A Tribute to the of

It’s interesting the things you stumble across. Somehow a few of the fine folk I work with at my day job got wind of my hobby and one of the guys offered me a pile of old comics he’d come across someplace.

I appreciated the gesture and when he brought them in to the office, I went through them briefly. As you might expect, it was an eclectic batch (I’d estimate maybe 40 to 50 issues with the inevitable Bugs Bunny, Sad Sack, lots of Marvel stuff from the 80s and the odd copy of Sable (post Grell) by First Comics, a few issues of Nexus, also by First, Spawn, Judge Dredd and a couple of graphic novels I was unfamiliar with. In other words, nothing of tremendous interest and some of them were in truly dismal shape. It would be charitable to call some of them reader copies. We’re talking crumbling covers and pages, most of which are on their way to a dark shade of brown. I couldn’t help but wonder where and how they were stored.

Still, a few interesting offerings were in there. I noted a Daredevil copy with a house ad for the brand-new character they’d named Wolverine. There was an issue of Adventures into the Unknown published by the American Comics Group, #121 from December 1960/January 1961. I’d never seen the like. It’s an anthology book, as so many were back in the day and there are even some credits on the stories, like the first one, “The Maltese Cross,” with a writer credit on the splash page for Shane O’Shea, which was apparently a pen name for Richard Hughes, whoever he was and with art by Jack Sparling. The cover, similarly, is signed by Ogden Whitney.

Next up is “The Wanderers” written by Charles Lacoste and drawn by Leo Morey. More strange names to me. The third story doesn’t list any credits, but the Grand Comic Database is almost always ready with an answer and “Egyptian Destiny” was a reprint under the “Fan Fare Series,” originally printed by ACG in Forbidden Worlds #46 from September of 1956. And finally, “Below the Surface,” from the cover, was written by Ace Aquila (another nom de plume for Richard Hughes) and illustrated by Tom Hickey.

Why do I tell you all this when I’m not even reviewing it? Habit, I guess. Documenting these old stories has become second nature. The reason this issue caught my interest, other than the novelty of seeing something I’d never seen before was one of the notes from the two-page lettercol. It was written by Daniel Erwine of San Diego and among other things he said, “…I would like to see the autobiographies of two of your artists, John Forte and Paul Reinman.” And then, “…why don’t you get hold of Steve Ditko and Don Heck? To me, they are almost my favorite artists.” The reply? “We aren’t acquainted with the artists you mention—but we don’t doubt they must be good.” Now mind you, this was before Spider-Man came along, but the mind simply boggles.

Okay, I’m almost done with this windy prologue. Scattered among this stack of comics, I did discover two examples of DC’s Silver Age, the first being World’s Finest #142 [Sage #8] featuring the debut of the Composite Superman, an old favorite. The other, speaking of titles I’d not read before, was “Tales of the Unexpected#70 from April/May of 1962. The GCD tells us the on-sale date was February 15, 1962 and was edited by Jack Schiff with help from associate editors Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan. Bob Brown rendered the cover with lettering by Ira Schnapp.

Another anthology book, this seemed to be all about science fiction with such examples as the first tale’s “The Hermit of Planetoid X,” with art by Bill Ely and Interplanetary Bodyguard drawn by Lee Elias, but I’ve decided to review the Space Ranger story featured on the cover and titled, “Space Ranger’s Invincible Enemy!” The script was by Arnold Drake with art by Bob Brown. I cannot recall where I read it, but Arnold was not a fan of Space Ranger and he purportedly was once singing to himself, “Space Ranger, I hate you, you’re mine,” while working on a script.

The antagonist in the story, a Martian renegade named Xorog, has somehow gained incredible powers and is bent on revenge, having once encountered and been imprisoned by Space Ranger. To me, he looks a bit like Multi-Man from the Challengers of the Unknown, but go figure as Bob Brown did a lot of art for that title, and indeed was the co-creator of that character along with writer Ed Herron.

Okay, back to our story, which kicks off with a remote-controlled rocket that’s “sky-writing” in space: “Space Ranger – I will steal the sacred scroll of Nubi – Try and stop me – Xorog

The taunt is, of course, spotted by Space Ranger, along with his companions, secretary/girlfriend Myra Mason and the little alien sidekick called Cryll. According to the Wikipedia entry, Cryll is a “…big-eyed, trunk-snouted shapeshifter with the ability to transform into sundry super-powered extraterrestrial lifeforms.” Space Ranger had found Cryll frozen in suspended animation beyond Pluto and now the little pink creature is his ally. Also, Space Ranger’s HQ is on a hidden asteroid and his real name is Rick Starr.

