A Tribute to the of
I recently read through my first edition of Wizard, the comics magazine. It was some sort of year-end "slamma-jamma" effort as they called it, and while the staff seemed to be a bit overly enamored of the Marvel characters, I learned a few things, including the fact that the latest artist doing work on Superman has managed to make him look a bit like Captain Marvel with the rather indistinct eyes and heavy eyebrows. Somewhere, Fred MacMurray, the inspiration for Captain Marvel, must be proud. They also had a section about the best of the 4 eras in comicdom. Specifically they took a peek at the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age and Modern Age and compared the merits of each. The final result? The Silver Age came out on top. To paraphrase, they found the era to be the most fertile, especially considering the newly placed constraints in the form of the Comics Code Authority. Good call, Wizard, but we could have saved you the trouble if you'd just asked. ;-) The final thing that was confirmed to me was that there isn't a thing out there on the racks right now that holds much interest for me, sad to say. Small wonder that I use the tagline that I do for these reviews.
As you know, or should, after my repeated references, Showcase was the debut vehicle of choice for the Silver Age and while many new and re-established characters were launched from there, not every storyline was a homerun for DC. Why one concept would work and one would not is left to others and the market to debate, but the fact is, catching lightning in a bottle under the Showcase banner wasn't always assured. Witness, for example, the selection for this edition of the Silver Age Sage as we pull out a character that didn't make the cut, despite 5 appearances in the magazine and has been left on the forgotten heap of also-rans. It's Tommy Tomorrow of the Planeteers whose origin and debut are contained in the covers of Showcase #41, the November/December issue of 1962. Tommy Tomorrow was created in the mid 1940s by Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger. His original function was to provide a platform for the presentation of coming scientific advancements, and this he did in the pages of Real Fact Comics, begining with #6 dated 1-2/1947. Art for his debut was provided by noted science fiction illustrator Virgil Finlay. He also appears in issues 8, 13 and 16. He went on to back up Superman in Action Comics from 1948-1959. He was then shifted to the back-up spot in World's Finest Comics where he stayed through the March, 1962 issue--#124. Art for this Showcase issue appears to be done by Lee Elias. This two part tale is entitled "Frame-Up at Planeteer Academy!" (which is described as the West Point of space). Obviously this will be another generous helping of science fiction from writer Arnold Drake (who later co-created with Bob Haney, the Doom Patrol) and editors Murray Boltinoff and George Kashdan. Let's check it out.
The setting is the 21st century at Planeteer Academy where a class of rookies from points throughout the solar system including Earth, Mars and Venus are milling about waiting for instructions. One cadet stands out as a spoiled member of the upper class. Lon Vurian of Venus, it turns out, is the son of a star pupil of the academy who currently serves as the commandant of the Venusian Planeteers. It isn't long before the grizzled Sergeant shows up to start whipping the recruits into some semblance of discipline. After uniforms are issued, the training regimen and indoctrination begin. The first battery of tests involve the issuing of weapons and interplanetary targets for the cadets to try to overcome. Tommy does well until a Saturnian flying eel is placed in his path and he draws the wrong weapon to defeat it. As the cadets return their weapons to the armory, Tomorrow discovers he was issued two weapons of the same type, thwarting him on his attempt to subdue the eel. In later training he distinguishes himself but is again shown to be a blunderer when another simulated test goes awry. Convinced he's being sabotaged, he goes back to the training arena and finds evidence to support his theory. He suspects Lon Vurian, as both cadets are in a dead heat for the top of their class. When he discovers Lon is missing from his bunk one night, he searches for him and sees him tampering with Tommy's simulator panel. The next morning, when the testing begins, Tommy reports Lon to the Sergeant, only to find after a technician's inspection that his panel is in perfect working order. This shoots Tommy's credibility with his fellow classmates and when the final class problem is being set up, with Tommy leading the red team and Lon the blue team, Tomorrow's teammates want nothing to do with him. Under the scathing orders of the training Sergeant, the team reluctantly agrees to follow their leader.
