Deck Log Entry # 246 Rivalry in Space

12138086458?profile=RESIZE_400xThe excellent reviews of the Silver-Age Adam Strange stories by our pal, Jeff of Earth-J, over on the resurrected Figserello thread, was a different experience for me from most review threads of this type.  In every other instance, at least when it came to Silver-Age vintage comics, I’d already read the story being reviewed.  I was reading the review for the author’s insights and observations.  But, in Adam Strange’s case, I was familiar with almost none of the Champion of Rann’s tales.  I’d had to pay as much attention to Jeff’s synopses as to his analyses.


That’s because I was never an Adam Stange fan.  In fact, I wasn’t partial to any of DC’s science-fiction series.  Its S.F. line was almost as much off my radar as its romance or Western comics.  Some of the heroes that appeared in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures were unknown to me, like Darwin Jones and Chris KL-99 and the Knights of the Galaxy.  The ones I did know---Captain Comet, Space Cabbie, Space Ranger, the Atomic Knights, and Adam Strange---from coming across a story or two, hadn’t really grabbed my interest.


Except for one.  I was intrigued by the fact that the heroes of the series were presented as a team, but they really weren’t a team.  This was a good ten years before Marvel Comics’ famous “non-team”, the Defenders, so the concept was novel, novel enough to overcome my general dislike of science fiction.  Since you folks can see the art accompanying this entry, you know I’m talking about---the Star Rovers.




DC’s science-fiction editor at the time, Julius Schwartz, had no intention of starting a new series when the characters appeared in the third story of Mystery in Space # 66 (Mar., 1961).  “Who Caught the Loborilla?” was simply one of the dozens of anthology tales used to fill up space at the back of the book after the adventure of its headliner, Adam Strange.  There’s no cover slug such as “introducing a new series . . . the Star Rovers!”, nor is the name “Star Rovers” mentioned anywhere in the story itself.


“Who Caught the Loborilla?” is set in the far future of the twenty-second century, A.D. 2160, to be exact.  (Now that our years begin with “20—”, instead of “19—“, the year 2160 doesn’t seem as “far future” as it used to.)  As the story would have it, this is a time when interplanetary space travel is common.  Other planets have been charted, contacted, and visited; and alien races are common sights.


12358055457?profile=RESIZE_400xThe setting is the Intersolar Spaceport, on Earth, where three rocket ships have just arrived from the planet Zaddara, the location of the latest sighting of a loborilla.  The loborilla is the twenty-second-century version of Sasquatch, largely believed to be mythical, except for a few die-hards who cling to scant “evidence” of its existence.  To that end, the Space-Zoo of Earth has offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who captures the loborilla.  (Clearly, writer Gardner Fox underestimated the rate of monetary inflation; my guess is, by 2160, $10K will probably buy you a Snickers bar.)


Emerging from the three newly arrived ships are glamour girl Karel Sorensen, playboy Rick Purvis, and novelist Homer Glint---each of whom claims to have caught the loborilla.


Obviously, they can’t all be right.  To sort things out, each trophy-hunter recounts how he caught the beast.  In Karel’s case, “she”, and she presents her case first.  She explains how, by taking a short-cut across hazardous quicksand bogs, she was able to overtake the loborilla---a creature with a gorilla’s head and torso, but the antennae, claws, and carapace of a lobster---and took it down with her stun gun as it fled.


Purvis interrupts her narrative.  He explains that he had come upon the scene just as Karel was following the loborilla through the brush.  In the minute or so before she fired her stun-burst, Rick observed the loborilla employ a bizarre camouflage power to transform a tree into its image.  Then, he saw Karel shoot the tree disguised as the loborilla.  Purvis tracked the real animal for a few hundred yards and brought it down with his own stun-gun.  His story is corroborated when Karel discovers the “loborilla” caged on her ship is made of wood.


