SPACE CONQUERORS! Every comic strip from BOYS' LIFE 1952-1972 in Google Books!
A perque of being in Boy Scouts was a subscription to BOYS' LIFE magazine. It had a lot of good articles and fiction, including a few science fiction series. One, the Time Machine stories, I'll be posting about another time. But there was also a comic strip serial called SPACE CONQUERORS! that ran from Sep 1952 to October 1972, over 20 years, by Al Stenzel.
Yes, the exclamation point was part of the title, and I'm bolding it each time, because that's the way I hear it in my head, sort of like "Pigs...In...Space!" SPACE CONQUERORS!
I didn't join Scouts until 1977, but my older brother had a stockpile of BOYS' LIFE magazines, from 1971 when he joined, plus, he had some earlier ones from Cub Scouts, and somebody gave him some older issues, so we had some from 1969 or even before. In those days, BOYS' LIFE magazine was huge (I don't mean number of pages, but height and width of the magazine), the way LIFE magazine used to be. Later, in the January 1975 issue, it shrunk to the smaller size it is today. Saving paper, no doubt.
SPACE CONQUERORS! started in September 1952 and had several storylines through 1956 that varied in degrees of space opera and semi-realistic exploration of the solar system.
In July 1957 SPACE CONQUERORS! rebooted with a nuts-and-bolts first journey to the Moon saga sort of along the lines of the Heinlein movie DESTINATION MOON, set in 2057. Little did they know that just 12 years later we'd actually be on the Moon. But Sputnik was launching just 3 months later in October 1957, and it must have seen prudent to turn down the space opera in favor of a less fanciful depiction of future space travel.
It was a crew of 3 guys: The skipper, Bill, and another guy who never got a name. After the Moon, they went to Mars, Saturn, and Mercury, and then their storyline seemed to run out of steam.
But by the time I started reading them (From issues really before my time, but possibly from as early as 1969), it had changed back to more of a space opera (Starting December 1962), with Earth guys in a very FORBIDDEN PLANET spaceship, zooming around the galaxy pretty much at random due to their temperamental hyperspace drive, encountering aliens and having adventures. The main characters were Spaceman Kurt, and Primo, a caveman from 50,000 years ago who joined the crew after a timewarp. Also the Skipper, Doc, and Sparks/Red.
They were fairly violent, and rather horrific and icky in parts --- there was a fondness for giant bugs. I don't think you'd see these types of tales in BOYS' LIFE today.
Here Kurt and Primo, aboard a derelict spaceship, find a giant mutated bug. So they eat it. February 1971, March 1971.
Here they find a different kind of giant bug attacking a mutant creature. May 1971, June 1971.
Back in 1982, I was at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and briefly, before we hit the trail for 12 days hiking in the desert and mountains, we toured the Phillips ranch. In the library was a complete bound set of BOYS' LIFE back issues. I was thinking, man, if I could just get back here for a day, I could read all the Time Machine and SPACE CONQUERORS! stories that I've missed.
Skip forward 28 years, and I thought, hey there's an Internet, I wonder if I can find those Space Conquerors! (and the Time Machine stories) on there. I found this post on the blog Lady, That's My Skull about Space Conquerors!
And then I realized that Google Books has archived all, or many, years of BOYS' LIFE.
Here are all the Space Conquerors! comic strips in Google Books: 198 of them, from 1952-1972.
There are really 8 phases of the comic strip.
Phase #1: Doc and Red and a rocketship explore Mars and asteroids:
Sep 1952 [First rocketship to Mars "faster than the speed of light", they find a breathable atmosphere, and plants that will attack for water], Oct 1952 [They find Martians who tell the Earthlings to go home, but they find uranium], Nov. 1952 [Martians attack when Earthlings won't leave, but Doc and Red work out a truce], Dec 1952 [Doc and Red land on a planetoid].
