I recently rescued another treasure from a bargain box. It is Space Adventures #44 (Feb. 1962). It’s published by Charlton Comics. They always seemed to be a B-level (at best) publisher, but that doesn’t mean that some of my very favorite comics weren’t published by Charlton. In many ways, this issue is typical of Charlton – cheesy, cheap and charming!
(I’m really looking forward to reading Charlton Companion by Jon B. Cooke, in fact. Cooke is an outstanding historian and author. You can never go wrong reading anything he writes.)
Judging a Book by Its Cover
The cover copy above the logo proclaims that this issue of Space Adventures is “New! Different!”, but that might be an overstatement. From the vantage point of 60 years later, it almost seems like it should be magically changed to read “Nostalgic! Predictable!”
The cover features repurposed artwork from two interior stories. The heroic figure, “The Mercury Man” is miscolored, unfortunately. Come to think of it, the scary looking aliens are miscolored too.
That Space Adventures logo is the best part of the cover to me. It is solid and readable, and somehow the level of design professionalism seems just a rung or two below the many “space logo” titles published by DC (National). The original version of this logo may have been designed by Al Fago or The Al Fago Studios.
The short stories presented within have a real “Twilight Zone” feel. They are basically brief snippets with a twist and a moral (sort of) for readers to learn something from. Interior artists Rockie Mastroserio, Bill Molno, and Charles Nicholas all try really hard, but clearly no one is near a Wally Wood or Al Williamson level of talent.
The stories are pretty cringy. In one, two warring white races finally unite against a totally different looking race. And there’s one all about how space women lure brave astronauts into trouble. And there’s also a two-pager about Magic Skates, if you can believe it.
In my career, I’ve had the pleasure (and stress) of working on several movie tie-ins. There’s always that element of “Hollywood Glamour” at first. And before you know it, you’re dealing with all the regular issues (scheduling, budget, production, etc.) that folks wrestle with on all projects.
(As my wife and I are watching the streaming show, The Offer, my thoughts have wandered to my time working on movie tie-in project at Paramount, and visiting that lot. But more on The Offer in that last week’s column.)
I can just imagine that readers of Space Adventures were excited by Charlton’s Comet Contest. It was a tie-in with American International Pictures production of Jules Verne’s Off On a Comet. There were some rules they established:
- You and a member of your family will be flown to Hollywood
Be a weekend guest in a a <that was a little Charlton typo> Fabulous Hollywood Hotel
- Receive $250 in spending money (that just about buys dinner one night in Hollywood today)
- Meet the Star and Visit the Set of American International Picture’s sensational “Off on a Comet”
And the ad detailed how it was so easy to win, too.
Of particular note, one of the brands along for the ride was Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy. This candy brand is prominent in the two-page spread. I have a special place in my heart for that brand for it, in some ways, sparked the creation of the Bonfire Agency! It was one of our first projects.
Do you remember seeing this movie version of Jules Verne’s Off On a Comet? Did you like it? The answer is probably “no” to both of those questions… because it was never made! One can imagine that after the success of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, there was a rush to replicate the success with other Verne adventures. But for whatever reason, AIG never produced Off On a Comet.
Not producing this picture was a drag to be sure. On the bright side, I am glad that at least the studio was able to make Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.
I can just imagine the turmoil and the chaos of the movie not happening and having to cancel the promotion. Or, perhaps, this was before promotions were regulated, and maybe Charlton just put all the entries and effort into “file 13”.
The Prototype Silver Surfer
As Marvel fans know, in the mid-60s, Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer as part of an epic Fantastic Four story. As legend has it, Kirby and Stan Lee had talked about the story idea of a godlike creature coming to Earth. Kirby reasoned that such an important figure would need an emissary or advance scout. Thus was born The Silver Surfer, the noble herald of Galactus! Both characters debuted in Fantastic Four #48 in 1966.
The silver skinned alien, despite having led the ravenous Galactus to countless worlds and being complicit in the death of innumerable poor souls, was touched by humanity. He was especially “touched” by Thing’s girlfriend, Alicia Masters. (Keep it clean, gang.) The Surfer was able to understand the inherent goodness in mankind and the foolishness of the many short-sighted activities in which we all indulge.
But The Mercury Man did it years before! He’s a silver skinned alien, who also wears swimming trunks and not much else, and came to Earth. He soon learned how mankind is tragically engaging in destructive, warlike behavior (similar to what destroyed his own civilization) and makes a decision. “I don’t only want to save mankind, I want to join it!”
My eyebrows shot up in a couple of places, as the inherent sexism is so dated. When the Mercury Man arrives on earth, and is looking for Dr. Penn, he’s surprised to find out Dr. Penn is a woman!
“I have come to speak with Dr. Penn. Tell him the Man from Mercury is here!”
But having been commanded to fetch the man in charge, the heroine stands her ground. “I am Dr. Penn!”, she explains.
“I had expected a man, Doctor,” says the Man from Mercury. “But, I am delighted you are a woman!”
And at the story’s end, The Man from Mercury mansplains “Even on Mercury, we know better than to argue with a woman.”
(I can’t help but wonder how different J’Onn J’Onzz experiences would have been had he first met the smart & gorgeous Dr. Penn, rather than that weak-hearted Dr. Ertl. What a missed opportunity for The Martian Manhunter.)
This initial adventure ends on a high note. It reads like a pilot for an ongoing series that never really took hold. Kind of like that Star Trek episode with Gary Seven and Terry Garr.
But, there’s something going on here that I think was meant to be over the heads of any pre-adolescent Charlton fans.
The hero and Dr. Penn square off. She says “Do you feel deep inside that you are one of us now? A member of the human race?”
The Man of Mercury responds, “I think I am .. but there’s only way to be sure!”
Then, the next panel is just a close up as the two embrace. And it’s a wordless panel. I know I’m reading too much into this, but it sure seems like an “adult moment” to me.
And afterward, Dr. Penn proclaims, “You are very human now, Man of Mercury.”
I’ll just bet he is! I’m glad neither one of them is shown smoking a cigarette. “Of course, you can resume your original metal form whenever you wish,” she adds.
Wow! This type of thing never happened to The Silver Surfer!