Review: 'Showcase Presents: Rip Hunter Time Master Volume 1'

Showcase Presents: Rip Hunter Time Master Volume 1 (DC Comics, $19.99)

Reprinting Showcase #20-21 (May/Jun-Jul/Aug 59), Showcase #25-26 (Mar/Apr-May/Jun 60), Rip Hunter Time Master #1-15 (Mar/Apr 61-May/Jun 63)

Jack Miller (w), diverse hands (a)

I enjoyed the heck out of Rip Hunter Time Master. Not because it's good, but because it's so, so, so bad.

Look at when these issues of Rip Hunter came out: 1959-1963. Gee, anything of importance going on in comics in those days? Well, let's see: The Barry Allen Flash, who launched the Silver Age, graduated to his own monthly title in 1959. That was the year Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Aquaman began their own Silver Age runs, with new origins. The modern Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman debuted during those years, first in try-out books, then in their own titles. The Justice League of America launched in 1960. At Archie, The Fly (later Fly-Man) came along in 1959, and The Jaguar in 1961. At Charlton, Captain Atom debuted in 1960. And at Marvel, 1961 saw the first issue of Fantastic Four; 1962 brought us Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Ant-Man/Giant-Man and the return of the Sub-Mariner; and 1963 brought us Iron Man, the Avengers, X-Men and Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos

Did I miss anything? Probably, because these years are famous for the creative explosion we now call the Silver Age. An explosion that didn't get anywhere near Rip Hunter Time Master

And, honestly, we get a hint what we're in for with the very first cover, Showcase #20. Is not "Rip Hunter ... Time Master" in a rocket-shaped blurb balloon the most boring and uninspired logo in all the Silver Age? Let's not even get into the ellipsis, which is so awkward it's not included in the official title in the indicia.

Which is not to say Rip Hunter is entirely devoid of top-flight talent. Joe Kubert illustrated the second set of Showcase issues, which are likely responsible for the concept getting its own title. Nick Cardy drew Rip Hunter #4-5. And, incredibly, the legendary Alex Toth contributed issues #6-7 (although it looks like someone else drew over Toth's layouts in the third part of issue #6, and #7 represents either the worst work of Toth's career, or someone else actually drew it with minimal Toth contributions).

But those are the highlights. There are brief contributions by DC bullpen mainstays Bob Brown, Mike Sekowsky, Joe Giella and the inevitable Andru/Esposito team (is there anything they didn't draw at DC?). The bulk of the title is carried by some no-names (at least to me), like Ruben Moreira (who appears to have been touched up by Jim Mooney) and Bill Ely. Ely drew the most issues -- issues #8-15 -- and none of them are worth writing home about.

But the art, while uneven at best, was at least serviceable. DC's house style could bring almost any artist up to at least "tolerably mediocre." When we contemplate the true, awesome terribleness of Rip Hunter, we must turn to the writing. And, oh, are we in for a treat there.

All of the stories are by Jack Miller, about whom I know little, except that he wrote tons of B-level material for DC, primarily in the 1950s, such as text pieces, Roy Raymond, Congo Bill, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Robotman, and the like. And he wrote the Martian Manhunter feature in Detective Comics (1955-64), where the Alien Ace seemed to develop a newer, ever-more-ridiculous super-power each issue (including, and I'm not kidding, See-Around-Corner Vision). Which gives you an idea what to expect in Rip Hunter: medicore SF stories punctuated with occasional, shuddering awfulness. 

First, let's set the stage. In the first issue, we meet the Standard Superhero Team of the 1950s, the Hero, the Hero's Best Friend, the Hero's Girl Friend, and the Hero's Girl Friend's kid brother. Well, at least I think that's who they are -- Miller never really establishes the relationships between these characters. Corky is definitely Bonnie's little brother, but other than that, everything is kinda assumed. Rip never shows Bonnie any particular affection, and a couple of times she's referred to as his "assistant." Best Friend Jeff may or may not be the best friend, acting sometimes a little like an employee, or a mechanic. Really, I'm talking through my hat here, because Miller really doesn't give us much information.

Nor does he tell us anything about Rip himself. We meet the guy and his crew fully formed in the first issue, and we never learn anything that brings us to that point. We don't know how Rip invented the time machine, where he went to school, why he's the only one with a time machine, how he seems to know every (crooked) professor in America, why the military seems to defer to him, why his "secret mountain lab" (a phrase repeated in virtually every issue) gets so many visitors, why he takes a girl and a kid on dangerous trips (and seems to prefer the company of the kid to the girl), and why a scientist is so buff and able to do any act of derring-do the plot requires. 

And I mean anything. Watch Rip the marksman hit any target with his pistol, no matter how small or far away! Thrill as Rip the daredevil walks a tightrope between two buildings while carrying a grown woman in his arms! Snort in derision as Rip the lariat-master solves almost any problem by throwing a rope at it! Be stunned as Rip the scholar is able to translate anything, anywhere and, literally, any time! 

