Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sara Kingdom, Woman of Action

So what if Sara Kingdom only got one story? There's still oh so much to say about this action heroine of the future. Let's take a closer look at the comic I mentioned in my last post about Sara: from the pages of The Dalek Outer Space Book, by Terry Nation and Brad Ashton, published in 1966 by Souvenir Press and Panther Books, here are the further adventures of...

Or I suppose the earlier adventures, really, since she died in her first actual appearance. So whenever you encounter a story about Sara Kingdom, try to forget about how she died a horrible, horrible death. Think of the good times, like when she beat up two random crooks with her inexplicable superhuman strength. Should have brought eight of your friends, punks!

Sara's a leading member of the Space Security Service, where military discipline has grown so lax that everyone's on a first-name basis. (I blame the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.) Sara lived (lives? will have lived? were had liven?) in the latter half of the 40th century, when technology was going through a severe retro phase. (Listen closely, you can hear the ping of the space-radar.) Lem's got a mission for Sara on the planet Vara, but there's a problem...

Curse you, science! They're right, though. Any person who breathes thin atmosphere for five minutes will be a humanoid. I can't question that. I can question Terry Nation as to what exactly he thinks a humanoid is. Because whatever he thinks it is, he's wrong. But he's just following the first rule of writing for 1960s British sci-fi comics - if a word sounds sciencey enough, it means whatever you want it to mean. Kids are dumb! They don't know!

Take two, they're small.

Alloys! That sounds like something a scientist would be an expert in, let's go with that. Look, there he is, on the space-television! I wish I got cool channels like that. I don't get the main Vara channel with my basic package, I just get Vara Latino. I can't understand a thing they're saying but the music's fun.

Sara's given her brief - rescue the professor. Her ship is disguised as a meteor to escape detection. But before she leaves, she's got one last question...

And here we encounter the second rule for writing 1960s British sci-fi comics - the violence must be frequent, bloodthirsty and, above all, casual. Do not pause to reflect on the necessity of any violence you may inflect. Kill the innocent scientist? Okey-dokey, Lem!

Here are two of the pathetic oxygen-deprived humanoids, carrying on a conversation, making rational decisions and operating technology. Poor mindless bastards. I hope Sara's able to pull off a convincing impersonation of one. Thank god for those oxygen sweets.

If Terry Nation doesn't know what a humanoid is, I guess he's not going to know that any plants that evolved in an oxygen-low environment probably aren't going to need a whole lot of oxygen.

I would ask what use is it to dump all of these rare metals into one big melting pot, but for all I know that's exactly what they do in a metal works. What the hell do I know? I just feel bad for the humanoids who had to work the rancidium mine. It smells awful in there.

Yup, thank heavens for that radioactive space suit. That'll keep you nice and cool.

The narration box is sparsely used in this story, and here seems to be cropping up because Sara, being unconscious, cannot teach us the science behind this panel herself. Do I even need to point out the ways in which it's wrong? Not that oxygen toxicity isn't a very bad thing, it just doesn't cause your five senses to go haywire. (Unless you count a detached retina.) I think he's thinking of LSD. (Although who knows what's really in those oxygen sweets?)

Sara's unconscious body is carried to a lab, where a mysterious scientist in a welding mask and his lumpen assistant prepare to perform an undescribed "experiment" on her. But Sara starts to come around...

Imagine seeing THAT first thing when you open your eyes. Curly Joe is right - the butanic gas (or, as non-humanoids call it, butane) will certainly put her to sleep again. I don't know how rigid she'll be, though, at least at first. How long does it take for that to set in after she asphyxiates? 

We're never told what the experiment was going to be. As far as I can piece together, it seems like they were trying to see what happens when you pour molten metal over an unconscious woman. Results: inconclusive.

Sara makes short work of the scientists - you can see the creepy welder's mask guy getting a molten bath above, and she handily dislocates his assistant's spine using only her thumb. Next she leads three guards on a merry chase, smack into some kind of giant metal-cutting machine.

And with a witty parting quip our heroine neatly bisects her persuers lengthwise. Slice! I particularly like the look of pleading on the middle guy, as he looks to the uncaring Sara, horrified at his imminent gruesome death.  Sorry, fella! That's what you get for being a bad guy in a '60s British sci-fi comic. Should have passed your O-levels.

Sara tried to bluff her way past the guard stationed at the Professor's room, but he's not buying. So she gets him high. No, really.

Huffing! Is there any problem it can't solve?

Under the influence of a truth drug, and with an oxygen tank connected to his...shoulder? back?...to keep him from turning into a humanoid, the Professor of Alloys is working out a formula. You can tell he's thinking hard from the radiation lines emitting from his forehead.

Because god forbid we see a Dalek in this story. So anyway, yeah, non-corrosive metal. Because Daleks corrode in low-oxygen atmospheres. What, you didn't know that? Some Doctor Who fan you are.

The Daleks' Master Plan. Step 1: Build non-corrosive casing. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit! World domination!

Yes, thank you, mysterious jump-suit lady! Leaving the Professor with a couple of oxygenating sweets and instructions to finish his formula for a new alloy the exact opposite (what's the opposite of steel?), Sara heads back to the smelting pot.

To be fair to the overseer, whether the Professor finished the formula or not is irrelevant to the shocking lack of security in this slave camp. But the good news spares the guard a bitch-slap. The Professor, his usefulness outlived, is put to hard labor.

Why doesn't Sara pass herself off as an overseer? They're dressed identically. Anyway, Sara and the Professor somehow manage to sneak away...

Yeah, human compassion, whatevs. Get with the times, Prof. Now hang on to the undercarriage of this mining cart as it carries us to safety. Uh...you do have the strength of ten men too, don't you?

I can just say "pour in the formula" and you guys know what to do, right?

Sara and the Professor had already escaped, and the formula was safe from the Daleks, but there were bad guys still alive and the comic was almost over, so KA-BOOM!

"Yes, thank you, Professor, for ignoring my nonsense about completing your formula the exact opposite and instead doing something that would work. I'm so glad I didn't have to kill you! Ha ha ha!"

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