Saturday, 1 February 2014

He That Hath Wings - Worlds Unknown #1 or Planet of the Apes #Something-Or-Other.

Marvel Comics' Worlds Unknown #1, He That Hath Wings
As we all know, the greatest claim to immortality Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes comic possessed was not that it had stories in it about talking apes. After all, once you've seen one ape talk, you've seen them all talk.


It was the fact that the rest of its pages featured tales of sci-fi, mystery and wonder. How we thrilled to the adventures of Don McGregor's Black Panther, Barry Smith's Ka-Zar and Thomas and Kane's Warlock.

But, beyond even this splendour, the real jewels to be found in the comic were the one-off tales that found their way into the mag's pages.

Of those tales, two have always lodged in my memory more than all others.

And that can only mean one thing.

That it's time to take a look at one of them.

He That Hath Wings, Worlds Unknown #1, Gil Kane art
He That Hath Wings is an adaptation of a 1934 short story by a curiously uncredited Edmond Hamilton. In it, thanks to a freak electrical accident, a boy (David) is born with the ability to fly.

Fearing for the child's welfare in a world that'll pry incessantly into his life, his doctor takes him to an isolated island to raise him in private.

But, when the doctor dies, David sets off to explore the world and, after being accidentally shot by a groundsman, marries the daughter of the groundsman's employer.

Well, that could all have been a lovely happy little ending.

There's only one problem.

His new wife's a complete and total dolt.

He That Hath Wings, Worlds Unknown #1, Gil Kane art
And so, instead of reacting as any sane woman would to being married to a man who can fly, she nags him to have his wings cut off so he can be just like everyone else and get a nine-to-five job.

Now, I don't like to criticise a man's taste in women but could it have been humanly possible for him to have found a more doltish and clod-brained woman if he'd tried?

I mean, what kind of woman wouldn't want a husband who could fly? It's humanity's greatest dream come true. She could have been the envy of all her friends - and cadged lifts off him when she didn't have the bus fare.

Happily, after a while, his wings start to grow back.

Not so happily, so hen-pecked is he that he decides to have them cut off again.

But then, on the way to the surgery, he decides to have one last flight for old times' sake and, ultimately, his new wings exhausted by the flight, he plunges into the sea and to his death.

Is he downhearted about this?


He's happy because it means he's managed to die free, rather than as a prisoner of convention.

He That Hath Wings, Worlds Unknown #1, Gil Kane artI must confess that, as a child, this finale all seemed rather touching and beautiful to me.

But how does the tale strike me upon re-reading it as an adult?

To be honest, it's all quite annoying. His wife really does seem a complete and total dunderhead. I'll say it again. The power of flight. It's humanity's greatest ever dream! What is up with the woman?

And, obviously, some might spot a certain implied misogyny in a tale about a woman who's so narrow-minded and conformist that she literally clips her husband's wings.

Not only that but our hero's ultimate decision to die flying rather than live Earthbound does make him seem like a total wimp. When all's said and done, there's nothing to stop him from insisting on keeping his new wings and doing with his life whatever he wants.

But the great appeal of the tale was always Gil Kane's art and, while the story itself might not hold the appeal for me it once did, his art looks as splendid as ever. I do always feel his stylised technique was best suited to science-fiction and fantasy rather than super-hero work and this is one of the tales that proves it.

Of course, as a child, it was a strange feeling reading it, as it was impossible not to see parallels with the X-Men's Warren Worthington and it's tempting to see this as an Alternate Universe exploration of how Worthington's life would have been had he been totally devoid of a backbone.

But what oh what could be that other memorable tale I referred to earlier in the post?

Call me psychic but I have a sneaky feeling we might be finding out in a day or two's time.

But, Reader, can YOU guess which tale it might be?


Kid said...

I wonder if the story is intended as a parable, designed to illustrate that women tend to stop men attaining the heights they're capable of once they have a wife and kids to support? It's like that old joke - why do husbands tend to die before their wives? Because they WANT to.

cerebus660 said...

I can vividly remember reading "He That Hath Wings" as a kid and being quite disturbed by it. I think I just wasn't used to stories that end so bleakly. It is, as you say, quite a beautiful, melancholy little tale with excellent Gil Kane artwork. It's certainly a departure for author Edmond Hamilton who was more well-known in SF circles for epic Space Opera.

The other two adaptations published in POTA that were equally memorable were Ted Sturgeon's "Killdozer" and Harry Bates' "Farewell To The Master". Either of those would seem ripe for the Steve Does Comics spotlight...

Kid said...

To me, the most memorable thing about POTA was that they published my letter in issue #8. Self-centered? Me? Never!

Anonymous said...

The one-off tale I remember most from POTA was about a conniving woman who hears about an old man who can grant wishes - she stages an event whereby she pretends to have saved his life and he grants her a wish in gratitude. She wants to be the 'greatest queen in history' and is whisked back in time only to discover she's become Marie Antoinette just moments before her execution. I hope that's not the other story, Steve !

Steve W. said...

Don't worry, Colin, it's not that story. In fact, I have no recollection of that one at all.

joe ackerman said...

I love this story. I remember picking up a copy of the old Weird Legacies paperback collection from Dark They Were & Golden Eyed, which was where I first read the Edmond Hamilton original, & almost immediately after reading this adaptation in Planet of the Apes. beautiful story, beautifully drawn by Gil kane. I long ago lost the Planet of the Apes comic, but still have my copy og Worlds Unknown # 1 around here somewhere. think I'm gonna have to dig it, again!