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CSBG Archive

I Love Ya But You’re Strange – Women In Charge? Talk About a Mystery in Space!

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

Today, based on a suggestion from my pal Kristen, we take a look at a bizarre little tale from over 60 years ago in Mystery in Space #8 by John Broome, Bob Oksner and Bernard Sachs, where we see a world where women are in charge and a brave man willing to try to change that! The ending of this tale needs to be seen to be believed!

The set-up for this story, titled “It’s a Woman’s World!” is simple, women are the dominant gender on Earth and society is essentially a mirror image of 1952 society, only with women in the traditional male role…

Young Greg Dexter, though, rises up against the inequality of the sexes and finds a loophole that means he must be allowed to try out for rocket cadet school….

You have to love the fact that in a female-dominated world, the choice of uniform for rocket pilots is fishnets.

Dexter is too good to be left off of of the dangerous mission (which includes being subjected to electrical shocks to make you immune to them). However, the captain of the mission makes sure that Greg is not actually heavily involved in the mission…

Greg shows off his skills…

Okay, now here’s the thing. You end here and you have a somewhat goofy but still endearing tale about gender equality, right? Greg was treated like he was useless but he proved he wasn’t and then society realized that hey, maybe men and women could rule together. The thought had to at least CROSS Broome’s mind that that would be a proper ending, right?

Broome, however, chose to end the story in a WHOLE other direction….

Words fail me.

I am sure that you all will have words to describe that ending, though, so be sure to share! And if you have a suggestion for a future strange story to spotlight, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com

(By the way, the above story was later reprinted in 1971 in From Beyond the Unknown #11. It was received quite poorly by 1971 readers).

61 Comments

Wait… a blonde guy associated with the name “Thawn” in the 30th century? Are we sure this isn’t the secret origin of Professor Zoom’s parents? Incidentally, Eobard Thawne was created by… John Broome. Either there’s a retcon waiting to happen or “Thawn/Thawne” was Broome’s version of how Stan Lee kept using “Trask” for characters.

Didn’t an early Broome-penned Green Lantern story have a caption something on the lines of explaining that while Carol Ferris was running an aircraft company, her primary role is to be Hal Jordan’s love interest so her position should not be construed as an actual sign of authority or some such nonsense?

Even if I’m mistaken, this story alone makes me curious what Mrs. Broome thought of this…

I don’t believe there was any such caption–growing up reading Silver Age GL it was quite obvious she was in charge (I was flabbergasted to learn from later reprints that the actual owner was her dad).
I give Broome credit for actually depicting a world where women could run things, be astronaut pilots etc. because the possibility they could or would want to was pretty far out for the time. But no, that’s no excuse for the ending.

I was hoping to see Greg wandering through the woods yelling, “STELLA…STELLA!!!”,
especially since Streetcar Named Desire had come out the previous year….but no such luck.

Rollo Tomassi

March 4, 2013 at 7:36 am

“I’m the only man – among hundreds of girls!” …and then the BowChickaBow music kicked in.

Leave no (wo)man behind…unless they’ve sprained their ankle!

I think I’ll use this story the next time I want an example of how society has actually changed from its previous patriarchical assumptions. I simply cannot imagine that ending being used today without the author getting drummed out of polite society.

The whole thing blows my mind. The idea that in some crazy mixed up future world women dominate the men boggles my brain as much as the lunatic ending.

in the words of Rodney King “can’t we all just get along?”

omg the roles are reversed where society had men only being allowed to keep house and such other things woman had to do in the fifties and then after the guy manages to change those views he tells his new wife she will do nothing but house work and she agrees. wonder if maybe the writers of this story were smoking something to end the story this sexist way

Probably no connection, but…

_Starship Troopers_ was published in 1959. In that book, women were the preferred pilots, revealed when the main character asks about taking pilot training.

Does anyone know if Heinlein read comics? :-)

You have to understand that this was a different time, when white men ruled more than 80% of the country.

Somehow, both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time…

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

March 4, 2013 at 9:13 am

To be fair, it’s not like this is all that much more sexist than, for example, Fables.

“Broome, however, chose to end the story in a WHOLE other direction….”

Or perhaps Broome wrote in his script exactly the ending you describe as more logical…only for it to be changed in the office by Whitney Ellsworth or Julie Schwartz or Jack Schiff. One of my pet peeves when it comes to writing about historical comics is the fallacy that what appears on the printed page is exactly what the credited authors intended. CSBG has amply documented many times where writers and artists meant one thing but editors imposed something else, whether due to their own tastes or prejudices or fears that something wouldn’t be acceptable to the reading public. We all know this happens, yet if it’s John Broome or Gardner Fox we don’t stop and think maybe it happened to them too?

