Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Twilight Zone #68

The Twilight Zone #68, January 1976, Western Publishing Company

Yesterday’s brief review featured a comic book providing supplemental material for a popular toy franchise. Today’s review tackles a comic book providing supplemental material for a successful television series. These adaptations aren’t as different as they seem. Children are attracted to the Bionicle Lego product because of its well marketing mythology, freely embellished by its comic counterpart. The Twilight Zone is a cult phenomenon with unlimited, open-ended potential and unlike other TV show adaptations – like Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I reviewed last month – is free of continuity concerns, so writers don’t have to dance around what’s been or will be aired during any given month. This episodic nature is perfect for the comic book format, especially in this Gold Key incarnation which features four short Rod Serling narrated tales. I dropped into this issue as easily as one can turn into any episode of The Twilight Zone during its annual Labor Day marathon . . . but what holiday benefits more from a twilight trip than Halloween, eh? I mean, really . . .

So, what are these four eerie tales ripped from the ether of the Twilight Zone? Interestingly, the stories aren’t very long and make for fun, brief reads, ranging from three to seven pages each. The first tale, called “The Second Will,” stars a man suffering from a bout of astral projection, during which he meets his dead uncle who reveals the location of his second, revised will. The uncle’s greedy brother and sister demand to see this will, anxious for their inheritance and eager to cover-up their responsibility for the secret murder, only to be murdered themselves by a bomb in the will’s safe box. Serling assures us that our hero’s astral episodes cease, and now “he’s counting the fortune he inherited in the Twilight Zone.”

The second and third tales, presumably by different but anonymous creative teams, are about obscure prison breaks. In the first, “A Lease of Death,” a stranger aids a convicted murderer in an escape, then promptly drugs him with an agent that instigates paralysis. The stranger is revealed to be a wax museum curator, and the convict lives on as his latest attraction, “if,” according to Serling, “you can calling that ‘living’ – in the Twilight Zone!” The third tale, “Wide Open Spaces,” is a bit more galactic in nature, an element I assumed this issue would feature more abundantly, since the franchise could more easily afford an illustrator’s skills in recreating space than a crew building a film set. Anyway, in this case, a cosmic convict from second-class planet known as Earth organizes a crafty prison break because of his nostalgic penchant for personal space, something apparently hard to find in the claustrophobic future. The man is successful, but his prison isn’t a gravity-heavy planet as he’d hoped, but a satellite where escapees burst through the hatch to meet a free-floating fate in space. Oh, the irony is too rich to resist.

The final tale, “Discovery,” is intriguing enough but my least favorite in the issue. Whereas the other yarns explore the peculiarity of human nature, this is the only story that is actually supernatural in nature, but the para-normality isn’t complex enough to really make my skin crawl. In fact, the story is a heart-warming one, in which a rich, idle college graduate meets her futuristic counterpart not once but twice – in one incarnation, the older doppelganger is a bored airhead, the other a successful vibrant marine biologist. In the end, the student graduates with the hopes of pursuing her formerly dormant skills in science. Her introspective journey may have seemed spectral, but, according to Serling in his final appearance, “not for us who travel in – the Twilight Zone!” Well put, if not completely inspiring.

As I implied, three of out of the four stories in this issue dealt more with the more macabre dimensions of human nature than with the mystical. Sans a few fantastic elements, like a paralytic drug that can sustain a man to old age, these circumstances can actually come to pass, given the right players and suspension of reality. The issue is certainly drawn realistically, with the formality of a drawing instruction book. From what I can tell, the first and last stories were illustrated by the same artist, but the lack of creative credits offer this issue’s true mystery. These contributors deserve a pat on the back for keeping this sci-fi franchise so accessible in a comic book format. Unlike the Bionicle book, which was so confusingly written and illustrated that I’ll consciously avoid the Lego aisle at Toys ‘R Us from now on, I feel inspired to scroll my DirecTV menu, so sometime soon I can take another enigmatic trip to . . . the Twilight Zone. Hey, why should Serling have all the fun?

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