Comic Books #60: Mars and Beyond

The phrase "Where's my jet pack?" has become an American idiom of late.  It reflects the disappointment in the mid-century Utopian promises of technology.  Walt Disney was among the top perpetrators of the hype.  His forays into documentaries and comic books featured glowing predictions for scientific progress which seem overly optimistic from the vantage point of 2013. (Have you ever 'ridden' the Carousel of Progress at Disneyworld? There's perhaps no better illustration of this philosophy in action than that attraction.)

That being said, a bit of blind faith in the wonders of technology is a healthy thing.  As we stand and watch NASA defunded and a super-collider shut down, we lose a little hope.  We lose a little enthusiasm for what tomorrow brings.

Mars and Beyond is one of many Disney publications by Dell which proclaimed the glories of scientific progress.  By no means is a propaganda tract; it simply exudes a refreshing optimism.  So, let's page through this enjoyable little comic from 1957 - I think you'll find it interesting.

Note: As we walk through the comic book, we'll focus on a few panels here and there, but please note that if you want to view the comic in its entirety click here.

So, it's 1957. We haven't yet landed on the moon, and we're talking about jaunts to Mars.  Pretty bold assumptions, but consider these timelines:

Blade Runner is set in 2019
Land of the Giants -1983
The Jetsons - 2062
UFO (TV series) - 1980
Alien - 2122
Lost in Space - 1997
Back to the Future II - 2015
And let's not forget Space:1999 or 2001: A Space Odyssey

 It would seem pop culture is a little hasty in their predictions.

What will we find when we travel to our planetary neighbors? Will it be plants or intelligent beings?  Not finding anything is simply not an option.  God forbid Mars turn out to be an uninhabited rusty desert with nary a life form to be found.  That would be a bummer.

The next few pages are basically a history lesson.  I find the depiction of the Dark Ages particularly striking.  A lot of history academics have reinvented the perception of this time period with a little less bias.  Perhaps it wasn't as dark the world over as we have been led to believe.  The depiction of the time between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance has always been (like the image above) viewed as an embarrassing vacuum in scientific progress; however, this view is probably a little too simplistic.  Certainly there were religious obstructions, but roadblocks to scientific innovation isn't unique to the Dark Ages.

The following pages discuss the growing belief that Mars was a prime candidate for harboring life.  The Martian Canals discovery and hypothesis only fed the fire of optimism that we might finally meet an E.T.  Now that our solar system has been studied more extensively and found to be lifeless, the possibility of finding life seems dismally remote.

I know there's a moon on Jupiter that may yield something, and there's certainly reasons to believe that Mars once did house rudimentary life forms.  But that's not the same.  In 1957 there was a very real belief that alien life was right around the corner..... a level of belief that is unheard of today (except among 'crazies').

They estimate around 60 billion HABITABLE planets in the Milky Way.  So, yeah, there's a damn good chance there's other creatures out there.  Of course, the distance is the kicker; the time it takes to get to these planets sort of takes the wind out of your sails.

Wait a minute... evolution?  God zapped everything into existence a few thousand years ago - what's all this evolution business? Walt Disney was a commie!  Let's boycott Monsters University!

W-w-w-what?  Children, shield your eyes.  These are lies perpetrated by the leftist atheists who hate America.

BEHOLD, MAN! Nature's greatest invention; the godlike end result of millions upon millions of years of evolution.  Behold, the greatest, most complex, being to ever grace the planet.

What to wear on Mars? This is actually fairly accurate.  There's basically no atmosphere (trace carbon dioxide only), so you'd obviously need to BYOA (bring your own air).  And there's no magnetosphere to protect you from radiation and micro-meteors; plus the gravity is one third of our own.  All of these are fairly easy to overcome. The -133C temperature lows might be a bit more difficult.

Here's where that crazy 1950's optimism takes over.  Then again, perhaps we'll have a president someday who will once again inspire this sort of hope for tomorrow, and we'll come to call today's negative attitude "that crazy 2010's pessimism."

Remember when there was a fringe belief in the Monuments of Mars (such as the notorious Face on Mars)? I don't know if that belief came and went like the Canals.  Still, we are quick to believe Mars once had life, but the idea that it still does is beyond remote.

In 1971, the W shaped clouds were confirmed as being water vapor clouds surrounding volcanoes such as Olympus Mons.  Thanks a lot, Mariner 9.  Thanks for the dream shattering.

Those of you out there that know much more about this than I, please chime in at any point.  I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on manned trips to Mars.  I saw something similar to the device shown above on a Discovery special not so long ago.

Don't get me started on why we can no longer afford to fund NASA and space exploration as we used to.  Let's just say that we'd have to tax Americans as they did in 1957, and Eisenhower taxed the living shit out of 'rich' people back then.  Eisenhower would be considered a communist traitor by the Fox News contingency today.

