Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What is WRONG with historians nowadays?

DC Comics recently published a Showcase volume of the early issues of Rip Hunter: Time Master.

Reading this has got me wondering. What the heck is wrong with all the historians of the world? It’s obvious from reading Rip Hunter and from watching episodes of Doctor Who and Time Tunnel that the history of the human race usually involves aliens and monsters. In fact, if you’re a time traveler, you can’t go anywhere or anywhen without pretty much tripping over either a visitor from another planet or a huge and biologically unlikely man-eating beast.

Sometimes, you meet them both. In Rip Hunter #2 (May/June 1961), Rip and his companions are visiting an archeological dig near Greece. But when an old cave is opened, a giant and bullet-proof monster is aroused from suspended animation and goes on a rampage.

A coin found in the cave establishes the date (500 BC) that the monster was originally sealed in the cave. Well, the obvious solution is for Rip and his partners to travel back in time to discover the origin of the monster and perhaps learn how to deal with it. Because that’s much easier than calling the army and having them send over a tank or a bazooka team.

I shouldn’t make fun, though, because this story is a good, solid example of how much fun Silver Age stories could be if you just accept them for what they are and enjoy them at that level.

Rip and his crew head back to ancient Greece. They eventually learn that an alien big game hunter crashed on Earth and three large monsters—each a natural enemy to the other two—have escaped from his ship. A local despot has gained possession of the device that controls one of these monsters, using it to conquer a local city.

Rip gets the other two control devices from the alien. He sends the other monsters up against the despot’s monster. One of these is the creature he encountered in the present and—sure enough—it gets chased into the cave and sealed in.

Eventually, Rip manages to get the control device away from the despot, thereby freeing the city from his evil rule. He heads back to the present with the control device for the monster rampaging about there and disintegrates it. Everyone’s happy. Well, everyone but the despot and the dead monster, but they both had it coming anyways.

It really is a fun yarn. The story flows along in a contextually logical manner and artist Ross Andru designs some pretty cool monsters and gives us a couple of too-short but visually awesome monster-on-monster brawls.

And that’s what history was really like—full of aliens or monsters or both. Why history books blather on about wars and social change and natural disasters but fail to mention alien monsters is simply beyond me. Some sort of government conspiracy, I should imagine.

Silver Age comic book stories were frequently silly and often we can enjoy them with our tongue in our cheek, making gentle fun of that silliness.

But just as often, we can accept them at a more basic level and enjoy simple, imaginative storytelling. Here we have Rip Hunter’s cool-looking Time Sphere, a trio of monsters with bizarre abilities, an alien and an ancient Greek despot; all portrayed by a skilled artist and used to tell an internally consistent and exciting story. What more can one want out of life?

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