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Adventures into the Unknown

Entry updated 24 June 2024. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

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US Comic (1948-1967). 174 issues. American Comics Group. Artists include Ken Bald, Pete Costanza, Harry Lazarus, Ed Moritz, Paul Reinman, John Rosenberger, Kurt Schaffenberger, Charles Sultan and Ogden Whitney. Script writers include Richard Hughes and Frank Belknap Long. 52 pages until #33, usually with 5 long strips, plus a few 1-2 page short strips and text stories; 36 pages from #34, usually with 3-4 long strips plus one or more 1-2 page short strips. From #112 virtually every issue includes a reprint, mostly from Forbidden Worlds (1951-1967); a few have two.

Adventures into the Unknown is considered the first Horror comic series: Avon's Eerie Comics #1 (1947) was a one-off anthology, separate from their comic series Eerie (1951-1954). It survived the imposition of the Comics Code in 1955 by toning down the horror content and including more sf, Humour and adventure – for two years in the mid 1960s it was dominated by a Superhero strip (see below). The artwork was often good, with the early horror drawn with some relish; the stories themselves, both sf and horror, could be Clichéd and bland at times (particularly later on), but there was much solid and strong work too.

The long strips' scripts in #1 were by Frank Belknap Long, including an adaption of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764). "The Living Ghost" stars Malevo, Satan's chief lieutenant – "even more evil than his master" (see Gods and Demons) – who goes around causing destruction. "It Walked at Night" has an antiquarian, bitter at his family home being turned into "a common hotel", dressing as a local ghost to scare off the clientele; but the real ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) kills him. Fake ghosts in "The Haunted House" have a similar experience. The issue's other long strip features a Werewolf. Long also wrote the longer strips in #2, at least one in #3 and at least two in #7. For the first 60 issues Adventures into the Unknown is dominated by such supernatural Horror stories, also including Vampires, voodoo, Monsters, Zombies, cat women, mirror worlds, wizards (see Magic), witches, Shapeshifting creatures, mermaids, ghost puppets and such oddities as a "wolpire" (half werewolf, half vampire) and a living ship that devours boarders. Nonetheless there are regular sf tales, or those including sf elements. Some examples follow:

#4's "Giants of the Unknown" has three archaeologists in Egypt awaking a giant (see Great and Small) wrapped like a mummy, who explains his race went extinct nearly 50,000 years ago – save for him, held in Suspended Animation. He tries to pass on a dreadful warning about how his people's extinction was caused by science being used for War not peace: even when he uses a Time Viewer to prove this. the archaeologists voice doubt, so he takes them back to his time (see Time Travel). We see Dinosaurs and the folly of his people – as well as the creation of a Time Loop when the giant is captured and condemned to be walled-up in a tomb, held in suspended animation. The archaeologists return to the present: two have taken the lesson on board, but the third wants to use the advanced Weapons stored in the tomb to rule the world; he is foiled. "Spirit of Frankenstein" in #6 has two Scientists designing a synthetic skin to cover a Robot so it looks human (see Androids), but it needs a brain. The younger initially plan to build one, but the older scientist is dying and insists his brain be used (see Cyborgs): unfortunately he also has a grudge against the youthful scientist. This opens a seven-part series featuring the young scientist and his girlfriend as they try to make use of the robot, ending (after some gaps) in #16.

In #8, "The Ghost from Algol", a spectroscope is directed at the planet [sic] Algol, also known as The Ghoul, whereupon the spirit of an Alien enters the man operating the device. Despite this opening a ghost story follows: nonetheless, it is possible that the film Algol – Tragedy of Power (1920) was a partial inspiration. In #26's "The Haunted Ghost" we learn that, just as ghosts are fourth-dimensional beings who haunt those of three dimensions (us), so ghosts are haunted by fifth-dimensional beings. #46's "Breakthrough" has a scientist creating the Dimension Machine, which enables travel to other Dimensions – turning it on, he is promptly abducted by Lothak, ruler of the Infinite Dimension, who wants the device to travel to and conquer Earth (see Invasion): but the scientist foils him, seemingly at the cost of his own life. #58 has "The Crime Machine": here a scientist's company builds electronic brains and he now wants to replace the legal system with a robot that combines the roles of "judge, jury and executioner" (see Crime and Punishment); the Bar Association protests and the scientist says judgement must be visited on them. The robots points out this will make the man a killer, so executes him: then it goes and kills the Association's members – having done so, it passes judgement on itself and tears itself to pieces.

