Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest Post | Chris KL99 - Space Adventurer

By GW Thomas

Edmond Hamilton has many claims to fame in a science fiction writing career that spanned fifty years. He began in the pages of Weird Tales, contributing the most SF of material in the largely horror magazine. He also explored his own brand of fantasy and even wrote a few legitimate horror tales. Hamilton's style of cosmic-sized adventure won him the nickname "World Wrecker" Hamilton, though he was also capable of writing deeply personal stories too, like "He That Hath Wings" (Weird Tales, July 1938). In 1940 he was chosen to write the Captain Future series created by Mort Weisinger. Hamilton's career peaked in 1949 when he wrote his most famous novel, The Star Kings.

In 1946, Ed made another choice that would affect his direction for the next twenty years. He began writing comics for DC's Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes. He would leave comics in 1966, returning to stories and novels full time. Before that day, Hamilton would write largely superhero fare, but occasionally he got to return to his SF roots in comics like Strange Adventures. In the inaugural issue he began his "Chris KL99" series, which would appear in seven issues. Loosely based on the Captain Future formula, Chris KL99 is a space explorer who flies around in his ship the Pioneer, with his three sidekicks: a Martian adventurer named Halk, the Venusian scientist Jero, and his chameolonic dog, Loopy. (Interestingly, Hamilton wrote six more Captain Future novellas for Startling Stories while penning this comic. There were enough space adventurers around in the comics to not make this a conflict of interest.) Chris got his name from Christopher Columbus, because he was the first baby born in space. The KL99 is his status from the Space Academy where he scored 99%. All seven adventures were drawn by Harold Sherman.

The first cover went to the adaptation of Destination Moon, but Chris KL99 opened the issue. His first adventure is "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950). Chris and his buddies are lured into the Green Nebula by a fake distress call. Unscrupulous types follow them to the planet of the nebula to steal its rich radium deposits. This turns out to be the food of the radioactive men who dwell there. It's up to Chris and his friends to make things right. Fortunately, Chris knows a little science about radium that saves the day.

"The Metal World" (Strange Adventures #3, December 1950) begins with mysterious raiders stealing metal treasures like the Eiffel Tower and Brooklyn Bridge. Chris KL99 and his team find the ion trail of the thieves and follow them to their planet-size spaceship. After being captured, Chris comes up with a scheme that will save earth's treasures and the inhabitants of the Metal World.

"The World Inside the Atom" (Strange Adventures #5, February 1951) has Chris answering a distress call from a miniature universe. Shrinking to microsize, he and his two comrades go to Ruun, a planet that is dying because its sun has gone out, allowing monsters to attack its citizens. The distress call came from Drimos, who turns out to be a tyrant, ruling the people with his artificial light. Chris discovers that Drimos is actually the king's twin, Karthis, and that the true king is imprisoned. He uses his size control to rescue Drimos, but Karthis vindictively destroys the light that holds back the monsters. Chris and his friends grow to immense size and restart the sun by throwing a dead planet into it. Obviously inspired by stories like Henry Hesse's "He Who Shrank" (Amazing Stories, August 1936), the atomic science of this story is quite dated even for 1951.

Up to this point, Chris KL99 had been the headliner of Strange Adventures. By #7 he started to appear later in the issue, and often last. This may indicate that other strips in the magazine were more popular, like the non-series stories by Gardner Fox or "Captain Comet" by Edgar Ray Merritt (John Broome). But more likely, Hamilton was busy with Superman and other, bigger titles.

"The Lost Earthmen" (Strange Adventures #7, April 1951) is Chris KL99's first origin story (this will be changed in future guises). In this episode, we learn why he jumps from planet to planet, exploring deeper and deeper into space. He is on the trail of the Starfarer, a ship his mother and father used to find a new Earth. When they did not return, Chris joined the Space Academy so he could go in search of them. He finds their ship on a remote planet where the survivors remain. His parents died as heroes, saving the doomed ship, hit by an ether-wave. But the survivors are once again in trouble. The ether-wave that made them crash will destroy the planet by drawing a storm of asteroids. Chris and his friends have to hurry, using parts from abandoned ships to repair the Starfarer. His quest now finished, Chris plans to quit space forever. He finds a recording from his father and mother that inspires him anew to carry on exploring the universe.

"The Exile of Space" (Strange Adventures #9, June 1951) is Halk's origin story. As chief scientist of Mars, he ruined the great crystal that pumps the planet's water. He has been searching space for a replacement. This he finds on a world that has sent a distress call. When the three arrive, after a couple of close calls with energy beings and an asteroid belt, they find the local tyrant has several power crystals and uses them to oppress the people. Chris and his friends, using gravity inhibitors (a la Buck Rogers), fly up to one of the crystals and take over. Using that crystal, they blow up the others. As a reward, the people ask Halk to take the last remaining crystal with them. Halk is able to make amends for his mistake, but doesn't give up his life in space.

"The Missing Moon" (Strange Adventures #11, August 1951) starts with a visit to a planet of astronomers who give Chris an interesting photograph of earth. In the picture, there are two moons. Chris begins a quest to find earth's missing moon. He follows a trail in space that leads him to the moon, where a civilization of technology haters arrest him and his friends for sacrilege. He learns that there was once a war between the two moons. Giant energy weapons destroyed the surface of our moon, while thrusting the second moon out of orbit and into the galaxy. Escaping the moon-men, a new problem threatens everyone. A dark star is drawing near and only the projection weapons can save them. Halk and Jero hold off the moon-men long enough for Chris to divert the moon away from the star. He even parks the moon around a warm sun, improving life for the moon people. Shades of Space: 1999!

"The Rival Columbus of Space" (Strange Adventures #15, December 1951) features Shan Kar, a fellow explorer from the planet Zor who is Chris KL99's only rival. Shan Kar decides he will enter a deadly, bell-shaped dark cloud because he thinks a planet lies inside. Chris warns Shan Kar off and everyone thinks he is jealous. Both explorers head out in their own ships. Monsters attack Shan Kar's ship, but Chris saves him, allowing them to arrive at the planet inside. Shan Kar lands, even though Chris warns him again. Shan Kar finds gigantic jewels, but the rays from these cause him to grow to a giant size and unable to return in his ship. Chris has been to the planet before and has devised a metal that can counter-act the rays. He joins Shan Kar on the planet and begins smelting ore to make a covering for the giant. Shan Kar is shrunk back to normal and they all go home. Once home, Shan Kar declares Chris the true "Columbus of Space."

The character of Chris KL99 would live on at DC after its original author was gone. In later comics, his origin was changed and he made several cameos in other titles. But the great days of Edmond Hamilton stand nicely separate from these later changes. Here is space adventure of the simplest, pulpy kind as only "World Wrecker" Hamilton could provide.

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.

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