Sep 18, 2017

EC Comics' Judgment Day - Simultaneously Outdated and Still Relevant

If ever you're feeling bad about the racial dynamics of the world today, and if ever at the same time, you want to read some classic quality comics, take a trip back to 1953 and EC Comics' "Judgment Day." Originally published in Weird Fantasy #18 and written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, it is one of the most important comics stories that's ever been published

This seven-page futuristic story revolves around an Earthman named Tarlton landing on Cybrinia, the Planet of Mechanical Life, one of Earth's colonies. He's greeted by a bunch of orange robots, and is quickly shown how they are mass produced and made, from construction to sheathing to being placed in the "educator," where their mechanical brains are endowed with all knowledge available to society.

All is well and good until Tarlton realizes that the orange robots and the blue robots are treated differently.

He asks to be shown where the blue robots are made, and he makes a point.

At the end of the story, he takes his helmet off.

That's it. That's the twist ending. In an era in a company known for ironic twist endings, "Judgment Day" ends with the revelation that the main character is black. It's impossible to feel the full impact of it now, but in 1953, this was huge.  It's almost definite that anyone reading it defaulted to Tarlton being a white guy. In an era where Ebony White was seen by some as an advancement for portrayals of black people, Tarlton is important.

So we've got a long way to go, but I think the fact that this particular twist ending wouldn't have the same impact today shows we've come quite a way. The arguments are different now. The institutional racism that Tarlton talks about in this story still exists, but now we know that when a minority holds any positon of power, it shouldn't come as such a surprise.

To aspiring creators, I hope this also exemplifies how you can use science fiction to talk about contemporary issues.

Here's the story in full. Click to enlarge and read this story that would undoubtedly be called SJW propaganda if it came out today.


Brian Sammond said...

I just found this after learning that this story might have been the inspiration for the episode "Far Beyond the Stars" of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, where Sisko has a dream (or vision) or being a black science fiction writer in the 1950s, and he writes a story with a black protagonist, only to have it rejected. There's more to it than that, but I'm interested in reading this story more closely for its historical value and for the connections. Thanks for putting this up.

Robert Doe said...

I read tis in 1957 as a 10 year old and it was the first time I really thought about race. My cousin and I collected war comix by artist Russ Heath, long before Playboy hired him. We went to a used bookstore on 43rd and Eight Ave. Yeah kids could safely go to a Times Sq Bookstore in those days. The owner suggested we take this comic and didnt charge us. I can't say it had a progound effect, I was 10. But it made me think and still does.

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