Sunday, December 7, 2014

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #28: Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #2, March 1975

by Professor Gilbert Colon

Editor-in-Chief: Marv Wolfman
Cover Artist: Michael Kaluta

The Shape of Things that Came

A Personal Playbill by Roy Thomas

The most newsworthy part of this introduction is where it reports “The shape of the main thing that didn’t come, alas…”: No “‘Repent Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” “our adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s brilliant, award-winning 1965 short story” as promised, heralded, last issue. (This is “due to various personal and family problems” of their “talented newcomer” artist Alex Nino.) Look for it in the third issue (with the promise that “you, and…Ellison—will like it”).

"Slow Glass"

Story: Tony Isabella
Art: Frank Brunner and Klaus Janson
“Slow Glass” concept created by Bob Shaw

The dull and unnecessary Slow Glass interludes continue before the framing device transitions into “War Toy,” and it could not happen fast enough.

"War Toy"
“War Toy”
Story: Tony Isabella
Art: George Perez and Rico Rival

When FM1 is built, the scoffers scoff – until the world is faced with a flying saucer invasion, with only the soldier-robot to save the day. The United Nations does what it does best – it dithers – until FM1, rifle blazing, violates the First Law of Robotics with glorious abandon. (Though technically the saucer invaders this death-dealing warbot annihilates are not human beings but, in Perez and Rival’s artwork, tentacled monstrosities.)

The general’s obsessive loyalty to his robot underling borders on touching, in its own touched way, and it is hard not to see the military brass above him as number-crunchers rather than true warriors – they view his “war toy” only as dollars spent, not human lives saved, at least up till the moment of crisis.

The victorious FM-1 and his human comrades, posed as the flag-hoisters at Iwo Jima, raise a U.N. standard, though rightly it should be the U.S. flag as depicted on the issue’s cover since it is American army forces who ride to the rescue like the cavalry.

The flag-waving brings us back to the issue’s “personal playbill” introduction. “Seems Michael [Kaluta] walked into the office one day,” Thomas writes, “and told me he’d like to do a robot painting for a cover of UWSF [but] covers which features robots are not exactly noted for selling copies either of comic books or of magazines…” (Could that marketing analysis really be true?) “Still I’d had this idea floating around in the back of my head for a long time—a view of the Iwo Jima flag-raising scene, only taking place on the moon instead of on earth, and with a robot in place of John Wayne. Couldn’t shake the image—so I gave Mike the go-ahead …But we still think it’s a helluva cover.” In more ways than one.

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away, and here that holds as true for metal military men. “There were no medals for FM-1; he’d expected that. After a battle, you don’t decorate a tank.” “War Toy” asks thought-provoking questions about the plight of veteran unemployment and abandonment and how society disrespects, disregards, and discards the very heroes who sacrificed so much for the good of a nation: Where will tomorrow’s heroes come from? Where will yesterday’s be when we need them again?

"War Toys"
“There Are No Yesterdays!”
Conversation With Alfred Bester, Author of The Demolished Man. Introduction by Interviewer Denny O’Neil

Science fiction critic Denny “[who] also writes comic-books for somebody-or-other besides Marvel” O’Neil interviews SF author Alfred Bester (also “a former comic-book writer”) in “his book-and memento-cluttered apartment in mid-Manhattan.” In O’Neil’s introduction, Bester’s novel The Demolished Man, winner of “the first Hugo,” is singled out as “one of the few works to successfully combine science fiction with a detective story.” The Stars My Destination is also singled out as “the best science fiction novel ever written,” and not only is an Australian comic-strip adaptation of it briefly touched upon in the interview, but a page from it is reprinted in this very issue. Bester’s short story “Adam... and No Eve,” “considered [one of the] classics of the genre,” is also adapted (by O’Neil) in this month’s pages.