But Purvis is wrong too, insists Homer Glint.  He had independently tracked down the hybrid beast in time to see Purvis shoot it---or, rather, to see Purvis believe he shot it.  The loborilla had used another mental power to hypnotise Rick into believing he had shot the beast and then carried it back 12358055890?profile=RESIZE_400xto his ship.  Sure enough, a check of Purvis’ rocket reveals an empty cage.


Glint explains that, with the loborilla’s attention on mentally controlling Rick, he was able to take it by surprise and capture it.  And, sure enough, there it is, caged on Homer’s ship.  But things aren’t what they appear to be here, either.


That’s because the loborilla, whom everyone assumed to be a beast, is actually a sapient alien of a super-scientific race, and when the tale concludes, it turns out that no-one has caught the loborilla.


There is no sense of a team, which might indicate an on-going series, in this story.  Glint and Karel and Purvis do not know each other or are barely acquainted.  They address each other by surnames and have no real idea of their respective capabilities.




The Mystery in Space letter column which published letters about this issue carried no comments about “Who Caught the Loborilla?”, but clearly, other readers found the story’s basic premise, with its Twilight Zone-like ending, as enjoyable as I did.  I say that because editor Schwartz did what he usually did when he wanted to make sure that he had a winner on his hands and not just a one-time fluke.  Mystery in Space # 69 (Aug., 1961) delivered a sequel adventure of Homer, Rick, and Karel.  Mr. Schwartz’ commitment only went so far, though.  There’s no labelling them as the Star Rovers.  The narrative text on the splash page comes close, though, by describing the three leads as “rovers of the starways”.  Still, there’s nothing to suggest that the characters have “gone to series”.


They are friendly enough to be on a first-name basis now, but, otherwise, they’re still die-hard rivals.  “What Happened on Sirius-4?” kicks off when Earth authorities receive an emergency call from the inhabitants of Kalmoral, the fourth planet of the star system Sirius.  Unfortunately, Kalmoral is nine light years from Earth, so whatever crisis struck the world occurred nine years ago.  And there’s been no message from the Kalmorans since.  A reward is offered to whomever finds out what happened on Kalmoral.  Rick Purvis and Karel Sorensen and Homer Glint take up the challenge.


Travelling to Kalmoral in their individual spaceships, they find the world in ruins, and not just devastated, but deserted  There’s no sign of the Kalmorans.  Each of them undertakes his own search and, after arduous effort, discovers what happened to the inhabitants.  The problem is, they all have different answers.  The only thing they agree on is that some sort of global disaster, possibly a nuclear war or alien invasion, struck Kalmoral.


Rick states that his investigation shows that the Kalmorans were annihilated by the disaster.  Karel insists that she’s uncovered proof that they escaped the devastation by teleporting to another world.  Homer says they’re both wrong, that he found a huge subterranean chamber where the population of Kalmoral lies in suspended animation until the help they requested arrives.


Echoing their encounter with the loborilla, it turns out that none of the trio is correct.  The true fate of the Kalmorans fits everything they’ve discovered but in a way they couldn’t have predicted.


Following this tale, letters commenting on the trio did see print, in Mystery in Space # 72 (Dec., 1961).  Three of them, in fact, and their writers complimented the notion of heroes in competition with each other.  Though one correspondent, Mr. Richard West, of Dorchester, Massachusetts, implied that the pattern of the first two stories, “(a) the three adventurers are confronted with some bizarre problem; (b) each comes up with a different solution; (c) their theories are all proved fallacious and the correct, surprising explanation is revealed”, would soon become old. 


There must have been a lot more than three favourable letters because in Mystery in Space # 74 (Mar., 1962), the splash page of “Where is the Paradise of Space?” included a sigil proclaiming it to be “a Star Rovers story . . .”, along with headshots of the three stars.  And the narrative caption identifies the three adventurers as the Star Rovers.


Gardner Fox must have taken fan Richard West’s concern to heart, as he deviated somewhat from the formula of the previous two tales.  This time, Homer Glint invites Rick and Karel to join him in exploring a mysterious island floating in space.  As the trio’s spaceships approach, the curious asteroid calls to them subconsciously “as once the Sirens called to Ulysses,” and they are compelled to land.


