Thursday, June 11, 2009

Men Into Spa-aaa-ace!

Although I read comics from the time before I could read, I didn't seriously collect comics until I was about 12 years old. Among my early obsessions were the Dell/Gold Key comics from the 50s and 60s. Dell was the comic book arm of the Western Printing and Lithograph Co., which held the licensing rights to numerous pop culture properties from comic strips, movies, and television. Instead of having regular titles with monthly or bi-monthly publishing schedules, Dell primarily put out an anthology series known to collectors as Four Color Comics featuring an array of properties including Buck Rogers, Mr. Ed, the Three Stooges, and Leave it to Beaver. The quirky line-up of pop culture icons, coupled with the unique covers using either paintings or photo-collages, really jumped out at me as a collector. Also, they were way cheaper for me to buy than old Marvel or DC comics. This was important on my newspaper delivery boy/lawn mower salary.

One of my favorite Four Color Comics was the issue featuring the Men Into Space TV series. At the time, I had never heard of the show, but I was intrigued by the grim-faced astronaut on the cover with the cool helmet sitting next to the Chesley Bonestell painting. I later discovered that Men Into Space was a half-hour, syndicated series about the United States Air Force's attempts to explore space. Led by Colonel Edward McCauley (played by William Lundigan), these space explorers dealt with the hazards of space travel as they built space stations, moon bases, and planned trips to Mars. Although the stories were supposed to take place in some vaguely defined near future, everything looked like 1959.

Of course, I only had the comic to go by when I was 12, and it seemed pretty exciting to me. While I knew that the science presented in this 1960 comic bore no resemblance to the realities of the Apollo missions, I enjoyed experiencing this "what if" view of the future that seemed so much more elegant than the truth. The frustrating part about the comic book was that the story ended with a cliffhanger. During one of their moon missions, one of the crew is injured. Also, they do not have enough fuel to get back in their rocket ship, so the injured man and another astronaut are sent home in a makeshift rescue craft, leaving McCauley and another astronaut stranded on the moon waiting for help. I spent decades trying to find the second issue of this comic so I could read the conclusion of the story. It wasn't until a few years ago, with the help of the Internet, that I discovered Dell never published that second issue. I don't know whether the series' cancellation or poor comic sales were to blame, but Col. McCauley was never rescued from the moon.

I always wanted to see some episodes of the show, but the only way I could see them was to buy the entire set of 38 episodes on DVD for about $40. I wasn't prepared to invest that much money on a show I had never seen before, so I never bought them. Now, some generous person has posted one of the episodes on YouTube, so I'd like to share it with you. As I suspected, it's kinda like "Sea Hunt in Outer Space." The budget is low, there's a heavy reliance on stock footage, and the story is rather uneventful. Still, I wish I could have seen it in syndication when I was a kid. I think I would've enjoyed it. This episode features a young Robert Vaughn as guest star, who is clearly the best actor in this episode. Anyway, here it is:

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