego's intimate little science fiction and comic book convention, aptly titled "Comic Con," was the most fun I've had at a convention in 1960.

There was plenty to see and do, including a well-stocked exhibit hall, fascinating panels with opportunities to meet creators--like the new Marvel (formerly Atlas) Comics hotshot, Stan Lee, and, of course, people in costume. There was a refreshing number of female and juvenile attendees--and not just Millie the Model fans, either!

One could say that D.C. (Detective Comics) ruled the roost, with big exhibits devoted to perennial favorites like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, though there are rumbles that Marvel Comics may return to superhero comics next year. I remember the brief revivals of Sub-Mariner, The Human Torch, and Captain America with fondness, so here's hoping they can pull it off.

Now, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let's take a look at these lovely (color!) photos I took at the convention, speedily developed for my eagerly awaiting fans.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!
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What?! The Traveler is reduced to buying comic books? The same fellow who reads Fantasy & Science Fiction, like so many prominent intellectuals do? Surely you jest!

Well, I couldn't resist. I pass these lurid covers at the grocery every week, and I decided it was time to plunk down two bits and see what all the fuss was about. Actually, I bought them at a second-hand store, since I wanted to start at Issue #1 of the titles I'd selected.

What did I pick? Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense by publishing newcomer, Marvel Comics (which, I understand, is a sort of descendant of Atlas Comics). I chose these two titles because they are billed as science fiction/fantasy anthologies, and if I'm happy to read science fiction "juveniles" and watch drive-in dreck, surely comic books aren't beneath me.



Astonish was a fun 15 minutes of entertainment, about at the level of the B-movie flicks. The headliner story, We Found the Ninth Wonder of the World, features a scientist whose hobby is making overlarge sea creatures (with exactly the same proportion as their unaltered originals--the square-cube law need not apply!) And... that's about it. I'm not quite sure why a biggish sea turtle counts as the "Ninth Wonder of the World," but it does make for a fine title.



The next vignette (I know the Secret of the Poltergeist!) is a silly tale about a poltergeist debunker who turns out to be a poltergeist--his scientific explanations are designed to allay the suspicions of the owners of afflicted homes. I guess ghosts just like to add insult to injury. The clever bit is that the sadistic spook has to rack his brain to come up with plausible answers. Did you know ghosts can sweat?



I didn't really understand the next story, I was the First to Set Foot on... the Mystery Planet! I think that a rogue planet ends up flying close to Earth, spraying our planet with radioactive oil. I'm not certain why this is the greatest of the effects this interloper has on the Earth (one would think massive tides would be a far bigger concern), and the punchline, that the inhabitants of the other planet are robots who use the oil as lubricant, doesn't make a lot of sense. On the other hand, the subplot is that the protagonist, who has a deep-seated prejudice against robots, learns to confront and conquer his bigotry. A rather high-minded and laudable tale for any medium these days.



In the last tale, I Foiled an Alien Invasion!, an alien race plans to invade the Earth by hiding out two-dimensionally on a series of billboards. The plot is foiled because it is possibly the dumbest plot in the history of alien invasions since Wells' Martians forgot to wear face-masks. Dig that crazy future car from 2008, though!



-----




Suspense's cover was more overtly science-fiction themed, so I saved it for second, expecting a better treat. I was not disappointed.

The first story (The Strangers from Space!) features an alien ship silently, menacingly approaching the technologically advanced Earth of 2000 A.D.


Of course that's where the world's capital will be!

Our first instinct, naturally, is to destroy the vessel, but one clear-thinking fellow manages to stop us from shooting as the spaceship lands. It turns out that the ship's crew look perfectly human, and the Earthers feel sheepish about judging a race before seeing it. But the sting in the tale's tail is that, after the aliens leave, we learn they really do look shockingly different, and they only adopted the disguise to avoid being slaughtered. Humanity just can't handle anything that looks too different, they surmised.

I'm sensing a strong anti-prejudice theme from Marvel.

I rather liked the next story, I Dared Explore the Unknown Emptiness!, too. 500 years from now, the Earth is over-populated to the gills (a concept that is very popular these days), and humanity has invented its first faster-than-light drive to find a second Earth to export people to. Instead, the crew of the new starship find nothing but hostile or over-crowded planets. They take the discovery philosophically, however, resolving to solve Earth's problems back at home rather than exporting them elsewhere. Horace Gold would have rolled in his grave at this panel, though (and he's not even dead!):



The Day I Left My Body wasn't much. A prisoner being held for murder gets shot in a jailbreak. In a near-death experience, he briefly possesses a defense attorney and leaves the lawyer with a geas to get the prisoner off. Unfortunately for the prisoner (who is shown to be an unrepentant jerk), the attorney works too hard to exonerate his client, turning in an exhausted, lackluster performance in court that results in the prisoner's conviction.



He Fled in the Night follows the story of an 18th century clerk who leaves it all for adventure on the South Seas. The punchline? His name is Robinson Crusoe. A slight story, but the art and style was nice. I'd like to see more in this vein.


I feel something of a kinship with this fellow, sometimes...

Last, but not least, was the enjoyable vignette, Prisoner of the Satellites! Aliens zap the Earth with a ray that enfolds its victims, living and inanimate, in a field that shrinks them into infinite smallness. This is the first stage in an attempt to unhinge humanity, making us ripe for conquest. It turns out, however, that cosmic rays reverse the effect (why not?), and the aliens leave, beaten.



So ends my first toe-dipping into the world of comics since I stopped collecting Detective Comics as a kid. I appreciate Marvel's subversively progressive message, and while the science isn't exactly top-notch, it wasn't bad for 48 pages of art and word-balloons. I think Suspense is the better magazine, but that's partly personal preference. I'll have to buy a copy for my friend, Carl McIlwain, a student of Dr. Van Allen who helped design the cosmic ray detectors on some of our recent satellites; I'm sure he'll get a kick out of it.

Back to the printed word next week! I hope you'll all stay tuned in to this frequency.

P.S. I'd like to give a special, public hello to some friends I made at the book store while perusing the stacks: Jake, Matt and Chris! And, of course, Carl.

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)


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