I don’t know for sure that editorial tampering did take place in this case, but it looks at least possible based on the tacked-on nature of the about face at the end. We owe Broome the benefit of the doubt here.

Honestly, it’s all kind of sexist. At first read, I thought this story was saying women always ran everything. Then I realized it was actually saying something different, that men used to run society, but the election of a single woman president changed everything for the worse for men. The message being that if you let women get a hint of power, they will take over totally, so don’t ever let women gain any ground or it’s the beginning of the end. So the last two panels just make the implicit sexist premise that runs throughout the story just more explicit. But the message of those two panels is in the background of the story all along.

I don’t believe there was any such caption–growing up reading Silver Age GL it was quite obvious she was in charge (I was flabbergasted to learn from later reprints that the actual owner was her dad).

Here’s the caption in question, fraser, just as The Eye recalled it…

But yes, as noted earlier by Richard, it is fair to consider that perhaps Julie Schwartz was the really sexist one, as you see here it is Schwartz’s editorial box and not Broome’s captions that are taking Carol down a peg.

I am schooled and concede my error.
Of course, having the independent woman end up in a securely domestic role is hardly unique to this story. The Fred MacMurray movie “Kisses for my President,” for instance, has MacMurray as the First Husband to the first female president, but she quits after becoming pregnant so everything is restored to “normal” Not that that excuses “It’s a Woman’s World.”

I remember that movie. IIRC She resigned following her doctor’s advice, due to complications with the pregnancy.

Of course, MacMurray delivered the line that it took so many million women to put her in office, but only one man to remove her.

*Reading to the end*
Ah..that was a nice silly story….
*gets to the last two panels*
What the?! Grrrrrrrr.

I’m just confused about how Captain Stella got demoted to Cadet Stella. Though that would likely explain why she gave up her career.

Steven Caplan

March 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

If you think this is bad, really the early Legion stories featuring Supergirl. Whenever anything dangerous is occurring, the male Legionaries not only treat the female ones poorly, they are even derogatory to the super-strong, invulnerable Supergirl.

I read an interview of Mrs Broome last year ( she still lives in france with her daughter), i need to re-read it after that article ..but what i remember from Mrs Broome or from her daughter in that interview, are far from describing John Broome as someone who could write that kind of ending , or that note in the flash’s issue..

Sean– I think Stella was always a cadet; she just happened to hold the title of ‘Captain’ because she was in charge of the mission.

I’m trying to figure out how they can all breathe in that poisonous methane atmosphere. And if there’s enough oxygen mixed in with the methane to support a fire, then why doesn’t the whole planet go up in flames?

[…] And then there’s this bit of WTF from 1952, which will henceforth be my example of how far society has come with regard to issues of gender equality, patriarchy, and the like. I give to you Mystery in Space! […]

In terms of the editorial boxes, once on an Avengers listserv, Tom Brevoort mentioned that editorial bxes are normally written by the writer and not the editor; mind you that was in the 1990s/early 2000s and at Marvel; thinks might have been different back then at DC.

“It’s a Woman’s World!” was also reprinted in the 1980 Mysteries in Space trade. Unfortunately I bought it in the early 1990s, didn’t really like it enough to keep and sold it… only for it to suddenly become an expensive collector’s item once Overstreet started tracking the Fireside books.

The early issues of Green Lantern have a very strong subtext of emasculation, focusing over and over on Hal’s feelings of inadequacy at having a female boss who keeps turning down his advances. Think back to the original imagery: Hal is not flying a plane but a simulator, bolted to the ground with the nose cone lopped off (emasculation on top of emasculation!), but then, like magic, he gets to fly after all, as the simulator lifts up and gets transported over to Abin Sur’s crash. So now he can fly after all with the ring, but that only emasculates him all the more, because his boss gets a crush on him only when he’s in costume, so now he envies himself. The whole thing is presented as far more pointedly perverse than the Clark-Lois-Supes triangle. Methinks Broome had certain hang-ups about strong women…

The gender politics of Silver Age DC comics (in general) and John Broome written comics (in particular) are always a trip. He had clearly thought a great deal about gender. He was ahead of his time in certain ways. However, he found the idea of a woman in a position of authority totally threatening.

I mean, the Hal Jordan/Carol Ferris relationship is a mess. Her father gives her control of his company under the condition that she dump her flyboy boyfriend, which she immediately does. Hal Jordan responds to the rejection by (essentially) sexually harassing her.

It is the sort of thing that (despite our increased candor) that you would never see addressed as directly today.

Dean, Carl Ferris didn’t say anything about Carol breaking up with Hal when he gave her the company. She tells Hal it’s because to prove herself she has to devote herself to business full-time.

Despite the later Jean Loring Is INSANE developments, I’d say she and Ray had the healthiest Silver Age relationship–very warm and affectionate, despite her interest in getting their careers launched before they got engaged.

