Child of Tomorrow
Fantagraphic Books, 2013
Child of Tomorrow is a collection of Al Feldstein’s science fiction work for EC comic’s Weird Science. All of the stories were published between May 1950 and July 1952 and present a fascinating view of an America terrified by the the atomic age. While the stories are science fiction with their requisite optimism, there is always an unease working through these stories, as if the technological future is not going to turn out so well, something more than evident when talking about atomic weapons. A prime example of this fear is the story called “The Utterly Fantastic Events Leading up to the Destruction of the Earth!”, where the creation and testing of the hydrogen bomb ends up pushing the earth out of orbit and into the sun, destroying, naturally, all of man kind. And in typical Twilight Zone style the twist is that the narrator is an alien on some planet warning his students of human folly. Many of the stories for a lack of a better word are silly and the story telling hangs on some twist at the end that makes you realize that the story is about you. It was a rather popular technique showing up in the Twilight Zone and X Minus One a radio science fiction show from the same era, as well as in comics. However, when taken as a whole body of work, the stories have a weight that makes them a fascinating insight into an anxious era, much like the sci-fi movies of the time.
Despite the formulaic nature of many of the stories, there are some clever ones that show wit and self depreciation that suggests the authors didn’t take themselves too seriously. My favorite of the bunch was “The Unbelievable Events Leading up to the Cosmic Ray Bomb Explosion” wherein the writers of Weird Science magazine create a story based on minimal science that ends in the destruction of Washington. There are even scenes of the men laughing at the outlandishness of their command of the science. A nice touch showing had serious they take things. When the issue is published, though, foreign agents get a hold of the magazine and build the bomb described in the story and destroy Washington. The story was clever, loping back on itself in a kind of meta manner, never taking itself seriously and yet giving the writers an outsized impression of their own importance.
Time travel offers many opportunities for paradox and these stories are no exception. Made of the Future! is the best, and perhaps worst, of these. In the story a man stumbles on to a tour of New York given for people from the future. He sneaks along with them and in the future finds a place that makes instant wives. He brings here back to 1950 and enters bliss. But then she goes out for a walk and never returns and he realizes she must have ended up on the tour and never returned. Despite the leap in logic to her eventual fate, it has some nice touches, especially the notion what comes easily disappears easily. I called it perhaps the worst story because the sexual politics of the story are rather strange. The idea that you can just buy the perfect woman in the future is not a healthy prospect and once again turns women into commodities.
In a similar vein, Space-Warp! has a time travel paradox that has a bizarre romantic conclusion. A space explorer leaves his wife, friends and earth and goes far into space. On returning he finds that everyone has aged and he has lost everyone, even his wife. Or so it seems, then he sees her and calls her name. But it isn’t her, it is her daughter with his best friend. No big deal, the explorer is happy with that and marries her. You might think something interesting might occur here with the emotional consequences of such an occurrence, but no. These are, after all, stories for juveniles.
Despite the short comings of the stories, they are an interesting look into a kind of science fiction that to modern eyes seems quaint and anything but technologically advanced. They are a fascinating curiosity of a lost time and Fantagraphics has done a great job reissuing these.