Touching down at three separate locations, each of the three finds himself confronted with a tremendous challenge.  Homer Glint is stalked by an alien creature with the ability to alter its form, and the Star Rover finds himself both the hunter and the hunted.  Karel Sorensen competes in a marksmanship contest in which her opponent knows the rules and she doesn’t.  And Rick Purvis is challenged to an air-ski race through a course fraught with deadly hazards.


All three triumph, and they rejoin, flushed at winning their greatest victories.  Comparing notes, they realise that the floating island somehow provides them with the contests of their dreams.  It’s much in the fashion of the amusement-park planet that the Enterprise crew would encounter in the 1966 Star Trek episode “Shore Leave”.  Except that the Star Rovers’ paradise in space has a sinister purpose.  The most notable deviation from the formula of the first two tales is that, this time, one of the Rovers does have the correct solution to their predicament.


The next Star Rovers tale appeared in Mystery in Space # 77 (Aug., 1962), and the series’ popularity was strong enough to use it to attract readers.  The issue’s cover included a blurb “Plus a new ‘Star Rovers’ story!”  The tale itself, “Where Was I Born---Venus?  Mars?  Jupiter?”, was another departure from the series’ format, in that it opens with the Star Rovers teaming up on a year-long expedition to find the fabled artifact known as the Sword of Starhedron.  The relic is composed of the rare element X-7, one of those comic-book substances which possess the fabulous power to do anything that the writer needs it to do.  Thus, it has priceless value to the planetary governments across the solar system.


When it comes time to bring their prize home, a snag develops as each of the Rovers believes they come from a different planet.  Purvis is certain that he and his companions are native to Venus.  Glint insists that their home planet is Jupiter, while Karel is sure that they’re all Martians.  (Since we, the readers, know that they’re from Earth, it’s a double-mystery to us.)  Hiding the Sword of Starhedron for safekeeping, each returns to what he thinks is their home planet, to gather proof of it.  And, impossibly, all three Rovers do.


By putting together tell-tale clues, the trio, for once, comes up with the actual explanation to the puzzle.


The Star Rovers story which appeared in Mystery in Space # 80 (Dec., 1962) showed that Gardner Fox was willing to step outside his original rivalry-formula even further.  “Who Saved the Earth?” is the most charming tale in the series.  Each of the Rovers is being awarded the Space-Hero for saving the Earth.  However, when each is informed of the feat for which he is being so honoured, they recall that they were able to succeed because of something learnt from one of the other Rovers.


Rick Purvis prevented aliens from sending the Earth into a no-time continuüm by employing a tactic inspired by a ricochet technique Karel once used in a shooting match.  Karel Sorensen was able to stop another group of hostile aliens from hurling the Earth out of orbit by using the same trick that Homer Glint once used to bag a Canopian agracat.  And Glint saved the Earth from a world-shattering cobalt explosion by using track-and-field skills taught to him by Rick.



At the ceremony, the trio exchange medals, in recognition of the aid received from the other.




As the friendly rivals progressed from players in a stand-alone story to headlining a series, there had been some honing and tweaking that characters are always put to, looking for what works best.  Now, five stories in, writer Gardner Fox had solidified his three leads and provided us some details about their lives.


Homer Glint is a successful novelist and big-game hunter.  He’s in his late forties and has a wife and two sons.  He’s been fortunate to have never been seriously injured by any of the alien animals he hunted because he has a tendency to close in too quickly when he believes he has his prey trapped.









Karel Sorensen, in her late twenties, is a former Miss Solar System and holds several medals as an expert in marksmanship.  Her name at birth had been Mary Smith---she changed it when she competed in beauty pageants---and she has one sister, Betti.









Wealthy Rick Purvis is a natural athlete.  Renowned as an amateur sportsman, he’s a past champion of the Interplanetary Olympics.  He also enjoys a reputation as a playboy, with more than one girl in every spaceport---none of them are green-eyed, though, for he’s bitter over once having been jilted by a girl with green eyes.







