Showcase Presents Rip Hunter… Time Master


By Jack Miller, Bill Ely, Ruben Moreira, Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Nick Cardy, Alex Toth, various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3521-5 (TPB)

The concept of curious chrononauts is as old as the science fiction genre itself, and every aspect of literature has displayed fascination with leaving the Now for the Then and Thence. As the 1950s closed and the superhero genre slowly re-established itself in comicbooks, National/DC – who had for half a decade been a prime purveyor of bold, he-man fantasy action – successfully scored one last plainclothes hit with the infinite potential of temporal exploration.

With costumed cavorters reappearing everywhere the company combined time-travel vistas with their tried-and-true Adventuresome Quartet format (most effectively utilised for Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking Challengers of the Unknown) and, on a creative high and riding a building wave, introduced a dauntless team of comfortingly ordinary folks as Rip Hunter… Time Master debuted in Showcase #20, cover-dated May/June 1959. This mammoth monochrome testament containing all the Showcase try-outs (and #1-15 of his starring vehicle) is still the only place to find these grand old tales, sadly…

Studious yet manly, inventor Hunter had just finished building flying globes which could crack the time barrier and, like any sensible man, wanted his best friend Jeff Smith and even girlfriend Bonnie Baxter to share in his fun-filled jaunts. Bonnie’s little brother Corky just came along for most rides…

Series creator Jack Miller and scripter was a serious history buff who filled the stories with the very latest in historical facts and theories, but that never got in the way of strong, rousing storytelling from the outset, and the series’ one potential flaw – lack of a consistent art-team – became a huge bonus in the early days, as a procession of top-flight illustrators took turns rendering the strangest and most evocative moments in comics history… so far…

Illustrated by Ruben Moreira, it all began with ‘Prisoners of 100 Million BC’: a novel-length introductory exploit which saw the daredevil physicist, engineer Jeff, adoring Bonnie and little Corky travel back to the Mesozoic era, utterly unaware that they were carrying two criminal stowaways.

Once there, the thugs hi-jacked the Time Sphere, holding it hostage until the explorers help them stock up with rare and precious minerals. Reduced to the status of mere castaways, Rip and Co. became ‘The Modern-Day Cavemen’ until an erupting volcano caused ‘The Great Beast Stampede’ which enabled the time travellers to finally turn the tables on their abductors…

Miller was always careful to use the best research available but never timid in blending historical fact with bold fantasy for Hunter’s escapades, and epic follow-up ‘The Secret of the Lost Continent’ (Showcase#21, July/August, 1959 and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Joe Giella) saw the Time Masters jump progressively further back in time in search of fabled Atlantis.

A dramatic meeting with Alexander the Great in 331 BCE led our temporal voyagers on a trail of clues back centuries to ‘The Forbidden Island’ of Aeaea in 700 BCE, uncovering the truth about legendary witch Circe before finally reaching 14,000 BCE and ‘The Doomed Continent’. Only on arrival do they see that the legendary pinnacle of early human achievement was actually a colony of stranded extraterrestrial refugees…

Rip Hunter appeared twice more in Showcase before winning his own series, and those succeeding months would see the Silver Age of superheroes kick into frantic High Gear with classic launches coming thick and fast.

Even so, the Time Masters continued slowly building their own faithful audience, happy to explore the traditionally fantastic. Nearly a year after the initial run they returned in Showcase #25 (March/April 1960 and spectacularly illustrated by Joe Kubert) as ‘Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer’ due to Rip’s old college professor requesting passage for a scholarly colleague to the kingdom of Ritanni a thousand years in the past.

