Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics

The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics
by Mike Benton

'The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics' (150 pp) was published in 1992 by Taylor Publishing Company (Dallas, TX). It's one of a series of volumes from 'The Taylor History of Comics' featuring overviews of different genres of comic books.

This is a hardbound, well-made book, although many of the scans used as illustrations suffer from some degree of cropping and low-res, presumably a consequence of the state of scanner technology ca. 1992.

'The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics' straddles the uncertain middle ground between a comprehensive (and expensive) reference text, and an affordable overview of the topic aimed at readers who are fans of the genre, collectors, or aficionados of pop culture in general. In my opinion, it does a reasonably good job, although with a print date of 1992, it is inevitably obsolete to some degree.

The book's chapters cover the field of dedicated science fiction comics from the 30s up to the early 90s.

Author Benton's remarks are a straightforward narrative of the comics and the creators, although he does slip in some anecdotes and cultural / sociological observations every now and then.

Benton relates how the genre waxed and waned in the years between 1930 - 1960. The 'planetary romance' style of pulp sf was predominant in the 40s and early 50s.

Basil Wolverton's classic 'Spacehawk' series was one of the more notable titles during this time (reprints were made available in the 1990s by Dark Horse Comics).

Benton devotes quite a bit of attention to the EC science fiction comics of the 1950s....these have been over-praised, in my opinion, particularly the issues that adapted Ray Bradbury stories. But all of the EC titles had outstanding artists.

The postwar era saw many titles devoted to spaceman heroes, a nod to the advent of television shows like Captain Video and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Benton also devotes coverage to the DC sf comics of the late 50s and early 60s. These were well-done, and featured some of the more offbeat approaches introduced to the genre, such as 'The Atomic Knights' serial that ran in Strange Adventures.

The 60s and 70s saw the rise of sf comics that were based on popular television shows like 'Lost in Space', 'Land of the Giants' and 'The Outer Limits', while adaptations of blockbuster movies like Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture had a huge impact on the genre.

The book's final chapter looks at the state of the genre in the late 80s and early 90s, when the Great Comic Book Boom meant that older properties, like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, were rebooted and given a more modern aspect. 

Whether this was wise or not is open to question; for example, DC's 1988 reboot of Flash Gordon featured some truly shameless cheese being handed to the fanboys, as witnessed by this cover to issue 2, with its lineup of chicks in g-strings and Fetish Boots opening fire on our hero - !

'The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics' features (as its appendix) a Checklist of sf comics up to ca. 1991. 

There are going to be some titles listed in this Checklist, like Kammandi: The Last Boy On Earth ! that are familiar to sf fans, while more than a few are - I suspect - going to be complete unknowns (Gold Key published a sci-fi comic called Mighty Samson ?!).....

Summing up, 'The Illustrated History of Science Fiction Comics' - despite being dated - is about as useful an overview of the topic that one can find. With copies for sale for very reasonable prices, it's worth picking up if you're a fan of the genre - there are sure to be some comics listed in its pages that you've never heard of, but are worth seeking out.

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