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Rod Serling’s dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind also has ample room for goofy aliens – Twilight Zone #26

July 15, 2012

If you were stocking some pop culture Ark to preserve assorted entertainment icons for future generations, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone would have to be one of the first television series included. If you narrow the category down to genre anthologies, it’s the unquestioned champion of the field, the Charlemagne of its species. I remember years ago devouring episode after episode during the many holiday marathons and never tiring of the show. Though, as Jerry Seinfeld once pointed out, all the episodes were pretty much the same thing, it was amazing the amount of gold that could be mined from those simple black and white veins. There were no (or very few) effects. There were no sweeping scores. There was just a script and acting and your own imagination, making it sublime theater of the mind.

Serling was the kingmaker of this realm. Even the lesser Night Gallery, with its hokier stories but creepier opening montage, had its share of genius (and most of that share came from the less-involved Serling). He didn’t catch lightning in a bottle twice with that second foray into televised suspense, but that he came so close, without hands-on supervision, stands as a testament to his dramatic sensibilities. Even his scripted twist ending for the classic Planet of the Apes makes that film nothing less than a feature-length Twilight Zone episode, and that’s what makes the PLANET WHERE APES EVOLVED FROM MEN all the more grand. (And also means that, in an indirect butterfly effect way, he’s responsible for perhaps the greatest painted cover of all time.)

And then there were the Twilight Zone comics books, first from Dell, then from Gold Key, and then on from there. (If Ripley’s Believe It or Not! can have a comic, then by God The Twilight Zone deserves one.) The format of the show was theoretically replicated by the one-off shorts within, including opening and closing “narration” from a four-color Serling. Like the show, you can pull one out of the pile and enjoy it (or not) on its own merits. I chose this post’s issue for its sci-fi leanings — it has one of those “flying saucer” covers that the Overstreet guide loves to note.

The comic has Rod Sterling’s name on it. His headshot is right there on the front cover. He makes several appearances. But the contents inside (both Twilight Zone entries are reprints from the earlier Dell series) read like what lesser talents would imagine Rod Serling stories to be. And that’s what they are, the mimicked threads of Serling’s tales.

Let’s take a look. Consider if you will…

The first story (Art: George Evans) has a scammer of lonely hearts getting his spectral comeuppance. Here’s Rod, with his sartorial finery, to open it up:

This one starts out with promise but peters out at the end, with a climactic scene that could be incredibly creepy but instead lays stillborn on the page. The less said, the better. And we all want to get to the flying saucer.

Before that, though, there’s some filler. “Journey into Oblivion,” which sounds like an abandoned 1950s Atlas book, chronicles voyages — lost ships, lost planes, etc. — that vanished without a trace. The last segment, relating the story of a disappearing Chinese army in the Second World War (a story that may or may not be garbage), has some of the yellowest Asians ever to be found in a comic:

And now, at last, we come to the flying saucer tale (Pencils: Reed Crandall, Inks: George Evans). Poor Alvah Petty not only has a crappy job and a fat, domineering wife who makes him wear a frilly apron while doing dishes, but also a fat hippie son (Clyde) who won’t let him watch his Westerns — making his life one of Dante’s circles of Hell:

But Alvah has his diversions. He’s an inveterate sucker for any pointlessly hierarchical club. Elks. Knights of Columbus. What have you. (One wonders if he ever crossed paths with Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton at a Raccoon Lodge convention.) It’s in these environs that he finds release from his servile days:

Does anyone under the age of sixty belong to any of these things any more? Do they still recruit new members? Has the internet done away with them? Do people join kickball leagues instead? Most importantly, if they disappear, where will we find halls to rent to host depressing wedding receptions?

Alvah’s loathsome wife and son can’t stomach the poor guy having any sort of happiness, so they decide to play a prank on him, placing an ad in the newspaper for a new “Knights of the Galaxy” fraternal order, one that the old man can’t resist. He goes off to the address listed for the meeting, while bitch-wife and dickwad-son snigger at home and eagerly await his slinking return. But instead he comes back with a card signifying him as a new member of the Knights. And he keeps going to meetings, now while wearing a vaguely effeminate space suit — making one think that dressing up is a BIG part of his deal, and that the frilly apron might have been his contribution to his chores (and please note that the son is sporting the same shirt — SMELLY HIPPIE):

After one of these meetings, Alvah tracks some dirt on the carpet, and one-shirt Clyde gets the idea to have said dirt tested to see where Alvah is going at night (yes, the hippie son IS STILL WEARING THAT SAME SHIRT):

Ah, the days when you could just waltz into a lab run by a frazzled scientist in a white coat, with tables stocked with Bunsen burners and beakers filled with mysterious contents, and get stuff tested while you wait. WHERE HAS THIS AMERICA GONE? (Also, this story was first published before 1969’s Moon landing, so our meek patriarch was the first man to walk on the lunar surface, and not simply the first one to dirty clean carpets with moon dust.)

Finally we get to see the aliens (sparing us a Contact cock-block), as Alvah carpools to a Knights convention:

Really, there’s no downside. And yes, THE SON IS STILL WEARING THE SHIRT. There’s no amount of patchouli that’s going to exorcise that funk.

The stories in the Twilight Zone comics are standard for the genre. They’re okay. They don’t set the world on fire, but few did in these old anthologies. Compare them to the best that the television show had to offer, though, and they’re dreadful. They’re painful and obvious (with art, though, that looks fairly sharp). They aren’t a blight on Serling’s good name, but they don’t live up to his high standard. Not a crime. But not a feather in the cap, either. What else is there to say?

Now, time to go watch William Shatner mug and sweat while trying to convince everyone else on the plane that “there is something out there…”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    July 16, 2012 1:25 pm

    One would think a comic anthology would be the ideal place to recreate the Twilight Zone magic. Eh, I guess it depends on the level of talent (although Reed Crandall isn’t shabby!).

    • July 18, 2012 12:03 am

      It’s not that bad, and it might be as good as it could be. Hard to bottle magic in seperate mediums, I suppose.

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