I may have covered all this in Space Ranger’s debut in Showcase #15 (July 1958), but that review was a very long time ago. In the credits department, Space Ranger is the creation of writers Edmond Hamilton and Gardner Fox along with artist Bob Brown, who seems to have got around, at least in the science fiction circles.

One final anecdote is that, again according to Wikipedia, “In 1957, DC Comics’ editorial director, Irwin Donenfeld held a meeting with editors Jack Schiff and Julius Schwartz in his office, asking them to create a new science fiction hero; one from the present, and one from the future. Given first choice, Schiff chose to create one from the future. After a successful trying out in Showcase #15 and 16, the Space Ranger was given a slot in Tales of the Unexpected as of issue #40 (August 1959).”

All right. Really, truly back to the story, where the trio has noted Xorog’s challenge and immediately headed to the isle of Nubi on Neptune, which is protected by a futuristic missile defense system, but it has zero effect on Xorog, who not only effortlessly flies through the flak, but he is flying without the aid of a ship. He’s become some sort of super Martian, catching and flinging one of the missiles at a nearby tower in a display of strength.

Xorog then swoops in and helps himself to the scroll, cackling evilly as he flies off with his ill-gotten gain. A bit later, he taps into Space Ranger’s emergency channel and hits our hero with another challenge: “Do you dare to try to stop me from stealing the Great Stone of Ilo?

This particular treasure is a boulder, studded with natural gem deposits, but surrounded by intense chemical fires, so it should be impossible to pull off this theft, but our three protagonists are off to Pluto and the planet of Mount Ilo to survey things.

Space Ranger’s plan is to have Cryll transform himself into a Mercurian Fire Bird, fly into the flames surrounding the Stone of Ilo and camouflage it by appearing to be more flames, obscuring it from the view of Xorog.

The little pink alien does as he has been bidden and it seems to work. Xorog is fooled into thinking the prize has been removed. Angrily, he bursts out of the chamber, right into a force field flare ginned up by Space Ranger. Nonplussed, Xorog simply rubs his hands together at great speed, generating enough friction to dissipate the force field and threatens to turn up the heat on our heroes if they don’t tell him where to find the stone.

Suddenly, Xorog departs. Space Ranger speculates that the fiend was weakening and had to go back to the source of this new-found power to recharge.

The next day, the renegade is at it again, this time raiding a cargo spaceship of it’s Jovinium and using the hull as a message board for his arch foe: “Space Ranger – This job was so easy I didn’t bother to challenge you. But my next target is the crypt of Oleda.”

This time Space Ranger, Myra and Cryll are off to Venus and the underwater crypt. It has one access point, a massive door over a stone enclosure that is exposed only during low tide and on a time lock to boot.

The team enters the chamber and secure the chest holding Oleda’s necklace by chaining it to the floor. Meanwhile, Cryll changes into a Neptunian Sea Lion that really looks like a sea-going lion, to gather and place a massive boulder in the entrance to hinder further theft by Xorog.

Just as they’re ascending the stone steps to leave, however, the thief flies in and uses his abilities to destroy the boulder by flying straight into it and using his invulnerability to shatter it to rubble. He invites his foes inside and proceeds to abscond with an ancient suit of seemingly worthless armor. When Xorog notes the attempt to keep him from the necklace, he nonchalantly bites through the Plutonium steel and helps himself to the treasure chest.

Flying off with this latest acquisition, Xorog says there will be no revelation of his next target, that Space Ranger should already have sufficient clues, but that this last mission will also be the last of the Space Ranger. Xorog then disappears into the ether.

Space Ranger puts on his thinking cap (which would be a great replacement for that ludicrous blue-hued fishbowl he wears; pray tell how can a transparent helmet that doesn’t even cover his nose or mouth serve any purpose whatsoever?) and cracks the acronym from Xorog’s thefts. Nubi, Ilo, Star and Armor add up to Nisa, the great palace of Jupiter. That will be the criminal’s next and final target.

At the palace of Nisa, a couple of the locals, decked out in gear resembling that of the Human Bomb, ponder just how the Kramium Lion, a sculpture on a pedestal, could be stolen, further explaining that Kramium is the deadliest radioactive element known. So, naturally, you’d make it into some sort of sculpture, wouldn’t you?

Outside the palace, Xorog has just flown in and notes that Myra is there, as is a huge Neptunian electric lizard that must be Cryll, but no Space Ranger. Asking if the hero was too frightened to show, Myra warns the alien to beware the million-volt charge in the body of Cryll.