Unfortunately, the studious Dr. Senn is a charlatan in search of mystic power and his machinations almost lead the time team to doom in ‘The Valley of the Monsters’ before Rip discovers the hoax and ends ‘The Sorcerer’s Siege’

Kubert stuck around to reveal ‘The Aliens from 2000 B.C.’ (Showcase #26, May/June 1960) as Rip and the gang voyage to ancient Egypt to verify recently unearthed pottery shards only to clash with extraterrestrial criminals planning on playing god with the natives. After a daring ‘Escape from the Doomed Village’, the lads link up with space cops to crush the baddies and their incredible pet monsters in time to win ‘The War of the Gods’

Ironically, time moved rather slowly for new titles in those days and Rip Hunter… Time Master only finally launched a year later, sporting a March/April 1961 cover-date.

With Ross Andru & Mike Esposito in the drawing seats, Miller hit the ground running: ‘The Thousand-year-Old Curse’ captivatingly traces an ancestral doom afflicting the Craig family which brings Rip firstly to New England in pioneer times before further backtracking to Switzerland in 1360 A.D. to uncover ‘The Secret of the Volcano Creature’. One final jaunt to feudal Europe is required to reveal the truth after a climactic clash with ‘The Wizard of the 10th Century’

Two months later, #2 began with a sightseeing trip to Greece spoiled when a giant monster escapes from a hidden cave. Ever-curious, Rip traces the evidence and takes the team back to meet ‘The Alien Beasts of 500 B.C.’, becoming embroiled in an undocumented civil war.

Deposed dictator Demades has gained control of cosmic animals originally captured by stranded alien Big-Game hunter Nytok, intending to use them to reassert his rule over Greece… until the Time Masters intervene and instigate ‘The Battle of the Alien Beasts’. That debacle almost leads to ‘Rip Hunter’s Last Stand’ but of course the ingenious future-man has a trick or two up his sleeve…

In #3, an old coin with Corky’s face on it draws the chrononauts to Scandinavia in 800 A.D. and into a royal power struggle for ‘The Throne of Doom’. As Corky is a doppelganger for incumbent young King Rollo, all manner of deadly confusions occur, especially once the future boy is targeted by wicked usurper Svend ‘The Duke with Creature Powers’. Luckily, modern know-how exposes the truth about the beasts under the villain’s control before ‘The Battle of the Warriors’ eventually sees Right and Justice restored…

Nick Cardy assumed art duties with #4 as a time-lost avian Vornian arrives in the modern world and the Temporal troubleshooters offer to return him to his home amongst ‘The Bird-Men of 2000 B.C.’ Of course, the adventurers are soon involved in a war between legendary King Hammurabi and Vornian rebels where ‘The Ancient Air Raid’ of the insurgents inevitably causes to a clash with ‘The Avenging God of Gilgamesh’… or does it?

In #5, ‘The Secret of the Saxon Traitor’ finds the team trying to rewrite established history and clear the name of a long-reviled traitor, but the books never mentioned invading spacemen or ‘The Creatures of Doom Valley’. At least the spectacular finale of ‘The Ancients vs. The Aliens’ proves that sometimes history gets it right all along…

The sensational Alex Toth then came aboard for two issues, beginning with ‘The Secret of the Ancient Seer’ in #5, as a convocation of contemporary scientists request that Rip investigate an 8th century Baghdad prophet who predicted Columbus’ discovery of America and, more worryingly, imminent doom from a fireball due to strike Earth in one week’s time. On arrival in Asia, the team discover the prophecy actually originates in ‘The Doomed City’ of Herculaneum, just before the eruption of Vesuvius…

With no solution in the past, Rip returns to the present and devises his own astounding solution to ‘The Menace of the Meteorite’

This astonishing yarn is followed in RHTM #7 by ‘The Lost Wanderers in Time’, with the futurist foursome embarking upon a desperate chase through unrecorded history. They are seeking a cure for a disease devastating South American Indians but their spasmodic quest eventually takes them back a million years to clash with ‘The Last Dinosaur’ before a remedy for ‘The Green Death’ is found in the least likely place…

With #8 veteran illustrator Bill Ely won the role of regular artist, limning almost every story until the series ended. His first venture was ‘The Thieves Who Stole a Genie’, wherein the explorers follow gangsters who had stolen their spare Time Sphere to secure Aladdin’s magic lamp. The trail leads to 14th century Baghdad where ‘The Battle of the Genies’ is only finally interrupted by an invasion. Of course, canny Rip has the perfect answer for ‘The Attack of the Ommayads’

When an archaeologist digs up a rocket-ship, he subsequently asks the team to travel back and track down ‘The Alien King of 1,000 B.C.’: a breathtaking romp which finds Corky and Rip almost expiring after ‘The Adventure on Planet Zark’, whilst Bonnie and Jeff remain Earthbound and down until a ‘One-Man Alien Army’ saves them and the ancient world from conquest and death.

