Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More imperfect comic book memories: Ants climb the ladder of intelligence and some idiots land their spaceship on the sun...

Years ago, when I was a kid, one of my friends lived on the next street.  His house was across the alley from ours, so we used to hang out a lot in our backyards.  Either he or his older brother collected all those black and white horror and sci-fi magazines Marvel/Curtis put out back then.  I don't remember the titles after all this time, but I do have some vague memories of reading a story about some doomed astronauts who had accidentally landed their spaceship on the sun and couldn't take off again.  So they bickered for seven pages, then died on the eighth.  My takeaway from this is a feeling of claustrophobia.

I always enjoyed anthology comics, even when they creeped me out or cost me a night's sleep.  I rarely bought them, so what I'd do was furtively read them at the store, then put them back on the spinner rack.  The perfect crime!  Only every so often, my curiosity would cost me.  A story would give me a passing chill, warmed by the bright summer day outside.  Then I'd forget about it.  Sometime after dinner, when I hit the sheets and turned out the light, the story would return, its unsettling qualities magnified by my own imagination.

One such story, which I could have sworn was in the DC book Time Warp, but may have been in the brief early-80s revival of Mystery In Space, featured a luckless space traveler who crash-landed his rocket ship on some desert world where it started leaking some of his nutrient fluid.  You know, space food.  Whatever our astro-people ate up there where they couldn't get turkey sandwiches or Pop Tarts toaster pastries. 

Some space ants started drinking the stuff and would return daily with more and more advanced technology.  First, little wheeled wagons.  Later, trucks with internal combustion engines.  The astronaut, trapped in the wreckage upside down (if I remember correctly, which I doubt), watched in fascination as the ants progressed along our human scientific advancement tree.  By the time rescue approached, the astronaut had become the reluctant witness to black-on-red ant warfare, which ended in an atomic blast because the ants had invented the atom bomb.  The rescuers chalked it up to the wrecked ship's atomic powerplant blowing up, but the last panel showed them walking away, having failed to notice a teensy-tiny wagon overturned in the dirt.

Or maybe they were earth ants.  Or maybe the story was in some Marvel comic or other.  Or a Charlton.  Or perhaps it never existed at all and I only dreamed it and instead of writing it as a short story and submitting somewhere and making a billion dollars I just gave it away like an idiot.  Nah, I'm pretty sure it exists and one day I'll find it and learn the only thing I remember accurately about it is the astronaut.  And those others, the ones from the black and white magazine, actually landed on Saturn and had a picnic.

1 comment:

Steven Multhaup said...

I remember the exact same story you mention about the ants developing civilization & perishing in a red vs black nuclear war after eating space food leaking from the crashed space ship. Indeed the astronaut was trapped upside-down in the wreckage. I think the story was similar to the twilight zone episode (S01:E15) where the spaceship had crashed on earth during a failed launch but the astronauts thought they had crashed on an uncharted asteroid. In the comic, the astronaut was unaware that he was seeing earth ants progressing thur the stages of civilization rather than alien ants. I'm pretty sure the story was in a Charlton anthology from about 1980 to 1983. But I have been unable to narrow it down any further.

That was probably the best comic story I ever read. It made you think deeply the way that only really great science fiction can.

I would love to find that comic. If anyone can confirm the publisher, series, and issue that would be great info to have.