From #60 two of the four long strips are often sf. That issue includes "Hospitality" where three Earth astronauts exploring a planet are treated as pests by the giant locals – they are caught in a mousetrap. In #61's "The World That Was" a boy's belief that people are good is crushed by experience; aliens from an overpopulated planet abduct him – now a broken man – they deem humans unintelligent and prepare to pull the switch that will wipe out all life on our planet: at the last moment they spot a city and realize there is intelligent life and prepare to move on ... but when they are not looking the man, remembering his life, reaches out and throws the switch. #63's "Change and Counterchange" has a scientist's brain serum turning the gorilla Bobo human: but is dismissive of the new man's insistence that he deserves dignity and not be put on display and gawked at; Bobo repurposes the serum so it turns the scientist into a gorilla. #72's "The Genius" has a scientist regulating his son's diet (for example, coconut concentrate instead of milk) so that he becomes a genius (see Intelligence) and top athlete, but this intellectual and physical gap between his fellows is matched by a social one: he feels an outcast. Matters are not helped when he suddenly finds he can read minds (see Telepathy), then later develops Precognition. He decides enough is enough and develops a formula that reduces his intelligence to merely smart, finding happiness. #78's "Rosie and Red Russia!" has a cute alien discovered in Russia, where it is studied; on learning it is intelligent, the politicians try to take advantage of it; but it returns to its home planet and makes its report – Earthlings are dim and their roses have an inferior taste, so the planet is not worth invading (aside from the politicians, the story treats the Russians sympathetically). #82 has "The Strangest Job in the World", about a Spook Detective who investigates reports of psychic phenomena – the cases we see are all proven to have rational explanations [for Occult Detectives see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

In #87's "The Tunnel" a scientist invents a nerve gas that makes people obedient – he thinks this will create a society where the wise rule unquestioned (see Politics), but on driving home finds three road tunnels (see Time Gate) – the left takes him to Ancient Egypt where the "wise" order the murder of Slaves to appease the gods; he tries the right tunnel which takes him to a future governed by science where the wise rulers decree overpopulation be solved by liquidation of the excess people, who go to their fate without complaint. Lesson learnt, the scientist returns to the present via the middle tunnel. #88's "Booster Shots" has a scientist drinking a formula that releases buried Memory: their effect is brief so he takes booster shots – each successively stronger – until he gains memories of previous lives. Eventually he recalls being a Neanderthal Man fighting dinosaurs. #96's "Space Adventurer" has a mechanic refurbishing a broken down Rocket hoping to make his fortune by becoming a space adventurer – unfortunately he lands on a prison ship and inadvertently frees a dangerous criminal, who realizes Earth will be easy to conquer. He is eventually stopped. In #99's "Missing – One Scientist!" a man is mocked throughout his life for being a scientist – but then Sputnik is launched, with the science of communist Russia seen to be well in advance of that in the USA, and society realizes their error (see Cold War). #105 has a bored botanist join a scientific expedition to the Moon; his real role is as an entertainer for the other scientists, since there is thought to be no vegetation; but in a vast cavern he finds life, including sentient trees. He posits the Moon is a broken-off part of another planet. #106's "Riddle from Outer Space!" has robots carrying out instructions to find and conquer a suitable new world for their alien creators long after they have died out: the robots target Earth, but there is a fortuitous off-switch on their home planet.