The series’ regular artist, Sid Greene, had spent the first few issues refining the appearances of the three leads before settling on their classic looks.  Reflecting Homer Glint’s middle age, his hair was greying at the temples, and he was starting to show a bit of a spread around his midriff.  The early Rick Purvis had looked dissolute before Greene settled on giving him more classically handsome features, making Purvis look more like Tony Stark, instead of his cousin, Morgan.


By now, Greene was also depicting the trio in standard outfits, a regular comics-art trick to aid in reader identification.  To suit his avocation as an outdoorsman, Homer was decked out in a green outfit with fur trim and a hat evoking a hunter’s cap.  Karel was outfitted in a red bodysuit with white piping and an optional hood.  Rick typically wore a lavender-grey blouson jacket and breeches, along with that classic comics-shorthand for a playboy, an ascot.





By now, the series had a definite following.  Whenever a Star Rovers story appeared in Mystery in Space, it was ballyhooed on the cover.  Messrs. Fox and Greene had done their jobs in creating likeable, attractive characters.  That was apparent, as the stories continued to distance themselves from the original concept of rivals who met only in competition for a prize.  Much as the idea that Marvel’s Defenders were a “non-team” became ridiculous after it established a headquarters and even held membership try-outs, it was difficult to see Glint and Sorensen and Purvis as anything but a team---especially after they started referring to themselves as the Star Rovers, beginning with “Who Saved the Earth?”.


Gone was the notion that these were three people whose only involvement with each other was when a particularly inviting contest brought them together as competitors who enjoyed one-upping each other.  “Who Went Where---and Why?”, from Mystery in Space # 83 (May, 1963), opens with Our Heroes socialising at a Manhattan restaurant.  They’re having a fine time together, swapping “war stories”, before they’re called away by the news of “their” activities someplace else.  While the Star Rovers individually track down their impostors, they reunite at the climax, working together to defeat the menace responsible for their doubles.


The next Star Rovers story, “When Did Earth Vanish?”, from Mystery in Space # 86 (Sep., 1963), fairly completed the trio’s transformation into a legitimate team.  Upon receiving word that the planet Ankol has declared war on the Earth, each of the Rovers, away on separate adventures, speeds home to offer his services.  Inadvertently, their ships are caught in a secret global defence mechanism which makes the Earth appear to have vanished.


What’s really happened is that the Star Rovers have been thrown into another dimension.  Unfortunately, so has an Ankolian space-battleship.  Even more unfortunately, the Ankolians have opened a warp back to Earth and are preparing to launch a devasting missile toward it.  With no weapons on board their own craft, only trophies each Rover picked up in his last adventure, they conceive a plan to prevent the enemy space-cruiser from completing its genocidal mission.



With ingenuity and teamwork worthy of the Justice League of America (which was natural, given that Gardner Fox wrote that title, too), the heroic threesome manages to destroy the Ankolian ship in time to save the Earth.




That would be the last time a Star Rovers story appeared in Mystery in Space.  With the next issue Hawkman became the book’s second lead, leaving no room for the thrill-seeking trio.  They would find a new home in another of Julius Schwartz’ science-fiction titles, Strange Adventures, beginning with issue # 159 (Dec., 1963).


Fans who were able to find it---they were helped by the “Extra!  A new Star Rovers story!” banner on the cover---found the closest the series ever came to a personal story.  “Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth?” shows Karel Sorensen leaving the Earth forever.  While on the low-gravity planet Xar to judge a beauty contest, Karel was infected with a deadly blue plague while saving the life of one of the contestants.  However, the Xanian cure for the azure sickness works only on low-gravity worlds.  If she returns to Earth, with its much-heavier gravity, she will die.


As Karel leaves Earth’s orbit, her ship is intercepted by those of Homer Glint and Rick Purvis---who have some surprising, and tragic, news.  Due to misfortunes on their most recent adventures, they also can no longer live on Earth. 


