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Mystery in Space

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

US Comic (first run 1951-1966). DC Comics. Publication varied between monthly and bimonthly. Editor Julius Schwartz. Writers included Otto Binder, John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner F Fox, and Edmond Hamilton. Artists included Murphy Anderson, Sid Greene, Gil Kane, Carmino Infantino, and Bob Oskner. The comic featured original sf stories as well as continuing characters, most prominently Adam Strange, who dominated most of its later issues.

The companion comic to Strange Adventures, which debuted in 1950 with the same creative team, Mystery in Space was designed to focus on space adventures, while Strange Adventures would mostly offer unusual stories set on Earth, though this policy was not consistently followed (most prominently with the later appearances in Mystery in Space of the character Hawkman, an Alien Superhero whose exploits mostly took place on Earth). From the beginning the comic included recurring characters, although two early series – Knights of the Galaxy, who battled threats to cosmic order in a twenty-fifth century of innumerable inhabited worlds, and Interplanetary Insurance, Inc., which oddly featured an insurance agent selling policies in an interstellar future – were not successful. Yet a third series, Space Cabbie (also rendered as Space Cabby), long endured because its stories about the protagonist, a man using a small Spaceship to transport passengers throughout the Solar System, were definitely charming even if generally silly.

Another significant series, Star Rovers, was unusual in that one of its three allied pilots in their own spaceships, whose separate adventures invariably became intertwined, was a woman; they continued to make occasional appearances even after the introduction of Adam Strange, whose exploits occupied the majority of pages in later issues. Obviously modelled on Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter of Mars, Strange is an archaeologist who is periodically struck by a "Zeta-Beam" that teleports him (see Matter Transmission) to the alien world of Rann (said to orbit either Alpha Centauri or Polaris); though he gains no added powers in the manner of Carter, he effectively employs a jetpack (see Flying) and Ray Gun to battle against various menaces.

However, the standalone stories were perhaps the comic's most striking feature, as they were extravagantly imaginative in the manner of the Pulp sf magazines of the 1930s. Two striking examples are John Broome's and Bob Oskner's "It's a Woman's World" (1952), depicting a future Earth where women control all aspects of society (see Feminism, Women in SF), though it concludes with the women improbably agreeing to return to patriarchy, and Bill Finger's and Sid Greene's "The Last Television Broadcast on Earth" (1955), which qualifies as one of the few sf stories which correctly predicted that the first Moon landing would be televised. Such stories appeared only occasionally in later issues featuring Adam Strange.

Unfortunately, when Schwartz left Mystery in Space to oversee the Batman comics, replacement editor Jack Schiff struggled to produce acceptable Adam Strange stories, and after briefly featuring a character imported from another comic, spacefaring adventurer Space Ranger, he replaced them both with one of the most disastrously unpopular characters in comic book history, Ultra the Multi-Alien, whose ludicrous powers and adventures swiftly led to the comic's demise. It has since been briefly revived on two occasions. [GW]

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