A Tribute to the of

Showcase.  It's a word that holds particular meaning for those of us who revere the Silver Age of DC Comics.  Showcase was the test bed for many significant character introductions during that magical timeframe and indeed was the jumping off point for the Silver Age itself when the Flash was recreated in issue #4.  That was merely the beginning, too, as later issues gave us The Challengers of the Unknown, Lois Lane (not a new character there, but the first to be given her own solo series afterward), the revamped Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Rip Hunter, the Sea Devils, the Atom and so on.  I hate to boast, but we've chronicled a goodly number of them right here and you can still read them in the archives section of this feature.  As a side note, Santa was very good to me this last Christmas and I have 3 volumes of the new Showcase Presents series to help continue the tradition here.

So, with all that as a backdrop, let's put another issue of Showcase in the spotlight for this review.  Specifically, it's issue #15 from July/August of 1958 and it contains the first appearance(s) (there are two separate stories within the covers, much like the predecessor and successor issues) of another new character called The Space Ranger.  The first tale, plotted by Gardner Fox and scripted by Edmond Hamilton is entitled "The Great Plutonium Plot!" Art, both cover and interior executed by Bob Brown. At the Editor's desk, Jack Schiff.

I know you'll find this difficult to believe, but the story begins in…space.  "Somewhere amid the 30,000,000 miles separating Earth and Venus…"  A ship is receiving an energy blast across its bow from another ship containing a notorious Jovian space pirate named Jarko.  He soon boards and relieves them of their payload of Plutonium.  Meanwhile on Earth's Moon a similar hijacking is taking place at a plutonium factory on the satellite's surface.  This one is being perpetrated by some little green men with oversized heads led by Gurph, the Martian raider.

Segue now to the offices of Allied Solar Enterprises where young Rick Starr is looking at news tapes.  He notes the recent rash of plutonium robberies, all by space criminals who've been out of circulation for awhile.  He then speaks with his secretary, the lovely Myra Mason, informing her he's about to take off on a trip after checking in with his father, millionaire Thaddeus Starr, who owns Allied.  His cover story to the old man is that he's going to Mars to inspect the new mining equipment.

Soon, Rick and Myra are at Earthport New York, boarding a glassine elevator to the space taxi stands.  Myra queries Rick about the journey, suggesting that it may have something to do with the recent plutonium robberies.  Rick confirms and says it may require the services of the Space Ranger.  (Anybody else hear a Space Ghost style echo?)  He continues to explain his plans to Myra as they taxi 1,075 miles out to the North American Space Station.  He's ordered a large cargo of plutonium loaded onto their ship, the luxury liner Utopia, as a way to smoke out the pirates.  He's even taken the additional measure of notifying the press.  Well, sure enough, about 40,000,000 miles out the Utopia encounters a ship that promptly puts it into a suspension ring and the precious plutonium cargo is taken from the spacecraft.  Rick and Myra head for his stateroom where he pulls out a device to track the plutonium, which he'd cleverly coated with Audium, a substance that gives off ultra-sonic sound waves.  The scanner is Rick's own invention and works on the same principle as Sonar.  It looks almost like one of those old Sonar screens you see in old submarine movies but in a laptop configuration.  Somehow, though, the gauges and dials don't look all that futuristic.  Well, it was 1958…almost 50 years ago!  So, Rick tracks the vessel to Mars and tells Myra that when they get to Marsport she's to check into the Martian Moon Hotel while he investigates.

Later, Starr is at a private spacecraft hangar on the outskirts of the city, getting a ship prepared for his use.  It isn't long until he's on his way into space where his piloting brings him to an apparently lifeless asteroid circling between Mars and Jupiter when he issues a transmission to someone named Cryll to open up.  In the next panel, a section of the asteroid shimmers and disappears.  As Rick eases the ship in he again transmits instructing Cryll to get the emergency gear out as the Space Ranger has a job to do.

On the next page, Rick Starr is changing into the yellow and red uniform of the Space Ranger, amid costumes and souvenirs of past exploits as Cryll looks on.  Starr comments that if he could change color and shape like Cryll he wouldn't require the costume.  Cryll, the small, pink alien that looks vaguely like Shrek replies that he's lucky that the Space Ranger found and rescued him after his ship crashed out beyond Pluto.  The alien sidekick then begins to blotch blue on his skin, indicating a case of nerves as they head out on a new mission.

