White Box Hero: UFO Flying Saucers #4

Everybody here at "Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader?" is the type of comics nerd to spend two hours flipping through a quarter box of comics with the hope that there will be at least something sorta cool in there. Every once in a while, the nerdity pays off and you end up with something greater than you could've ever expected...a white box hero!

Something that high-school history classes and like, NBC mini-series' don't really explain about "the Sixties" is how all the social upheaval, distrust of the government, counter-culture etc. stuff was a spark in these pockets of hipsterism or bohemia (Haight-Ashbury, Greenwich Village) and then it sort of slowly fizzled into smaller, less-"hip" areas. And so, "the Sixties" was more something that eventually wormed its way into every smaller city and every pocket of crap popular culture than this nationwide shift in sensibility. Not that this is some big revelation, it's just important to think about in terms of how "the Sixties" would affect something like this Whitman published, hack anthology comic UFO Flying Saucers from 1974 and how all the junk swirling around would turn it into this kinda subversive, conspiracy comic book.

Now of course, based on the premise, it's going to be on some "government cover-up" type shit, but there's a couple things in UFO Flying Saucers--which has a title that grows more retarded every time I type it--that move it out of the typical "government distrust" stuff that floats through popular media in part, to further cover-up actual government distrust...like, it's healthy for people in power to allow a certain degree of dissent. But whatever you get what I'm saying...this comic feels actually subversive the way the X-Files could be or how the comic-book-y secret society stuff expected in a comic book like Hellboy felt incendiary because it was in this Hollywood blockbuster.

Above's the ending panel from the second story in the book, "Marsh Gas In Michigan" which is your typical dudes see some trippy shit in the sky and a government official steps-in and "explains" what they saw type story. There's something extra nefarious though, about the Gov't Official here, he's kind of skeletal, and he's especially curt with his response. That the narrator steps in with a series of leading questions ("Can marsh gas be picked up by radar? Can it be photographed? Can over 100 witnesses all be wrong?) kinda moves out of semi-objective Robert Stack Unsolved Mysteries, "you decide" and more into like, Kramer from Seinfeld totally trying to sell you on a conspiracy. But that's great! Because it's this comic book and so it doesn't need to feign any sense of objectivity or like subtlety and comic books often gain power from this big, dumb blunt-ness.

And not only because it's a comic book, but basically this hack-job comic, with like perfunctory art and no "Story" or "Pencils" credits that it can go really far and get caught-up in something kind of silly or weird and come out winning in the end. The first story, "The Mississippi Mystery" is just your typical "fishermen get abducted" story but for some reason, the aliens are these hulking, armored goat guys or something and they never speak or attempt communication or anything, they just sort of tug the fisherman around and stick them in front of weird medical equipment and then usher them back to the pond. The lack of explanation, the lack of detail, which is probably more the result of reducing the comic to bare elements than an artistic choice, still conveys the feeling of confusion and disjointed chaos that the fisherman felt being abducted.

But then, there's other stories that go way beyond your typical "rumor" type UFO stories and sort of dive into the weird mythology and stuff. There's a focus on Ezekiel's Wheel which is one of the oft-discussed "UFO accounts" in the Bible and that this comic appeared just a few years after the publication of Chariots of the Gods which tried to connect ancient history to UFO phenomenon is really interesting and also poses the question: Who's this comic book for?

We have a tendency on this blog to celebrate "difficult" works and those odd stragglers or even "smuggler" comics--as I like to call them--that basically look like they're for one audience and are for another or often, don't seem to have a tangible audience and this weird UFO Flying Saucers comic's one for sure...whether it intended to or not. The seeds of Bible conspiracy shit or even the strains of Nation of Islam theology, particularly Elijah Muhammad's "Mother Plane" (Ezekiel's Wheel) are at least hinted at in this dime-store comic!

A similarly subversive story is the one that ends the issue: "Incident In Vietnam". Now by 1974, Vietnam was starting to enter popular culture through artistic representation, and not just through images and discussion of those images, and to some extent, even in 2009, the mention of an ongoing or just-ended war is kind of strange and challenging. It reminds people of what went on and people dying and all that stuff and this is problematic for certain "powers that be" for obvious reasons.

What's so crazy (though maybe a little offensive) about "Incident at Vietnam" is how, by placing a UFO sighting in Vietnam and using American soldiers as witnesses, it's moving beyond the typical bystander viewing the event and into a group of people that (rightfully) receive the utmost respect. And even in 1974, when some of that unfortunate "baby killer" bullshit was going on for returning soldiers, this sense of the irresponsible soldier (the potsmokers of Apocalypse Now for example) wasn't really around yet and so, the comic both uses the controversy of the current war and the tradition of our Armed Forces to drum-up some credibility for the existence of aliens.

There's one last aspect of this issue that's worth touching on and it's the story about "The Hoaxmaster". Basically, the Hoaxmaster is this totally absurd character, a sort of used car dealer in a top-hat that shows-up and "expos[es] tricks and uncover[s] lies". When I read the comic, I felt the pages to my left growing and the ones to the right dwindling and I assumed this was the last story (though that's the Vietnam one don't forget) and it would be the point where this pretty crazy comic maintains the status-quo: The Hoaxmaster would explain how all the stuff I just read was false or a manipulation or this or that. But no, all the Hoaxmaster does is give you some quick examples where some goofballs tricked some other goofballs into into thinking they saw UFOs! It's like this subtle way of reinforcing the conspiracy stuff, by acknowledging skepticism and telling readers "Sometimes, it's not true, so be discerning", which is a fairly mature and like governed point of view for such an off-the-wall comic to take.


Bonus Space Shit That Don't Make No Sense (but makes a lot of sense) from Jay Electronica because I feel like it:

-Last verse from "The Pledge"

-"Extra Extra"

1 comment:

david e. ford, jr said...


yeah, so UFO FLYING SAUCERS looks awesome and has an absurd title (i'm totally chuckling as i type this). what intrigues me most about your post is that tell-tale "#4," which of course signifies the existence of AT LEAST three other issues of UFO FLYING SAUCERS. re: the art, though, it definitely has this sorta perfunctory, stock feel that makes the comic almost feel like a contemporary parody of ephemera from that era. also, i may be reading too much into this, but in the HOAXMASTER sequence, check out the view of the cab driver from the back seat--it almost looks like the sort of typical comics representation of Hitler.