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Fantastic [comic]

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Comics.

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US Comic (1952). Two issues (numbered #8 and #9). Youthful Magazines. Artists include Harry Harrison, Henry Kiefer, Steve Kirkel and Vince Napoli. Four strips per issue, plus a two-page article ("Mental Telepathy – Does It Exist?") in #8 and a text story in #9.

The numbering follows Captain Science, and issue #8 opens with the final Captain Science story: crashing on an unchartered Pacific island the Captain finds the Mad Scientist Professor Drago ("You're like all the rest, calling me mad"), who has recreated various Dinosaurs. The issue also has the other Captain Science regular, space private-eye Brant Craig, in a tale about crooked greyhound racing (the sf elements being purely cosmetic). Another story concerns a professor who has invented a "thinking machine" (part Robot, part Frankenstein Monster) – unfortunately both have short tempers and a Chess game gets out of hand, resulting in the professor's murder in clear echo of "Moxon's Master" (16 April 1899 San Francisco Examiner as "A Night at Moxon's") by Ambrose Bierce. The fourth tale is "Dinosaur in Grandfather's Barn" where a heatwave melts the ice-filled caverns near a farm: the ice holds a frozen Tyrannosaurus.

#9 opens with a down-at-heel author taking a job at Fantastic to write Horror stories; buying a second-hand typewriter. The stories he types come true: so, wracked by guilt for the deaths he has caused, he types out his own fate: "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and bites off the author's head...." An expedition to central Africa reaches the mythical Desert of Doon, finding a structure built of large cubes: reading their hieroglyphics a professor learns the cubes are tents left by explorers from Atlantis. The other two stories concern the vengeful ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) of an aunt murdered by her spendthrift heir and a crook tormented by the mummified heads made by the followers of a Brazilian priestess he murders.

The shift from sf to horror between #8 and #9 were a precursor of things to come: the magazine was renamed Beware, focused on horror and publishing three issues (#10-#12, 1952) before another name change, to Chilling Tales (issues #13-#17, 1952-1953). This change was due to another publisher, Trojan Magazines, acquiring the title – they duly published 14 more issues of Beware, initially numbered #13-#16, then #5-#14 (1953-1955). Subsequently, Merit Publications published one issue of Beware, numbered #15 (1955).

The Youthful Magazines version of Beware had the occasional sf horror story: in #11 a biologist who learns how to communicate Telepathically with animals raises a gorilla's intelligence to near human level – then trains it to become a wrestler. "The Murderous Mimics!" (also #11), has a couple moving to the Alaskan wilderness, only to be told by a dying trapper that there are shapeshifting Monsters in the area planning to take over the world – the man scoffs, until his dog and then his wife are replaced by the mimics: he kills them and no one believes his story. This strip was drawn by Harry Harrison – possibly "Who Goes There?" (August 1938 Astounding) by Don A Stuart (John W Campbell Jr) was a partial inspiration. In #12 a Scientist hires two grave robbers to bring him bodies: the scientist thinks he has finally succeeded in resurrecting the dead, but the revived corpse is of one of his grave robbers, murdered by the other – he has been brought to life by the ghosts whose graves were desecrated: the doctor and murderer are duly killed. Also of note is an adaption of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" (in The Gift, anth dated 1843 but 1842) in #10.

Chilling Tales continued with the horror tales, with only one containing sf elements: "The Secret of Life and Death" (#17), where a professor seeks the secret of life – and ironically the elixir he produces reanimates the corpses of the people he dissected, who kill him. There were also adaptions of two stories by Edgar Allan Poe and one each by Rudyard Kipling and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), plus a reprint of the Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" (January 1843 The Pioneer). Both Fantastic and Beware had their moments, but Chilling Tales was a weaker publication. [SP]

further reading

  • Beware (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2020) [graph: collects issues #10-#12 of Fantastic under its new title, plus other material: publisher's PreCode Classics series: illus/various: hb/Joseph Sokoli]


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