Sunday, January 25, 2009

One more Brick to throw ... viral warfare

In telling us a bit of villain Franz Ego's back story, Dr. Kopak tells us that Ego was responsible for the influenza pandemic of 1918. That statement doesn't mean much to us today, but if you can imagine reading in a Superman comic that Lex Luthor was responsible for the development of the AIDS virus in the 1980's, then you might understand that author William Ritt was putting Franz Ego on a breathtaking level of pure malice that would resonate strongly with any reader old enough to remember those dark days. To quote from Stanford's page on the pandemic:
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351.
It's human nature to try to pin the blame on someone or some group when a disaster like the flu pandemic strikes. With the world at war, the enemy was especially easy to find. As PBS's American Experience page tells us:
One widely accepted notion -- outside of the medical profession, that is -- had German spies deliberately seeding Boston Harbor with influenza-sprouting germs. Such innuendo was lent credence by statements of individuals who should have known better. On September 17, 1918, Lt. Col. Philip Doane, head of the Health and Sanitation Section of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, forcefully voiced his opinion that the epidemic might have been started by Germans put ashore from U-Boats.
Conspiracy theories, then, fed into Ritt's creation of his strip's villain - a villain who had unleashed death and terror in our "real world" on a global level. Other fictional villains were always threatening to destroy the world, but Brick Bradford's enemy already had.

WEEK FOUR: Adrift in an Atom - 3/1/37 - 3/6/37

Just who is the evil Franz Ego?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One more Brick to throw - enter the villain!

With the third week of "Adrift in an Atom," Brick and his scientist friend Dr. Kalla Kopak encounter a figure from Kalla's past, the insidious Franz Ego. Franz's plan is to use Kalla's size-changing Element 85 and use it to create an army of gigantic super soldiers who could conquer the world for him. It's strongly hinted that he is working at the behest of a foreign military power (possibly Hitler's Germany?).

There are several hints in this week's continuity that help us understand the influences that scriptwriter William Ritt used to create his villain. At this late date it's just a hunch, but Franz Ego appears to be based on Turner, the villain in Fritz Lang's classic German film from 1929, "Woman in the Moon." "Woman in the Moon" was released in the United States in 1931, and focuses on the world's first successful moon landing. Fritz Rasp portrayed a character very similar to Franz Ego, a leering, sickeningly evil man who is a master of disguise and who represents a dark federation of international power brokers. Rasp's Turner is such a great villain that it would be difficult for someone like Ritt to resist stealing the character for his own purposes.

Again, just a guess, but anyone who has seen "Woman in the Moon" could see the similarities.

WEEK THREE: Adrift In An Atom - 2/22/37 - 2/27/37

Enter the villain of the piece, Franz Ego!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

One more Brick to throw ... subatomic science fiction

The idea of subatomic worlds within worlds, as scientist Kalla Kopak phrases it in the comic-strips below, wasn't a common idea in science fiction, but it certainly is a fascinating one. The concept was explored, most notably, three times before in the world of science fiction:

The Diamond Lens
, by Fitz-James O'Brien, 1858. A man peers through an incredibly powerful microscope, and discovers another world. The link goes to the Project Gutenberg text.

The Girl in the Golden Atom, by Ray Cummings, 1922. The link is to the full text of the novel at Project Gutenberg. Cummings' hero goes a step farther than O'Brien's protagonist, and actually enters into the world he discovers in a wedding ring.

Colussus, by Donald Wandrei, 1934. Wandrei's work is still in copyright, but the short story "Colussus" has been anthologized several times. Isaac Asimov's terrific book "Before the Golden Age" reprints the story, but the link here is to a recent anthology focusing solely on Donald Wandrei's work.

WEEK TWO: Adrift In An Atom, 2/15/1937 - 2/20/1937

The second week of this justly famous storyline.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Until next week ... here's artist Clarence Gray

Snagged unashamedly from the Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog, a page from the 1949 book, "King Features Artist and Writers." They really seemed to be trying hard to give readers the idea that Clarence was a normal, blue collar kinda guy who just happened to be drawing some of the wildest stuff around. There doesn't seem to be a page in the book for author William Ritt, who was leaving the Brick Bradford strip at about that time. Click on the article to enlarge it.

WEEK ONE: Adrift In An Atom, 2/8/1937 - 2/13/1937

We begin remembering the adventures of Brick Bradford with the strip's most famous storyline, in which Brick and his friends visit a subatomic world found within a copper penny. Click on the strips for a more readable version. It all begins NOW ...