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Unusual Tales

Entry updated 18 September 2023. Tagged: Comics, Publication.


US Comic (1955-1965). 49 issues. Charlton Comics. Artists include Vince Alascia, Steve Ditko, Dick Giordano, Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio, Bill Molno and Charles Nicholas. Most of the scripts were by the prolific Joe Gill. 36 pages, except for one double-length issue. Usually 4-5 strips per issue, plus a two-page text story and often one, sometimes two, 1-2 page fiction or factual strips (one of the latter states "mental telepathy or thought transference is a proven, accepted practice today" – issue #49). The stories are mainly sf, Fantasy or Horror – the latter including both supernatural and non-genre varieties.

Examples of sf stories are: a Scientist who is proud when his son becomes the world heavyweight champion, the twist being that the son is a Robot; an apparently complacent driver ignores his fretful wife as he recklessly speeds along a mountain road and he seems about to receive his comeuppance as he approaches a cliff edge ... but in 1987 cars can fly (see Transportation); Atlantis is discovered Underground; when a doctor tests a device that cures a woman's blindness her husband needlessly worries she will not love him; a violinist who sends people to sleep exiles himself to the mountains, but discovers his Music "rides the cosmic waves" to enthral Aliens – thus UFO sightings; an artist who paints images in the air using a gas is actually an alien who plans to poison American leaders at an exhibition by painting a giant picture (see Arts); in 2374 it is decided that a new robot design is a potential menace, so the units are stored away – 20 years later an electrical storm activates them and they break out, seeking revenge on humanity ... but they have been stored on an uninhabited Asteroid; an apparent invasion of flying saucers is merely an Advertising gimmick by a Martian (see Mars) crockery company; an artist builds a device (see Inventions) that drains the red from rainbows to colour the snow; a criminal drinks a scientist's shrinking potion (see Miniaturization) to escape the police but finds himself in a microworld whose Technology identifies his criminal mentality, so he is locked away (see Crime and Punishment); scientists hope a caveman unfrozen after a million years (see Suspended Animation) might answer the questions of humanity's origins (see Origin of Man), but his enigmatic dying words make it so much more mysterious; scientists activate the unused portion of the human brain only to discover it turns the treated into a "soulless mental machine"; in an isolated Italian village a contemporary writer discovers that Leonardo da Vinci's examination of a radioactive metal led to his descendants being Mutants, including a talking, mind-reading baby; a blind man has an eye transplant (see Medicine) using the eyes of an executed psychopath and becomes Paranoid over whether seeing through a killer's eyes will change him.

Two archaeologists uncover an ancient robot, one of many, buried by their guilt-ridden inventor after they'd been used as tools of oppression – it decides to rebury itself as, after using Telepathy, it decides "this is not an age to trust"; a journalist seeking evidence of flying saucers finds none, in desperation he offers a large reward for proof ... it works, the twist being that he is from the space police and the reward lures out the alien outlaw he's been hunting; scientists, worried that the Cold War will end in nuclear war, fake an alien invasion to unite humanity (a later story has an alien pretending to threaten Earth for the same reason); in the year 10,000, sentient labour-saving devices hire humans so they have someone to serve; invading aliens replace and take on the appearance of townspeople, but in so doing become susceptible to human ailments and flee the Earth in disgust (another Earth-invaded story has the aliens who turn out to be dissolved by water); a scientist's formula turns people into the animal closest to their personalities, which he believes tells us something about humanity's origins – in a later story a scientist's experiment reverts someone back through their Evolutionary stages, down to a protozoon; a henpecked scientist shrinks himself to live in an atom, but finds the world there exactly the same as the one he left; simultaneously in China, Russia and the USA a scientist discovers an extremely powerful destructive force (see Weapons) and are about to tell their respective leaders, but each has second thoughts. One of the fantasies involves a doctor who notes a child recovers from a fatal illness because her beloved doll absorbs her sickness.

The stronger tales include "Can You" (#4), where a journalist discovers the Earth is full of disguised Martian refugees, then learns he is the test subject to see whether humanity is ready to welcome them: "Can you conquer the destructive impulses inside of you ... can you hold out a helping hand to others?" In "Dreamer" (#11) a contemporary man dreams he is on a future satellite (see Space Stations) where the last of humanity rest; the caretaker explains one of them is dreaming him – and his dream has meshed with that of his dreamer, making the man "almost real": when he awakens he suffers an existentialist crisis. "Man from Mars" (#42) would be an effective Satire of suburbanites' Paranoia over a foreign family moving into their area – if it were not undermined by the fear that they are Martian agents turning out to be true.

Aside from the short-shorts, most stories are 5-6 pages long, with an uncomplicated plot and only basic characterization, so rely on the conceit or twist being good and/or an artist who's able to tell the story in an interesting way. There are some good scripts, but most are unremarkable; the best artwork is in the first half of the comics run. For example, "The Juggernauts of Jupiter" (#15) has invaders from Neptune (see Outer Planets) discovering the population of Jupiter maintain their "gentle way of life" by having formidable weapons, whilst "The Planet that Vanished" (#22) has a planet avoiding attack from spacefaring dragons by temporarily shrinking: both are simplistic stories, but they are illustrated by Ditko and thus are imaginatively done and pleasurable to read. The strongest run is #7-#15, with #22-#23 also being good: these are the Ditko-heavy issues, but there is also nice work from Molno and Nicholas. After this there are occasionally good strips, but most are unmemorable. [SP]

further reading

  • Unusual Tales, Volume 1 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2021) [graph: collects issues #1-#5: in the publisher's Silver Age Classics series: illus/various: hb/probably Bill Molno]
  • Unusual Tales, Volume 2 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2021) [graph: collects issues #6-#10: in the publisher's Silver Age Classics series: illus/various: hb/Steve Ditko]
  • Unusual Tales, Volume 3 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2021) [graph: collects issues #11-#15: in the publisher's Silver Age Classics series: illus/various: hb/Rocco "Rocke" Mastroserio]
  • Unusual Tales, Volume 4 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2022) [graph: collects issues #16-#20: in the publisher's Silver Age Classics series: illus/various: hb/Charles Nicholas]
  • Unusual Tales, Volume 5 (Hornsea, East Yorkshire: PS Publishing, 2022) [graph: collects issues #21-#25: in the publisher's Silver Age Classics series: illus/various: hb/Dick Giordano]


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