This might be a good time to mention that Rip is forever solving problems in ways that had me laughing out loud. For example, as an Arab crowd surges toward him and his crew, he pulls out his pistol -- and shoots at a rope holding closed a pen with camels in it, so that the pen door conveniently falls open, and the camels conveniently charge out, and run conveniently between Rip and the Arabs, all before the Arabs can cross what looks to be three or four feet at a dead run to get to our heroes (the pen is considerably farther away). This is comical not just because of the implausible and Rube Goldberg nature of this last-minute escape, but that it was actually Rip's plan. Dude, just SHOOT them.

In another instance, they are being attacked by flying aliens, who fly beneath a tree branch to get to our intrepid explorers, so Rip pulls out his gun and shoots them pulls out his gun and shoots the tree, so that fruit falls on the aliens, who are then frightened away ... by a guy who can't shoot straight. Man, they just don't make attacking aliens like they used to. Oh, wait, it's time travel. I guess that IS what aliens used to be like. No wonder they never conquered us.

Now, I know some among you may be saying, "well, he can't shoot anyone, because of the Grandfather Paradox." I'd agree with you -- if Rip ever mentioned such a thing. But, no, he is perfectly fine with barging into the past (or the future) and changing whatever he feels like, expecting things to change in the present-day to accommodate his "fixes." He doesn't kill people because ... well, there doesn't appear to be any story reason. So we must assume that it was simply company policy (or Miller's editor's policy). There doesn't seem to be any particular reason he doesn't kill anyone, but fortunately, there's always some other way to solve the problem -- usually one that's so unbelievable and abstruse as to be amusing.

In fact, none of the rules of time travel as we know them seem to occur to our genius inventor. For example, Rip and his crew are forever referring to the "long journey home" at the end of an adventure. Well, it is a long way in TIME, but really, it takes all of a panel. It's time travel, guys -- you can arrive home whenever you want to, no matter how "long" the "journey." Also, Rip and company are always racing to their machine to "get [somewhere] in time." DUDE! It's a TIME MACHINE! You can get there whenever you want! It is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO BE LATE. 

OK, I'm shouting. Sorry. But this is how I read the book, shouting at the pages at some bit of nonsense or other. Honestly, it was fun.

Other common-sense time-travel bits of business that come late to Rip (or Miller, rather) were clothes and translation. Rip may be a genius, but it doesn't occur to him until issue #10 to take along some period clothes to blend in. Up to that point, Rip would just walk up to ancient Egyptians or whatever in jeans, boots and a T-shirt with a sidearm. Bonnie always wore a tight skirt, as if she never anticipated running from angry crowds or climbing up a rope ladder (which happened ... oh, just about every issue). Fortunately, nobody seemed to notice their wacky clothing, or would take Rip at face value when he'd excuse the clothes by saying his people are "from far away." 

As for translation, in the first couple of years of the series, wherever Rip goes in time or space, he chats up the locals, as if everyone, thoughout history, spoke 20th century American English. And it's not just Rip, who evidently (and implausibly) reads every known dialect ever carved on a stone, but his entire crew, who it must be said, are clearly not geniuses. (Standard battle cry from Bonnie, Jeff and Corky: "Gee, Rip, what do we do now?")

Miller finally gets around to introducing "speech converter discs" in issue #8*, which the ever-versatile Rip seems to also have invented, and allows the time travelers to converse with anyone (even aliens). Pretty remarkable guy, that Rip.  Too bad he didn't think of that about 11 issues earlier, but better late than never. In fact, he's so proud of the speech converter discs, that he mentions them before every trip, in every issue, from then on. Rip! Your crew may be morons, but I think they might remember it once without you saying "don't forget to take one of the speech converter discs, everybody!" (Along with, quite often, the helpful editor's note explaining what they are.)

(* Disregard the reference to a speech translator disc on Page 2 of Rip Hunter Time Master #1 in this collection, because that page is a mistake. It's actually Page 2 of Rip Hunter Time Master #14, inserted erroneously twice. The second page of issue #1 is omitted altogether -- but no harm done, because the story doesn't make sense anyway.)

But, repetition, thy name is Miller. Not only did Rip make the same announcement before every trip, but Corky started every trip with "Yahoo! Here we go again!" or words to that effect. Every issue. Also, in every issue, the time sphere's "powerful electric engines throb." In every issue, Rip does something the omniscient narrator describes as "at lightning speed." Twice criminals hijack a time sphere (resulting in zero upgrades in Rip's non-existent security for his "secret mountain lab," which, as noted, is a phrase repeated in every issue). Three times a professor talks his way into going along for the ride, but turns out to be up to no good. (Memo to Rip: Don't take professors with you.) Twice Miller turns to the hoary cliche of the lookalike; Corky finds his exact duplicate in a Danish prince in 800 A.D.; Bonnie finds hers in the queen of "Palmyra" in the Third Century Roman Empire.

That latter is particularly sad, because Miller has all of history to play with, and must resort to The Prince and the Pauper for a plot. But why should I be surprised? Despite having all of history to play with, Miller is so unimaginative that he rings in monsters, outer-space aliens, even magic. That's not at all funny -- it's just pathetic.

