Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Worlds Unknown #3 - Farewell to the Master!

Worlds Unknown, Farewell to the Master
Earthlings, I can only ask that you feel a great sense of joy for me. For, only the other night, I had the chance to finally see the Keanu Reeves version of The Day The Earth Stood Still.

The power!

The thrills!

The awe!

None of  those were present as the thing struggled to hold my attention and made me feel like I was watching a sci-fi version of Meet Joe Black with all the interesting bits removed.

This of course was a terrible disappointment to me, as the 1950s version of the movie's one of my favourite sci-fi flicks of all time.

But, of course, none of this matters because we all know there was an even more important adaptation of Farewell to the Master than even those two.

And that was Worlds Unknown's version of the tale, as produced by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru and Wayne Howard. As with Marvel's adaptation of He That Hath Wings, I first encountered it in the pages of Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes comic.

Marvel Comics' World's Unknown #3, Farewell to the Master
 The first thing that strikes me is how much resemblance the first part of it bears to the Dr Who episode Army of Ghosts. In both cases, a mysterious sphere's appeared from nowhere and the authorities have been unable to even put a dent in it. Until, now the fateful moment's arrived, it opens, to reveal the aliens within. Is this similarity coincidence or was Russell T Davies influenced by the earlier tale?

The second thing that strikes me is that Gort isn't called Gort. He's called Gnut. As, "Gnut," looks suspiciously like a near anagram of a very rude word, I must confess I can't help feeling Gort was a better choice of name.

Marvel Comics' World's Unknown #3, Farewell to the MasterThe third thing that strikes me is that, unlike the 1950s movie, it's not the military who're responsible for shooting Klaatu but a lone nutjob up a tree. Indeed, the military in this version seem a model of restraint and professionalism compared to the trigger happy fools of the 1950s movie.

This leads to a very different tale in which Klaatu's buried with honours and a pair of reporters are determined to spend a night in the museum in which Gnut is now housed, to see what he gets up to when there's no one around.

It turns out he uses audio recordings of animals and people in order to temporarily bring them back to life.

All of this culminates in him restoring Klaatu to health before he departs with the words, "It is I who am the master," ringing in the reporters' ears.

It's a much smaller scale tale than the one we're used to from the movie. It's also less dramatic. The action takes place almost exclusively in the museum in the course of one evening, there's little sense of threat and there's no message from Klaatu about mankind mending its violent ways or else.

In this sense, they're very different tales, using the same basic ideas to tell completely different stories. I've never read the Harry Bates original, so can't comment on how true to it this adaptation is but, as it's written by Roy Thomas, I suspect it's probably extremely faithful.

So, which do I prefer? The 1950s movie version or the 1970s comic book one?

I must admit, I do prefer the movie version. I can't help feeling it's far more potent and memorable because of the greater sense of menace engendered by Gort, the race against time, the manhunt for Klaatu and the big final speech. The pacifist message of the movie may be somewhat garbled by its order that peace be maintained by the threat of total annihilation from a police state but it does give the film a sense of drama, urgency and purpose that this version ultimately and deliberately lacks.


Anonymous said...

I've always thought it odd that the 1950's movie version seems to be generally regarded as a liberal statement, but Klaatu's recipe for peace is nothing less than fascist: a robot police force with absolute, unrestrained authority, programmed to instantly disintegrate anyone who gets a step out of line.

Colin Jones said...

I've never heard of Harry Bates or Farewell To The Master before and yet again I don't remember reading this in POTA - I must have been drugged the whole time or something. The 1951 movie was definitely better - wasn't Klaatu in the movie supposed to be based on Jesus, I think his assumed name is Carpenter and he's brought back to life etc. I haven't seen the film for such a long time - I sat down to watch it on BBC 2 about ten years ago and then at the last minute it was cancelled and replaced by coverage from the Lib Dem party conference !! It would be annoying enough if that happened now but in those days Nick Clegg wasn't even an MP yet - let alone Deputy PM !

Steve W. said...

Colin, the movie version of Klaatu was indeed meant to be seen as a Jesus-type figure.

Anonymous said...

Harry Bates (1900-1981) sometimes used the pen names Anthony Gilmore and H. G. Winter (or maybe Wynter). Apart from "Farewell to the Master," he may be best known as the first editor of the pulp magazine Astounding Stories in the 1930's. He also co-authored (with Desmond Hall) a sci-fi/action-adventure series about a hero named Hawk Carse.

Steve W. said...

Thanks for the info, Anon.

Anonymous said...

The original story was reprinted in at least three SF anthologies edited or co-edited by Isaac Asimov: "War With the Robots," "Machines That Think," and "Isaac Asimov's Wonderful World of Science Fiction #9: Robots." Also in Forest Ackerman's "Reel Future." The Worlds Unknown adaptation is much closer to the original than the movie version was. The robot was named Gnut (maybe the film makers thought it sounded dirty), and the alien was shot by a lone nutjob, not the Army. IIRC, the original spanned a few days instead of one evening, and the robot failed to revive Klaatu. The twist at the end ("It is I who am the master") was the same, though.

Karen said...

I recall reading this comic and then searching out the original story, which I was able to find in our town library. Roy Thomas got me to seek out several science fiction classics and I do wish that this title had lasted longer. But I agree that the film is far more satisfying, despite the somewhat mixed messaging.

Anonymous said...

Klaatu vs. Jesus? Klaatu threatens your planet with incineration if your species doesn't get it's $#!+ together and start acting right, according to what his race judges as right.
The church threatens your immortal soul with eternal damnation and torture if you as an individual don't get your $#!+ together and start acting right. According to what they say right is.
I don't know where I'm going with this, other than we're a threat-oriented species.
But a lot of times, surprisingly, we function ok without an ultimate leader.
Maybe just a lot of small leaders.

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