I despise the twenty-first century. Seriously. I could write for a solid month, ’round the clock, and not finish enumerating all of the reasons. One such reason in particular struck me the other day as I was reading A. Conan Doyle’s The Lost World: our globe has been entirely filled in – there are no longer any of the cool “blanks” which were cryptically labeled “UNKNOWN” on maps in generations past.

As recently as a century ago there was still a bit of mystery surrounding a few far-flung corners of the earth. Bear in mind that it was a time when world travel was no trivial thing; Charles Lindbergh didn’t make his legendary solo transatlantic flight until 1927. Writers like the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard, and (especially) Edgar Rice Burroughs penned tales of lost civilizations throughout the first quarter of the twentieth century, and they could really sell a reader on the concept because there were large areas of Africa and South America which were still largely unexplored.

By the 1940’s the “lost world” trope had “shrunk” down to include just an occasional vanished tribe or perhaps a “hidden” Himalayan city or monastery, and such tales were generally relegated to comics and movie serials. By the end of that decade many readers were turning their imaginations skyward, toward the depths of outer space, and the terrestrial “lost world” story became a relic of the past. Today, between affordable jet travel and ultra-accurate satellite imaging, if you can’t be in a place in just a few hours you can at least see it instantly on a computer screen. The traditional “place of mystery” is gone.

The time when kids (especially overgrown kids like me) could close their eyes and imagine a South America plateau inhabited by prehistoric creatures, or a fluke Antarctic “warm zone” covered with jungles that disguise lost cities of winged men and displaced ancient Romans, is long past. And I find it sad that two generations of readers have largely missed out on such tales.

That was all brought home to me when I was reading a 1950 comic book the other day. That particular publication year places it outside this blog’s usual balliwick — discussing comics from the late 1930’s through the war years — but a certain plot point in one of the stories really resonated with me and prompted the thoughts which opened this post.

The story comes from the first issue of Captain Science, published by an outfit called Youthful Magazines, and cover dated November 1950:

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

This particular title’s stock in trade was the interplanetary adventure story, in which every planet in our solar system (and most of their moons) seems to be inhabited by horrible aliens who intend to conquer us, eat us, steal our women, or all three. Captain Science (and most of the main characters in the book’s various backup features) thwart these evil aliens by either tricking them, turning their own technology against them, or just taking the direct and unsubtle approach of blasting them out of existence with an atom bomb.

Issue #1, though, contained a very cool little story which was a bit out of character when compared to the title’s typical fare. “The Monster God of Rogor” was heavily influenced by the “lost civilization” tales of the early twentieth century. But by 1950 the standard trope of such a culture on a mysterious island or inaccessible plateau would have caused the writer (in this case, the legendary Wally Wood) to be laughed out of the room, so Wood was forced to use a pretty artificial plot device to get the narrative ball rolling (as we’ll see in a moment).

As always, click on a page for a larger view. The scans are courtesy of the swell folks at the Digital Comic Museum.

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

Check out that splash panel! It’s an incredible fight scene, complete with a red-hot high priestess, drawn in the classic Wally Wood style. If that panel doesn’t have you totally jonesing to read the rest of the story, I believe you took a wrong exit on the ol’ info superhighway and are reading the wrong blog.

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

And we see the plot device Wood was forced to use to get the protagonist into a “lost world” situation: he bleeds on some sort of mystic crystal and is magically transported to an alternate dimension. It’s very similar to the somewhat contrived means which Edgar Rice Burroughs used to transport John Carter to Barsoom.

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

How could anyone not love this stuff? A hot priestess, weird hippogriff-like creatures (with extra legs, another Barsoom-inspired touch), soldiers dressed as ancient Greek hoplites, evil-looking enemy troops (with horns!) — this tale has it all!

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

I laughed my head off at that first panel: “…Tayne and Maryl strive to find a way out.” They’re obviously doing no such thing, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

Tayne’s either the smartest guy in the world or just the luckiest; he somehow dopes out the fact that bleeding on the crystals will unleash a powerful ray which will enable him to defeat his strange captors. Either way, we get a nice fight scene and a cool action sequence as the climax of the story.

The last panel on the page greatly reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, filmed three decades after this story was published.

Captain Science #1, Nov. 1950

The tale ends with another bit which was doubtless inspired by Burroughs: the hero is zapped back to our world, leaving his love behind, and he resolves to find a way to return to her.

What a cool little rip-roaring adventure tale! It’s very reminiscent of the “lost world” novels from nearly a half-century earlier, packed into just seven short pages. And such pages! Wally Wood’s art really sets this story apart from much of the humdrum work of the early 1950’s, and it’s easy to recognize some of the stylistic elements he’d later use to great effect in his work for EC’s line of horror comics.

I was hoping that subsequent issues of Captain Science would contain the further adventures of Tayne Whitney. No such luck – the story was an orphaned “one shot”; because it’s of a very different type from the title’s usual fare, I suspect this tale was either intended for a different magazine or else was kept around as “filler”. What a pity! I’d love to read more Wally Wood “lost world” stories featuring the heroic Tayne and his lovely Maryl.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.