Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena!

Worlds Unknown #4, Arena
It's Saturday evening.

It may be 1969.

Before my very eyeballs, a new TV show's appeared.

It features a strange man in a ripped shirt.

It features another man, with the head of a dinosaur.

I know at once that this isn't Antiques Roadshow. Mostly because Antiques Roadshow hasn't been invented yet and, in my innocence, I have no reason to fear that it ever will be.

It turns out it's a new show, a show from a land far across the sea, where everything's bigger than it is over here. It's called Star Trek and it's the sort of thing anyone with any sense would want to see on their TV on a Saturday.

That episode was, of course, Arena, in which Captain Kirk's dumped on a planet by some all-powerful aliens to scrap it out with a ruffian to decide which of their two races deserves to live.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
Kirk's outmatched in both the brute force and shirt-strength departments and his foe is cunning. But Kirk finally comes to realise he has one advantage.

He knows how to make a bamboo bazooka.

As I'm sure we all know, that episode wasn't an original tale. It was based on a story of the same name by Fredric Brown.

Except it seems it wasn't. Apparently, when it was written, the producers knew nothing of Brown's tale but, upon being informed of their own tale's resemblance to it, they promptly had the episode re-titled Arena and credited it as an adaptation of his story in order to make sure the lawyers wouldn't be calling.

Marvel, however, suffered from no such ignorance and so gave us their own straight adaptation of the tale in Worlds Unknown #4, later reprinted in Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes comic.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
What happens is this. Bob Carson, an Earth astronaut, suddenly finds himself on a strange planet, having been teleported from his spaceship just as he was about to open fire on the craft of a pilot from a mysterious race known only as the Outsiders, with whom Earth's at war.

It turns out that an all-powerful being has put him and his foe on the planet, to fight it out.

After much scrapping and scheming and exposition, Carson finally achieves victory in his personal battle and instantly finds himself back on his ship - only to be told that the entire Outsider fleet has blown up for no noticeable reason.

Worlds Unknown #4 - ArenaEveryone else assumes it was down to a structural flaw in their ships but, alone of all the human race, Bob Carson knows what really happened.

It has to be said that Carson wins thanks to a plan that has to be the worst plan ever devised. It basically involves him knocking himself out and then hoping he'll recover his senses before the Outsider can tear him to pieces.

Luckily for him, it works but, given that the Outsider is only yards away when he knocks himself out, you have to say that, in the real world, it'd need a miracle for it to succeed.

Other than that, there's no bamboo bazooka, no tearing off of shirts and, most differently of all, upon achieving his victory, Carson doesn't give an impassioned speech at thin air about not killing a helpless foe, he just gets stuck into the task of killing him in the most basic manner possible.

On the plus side, there are a couple of lizards. One of which suffers a tragic fate, and another which reveals it has the power of speech. Regardless of the presence of a protagonist and an antagonist, the lizards are definitely the stars of the show.

Worlds Unknown #4 - Arena
"...from bamboo!"
As seen in the treatment of the first lizard, the tale's more sober than the Star Trek version but I must admit I do prefer the Star Trek one, simply because it features Captain Kirk and, no matter how melodramatic Kirk is as a character, he does have a certain vigour that helps to keep an episode bowling along energetically.

Star Trek also has that music. That music we all like to sing along to whenever there's a fight scene. No matter how hard it tries, no comic can ever hope to give us that.

Admittedly, I say that but I don't remember if that episode actually does use that music at any point.

But in my head it does. And that's good enough for me.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that the Star Trek episode wasn't really based on Brown's story. I've seen obvious ripoffs and cases of plagiarism where the crooks naturally denied any knowledge of the original work, but this is the first case I heard of where credit was given where it wasn't due.

Brown's story may have also influenced the Outer Limits episode "Fun and Games." Or maybe not. The premise is obvious enough to occur to different writers independently.

Kid said...

Actually, they're all rip-offs of a story I was thinking of writing when I was a baby, waiting until I had mastered the knack of the English language. Naturally, therefore, my story was composed in 'baby speak', meaning that Sugar & Spike could understand it, as well as other babies had they been interested.

Don't believe me? Prove it ain't so.