Strange Adventures #120

STRANGE ADVENTURES #120; September 1960; DC Comics; Julius Schwartz, editor. 
The cover-featured story is "Attack of the Oil Demons!",  and on the cover
(whose artist I can't quite identify), some oil field workers flee in panic as a
spurting gusher of "black gold" from one of their derricks turns into a
monstrous figure reaching out for one of them!

Review by Bill Henley (haven't done one in a while, thought I should get back
into it).

I'm also iffy about the artwork on the cover story.  It looks kind of like
Sid Greene pencils (and the story title lettering looks like his) but the inking
style doesn't look quite right for him.  Could it be Greene pencils inked by
somebody else-- the reverse of the usual combination?  Anyway, the splash page
shows the giant oil creatures rising out of a burning field and attacking
U.S. Air Force jets, as the caption tells us, "No one knows...what bizarre
creatures may live in the subterranean depths of our own world!"  Al Fallon is an
oilman in a Southwestern town who is laughed at and jeered by others because he
is drilling for oil in a forsaken, unpromising spot.  But, as he tells his
teenage son, he is unconcerned about the laughter because he is convinced he
shares the gift of his forebears, his great-grandfather who struck gold and his
grandfather who found sunken treasure; "Once in his life a Fallon gets a kind of
SIXTH SENSE about where to find riches!"  His confidence seems to be
justified as a derrick erupts with a gusher; but "Hey, I never saw oil like THAT
before!  It looks-- ALIVE!"  "Crazy as it sounds-- it IS alive!  Let's get out of
here!"  Not only does the oil take semi-human shape, but Fallon can hear its
half-formed thoughts; "Where are we?  What happened?"  As more oil-creatures
appear and start stalking the countryside, they show a thirst for regular oil. 
One creature flows into a tanker truck to gulp down the gasoline inside, while
another "infiltrates the metal pipe that pumps a million gallons of oil an
hour"...."Shut off the pumps!  That thing is drinking oil as fast as we push it
through the pipes!"  As the blobby oil beings move through a grassy field, they
set it on fire, and police with guns are of no use against them.  Oil barges,
storage drums and even the gas tanks of the Air Force jets fall victim to
their thirst.  A housewife flees in wide-eyed terror as one of the creatures
reaches into her home's oil-burner tank.  And yet, oddly, if human beings approach
them too closely, the creatures appear to be frightened or repelled.

Even blowing up a dam doesn't stop the oil creatures, as "oil and water don't
mix" and the creatures are swept along in the flood but not destroyed. 
Nonetheless, one man-- Al Fallon-- is determined to "do something about these
creatures!  It's my fault they're here!"  Moreover, he is convinced he briefly
heard the creatures' thoughts-- and that they are not hostile by nature.  Fallon
suspects the oil beings are repelled by the "smell of fear" emanating from
humans, but if he can banish fear, perhaps he can make contact with them.  
Putting on a fireproof suit, Fallon approaches the creatures begging them, "I am
your friend!  I want to help you!  Please don't move away!"  He explains he has
deduced that the creatures need oil to survive as surface beings need air.  Won
over, the creatures telepathically agree that this is their plight, that they
did not consciously mean harm and cannot help setting fires with the
chemicals they exhale.  Fallon offers to help return them to the underground strata
where their civilization exists, but they warn that a layer of limestone shale--
deadly to them as the Van Allen radiation belt in the sky is to humans-- is
in the way.  No problem, Fallon says; he can seal the beings up in protective
steel drums and then send them back down the oil wells, past the limestone
layer to safety.  And so it is done and the crisis is past.  But having caused a
near disaster by his unorthodox drilling methods, will Fallon give up the oil
bidness?  By no means, for his sense of where to drill for oil-- ordinary,
non-animated oil-- is stronger than ever.  "I've a feeling those oil beings did
something inside my head-- sharpening that SIXTH SENSE of mine to absolute
perfection!"  And as Fallon's next oil well produces a gusher, his young son
reflects, "My sixth sense tells me I'll find riches some day too-- on the planet

