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Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds

Entry updated 21 December 2023. Tagged: Comics, Publication.

US Comic (1956-1965). Charlton Comics. 48 issues. Artists include Jon D'Agostino, Steve Ditko, Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio and Bill Molno. Most of the scripts were by Joe Gill, one of the most prolific comic writers. Usually 4-6 comic strips per issue, plus a two-page text story, covering sf, supernatural Horror and Fantasy.

The magazine proudly bears the stamp "Approved by the Comics Code Authority" (discussed under Fredric Wertham) which confirms that its content meets "the high standard of morality and good taste required by the code". On the plus side, this resulted in less problem solving through punches to the jaw or killing; but there is also a loss of pulpish verve. For example, the opening story in the first issue has the Earth suddenly afflicted by natural-seeming Disasters; identifying Venus as the source, the Space Force pay a visit. On arrival they are arrested and put on trial, during which the Venusians realize that Earth's problems are a side-effect of their attempts to change Venus's angle of inclination so that the Sun will burn off the perpetual fog (see Weather Control); they agree to change their method. Having talk rather than violence provide the solution is admirable, but is also rather dull. Other stories are more lively, though there is a tendency to tell of an exciting event rather than show it, or have a moral lesson to excuse any preceding unpleasantness; for much of its run tales often come with a twist and/or ironic ending. Whilst solid during its early and mid-period, there is a marked decline in plot and art quality in later years: increasingly, stories end flatly after recounting a straightforward event, such as a Time Traveller who goes forward one day, sees the President assassinated, and tells the authorities on returning: the president lives, the end.

33 strips (and 9 covers) were illustrated by Steve Ditko – he did most of the stories in #3, #5-#7 and #10 – and included some of the magazine's most memorable pieces. Ditko's choices and style gave depth to stories that might otherwise be routine: examples are "The Strange Guests of Tsarus" about a planet whose inhabitants turn visitors into Immortal but nearly emotionless Cyborgs – but one converted human has enough feeling left to help two other visitors escape; or "Automata Ultima" where a munitions worker in 1958 dreams of an Automated armaments factory in 4958 still churning out Weapons even though the only person left alive is himself.

The comic's other stories include an American astronaut landing on the Moon in 1967, to discover Hitler fled there and that the peaceful inhabitants imprisoned him and his cohorts when their evil nature became clear. The astronaut returns to report that "The Moon people want to be colonized by the United States," with his commander assuring him the army will "build a fortress for their protection ... no other nation will take advantage of their friendliness." There are Cold War propaganda stories, particularly in later years; though one does include Humour, as Russian Scientists train talking animals to become the pets of American scientists and military leaders: to a dog, "Your accent is deplorable, but it will have to do." There is also Satire: Earth conquers the solar system whilst declaring its slogan to be "Freedom for all"; when Martians, Venusians and Saturnians dissent they are forced to become humanity's servants.

A man's minor Telepathic skills are enhanced, only for him to be driven mad by hearing everyone's thoughts. A giant satellite sent into space attracts so many meteorites that it begins to affect Earth's tides ("Doubtless the electrical energy inside acts like a gravitational force," explains a scientist). Earth is enveloped by a cloud that makes everyone honest: Advertising and therefore industry suffers (see Economics). Humans colonize a planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds) and plans to put the indigenous inhabitants in a Zoo, but it turns out these "primitives" are the only ones who can control otherwise undefeatable Monsters. The 1960 story "The Forbidden Formula" has Watchers who monitor planets to ensure its inhabitants do not invent a galaxy-destroying formula – they are similar in appearance to, but pre-date, the Marvel Comics character of the same name. A scientist invents a machine that allows you to enter the landscape of other people's minds (see Dream Hacking). Travelling over 24,000 mph on the Earth's surface will send you into the future. A time shift (see Time Distortion) device is supposed to cut the length of space travel but malfunctions, taking an astronaut into Earth's past; here he kills an apeman (see Apes as Human) – and realizes they were one of humanity's ancestors as he fades away. There are also Parallel Worlds, Underground civilizations, gravity neutralizers (see Antigravity), Mad Scientists, Rays, hostile Aliens, Miniaturization and Mercury is a Living World.

#46-#48 were retitled Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds featuring Son of Vulcan, with "Vulcan" in huge red type. Each is dominated by a long tale about the "Son of Vulcan", a lame man adopted by the Roman god, who is then able to transform into a powerful warrior (see Superheroes) – presumably a response to Marvel Comics' Thor. The magazine then becomes Son of Vulcan for two issues, #49 and #50; the numbering is then taken up by another, unrelated, superhero, Thunderbolt: after having his own #1, his second is numbered #51 with the publication details reading "Thunderbolt (formerly Son of Vulcan)"; this continued until #60. [SP]

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