Book Review: The Planetoid and Other Stories by Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando

After over 30 volumes in the long-running Fantagraphics EC Artists’ Library series, Joe Orlando’s sci-fi stories return to the spotlight in the latest release. While two previous volumes have been devoted to his EC work, this collection presents his first two dozen classic EC sci-fi comics in chronological order. All of the stories were originally published in Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Weird Science-Fantasy, and Shock SuspenStories between 1951-54, a crucial era for Orlando that saw him grow from a partner and mimic of Wally Wood to his own style.

All of the stories were written by EC mainstay Al Feldstein, which leads to a bit of repetitiveness in the themes and settings, but also creates a sense of cohesion in the overall package. Originally created to cater to young boys infatuated with the burgeoning space race and the wonders and perils it might bring, the cautionary tales are heavy on twist endings along the lines of “step on a bug, a bigger bug steps on you”.

The stories are consistently entertaining, but a few stick in long-term memory. The titular entry, “The Planetoid!”, describes the crew of an exploratory spaceship traveling to a planet where they encounter small bug-like creatures before the shocking reveal of the true identity of the creatures. “A Man’s Job!” hilariously warns of the horrors of women rising up to swap gender roles with men, including a female president. “Mass Meeting!” features a planetary extinction level event related to a presciently described matter transporter a decade before Star Trek popularized transporter pads.

The book features stunning reproductions of Orlando’s art, presenting his immaculate line work in super-precise black and white. All inked lines are clearly defined, with consistently high-contrast shading that prevents any muddiness. It’s fascinating to follow his progression from Wood clone to his own style, with the experience immensely enhanced by the top-notch reproduction and chronological presentation.

While Orlando’s stories are more than enough to fill the book, Fantagraphics also includes a bonus in the form of EC’s complete “flying saucer report” as originally presented in Weird Science-Fantasy #26. The 32-page issue is presented in its entirety, featuring work from various EC artists including Orlando and Wood, as well as vintage ads. It was promoted as a direct challenge to the US Air Force to level with the American public about reported alien craft sightings, with the artists dramatizing eyewitness accounts of civilian encounters.

Other bonus features include informative appreciations and essays, such as a heartfelt foreword by Paul Levitz and an exhaustive introduction by superfan Thommy Burns with descriptions and trivia about all of the stories. The bonus content helps tremendously in painting a portrait of the full man, not just his work, a fitting tribute to Orlando’s legendary comics career.

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Steve Geise

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