It’s no big surprise that I’m a huge fan of pulp science fiction. I love the rayguns, the rockets, the aliens, and all the other tacky (but not at the time!) technology. I love movies, comics, magazines, and books… all of it. Men breathing on Mars? I can accept that. Rockets zooming from Earth to Pluto in minutes? Not a problem. Guns that shoot fire instead of lasers? Why not?
It’s not science fiction that my sons are likely to be willing to accept as they get older, but, when they’re my age, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica are likely to be just as silly as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers of the early-to-mid twentieth century.
Titan Books recently put a copy of The Simon & Kirby Library: Science Fiction in my hands. These are two well-known names in the comic book world, and it took me less than a minute to rip open the box and sit down on the couch to dig in. It opens with one of the best essays on early science fiction (in comics) by Dave Gibbons, who provides a nice bit of background on how these two men came together to create one of the largest collections of comic book stories (not all science fiction) in the world.
The book is broken into three sections — the 40s, the 50s, and the 60s. What surprised me the most was how many of the included stories in this 350+ page book were already familiar to me. The 40s section contains four tales of the Solar Patrol that made me grin ear to ear. With dialogue such as “I’ll speed’er up to five killowatts per light second” (spelling errors maintained) and “His hand reappears clutching a small atom blaster… it’s nozzle spurts flame,” you’ll fight more than once to keep from rolling your eyes. Hilarious stuff, but completely serious (and deadly) when young readers entertained themselves with these tales of adventure.
The majority of the 40s section finishes up with a number of tales of Blue Bolt. Blue Bolt was most definitely a nod to Superman, with his ability to fly, his super strength and bulletproof body. His fights were always against the armies of the Green Sorceress, and consisted of some of the craziest and strange monsters and technology. Even better, the last tale in the section closes with the fight between Blue Bolt and Green Sorceress coming to an end and the promise of a new adventure to begin the next month.
The 50s section is all about alien invasion, both friendly and not-so-friendly. You can definitely see in these stories the mania that was taking place in the USA. These tales all focus on strange craft in the skies, multi-dimensional beings with technology that we cannot understand and is dangerous in our hands, giant robots that are out of control, and even stranger stuff. What’s more interesting is also watching the artwork mature. The colorization, the facial features, and the dialogue all improves (but sometimes not by much). Again, it’s an interesting look into that time period’s customs, language, slang, and understanding of concepts like radiation, light, and energy — completely crazy and totally entertaining.
The book wraps up with the 60s and, as you can expect, it’s a strange collection of stories. So many of the tales focus on characters being whisked away out of their element. A few of the stories take place below the ocean, demonstrating that the seas were likely as big a mystery as outer space during this time. The theme of “we are the aliens” is frequent in many of these stories, but there’s also a conspicuous set of stories featuring The 3 Rocketeers that shows humans in a very positive light.
This is the third book in The Simon & Kirby Library series — Superheroes and Crime are the other two. I’ve yet to read the Superheroes collection, but the Crime collection was a very fun read that I can also recommend if you’re a fan of S&K. These aren’t stories that you’ll see being turned into blockbuster movies or even pointed to as examples of the best in storytelling… but they are pure fun and nostalgic if you can just imagine yourself as a young boy back in the 40s/50s/60s sneaking off to read what would likely be considered a “waste of time” to many adults of the day. For a few hours, this collection allowed me to imagine a world of rayguns, runaway robots, and space pirates… and I loved every minute of it.