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The Influence of Robert Heinlein on the Modern-Day Superhero Comic Book

By Darren Madigan

AKA "John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL"/Doc Nebula/et al

Original novels, short stories, articles, and cartoons, on various weird and geeked out subjects, by the author of this article can be found at www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula

Email the author at docnebula01@juno.com or martianmanhunter2@juno.com

Or just sit there and read the following:

* * * * Prologue* * * * * * * * *

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the end of this article:

As you’ll see, I originally started writing this article simply as a kind of joke… an inside joke few would get, I grant you… a simple exercise under the premises of which I could have some fun writing about the works of perhaps my favorite science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, and in so doing, toss off a few outrageous opinions to thoroughly infuriate most other Heinlein fans – always a good way to pass a few idle hours.

I did not, in any way, remotely expect to come up with anything to really substantiate the subtitle above, The Influence of Robert Heinlein on the Modern-Day Superhero Comic Book.. As the original introduction to this article will make clear shortly, I thought the idea that Robert Heinlein had had any influence at all on modern superhero comics was a wonderfully absurd and laughably ludicrous one. I mean, I’m a huge fan of Heinlein’s fiction, and a seriously deranged superhero comic book geek, and just off the top of my head, I couldn’t think of a single way in which Heinlein’s writing could feasibly or even possibly have influenced the superhero comics subgenre

Well… we live and learn...

* * * * End of Prologue * * * * *

I was messing around on the Internet one day when I came across the following at Mark Evanier’s website, www.POVonline.com, in an article to be found at http://povonline.com/cols/COL358.htm, in which Mr. Evanier is discussing the absolute worst discussion panels he has ever participated in at a comic book convention:

"The moderator of the panel was the guy who'd organized the convention and he announced, much to my surprise, that the topic was, "The Influence of Robert Heinlein on the Modern-Day Superhero Comic Book." Then he asked me for my thoughts on the matter.

I replied, "I'm sorry, but I've never read a single thing that Mr. Heinlein has written so I have nothing to say about this."

Only slightly bemused, the moderator asked the rest of the panel for their views. Turned out that none of them had read any Heinlein and one even thought he was the guy who played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies."

Mark Evanier, "Bad Panels", POV, 9/7/01

I was intrigued and astonished by Evanier’s words here, for several reasons. First, and foremost to this article, I’m a huge Heinlein fan, and a 41 year old superhero comic book fan, and in 1985 (the time Evanier identifies this panel took place), I was around 23 years old (ah, those were the days) and reading a LOT of superhero comic books. Claremont was still on X-Men, Byrne was writing and drawing Fantastic Four, Miller had taken over the scripting as well as the pencilling on Daredevil. Wolfman and Perez put the final nail in the coffin of DC’s Silver Age with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Moore and Totleben were on Swamp Thing. Watchmen and Dark Knight didn’t exist yet. Englehart and Staton were doing the best Green Lantern stories there would ever be. Moore and Davis’ Marvelman changed his name and moved to America. Marvel’s New Universe was alive and kicking. Grim n’ gritty was in, but it would get inner.

Everybody rock n’ roll the place, >duhm DUHM<.

(That’s meant to simulate the two guitar chords at the end of that particular lyric snatch in the Eddie Money song. I know, it doesn’t work very well. Trying to get the sounds in my head to translate into two dimensional words is a bitch at best sometimes.)

So I suspect I’m one of the very few people in the world who could actually comment cogently on the topic of that panel, "The Influence of Robert Heinlein on the Modern-Day Superhero Comic Book.", since I’ve read every word still in print that has ever been written by RAH, and, I was deeply entrenched in superhero comics buying and reading back in 1985.

And of all the people who could write that article, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has enough free time on my hands, and is, you know, deranged enough, to actually do it.

The second reason I was bemused by Mr. Evanier’s anecdote was that I was simply dumbfounded that at a superhero comic book convention circa 1985, it was possible to find four superhero comics fans at random who had never read anything of Robert A. Heinlein’s.

Frankly, that still weirds me out.

