Cover of a reprint edition. Artist: Al McWilliams.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1952
Creators: Oskar Lebeck (writer) and Alden McWilliams (artist)
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The science fiction genre underwent a profound change about the time of World War II. Before, it consisted largely of pulp-style adventure that concentrated on stalwart heroes, and many stories might just as well have taken place in the Old West as in Outer Space. Afterward, science-fictional ideas came to the fore, and it became generally agreed any story that could be adequately told …

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… without its sci-fi elements wasn't "really" science fiction at all. This shift occurred in movies, prose, and most other places science fiction was found.

In comics, for example, prominent pre-war science fiction included Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Afterward (tho no postwar story strip was as prominent as those of the 1930s), examples included Beyond Mars and Twin Earths.

The overriding idea that drove Twin Earths wasn't a new one. As far back as ancient Greece, there was speculation about a duplicate Earth on the other side of the Sun, hidden forever from our view. Of course, modern astronomy, which would detect any such object from the perturbations it made on the orbits of the planets we can see (that's how Neptune and Pluto were discovered), has made a hash of such speculation. But even hard-core sci-fi enthusiasts are often willing to ignore a few minor scientific inaccuracies for the sake of a good story.

According to the Twin Earths back-story, space explorers from Terra (the name used here for Earth's twin), flying around the Sun in saucer-shaped vehicles, had discovered Earth in 1903. Earth discovered them, too, a few decades later when "flying saucers" started appearing in the news. The main characters of the daily strip, which began June 16, 1952, were Vana, a Terran spy living on Earth to keep tabs on our technology so the Terrans could be sure we and our war-like ways didn't pose a menace to them; and Garry Verth, an FBI agent to whom Vana revealed herself in the opening sequence. The first few months of story continuity involved a few exciting moments with Commie spies (out to get their hands on Terra's technology, of course), but mostly consisted of travelog-like views of Terran life — for example, the fact that in their liberated society, women, who constituted 92% of the population, ran things.

The Sunday version began March 1 of the following year. Instead of tying in directly with the daily, or delivering a second track of story involving the same characters, this series explored a completely separate aspect of the "twin earths" scenario. It started with a young Texan named Punch sneaking aboard a Terran saucer just before it took off for home. After about three months, he was joined by Prince Torro, one of the relatively few Terran males, and the two boys continued as stars for the duration of the Sunday Twin Earths.

Both were written by Oskar Lebeck (better known as an editor at Dell Comics than as a writer) and drawn by Alden McWilliams (who, in addition to a varied career in comic books, worked as assistant to Lyman Young on Tim Tyler's Luck and John Prentice on Rip Kirby). Lebeck retired in 1957, and McWilliams took over the story as well. The distributor was United Feature Syndicate, which also handled Peanuts, Li'l Abner, Gordo and many other top comics.

Even with its popular flying saucer theme, Twin Earths didn't make it into movies or TV. The closest it came to a media spin-off was when Tip Top Comics, which reprinted many of United Feature's strips, briefly ran it alongside Nancy, The Captain & the Kids and the rest. There were also comic book reprints in Britain and Australia. The strip ran until 1963.

Since the late 1980s, several volumes of Twin Earths reprints have appeared, from a couple of small, specialty publishers. Tho the entire run isn't available, modern readers are again able to see lengthy runs of Lebeck's and McWilliams's classic science fiction.


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Text ©2004-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.