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Mystery in Space 58
"The Chariot in the Sky!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March 1960; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor; lead story featuring Adam Strange in "The Chariot in the Sky!" The cover scene is dominated by the flying chariot in question, manned by a vaguely Greek-looking warrior, and pulled by a winged unicorn which is shooting from its horn a lightning bolt at a panicked-looking Adam Strange. The cover looks to me like it is pencilled by Gil Kane rather than regular Adam Strange artist Carmine Infantino.

Tom Orzechowski's review of the most famous Adam Strange story, "Planet That Came to a Standstill", inspired me to pull out and review one of the more obscure AS tales. One reason it's obscure is that this is one of only a couple of early Adam Strange stories which were not reprinted in the early '70s STRANGE ADVENTURES run. Whether Julius Schwartz omitted it from SA by accident, or left it out intentionally feeling it was a lackluster Adam story, I don't know... judge for yourselves....Script on this story is (I assume) by Gardner Fox. I used to think, looking at the art, that it might actually be drawn by Mike Sekowsky (artist of the original Adam Strange SHOWCASE run) rather than Carmine Infantino. I'm not sure of that, looking at it again; there are some definite Infantino touches in the art, but it doesn't quite look like his regular work. Maybe Infantino did rougher layouts/pencils on this story than usual and left inker Bernard Sachs to do more of the finishing (and since Sachs also inked Sekowsky's JLA stories, his finishes reminded me of Sekowsky's work).

The splash page depicts Adam Strange, on one of his visits to Rann, confronting a trio of adversaries who come from the distant, legendary past of his homeworld Earth; "alien beings who called themselves JUPITER...APOLLO...HERCULES!" Jupiter sneers, "Rash Earthman! Do you really dare pit your puny strength against my Jovian thunderbolts?", while Apollo boasts of "the radiation blasts of my winged horse" and Hercules of "my invincible muscles". Adam resolves, "I must fight and defeat each of them...or they will destroy the planet Rann!"

Flying to meet the Zeta-Beam somewhere in the South Atlantic ocean, Adam is nonplussed to encounter an ICBM missile in flight; "I must be smack on the South Atlantic Tracking Range!" Determined to keep his regular appointment on Rann, Adam loops and somersaults to avoid the hurtling missile while still meeting the incoming Zeta-Beam. The instant he lands on Rann, Alanna smashes into him, knocking him to the ground-- and causing a crackling electrical beam to miss him. "*Whew*! I've grown to expect dangerous excitement when I land on Rann-- but this is kind of RUSHING IT!" Adam and Alanna race to her flying air-car and Alanna takes off with Adam still hanging on to the outside of the flier. "Can't you even give a guy a chance to catch his breath?" Apparently not, because the two lovers are caught between the thunderbolts of Jupiter and the flying charioteer "who calls himself Apollo!" Apollo's radiaton blast disables the flier, and Adam's ray-gun is ineffective against him (actually, that ray-gun rarely seems to work against anything:-) and our heroes survive only by diving into the sea (carefully identified in Rannography as the Sea of Abyx) and decoying Apollo into thinking they have perished. Upon their emerging, Alanna finally has the chance to explain that "Hercules" and the other gods first made their appearance in Ranagar a week earlier demanding to know what the people of Rann had done with their fellow gods of the planet "Olympia". When the Rannians had no answer, Hercules began wrecking the city. Now all three gods are demanding revenge against Rann for the supposed destruction of their fellows.

Adam confronts the gods and challenges them to observe "fair play" by meeting him, Rann's champion, in "trial by combat". "I will fight you-- using 'nothing' against Apollo-- using only a thin steel rod against Jupiter-- using just my 'bare hands' against Hercules!" Laughingly, the gods accept Adam's challenge, and Jupiter demands to be first. Even Alanna is overawed-- "Adam, have you lost your mind challenging thse men?" but Adam reassures her, "I've never failed you yet, have !?" as he charges his "thin steel rod". Adam faces Jupiter with the rod attached to his helmet and stands motionless as Jupiter hurls his thunderbolt. To Jupiter's shock-- literally and figuratively-- the bolt not only leaves Adam unharmed but actually rebounds against its hurler, knocking him to the ground and causing Jupiter to yield. "I worked out a device by which I turned myself into a human lightning rod-- and could turn 'Jove's' thunderbolts right back on him!"

Next, Apollo hurtles toward Adam on his flying chariot, but Adam shoots a "vacuum beam" from his ray-gun which leaves the flying horse in a bubble of vacuum, with no air to beat its wings against. The chariot falls to the ground, and Apollo concedes defeat; "You fulfilled your boast-- by defeating me with a vacuum--NOTHINGNESS!" Finally, Hercules boasts that "science" will do Adam no good in hand-to-hand combat against him, but Adam proves him wrong by using the "science of judo" to turn Hercules' strength against him.

