Two-fisted explorer Chris KL-99 socks it to a bad guy. Artist: Murphy Anderson.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1950
Creators: Edmond Hamilton (writer) and Howard Sherman (artist)
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Beginning in 1950 and 1951, respectively, Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space, the two DC Comics science fiction titles edited by Julius Schwartz, subsisted mainly on stories without continuing characters. But they did run series here and there, including Knights of the Galaxy, Darwin Jones

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… and, on the lighter side, Space Cabby. The very first of them, appearing in the lead position of Strange Adventures #1 (Aug-Sept 1950), was Chris KL-99, aka The Columbus of Space.

The exact time of the future era in which Chris lived wasn't mentioned during his brief series (tho later writers seem to place him in the 22nd century). Whenever, he was born on a spaceship between Earth and Mars, the first human child born in space. His father, Jon ST-94, was an explorer, and named him after an "ancient" practitioner of the trade, Columbus. Chris's mother's name was a second thing not mentioned. Chris followed in his parents' footsteps, becoming one of the greatest space explorers who ever lived. The "99" part of his name was his test average at the Space Academy he attended. Where the "KL" part came from is yet another thing that wasn't mentioned.

Most of this info wasn't known at the beginning, when he was just Chris KL99 (the hyphen was added in #2), flitting around the Cosmos in his spaceship, Pioneer, marking territory for The United Worlds Federation. He was just there, doing all this with his Martian friend, Halk (a pink giant) and his Venusian friend, Jero (a green dwarf). It was also clear from the beginning that unlike the real Columbus, he was dedicated to seeing that natives of the lands he discovered weren't exploited by evildoers. The rest of it came in the origin story (#7, April 1951), when he performed his greatest exploratory feat, tracking down Mom and Dad's spaceship, which had gone missing when he was nine years old.

The creation of Chris KL-99 is mostly attributed to science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, who also co-created Space Ranger and wrote many Legion of Super Heroes stories. The artist who created his visual look was Howard Sherman, a prolific co-creator of minor DC characters, whose credits also include Tommy Tomorrow, Congorilla and The Wyoming Kid. Hamilton stayed with Chris, but artists came and went. They included Carmine Infantino (The Flash, Adam Strange), Ed Smalle Jr. (Congo Bill, Cowboy Marshall) and Murphy Anderson (Atomic Knights, Hawkman).

Even in a comic book where series characters weren't a prominent part of the mix, Chris KL-99 was notable more for being first, than for having much of an impact. His series consisted of nine stories, scattered among the first 15 issues. Like most other DC characters, he was seen again decades later, but mostly in a few cameos and guest appearances, such as one with Superman in 1985. He did show his face in the 1985-86 Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's first company-wide crossover, but then, so did practically everyone else.

His biggest post-series appearance was in Secret Origins #43 (August, 1989), which recounted his early history — adding hitherto-unsuspected details while deleting many already established. Such as claiming he had a regular, human-sounding name, Christopher Columbus Ambler. And inventing an early career as a licensing icon. And having him kidnapped at age 8, for murkily explained reasons, by the first aliens encountered by Earthlings. And actually explaining where the "KL" came from. And no more Halk and Jero. Even the color of his hair was different. There were, in fact, virtually no points of similarity between this Chris KL-99 and the one back in Strange Adventures.

Which recalls a prominent element of his original series. Inasmuch as no noticeable use of the character was ever made again, the reason for giving one of those "everything you know is wrong" origin stories to an unheard-of no-account was, like so many other things about him, never mentioned.


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Text ©2006-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.