Jan 1953 [Ruins on the asteroid show it was part of a larger planet once], Feb 1953 [Doc and Red are rescued], Mar 1953 [Ceres], Apr 1953 [Ruins], May 1953 [Theorize that a comet destroyed the original planet], Jun 1953 [Globe of pure energy], Jul 1953 [Ceres is destroyed, starting a SPACE CONQUERORS! tradition: To explore a planet is to destroy it].
Phase #2: A series of 1-shots about solar system exploration.
Aug 1953 [1-shot: Ship lands on Venus, attacked by Venus-eel], Sep 1953 [1-shot: Plant life on the Moon], Oct 1953 [1-shot: Lecture on spaceship about Wright brothers] (Also note cover), Nov 1953 [1-shot: Searching Saturn's moons for space pirates], Dec 1953 [1-shot: More space pirates on asteroid Hermes].
Jan 1954 [1-shot: Uranium on Phobos].
Phase #3: Space station and Moon landing.
Feb 1954 [Space station], Mar 1954 [Space station], Apr 1954 [Space station], May 1954 [Moonship launch], Jun 1954 [Moon landing], Aug 1954 [1-shot: Mars Opposition],.
Phase #4: Dr. Cosmos!
Nov 1954 [Dr. Cosmos invents solar-powered ship that can go 1/2 speed of light], Dec 1954 [Leaves solar system].
Jan 1955 [Dust cloud], Mar 1955 [Proxima Centauri], Apr 1955 [Life], May 1955 [Earthquake], Jun 1955 [Pterodacyls], Aug 1955 [Giant saber-tooth tiger], Sep 1955 [Jungle], Oct 1955 [Liftoff].
Nov 1955 [1-shot: USA's program to launch an Earth satellite].
Jul 1956 [Dr. Cosmos crew goes to Alpha Centauri, and encounters life on one planet, though they don't seem to stick around long to explore it].
Update 11/29/2010: Phase #5: Thanks to Luke Blanchard for pointing out these missing ones: Aug 1956 (Solar System overview), Sep 1956 (Mercury), Nov 1956 (Venus), Dec 1956 (Mars), Jan 1957 (Asteroids), Feb 1957 (Tektites), Mar 1957 (Jupiter).
Phase #6: July 1957-March 1961: The adventures of Skipper, Bill, and Sparks/Red. First mission to the Moon in 2057. They also go to Mars, Saturn, and Mercury. As mentioned above, there's a scaling back of the space opera at this point; with Sputnik just 3 months away, the Space Race is Getting Serious.
July 1957 - August 1958: Moon
July 1957 [First mission to the Moon in 2057!], August 1957 [Faulty spacesuit], September 1957 [Lunar tractor], October 1957 [Moon cave], November 1957 [Moon base], December 1957 [Supply rocket crashes].
January 1958 [Chemical garden], February 1958 [Waiting for return rocket to be built], March 1958 [Refining fuel from Lunar borax (Also notable for Moonwatch cover article)], Not in April-June 1958, July 1958 [Return rocket], August 1958 [Mars rocket].
September 1958 - July 1959: Mars mission
September 1958 [Mars launch], October 1958 [Mars speculation], November 1958 [Mars moon Deimos landing], December 1958 [Deimos knocked out of orbit!].
January 1959 [Not-skipper drifts off Deimos; Bill rescues using rifle as reaction-rocket], February 1959 [Canals and vegetation spotted on Mars?], March 1959 [Emergency landing], April 1959 [Canals may be natural. Rather surprisingly, they decide to head back to Earth without exploring further], Not in May-June 1959, July 1959 [Mars liftoff].
August 1959 - February 1960: Unexpected sidetrip to Saturn
August 1959 [Off-course], September 1959 [Out of the solar system!], October 1959 [They find an old space capsule with a dead dog in it (Presumably Russian, though they're not the speculating type)], November 1959 [Detour to land on Saturn's moons Japetus (Or as we usually call it now Iapetus) and Titan], December 1959 [They talk about, but don't approach, Jupiter].
