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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, September 8, 2017


With the dawning of the Atomic Age, comic books like other media became obsessed with the possibility of planetary apocalypse. I touched on this in the essay OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER, regarding the 1950 EC Comics story "The Destruction of the Earth." My main concern in this essay dealt with the determination of certain types of focal presence, and I found that in "Destruction" the focus is on none of the human characters, but on the planet Earth itself, as the EC artists imagined the spectacular destruction of the world.

Such is not the case with Basil Wolverton's "End of the World," first published in Timely-Atlas's MARVEL TALES and more recently in Dark Horse's one-shot reprint title, PLANET OF TERROR. Like most of the weird SF-stories for which Basil Wolverton has become famous in the comics-world, "World" is just six pages. Yet, even apart from Wolverton's signature art-- in which he skillfully uses shading and forced perspective to give his science fiction an almost tactile sense of organic life-- the story is a deeper consideration of the psychological costs of Doing the Right Thing, even when one has no viable alternative.

Whereas the scientist in "Destruction of the Earth" is of no importance, "World" centers upon the quandary of Earth-scientist Julius Kane in the year 2429 A.D.

Kane, having discovered a new destructive power, plans to keep it to himself. Yet the authorities have been keeping tabs on him, and they want him to turn over any and all discoveries that may help them in their ruthless path to conquest. A little later in the story, Kane's antagonist General Alexander tells him that most of the world now believes that "aggressive warfare is the noblest pursuit of man." This seems to be confirmed by what Kane sees on his "telion screen."

Since a newsman blandly reports for all to hear that Earth plans to conquer the "friendly," human-like natives of Mars, Kane apparently has good reason to believe that General Alexander speaks for his world. Knowing that his new discovery is capable of wrecking entire planets, he decides that his only course is "to blast this war-crazy world out of the killing business." He successfully cons Alexander into making a test of the new weapon on Earth's moon, but his purpose is to cause the moon to collide with his own homeworld.

In the ensuing chaos, Kane escapes the General's clutches, fleeing in an air car while all around the world goes to hell. His air car crashes into another such vehicle, and by the grace of Melodramatic Convention, Kane comes face to face one last time with his nemesis Alexander.

Though Alexander looks ready to strangle Kane in panel 3, the outcome of the fight is not seen, possibly because the unmanned air car crashes. Kane, continuing his narration from page 1, tells the reader that he doesn't know what happened next, but that considerable time must have passed by the time he revived from "a state of embalmment or suspended animation." But he has lived through the chaos only to bear witness that he's alone on the demolished planet Earth; that all other people are presumably dead (though we see no actual bodies). Though Kane made the right moral choice, his only reward is to dwell for the rest of his life upon the world he killed, while the fragments of the moon circle the Earth like a monument to his deed. "End of the World" is thus one of the darkest ironic myths seen in 1950s comics, and may well be Wolverton's best short story. It goes deeper than just evoking the terror of atomic war, speaking rather to the individual's alienation from his society, and yet, his concomitant suffering for having destroyed his own people in the name of a race whom he never even sees.

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