By GW Thomas
Most of the early science fiction comics are just plain bad. Minor versions of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, they are sadly dated today. It's easy to see why SF historians have written them off as largely irrelevant. Still, they are a weak reflection of what science fiction was in the early pulp years. One comic that I find fascinating in this regard is "Scott Rand and the World of Time" by Otto Binder (writing under the Eando Binder pseudonym) with artwork by his older brother, Jack. The three segments that comprise this masterpiece of silliness appeared in Top-Notch Comics #1-3 (December1939-February 1940).
What makes this particular comic interesting is the timing. Jack Binder had previously written and drawn (as Max Plastid) the "Zarnak" comic for Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1936. After that stint, he drew comics for the Harry A Chesler shop, which "Scott Rand" was produced for. This group of creators wrote and drew comics, then sold them to packagers such as MJL who produced Top-Notch Comics. In many ways, Scott Rand's adventures were a continuation of Zarnak's, featuring similar ships and costumes in color.
True to the Flash Gordon formula (which had been around since 1934; earlier if you consider that it stole its inspiration from 1929's Buck Rogers), the team of adventurers in "Scott Rand" has an older, bald, cerebral leader in Dr. Meade. Meade's inventions, such as the time-car, allow our heroes to be heroic. Contrasted to Meade is Scott Rand; young, wavy-haired, blonde, and muscular. Partnered with Thor, a Viking from the year 200 AD, the team has plenty of brawn. Finally, the last member is Princess Elda, who is beautiful and exotic and completely useless, needing to be rescued frequently and acting as cheerleader to Scott or lab assistant to Meade.
The first installment takes Dr. Meade and Scott into the past. They go back to 200 AD and see Vikings attack Rome. The Romans hold their own, killing all but Thor, whom Scott saves. After this, they go to Egypt and save Princess Elda from being sacrificed to the god Ishtar. Dr. Meade, in an unusual show of force, guns the Egyptians down with a machine gun! Putting the time-car in neutral (a phase between time-worlds), Meade teaches the two newcomers how to speak English. It takes a long time but no time at all.
In the second part of the story, the crew return to 1940. Thor has a hard time of adjusting, attacking a taxi with his hammer, so Dr. Meade does the only logical thing. He takes them into the future because it is safer. (It's hard to argue with logic like that, but hey, this guy invented time travel.) They land in 2000 AD, in a futuristic New York that is under attack. On a large radio set, they hear that Martians are attacking in a battle fleet. (Here is one of those SF anachronisms that make you smile. Binder can conceive time travel, but not the Internet, or even television for that matter. He's not alone.) Scott and Thor join the military, while Meade goes to work in military intelligence. Elda... well... Elda looks pretty. Scott and Thor are so good at flying fighter ships that the Martians target them, but Scott uses a land gun and takes out the Martian leaders. The time travelers are heroes. (At no time does Dr. Meade suggest they take the time-car into the past and warn the Earth of the impending invasion. Good thing he is a genius.)
So why is "Scott Rand in the World of Time" so bad? Did it not have one of SF's hottest writers at the time? A man who would create Mary Marvel and Supergirl, writing over 50,000 pages of comics in his career? Yes, but "Scott Rand" was early in Binder's career, and written at lightning speed. The comic shops of 1940 pumped out pages at a terrific pace, with little concern for legacy. This was grunt work for low pay. Ideas were stolen, snatched from whatever was hot at the time; whatever was tried and true (though different enough you wouldn't get sued). Even later masters like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby tore through page after page, trying to keep the wolf from the door. The opportunity for greater creativity and care would have to wait until the comics industry abandoned the shop model and replaced it with the bullpens of companies like DC and Marvel. Otto and Jack Binder would make those contributions with Captain Marvel and Superman in the years to come.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.