Friday, March 28, 2014

Retro-Review: The Twilight Zone #89

56236Time for another retro-review, where I pull out a comic from my collection and read it, blogging about it as I go! This time around, it's Gold Key's Twilight Zone #89. The cover of this issue, as you can see, features a beautiful painting, artist unknown.

The first story in this issue is called "Star Pupil," and features Ed Crane, an honor student at a university. He's arrived early to conduct some personal experiments. He's a 99-pound weakling, and he's trying to improve his entire body chemistry through science! His experiments produce a potion of body building proteins that are supposed to give him the "strength of Atlas," but when he drinks it, there's a change, and he becomes basically a Neanderthal Man, or perhaps a Mr. Hyde if you prefer. He goes amok in the lab, smashing everything in sight. But before long, the potion wears off, and he changes back to normal, just before Professor Higgins arrives. Higgins assumes vandals broke in over the weekend and caused the destruction. Ed, for his part, can't remember anything about how he created the potion, and as Rod Serling's head informs us, "Whatever it was has been destroyed! Ed remembers nothing! What were the ingredients? The answer lies in... The Twilight Zone!"

Yeesh... someone was asleep on the job when this four-pager was written, eh? I don't know who wrote it, but the art was by Jack Sparling. There's really nothing about this tale that really fits the whole TZ theme... it feels more like a tale for some of the latter-day issues of some lesser comic book.

After a full-page ad with Richie Rich hawking Hostess Fruit Pies, we have "The Prettiest Child," with art by Mike Roy. This opens with George and Katherine Shuster, a wealthy couple who have arrived at an orphanage with the intent to adopt a child. The one they choose is Linda, who was abandoned by her parents, and nothing else is known about them or her. They take Linda home with them.

The next week, the Shusters hold a party, and everyone tells them how lovely Linda is. When asked about the necklace Linda's wearing, the Shusters say they were told she was wearing it when she arrived at the orphanage. As she grows up, Linda goes from being beautiful to being merely ordinary. One day, she overhears her adoptive parents talking. It seems that Katherine has been ignoring Linda because she had expected a girl who would become a sophisticated young woman, not a plane Jane. George insists that she shouldn't treat Linda that way, and that Linda is suffering for it.

As a teenager, Linda gets even more unattractive, becoming a social zero at school. On the other hand, her grades make her the top student, and is asked by a professor to work with him on a side project involving inter-galactic travel. The professor believes aliens have visited Grove County in the past, and he wants Linda to research it further. I'm guessing you can already see where this is going, eh?

A week later, Linda arrives at a spot nearby the orphanage, where Professor Lacey believes aliens had visited before. Taking out a geiger counter, she searches for traces of radioactivity. Suddenly, two people in odd purple clothing spot her, and call her Zendra! Linda starts to run away, but one of them says, "Zendra -- daughter! Don't be frightened!" It seems these two are aliens and Linda's real parents, and when they took her with them to Earth on an expedition, she wandered off, and they couldn't find her before the tele-port ray appeared to transmit them back to Knorgg, their home world. The proof is the necklace that Linda's continued to wear, and they tell her that she's even more beautiful than they could've imagined. Indeed, on Knorgg, she'd be regarded as the loveliest woman in their society! Linda... er... Zendra agrees to go back with them. Rod appears to wrap the story up: "'Beauty,' as the saying goes, 'is in the eyes of the beholder'! Linda Shuster, known to her true parents as Zendra, is about to find out how beautiful she is -- at least to the people of Knorgg -- long-time inhabitants of... The Twilight Zone!"

Now, that's more like it! Although I really think that this story would've benefitted from a few more pages to more fully flesh things out, like the four pages wasted on "Star Pupil." Still, a much better story, even if the twist is telegraphed rather early.

Next, we get to "Overly Charming," with art by Sparling. This is the story the cover is based upon. Dressed like a Hindu, Rod Serling appears in the first panel to set it up: "Not even the wisest fakirs in Indian know when or where the ancient art of snake charming originated! For its secrets, as you are about to discover, are locked in... The Twilight Zone!" A rather overweight couple from England (they could be the Durseleys from Harry Potter) are touring, and rather disgusted at all the snake charmers they're coming across, especially Lal, the latest one they've encountered. Overhearing this are some of Lal's fellow charmers, who tease Lal about it, saying he's not a fakir but a faker.

Lal wanders off, grumbling, "Ignorant fools! Enjoy yourself while you can... for it is I who shall one day laugh the loudest!" Wandering aimlessly through the jungle, Lal suddenly hears weird music, and comes upon an old fakir who's charming six snakes at once with his playing. The fakir introduces himself as Zakar, and he controls the snakes with a magical pipe, given to him long ago by a wise old fakir. Lal offers to buy the pipe, but it's no sale, so Lal hits Zakar and steals the pipe. Zakar warns him that he's tampering with forces he doesn't understand, but all Lal can think of is the wealth he can get with this pipe.

Hmm... off-hand, I'm guessing Lal is going to be transformed into a snake by the time this story ends? We'll see.

Some days later, Lal appears at the royal palace of a neighboring province, which is beset by a plague of snakes. Lal offers to rid the province of the snakes, and the ruler says if he's successful, he'll be rewarded with enough gold for three lifetimes. Lal hits the streets and begins to play, and cobras start coming out from every crack and crevice, following him through the streets. Leading them to the forest, Lal figures he can stop and they'll go about their way, but when he does, suddenly a gigantic cobra appears, and encircles him angrily. Lal realizes that the only way to save his life is to play the pipe again... and he'll only live so long as he keeps playing! Rod appears to say, "I'm afraid the only place where Lal can get rid of those snakes is in... The Twilight Zone!"

Well, that was a surprise ending! Much more TZ-ish than the first tale, isn't it?

Sparling does the art chores again on "The Hangman's Noose," the final tale in this issue. Rod introduces the tale: "Bowie Ramston is being tried for murder! And if convicted, he will have a difficult time, for sentences aren't light in... The Twilight Zone!" The era appears to be the old west, based on the clothes. Bowie, who killed in self-defense, is nevertheless found guilty, and is sentenced to be hung in two weeks. Bowie is returned to his cell, very upset at the verdict and sentencing, as he's long hated hangings since his father took him to one as a child! He can even see the gallows being built for his execution outside of the window of his cell, and the deputy even taunts him by showing the rope he'll be hung with!

The day of the hanging, Bowie decides to take it like a man, but when the lever is pulled, the trap door won't open! Bowie's given an extra day of life while it's being fixed, but his dreams that night are plagued by images of giant nooses that he's running through. The following morning, Bowie awakens to find that the hangman's sick, and his hanging has been postponed indefinitely! Later, the marshall visits the prison to announce that the territorial governor's reviewed Bowie's case and commuted his sentence, but when they get to Bowie's cell, Bowie is dead, with rope burns around his neck as though he'd been hung! Rod comes into the panel to say, "Bowie Ramston was so afraid of being hanged that he couldn't take it anymore! His mind hanged him to put him out of his misery and into the realm of... The Twilight Zone!"

Huh... well... I didn't see that coming, but on the other hand, it doesn't really fit things too well the way the story was constructed. If I were to rewrite it, I'd get rid of all the stuff where the trapdoor doesn't work or the hangman being sick, and focus those pages on Bowie spending those two weeks obsessing over being hung, including a flashback to the hanging he saw as a boy (rather than just having him mention it), building up the tension on the last night before his hanging, and then cutting away from the cell to the last page, with the marshall arriving with the news that the sentence has been commuted, but too late.

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