Genres, Science Fiction, Super-Heroes

Back to the “retro” Future, Toon-Style!

DC comics in the late 50s and early 60s had a strong Science Fiction vibe running through most of their titles, in many cases due to editors JuliusJulieSchwartz and Mort Weisinger,  both of who were long-time science fiction agents and fans; at one point in their younger day, they even founded the Solar Sales Service, the “first literary agency to specialize in the related genres of SF, horror, and fantasy”, with clients like Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder (among others), and many of their clients and friends donated much to the Science Fiction DNA in DC Comics. Otto Binder, for example, with artist Al Plastino gave us the Legion of Super-Heroes (still my all-time favourite super-hero characters), they debuted Brainiac and the Bottle City of Kandor, and Binder is credited with writing most of the early Bizarro stories, including at least the first “Tales of the Bizarro World” feature series as well as Superman’s Return to Krypton.

Two of my favourite science fiction heroes of the time were created in 1957; as the story goes, DC’s editorial director called editors Jack Schiff and Julius Schwartz into his office and asked them each to create a new SciFi hero, one from the present and one from the future. Schiff picked first, and chose the hero from the future (who turned out to be Space Ranger). My interpretation was that Schwartz was unhappy with the pick, as he thought that readers would more readily identify with a hero from and in the present, rather than a SciFi hero from the present but in the future (more Flash Gordon than Buck Rogers). He created Adam Strange, a present-day Earth man who repeatedly travels between Rann, a planet in the Alpha Centauri system via a “Zeta-beam”; he was called “Adam” because he was the first Earthman on another planet. The trips to and from Rann are also reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero, John Carter. Adam Strange, in the 60s, was one of my favourite heroes, commonly thought of as a “thinking man’s hero”. For an archeologist, he had an immense range of knowledge in other fields, and he used that knowledge to solve the many problems he faced (one each visit), not his fists. Kids learned a lot of esoteric facts in DC comics back then. Off the top of my head, I remember (and still remember) learning how much the earth weighed, what it’s diameter and circumference were, how many metals are liquid at or near room temperature, and so on.

Using 3dUniverse’s “Toon Generation” models and 3D artist 3djoji’s wonderful “Little Heroes” set for them, I started doing a few test shots of Adam and his Rannian girlfriend, Alanna (called “Atom Stranger” and “Ally-anna” in my Toon universe) in the middle of their adventure, The Savage Ant-Men of Rann:

 

Space Ranger, another favourite, was a crime fighter in the 22nd century. By day, a “shiftless executive at his father’s Allied Solar Enterprises”. As Space Ranger, he battled space pirates, alien invaders, mad scientists and other 22nd century threats of all kinds. He had a crew cut, wore a yellow and red spacesuit (with pixie boots!) and used a wide range of super-scientific devices, such as his multi-ray pistol. Oddly, he kept his identity safe by wearing a transparent blue helmet (?!). He operated out of a hidden asteroid base, zipping around in the super-fast spaceship, the Solar King

Set in the 22nd century, Space Ranger is really Rick Starr, a seemingly shiftless executive at his gruff, cigar-chomping father Thaddeus Starr’s Allied Solar Enterprises. He took on the role of the superheroic interplanetary troubleshooter to battle space pirates, alien invaders, evil scientists and other futuristic threats both cosmic and criminal, hiding his true identity beneath a transparent blue helmet and operating out of a hidden asteroid base via his sleek super-swift scarlet spaceship the Solar King (as opposed to Andre Norton’s, The Solar Queen). To help him on his missions, he had his trusty Girl Friday, Myra Mason and his trusty alien sidekick (and sometimes comedy relief), Cryll.

 

The third in my DC Science Fiction heroes of the 60s is Rip Hunter, Time Master. After the commercial success of Jack Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown, DC commissioned two more adventure-styled hero try-outs, Cave Carson and Rip Hunter.  Rip Hunter proved more viable, and after a few preview tales he got his own title that lasted 29 issues. He and his crew —   friend Jeff Smith, girlfriend Bonnie Baxter, and Bonnie’s younger brother Corky — travelled through time in his time sphere (which seemed to be a converted bathysphere). While many of their adventures happened at fairly realistic events in real history, they also had stronger adventures, such as The Bird-men of  2000 B.C. and The Robot Rulers of 2165 A.D. They started out in regular clothing, but eventually switched to green uniforms with red trim, complete with a “universal translator” device (years before Star Trek). I did a quick pict of Rip, although I didn’t want to take time to create his time sphere, so instead used a Legion of Super-Heroes time bubble (created by hal001 and available on sharecg.com). About to attack and eat the unexecting Rip are Rawart’s Chicken Raptors. The past is a dangerous place.

 

Adam Strange and Rip Hunter have evolved over the years, changing with the DC Universe as it “grew up” and changed during the various Crisis Events. Of late, Adam Strange (without any of the cool gear or uniform) is appearing on the tv series, Krypton, while Rip Hunter is a main character on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

These TV versions have very little to do with the 60s comic heroes, but these heroes (including Space Ranger and a host of others) appear in their 60s versions in the animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Also popping up there? Challengers of the Unknown, The Metal Men, The Doom Patrol, Ultra the Multi-Alien, and dozens more. Good times, good fun.

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2 thoughts on “Back to the “retro” Future, Toon-Style!

    1. Thanks very much, your opinions mean a lot to me (as do your incredible models).

      The site’s not actually live yet; I did an initial site set-up and some sample articles (as you can see the last was months ago) and, satisfied that it all worked like it was supposed to, sat back and tried to figure out what I actually wanted to do with the site.

      I’m still thinking…

      — Walt

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