The two discuss Bester’s stint as contributor to and then editor of Holiday magazine before his return to fiction with the novel The Indian Giver. The use of Freud in the writing of his characters, particularly in the fifties, is a topic of discussion, as well as whether or not science fiction predicts the future (Bester offers a noncommittal “no” and admits he thinks of the genre “more in the tradition of fantasy—of fabulation…”

A pair of his books “have been optioned,” and Bester relates an anecdote about going out to California to work on a script for a film adaptation of the optioned Demolished Man only to discover “that a script had already been written by a guy who took his loot and ran like hell.” (Exactly who would be fun to find out.) Bester refused further involvement because the screenplay “was just terrible, awful…He hadn’t adapted the book; he’d just done his own story.” (The other unnamed optioned work Bester spoke of was probably Who He?). To this day, despite many false starts and allusions to his work in film and television, only his short story “Fondly Fahrenheit” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1954) ever made it to the screen as the episode “Murder and the Android” on Sunday Showcase (Oct. 18, 1959).

“Gully Foyle”
By Alfred Bester & Stanley Pitt Associates

A five-panel sample page of this Australian 1967 comic-strip adaptation highlights Gully Foyle’s transformation into “an infernal machine eaten away by the acid of fury.” “Next Week: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY” hangs in the air as tantalizingly unfulfilled (at least for Unknown Worlds readers).

“Adam... and No Eve”
Script: Denny O'Neil
Art: Frank Robbins and Jim Mooney
Adapted from the story by Alfred Bester

Heedless of his mathematician Hallmyer’s warning that the “catalyst [in his] rocket fuel [will] start a chain reaction that’ll envelop the globe!,” scientist Krane blasts off into space and atomizes the human race. (“That catalyst…it’ll reach out to every iron atom--and there’s iron everywhere--even in the human body!”) When Krane’s rocketship loses altitude, he parachutes with his dog back to the surface below to see if there is “somebodyleft to help.” There is not. Even his dog turns on him, which he kills and then mourns. Hallmyer’s “ghost,” an accusatory conscience up till now, bids him to “crawl to the sea--.” The “old cycle” ends on a hopeful note as Krane obeys and offers his “rotting tissues” to that sea which is “the source of ten-million-million lives--cells, tissues, amoeba…” which will “grow, burgeon, evolve! [into] life [that] would reach out to the lands once more.” Krane’s peace comes in knowing that he, “the last-born,” will become “the first-born of the new!,” in other words, another Adam who is a second chance for the survival of a recalcitrant humanity.

Krane’s tragic flaw is hubris which, as with Greek mythology’s Daedalus, causes him to come crashing down from the sky. Unlike Daedalus, however, the Pride that comes before Krane’s fall brings “three billion” souls to ruin with him. Since the population count at the time of this story was calculated at just over 4 billion, it may imply that to Bester all history is cyclical, or at least partly so, and we are right back where we started – at another crossroads. The ghostly Hallmyer serves as a God-figure (the Supreme Mathematician) in this secular retelling. He warns this disobedient “Adam” not to overreach, and through Krane’s “Fall” an “Eden” is lost, and Krane’s “offspring” fruitfully multiply to populate a fallen world.


The fact that “the stars not yet formed into familiar constellations, and will not for another hundred billion centuries…” is clear indication that this seemingly contemporary tale is set in a distant forgotten past. The concept of a human civilization before our own that ended up in unremembered apocalypse is not unlike the finale of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. In Exorcist author William Peter Blatty’s 1978 novel The Ninth Configuration, one character muses that “Maybe ‘Original Sin’ is just a metaphor for some horrible genetic mutation in all living things a long, long time ago. Maybe we caused those mutations somehow: a nuclear war that involved the whole planet, perhaps. I don’t know. But perhaps that’s what we mean by the ‘Fall’...” Perhaps Blatty remembered Bester, at least in that brief instant.

"The Hunter and The Hunted"
If the thought that one rocket could wreak so much cataclysm seems far-fetched, consider the Manhattan Project scientists’ initial concerns that the first atomic bomb might ignite a thermonuclear chain reaction that would burn off Earth’s atmosphere. Interestingly, Bester’s short story, first appearing in Astounding Science-Fiction (September 1941), precedes those fears by a year.

“The Hunter and the Hunted”
Art and story by Michael Kaluta

One of “a pair of stories” appearing “for the first time in a professional magazine” – in other words, another fanzine reprint (from an unattributed 1970 issue of Abyss). There is no shame in this per se – some of the fanzine art is equal to, and sometimes even better than, what is found in “professional magazine[s].” The storylines are, again, another matter. Kaluta, in his “wordless novel” approach, renders his pictorial story about a boy adrift in the lonely vacuum of space opaque and needlessly hard to follow. (Thomas, in his editorial, boasts that Kaluta “…congratulated [him] for being one of the few human beings he’s met who actually figured the story out on first reading.”)