I like the ending, it is a melancholically ironic commentary on human condition and how quickly oppressed turns into oppressor given the opportunity and how difficult true sympathy and learning from experiences are. That’s actually high literature there.

Yeah, I’m quite sure Broome did not intend it that way, but I can still appreciate the result.

Despite the later Jean Loring Is INSANE developments, I’d say she and Ray had the healthiest Silver Age relationship–very warm and affectionate, despite her interest in getting their careers launched before they got engaged.

Of course they were healthier than Hal/Carol and Barry/Iris. They weren’t written by John Broome. ;)

Interesting trivia: The novel Girls From Planet Five (excerpts here: http://crookedtimber.org/2009/04/20/the-girls-from-planet-5/) apparently also used a female president as the spur to women taking over. It’s from 1955 (I wonder if the author read STRANGE ADVENTURES) and from the excerpt turns the misogyny up a notch.

AS–

I had the same thought after thinking about the story for awhile: that the ending might be a commentary on the cycle of human stupidity, not on the “correct” order of the sexes. There was an Incredible Hulk Annual back in the 80s where the Hulk goes to a planet where all the red people oppress the green people. The Hulk shows up, liberates the greens, and then hopes they’ll be equal. As he’s flying away, he looks back and sees that the greens are now oppressing the reds. Irony!

I’m reminded of Charles Beaumont’s 1955 short story “The Crooked Man,” about an oppressed closeted heterosexual in a gay-dominated society. While I’m pretty sure that Beaumont intended it as a comment on homophobia by putting the shoe on the other foot to say “See, this is what it’s like for gays in OUR society,” I can also see how it could be interpreted as a paranoid fantasy of “This is what it’ll be like if the gays take over.”

THIS story, on the other hand, has no such ambiguity, thanks to those last panels…

Erich I was going to mention that one myself. I had the same reaction to it but I know for a fact some people had the “Look! This is the gay agenda!” reaction.

Referring to the lone male as a ‘man’ and not a ‘boy’, but consistently referring to the females as ‘girls’ was by far the most aggravating part of the story. Consistency is important.

That author is obviously not politically correct enough for our standards. Let’s organize, start a boycott, and see if we can get him thrown out the industry. Perhaps fined and jailed if at all possible. Sure he wrote it 50 years ago, but that’s no reason to go easy on him. Intolerance to the intolerant, that’s our motto.

Kenn, there’s no inconsistency by the standards of the day. Even adult women were routinely “girls” in conversation, fiction, etc.

I read the story when it was reprinted in the 70s. It was billed on the cover as (wait for it…) “A women’s lib story from the future!”
Proof that things hadn’t improved significantly over the previous two decades. Clearly the editors at DC had no understanding of “women’s lib” or that this story UTTERLY refuted it.

The basic setup of the society as a matriarchy that oppresses men is clearly swiped from the 1951 sci-fi classic, Venus Is A Man’s World. The story has a somewhat similar ending, with the woman agreeing to marry the dominating man, although there is no indication that the rest of society is changed as a result.

BTW, I have pointed out several times that DC was miles ahead of Marvel in their portrayal of women in the early 1960s. All the DC love interests of the Silver Age were in non-traditional female occupations–Carol Ferris as a plant manager, Jean Loring as an attorney, Iris West as a reporter, and Shayera Hall as a policewoman/museum curator. Compare that to Pepper Potts (secretary), Betty Brant (ditto), Linda Page (yep) and Jane Foster (nurse). So I would certainly give them a pass on the mention that Carol is mainly his romantic interest. I suspect that whoever wrote that note meant it as a comment on who she was on the meta-level of what her function was in the series from the writer’s and editor’s standpoint.

Thank you Brian. I haven’t seen anything this funny is a long time.

Seconding what Pat said.

In fact, it goes even further back in DC’s history. The significance of Lois Lane’s debut in Action Comics #1 has been obscured by cultural shifts and some of the unspoken implications may be lost on modern readers, but in that very first story Lois expresses frustration at being relegated to “sob stories” — i.e., the stories of tragedy and pathos that pioneering female reporters were restricted to covering — and is clearly shown as a dedicated reporter first, not a gal just filling in time until she finds a husband. (Did anyone ever feel Jane Foster was equally dedicated to nursing? Did Sue Storm ever have a career or interests beyond Reed in the Silver Age?)

About damn time! Someone had to put those women libber feminazis in their place! Thinking they should have the right to vote and get equal pay! Next thing you know, they’ll be wearing pants and driving autocars!
Also, get off my lawn, you damn punk kids!

Thirding Pat. I know nursing is a skilled occupation but nurses were presented in fiction in the sixties as pretty girls who take your temperature and apply bandages, which pretty much fits Jane (plus, of course, polishing Thor’s hammer).

