As mentioned in a previous post, Futura – Chapter 12, there are some recurring creative cliches that irk the heck out of me and ruin my reading or viewing enjoyment. Author Lewis Shiner addresses many of them in his work and I have referenced it previously myself. This entry in My First Book of Noir shtick Jenny vs. The Crime Empire pokes fun at two of the most common and irksome cliches in any action fiction; that of the “Lucky Break” and “The Hostage With Access To Weapons (Who Doesn’t Use Them)”.
Breaking those tropes is why I found page five of Chapter 12’s Futura story so pleasing. Brought into the command center before the tyrant of space, Futura proceeds to beat him near to death with her bare hands. The scene in the fictional Chapter 5 of Jenny vs. The Crime Empire was directly inspired by how I envisioned the initial conference room meeting between captive Rachel Weisz and the evil corporate executive in the film Chain Reaction should have really gone down.
A few pages from the story Jenny vs. The Crime Empire. Originally published in My First Book of Noir (1953).
Yeah. I have no idea what I was thinking when I paid money for this cassette tape way back in 1983. I don’t even remember what continent I was on the month this was released since I traveled a lot during that period and I was usually drunk most of the time (the benefit and hazard of being young, amoral and with a disposable income coupled with unlimited opportunities for world-wide travel for $10 a ride). I think I was in Italy and there is a vague recollection that the purchase involved a party and trying to get into some girl’s favor. Guys do a lot of stupid things when it comes to women. That I still have this in my music collection is bizarre.
I clearly recall a customs agent shaking his head when he saw this cassette in my carry-on bag, but I don’t know if I was entering or leaving the US at the time. I’d like to think I was arriving in the States and the disapproval reflected American good taste, but Prince and his various projects were crazy popular back then.
Here’s a link to the title track to listen to, if you dare.
The overall science fiction themes of Planet Comics typically followed whatever trend was the most popular at the time. Early in the series the stories were verging on the silly, reflecting the Hugo Gernsback-style of science fiction, or “Scientifiction” that was prevalent in the pulps. Space ships were simple reaction rockets that flew through the cloudy, ether-filled space between the stars that arrived at their distant destination in hours. Mysterious rays that performed miraculous feats of destruction were fired with precision from hand-held weapons. Atomic steam powered the giant cities while prop planes soared between monolithic buildings. All very charming and a product of the times. But grumblings among fandom existed even then as readers often complained about the nigh-magical feats of machines and the impossible actions derived from simplified and fanciful physics. These type of complaints from readers would go virtually unanswered for decades until the secrets of how fictional and impossible science worked by a different comic book company that published their Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
As the elements of science fiction evolved so did the various stories in the Planet Comics title as a part of that evolution. The earnest naivete of the pulps gave way to a relative realism as technology prompted greater speculation as to what the future may be like. As the public was increasingly educated as to the true nature of the universe the more wild fictional elements were reigned in and fictional space travel was made ever more local and confined to the greater solar system. The settings of science fiction became more “plausible” even as it remained just as fantastic and impossible.
As the universe became more complex the story elements became inversely simplified. No longer did ships zoom to other galaxies and visit Cymradia or Mongo. Adventurers typically remained within the solar system as there were suddenly plenty of stories to be told featuring the wild, heavily populated planets of Mars, Venus and Saturn. Eventually these ideas would also fall to the wayside as readers recognized that Pellucidar and the feudal Mars of John Carter were unlikely in the “real fictional universes”. Currently these problems of unlikelihood are solved by the concept of alternate realities and other dimensions such as DC Comics’ Skartaris. The next entry in the Futura Saga from Planet Stories #54 (May 1948) is an example of the evolution towards “unlikely realism” in science fiction. The ideas of far-flung, magical planets like Cymradia are left behind in favor of Space Pirates plying the star lanes of Venus and oppressing the fish-like people of that planet.
