Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Redemption on an Airless Asteroid

Cliches exist for a reason. Elements commonly used in many stories have become cliches because--if used well--help make a story stronger.

Of course, in a poorly told story, cliches are awkward and annoying. But if the story is well-told, then those same cliches turn into strengths.

"The Space Traitor," from Tom Corbett, Space Cadet #7 (Aug-Oct. 1953) is a good example of this. The character arcs involving Bob Keen--an upperclassman at the the Space Academy--and his ne'er-do-well brother Jim are completely predictable. Yet, all the same, they help form the backbone of a very entertaining yarn.

Bob joins Tom's group of younger cadets to lead them on war-game maneuvers. With some sage advice from Tom, Bob proceeds to kick butt and take names.

The maneuvers end with a visit to a prison asteroid. It's here that things go ill for Bob. Jim, his criminal brother talks Bob into allowing him to stowaway on the rocket so he can "prove my innocence." That's a trick, of course. Jim sneaks a couple of friends aboard, hijacking the ship and making their escape.

Bob is court-martialed and tossed out of the Academy. Soon after, he ships out on a freighter, then apparently turns outlaw himself and joins Jim's gang.

Tom and his pals--initially trying to help Bob and then later trying to catch him, trail him and try to foil a plot to rob a freighter. This doesn't go well--Tom and Astro end up getting captured.

It's here that the character arcs begin to follow completely predictable patterns. Because OF COURSE Bob is working undercover to catch the outlaws. He is soon helping Tom and Astro to escape and go for help.

And OF COURSE Jim decides to side with his brother when Bob's life is at stake. To the surprise of no one, Jim ends up sacrificing himself to allow the cadets to escape. (These last panels, by the way, were printed in black-and-white on the inside back cover of the comic book.)

I'm okay with this, though. The story is well-constructed and the artwork--though a little weak in places--is imaginative. A theme like redemption is always a strong one. Perhaps that's why some elements are used often enough to become cliches--because they speak to something important about human nature. So, though cliches can often represent lazy writing, they will always be with us. And that isn't always a bad thing.

This comic is in the public domain, so you can read it HERE.

Next week, we'll follow along with Ben Grimm as he once again fights dinosaurs.

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