Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Alien Invasion at the 18th Hole

Having always had somewhat less than no interest in spectator sports, I shouldn’t have been expected to embrace a 1963 comic book called Strange Sports Stories.
That I had any interest in it at all was entirely due to the talents of writers Gardner Fox and John Broome, artist Carmine Infantino and editor Julius Schwartz, who had refined the optimistic, sunlit, linear-landscaped science fiction stories they created for Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space into a distinctly odd sub-genre.
Where else might you find intangible prizefighters, invisible baseball teams or rocket-sledding golfers who had to overcome alien spaceships instead of water hazards?
“Some of the ideas are ingenious, and could be put into place with today’s electronic technology,” noted comics historian Mike Grost. “Broome always had a flair for new technological devices. Others involve non-violent hunting and evading of alien animals; these recall the similar tracking of alien animals in Fox’s Star Rovers tales. Broome was quite insistent in his tales about the reality of social change. Several of his stories suggest that today’s conventional ideas will change drastically in the future.”
“The expert athletes in Broome future sport stories remind one of all the magician characters in his other works,” Grost wrote. “All of these men are highly skilled, and they can bring this repertory of skills to bear on unexpected science fiction situations in which they find themselves. They are also men who perform in public, and who get fame and public acclaim for their work.”
In the story The Man Who Drove Through Time, Fox anticipated Back to the Future, transporting an auto inventor from 1896 to the 1964 Indianapolis 500.
Many of the stories provide the cozy reassurance of what Grost called “the futuristic Art Deco cities and gracious living of Infantino’s futures.”
But the concept never progressed beyond five tryout issues in The Brave and the Bold, so general interest in it was apparently as tepid as my own.
Presumably the kids who wanted to play baseball were out doing it, while the ones who wanted to read comics were sprawled on the living room carpet doing that. Strange Sports Stories explicitly tried to bridge that gap by providing more than one story (Goliath of the Gridiron, The Hot-Shot Hoopsters) about young intellectuals who become literally fantastic athletes. 
But after all, why be a mere star athlete when, with the same mental leap, you could be a superhero? That left Strange Sports Stories falling short, an idea whose time never came.

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