Friday, August 6, 2010

I Love Atlas Comics #8: "Almost Human!"

For this story I have to thank the Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog, which ran it in full here. "Almost Human!" is a tale by Angelo Torres which originally ran in Spellbound#32 (1957).

Return with me now to those halcyon Atlas days for a tale which teaches us that in evolution, stupid is relative.

Surrounded by bones and mastodons, Professor Anton Drew lecutres on Australopithecanthropus, who (I don't need to tell you!) is a distant relative of humanity which evolved along a different path. In fact, you might say Australopithecanthropus was almost...well, you get the idea. '...if only his people had listened to Jor-El!'

Professor Drew hasn't found any evidence of what became of the species. One eager young go-getter suggests "If these creatures were truly intelligent, it is possible that early man, wanting no competition from a parallel species, destroyed them!" He's right you know, we are good at that.

Drew found the Australopithecanthropus bones in South Africa so he heads back there with two assistants to find more specimens. South Africa, eh? Considering that this story is set in the 1950s back in the days of Apartheid and all the talk about one group being wiped out by another, similar group, I think we're in for a compelling metaphor about racial politics of the 1950s, cleverly and subversively disguised as a piece of fluffy fantasy. Wait for it. It's coming.

They quickly prepare to explore for bones ("Our best course is to explore the caves, for, like early man, these creatures were cave dwellers!"). Within the caves they find bones and crude weapons...but fail to notice sets of eyes in the darkness, watching them intently. With eyes that were...almost hu-- look, you've already gone there once. Dawn Man! He's the hero of the day!

And so, we have our first glimpse of the Australopithecanthropus, who is not as extinct as Professor Drew supposed: 'Put yer rod down, Mugsy.'

In fact, as you can see, they're still more intelligent than humans, having invented that nifty ray gun. And yet, physically they haven't evolved at all, nor have they invented clothing. Evolutionary dead-end, I guess?

One of the Australopithecanthropus thinks back over their history, how the humans were larger and stronger than they, ensuring that the less-intelligent humans would become dominant. The Australopithecanthropus have lived underground for many ages, continuing to perfect their technology. They even have one of those earth-boring tanks that most underground-dwelling people in fiction own.

The two Australopithecanthropus who spied on Professor Drew return to their king, who prepares to use their superior weaponry to destroy humanity. However, Professor Drew's crack team of anthropologists have begun using dynamite blasts in the caves, hoping to find more bones (or just blow stuff up). The dynamite reacts with the Australopithecanthropus' atomic plant (yes, atomic plant) and, predictably: Greenpeace simultaneously condemns humanity for eliminating rare species while condemning rare species for atomic pile.

Not only is Australopithecanthropus completely wiped out, the blast causes earthquakes all over the world. But Professor Drew and his two assistants are fine and Australopithecanthropus didn't destroy humanity, so I guess it's a happy ending?

Poor Australopithecanthropus. You wait thousands of years for revenge on those bullies who kicked sand in your ancestor's face, but ironically you're destroyed by your mortal enemies without them even realizing you're there. Which just goes to show that evolution doesn't favour the smartest, it favours the dumbest. Rejoice, humanity! Of all possible worlds, our is the stupidest!

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