Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House

In today’s Tentacle Tuesday, I’d like to demonstrate that Planet Comics, a sci-fi comic series published by Fiction House from 1940 to 1953, liked to tantalize its rapt audience by featuring tentacled monsters as often as basic decency permitted. Not to say that they limited their cheap pandering to tentacles; other tropes reared their ugly head, too. Faithful to its pulp magazine roots (Planet Comics was a Planet Stories’ spinoff), there’s always some stunning damsel in distress on the cover, and often some dashing muscle-head to rescue her. Mike Benton summarized Planet Comics’ raison d’être beautifully, if somewhat cruelly, in his Science Fiction Comics: The Illustrated History (1992) as «the barest smattering of sense and substance».

In its defence, P.C. also often ran stories in which female protagonists saved their friends’ bacon. How oddly progressive: the gals were clearly dressed to impress, but their skills and smarts repeatedly allowed them to overcome the odds while the big hunks stood helpless. Between that and all the tentacles, there’s a warm spot in my heart for Planet Comics.

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Let’s start with no. 42, which features Gale Allen, a Venusian princess with a knack for getting into trouble and the courage for getting herself out of it. Her Girl Squadron, comprised of female pilots and soldiers, may have been an excuse for drawing yet more pretty girls, yet in the stories the squadron was still a force to be reckoned with, by friend or foe.

PlanetComics42A
Planet Comics no. 42, May 1946. Cover by Joe Doolin, adept at depicting the female form in an aesthetically pleasing way. Here Gale is being rescued by some dark-haired stud with a laser gun (who cares about him?), but let’s peek inside…
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This is what Gale has to deal with in « Slave of the Hydra », also drawn by Doolin. This toothy beast is supposed to be a Hydra. Hydra of the Hydridae family, or the Greek many-headed serpent? Neither supposition makes sense.
PlanetComics42page
Our plucky heroine manages to save the day by escaping a certain drowning! It’s a little known fact that girls can actually store extra oxygen in their boobs. Kidding aside, I can understand why Planet Comics had a female readership that must have enjoyed reading about women who don’t crumble under pressure, and sometimes even kick monster tush.

Moving on to the next cover, an odd one even by Golden Age sci-fi standards:

PlanetComics44
Planet Comics no. 44 (September 1946), cover by Joe Doolin. She’s a generic damsel-in-distress, I get that, but the alien is strange – even for an alien. I imagine that the artist’s internal conversation went something like this: “okay, I’ll give him arms that double as tentacled snouts, and snail eyeball stalks. Oh, and I’ll make him a cyclops while I’m at it. And he’ll be drooling. And I’ll make him look black because that’s more exotic.” Yikes.

A glimpse at the stories inside quickly proves that the cover has nothing to do with Mysta of the Moon, or any of the “many others” advertised on the cover. There is, however, an octopus in the Futura story. Futura was another recurring heroine, an ordinary girl abducted by Brain-Lords of Cymradia and “improved” into a stronger, smarter version of her old self. Smart, resourceful and a damn good fighter, Futura is fun to watch in action. Especially when tentacles are involved! Take a look:

PlanetComics44panel
Officially signed by John Douglas; pencils and inks by Chester Martin. I feel oddly sorry for the crocodile.

Let’s have a look at several covers where tentacles are actually used as the good lord has intended, i.e. for grabbing pretty girls:

PlanetComics51A
Ah, yes, the old “reptiles with tentacles” scare. Planet Comics no. 51, November 1947. Cover by Joe Doolin (again). Man, his girls are pretty delectable.
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Planet Comics no. 67, summer 1952. Cover by Maurice Whitman. There are absolutely no tentacles in any of the stories. Boo, I say.
PlanetComics70
Planet Comics no. 70 (spring 1953), cover by Maurice Whitman. I like the alien’s get-up in general: his flappy ears, the motorcycle helmet, the hip lip piercings… He’s one cool cat. I am equally impressed by how he’s managing to fire a gun when he doesn’t have opposable thumbs (maybe the pistol is specially tentacle-adapted; instead of a trigger, some sort of squeeze sensor). Disappointingly, the insides of this issue don’t have any tentacles whatsoever, although there are some dinosaurs and giant man-eating spiders (and most of us will be happy to settle for that).

Oh, perhaps I have been neglecting burly heroes a tad. Those of us who prefer muscle to curve deserve some eye candy, too! So here’s good old Reef – and some green men in Speedos.

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Planet Comics no. 17, March 1942. A Reef Ryan story, possibly pencilled by George Appel and inked by Al Gabriele, though it’s credited to Hugh Fitzhugh, a funky nom-de-plume for parties unknown.

And men get grabbed by tentacles, too:

PlanetComics31page
Planet Comics no. 32, September 1944. Art by Lee Elias.

There’s about 10 more Planet Comics covers with tentacles left, and quite a few more interior pages showcasing the beauty of the octopus, or tentacled alien, or cephalopod reptile, or whatever else the kooky minds writing and drawing for Fiction House have dreamed up… but that’s enough for now. There’s only so much probing appendage the human mind can take in one go, so I’ll say Auf Wiedersehen.

Until the next time our paths (and tentacles) cross again!

~ ds

 

6 thoughts on “Tentacle Tuesday: Planet of Tentacles, courtesy of Fiction House

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