The duo is then aboard the craft again, streaking over the surface of Mars via Rick's space overdrive invention.  As he locates the hideout, he promptly creates an artificial sandstorm with his handy Carboralyx pellets.  This he uses for cover as they advance on the hideout.  Once there, another dilemma as the tall building has no apparent entrance.  Not one to be deterred so easily the Space Ranger whips out his futuristic pistol and blasts a hole with his vacuumizer.  The pair leaps into the hole for cover and then he fires a thermoblaze at the wall, melting his way in.  Once inside it's like a maze in an Egyptian pyramid, but after awhile they of course encounter the bad guys.  The pistol comes into play again, this time with numb-rings that paralyze but do not harm the Martians.  Unfortunately for Rick, the little green men are armed, too and a heat ray melts the coil on his gun, rendering it useless.  Now it's down to hand to hand combat as three pirates tackle the Space Ranger.  He breaks free and makes a run for his entrance hole, but before he can go through it another burst from a ray gun hits the wall and buries him in rubble, rendering the hero unconscious.  Cryll, however, has managed to disappear.

Shortly, one of the pirate ships blasts off into space with a double payload including plutonium and the Space Ranger.  Speaking of the Space Ranger, Starr has come to and hears a voice commenting that it's a tight situation.  It's Cryll, who has shape shifted into a Venusian mouse and is with Rick in the cargo hold.  Rick instructs Cryll to hang tight while he waits to find out their destination and why the plutonium is being stolen.

The vessel's destination turns out to be Gandymede, one of Jupiter's moons.  Rick soon finds himself brought before Zandor, the renegade scientist.  The villain delightedly describes his plot for the Space Ranger.  He is building an ultimate weapon, powered of course, by plutonium and it will enable him to enslave the entire solar system.  He then escorts Starr to a section of the building that resembles an observatory, but rather than a massive telescope, it's a teleportator, a device which allows Zandor the capability to bring anything in the universe to his hideout, from valuables to living beings.  He even has a portable model that doesn't require the same amount of plutonium for power.  He demonstrates by teleporting a man from another room directly in front of the device in an instant.

Later, Zandor has imprisoned the Space Ranger behind an electrical veil, a living trophy for the villain to gloat over.  He describes the details of his plans to break the governments of the solar system by spiriting away their valuables, wreaking havoc with monetary systems and stealing away their leaders to imprison them just like Starr.  Then, the fiend departs for his ship where he plans to use the portable teleportator to secure the last of the necessary plutonium to begin his evil conquest.

After Zandor takes his leave, who should appear at the feet of the Space Ranger but Cryll, this time in the form of a Neptunian Electric Eel, which has the nifty capability of absorbing electricity like a sponge.  Next thing you know, he's successfully short-circuited the machine that held Rick captive and the duo dashes toward a ship to try and intercept Zandor.

Hours later, somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn, Cryll reports that he's located Zandor on the sonic amplifier.  Grimly, Rick replies that Zandor has in turn picked them up on his teleportator unit and they must find a way to elude him.  After some fancy evasive maneuvers, seeing as how the ship is unarmed, the Space Ranger takes a risk and rams Zandor's vessel.  A little later, encased in a space suit, Rick uses an Electron displacer that he's cobbled together to burn a hole in the disabled ship of Zandor, letting the air escape.  He then enters and discovers that his plan worked.  Zandor and his men are in a frozen state of suspended animation, but they can be easily revived later.  They are then turned over to the authorities.

The last two panels of this story show Rick back with Myra, gently chiding her for not checking on the mining equipment while he was gone.  She asks what he means and he comments that she knows how much he hates hard work.  (Tee-hee.)

The second story is entitled "The Robot Planet!" and the splash page shows our hero sinking into the ground as he's being bathed in rays emanating from robots, mounted unicycle-style on a single wheel with claw-like hands at the end of flexible arms.  The needle rays bombarding Starr are making him heavy enough to cause the sinking and he cannot seem to escape.  Shades of Star Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Things begin when the Space Ranger on routine patrol encounters a battered machine drifting in space.  He takes it into his ship to examine it further and instructs Cryll to head for the secret asteroid HQ.  Once there, he discovers Myra Mason, who has come to alert him to the fact that all the planets in the solar system are being mysteriously drawn toward the sun.  She then notices the machine Rick has retrieved and states that there are 5 others just like it rotating around the sun and the scientific community says they're the cause of the force pulling the planets to Sol.

Swiftly, tests are conducted on the machine until Starr determines it came from the Sirius system.  They waste no time in boarding the ship and heading toward Sirius with the machine in tow.  As they get closer to their destination, the device begins to glow more brightly.  Soon they arrive at a planet about the same size as the Earth and land.  The Space Ranger debarks and explores until he suddenly encounters the same wheeled robots we see on the splash page.  They immediately employ the needle beams and Rick begins to sink into the planet's surface.  With a tremendous effort he manages to fire his anti-gravity gun, helping to stop his descent.  Then, out of some woods nearby, cave people emerge, bearing tiny bows, but oddly no arrows.  The orange-skinned men pluck the bowstrings and the antennae knobs on each robot shatter, stopping the beams and allowing Starr to escape his doom.  After the robots have been rendered harmless, the caveman called Danaan introduces himself as the leader of the Shann-people.  He explains that 500 years prior his people had developed an electronic brain containing all the knowledge of their race; able to answer any question.  Within two centuries, they had become completely dependent on the device, even doing its bidding when it suggested building the wheeled robots to do their work for them.  The brain, however, had other ideas and under its direction, the robots subdued the people.  Only a handful managed to escape into the hills.  Since then they've waged guerilla warfare, hoping to overcome the electronic tyrant.

