Weird Fantasy was a sci-fi anthology comic of the 1950s, aimed mainly at the teenager/young adult demographic. This collection brings us the first six issues: #13-17, and #6. There’s a logical reason why the first issue is #13, and Wikipedia says it has something to do with saving money on postage. It does not elaborate further. This has no bearing on anything, but it amuses me to no end.
Each issue has several different stories in it, including a couple of flash fiction prose pieces. That being the case, by the time you get through even two or three issues, you’ll have already been exposed to a myriad of plots, characters, and twists. After a while, you’ll start to notice a few common themes. This being a sci-fi comic, time travel is a staple, as is space travel. The space travel stories are especially fun, since these comics were published in 1950, 11 years before humans went into space in any form. That made even the most basic rockets into the stuff of science fiction, and it’s interesting to see how they thought it would all be accomplished.
The most popular theme of these stories, though, by quite a long way, is the atomic bomb. While we’re lucky to get one time travel story per issue, there are often two and three different atomic bomb stories. Some of them feature mad scientists bent on the destruction of the American way of life. Others feature well-meaning American scientists trying to boost our atomic capabilities to protect us against outside threats, and inadvertently causing our destruction themselves. A fair few of them feature aliens finding the ruins of Earth after we destroy ourselves through nuclear war. One of the most innovative stories features the creators of the comic itself as characters, brainstorming a new form of destructive force for the next issue. No matter what form the stories take, though, it’s clear what was on people’s minds in the ’50s and seated in their deepest fears.
Being that there are so many stories in this volume, it’s clear that some of them are going to be better than others. A few are kind of formulaic or end with “twists” that are visible from a mile away, or that don’t really land like they’re supposed to. Others have a lot of potential but just don’t live up to it. The world ends up destroyed more often than not, and there’s really only so many times you can end a story that way, to be honest. Reading them today, all those Cold War atomic bomb stories wear a bit thin.
That said, there are also a few real gems in this collection. In fact, some of the best stories are the ones with the most familiar premises, but done in a new and interesting way. The very first story, “Am I Man or Machine?” has about a dozen different sci-fi clichés, from “brain in a vat” to “building an android with a human mind,” but they’re all done so well that they ended up being one of my favorites. “Martian Infiltration” begins as a thinly veiled Cold War allegory but ends up being surprisingly fun. And, a couple of the time travel stories play very nicely with recursive narratives and cause and effect. I’m always a sucker for a good time travel story.
Though it’s true there are a few duds in the batch, there are enough entertaining and creative stories in this volume to make it worthwhile to a fan of classic sci-fi. Not to mention the cheese factor, which is always a selling point for classic comic collections. If you like cheesiness in your comics (as I certainly do), you won’t be disappointed here.
As a writer and a sci-fi fan myself, I rather wish that I could go back to the 1950s and get a job working on the Weird Fantasy comic. A number of the stories featured here sparked my imagination and gave me ideas for other stories. The really good ones made me want to write something similar, and the mediocre ones made me wish I could rewrite them and fix what was wrong. I think I could have had a pretty good career on the staff of Weird Fantasy. In fact, that sounds suspiciously like a story they might have used. An avid sci-fi fan from the future travels back in time and makes a name for himself writing stories for an anthology comic. Then, he’s killed in an atomic blast.