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Messages From Beyond

Yes, it’s part four of a four part series of posts on the grand old comic book From Beyond the Unknown #23! Previous installments:

  1. “Secret of the Man-Ape!”
  2. “Language-Master of Space!”
  3. “World of Doomed Spacemen”

Now we come to the letters column, “Messages From Beyond!”

Dear Editor:
Having been writing letters for quite awhile now, it does not surprise me to see my name pop up in a lettercol every time I turn around. What does surprise me is to find out I’ve gotten a mention, not because of a letter I’ve written, but for one I didn’t write! To remedy the lack of my letters to From Beyond the Unknown, here I am.

The trio of Gardner Fox stories in #21 shows the variety of tales the man can review. “Raid of the Rogue Star” is typical of his tales in the old Strange Adventures wherein some alien menace attacks Earth in one way or another and is defeated by a scientist who notices the flaw in the plan just before it is too late. Bill Travis, like all his predecessors and successors is really the same character with a different name; a man who ends up with his girl friend (or wife) on a picnic or at the beach after he saves the world. No publicity, no parades, no nothing. Just a fadeout back into oblivion.

“The Ghost Planet” is the Fox version of a “Twilight Zone” story. This is the quickie type which relies solely on the surprise-twist ending. As twist stories go, this one was pretty good.

“Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth?” is the third type of sci-fi story Mr. Fox turns out: the series story. While the Star Rovers stories are the most limiting in terms of basic pattern (i.e. each of the three solving the same problem in a different way), each of them is refreshingly different enough to make them enjoyable. This issue’s tale was par for the course.


So he wrote so many letters that people actually worried when he failed to write in to From Beyond the Unknown—that’s dedication! The neat thing about letter columns is the way they make the readers’ role as interpreters of the text actually part of the text itself, so that the text becomes self-reflexive. Which isn’t to say authors should necessarily listen to their readers (Hollywood studios actually act on the suggestions of test audiences, and look at all the awful movies that result), but giving readers a voice without requiring that they get published in a lit crit journal or something is a great idea. There are probably better ways to do it than a letter column in the book—like the Web, which is sort of a super-letters column for the entire world, to strain an analogy. Anybody who can get hold of an Internet connection can say anything about anything. People are always coming up with new ways of democratizing critcism—like this wiki for annotating and commenting on Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, which contains the entire text of the book (Lessig helpfully published it under a Creative Commons license).

But back to the letters!

Dear Editor:
Finally. I have discovered not one, but two errors in FBTU #21, both occurring in the explanations of the stories. The first, in “Raid of the Rogue Star”, erroneously led people to believe that an unknown element destroyed anything colored green. This may be all right for the alien planet, but to suggest that anything from Earth would likewise be destroyed, is a little far-fetched. If you were to say that just the pigment was destroyed, then the emerald would have turned to clear transparency.

A better explanation is to propose that a peculiar quality of the alien planet required that it must receive the green part of the visible spectrum or cease to exist. This impurity would account for the disappearance of the rogue star, as anything colored green has a green pigment which reflects green light, making it look green in appearance. As far as the planet goes, you could say that the green light must exist at least when other light is present, thereby saving the planet in times of darkness. In this case there could be no red or blue colored light without some green light mixed in, or anything subjected to it would cease to exist. Follow?

Editorial interlude: Follow? An element which destroys anything colored green is too far-fetched. It would be less far-fetched if the material making up this alien planet had such a quality that exposure to non-green light causes it to cease to exist. Apparently the material would need to absorb green light to continue existing, so the “rogue star” would cease to exist because it reflects green light! Got it? Wait, it’s a rogue star—doesn’t that mean it would radiate green light, not reflect green light?

Now, over to the Star Rovers. Obviously, for Karel’s skin to turn blue, something must have entered her bloodstream, taking away her normal pinkish color. To suggest that her hair is modified skin which also should have turned blue is ridiculous, since hair is nothing more than a protective covering, comparable to nails, claws, quills, scales, or feathers, which are all related and which all function and grow in the same manner. These have nothing to do with skin, and therefore are not related in any way.

Anyway, here’s your answer for this one: In between the second and last panels of the last page was a doctor saying the same things I did but trying to save her anyway, which he obviously did. He gave her a blood transfusion every day for two weeks, which enabled the blue poison to drain from her system. However, what they didn’t know was that the condition was hereditary and all of her future offspring were “blue babies”! Ouch!

Greg Coben, New Brunswick, N.J.

So Karel’s skin turns blue because of some poison, and characters in the story wonder why her hair doesn’t turn blue as well. Luckily Greg Coben is here to explain why. How’s this guy so smart? Editor Julian Schwartz notes in his reply to the letter, “A wise guy—eh, this Gren Coben? Could be—the portion of his address that we omitted reads: Rutgers University!” Clearly Greg Coben was a professor of colors.


  1. David Fiore says:

    thanks for the Lessig tip Steven, that looks awesome!


    — 5 April 2004 at 4:21 pm (Permalink)

  2. Greg Coben says:

    Good grief, I remember writing that letter to the editor, but I remember nothing about that comic. In case anybody cares, I was not a professor, just a run-of-the-mill Physics-turned-Ecomonics major who, apparently, did not spend enough time studying. When was that? 1973-74? I think Bob Rozakis, whose letter also appears on the same web page, became one of the Batman writers/editors. You’re right about the letter writers of those days, it made us feel like we were part of the creative process.

    — 10 April 2005 at 5:19 am (Permalink)

  3. Steven says:

    Hey, this is neat—I’m glad you found my post. It does appear that Bob Rozakis ended up writing and editing at DC, according to Google.

    — 12 April 2005 at 4:50 pm (Permalink)