Monday, March 23, 2015

Moon Laughs: Comedians in Space [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Comedians in the '40s and '50s had comic books. They were good publicity, plus you didn't have to do any of the work. Other people wrote and drew them, trying to capture the essence of the stars, using their wisecracks and typical jokes. What was different was that the writers quickly ran out of regular stuff to do and had to find a new gimmick for each issue. This lead to Western scenarios, Northern scenarios, Foreign Legion scenarios, jungle scenarios, etc. Eventually they got to the space stuff.

Before October 4, 1957 stories about space were considered "that Buck Rogers stuff." So it shouldn't be any surprise to see the comedians with comics using space travel for laughs. This was not cutting edge science fiction but retreads of pulps and worse, comic strip and serial science fiction. Silver underwear, beautiful alien women, that kind of thing. You can almost see the strings on the spaceship models. The writers knew Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon but hadn't even heard of Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov.

The first to try it was St. John's Abbott and Costello Comics #3 (July 1948), written by John Graham and drawn by Lily Renee and Eric Peters. Lou and Bud are out of money, so they sign up for a dodgy job with a mad scientist (a common trope with all these comics and films). He sends them to Mars where Queen Astra is holding off an invasion by the Jupitarians (Lou calls them "Jups" at one point, reminiscent of their wartime humor against the Japanese). The two earthmen find a Martian dinosaur who is a complete coward. Astra has invented an elixir named KF-79 that creates instant bravery. With this drink, Bud and Dino both gain incredible courage and save Mars. One of the better jokes in the story has Lou and Bud riding the dinosaur. Bud says "Allez Oop!" in reference to the caveman-dinosaur strip Alley Oop. The story has the same feel as an old serial, most likely what inspired it, with space fleets and robot armies.

Unlike some comedians to follow, Abbott and Costello actually made a film with a space setting. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars appeared in 1953. Oddly, the duo don't end up on Mars but Venus where everyone is played by a contestant from the Miss America pageant. Robert A Heinlein had written a treatment called "Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon" in 1950 and this may have inspired the script. If so, it is the only example of a real SF writer having anything to do with comedian space humor.

The next comic to try an outer space scenario was DC's The Adventures of Bob Hope #24 (January 1954), written by Cal Howard and drawn by Owen Fitzgerald. After selecting a space suit for a costume party, Bob falls in with an egg-headed scientist, Professor A Tomic Balmy, who has fourteen beautiful daughters (all with boys' names). Wanting to impress, Bob volunteers to take the scientist's rocket to the moon. The hero chickens out, jumps out of the rocket, and goes on a short rail journey before sending the professor a telegram that he has arrived on the moon. He buys a parachute and jumps into the crowd that gives him a ticker-tape parade. Sadly, Hope never actually leaves the Earth.

This was followed by DC's The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis #34 (January 1957), again drawn by Owen Fitzgerald. Jerry, who is a member of the local boys' Junior Rocket Scouts runs into a beautiful woman professor (and her cute assistant) who is designing a flying saucer. After bailing Jerry out of jail, Dean manages to secure the job of guarding the saucer on its trip to Washington. During a test flight, Dean, Jerry, and the girls have an accident that sends them into space. After some lame jokes about the Milky Way and paper moons, the ship crashes back in DC. The professor is heart-broken, but the test is a success and the military funds her work. The story contains very little real science and few good jokes. Nine months later Sputnik would fly through the ether and America couldn't quite be as blithe about the possibilities of space flight.

The other comedic group to make a space movie was the Three Stooges with Three Stooges in Orbit (1959). This film has the trio take a room in a mansion with a mad scientist who invents a sub-tank-helicopter that can go into space. Of course they cross Martians trying to steal the plans for the machine and invade Earth. The Stooges had several different comics over the years but it was Gold Key's The Three Stooges #29 (July 1966) that finally gets into space. The art was by Sparky Moore. The plot is a little similar to The Three Stooges in Orbit, in that the three idiots deal with aliens. The Stooges find a UFO in a junk yard, which takes them to the moon. On the moon they encounter several different kinds of monsters as well as actual moon cheese but they can't get back home because their ship has been destroyed. Fortunately the UFO's owners rescue them, take them to their base for study, and find they have brains the size of peanuts. Fearing the destructive power of such stupid beings, the invaders flee the Earth, their invasion cancelled. Despite being only three years before the moon landing, this comic has no real scientific basis at all.

The 1960s would bring changes to science fiction as well as science. Star Trek would premiere on September 8, 1966. Much of the humor that followed was sarcastic parody of this classic series such as Mad Magazine, November 1966 with "Star Bleeech," and "Star Tracks" in Cracked, September 1975. On July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing would have as much impact as Sputnik had back in 1957. The old comedians and their comics belong to a time locked by the events of history. Humor about space travel would never be the same flight of fancy, but anchored in the reality of the nightly news.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails