Fifties sci-fi tends to launch images of moon monsters, colonies on Venus, and UFOs that look like dinner plates— images that are quaint, kitschy, clueless, and sincere. Irony, parody, and self-conscious wit seem to be more modern products, and yet, there was Beyond Mars. Written by pulp novelist Jack Williamson and illustrated by Harvey Comics' Lee Elias, Beyond Mars ran as a Sunday strip in the New York Sunday News from 1952 to 1955. Reading it today completely collected in a new book by IDW publishing, Williamson and Elias's strip seems like a smart goof on fifties sci-fi created by a pair of later-twentieth century cutups.
In the year 2191, a citizen of the Brooklyn portion of a smashed Earth named Mike Flint tools around space with Tham Thmith, his lisping metallic snake buddy from Venus, helping a succession of pretty women out of jams. The fifties elements—the rockets, noir-ish villains, femme fatales, atomic science—are so fifties-ish that they seem as though they had to be created by someone looking back on the decade with a winking eye. The weird wit is so out there that it seems to confirm that incorrect notion. Mike and Tham tussle with a giant lobster, join forces with a diapered boy who rides a meteor, and blast through space in the Empire State Building as if it were a rocket. Beyond Mars is the perfect collision of fifties nostalgia and humor that feels unmistakably contemporary. Too dreamy.
IDW's collection is the company's standard stylish package: hardcover, ribbon bookmark, and most important of all, analog coloring. Bruce Canwell's sixteen-page introduction is one of the most informative addendums to an IDW title I've read, and it is illustrated with bonus uncolored Elias splash pages from his Harvey comics and some surprisingly tasteful covers of Williamson's pulps (well, The Green Girl is not particularly tasteful). This is a lovely presentation of a strip that demands rediscovery.
Get Beyond Mars on Amazon.com here: