Monday, December 12, 2016

DC Comics Gives the Children a Big Hand

A young couple is driving in a convertible on a sunny day, top down, as a giant hand looms above them. Preparing to seize them? To crush them? How can they possibly escape?
That was the “grabber” of a Gil Kane cover on Strange Adventures 110 (Nov. 1959), and it certainly seized my attention when I saw it in DC Comics house ads at age 5.
I speculated for a long time about what was going in that comic, but never got a chance to read the story until years later. And by that time, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the occult hand was no threat at all.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, in DC’s sunny science fiction titles, alien invasions were routinely thwarted by pet dogs and postmen, and plesiosaurs were tamed and put on display at SeaWorld. The threats implied by the covers were tamed, too, and while that may have made the contents of the comics a little less exciting, it also cut down on the ensuing nightmares.
DC, following not merely the letter but also the spirit of the Comes Code, built reassurance into their stories. The writers, editors and artists took their responsibility to their audience of small children seriously.
Responsibility was in fact the theme of the 9-page story The Hand from Beyond, written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Carmine Infantino, and the tale turns out to be a perfect example of the type.
The mysterious giant hand appears throughout Bill Vickers’ life, always to protect him from deadly peril. Why? Because an alien scientific experiment gone wrong had accidentally impaired Bill’s adrenal glands as a boy, depriving him of the “fight-or-flight” response humans need to help them survive in an emergency. The giant hand was the aliens’ way of protecting him from the damage they’d done.
The issue includes two more science fiction stories and those science fact features that DC always included during an era when Americans still respected facts and science. Technological advances had, after all, just ended World War II and were about to send humanity to the moon. Enticing house ads for the former Quality Comics title Blackhawk and the new features Suicide Squad and Green Lantern were also included.
In the end, Vickers recovers his sense of danger and rejects the aliens’ protection, a decision I’d have advised him to rethink. Having a giant hand always pop up to shield me from mortal harm is the kind of problem I could live with.

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