Tentacle Tuesday: Earth in Dire Peril!

One of the oft-recurring themes of tentacles-in-comics-land is one of aggressive invasion. No, I don’t mean body cavity invasions, you creepos! I mean the large-scale kind: cephalopodian aliens who insidiously infiltrate human ranks, hypnotize or control people’s minds with all sorts of high-tech hanky panky, or just plain deploy their far-out weapons and open martial festivities without as much as a how-do-you-do. Their goal is, naturally, full dominion and control of planet Earth. Sometimes it’s because our planet has something they want (water, minerals, or just plain real estate), occasionally they want to feed on us… or they just got out on the wrong side of the bed and are cranky and territorial.

Let’s see a few case scenarios on this installment of Tentacle Tuesday!

Our first story doesn’t explain why the aliens want to attack the planet or capture humans, but their nefarious scheme threatens life as we know it! Jet Black and Jak Tal, patrolmen of the 21st century, encounter some space-dwelling aliens who are up no good at all. Though they’re cute as can be, it can’t be too practical to have one’s tongue hanging out all the time… The Men from Deep Space, illustrated by Fred Guardineer, was published in Manhunt no. 6 (March 1948).

Manhunt#6-The-Men-from-Deep-SpaceManhunt#6-The-Men-from-Deep-Space-2

Manhunt#6-The-Men-from-Deep-Space-3

In example number two, the tentacled Organus is after humans because he has the munchies. Well, I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to propel your tongue towards somebody else’s face in the middle of a conversation. The Soul-Thief from the Stars, scripted by Paul Levitz, pencilled by Pat Broderick and inked by Bruce Patterson, was published in The Legion of Super-Heroes no. 284 (February 1982).

LegionofSuperHeroes284- The Soul-Thief from the Stars

LegionofSuperHeroes284- The Soul-Thief from the Stars-2

LegionofSuperHeroes284- The Soul-Thief from the Stars-3
Get a room, you two.

Let’s move on to the next instance of grabby critters wanting supremacy over humans, shall we?

One long-winded, epic story of tentacled ones began in 1993, with Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul. The story has everything that makes one of those invasion yarns entertaining – cruel cephalopod captors, barbaric vivisection experiments, computer codes assigned to every prisoner for better monitoring…. The bulk of this happens in the pages of Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 13 (August 1993) and Lost in Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul no. 14 (September 1993), scripted by Bill Mumy (the original Will Robinson himself) and illustrated by by Michal Dutkiewicz.

LostinSpace13-1

LostinSpace14-2

LostinSpace14-3
Bradford, is that you?!

Oh yeah, I also mentioned insidious infiltration, a sly, Machiavellian approach to alien invasion. The Seeds of Jupiter, written and drawn by Al Feldstein and published in Weird Science no. 8 (July-August 1951), fits *that* particular bill.

AlFeldstein-SeedsofJupiter-WeirdScience8

AlFeldstein-WeirdScience8-2

By the way, apparently the following scene inspired the “alien bursting out of some poor sod’s chest” sequence in the 1979 movie Alien.

AlFeldstein-SeedsofJupiter

What? You don’t believe that it’s truly an invasion? You say the seeds ended up on earth by accident? Well, listen to the man with funny hair*. He does not lie.

AlFeldstein-WeirdScience8-3

~ ds

*obviously a hairpiece.

Dateline: Frontline – The Cary Burkett Interview, Part 3

« From time to time a sputtering doodle-bug shatters the torpor of the overcast sky. One second, sometimes two … at most three … of silence. Visualizing that fat cigar with shark fins as it stops dead, sways, idiotically tips over, then goes into a vertical dive. And explodes. Usually it’s an entire building that’s destroyed. » — Jacques Yonnet

Perhaps the title gave the game away, but we’re back with part three to wrap up (in style!) our talk with Cary Burkett on his and Jerry Grandenetti‘s (and Ric Estrada‘s) Dateline: Frontline (1977-1981).

Who’s Out There: How hands-on an editor was Paul Levitz?

CB: Paul was more hands-on at the beginning. We would have a plot conference and he would toss out suggestions and sometimes specific directions. But Paul was a very smart guy, and he had a way of figuring out how to best to work with individual writers. With me, it usually worked better to plant a seed and let it develop rather than to nail things down too tightly. I didn’t think fast in a plot conference setting, I was too intimidated by Paul’s creativity and confidence. I think Paul figured this out and found ways to drop a little guidance in that I could take time to mull over on my own.

