Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Heroes SHOULD be Smart!

DC's science fiction stories weren't always strong on good science, but they often got one important thing right. They showed us that heroes in a science fiction universe need to be smart--that such heroes would often been in situations in which they would have to think their way out.

The hero of "Riddle of Asteroid 8794" is proof of this. The story was first published in Mystery in Space #50 (March 1959), though the images I'm sharing come from a later reprint, so the coloring may be different than from the original.

The hero's name is Bruce Carlton, a space surveyor who is currently on Earth, taking his gal Gloria to the amusement park. Part of his plan to woe her includes getting his disc jockey friend Clark Hale to play a love song. But Clark plays "The Space-Girl Blues" (about a cold-hearted woman) instead of a romantic love song. Gloria takes offense at being cold-hearted by acting cold-hearted and dumping Bruce.

Bruce wants to have words with Clark, but Clark is now missing. It's here that Otto Binder gives us our first indication that Bruce is a smart guy, though the tale's 8-page length actually makes this a bit contrived. Based solely on the fact that Clark isn't home, he correctly deduces that Clark has been kidnapped and that playing the wrong song is a clue.

Sure enough, the catalog number of the song matches the number of an asteroid. Bruce flies his rocket-mobile to that asteroid and, sure enough, finds Clark and a gang of outlaws already there.

Clark had learned that there was a fortune in space-jewels buried on the asteroid. The outlaws kidnapped him to get this information from him, but had allowed him to make his regular radio broadcast so that no one would know he was gone. He played the wrong song to leave a clue for Bruce. By the way, I have no idea how "space-jewels" differ from regular jewels.

So, yes, this part is contrived, but all the same, I appreciate a story in which the heroes are shown to be smart and in which those smarts are essential to the plot.

Besides, the rest of the tale is pretty solid. Bruce gets Clark away from the bad guys, then learns that the orbit of two tiny moons will intersect and their combined shadow will show where the treasure is buried. But when that happens, the outlaws will know the location as well.

So Bruce uses math to calculate the moons' orbits and beat the outlaws to their goal. He and Clark snatch up the treasure and steal the outlaws' ship as well, leaving the bad guys stranded on the asteroid.

I really enjoy that part of the story. Bruce is a space surveyor, so it makes perfect sense that he has the math skills involved. And, though I'm all for well-done action scenes, using math to foil the villains is always cool.

Next week, we'll learn what a future superhero did during World War II.

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