And weren't things so terrible in 1957?  Thank God we got out of that backward thinking, and let trickle down economics work its magic! (sarcasm intended)

In 2010, Obama shelved NASA's Constellation Program which planned to send manned missions to the moon and other nearby bodies such as asteroids and Mars.  Amid this depressing cancellation (and the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program), Obama renewed some hope with a new Space Policy.

According to his speech at the Kennedy Space Center, the plan is to have a crewed mission to Mars by the mid 2030s.  I don't know if this just typical political bullshit, or something to hang my hat on.  We shall see.

So, the poor bookworm Joe Hennik has had to read through the Mars station's library twice.  He should have brought his Kindle.

Notice the other antiquated items -a newspaper? A clipboard with paper and pen?  Depictions of the future always depict high-tech settings while overlooking the advancement of communication and information flow.  Ol' Joe Hennik could have the entire Library of Congress at the click of a button.

As strange as it is to bring up Gulliver's Travels, I found it even stranger that he's referred to as Dean Smith versus Jonathan Swift.  Sure enough, after a Google search, I found Swift was often called Dean (he was Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

Most amazing prophecy of the last thousand years?  Yeah, I think that may be a stretch.

Before Swift, Voltaire predicted their existence.  And before Voltaire, it was Kepler himself who postulated the idea of Martian moons.  Ironic that the same comic book that so derided the superstitious Dark Ages is so quick to declare this a mysterious prophecy.

.... or there might be endless rust colored deserts which make Tatooine seem lush.  I'm sure many of you will be outraged by the following statement: Mars is boring.  

Granted, the fact that we're filming the surface of another planet is mind blowing - don't get me wrong.  Our moon is no prize either, but it was damn sure exciting to land there.  It's just that compared to the wild expectations of what lay waiting for us on Mars, rusty gravel is a bit of a disappointment.

Or will it be just gravel? Lots and lots of gravel.

Or just shitloads of gravel. 

And so ends Mars and Beyond.  One thing is for certain, no women will play a role in space exploration whatsoever.  This will be strictly a gentleman's endeavor.  

In all seriousness, I do find it fascinating to peer into the mindset of 1957 America as it looks toward the future of interplanetary travel.  I know I am often condescending, but it is with love and the full knowledge that my words too will seem foolish as the years pass on.  So, cheers to Disney and his world of tomorrow!



  1. Much of what Disney produced in the mid-fifties was a cross promotion for his new theme park opening in Anaheim, CA. That's why this comic book is a presentation of Tomorrowland. Even the first Disney prime time TV show was called Disneyland and was the result of a deal Walt and Roy made with ABC to help finance the new park. Eventually, of course, Disney would turn around it's fortunes and end up purchasing ABC.

  2. Disney has always promoted evolution. I don't know if that makes him a communist, but it does make him suspect.

  3. There are so many reasons that it was a good idea to do what the president did. NASA is too small to do the things people dream up.

    There are so many problems to overcome anyway. Hell, even the little things, like paying companies to build certain parts, that would take much research and the development of equipment to even create, and they would only need a few of them. What company can stay in business doing that? Well, that's part of the problem.

  4. I have the full three episode set on DVD, Man in Space, To the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. In addition it includes the episode, Our Friend the Atom. The set also has a 30 minute feature about weather satellites and weather forecasting and control, back in 1958! An additional bonus is an interview with Ray Bradbury, which is a gem. You're right, Walt was an optimist. But I suspect our pessimistic age may also seem dated fifty years from now. Re the domes on Mars, are you aware that the Air Force recently has developed transparent aluminum armor better than any bullet-proof glass available? It's called Alon (for aluminum oxy-nitride). Remember the Star Trek movie The Voyage Home, where they have to bring some whales back to the future, and trade the secret of transparent aluminum for a huge plexiglass tank?

  5. Yes, this is a horribly cynical age. There's no real hope or wonder or general amazement at anything unless you're under 7 years old. Mars might be just a bunch of rocks. Or it might be home to life that we can't detect. Life that doesn't need water or carbon. Maybe we can't see it because we're not supposed to.

    I was 8 years old watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. It was weird and ghostly. Did it really happen? Or was it faked by Hollywood? Whatever it was, it got me looking forward and outward. The message wasn't lost on me.
    I find wonder everywhere. Including reading Retrospace each day!

    1. By that definition, wonder = ignorance.

    2. "Did it really happen?"
      Yes, it did.

      "Or was it faked by Hollywood?"
      No, it wasn't.

  6. From what I've read, the biggest problem getting to Mars is protecting the astronauts from cosmic radiation and calcium bone loss from the long period of weightlessness. There are, apparently, a number of NASA folks who are willing to take a one-way trip to Mars.

    Do you remember a movie called "The Angry Red Planet"? I saw it in a theater when I was about 8 years old. Scared the crap out of me.