Warning: This comic contains the most contrived contrivance in the history of contrivances – From Beyond the Unknown #2
Comic books have often gone to great lengths to achieve that singular selling quality: originality. That, after all, is what sells, especially when it comes to books that lack a strong, venerable central character. While readers can just as easily tire from reading Batman and Spider-Man if those heroes keep repeating the same thing over and over again, at least there’s that great hook of their larger than life personae. But what about anthology books of old? What was their angle? Why, improbable, silly, overcooked and nigh-unspeakably contrived plots, that’s what!
Before us today is the second issue of From Beyond the Unknown, a science-fiction anthology book from DC’s Silver Age. It has perhaps one of the oddest hoops ever jumped through in the history of the medium. It’s great and awful at the same time. Brace yourself.
First, a quick word about the cover. It’s a great image from Murphy Anderson, no doubt, with the giant footprint harkening to Godzilla movies new and old — or any monster movie for that matter. Not to mention the handprint, with the wonderful detail of the contours. But there’s a problem: did the monster come on the spaceship that’s parked next to the print in the asphalt? If so, how did it ever fit in there? Or did it not arrive in the spaceship at all, and were these two things totally separate and unrelated events? (Which would make this the most momentous day in the annals of Earth, by miles.)
For answers you’ll have to track down the comic, because our story has nothing to do with that image. Entitled “Paradise of the Planets!” and brought to us by Otto Binder and Frank Giacoia, it focuses on a misadventure of — surprise — a scientist. While vacationing in coastal Maryland, Lloyd Vincent suddenly finds himself trapped by an invisible force field that surrounds many square miles:
Further proof that Stephen King cribbed all his ideas from old comics. Under the Dome, Shmunder the Dome.
Vincent, as the thought balloon suggests, sets out to find the source of this chicanery. And find it he does, in the form of an odd-looking alien who wants to put the Earth in the interstellar equivalent of an exhibit at a county fair:
Pay attention to the alien’s face — it’s important. Also: is that boxish world from the Bizarro solar system?
Vincent realizes that rocketing Earth across the galaxy and away from the sun would be, as Egon Spengler would so succinctly put it, bad. He and tweed jacket try to figure out what it is that makes the Earth so special, so unique, what would help this alien win the 4-H ribbon or the outer space equivalent thereof. To wit:
No luck. (By the way, did we not realize that Jupiter was a gas giant back in the late 1960s?) Then, Eureka, he has it! And we get a typical trope from mid-century science-fiction, in which a scientist essentially declares martial law with the help of a docile, easily led constabulary. And in this case, his “solution” entails dynamiting a swath of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, thereby annihilating the scenic beauty:
Drastic, yes. Insane, yes. But guess what, it works. The alien, seeing that what made Earth so special is no more, departs, and Vincent is able to preen and crow and revel in his intellectual victory. And what was it, you ask, that made the Earth so unique?:
There you go. The shore in King’s County, MD looked like the alien’s face. Which really doesn’t look like a face at all. So basically this was something along the lines of a squirrelly farmer finding a deformed gourd that looks like Nixon and showing it to everyone he meets, whether they want to see it or not. (It really is a 4-H scenario!)
This is reverse-story-engineering that falls rather flat. It’s inventive in its way, and we all have to sympathize with Binder in his need to fill pages with something, preferably a plot that hasn’t been done before. This certainly qualifies. But can you help but roll your eyes at the end? Maybe groan a tad? No, right? Or is it just me that feels this way, a stick in the mud above all other sticks in the mud?
Then again, there are probably cartographers out there for whom this tale is manna from heaven. Finally, their time to shine!