#114's "Delinquent in Outer Space!" has a juvenile delinquent sneak aboard an unmanned rocket so as to be the first man in space: he finds an alien civilization who consider him laughable: they return him home, the experience having made him wiser. #125's "The Invisible Menace!" has a cloud of tiny intelligent alien microorganisms disintegrating man-made structures – but a scientist has it sprayed with the cold virus, which kills them off. In #127's "Scientific Ape", arguing that the great apes never have heart attacks, a scientist with a weak heart injects himself with gorilla spinal fluid: it works but he slowly begins turning into a gorilla, dying of pneumonia because the US climate is too cool for an ape. #128's "Born to Be a Grocer!" reveals that insubstantial beings that evolved (see Evolution) the ability to control animals have been on Earth since life began: they now mimic people and live among us (for instance, as grocers), plotting to destroy humanity. Hitler and Stalin were such creatures (as were many Knights, Native American Indians who attacked European settlers and American colonists who fought the British for independence). In #133's "Robertson's Robots!" an inventor dies and his versatile robots are bought and put on the stage as comic and musical acts: they resent this indignity and hide, finishing a rocket left incomplete by their creator and fly to the Moon. Years later the US and Russia are competing to land on the Moon first ... whereupon the robots announce they have built a civilization there, and no humans are allowed. #134's "Visitors from Afar" has friendly relations established between Earth and visiting scientifically advanced hydrogen-breathing aliens, but when their planet is destroyed tension rises – humanity is aware the aliens have the know-how to change Earth's atmosphere, and indeed that thought has occurred to them. Fortunately they are able to breathe the hydrogen in the sea and settle there (see Under the Sea): but people are uncomfortably aware that their superior knowledge might – or might not – cause problems in the future. #140's "16th Century Space Probe" has a New York art expert discovering an account by a sixteenth-century artist that suggests they met with aliens – he scours Europe and eventually locates the artist's painting of the event, confirming the encounter. #173's "Miss Hepzibah Takes a Trip!" has space pirates abducting the passengers on a space liner and holding them hostage. The cruise director's lot is made worse by one of the passengers being his old teacher, the sharp-tongued Miss Hepzibah. However under her guidance the two of them escape and overcome their captors – she tames an angry dinosaur with her umbrella in the process.

Scientists make regular appearances: besides those already mentioned, there are well-meaning scientists whose Inventions cause problems, such as a spray that brings the dead back to life, but changes their form: for example, a panther becomes a beautiful woman with her animal character unchanged. Other inventions include a device that creates doubles, though the soul of the original soul is not replicated; a Time Machine; a new type of steel, whose inventor is thrown into a vat by a business partner and his spirit imprisoned in the car made from that molten metal; Invisible plastic – here another professor knows the secret of mind transference and is able to control a statue made from the plastic; a chamber where Time does not exist is thought to offer Immortality, only for the inventor to discover the lost time catches up with you on leaving the chamber, resulting in swift aging; a watch showing a 25th hour during which time freezes (see Stasis Field) for all except the wearer; a scientist, discovering that a combination of infra-red and gamma Rays explodes ectoplasm, becomes a professional ghost-killer. There are also evil and/or Mad Scientists: one mocks superstition to hide the fact he is a murderous werewolf; another injects himself with a "secretion" made from insects, intended to cure any injury, but turns into a giant vampire spider; another combines seaweed with animals, hoping to create an "Alpha Creature".

Other SF themes used include Atlantis; Lost Races; the ice age forcing a civilization to hollow out the centre of the Earth and relocate there; red octopus-like Martians (see Mars) plotting to invade Earth; a Spaceship's lift-off going awry, causing it to plummet into the Earth, where resides an evil Underground civilization; a man who collects animals for Zoos finding himself the target of aliens who want him for their zoo; a scientist tricked by telepathic aliens into building a matter transporter (see Matter Transmission) to bring their army to Earth; a caveman (see Apes as Human) brought to the present with a time machine becoming the heavyweight boxing champion; a football-sized sphere falling from the sky into a pile of hay and proving to be a tiny inhabited artificial world. A man falls for an alien women he talks to on a screen, only to discover her people are floating heads.

#154-#170 features the superhero Nemesis, whose stories normally takes up about half the total strip space. He was a detective killed whilst combating mobsters; in the afterlife he is given a costume and various Superpowers – flight, strength, invisibility, time travel and so forth – by the Grim Reaper and made the guardian of Earth. He fights various Villains, including a gangster with a supercomputer, and in #169's "Wanted: Hitler, Dead or Alive!" goes to an alternate dimension where Hitler won World War Two, arriving in 1940 to ensure Hitler loses (for example, by persuading him to invade Russia).

A novelty in #51-#59 was "Truevision" which claimed to give a 3D effect without the need for 3D glasses: usually the page apart from the panel would be black, whilst characters would be brighter than the backgrounds and often be drawn partially outside the panel borders. This did give a slight 3D appearance and was quite a nice effect. However, some strips had only the black page, which failed to work. In #52-#58 all strips were Truevision; #51 and #59 only had one. [SP]

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