Sunday, November 9, 2014

Charlton's kooky cosmology, Part One: "The Green Star"

Behold--my favorite Charlton cover of all time: "What Was the Secret of the Green Star?" (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, No. 13, June., 1959).  The invaluable Grand Comics Database, which I hate to argue with (but will, when I think I'm sure!), credits pencils to Bill Molno--as in, "Bill Molno?"  As in, probable but not for sure.  Well, it's Molno--pure Molno, in fact.  Here's the wonderful cover art.  We'll be discussing the cover's wondefully kooky cosmology in a bit:

Why do I consider this Molno beyond a doubt?  Two reasons, mainly.  1) The flowing nature of the panic-on-the-streets depiction, and 2) the way the panicking horde is depicted by a mere five foreground gawkers and pointers, the rest consisting of a sketchy patch in the distance.  Oh, and 3) the vague, softly-rendered theater headline letters on the right--lettering that shows up in many a 1960s Molno panel.  Okay, and 4) the charming, bargain-basement detail of the tipping-over trash container.  God, I love this cover!  And who but Molno--at Charlton, anyway-- would include the German-expressionist-cinema detail of the parting buildings?

Charles Nicholas, working with Vince Alascia, would have given us something more conventional and orderly (which is not to dis either quality).  The proof lies in the No. 23 issue of Texas Rangers in Action (Aug., 1960), whose Nicholas-Alascia cover top panel was derived from a Molno-Alascia splash panel.  Here's the Molno panel, which beautifully depicts an all-hell-breaking-loose gunfight in the exact style of the "Green Star" cover.  There's kind of a Jack Davis thing happening, too.  Behold:

"From now on, stay away from the Green Star saloon!"

And here's the Nicholas-Alascia take.  (Well, most of it!  Sorry about the cover tear).  More conventional and comics-correct.  Nice, but stiff in comparison:

This should give us some idea of what a Nicholas-Alascia "Green Star" cover would have looked like--namely, less quirky, with the action more conventionally balanced.  So nice to have what amounts to a Molno/Nicholas comparison chart!  I hope to eventually find this issue with an intact cover attached.

But we're here to discuss the kooky cosmology of Charlton, a cosmology never kookier than in the panels of "The Green Star," a logic-free Mysteries entry drawn by Bill Molno and Vince Alascia.  Here's the first panel, showing a bright green light shooting out of a telescope's eyepiece (happens every day, I'm sure) into the face of a guy operating a long lever shaped like a corn dog.  And thus we know, right off the bat, that we're in the realm of Chartlon science:

A green, asterisk-shaped star emitting a row of green light toward the telescope (below)--worthy of a crudely-doctored Weekly World News headline photo.  Nothing remotely like that in space, as far as I know, and ditto for that third panel, where we see the Earth surrounded by, um, Saturn (?), Mars (?), and two other planets in close proximity, the green star radiating away in the center.  In fact, our solar system is pretty spread out, with huge distances between worlds, and no stars (except our Sun) in remotely the same neighborhood.  I believe these things were known in 1959, but Joe Gill had a story to rush-write:

I'll leave you to ponder the following line: "That green star doesn't really exist--according to the government astronomers!"  Meaning that it's fake?  Or that "the government astronomers" have failed to spot an item that shows up as big as a dinner plate in a telescope, with a thick beam of light shooting out of it?  What the...?

But it's the second panel below that offers the biggest affront to everything formally known about our solar system since the Stone Age--namely, a telescope image that looks like the markings on a Disney-designed sorcerer's cap:

The hero did not become a prisoner on Karu.  I've read this story a number of times, by the way, and still don't completely understand it.

What can we say in defense of Charlton's kooky cosmology?  A lot, really, because Charlton's vision of space wasn't any less science-hostile than the stuff presented on fantasy TV in the same general era. For instance, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had astronauts returning to Earth and not knowing what planet they were on(!).  The latter show had aliens who fell to Earth from space, who were captured by laser beams pointed at the sky, who masqueraded as rocks (until morphing into hissing globs that possessed human hosts), and so on.  Star Trek had rays that made people fade away, film-lab style; Vulcans who could read minds by touching the temples or sides of other life forms; a gigantic Abraham Lincoln floating in front of the Enterprise; and spacecraft that made swooshing noises in the vacuum of space.  Mind-reading, ESP, chambers that transform secret agents into ETs, astronauts unable to figure out "what planet" they're on--how could Gill and Molno even compete with such weirdness?  Yet they did, and with great, quirky style.



  1. Lee - Yep, clearly a Molno cover, although I believe Alascia inked it. You gotta love "The Green Star", Gill and Molno at their quirkiest. Your best line: I've read this story a number of times, by the way, and still don't completely understand it." I've had that experience on a number of Gill stories. I was lucky enough to meet Gill at a New York Comic Con some years back. He was on a Charlton panel and I spoke to him a little afterwards. A very down to earth, matter of fact guy who worked at a terrific speed. He particularly enjoyed writing humor, including Popeye, a favorite of his.

  2. Yes, definitely Alascia. Cool Gill remembrance. I assume you've read the "Charlton Spotlight" Gill interview in which he mentioned being friends--and, for a while, roommates--with Bill Molno. I liked his mixture of pride in, and a sense of humor about, his Charlton record. It was clear he loved his job!