You see, I am not, as I sit here typing, aware of even the remotest influence Robert A. Heinlein has ever had on superhero comic books. Henry Kuttner, writer of Mutant, and Wilmar H. Shiras, author of Children of the Atom, were obviously hugely influential on modern day superhero comic books circa 1985. Kurosawa was certainly influential on superhero comic books of that particular time period, thanks to Frank Miller. I have no doubt many many others who worked outside the comic book field were, nonetheless, very influential on the development of the comic book field as it existed in 1985. But… Heinlein? Please.

I’ve got myself a list (ripped it out of the front of my paperback copy of To Sail Beyond The Sunset, actually; I don’t think it’s a desecration, since I hate that particular book) of Heinlein’s volumes and I’m going to go down them, one by one, looking for any place, any where at all, in any of those books, that anyone working in superhero comic books in 1985 might have been influenced by the work of Robert A. Heinlein.

Oh, I know, Chris Claremont claims Heinlein was a huge influence on him, and honestly, if he’d done it in the Old South I’d have advised RAH to call the fat bastard out and shoot him for it, too. And yes, I’m aware that the plot of the Claremont/Byrne Starlord is supposedly very influenced by various Heinlein juveniles, quite specifically, Citizen of the Galaxy. But in the first place, Starlord isn’t a superhero, and in the second place, I’m not sure I’d count simply filing the serial numbers off a lot of cliché SF galactic empire plots and tossing them into a comic book as ‘being influenced by’, and, for God’s sake, the plot elements Claremont claims were ‘Heinlein influenced’ could actually have been lifted whole from any of a thousand SF or fantasy stories… the ‘good Lord, Starlord is actually heir to the Empire’ surprise ending could much more closely be attributed to C.S. Lewis’ A Horse And His Boy than anything by RAH.

Anyway, the Claremont/Byrne Starlord was a one shot, so I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as ‘modern day superhero comics’.

Despite the fact that I don’t think Heinlein has now or had then any influence on superhero comic books, however, I’m still rather surprised that four superhero comics fans chosen at random in 1985 were all utterly ignorant of Heinlein’s work… so much so that, in fact, as Evanier relates, one of them confused him with Robert Englund.

Because, while Heinlein’s work has always been very, very different from the sort of thing normally done in superhero comics… as fanatical Heinlein fan Bill Patterson has snottily noted to me, Heinlein was never very interested in the kind of comic book stories I enjoy… still, it’s always appealed to exactly the same audience that mostly enjoys superhero comic books: adolescent males.

Any fanatical Heinlein fan who reads this will take umbrage at that statement. Heinlein’s appeal, they will insist, is far broader than that of Spider-Man or Wolverine. Men and women of all ages read Heinlein and enjoy his work. And that’s true, but irrelevant. Males and females of all ages read X-Men and Justice League, males and females of all ages watch and enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin offs and tie-ins. Doesn’t matter. The pulsating heart of Heinlein fandom has always been adolescent males, just as it has always been primarily adolescent males who drive superhero comics sales. Heinlein’s writing and the stories told in superhero comics are very very different in nature and essence, but still, they appeal to the same basic audience.

Superhero comics are, essentially, adolescent power fantasies. They appeal to adolescent males because adolescent males feel frustrated and ineffectual, ignored and alienated. Adolescent males are also pulsing and throbbing with testosterone, and because of that, they like the vicarious, violent outlet that reading a really really good fight scene gives them… and superhero comics, at least, those of 1985, were nothing without their fight scenes. Women, lacking that testosterone thing, tend to find the violence of superhero comics rather boring and in fact quite stupid, so women are not drawn in large numbers to the sub-genre, and where they do read superhero comics at all, they tend to read the soap opera-esque ones… the team books, which by no coincidence, usually have several superpowered female characters enmeshed in romantic, angst-driven relationships… which is what women tend to enjoy in their fiction.