Xorog uses his tremendous strength to pull a stone pillar from a nearby monument to strike the lizard, but before the blow can strike home, Cryll transforms into a Neptunian Flitter Bird. Xorog then completes his task and is soon on a distant asteroid. He notes that he barely had enough energy to make it back, but as soon as he gets to the magma-energizer, he’ll be back to full force.

Stepping onto the platform, Xorog is puzzled when nothing happens after activating the energizer. Just then Space Ranger appears with his weapon trained on Xorog and confirms that he has sabotaged the device.

Determined to triumph, Xorog advances on his foe, but in his weakened condition, a few blasts from Space Ranger’s stun-gun put the Martian down for the count. As the team is mopping up, the crook demands to know how they found his hideout. Space Ranger reveals that he’d placed a tracking device in the chest that held the Oleda necklace.

That ends this little 9-page adventure of Space Ranger. I’d like to note that at the bottom of the final page there’s a house ad for the debut of the Metal Men in Showcase.

Here’s a little information about Bob Brown (who passed away in 1977 at the young age of 61) that I unearthed thanks again to Wikipedia:

With plotter Gardner Fox and scripter Edmond Hamilton, Brown co-created the feature “Space Ranger” in Showcase #15. He would continue drawing that science-fiction adventure after it became a feature in Tales of the Unexpected and Mystery in Space, through issue #103 (July 1965) of the latter. He took over Challengers of the Unknown from that adventuring team’s co-creator, artist Jack Kirby, beginning with issue #9 (September 1959). He would continue on it through #63 (September 1968), with the comic becoming his best-known signature work. He and writer Arnold Drake created the Beast Boy character in Doom Patrol #99 (November 1965).

Brown drew stories as well for DC’s the Brave and the Bold, House of Secrets and World’s Finest Comics. He drew a run of Superboy adventures. With writer Dennis O’Neil, he crafted Batman’s first encounter with the League of Assassins in Detective Comics #405 (November 1970) and co-created the character Talia al Ghul in Detective Comics #441 (May 1971) as a recurring romantic interest for Batman.”

I’ll wrap up this history-heavy review by looking at the genesis of Tales of the Unexpected, once again with the help of Wikipedia:

In response to the restrictions imposed by the Comics Code Authority, DC began a new science-fiction series in 1956. The series featured artwork by Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane and many others, with stories by John Broome, Gardner Fox and additional writers. It was an anthology comic for many years, publishing a variety of science fiction stories. The series featured Space Ranger as of issue #40 and running through #82 (April/May 1964.)

Other features included the “Green Glob” (issues #85 – 98, 100, 102 and 103) and “Automan” (issues #91, 94 and 97.) The series’ last issue as Tales of the Unexpected was #104 (December 1967 – January 1968). As of issue #105 (February-March 1968), the title was shortened to “The Unexpected.”

Whew! I think I got a little carried away, but this was kind of a unique circumstance. Much like my recent encounter with my first issue of Bomba, the Jungle Boy, it’s pretty rare that I run across a series I’d not read before, so I was curious as to what made Tales of the Unexpected tick and how I’d missed it for all these years. Once again, we learn that the backbone of so many of our beloved superhero stories is the field of science-fiction and along with Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, Tales of the Unexpected had a seat at the table for a number of years.

I can see why Arnold Drake wasn’t overly fond of Space Ranger. With a backdrop as limitless as the cosmos, you’d think you could do more than what was done with the character, but it seemed to be a series of planetary encounters with Myra and Cryll tagging along for a little exposition and some comedy relief, much like the Martian Manhunter’s orange sidekick, Zook. Adam Strange, Captain Comet and J’onn J’onzz, among others, seemed to get a little bit better gigs and of course I already mentioned the rather ludicrous helmet of the Space Ranger. Not that I’m terribly fond of Adam Strange’s finned helmet, but at least he had the great good fortune to be a product of the wondrous efforts of Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.

While I had only the briefest contact with Arnold Drake, he gave me a couple of great things. First and foremost, Deadman and the Doom Patrol, but the interview that was never completed gave me a huge motivation to get going on reaching out to other creators and what a fabulous adventure it’s been ever since.

So, even though I wasn’t too impressed with this story, I’ll always be impressed with Arnold Drake and at least I learned a lot about Bob Brown, Space Ranger and Tales of the Unexpected. This one get a 5 on the 10-point rating scale.

Thanks again for joining us, readers, as we work our way into 2019. The next edition of this ongoing feature will be available the 1st of February and as always, the invitation from our benevolent webmaster and myself stands: If you’ve got commentary, questions or feedback of any sort, drop a line to my e-mail: professor_the@hotmail.com.

With that, here’s hoping the new year is treating everyone well.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

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