During a waterborne sporting event on the planet Altara, Purvis was exposed to the poisonous vapours of its Misty Sea.  Earth’s gravity would intensify the effects of the poison and kill him.  As for Glint, he was on the planet Zorn, where he was contaminated by the radiation of one of its vicious beasts, the xlaloc.  Homer managed to kill the beast, but the radiation he’s absorbed is fatal under Earth’s gravitational field.


They’re all in the same boat, so they may as well stick together.  Or not.  You see, Karel has spotted a slip-up that puts a lie to Homer and Rick’s accounts.  They can live on Earth just fine.


The two spear-side Rovers admit the truth:  having been friends for so long, they intended to keep Karel company in her exile.  (I wonder what Homer’s wife and kids thought about that.)  They made up the business about their maladies so she wouldn’t refuse.


However, in listening to the story behind Karel’s situation, Glint notices a detail which leads to an antidote for the lovely markswoman’s condition.  The story ends with them back on Earth, arm in arm.




You might have noticed that the Star Rovers series had nothing in the way of supporting players.  Outside of the three leads, no other character appeared in more than a single tale, not even Mrs. Glint and family.  With one exception.  Kinda sorta.


Artist Sid Greene was fond of inserting his boss, editor Julius Schwartz, into the Star Rovers tales, or his image, at least.  Usually in a background scene, but occasionally, in a speaking part.  Mr. Greene did this often enough, in seven out of the nine Star Rovers stories, that it was much like spotting Hitchcock’s cameos in his films.


“Who Caught the Loborilla?”, Mystery in Space # 66



“What Happened on Sirius-4?”, Mystery in Space # 69



“Where is the Paradise of Space?”, Mystery in Space # 74



In “Where Was I Born---Venus?  Mars?  Jupiter?”, from Mystery in Space # 77, Julie actually gets a supporting rôle as one of the officials on Venus.



“Who Went Where---and Why?”, Mystery in Space # 83



“When Did Earth Vanish?”, Mystery in Space # 86



“Will the Star Rovers Abandon Earth?”, Strange Adventures # 159





The next Star Rovers adventure, in Strange Adventures # 163 (Apr., 1964), presented its fans with the most off-model plot of all.  “How Can Time Be Stopped?” finds two of Our Heroes in mortal peril.  Karel Sorensen and Homer Glint have been captured by yet another race of hostile aliens bent on conquering the Earth, the lizard-men of Kolunn.  The two Star Rovers are subjected to age-altering treatments, so that the lizard-men can determine which will be more effective as a weapon against Earth people.  Consequently, Karel begins to rejuvenate by one year a day, while Homer ages at the accelerated rate of ten years a day.


They both manage to escape and rendez-vous with Rick Purvis, who is startled to see a fifteen-year-old Karel and a centenarian Homer.  It’s up to Rick to infiltrate the lizard-men’s stronghold on Kolunn and find the antidotes to their conditions.  Thanks to a discrepancy between his friends’ accounts of their captivity, the playboy sportsman succeeds.  Once again hale and hearty, the Star Rovers blast off to warn the Earth of the lizard-men’s threat before they can repair the damage that Purvis did to their plans.


Those of you who have been keeping count know that this was the last Star Rovers story published.  So, why did DC abandon the Star Rovers?  The letter column of that issue tipped its hand a bit with the announcement that Julius Schwartz was leaving DC’s science-fiction line to take over editorship of Batman and Detective Comics (and tossing in a plug for the upcoming “New Look” Batman).  The new editor of Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures would be Jack Schiff.


With Mr. Schiff at the helm, one could expect some shifts in tone for the S.F. series---and as Jeff of Earth-J’s reviews of the Adam Strange series bespoke, there was.  But the departure of Julius Schwartz, while definitely a loss, was not what proved fatal to the Star Rovers series.  At least, not in my estimation.