Heinlein does not, for the most part, write adolescent power fantasies. He tends to write coming of age stories, or stories in which an adult protagonist, by resolving some interesting difficulty in an interesting way, goes through a watershed moment in his or her life and emerges from one definite life-phase into the next. Heinlein’s books seem very much to be about self-actualization, about coming into one’s own, about maturing, and about whipping an intransigent environment into line. In fact, going down his list of published volumes:

Assignment in Eternity

Between Planets

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

Citizen of the Galaxy

The Door Into Summer

Double Star

Expanded Universe

Farmer In The Sky

Farnham’s Freehold


Glory Road

Have Space Suit – Will Travel

I Will Fear No Evil

Job: A Comedy of Justice

The Menace From Earth

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Number of the Beast

Orphans of the Sky

The Past Through Tomorrow

(containing many short stories and the novels "If This Goes On – " and Methusalah’s Children)

Podkayne of Mars

The Puppet Masters

Red Planet

Rocket Ship Galileo

The Rolling Stones

Sixth Column (plotted by John W. Campbell)

Space Cadet

The Star Beast

Starman Jones

Starship Troopers

Stranger in a Strange Land

Time Enough For Love

Time For The Stars

To Sail Beyond The Sunset

Tunnel In The Sky

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag

Waldo & Magic Inc.

I can’t find a single one of them that isn’t, in some way, a coming of age story, or at least, a story about a hero moving through an important transition, usually by violently confronting and resolving some interesting difficulty or series of difficulties, from one phase in his or her life to another.

The ‘coming of age’ story comprises, essentially, half the ‘serious’, morally conscious, dramatic stories that are ever told. The other half are all ‘tales of redemption’. These two particularly broad descriptors fit pretty much all your favorite books and all your favorite movies, at least, they do if the books and movies are serious (i.e., not comedies, which have their own rules) and are written within moral constraints (good is rewarded, evil is punished). Try it and see for yourself. The Terminator is very much a coming of age story; Sarah Connor matures discernibly from the start of the movie to the end of it, accepting the full weight and consequences of her adult responsibilities in the final scene. It’s A Wonderful Life is certainly a coming of age story; it takes George Bailey a long time to realize that his life hasn’t been a complete waste due to all the things he wanted and never got, but he gets there, a transformation underscored by Clarence the Angel’s simultaneous promotion. Unforgiven and Reservoir Dogs are both rather twisted tales of redemption; Clint Eastwood’s aged gunslinger learns you can’t really put your true nature behind you, and by embracing it one more time, he assures a prosperous future for his children, while Tim Roth’s undercover cop must pay the ultimate price for betraying his thug buddies.

Heinlein’s novels can be broken down into three categories, roughly. A woman I once knew very briefly insisted on dividing Heinlein's work up even more simplistically... into 'the bad stuff' and 'the other stuff'. While there's a certain charm to her approach, I think it does lack nuance. It's more accurate to actually divide Heinlein's work up in to three categories... the stuff he wrote for the pulps, both novels and short stories (this would include most of his short stories and pretty much all his earlier novels not written specifically for Scribners as juveniles), his 'juveniles' (written specifically for Scribners & Sons, to appeal to the adolescent male marketplace) and his, well, non-juveniles (which is pretty much everything he wrote after Starship Troopers, at which point he began writing pretty much exclusively novel length works aimed at the broader SF market outside the 'juvenile' niche.

This is useful because a lot of Heinlein's best novels were written early in his career, and were meant for 'publication', if you want to use that word, in serial form in the pulp magazines. Since these stories aren't written specifically for the boy's market, Heinlein didn't feel obligated to avoid all mention of more adult themes like sex, unconventional social structures (like the oddly patterned 'marriage licenses' described briefly in Puppet Masters) or lethal violence. Yet at the same time, a pulp audience simply wasn't going to hold still for a long story that contained nothing but social philosophy, so Heinlein had to keep the plot moving and put a lot of action into those stories (Beyond This Horizon, Heinlein's one early novel that is little more than a philosophical tract, has a pointless revolution thrown into the middle of the plot simply to generate an exciting confrontation).

To an extent, I'd argue that this balance, or the demands of this particular audience, led Heinlein to produce some of his best work. A pulp audience, of course, was one widely ranging in age, and the fact that a lot of kids would be reading Amazing and Astounding every month obviously kept Heinlein from loading his stories down with what he would have considered explicit sexual material (which would, I suppose, if filmed, get a strong R, but doesn't seem even that strong in text to a modern reader, other than in the taboos Heinlein deliberately transcends in some of his later novels, specifically, incest and homosexuality). At the same time, the fact that the pulps also were read by a lot of adults, and Campbell wasn't as blue nosed or restrictive as a juvenile editor would have been, let Heinlein explore more mature themes than he was allowed to, or would allow himself to, in the stuff for Scribner's. He found a nice middle ground, I think, and the novels he wrote in this time period are probably his most consistently entertaining and accessible for SF audiences of any age.