Science Fiction, Fans, and the Hugo
(Not Necessarily In That Order)
Article by Don Thompson

Last issue Bradbury sang the praises of the Science Fiction League, and this issue carries on chronicling the legacy of Hugo Gernsback – for whom the Hugo is named – by charting the genre’s road to respectability, entering as evidence the triumphant prestige of the films of the time (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Westworld, and others).

Starting with the only real acts in town, Amazing Stories (which began by mainly reprinting “H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and the like”), the first World Science Fiction Convention (where “the first Hugos [would be] presented in 1953”), and the 1939 film The Shape of Things to Come, this history of the genre culminates in a victory lap and launches into a short history of the Hugo, provides a checklist of winners, and offers recommendations on how to track those stories down.

The section about the 1930s fanzine scene should resonate with anyone with a website or blog, like this one, as it details the underlying thinking behind the phenomenon and how “the workshop approach…resulted in the fanzine writers approaching a professional level of writing,” adding that “Many of the fans became professional writers…Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Terry Carr, Robert Bloch, Forrest J. Ackerman, Ted White, Richard Lupoff, Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury…,” even while “the number of science fiction magazines was decreasing.”

Could it be that Marvel University inspires one or more of its readers to become the next bestselling author?

Story and Art: Bruce Jones

Another unattributed 1970 Abyss reprint (or as Thomas puts it, “one of Bruce’s earlier efforts”) in which a temptress, in the brig of a single-man spacecraft, tries to seduce its pilot with “surprising” results.

The meeting of the two characters – where he comes upon her bathing in a cypress pool on her home planet – seems like a nod to Forbidden Planet, right down to the pilot’s blaster (on page 44), which would explain why Thomas described the story as being “done in the style of the SF comics of the 1950’s…”

All this feels meant to reinforce the red herring that the Rad character is an Earthman – even his craft is very terrestrial in appearance, shaped similarly to the “flying sub” of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Panels and pages of rambling and repetitive build up are invested in a tale that ends with the weakest of twists.

In Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue-by-Issue Field Guide to a Pop Culture, author Pierre Comtois notes that Jones “displayed a special ability to draw the female figure” and “that final skill was an element of his work that Jones seemed to zero in on as self-written stories frequently featured female leads often involved in erotic situations.” Indeed that is all that is on display here, and nothing else. Perhaps Jones should have stuck to illustrating rather than self-writing.

“The Day of the Triffids, Conclusion”
Script: Gerry Conway
Art: Rico Rival
Adapted from the novel by John Wyndham

In “the second and concluding installment,” Coker, leading the sightless survivors, and refused sanctuary by the Colonel, saves Masen and Josella “for my own reasons.” In exchange, Masen is expected to be the eyes of this blind band “until someone shows up to straighten this mess out.” Not only is no one coming to their rescue, a plague is spreading throughout the city, which means the triffid-overrun country has become the only alternative.

The plague takes its toll, and Coker, the only survivor from his band, sticks with Masen to find the Colonel’s group at Tynsham Manor, their last known location indicated by a painted sign. At the Manor is a Christian community that broke with the Colonel over his “strange ideas” like having “no room for blind…” and “breeding like animals…” In charge is Miss Durrant who tells them the Colonel headed somewhere in Beaminster in Dorset, “Though if you follow you’ll be as bad as them.” Masen concedes her point, saying, “Maybe so, ma’am…but we’ll be alive.”

Coker continues on with Masen, but ends up returning to the Tynsham Christians. Masen picks up an orphan girl, Susan, along the way before deciding to look for Josella at Sussex Downs where she once said “she’d always wanted to live.” Using a headlight as a signal, he finds her at a farm living with a blind family and joins them. Susan’s theory that the triffids can hear them and talk among themselves is validated when the walking killer plants attack the farmhouse. Masen repels them with fire, then repairs and electrifies the broken fence.