When Julie went over to the Bat-titles, he took Gardner Fox with him.  Mr. Fox would never again contribute a script to DC’s science-fiction mags---and that’s what did in the Star Rovers.  One has to appreciate the versatility of Fox’s imagination.  In each Star Rover tale, all three leads each received a sequence of a page or more to himself involving a new and fantastic science-fiction concept, any one of which would’ve made a decent eight- or ten-page story for a solo hero.  That was in addition to the overarching plots of each story and Fox did it for nine stories.


Few writers in DC’s stables had that kind of fertile creativity, and none of them were able to step up when Mr. Fox went over to script the “New Look” Batman.


I’m speculating, I could be wrong, but for whatever reason, the Star Rovers were cast into comic-book limbo.  Yet, no character stays there forever, not while there are copyrights to maintain.  DC writers of the 1990’s and 2000’s found a use for them.  But, true to the modern-day attitude of giving heroes feet of clay up to their navels (God forbid that we have decent, morally upright characters to look up to), it was difficult to recognise the revived Star Rovers.


I prefer to remember when friendly rivals Rick and Karel and Homer were the heroic rovers of the starways.


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  • I am wholly unfamiliar with the Star Rovers (except, perhaps, as a cover blurb)... or I should say I was until I read this informative Deck Log. Regarding the assertion that "Mr. Fox would never again contribute to DC’s science-fiction mags," I feel compelled to point out the prose story (illustrated by Murphy Anderson) he wrote in 1970 for Strange Adventures #226 (and I do so only because I know what a stickler for accuracy you are). 


      Thanks for the kind words, my friend---and more thanks for bringing Gardner Fox's prose tale to my attention.  Aye, I had forgotten about it when I did my research into his S.F. contributions after the spring of '64.  I changed that line in the article to reflect it, as best I could without getting wordy about it.  Kind of a good thing, too, because it let me give the article one more polish (which my stuff always seems to need, even though I proofread it at least once before posting).

      Much obliged.



  • This is the first time I have heard of the Star Rovers. It looks like most of their adventures appeared prior to my getting interested in comic books. And when I did I only had eyes for super heroes or the occasional war or humor comic not s-f.

    I love the way Sid Greene worked in the Julius Schwartz appearances - subtle but very fun.

  • I remember the Star Rovers, Commander, and I rather enjoyed their stories. The writing was indeed excellent, and I didn't recognize how hard it was to tie three disparate storylines together into one overall tale. At the time I had read them, I just thought them kinda silly; three space explorers out to one-up each other and ending up working together after all. Sort of a "Three's Company" in Space (although "Three's Company" wasn't out at the time.) But a little consideration, reinforced by your excellent article, made me realize how tricky these tales were to concoct, let alone keep interesting.

    Thanks for your keen analytical article; as always, it's a true treat to read!

    The Silver Age Fogey

  • It sounds like Mr Fox put a lot of effort into these tales. I also wasn't interested i science fiction at the time. I was still in the Weisinger-verse. I discovered it later when a teacher had us read a Ray Bradbury short story. This led me to read virtually all Ray Bradbury works. Later, I discovered live theater when I attended a stage presentation of his Martian Chronicles stage show.

  • I caught up with the Star Rovers, like most of the Schwartz anthology stuff, reading the 1970s reprint books Strange Adventures and From Beyond the Unknown (I started reading comics right about the time Schwartz was changing gears). Between that and some old issues acquired over the years, I have all their tales. Light-hearted fun, and I agree with you about the efforts to reboot them since.

    Rereading my Silver Age stuff and blogging about it at Atomic Junkshop it struck Karel is an unusual woman for the Silver Age: no boyfriend, not looking for one, just two platonic male buddies (

    Good point about how much Fox crammed into those scripts.

    An unusual role for a woman: Karel Sorensen ⋆ Atomic Junk Shop
    Revisiting the old Star Rovers stories as part of my Silver Age reread, I suddenly realized how unusual a character Karel Sorensen was. The Star Rove…
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