The juveniles, of course, a real SF fan can read at any age and enjoy, and a few of them (Citizen of the Galaxy, Starman Jones, and The Star Beast) are quite sophisticated... hmm... well, actually, giving it some thought, Tunnel In The Sky and Time For The Stars are really quite well nuanced and mature, as well, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel deals with some very adult themes. Nonetheless, what makes these 'juveniles' is that all of them concern young male protagonists coming of age, and all of them have a simplified, fast moving, very episodic and exciting narrative.

Heinlein's later, more 'adult' stuff, written post-Starship Troopers, is often more experimental in its narrative technique (Time Enough For Love positively meanders for much of its length, while the odd future slang in which The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is narrated works wonderfully for projecting a futuristic and exotic atmosphere, but makes the book somewhat less accessible than Heinlein's usually more Samuel Clemenseque, folksy, familiar, vernacular style does in his earlier works). And it goes without saying, it nearly always includes sexual material, although it seems to me that the less sex Heinlein puts into a book, the more I generally like it.

However, adult or juvenile, Heinlein’s stories tend to feature extremely competent protagonists becoming engaged with interesting and exciting obstacles and difficulties, and resolving those obstacles and difficulties in often violent and always satisfying ways. In the juvenile books, this results generally in the immature male hero becoming fully adult, a theme that is always appealing to adolescent boys. In the more adult books, the adult hero (almost always male) comes through these particular problems and emerges onto a new plateau in his life, usually having been ‘promoted’ or ‘upgraded’ in some very discernible manner, that generally involves social advancement and positive recognition by others. Again, this is stuff that adolescent males eat up with a spoon

Superhero comic books, on the other hand, are ongoing serials, and therefore, their main characters, especially in 1985, rarely changed all that much, nor was there a whole lot of ‘coming of age’ going on. Superheroes and their supporting casts tended to experience entropy intermittently and unpredictably (and occasionally, their ages inexplicably reversed themselves, as when John Byrne suddenly made the Human Torch a teenager again for about four issues) and character growth not at all. Self actualization in superhero comic books occurs in the origin story, and after that, the superhero is pretty much exactly the way he or she would remain until their comic was cancelled.

This is why, for the most part, I have a very difficult time seeing how Robert A. Heinlein has had any influence at all on modern superhero comics, at any time you might want to point to and call ‘modern’, but especially those of 1985 or thereabouts. Despite the fact that nearly every male comics fan I’ve ever personally known also likes Heinlein, and most of the Heinlein fans I’ve known also read superhero comic books, I honestly cannot for the life of me see any influence Heinlein has had, at all, on the superhero comic book genre.


I think Heinlein himself, if he were alive, would be kind of horrified at the notion that his work has in any way influenced superhero comic books, since Heinlein, when he refers to comic books at all in his writing, tends to refer to them as ‘funny books’ and always does so in a disparaging fashion. Now, I think one could do an interesting panel regarding Heinlein’s influence on that other exciting subgenre of open ended serial melodrama, television, since it seems to me that Friday, published in 1982, is probably a precursor for a lot of the girl power TV shows of the 1990s (and is pretty much a direct prototype for James Cameron’s Dark Angel). But comic books? I can’t see it.

But maybe I’m wrong. I went to the trouble of typing out the list above, so let’s go down it, one by one:

Assignment in Eternity

This is a volume that collects four of Heinlein’s more obscure novellas – "Gulf", originally published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1949, "Elsewhen", ibid, 1941, "Lost Legacy", Super Science Stories, 1941, and "Jerry Was A Man", Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1947.

"Gulf", I suppose, has some themes that have also been explored in some superhero comics, as the ‘gulf’ the title refers to is the ‘narrow but very very deep’ chasm between men and the so-called ‘supermen’ depicted in this story. However, RAH’s ‘supermen’ have no actual super powers, they simply think better than normal men. This is, perhaps, a theme Alan Moore may have picked up and expanded on in his run on WildC.A.T.s in the mid 1990s at Image Comics, with the character of Tao, but it’s not one I’d seen explored at length in superhero comics of 1985… and I doubt Moore got his idea for a character whose only ‘super power’ was an extremely advanced intelligence, from Heinlein.