But mostly, Rip Hunter Time Master is a hoot. This is really, really bad comics -- so bad that it's unintentionally hilarious. I really hope there's a second volume, which would begin with Rip's team adopting matching green, vaguely fascist uniforms (in Rip Hunter #16), and finish up the series (which ended with issue #29). I'll be the first to yell "Yahoo! Here we go again!" 

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Until this was announced as a Showcase, I had no idea Rip Hunter ever had his own series, let alone that it ran 29 issues.  I don't know what the bigger mystery is, that something that sounds so completely awful and (deservedly) forgotten made it to 29 issues, or that somebody at DC thought putting out this collection was a good idea.

Cap, you just saved me ..... whatever $19.99 U.S. works out to be in Canadian funds!

I've always thought of "Rip Hunter" as the series that somehow made time travel boring, but it may be the approach was suited to younger readers. Zenobia and Palmyra were real; in fact, Zenobia temporarily conquered Roman Egypt, Syria and part of Turkey.

There's a thread for that...

 

(I'm looking forward to Ess Black Panther myself.  Two very different writers.)

Luke, I had no idea "Palmyra" was real. Most of Rip's adventures had a foot in actual history, but there were also the monsters, aliens, djinni, and other nonsense, so it's hard to know what was supposed to be real, and I'd never heard of Palymyra before, so I assumed it was fictional. Especially since ...

Zenobia surrenders her kingdom to get a nice house on the beach. Is that historical too?

I had to look that up. She was defeated and captured by the Romans. Apparently one of the major sources is the Augustan History, which is an unreliable work. According to it she was granted her life and given an estate in Italy. However, it says this was in Tibur/Tivoli, which is not on the sea. Other sources relate other traditions about her end, but some historians do accept that one, including Gibbon and the author of the article on Zenobia in the 1975 Funk & Wagnalls. This online article seems fairly authoritative (link via Wikipedia). Wikipedia's article has an image of a statue of Zenobia by the American sculptor Harriet Hosmer which is in the St Louis Art Museum.

I envy your ability to write articles more entertaining than the comics themselves!

The owner of my LCS has quit stocking Marvel Essentials and DC Showcases because they don’t sell for him, so if there’s one I think I might like, I have to preorder it. I recently did so with The Sea Devils on the basis of one story I read probably only one time back in one of those “100-Page Super-Spectaculars.” The artwork is by Russ Heath, but I wish I could do something to make those stories more entertaining.

...Would Barnes & Noble , et al , George , likely sell MORE Sea Devils , Sinister House Of Secret Unopened Returns , etc. proportionately ?????????

   Uhmn...maybe .

...The genres you mention , yeah , possible to pretty likely .

  But , rather obscure/mediocre and below (going by the good Captain) brand name superhero company material of fifty years ago ???????

  By " alternative " gns you include the more " literary " ones that the NY Times Book Review , the Atlantic Monthly , et al , might review , no ?????????

...However we work out the numbers , GHeorge , I kind of think people with a " fan " background...even in the past/rather downtoned these days , wouldn't be more likely to buy Rip Kirby .

  Some old superhero fans , I believe , who maybe don't like SHs much anymore , especially some modern excesses/cliches , might therefore go all the way backward in the other direction to convince themselves that the " normals " are just panting for any old thing..." As long as it isn't super-heroes " .

  So , Archie had apparently convinced themselves that people would subscribe to their on-line thing for Cosmo the Merry Martian and Police Doctor (or whatever it was called) , basically " Fifties/post-War mediocrity " , IF that...

  Of course , you never know...Hasn't DC issued every issue of the Cain version of HOUSE OFMYSTERY ( 1968-198-whenever ) in Showcase by now , to some fan notice early on and little thereafter ??? Perhaps that's enough in the " modern world "...Nobody commented here when I discussed the THE WITCHING HOUR SP , howevs.........

Cap, after reading your review and the Showcase for Sea Devils, I want to thank you for saving me some money.  I would have bought this volume otherwise.

and why a scientist is so buff and able to do any act of derring-do the plot requires. 

And I mean anything. Watch Rip the marksman hit any target with his pistol, no matter how small or far away! Thrill as Rip the daredevil walks a tightrope between two buildings while carrying a grown woman in his arms! Snort in derision as Rip the lariat-master solves almost any problem by throwing a rope at it! Be stunned as Rip the scholar is able to translate anything, anywhere and, literally, any time! 

Boy, I can't wait for your review of Doc Savage :)

Andy

...Excuse me.........but this comic book was " Rip HUNTER , Time Master " , not " Rip KIRBY " , no ?????????

  That was a King Features Syndicate comic strip created by Alex Raymond !!!!!!!!!!!

  And recently discussed in Dave Sim's GLAMOURPUSS , I might add . My LCS has a deluxe first volume of a collected edition of the strip selling most recently for 1/2 price , $25 , complete with Bible-style place marker !!!!!!!!!!!

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