Friday, April 15, 2016

The Second-Best Spaceman in the Universe

Even when I was 6 years old, in 1960, I was clear on the fact that Space Ranger was only the second-best spaceman in the DC universe.
Over in Mystery in Space, Adam Strange had the advantage of stories by Gardner Fox and art by Carmine Infantino (who could not only make you believe the unbelievable, but make you believe the unbelievable to be sleek, tempered and elegant). Space Ranger, the lead feature in Tales of the Unexpected, was delivered with the workmanlike art of Bob Brown and goofy-fun stories by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney.
DC’s two spaceman superheroes — one operating in the present, the other in the future — were actually created to be rival concepts and placed with rival editorial teams.
“Two sci-fi heroes came out of a 1957 editorial conference — Space Ranger and Adam Strange,” comics historian Don Markstein noted. “They were assigned to successive runs in Showcase, the comic book where new concepts were tried before committing the publisher’s capital to a full-scale title launch. Editor Jack Schiff took Space Ranger, while Julius Schwartz took Adam Strange.”
Space Ranger, like many another minor DC hero, was originally set up to resemble the popular Batman, with a secret identity (wealthy playboy Rick Starr), a secret cave headquarters (inside an asteroid), a flashy, speedy vehicle (the scarlet spaceship Solar King) and a sidekick, his small, adorable alien friend, Cryll.
Like Batman, Space Ranger had no super powers, but Cryll did, being able to transform himself into any animal, like the later Beast Boy. Since Cryll had the whole densely inhabited universe to choose from, he could essentially transform himself into anything. The Martian Manhunter’s super-powered alien pet/pal Zook was similar.
In place of powers or a utility belt, the yellow-clad, translucent-helmeted Ranger had his all-purpose multi-raygun which seemingly could emit any kind of beam: heat, ice, disintegration, and so forth, anticipating Space Ghost’s multi-beam power bands.
By the time I started reading Space Ranger, his secret identity had been largely abandoned as superfluous (a character who was always on yet another weird planet hardly needed a disguise). He kept the 22nd century safe from the likes of  The Army of Interplanetary Beasts, The Invasion of the Jewel-Men, The Menace of the Sun-Creature, The Beast from the Invisible World and The Menace of the Alien Indians (don’t ask).

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