I haven’t seen anybody point out the blatant error in this story even though it’s right at the top of the story.

This guy in blouse and hot pants who is apparently cleaning the Space Armchair with the Laser Vacuum Cleaner near the Star Curtains wants to know why he can’t be a rocket cadet like mommy.
She tells him, “Because you’re a MAN!”

I don’t *think* so, mom…..

All the female characters in Stan Lee’s 1960s Marvel stories were hyper-feminine in a very traditional way. Stan Lee broke new ground in superhero comics in many ways, but not in that.

The only exception was Sif, but that was Jack Kirby.

By the way, stories like this one are always problematic, even if we removed the last two panels. Instead of offering a novel viewpoint to issues of sexism, racism, or homophobia, they end up partaking of bigotry, in precisely the way T. has said.

Bigots almost always have a “zero sum game” viewpoint, as if rights and status were a limited resource in exact the same way as water and food. If you work for women’s rights, you’re automatically working against men’s rights, as every single thing that empowers women will result in proportional weakening of men. If you allow gays to marry, pretty soon straight people will not be able to marry, etc.

Bigots think everyone is as small-minded as themselves. So do to them first, before they do it to me.

Stories that swap gender or race roles in this way just confirm this zero sum game viewpoint.

[…] Via: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com […]

[…] Via: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com […]

Rene posted

“All the female characters in Stan Lee’s 1960s Marvel stories were hyper-feminine in a very traditional way. Stan Lee broke new ground in superhero comics in many ways, but not in that.

The only exception was Sif, but that was Jack Kirby.”

Not really sure how Sif “broke new ground” from what I remember reading of her earliest appearances. I mean, sure she carried a sword and fought bad guys but she WAS a goddess, after all. At the same time, she did have her moments when she NEEDED a man (usually Thor) step in and help her out. I think Medusa was the first Marvel female who wasn’t really “hyper-feminine” in that “traditional way.” (Granted, she was created to deal with Sue Storm, so there is that little bit of that traditionalist “it takes a female to beat up a female without it looking like bullying” viewpoint. But it was the better part of a year before we learned the truth about Medusa and a bit more of the “traditional hyper-feminine” side emerged.)

Rene, while that’s a fair point, I think there’s also merit to presenting situations like this as satire–see, this is what gender discrimination feels like guys! The ending could, after all, just as easily have shown men achieving parity instead of getting back into the driving seat.
Regarding the truth about Medusa, I wonder if that doesn’t qualify as an abandoned-and-forsaken of sorts. She first shows up with no origin, working with the Frightful Four, cheerfully willing to take out the FF. Then when Stan and Jack introduce the Inhumans, Reed & Co. seem to forget all that–none of them suspects the Inhumans for being allied to Medusa, or wonders if she’s plotting against the team. And then the concept for the Inhumans seem to shift from issue to issue before it set (the first couple of stories made them seem more like refugees from Genosha than royalty).

Is it stranger that the academy uniform is fishnets or that the male cadet is not required to water them?

Fraser- the weird part is that it took over a decade and a half before we finally got the “Medusa had amnesia as a result of one of Maximus’s schemes” explanation for why she was with the Frightful Four.

[…] Via: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com […]

[…] Via: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com […]

[…] the whole thing out. It’s pretty […]

Mike McAllister

March 19, 2013 at 1:54 am

EC Comics’ featured a counterpart to this story . “Weird Fantasy” # 12 ( March — April 1952 ) featured a story about a woman who was elected president of the United States . The Supreme Court tried to inavalidate her presidency, but they had to decide that it was legitimate . Women soon replaced men in the government and the Supreme Court . The women in this story all went out to work, and their husbands stayed home . The United States became a female — dominated society was priceless . The role reversal in American society was amusing . This was a fun story, in spite of it being sexist . It was reprinted in “Weird Fantasy” # 12 ( July 1995 ) from Gemstone . Brian might like to find this one and spotlight it .

@Lyle—When you say men were ruling 80% of the country in “a different time,” do you mean this year? Now that men are, uh, only 80% of U.S. Senators?

The last two panels kind of made me throw up a little.

I remember reading this story in a Mystery In Space collection of comics that was published in the early 80’s… It impacted me in a major way …The female cadets in hot pants and fishnet stockings mainly… But even then i knew it was an incredibly sexist story..and stupid since the electric charge training sounded like a bad idea.

Anyone but me more disappointed by the routine demagoguery than by the routine-albeit-inverted sexism? War rockets conquering the galaxy? Huh. So, male or female, humans are gonna be dicks regardless, and solve their problems the way we solved that unpleasant Korea situation contemporaneous with the publication date?

And has ANYONE ANYWHERE EVER looked more like Zapp Brannigan that in that next-to-the-last panel?

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