January 1960 [Through asteroid belt], February 1960 [Back to Moon],
March 1960 - March 1961: Mercury mission
March 1960 [They see a generation-ship under construction for exploring the galaxy], Not in April-May 1960, June 1960 [Mercury mission planned], Not in July 1960, August 1960 [Mercury mission liftoff in solar-powered ship], September 1960 [Approaching Sun], Not in October-November 1960, December 1960 [Mercury landing - camera melts - mission failure!].
January 1961 [Attempt #2 to put a camera on Mercury's surface], February 1961 [Back on the Moon base, the guys speculate about life on Mars - and seem to forget their own guys, currently on Mercury, have already been there - is this a different continuity now?], March 1961 [Apparently not - Mercury ship returns to Moon - And that's the last we see of these guys].
Phase #7: August 1961-August 1962: Various random factoids about space exploration:
None in April-July 1961, August 1961 [Spacesuit rupture while climbing 17,000 foot rampart next to Copernicus crater], None in September-November 1961, December 1961 [Ancient writers who dreamed of going to the Moon].
January 1962 [Astronauts on Earth awaiting liftoff discuss Wright Brothers predecessors], Not in February-March 1962, April 1962 [Van Allen Belts], May 1962 [Decontaminating space probes to protect possible life on other planets], Not in June 1962, July 1962 [Mars flight logistics], August 1962 [Moon exploration logistics].
Phase #8: September 1962-October 1972: The adventures of Skipper, Doc, Kurt, and Sparks/Red (and later Primo, and Rua, Space Empress) aboard the Galaxy-1 in 2962 A.D.
September 1962 - April 1963: Test flight of the Galaxy-1, 2962 A.D.
September 1962 [Finally some space opera! In the year 2962, 3 pilots in a saucer-shaped spaceship, the Galaxy One, test an experimental space-drive and wind up 270 light-years away at the double star Mira], Not in October 1962, November 1962 [They land on a planet and observe the variable star Mira], December 1962 [They return to Earth, but 50,000 years in the past!].
January 1963 [On Earth 50,000 years ago. They see mammoths, but don't shoot, fearing changing the timeline (For the record, Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" was published in 1952)], Not in February 1963, March 1963 [They try the star-drive again to get back to their own time, and wind up near Venus 5 years after their original launch date], April 1963 [They're ordered to Mars].
May 1963 - July 1964: Mission to a distant galaxy
May 1963 [Base on Mars orders them to investigate radio signals coming from a distant galaxy; Galaxy-1 launches], June 1963 [Arrive in distant galaxy, land on planet where radio signals originated, highly radioactive (For the record, they've added a 4th guy to their crew, an older guy with a mustache)], July 1963 [Find jungle and metal wall], August 1963 [They theorize why the planet is so radioactive], September 1963 [Ship attacked by fungus; liftoff; discover dome], October 1963 [2 guys explore dome, breathable atmosphere], November 1963 [Underground temple], December 1963 [Tube transport to another dome].
January 1964 [Return to temple], February 1964 [Telepathy machine warns of Shadow People who destroyed their civilization], March 1964 [Also note cover], April 1964 [Telepathy machine details pestilence that spread through their galaxy], May 1964 [One of the crew proposes an out-of-nowhere theory that the Shadow People are made of antimatter], June 1964 [They lift off and shoot the radioactive spots with a laser, which they think destroys the antimatter people], July 1964 [Oops. The radioactive spots were actually atomic energy plants. The planet explodes! Our Earthmen escape, but rue the fact that they're idiots],
August 1964 - May 1965: Bee people
August 1964 [Star-drive accidentally switched on, arrive at unknown star system, first contact with aliens, astronaut kidnapped], September 1964 [2 astronauts attempt rescue, 1 stays with ship], October 1964 [Giant ape-like creature attacks, killed, but 2 astronauts captured by aliens], November 1964 [Mustache Guy back on ship takes alien jetpack, follows in pursuit], December 1964 [Destroys carnivorous plant, rescues alien].