Leaving that aside, "Gulf" is full of violence and excitement and fun dialogue and interesting characters (who often do wildly unlikely and even absurd things; it would, I think, take actual, measurable mutant superpowers for two people to communicate through a deck of cards the way Joe and Kettle Belly do while locked up in the New Age Hotel) but I can’t see where any of it has had any influence on modern superhero comic books. In the course of the story, we meet one major villain who is pretty damned evil, but there’s nothing superhuman about her, or even particularly cartoony. The heroes eventually dispose of her rather permanently, and then have to sacrifice their own lives to save the Earth from a doomsday bomb. Now, heroes saving the Earth from a doomsday weapon is pretty common coin in superhero comics, but Spider-Man rarely dies doing it. And if someone wants to say that a megalomaniac threatening to blow up Earth is a story element that has ‘influenced’ superhero comics, well… fine, I guess, but I don’t think Heinlein originated it.

"Lost Legacy" is, actually, on its surface and throughout, very comic book-esque. Three young professionals suspect the possibility of ‘superhuman’ psychic abilities and train themselves into having such. They attempt to spread this enlightenment throughout the world, but learn that there is an evil conspiracy of self interested folks with similar powers who deliberately keep the mass of mankind in ignorance so they can rule them from behind the scenes. The three young, self trained adepts then encounter a similarly secret society of good adepts and with their help, wipe out most of the evil adepts and, presumably, usher in the Millennium.

This is, as I said, very much a superhero comic book story (regardless of what snobs like Bill Patterson may think). However, much though its basic storylines and concepts seem to echo those found in most superhero stories, it’s difficult to imagine that this rather obscure story from 1941 has had much influence on modern day superhero comics. It seems to me that Heinlein, for whatever reasons, chose to write a story along the lines of the same simple minded, good vs. evil themes being explored in most superhero stories. Have modern day superhero comics writers studied "Lost Legacy" extensively and modeled stories or concepts around it? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any. The X-Men are mutants, and while some of them have psychic powers, they didn’t teach them to themselves, they were born with them. Very few superhero comic books I can think of… in fact, none, at the moment… concern themselves with evil, superhuman conspiracies moving behind the scenes to keep man in a state of vulnerable and easily controlled ignorance. Now, I suppose, if you wanted to, you could claim that the good guy’s secret hideout in a hidden cavern in Mt. Shasta was the inspiration for the Justice League’s first headquarters in a cave, but, first, I doubt it, and second, I suspect if I sat on a panel at a comic book connection and offered that as an example of Robert Heinlein’s influence on superhero comics, I’d get a good laugh.

"Elsewhen" is a weird story, about a Professor of Philosophy who learns how to use self hypnosis to travel from one world line to another. He uses this technique to dispatch his small class of graduate students on various different otherdimensional adventures, and eventually follows them himself. The conflicts are simple and obviously exist simply so RAH can have the fun of exploring the concept of what a lot of different worlds with physical laws and histories varying from those more familiar to us might be like. I suppose one might argue that the story has had some influence on some of the more mystical superheroes, like Dr. Strange, who routinely commute between dimensions. But it seems like a specious argument. I’ve never read of Stan Lee or Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko mentioning Heinlein as an influence. I’d say, all told, this story had little or no influence on superhero comics circa 1985, either.

"Jerry Was A Man" is, in some ways, a charming story, although it’s one of my least favorite of Heinlein’s early tales. Basically, it’s an exploration of what the world might be like once we master the commercial applications of genetic engineering, and a gentle philosophical musing on the essential nature of humanity. There have been superhero comics that have also explored this theme… the character of the Vision, at Marvel Comics, has spent the last forty years or so torturously trying to figure out if he’s actually a human being or not… but I think that character’s influences are far more directly traceable to Mary Shelley than to Heinlein.

