Sunday, March 11, 2012

Forgotten Comics: Two from the Gold Key Vault: M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War and Zody the Mod Rob.

M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War was one of the better comics that Gold Key put out in the late sixties that wasn’t a licensed property, like The Flintstones or Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This comic, while well written and having good art, only lasted for seven issues over the course of about three years.

The title was originally called just Total War, probably to capitalize on a popularity spurt of war comics. The action centered on the Advanced Training Squad from the Marine Attack Rescue Service.  The squad was a multicultural group that consisted of African-American communications expert Sgt. Joe Striker, tank and weaponry specialist Corporal Russ Stacey, Asian-American underwater combat expert Sgt. Ken Hiro and the team’s leader, combat pilot Lieutenant Cy Adams. The highly-trained M.A.R.S. was under the leadership of General Kripps and had access to the most modern of military weaponry and vehicles.  The squad was on a 24-hour leave in a big city when the metropolis was suddenly attacked by a very well-equipped and manned military force. Over the course of the series, little was actually revealed about the invaders; they were bald, hairless and had metals unknown to human science. They also had various fantastic devices that were improved versions of current weapons or systems on Earth. While it was implied that the invaders were aliens, it was never actually revealed.

Given that M.A.R.S. Patrol wasn’t published by one of the Big Two, there was a surprising amount of decent characterization in the series, as several missions sent the Squad back to the home region of several of the members: Striker returned to his home in the Louisiana Bayou and Hiro met up with an old friend in San Francisco’s Chinatown. You get a feeling of the horror of war as the United States becomes one of the major battlefields in this global conflict.

Every issue but the final seventh one also had a fully-painted cover, and the first two issues had artwork by comics’ legend Wally Wood, the first I actually recall seeing in a Gold Key comic. All seven issues are readily available in the various internet comic hubs, and I think they are worth checking out for any war comics fan.

Now unlike M.A.R.S. Patrol, it is kind of difficult to know what to think about Zody the Mod Rob. This was a comic published in the middle of 1970, well after the supposed end of the Love Generation. I’m not quite sure what the single published issue of this series is trying to be; is it an Archie-style teen comic? Is it a counter-culture humor title? I’m not saying that it is a bad comic. It is actually quite well written for a “funny book” but it seems to have been published in the wrong decade.

Randy Martin was trying to get on the staff of the Tinker High Times newspaper, and was assigned to get a story from an eccentric scientist named Professor Ipsof Acto, a man who didn’t know what his own birthday was and was obsessed with horoscopes. Since Randy was an Aquarius, Acto gave him his special Horoscope Cap to wear, which endowed Randy with a level of prescience after he fell asleep outside wearing the device. Knowing the future put a crimp in Randy’s life, so he built a robot and put the cap on it. After a night being bathed in starlight through a skylight, the robot, named Zody, started talking and acting strangely, proclaiming it had an IQ of 800. The remainder of the tale dealt with Randy trying to deal with the still-prophetic statements of Zody, who was given a wig to cover the cap and dressed like a very thin hippie-stereotype.

The only thing that comes to mind after reading Zody the Mod Rob is DC’s legendary stinker Brother Power, the Geek. Here we have another attempt by a group of old white men trying to interpret a youth movement without much of a clue as to what they were doing. In both cases, at least there wasn’t a lot of vitriol and hidden agendas behind the attempts. Zody actually seemed to have some potential as a series, but I think the lack of a real direction hurt it. It’s like watching the first episode of My Mother, the Car: It’s a mildly interesting concept when you get past the blatant stupidity of the idea. Zody the Mod Rob was about ten steps above that.  This is another title that’s available digitally from various sources on-line. One issue and ten minutes at the most of your time is all it takes to give the entire saga a read. 

Later this week, some reviews of some classic TV shows!

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