January 1965 [Finds two warring towers of bee-people], February 1965 [Queen Bee-Lady communicates with him via telepathy], March 1965 [Reunited with captured crewmen, and we learn his name - "Doc."], April 1965 [The alien rescued from the carnivorous plant helps them escape], May 1965 [We learn another crewmember's nickname - the skipper - and they retake the ship].
June 1965-September 1965: Aboard an alien ship
June 1965 [Activate star-drive, arrive in parts unknown, captured by bigger ship's tractor beam], July 1965 [We learn another crew name - Kurt, and they explore the alien ship, finding alien plants and animals in sealed receptacles], August 1965 [Alien crew in suspended animation], September 1965 [Earth ship escapes],
October 1965 - December 1966: Ztor
October 1965 [Inhabited planet, half-vegetable creature brings to cave], November 1965 [Old guy in cave explains world attacked by bacteria, people escaped into orbiting globes], December 1965 [Robot sentinels discover Earth ship].
January 1966 [They destroy robot spheres, return to ship], February 1966 [They decide to go after alien intelligence controlling robots], March 1966 [Find a human village hiding from the robots], April 1966 [Let themselves be captured by alien intelligence Ztor], Not in May 1966, June 1966 [Ztor plans to transplant their brains in robot bodies, they escape], July 1966 [They find the brain-transplant room], August 1966 [They rescue the green humanoids], September 1966 [Ship is attacked, city explodes on surface], October 1966 [Volcano erupts, ship rescues Kurt and Skipper and greenies], November 1966 [Return to the old man's cave, Ztor waiting for them, half-vegetable creature kills Ztor, but he dies too], December 1966 [??? This seems to be the only one missing from the archive]. Update 1/22/2011: I bought the December 1966 issue of BOYS' LIFE off of eBay. Here is the missing comic strip!. Update 5/8/2012: As Professor H pointed out, this missing December issue has been added to the Google Books archive. December 1966.
January 1967-December 1967: Lost in hyperspace, then Earth 50,000 years ago (Again!)
January 1967 [In hyperspace], February 1967 [Lost in space], March 1967 [Lost and low on fuel], April 1967 [Trapped in hyperspace], May 1967 [Trapped in hyperspace], June 1967 [Timewarp to Earth 2 million years ago], July 1967 [Now they think they just timewarped 50,000 years ago. They seem to have forgotten they already did this, back in the January 1963 issue. The 4th crewmember gets a nickname, "Sparks." Traditionally the nickname of the wireless telegraph operator on ships in the early 20th century, so I think we can assume he's the radio operator / communications officer.], August 1967 [Discover cavemen. Note that this time around they don't seem to have any concerns about changing the timeline], September 1967 [Kurt meets cavemen], October 1967 [Kurt saves caveman], November 1967 [Kurt befriends caveman, names him Primo, they timewarp out with him], December 1967 [Kurt teaches Primo English].
Kurt and Primo era:
January 1968-December 1968: Titan
January 1968 [Return to Earth? Unknown time period, captured by tractor beam], February 1968 [Ants!], Not in March 1968, April 1968 [Biped ants from Alpha Centauri, base on Titan], May 1968 [Primo captured], Not in June 1968, July 1968 [Ants want hyperspace drive], August 1968 [Escape!], September 1968 [Out of sequence, probably supposed to run in June], October 1968 [Escape continued], November 1968 [Alpha Centauri], December 1968 [Ship captured by force field].
January 1969-December 1969: Alpha Centauri
January 1969 [Floating brains], February 1969 [Space babe], March 1969 [Kurt on trial], April 1969 [Primo attempts rescue], May 1969 [Primo captured], June 1969 [Primo on floating castle. The 4th crewmember, previous nickname Sparks, is now called Red.], July 1969 [Primo finds Kurt], August 1969 [Castle grounded; ants capture queen], September 1969 [Queen rescued], October 1969 [Escape to surface], November 1969 [Giant lizards], December 1969 [Queen's little blue minions].