A helicopter pilot who had spoken to Coker locates them and invites Masen, Josella, and family to live with them on the Isle of Wight where “triffids can’t reach.” The pilot departs, and before Masen and his group can pack and follow, a man calling himself the “Chief Executive Officer of the Emergency Council for the Southeast Region of Britain,” in fact a common thug, comes knocking with his men for collection money. A “hospitable” Masen gets them drunk and, gathering his people in the truck, plows through the electric fence, leaving the extortionists for the triffids to swarm. On the island, Masen begins a new life with Josella. FIN.

If Bester’s adapted story gave us an Adam but no Eve, then Triffids, in its final panels, gives this issue its Adam and Eve as Masen and Josella stand poised, as a “true myth,” to rebuild after man’s day of reckoning (…It’s just beginning”). An earlier and telling scene presages this last image when Josella wonders what to tell the children “about what happened to the world” and ponders “tell[ing] them a myth: that the world was very wicked, and men were punished for their sins…” Masen’s unexpected reply: “Yes, I think the truth will do, very well…”

The moral dilemmas introduced from the outset continue to take their place front and center. The “God-fearing folks” of Tynsham Manor, that outpost of “Christian mercy,” refuse to live by the Colonel’s pitiless philosophy, even if that means forfeiting survival. They accept a kind of martyrdom rather than live as does the Colonel, who abandons “decent morality.”

Perhaps the novel is clearer, but the helicopter pilot sent by Coker to find Masen makes for a confusing happy ending. Coker returns to the welcoming Tynsham religious community, only to find them dead from the pandemic. One of the Colonel’s rescue parties finds Coker who throws his lot in with them. This Colonel, now accepting Coker, is the same one who previously refused sanctuary to him and his blind wanderers. The Colonel’s ’copter pilot warmly invites Masen, along with his group, especially because they “can use a good biologist [like Masen].” Has the Colonel undergone a change of heart about survival of the fittest? Have the Christian principles of the Tynsham commune prevailed, even if its believers have perished?

Besides the Colonel asserting that only the fit deserve survival, Miss Durrant reports that he had “said there was no room for blind men…and only room for women if they’d consent to bear children without marriage!” This “breeding like animals, without God’s consent in marriage,” sounds like Dr. Strangelove’s General Buck Turgidson and the titular Nazi doctor’s role for women in their plan to repopulate a world in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. Furthermore, should not Masen fear for Josella should he suspect she is with the Colonel’s men lest her fate become that of the women under Major West’s “protection” in the Triffids-inspired film 28 Days Later? In fact, it seems inexplicable why a man traveling with a beautiful woman, or a blind man like Coker who faced the Colonel’s rifles at one point, would seek out the Colonel’s “heathen group.” However, judging from the pilot’s kindly invitation, the Colonel does seem to have reversed his policy toward the blind, and therein might lie a minor miracle not quite on the scale of that of the conclusion of War of the Worlds (which Wyndham named as inspiration), but hopeful nonetheless.

Analysis aside, Triffids is head and shoulders above most everything this new series has thus far printed and exactly what should be filling the pages of Unknown Worlds.

Story: Tony Isabella
Art: Frank Brunner and Klaus Janson

The uninvolving Prologue gets its finale as a man reveals his desire to preserve his dead wife’s image for eternity, as did the husband in Bob Shaw’s original “Slow Glass” story “Light of Other Days,” only this time following circumstances mundanely sinister.

Offering “Triffids” and “Adam” this time around gives readers two “name recognition” fiction titles, unlike Unknown Worlds #1 which, with the exception of the first part of the Wyndham tale, mainly collected fanzine reprints (of which there are mercifully only two in issue #2). Rounding out the improvements are “War Toy,” a surprisingly original work neither adaptation nor fanzine, and a worthy follow-up to the Bradbury interview, this one with Bester.

—Professor Gilbert

Professor Gil, Overseer of the MU Pulp Archives returns on January 11, 2015 for Part Three of his exhaustive overview of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. Be here!


  1. Not sure why, but I always thought that the Hugo Awards were named after Victor Hugo. Thanks for setting me straight Gil!

  2. There was story that I thought was in this issue of Unknown Worlds #2, but I picked up a copy, and it is not in there. It involved a love-struck hunchback that has two heads, and gets rejected by a pretty girl, and survives even after one of his 'heads' is killed, much to the horror of a young lady and her lover, or something like this. Does this ring a bell at all, and do you know what issue it is in? Thanks so much!!!