My Seven from the Seventies column will look back on things I loved from the 1970s. For my inaugural installment, I will take part one of a two-part look at my favorite comics from my childhood. This article will focus on my favorite comic book brand growing up, Gold Key. In part two, I will discuss a few more Gold Key titles, along with some great stuff from Dell, Charlton, and other publishers. (Please note that some of the covers and sample pages illustrating this article may be from 1960s editions of the comic books discussed.)
I became a huge comic book fan at age six when, after moving from northern California to Corral, Idaho (population 32 when we lived there in 1968, if I recall correctly), I discovered a stack of old comics in one of the storage sheds at the ranch to which my family moved. I was already well aware of, and quite interested in, Marvel and DC superheroes thanks to coloring books, cartoons, and television shows, but the comic books I happened upon opened up a whole new world to me. Fortunately the general store in Corral and the drug store in nearby Fairfield stocked the latest issues in spinner racks stuffed full of colorful goodness.
Gold Key publishing company boasted beautiful, painted covers that set the brand’s books apart from other publishers’ titles. Though the books usually didn’t credit their writers and artists the same way that Marvel and other publishers did, Gold Key had a rich group of talented people behind their comics. Best of all, for six-year-old me, Gold Key had many titles that appealed to my love of monsters and robots, an affection that I still hold to today.
This article is not meant to provide exhaustive details of each title. Rather, I want to simply introduce these comic books to potential new readers interested in seeking out lesser known titles from the past, or to jog the memory banks of readers who also grew up with these series in their childhood. Without further ado, let’s take a look at seven of my favorite Gold Key comics.
The Twilight Zone
At six years old, I had already been watching The Twilight Zone television series for two years, so when I discovered that a comic book based on the show was available, I began snatching up issues whenever I saw them. The comic version did not adapt episodes of the TV series. Instead, it offered up less intricate but often effective short tales of the supernatural, cautionary fables, and tales of injustices made right by unusual forces.
Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery
I hadn’t seen any episodes of the Thriller television series, hosted by Boris Karloff, when I discovered the Gold Key title Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, and I wouldn’t see the series for many more years, though not for lack of trying. I was instantly drawn in by the comic spun off from the TV show (the first two issues were actually titled Thriller) because of the gripping artwork and chilling tales of monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural entities. I remember reading an issue just before bedtime and then having a nightmare. I moaned so loudly in my sleep that my father came in from my parents’ bedroom to wake me up. My parents told me not to read scary comics anymore, but that fell on deaf ears as I was right back at it the next day. It’s a practice I have continued to the present.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories and True Demons and Monsters
Gold Key’s two Ripley’s Believe It or Not titles were probably the scariest of the company’s titles to me, and they were a far cry from the wildly popular, fascinating but rather benign Ripley’s Believe It or Not newspaper comics that gave illustrated facts about oddities from around the world. Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories and Ripley’s Believe It or Not: True Demons and Monsters often used local legends from many different countries as a springboard for wilder reimaginings of those stories.
Many of the scripts for Gold Key’s The Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, the Ripley’s Believe It or Not titles, and Grimm’s Ghost Stories were written by Leo Dorfman, who created the Ghosts series for DC. The man knew how to spin spooky yarns and his stories were well illustrated by the company’s pencilers and inkers.
Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 AD
When it comes to superheroes, I have always had a soft spot for the underdogs. Gold Key had two titles that spoke directly to my preference. The first of these was Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 AD. The series’ writer and illustrator Russ Manning had worked on a Tarzan newspaper strip and used that as a basis for this series. Whereas Tarzan was raised by apes in the jungle as a boy, Magnus was raised by a robot named 1A. Possessing a great deal of strength, Magnus protected Earth from renegade robots bent on destroying humans, as well as threats from outer space. Though action packed, Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 AD also had a cerebral side to its science fiction tales of derring-do, as well.
Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom
Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom saw Dr. Phillip Solar survive the sabotage of a nuclear power plant, which he heroically tried to stop. He absorbed a great deal of radiation during the meltdown, which gave him the power to convert his body into different kinds of nuclear energy. Solar did not don a costume until the fifth issue. His skin would also turn green when he used his newfound powers. His chief nemesis was Nuro, who had a robot double of himself. Solar’s superhero costume design was one of my favorites growing up.
Mighty Samson was my first exposure to a postapocalyptic world (well, at least that I can remember). The titular character was sheer brute force, a man who had lost his eye to a liobear. After destroying the beast, he skins it and wears its hide for clothing. He wanders around a city named N’Yark with the wise Mindor, who learns about pre-nuclear devastation civilization by studying found artifacts, and Mindor’s daughter Sharmaine. The highlight of this title for me was that I was guaranteed that Samson would battle crazy hybrid monsters or weird human foes in each issue, and sometimes both.
UFO Flying Saucers (later retitled UFO Outer Space)
Like Gold Key’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not titles, UFO Flying Saucers dealt out comic versions of allegedly fact-based reports. As is obvious from the title, this series examined tales of aliens from space, another interest of mine from early childhood thanks to watching classic science fiction films on television from as early as I can remember. Gold Key’s artists really went to town on this title, providing readers with a wide variety of alien life forms, from classic “little green men” to creatures of all shapes and sizes, to humanoids, to robotic-looking invaders, and much more. From its dynamic painted covers depicting attacks from alien beings and crafts to its wide range of potential threats to the very existence of mankind, UFO Flying Saucers was the perfect formula to get a kid’s 15 cents.