Hercules declares, "By the stars, now I know how you defeated my people!" but Adam insists that the people of Rann never defeated or even met the "Olympians". The Olympians believe otherwise because they were in suspended animation on a long space voyage, and their ship's autopilot delivered them back to what should have been Olympia but is now Rann. Investigating, the "gods" discover that a "mysterious cosmic cloud" met on their journey may have affected the ship's automatic controls and deflected it off course. Suddenly, the ship takes off without its passengers; the cloud's effect has worn off and the ship is automatically resuming its journey to its real destination. Adam and the Olympians pursue the ship in a Rann spacecraft, and when the Rann ship falls behind, Adam goes EVA and uses his own flying jets as a "booster rocket" to catch hold of the Olympian ship and stop it. Before the Olympians resume their journey, Adam asks them to tell him where their homeworld, the origin place of the ancient Earth gods, is; but he fades away suddenly before he can hear their answer. "I was drawn back to Earth before I could learn where Olympia is! Now-- I'll never know!"

At this point the Adam Strange stories in MIS were only 9 pages long, leaving room for two non-series sci-fi tales to fill out the book. The first of these in this issue is "The Dancing Trees of Polaris Seven!" which looks like it's drawn by Gil Kane; based on the scripting style I'm guessing the author is John Broome. The yellow-skinned aliens of the planet Mohr-Ban are at war against Earth, but they are losing because Earth seems to know where to strike at their most secret outposts. There must be an Earth spy! And the prime suspect will be found among the members of an "entertainment troupe of our psycho-morale organization", which visited all three of the targeted outpost planets and is now on the world Polaris-Seven. And indeed, the Earth agent is one Ted Walker, disguised as the alien Ditmos who has a novelty act where he makes trees "dance" by playing a flute. Walker realizes that the Mohr-Ban agents are closing in on him, but he must survive long enough to send to Earth a last vital message about the location of the missile bases on Polaris Seven. He had been sending messages in tiny rockets to Earth as part of a "fireworks" show, but this will no longer work now that he is being closely watched. Instead, he blows up one of the rockets to create a d iversion and flees, hoping to steal a spaceship. Discovering a ship parked under a large tree, he finds a way to make his novelty act serve him; the ultrasonic vibrations that made his potted trees "dance" are strong enough to make the big tree move and seize the nearby guard. Walker is able to get off the planet and reach Earth with his vital message, which leads to the destruction of the Mohr-Ban's last missile bases and the end of the war. Walker returns to his mundane job as a construction engineer, but he will never forget "the days when I was DITMOS-- THE ONE WHO MADE TREES DANCE!"

After a "Wonders of Space" letters page which features scientific questions rather than story comments, the book finishes up with "The Amazing Journeys Into Space!" drawn by Sid Greene. As a boy, Ted Larkin is nothing if not ambitious; his goal is to be the first man to achieve three great space "firsts", to reach the planet Mars, to fly through the Sun, and to pilot a spaceship "AROUND THE UNIVERSE, the way Magellan piloted a vessel around the Earth! I'll prove the universe is round, as he did the Earth!" But one by one, Larkin's hopes are dashed as other men achieve these feats first. Larkin considers his life a waste, until an earthquake causes materials in his lab to create a "freak alloy" with the "odd property of distorting TIME!" Larkin schemes to use the alloy as fuel for a time machine and to go back in time to beat out the men who actually achieved his three space feats. (You'd think being the first man to travel in time would be enough of a "first" all by itself, but this guy is apparently monomaniacal....) However on arriving at the time of the first landing on Mars, Larkin discovers that the spaceship of his rival Edwin Blake is threatened by a huge space bird. Not ruthless enough to allow his rival to die, Larkin uses his time ship to draw the bird into the "time stream", and Blake lands on Mars safely; "I made it possible for HIM to achieve MY ambition!" Next, Larkin tries to beat Stanley Adams on the first journey through the sun, but when he finds Adams' ship caught in a "magnetic current", he bumps the other ship and transfers enough velocity to it to enable his competitor to finish his voyage. Finally, he chases Frederick Tomkins on his voyage around the universe, but realizes that Tomkins' ship has passed through a cosmic cloud which has turned its exterior radioactive and will "DOOM EVERYONE ON THE PLANET" if it lands. To prevent this, Larkin uses a "nuclear bombardment cannon" to speed up the Tomkins ship's radioactive decay until the ship turns into harmless lead. Having done this, he finds that his time-traveling alloy is exhausted and instead of beating his three rivals, he has helped all of them to achieve their missions safely. "But I have achieved a far greater goal, really! I saved the lives of every person on Earth! I can be satisfied with THAT!"