Following a bottom-of-the-page house ad for early issues of FLASH and GREEN
LANTERN, and a full page ad for BRAVE & BOLD featuring CAVE CARSON INSIDE EARTH
("Journey Into A Fantastic New World Beneath the Earth!"-- but watch out for
oil demons, presumably)-- the second story is "The Strangest Day on Earth!"
and the art is clearly by Mike Sekowsky, probably with Bernard Sachs inks.  The
splash page is dominated by an Air Force missile blasting into space as
someone in the ground crew warns, "If this missile fails to hit its target, the day
we are living in will be repated-- over and over again FOREVER!"  Air Force
Capt. Robert Chambers reminisces how, on March 16th of an unspecified year, he
was selected as "the first man to be sent out of Earth's gravity net into deep
space! "  In preparation for the flight, one of his duties is to put in up to
12 hour stretches in the "Gravity Vacuum Chamber" which simulates zero gravity
conditions.  (This space program seems to have neater equipment than the real
one around this time, as the real astronauts were limited to simulating zero
gravity for a few seconds at a time in the "Vomit Comet" plane, or using a
swimming pool.)  As he acclimates to the gravity chamber, our hero has to steel
himself against a lassitude, a "feeling of NOT CARING ABOUT ANYTHING" that
seems to result from the zero-G environment.  When he emerges from the chamber one
night at 3 am, the only person around is Otto, a night porter with a penchant
for cheesy jokes-- but Chambers is puzzled when Otto comes up with exactly
the *same* cheesy joke that he did the night before.  Then when he goes to an
all night eatery for coffee, the waitress makes the same comment she did
before-- and Chambers realizes that everything everyone has done or said since he
left the gravity chamber is a rerun.  Is it some strange illusion?  No, for when
he picks up a newspaper from the stand it is yesterday's paper, with the same
headlines as the day before!  Baffled, Chambers goes to seek advice from
"brilliant scientist and amateur astronomer Dr. Alan Pierce", who comes up with a
possible, though outre, explanation.  It seems that a small asteroid has
startied orbiting Earth, and it is a "pulsating asteroid" that expands to several
times its normal size each day at exactly 3 pm.  But what if the asteroid is
even more unusual than that?  "This asteroid has somehow affected the FLOW OF
TIME on Earth--! Earth may be caught in a TIME WARP-- the same day over and over
again!  And only YOU were able to discover it-- because for 12 hours you were

Rushing to Cape Canaveral, Pierce and Chambers manage to convince the
commander there that the only way to prevent the planet from being caught in an
eternal tape loop is to fire an unmanned missile at the asteroid before 3 pm when
the cycle will start again.  Either Pierce is very influential or the commander
is very gullible, for they agree at 2:15 pm to ready a missile for flight in
the 45 minutes remaining-- "the most important forty-five minutes in Earth's
history!"  Fortunately, the missile is fired without any glitches, at exactly
the right time to strike the asteroid and destroy it in an atomic explosion. 
Afterwards, Pierce, Chambers and the director have a "little confab" and
conclude, "There's no sense in trying to tell the people what happened..they'd never
believe us!"  (The director seems remarkably nonchalant about explaining why
he fired off a valuable missile and set off an A-bomb in the sky for no
particular reason.)  "And since the danger is past, why should we worry about the
TERRIBLE FATE that we narrowly escaped! *whew*  When I think of it...repeating
the SAME DAY over and over and over again-- !"  But Chambers is not entirely
reassured....he goes for another stint in the null-gravity chamber, and when he
emerges, he waits on tenterhooks to hear if Otto the janitor will come up with
the same dumb joke a third time in a row.  "Thank God!  A NEW joke!  That
means the TIME WARP is broken!"

The concept of the day repeating itself over and over again has become
familiar from the movie GROUNDHOG DAY  (and a lesser known but interesting TV-movie
12:01 AM") as well as episodes of various sci-fi and fantasy TV shows such as
STAR TREK TNG, XENA and BUFFY.  It may possibly have originated here, though
more likely Julie Schwartz and his writer cribbed it from some earlier SF or
fantasy story that I'm unaware of.

Next is the letter column, "Spotlight on Science", which at this stage
contains not comments on previous issues' stories, but answers to science questions
such as "How does a polar bear catch fish?" and "What causes the pages of a
book to decay?"  And then we have the Atomic Knights in only their second
appearance, a tale titled "Menace of the Water-Raider!", written by John Broome and
drawn by Murphy Anderson.  And if the title doesn't sound familar, it may be
because this is a semi-"lost" AK story.  The entire run of the Atomic Knights
series was reprinted in the late 60's/early 70's during the reprint run of
STRANGE ADVENTURES-- except for this one story.  As with a couple of Adam Strange
stories that didn't appear in that SA run, I don't know whther Schwartz
thought it was a substandard AK story for some reason, or if there was some other
reprinting problem.  Anyway, I don't believe the story has ever appeared again
(or likely will unless DC gets around to producing an ATOMIC KNIGHTS ARCHIVE). 