The task laid out for both teams in the auditorium is to successfully find and retrieve the Stone of Gazda, a prized momento secured by an alumni of the academy. The stone has amazing powers and is typically kept under guard at the Planeteer academy. Both teams are then deposited on an asteroid and given 8 hours to achieve their mission. The blue team soon discovers that their directional finder has been tampered with and Tommy gets the blame. The red team is hard at it, meanwhile and they find that one of their members, Lo-Duey of Mars, is missing. Marching on, they encounter a natural obstacle in the form of a stream that's too deep to ford and too thick to swim. Using his ingenuity, team leader Tomorrow ropes some nearby spotted spindle-legs (who look a heck of a lot like pink giraffes with droopy ears) and successfully uses them to ford the stream. At the other bank, they run across Bell Blossoms that prove to cause a powerful allergic reaction in their mounts. As they journey onward, iron deposits begin to melt and form a barrier in front of them. It's the work of the vengeful blue team, who have upped the ante by peppering the barrier with Zolonite, an explosive powdery substance. Using a public address device, the blue team announces to the red team that their leader brought this upon them by tampering with their instruments, further eroding Tommy's standing with his teammates. Thinking quickly yet again, Tommy gathers the Bell Blossoms and scatters them over the barrier, which in turn cause their mounts to sneeze powerfully, blowing the Zolonite away. Tomorrow then blasts through the barrier and as he confronts Vurian he learns that Lon was not tampering with his simulator, but fixing it after someone else had. Putting two and two together, the pair discover that Lo-Duey was the culprit and as the #3 man in class, he was pitting the two top cadets against one another. As they make their way to the site of the objective, a spacecraft is already launching from the asteroid's surface. Hailing Lo-Duey on the portable video communication device, they discover that "Lo-Duey" was really Chardu of the planet Mercury, masquerading so that he could obtain the stone for his own purposes. Chapter Two opens with the former rivals of Tommy Tomorrow and Lon Vurian joining forces to retrieve the powerful Stone of Gazda. As the cadets take a transport ship to follow their quarry, Tommy explains to Lon the power of the stone. The stone, it seems, acts as a prism for the sun's rays. When the rays focus on a living being, they form a shield that cannot be penetrated by any weapon. They narrowly miss Chardu at a nearby asteroid, but find a vital clue to his next stop in the form of a blueprint of a missile plant on Venus. Chardu, using the stone to shield he and his henchmen, manages to steal the components he's after at the factory. A step ahead of the cadets once again, the men from Mercury are in take-off mode when Tommy and Lon arrive. Using the atomic exhaust from their spacecraft to coat the Mercurian craft, the cadets now have a trail to follow and encounter them again at a hydrogen generator plant where another robbery is taking place. The rogue gang soon encounter a wall of flame put in place by Cadet Tomorrow, trapping them behind the factory gate. Undeterred, they extinguish the flames with foam extinguishers and then hurry on their way. Tomorrow's thoughts reveal that they won't make their ship in the allotted three minutes if Lon manages his part of the plan. The writer asks in this panel "How can the invincible criminal be defeated by mere time? Can YOU guess?"
As they arrive at their ship they encounter an electric shield surrounding it. Quickly blasting the nearby source of power, a lighthouse, they board their ship. The sun has just set and the stone is now powerless, revealing the mystery of the three minutes referred to previously. As Tommy reaches the scene, he is horrified when he spots the wreckage of the lighthouse, where Lon was stationed. Unable to find the remains of his friend, he sadly breaks the news to General Vurian. He also reveals to the commandant his theory as to why Chardu has stolen the items he has and how dangerous he is about to become.
The tale then fades to Venus where Chardu reveals his plan to his gang. His plot is to orbit two rockets around the planet, each equipped with a hydrogen system. By exploding the hydrogen chain, he will create two miniature, equidistant "suns" assuring him a continuous power supply for the stone. Firing off and detonating the first rocket, they pause for 39 minutes so that the orbital pattern of the second rocket will be in place. They didn't count, however, on the cleverness of Cadet Tommy Tomorrow, who shows up to stop them from detonating the second ship's hydrogen warhead. Drawing a weapon on Chardu, he demands that he release the stone, but a moment later is dropped from behind by a stun ray. Awakening later, bound and in a supply shack, Tomorrow is shocked to see his friend Lon enter and release him from his bonds. Tommy tells Lon that despite the successful deployment of the second artificial sun, they still have a chance to defeat the criminals. Bursting forth from the shack with their ray guns, they soon disable the two henchmen and then begin firing on Chardu. After repeated bursts from their weapons, they manage to subdue the criminal, much to his disbelief. It turns out that Tommy had left instructions with General Vurian to contact Professor Trikon of Venus University, who had been experimenting with a giant Attracto-Ray unit. Using the device to haul the newly created artificial suns out into deep space, Chardu lost his source of power once again, allowing the apprehension. Lon then explains to his fellow cadet how he managed to come back "from the dead." It turns out he was thrown into the sea from the lighthouse and washed up on shore further down. He then met up with his father and found from him where to rendezvous with Tomorrow. The following day at Planeteer Academy, the Stone of Gazda is returned to it's rightful place and Tommy and Lon are awarded the Academy Medal of Valor for their accomplishment. Following their decoration, each man is awarded the gold bars of a lieutenant and the promise of great future space adventures beckons to the graduates of the academy.
In summary, Tommy Tomorrow was sort of a hybrid of Sgt. Rock and Adam Strange. Unfortunately the combination of pure science fiction in a military environment didn't seem to be enough to make him a title character for DC. As I recall, one of Showcase's early efforts contained a similar plotline (though I haven't read them yet) in issues #15 and #16 with Space Ranger and of course it didn't make the cut either. It kind of makes you wonder what Adam Strange had that these characters lacked. It's a puzzler. I still found the writing to be pretty good and as a long-time fan of science fiction it held some appeal. I'd give this one a 6 for an above average effort. My standing invitation to drop me a line at email@example.com is still in full effect. Don't forget to come by again in approximately two weeks for the next installment of The Silver Age Sage.
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