Between Planets - published in 1951, this is probably the second worst of the Heinlein juveniles, in that in its pages, Heinlein mostly simply covers much the same ground he’s already explored in more detail in the earlier Red Planet (which may very well take place in the same universe). The hero is one of Heinlein’s dullest character creations and the plot is sedentary. The basic conflict is that of a boy who was born ‘between planets’, and thus, who can claim citizenship on any of three different worlds… Mars, Venus, or Earth… each of which are currently at war with each other. Where the young protagonist eventually decides to pledge his allegiance is pretty much the whole point of the novel. And I can't see how anything in this book has had any influence on superhero comics at all.

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls – junk, amongst Heinlein’s worst, and published right around 1985, so probably (hopefully) not influential at all on superhero comics of that or any other time. The elderly protagonist, who is an ex-combat trooper (among many, many other things) and who has a gimmicky walking stick that fires missiles, among other uses, wouldn’t seem out of place in some more sedate superhero comics. However, the whole ‘World as Myth’ concept, which Heinlein originated in The Number of the Beast and continued in this particular novel, had little or no influence on superhero comics of 1985. Since then, Alan Moore has worked with similar concepts in various series, mostly those he’s done for Image and its offshoots… a great deal of Moore’s latter day Supreme storylines seem to echo the "World As Myth" idea. But I suspect Moore got it from the same philosophical originators as Heinlein did, not from Heinlein directly.

Citizen of the Galaxy – I don’t know about this one. It’s one of my favorite Heinlein novels, and it’s probably the best coming of age story, combined with an episodic, science fiction adventure saga, I’ve ever read. Kurt Busiek remarked to me, after he was assigned to write Power Man-Iron Fist in the early 1980s, that he wanted to reread this particular novel, because the central character was very similar to Iron Fist. I personally don’t see much resemblance, but, hey, what do I know. Maybe Kurt did reread COTG and maybe it had an influence on how he scripted Danny Rand. If so, I’m unaware of it.

Beyond that, though, I can’t see any way this particular story, in which a young boy is kidnapped by slavers and sold on a distant planet to a typically ultracompetent, zealously libertarian Heinlein Man, and who eventually makes his way through various adventures back to Earth, where he discovers he’s really really rich, and thus, embroiled in a lot of family and financial intrigue whether he wants to be or not, has had much or any influence at all on superhero comics.

The Door Into Summer – pretty much every Heinlein fan loves this particular novel, goofy though its plot workings are (and in some ways, badly written… TDIS depends on no less than three different amazingly powerful plot devices, each of which are fairly unbelievable and terribly contrived, to work; suspended animation, the ‘zombie’ mind control drug, and a really wonked out time machine). And if you’re in too analytical a mood, you can pretty easily find the central romantic relationship between the adult protagonist and his 11 year old sweetheart to be kind of disturbing, too. (And there’s an entirely separate treatise to be written on the subject of pedophilia in the works of Robert A. Heinlein that someone else will have to author, because I don’t want to be responsible for getting RAH’s books banned here in Ashcroft’s America). Despite all that, TDIS is a charming book and everyone loves it, and I love it, too, even if no cat in the world has ever been either that smart or that patient about being carried around in a piece of luggage all goddam day.

I suppose one could, if one wants to, say that Pete the Cat from this novel influenced a whole spate of lovable talking cats that showed up in comics around this time. However, Pete didn’t talk, so I doubt that American Flagg!’s Raoul, or any of the other smart ass talking cats proliferating through the genre in the early to mid 80s, was actually derived from this book. And other than that… well, suspended animation was a theme used in Captain America’s revival in Avengers #4, and TDIS was published in 1957, so it’s possible Stan copped the idea from RAH. If so, though, I’ve never seen any reference to it, and I suspect that in fact a lot of people were hip to suspended animation around then and working it into their writing if they could.

Double Star – published in 1956. This is one of Heinlein’s best novels, and one of his absolutely least comic book-esque. The conflicts in this novel are mainly social and political; there is almost no violence whatsoever in the book other than a couple of early scenes, and for the most part, the book is an exploration of the concepts of duty and identity, as a vain, rather shallow but very talented actor is hired to ‘double’ for a well known political figure of the time, who absolutely has to keep a vital appointment in order to secure a peace treaty between Earth and Mars… and whose political enemies have kidnapped him specifically to keep him from doing so.