Chapter 12 of the Futura Saga finds our heroine continuing her journey into space, fleeing the world she inadvertently helped destroy in Chapter 11. Not having learned anything from her previous efforts to free oppressed people, Futura pledges to aid the Venusians in their struggles against a piratical tyrant. The art is a pleasing step up from the previous chapters and is a return to the style of the early Futura chapters and reminiscent of the Buck Rogers and Prince Valiant strips, though there are more than the usual number of gratuitous Good Girl Art poses than in previous entries.
Happily, Futura does some serious butt-kicking in this chapter. Her fight scene is made made all the more interesting in that it was way back in 1948 that the creators chose to break the tiresome cliche of the “Helpless Captive” that still permeates most action fiction to this day. The cliche of the prisoner who nonetheless has access to weapons but doesn’t use them is a sore point for me when watching a movie or reading the scene in a novel or comic book (I’ll expound on that after Thanksgiving in a My First Book of Noir post, Jenny vs. The Crime Empire). It is so darn silly and is a sign of lazy scripting and false drama. I rank it right up there with the “Lucky Break” (When the weapon held by the bad guy jams right when he has the drop on the hero).
Page five is an utter delight. Enjoy.
In my browsing for all things Futura I came across an early 1960s jazz album by Bernie Green bearing the same name as the Planet Comics heroine from the Golden Age of comic books. While Bernie Green had a prolific career in television as a musical director and spent decades at rather generic task work he was also a surprising musical innovator. Comic book fans may be familiar with his work if not his name for Mad Magazine as the force behind Musically Mad from 1959.
But it was with Futura as part of the RCA Action series that Bernie Green was breaking ground as he helped introduce Space Age Pop to the listening world and gave me what I am going to call the unofficial theme song for the Planet Comics serial.
Often in these kinds of searches for related items the results have little to do with each other and are unconnected. Yet in this incidence there is a nice crossover between the comic book character from the 1940s and a jazz album from 1960s. Futura
the musical arrangement is early Space Age Pop and Futura
the comic book character is a space lost science heroine. Both entries in their respective genres have the trappings of, yet do not really embody, a science fiction theme and are experiments in what it was imagined the future might be like but would never evolve to exist.
For your listening pleasure here is a link to the title track of Futura, by Bernie Green and his Orchestra (1961).
Before I continue with the Futura Saga I am going to take a break to present a special request appearance of Mysta of the Moon.
Mysta of the Moon was long-running science fiction adventure serial that ran in Planet Comics from 1945 to 1949. Mysta is perhaps the most consistent serial in regards to art and story quality to have been published by Fiction House. Mysta originally appeared as a young girl in issue #35 of Planet Comics as a victim of the machinations of Mars, the God of War, the star of an early and very popular Planet Comics serial. In those stories, the evil Mars would travel the galaxy and possess different people, forcing them to commit horrific acts and spread terror and strife all in the name of conflict.
Having survived an attempt to destroy her at the end of issue #35 an adult Mysta began her own feature with issue #36, effectively replacing the Mars series with her own. Like many superheroes Mysta, who was now the repository of all knowledge, maintained a secret identity so the public at large would not know she was acting as their savior and defender. In her guise as an older and unappealing librarian, Mysta fought criminals, mutant zombies and solved mysteries with the aid of a deadly, unstoppable robot with which she shared a telepathic link. Mysta eventually abandoned the pretense of a civilian disguise.
Out of all the female characters featured in Planet Comics it is Mysta of the Moon that was the strongest in terms of characterization. Unlike many other contemporary characters Mysta largely stood on her own in her adventures. Typically in almost any comic book tale, while a female would often act as the lead in a story it was not unusual to have a man show up near the end of the tale and take charge, wrapping things up as the female character shed angst-filled thought balloons expressing gratitude and unrequited love. Among the Planet Comics entries this was most common among the Gale Allen serial. Mysta, being the most intelligent person in the Universe, would have none of that. Anyone interested in researching a good example of early female empowerment in comic books could do worse than reading the Mysta of the Moon series.
Planet Comics #52 (January 1948) features Mysta using time travel to defeat the menace of brain-sucking plants. The story also gives a nice recap of her origin with only an oblique reference to the original Mars story.
From the London Bell, page #5 (May 12, 1887).