the best DC silver age mind swap tales

there is a genre in comics which may have started in the 40s with will eisner’s two part spirit story about a character called orang, who from memory was an ape whose mental processes had been enhanced so that he went around as a human, or he may even have been the recipient of a mind swap himself

anyway: somewhere in this strip a stereotypical mad scientist definitely swaps the mind of a different ape with that of someone’s daughter

note this concept + actual frames from the artwork may have been swiped by wally wood when he did something similar with sally forth

(if anyone has a copy of either of these strips could you get in touch via the email address on the home page of this site)

at this point it might be worth mentioning that there are two schools of thought about the phrase mind swap: the other one thinks of this as a body swap.  because:

a) the bodies stay in the same place, it’s the minds that swap over

+ b) this site prefers mind swap by robert sheckley to body swap by red dwarf,

despite the fact that this flies against the wind of common usage mind swap is going to be used as the title of the genre being defined here

mind swaps must have occurred in various comics since the 1940s (EC horror?) but over at DC they put a different spin on the genre making it recognisably one of their own absurd surreal ones, + using the basic circular plot (mind wanders, weird things happen, mind returns) frequently in their silver age SF + superhero titles

some examples appear below in no particular order

hopefully as time goes by this will end up as one of those top tens which are scattered around the internet, providing as the majority of these lists do a useful guide for any readers who happen across them to the opinions of someone who has scanned some stuff he’s read

there’s been too much in depth analysis on this site recently + not nearly enough looking at comic strips for the fun of it

1    the man who broke the light speed barrier (strange adventures 100 1959)

the story here entails the mind of an astronaut flying out into space after he travels faster than light when testing an FTL machine.  the first thing his mind finds to inhabit is a small alien creature

the finest thing in the story is the obvious gulf between the test pilot + this amazingly dopey looking furry animal

strange-adventures-100-b-detail(c) DC 1959

without quite giving away the whole plot, in short the animal has to perform a series of increasingly complicated feats in order to impress two human visitors sufficiently for them to take him back to earth.  the last of these is below

strange-adventures-100-f-edit(c) DC 1959

actually piloting a space craft ought to clich it

1.1    the creature with blackhawk’s brain (blackhawk 175 1962)

one of the methods DC used to detract scariness from their monsters seems to have been by colouring them pink.  they were always conscious of their pre teen readership

blackhawk-175(c) DC 1962

although this strip has a great cover the interior art is of a pretty low quality + thus it does not count as the second of DC’s best silver age mind swap tales.  it only appears here to make the point about pink not being a good colour on a monster

although it is worth noting that there is a major difference here to the traditional mind swap formula: in this version (as the text on the cover bears witness) blackhawk basically punches an alien unconscious + swaps his own mind into the monster on purpose, rather than having that happen either accidentally or against his will which would have been more orthodox

also there is some fantastic dialogue towards the end: when it turns out two different spaceships are involved (spoiler alert: don’t think about this fact if you’re about to read the story), one of the aliens from the second ship says

‘every space ship carries a creature and a brain transfer ray machine for emergencies’

which implies the events of ‘the creature with blackhawk’s brain’ play out regularly enough for the entire fleet to be required for safety reasons to carry a spare monster + mind swap equipment


oct 2017 addendum

a brief conversation last weekend with someone who has a wide knowledge of peculiar silver age stories produced two examples of minds being swapped which probably ought to be on the top of the list

2    batman – clown of crime (batman 85 1954)

where the joker + batman swap minds. apparently the joker, in batman’s body, gets his gang to believe it’s him in there by handing out cigars which blow up in their faces

this sounds like the sort of timeless masterpiece which must have been reprinted + it turns out it was (as ‘the joker batman‘ in batman 182) in 1966, which technically makes it elligible for inclusion on a list of silver age stories even though it predates showcase 4, so there.  the following entry is a) unarguably includable + b) the obvious example of mind swapping: congorilla

3    the amazing congorilla (action 248 1959)

which tells of the first time the explorer congo bill rubs the magic ring which swaps his mind with that of a legendary golden gorilla for an hour

this gets him out of trouble when he’s stuck underground because of a cave entrance caving in, + goes on to get him out of all of his future predicaments as well, although it’s difficult to say if this is the best of what went on to be a whole series of mind swap stories. in fact that honour may go to

the lost magic ring (adventure 281 1961)

because of what gets packed in to its 13 pages:

an alternative version / retelling of congorilla’s origin story; an act of lion taming; remote control rocket guidance; bending back two palm trees + catapulting himself at a helicopter; appearances of numerous famous magic objects; + a one panel thor cameo (in feb 1961, predating journey into mystery 83 by 18 months)

(c) DC 1961

along with the usual punching of crocodiles underwater

the dialogue is great – imagine congo bill + janu winking at each other during the following:

chief mohalla [speech balloon]: ‘ah, congo bill! you missed excitement yesterday! congorilla come here to fix telegraph pole!’

congo bill [thought balloon]: ‘ha! ha! if chief mohalla only knew congorilla is my other identity!’

(c) DC 1961

+ there’s a high standard of artwork (posing the ape to look like he’s thinking, the design of the lizard that eventually swallows the ring, etc)

(c) DC 1961

This entry was posted in silver age comics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s