In issue #10 ‘The Execution of Rip Hunter’ begins after a research trip to the 3rd century A.D. led to Bonnie’s abduction. Whilst Roman soldiers tackle the boys, a hypnotic spell transforms her into ‘Bonnie – Queen of Palmyra’ and controller of an impossibly powerful beast her abductors need to fend off Imperial invasion in ‘All Hail the Conquering Creature’

A classic science fiction gem surfaces in #11 where ‘The Secret of Mount Olympus’ is exposed when the team visit 2nd century B.C. Greece. After meeting a witch, Jeff is changed into a griffin and supreme god Zeus demands Rip perform a small task to save him; resulting in a ‘Dead End on Calypso Island’ before the true nature of the pantheon is revealed. ‘The Invasion of Mount Olympus’ results in the team’s escape and the gods’ Earthly departure…

Veteran Legion of Super-Heroes fans might recognise this tale as the basis for a major plot stream concerning the Durlan member Chameleon Boy

For #12, a threat to modern Earth is revealed after a burning meteor erupts from beneath Stonehenge. ‘The 2,200-Year-Old Doom’ first leads to the building of the monument before at long last our heroes travel into their own future to learn how the fallen star will destroy mankind.

Then, after popping back to when the meteor first hit and seeing the destruction of ‘The Impossible Beasts of One Million B.C.’ Rip finally devises ‘Earth’s Last Chance’ to save Today and all our Tomorrows…

In #13 ‘The Menace of the Mongol Magician’ sees Rip working with a renowned scientist on a magic Chinese tapestry, but their trip to the time of Kublai Khan is only a devious scam to warp history. Once there, the villainous “Professor” plans to supply the Khan’s enemies with modern weapons in return for magical secrets. However, after making off with ‘The Hijacked Time Sphere’ he is promptly betrayed by his ally. Luckily, Rip and Jeff have their own answer to ‘The Mongol Ambush’ and everything turns out as it should…

‘The Captive Time-Travellers’ in #14 results from Rip and a group of scientists examining an invulnerable artefact purported to have been devised by Leonardo Da Vinci. Further discussion with the great man himself reveals that the container holds the world’s most destructive explosive…

When one of the 20th century technicians swipes the bomb and a Time Sphere, ‘The Future Fugitive’ heads for 2550 A.D. to sell the weapon to a dictator, so Rip and Co. give chase only to become ‘The Prisoners of Time’.

…And that’s when the bomb’s actual builders turn up…

The cleverly captivating fantasy frolics conclude for now with issue #15 and ‘The Earthlings of 5,000,000 B.C.’ wherein a rampaging alien monster in modern-day America proves to be an Earthling of astonishingly ancient vintage.

When Rip and the gang search out the answer to the mystery, they find an entire unsuspected civilisation and become ‘The Experimental Creatures’ of that society’s scientists. Barely escaping the cosmic calamity of ‘The Day the Earth Died’, the Chronal Centurians return safely with the knowledge of what happened to the last tragic survivor’s species…

These stories from a uniquely variegated moment in funnybook history were the last vestiges of a different kind of comic tale and never really affected the greater push towards a cohesive, integrated DC Universe. They are, though, splendidly accessible and thoroughly enjoyable adventure tales which should be cherished by every frenzied fan and casual reader. If only some bold editorial soul at DC felt the same and sanctioned new archival editions of this long-lost saga…
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.