Paul was also extremely busy, not just an Editor but the Editorial Coordinator for the whole line of DC comics, and that is a whopping responsibility. So as things progressed, he was less hands-on. I like to think he began to trust the material I was giving him.

WOT: Was there much distance between the précis Mr. Levitz assigned you to do and the scenario you handed in?

CBI don’t think so.

WOT: Dateline: Frontline is clearly a bit of a ‘pill in the hamburger’, that is to say, instructive, eye-opening material. Was this ‘Trojan Horse’ approach considered and deliberate? (Surely it wasn’t just intended as pure entertainment!)

CBIn a way, it was deliberate, although not carefully considered or planned out. The trajectory was set by Paul when he passed on to me the book The First Casualty as background guidance. The tone of that book and all the eye-opening material in it definitely influenced the approach to the series. The very idea that the main character would be a war correspondent, not a soldier or fighter, meant that these stories would have a different kind of focus. That concept came from Paul, along with the title of the series.

Of course, in comics, you could do a series with a war correspondent where the protagonist becomes a fighter, a behind-the-lines de-facto special forces soldier. If this had been a Jack Kirby strip in the ‘60’s, the correspondent would probably be thrown into situations every issue where he had to fight his way out to save threatened soldiers from some Nazi ambush. You know what I mean.

So we knew we weren’t going for pure entertainment, sure. And the more research I did, the more interested I became in the reality of what happened in the war, and the more I wanted to portray that. And since it was just a 6-page, irregular backup series, we could go in that direction.

WOT: If you were to write this series today, what, if anything, would you do differently? What effect might the intervening years and the current political climate have, for instance?

CBToo much to think about. But I will say this, I think to try to tie the series to any current political issue would tend to push it into something contrived to fit the agenda. In a way, then, it would become a kind of political propaganda, the very opposite of what the series grapples with.

That’s part of why I wasn’t so interested in setting it during the Vietnam War back in 1976 or ’77. Today, it could be put in that setting without triggering a firestorm of controversy which might drown out what the series is trying to show.

My point is that the issue of seeking truth in a time of war is not limited to any time or place. By attaching the theme to a current political hot button issue, it becomes weaker, not stronger. It becomes more limited, not broader. And it’s more difficult to hear.

My preference would be to see the series deal with the questions outside of the current political setting, and hopefully along the way to see in some way how they apply today.

Maybe that is the ‘Trojan Horse’ method you mentioned.

WOT: I’d say you nailed it.

WOT: Were you writing and planning much in advance? Are there any contemplated, but unpublished, plotlines you’d care to share?

CBI wasn’t planning specifically very far in advance. I was never sure which set of stories might be the last. But I had a vague outline in my head that I would progress through the major events of the war, choosing specific ones for Clifford to be present reporting. They would be chosen for their historical significance but also to advance general themes of the conflict between reporting the truth and trying to win a World War.

The final series of stories, I think, would have been centered on events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and somehow Clifford would have found a way to write a story about it which revealed some of the horrible details … which of course, would never have seen the light of day. Even now, thinking about this, some lines of dialogue closing out the series kind of come to my mind.

I see Clifford, exhausted and disappointed, having given his all to get this incredible story, bitter and at the breaking point. Like it happens to all of us sometimes, the fact that he can’t publish this story seems to him to be an event that sums up his whole life as a failure. He questions why he made such a herculean effort to get the story, why he ever even bothered to try. All his previous failures to get the truth out come back to accuse him.

Maybe it’s his old mentor, the older reporter who tried to ground him a few times, who has the last word. And those words would be about the truth, and the value of searching for it no matter the outcome. And that the truth itself will stand even if only one person knows it. And the old reporter, cynical as he might have seemed at times, would be shown to have his own ideals which have sustained him through the same battles that Clifford has fought.

Yeah, maybe it sounds a bit corny out of the context of the story. But I think I’d go there. I might even have the old reporter say something like, “Truth may seem to be the first casualty in a war. But Truth can never really die, right? Someday people will know the truth about what happened.”

HA! I never expected a story idea for Dateline:Frontline would pop into my head like that after all these years. Seems like this would be a good closing question for this interview. I appreciate you bringing it up, and thanks for giving me a chance to reminisce.

WOT: And thank you for doing it so thoughtfully and graciously.

WhoThereLogotype

And now, to see our readers off with a story, here, as promised last time, is the concluding episode of Dateline:Frontline’s London trilogy.

Dateline3London01ADateline3London02ADateline3London03ADateline3London04ADateline3London05ADateline3London06A

And as a parting bonus, a vintage in-house biography of young Mr. Burkett!

BurkettBio78A

-RG