Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Giant Fish Invade New York!

Quite awhile back, I did posts a week apart respectively titled After the Apocalypse--According to DC (about Kamandi) and After the Apocalypse--According to Marvel (Killraven). Well, I've just realized that I should have had a third part--"After the Apocalypse--According to Gold Key."

Because, by golly, Gold Key beat Marvel to the punch in showing us what life would be like after a disaster destroys civilization. They actually didn't beat DC, who gave us the post-apocalyptic series "The Atomic Knights" a few years before Gold Key wiped out most of mankind.

But when Gold Key destroyed civilization, they did it with style. Mighty Samson, created by Otto Binder
and artist Frank Thorne, began publication in 1964, running intermittently for 20 issues until coming to an end in 1969. Another 11 issues appeared between 1972 and 1976, with one final original story appearing in Gold Key Champion #2 in 1978.

Mighty Samson was a mutant with super strength, living in the post-nuclear war city of N'Yark, where his girl friend Sharmaine and her father Mindor are trying to reconstruct the scientific advances lost in the war. Samson helps out by fighting the many savage and primitive mutant creatures that threaten N'Yark's small community.

Mighty Samson #20--the last before the book's three-year hiatus--was written by Binder, though Jack Sparling was now doing the art work. It's a typical example of how fun and clever the book was.

The streets of N'Yark have been flooded and the human population is soon threatened by fish men, led by the rather violent and power-hungry King Nephtoon. The sea king has his regular troops, but also has control over a variety of monsters.

From this simple premise we get a straightforward and well-constructed action-adventure story, with Samson using his strength (and his related ability to hold his breath for a long time) to fight against the invaders. Mindor helps as well, first by suggesting the use of old office equipment to bombard the fish-men from skyscraper buildings, then by digging up some old scuba gear to give Samson greater freedom to take the fight underwater.

Eventually, Samson is able to capture Nephtoon and force him to call off the invasion.

Otto Binder didn't seem to have the same opportunities to indulge in the quirky humor and bizarre plot twists he used so often in Captain Marvel, but his storytelling skills are still top-notch, with this particular tale allowing Jack Sparling to toss several cool-looking sea beasties at the poor humans of N'Yark.

Post-Apocalyptic settings in science fiction have become pretty common--it's a genre that was birthed during the Cold War under the real-life threat of nuclear annihilation. Most of these setting are--understandably--rather bleak. Killraven never won a final victory against the Martians; Kamandi never found a home or a safe haven; those darned, dirty apes blew up the world themselves with just a little help from Charlton Heston; and those incredibly annoying zombies keep showing up over and over long after everyone SHOULD have been sick of seeing them. I mean, seriously--stop with the zombie plagues already!

But Mighty Samson doesn't just pre-date many of these, it also brings a sense of optimism  that other stories in the genre often don't achieve or even try for. Samson is a superhero, still defending the innocent even in a world gone made. Sharmaine and Mindor are trying to rebuild the good that was lost when everything blew up, while the people of N'Yark have formed a viable and healthy community. Unlike those apes and Martians and zombies, Mighty Samson leaves us with an element of hope. Well, hope AND really awesome-looking monsters.

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