Returning to the Space Ranger's ship, they discover that Myra is gone and Cryll, now in the form of a Saturnian Marsh Cat, is nursing a headache after attempting to fight off the horde of robots that attacked the ship and spirited Myra away.

Meanwhile, back in the city of Shanador, Myra is brought before the massive electronic brain and is queried as to what she is doing there.  She says the Space Ranger will stop its attempts to take over the universe and the brain promptly instructs the robots to use her for bait, placing her under a Paralybeam.

Outside Shanador, Danaan points out the place where Myra is being held and says he will show them the secret way to the chambers where the great brain lies.  So shortly thereafter the Space Ranger and Cryll emerge into the chamber where Myra is being held in stasis when Shann renegades arrive to screw things up.  Thinking quickly Cryll changes into a sort of giant bird-like creature to distract the new arrivals while Starr continues to climb a nearby ladder to free Myra.  He manages to successfully reach the beam projector and repositions it over the interlopers.  He then tells Myra that through Danaan he's learned the electronic brain is the source of the machines revolving around the sun as a means to blackmail the solar system into submission.

Outside the building, the Space Ranger signals Danaan to begin a diversionary attack while they try to find the hidden power source deep in the catacombs below the surface of the great brain.  The overwhelming task seems nearly impossible and is soon made worse when a contingent of wheeled robots arrive.  Starr gives Myra his sonar box to combat them while he continues his feverish search.  She is successful in warding them off and she and Cryll soon follow.

Back at the large complex that is the brain, the device is trying to counter what is going on around it, including the attack by the rebel force.

Below in the tunnels, the Space Ranger has at last located the power source.  Naturally a fresh group of robots arrives and they do not have the same vulnerable knobs as their predecessors.  Cryll does his shape shift again, this time into the form of a plutonium web lizard that is able to quickly create a sticky web in the corridor doorway, stopping the robots temporarily while Rick uses his trusty dissolverizer (honest, that's what they call the silly thing) to break through the diamond prisms guarding the power source.  The robots have broken through, though and are advancing when they abruptly stop, apparently programmed not to cross the threshold of the power source.  Starr continues his assault, first with an ineffective magnetibeam and then with an equally unsuccessful attack with explosi-discs.  Just to add a bit more stress to the situation the robots have reanimated under the direct control of the threatened brain and are about to attack the heroic trio to stop their attempts at disrupting the power source.

In the very nick of time, the Space Ranger hits upon a successful weapon, this time the theta-ray transistor, which destroys the power core, stopping the brain and his robot henchmen cold in their tracks.

In the ending panels, Rick thanks Danaan for his key interference and the alien informs him that they'll repair the brain and ensure they have full control so that his people can again benefit from its wondrous knowledge and abilities.  The deactivation of the brain has also stopped the gravity machines that were endangering the solar system, so it's another day's successful work in the mission of the Space Ranger.

I guess you can't hit a homerun every time at bat and this issue illustrates that rather well.  The Space Ranger was kind of a bore as far as I'm concerned.  He seems to borrow many of his attributes from other characters.  He's a wealthy heir, for example.  He hangs out in space with no particular powers but his nerves of steel and some futuristic gadgets as he tackles crime.  He has a cartoonish alien sidekick reminiscent of Zook in the Martian Manhunter series in the House of Mystery.  He's got the extraterrestrial version of the Batcave in the asteroid hideout.  Perhaps strangest of all is his get-up where he covers his head with, in essence, a fishbowl that exposes the lower half of his face from the nose down.  What purpose does that serve?  It appears to have a bit of a blue tint to it, but if it conceals his identity, I don't quite see it.  Functionality seems to be nil, too.  I'm strictly speculating here, but perhaps the overall concept paved the way for Adam Strange.  In any case, the Space Ranger made only one other appearance that I can readily find and it was in issue #16.  No movement to bigger and better things, such as his own title, so the rest of the readers of the day must have felt something like I do.  My DC Comics Encyclopedia does mention that his greatest battle came during the war against the alien Gordanians when they attempted to capture Earth and that he was allied with Hal Jordan, otherwise known as our own Silver Age Green Lantern in issue #136 dated January, 1981.  Sorry Space Ranger, but it's back to the dustbin for you.  I rate your debut at a 3.    

Make sure you tap back into our URL for the next edition of this feature in approximately two weeks and in the interim, my standing invitation to contact me is always there.  Drop a line any time to professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until next time…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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