January 1970-December 1970: Aboard another alien spaceship
January 1970 [One of Alpha Centauri's 3 stars explodes in a supernova, escape into hyperspace], February 1970 [Queen's little blue men sabotage hyperspace drive, alien ship approaches], March 1970 [Empress claims she knows the aliens in the big spaceship], April 1970 [People on spaceship say they did visit the Empress's planet - 7 generations ago], May 1970 [They say her planet exploded 100 years ago, want the secret of the hyperspace-drive's time travel], June 1970 [Empress claims she has the secret to the hyper-drive], July 1970 [Primo discovers the aliens have bound the Empress and killed her little blue men], August 1970 [Turns out the little blue men are unconscious, not dead - Kurt and Primo rescue them and Empress, they escape in their ship from the alien ship], September 1970 [Empress thanks them for rescuing her, stops being such a pain. Her name's Rua, she's from Vega], October 1970 [Empress takes off her crown, lets her hair down. They find constellation Lyra, land on planet near one of the single-stars], November 1970 [Kurt and Primo captured by cavemen - rather like Primo], December 1970 [Ship searches for Kurt and Primo].
January 1971-October 1972: Lyra
January 1971 [Cavemen lead Kurt and Primo to crashed spaceship], February 1971 [Giant bug attacks], March 1971 [Kurt and Primo eat the giant bug mutated by radiation! And they enter the ship], Not in April 1971, May 1971 [Surrounded by mutant humanoids], June 1971 [Another different giant bug attacks and kills one of the mutants, Kurt and Primo kill it], July 1971 [A cloaked figure shows them a recording of the past], August 1971 [A dying planet resorts to genetic engineering], September 1971 [Which causes their people to get mixed up with animal traits, all ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU-ish], October 1971 [Then they discover their sun is going supernova], November 1971 [One of the escape ships, hit by a meteor, crashed here, and the half-animal humanoids have descendants. Meanwhile, the Earth ship lands near a castle], December 1971 [The skipper is hypnotized by a half-animal with a glowing disk. He leaves the ship in the night, and Rua goes after him, disdaining these puny earthlings].
January 1972 [Rua leaves her little blue bodyguards on the ship and enters the castle and mentally duels with a figure with a hypnodisk for a head], February 1972 [Dog-man helps the skipper escape, he sabotages the power source which causes the hypnodisk to explode, stunning both the figure and Rua], March 1972 [Dog-man and skipper plan to rescue Rua, meanwhile, the cloaked figure teleports Kurt and Primo to the castle], Not in April 1972, May 1972 [Another hooded figure explains that they, the Ohms (descended from the crashed spaceship's peoples) built a civilization on this planet, but then a passing comet brought aliens], June 1972 [The aliens are planning to operate on Rua (Also notable for "Our Future in Space" cover story)], Not in July 1972, August 1972 [The aliens are parasites and plan to inhabit Rua. Kurt plans rescue], September 1972 [The ship sets up a magnetic force-field with the help of the animal-men and the cloaked figures, which traps the energy-aliens], October 1972 [The Ohms, greenish humanoids under their robes, are free of the parasites. The Galaxy-1 ship heads back to Earth with Skipper, Doc, and Sparks/Red. Kurt, Rua (who seem to be a couple now), and Primo stay behind on the planet (Presumably Rua's little blue bodyguards stay too, though they aren't shown). THE END of SPACE CONQUERORS!]
When I read these as a kid, the ones from 1969 or so to 1972, they were fascinating but seemed a little disjointed. Now I see why; it's pretty obvious that the writer was just writing it month-to-month, often changing his mind about which way the story would go.
And so we say farewell to SPACE CONQUERORS!