Anyway, on the splash page, the armor-clad Atomic Knight Gardner Grayle fires
the team's lone "deadly nuclear Ragun" at a crystalline creature-- with no
effect-- as the other Knights warn, "Back-- back, Gardner!  We can't fight it!" 
A caption brings new readers up to speed; "As narrated in the June 1960
STRANGE ADVENTURES, the Atomic War of 1986 left the Earth in ruins!  (Funny, I
don't remember that...was I that out of it that whole year?)  Of plant life, there
is none!  Of animal life, only a small number of HUMANS lingers on!  No food
is available except that found in cans that were cached earlier!  In this
critical time of Earth's history arises the ATOMIC KNIGHTS-- an organization
resolved to represent law and order-- to help right wrong and prevent evil!"  As
the process of rebuilding the ruined town of Durvale goes on, Gardner Grayle
makes a tentative overture toward co-worker and teammate Marene; "One of these
days, Marene, when things return to normal, there's something I'm going to ask
you--!"  But before he can go any further, another Knight, schoolteacher
Douglas Herald, interrupts them excitedly.  it seems that a floating kite was found
bearing a message-- a plea from "A Band of Humans" living in "the Valley of
the Salt Lake"  for help against an unspecified menace.  (Does this mean that
Durvale is in Utah, and that the Knights are probably Mormons?)  Donning their
working clothes of radiation-proof armor, the Knights agree that they should
check out the distress call, but not all of them; only three will go, while the
other three Knights stay to guard Durvale against any danger.  But how to get
there, since it's too far to walk (especially in armor)?  The team's resident
scientist, called Bryndam in this story (but Bryndon in other stories) has the
answer.  He has cobbled together an automobile from parts in a junkyard  "in
the old days the kids would have called it a hot-rod!"  But how to run it,
since Durvale has no gasoline supply?  Bryndam has an answer for that too; he has
created an attachment to plug the Knights' precious "Ragun" into the car and
run it by the weapon's atomic power.  Delighted with the new wheels, Grayle
decides that he, Bryndam and Hollis Hobard will go check out the Salt Lake scene
while Douglas, Marene and Wayne Hobard stay on guard in Durvale. 

Finding the former site of the Salt Lake, the Knights find it is now a dry
lake bed.  Indeed, the whole valley is parched; it's a good thing the Knights
have brought along a water supply in cans in their car.  But then a giant
crystalline semi-humanoid creature, with a round, segmented head and a body made of
salt, approaches.  It emits radiation too strong for the Knights' protective
armor to stand for long, and the Ragun is useless against it.  But the creature
is not after the Knights-- it is after the water the Knights have brought
along.  It sucks the water up from the cans, and as it absorbs the water it grows
even larger, before stalking off in search of another drink.  "If THAT'S the
menace threatening this valley-- Gardner, how can we deal with it?"  Then the
Knights spot another message-kite  and meet the people who sent it-- a band of
people who are dying of thirst because the creature that grew from the
radiation-blasted Salt Lake has stolen all their water.  They are too weak to reach
Durvale, and besides, the salt creature has to be destroyed before it can
become a menace to all surviving humans.  "Now I have an idea!", Gardner addresses
Bryndam.  "You're the scientist-- you tell me if it can work!"  Gardner
directs Bryndam to direct the Ragun's blast at the nearby rock formations, hoping
to release a stream of underground water.  this succeeds, and a gusher of water
provides succor gfor the thirsting valley people (though they have to be
given anti-radiation pills along with it).  For the next part of his plan, as the
water from the rock creates a small pond, Gardner orders the Knights to dump
"RED LIMESTONE ROCK-- full of CALCIUM CARBONATE" into it.  As expected, the
salt creature shows up to guzzle down the precious water.  But "the calcium
carbonate in that concentration ought to solidify in its body-- right, Bryndam?" 
"Theoretically-- yes, Gardner!  But you never know--"  For a moment, it seems
that the ploy is indeed unsuccessful, as the creature turns pinkish but
continues charging at the Knights and the townspeople.  But then the creature turns
solid red and freezes immobile.  "All the life has gone out of it!  Gardner,
we've done it!  We've turned the salt creature into a STONE STATUE!"  A few days
later, with the Knights gone back to Durvale, the revivified people get back
to work rebuilding their settlement.  But the red stone monster still looms
over them, for "We will always keep that statue as a reminder that we of this
valley owe our lives to the ATOMIC KNIGHTS!"