Around 1985, comics had just come through a period when it seemed like it was trendy to have superheroes be replaced, for a while, by other people taking on their roles… Tony Stark had been replaced by Jim Rhodes in the Iron Man armor, Hal Jordan had surrendered his power ring to John Stewart, and I’m not sure if Thor had given his hammer to Erik Masterson by then as yet, or not. Batman had been replaced by a loser of a vigilante whose name I can’t recall around then, too… (later note: Azrael) …when an idea gets hot, suddenly everyone is doing it… even Superman died for a while and was replaced by several others, although that was much later than 1985.

However, even if those plotlines can be traced back to Double Star… and I doubt they can, I’ve never once heard anyone mention either the novel or Heinlein in connection with any of this… the substitutions were all temporary and eventually the original secret identities got their costumes back again. In Double Star, when the saintly politician dies, the actor realizes that the man still had a lot of important work left undone, and he decides to give up his own identity to live out his life as the other fellow. This isn’t something we see in superhero comics, so I’d say Double Star hasn’t had any more influence on the genre than any other Heinlein story.

Expanded Universe –

"Life Line", 1939 –

"The Roads Must Roll", 1940 –

"Blowups Happen", 1940 –

"Solution Unsatisfactory", 1941 –

"They Do It With Mirrors", 1947 –

"Free Men", 1966 –

"No Bands Playing, No Flags Flying --", 1939 –

"Nothing Ever Happens On The Moon", 1949 –

"Pandora’s Box", 1950 (first version) –

"Where To?", 1952 -

"Cliff and the Calories", 1950 -

" The Third Millennium Opens", 1956 -

"Pravda Means Truth", 1960 –

"Searchlight", 1962 –

"The Pragmatics of Patriotism", 1973 –

"Paul Dirac, Antimatter, and You" 1975 -

"Who Are The Heirs of Patrick Henry?", 1958 -

"The Last Days of the United States", "How To Be A Survivor", "Pie From The Sky" –

(sometime after WWII)

"A Bathroom Of Her Own", 1980 –

"Successful Operation", 1980 –

"Ray Guns & Rocket Ships", 1952 –

"Inside Intourist", 1980 –

"Larger Than Life", 1980 –

"Spinoff", 1980 –

"The Happy Days Ahead", 1980 –

Looking simply at the table of contents list I’ve spent about two hours typing in and re-checking publication dates for each item on (since I think it’s important to show when something by Heinlein was first published, in order that we can at least ‘blue sky’ estimate how much influence that particular piece may have had on modern superhero comics in 1985), going back and forth from my trade paperback copy of Expanded Universe itself to the invaluable bibliography at the back of Grumbles From The Grave (which would be even more invaluable, goddamit, if it had been published in two version, one by date of appearance – as it was, and an addendum with each piece in alphabetical order), it’s brought back to me how shocked, disappointed, and generally appalled I was by Expanded Universe in 1980, when I first picked it up.

I think reading this collection, with all its interstitial commentary by Heinlein himself around each story and article, was my first real exposure to what has, regrettably, come to be a common experience for me: the crushing disappointment of finding out that someone whose creative work I had admired and enjoyed greatly was actually not a particularly admirable or likable human being.

I bought the collection for the same reason I buy anything by Heinlein; namely, hoping to be entertained. And whether or not something by Heinlein entertains me is pretty much the primary if not the entirety of the standard I use to judge any work by Heinlein… something other Heinlein fans have taken me to task for many times, but it’s not something I apologize for. Heinlein’s good books are superb at delivering what I set out to buy whenever I go into a bookstore… well written, thrilling, and exciting entertainment featuring interesting characters doing interesting things in interesting places I’ll probably never get to be or do or visit myself. Because of this, that’s what I expect from Heinlein; when something with Heinlein’s name on the cover fails to fill that order, I’m disappointed, and I call it ‘bad Heinlein’, and if that annoys anyone out there who expects me to appreciate lousy novels for their intrinsic value as literature and insightful social commentary, well, in the words of Jeff Jones, pucker up, buttercup.

Much of Expanded Universe delivers the goods; there are short stories in this collection I enjoyed enormously that have never, to the best of my knowledge, been reprinted anywhere else. However, most of Heinlein’s commentary regarding his own works is mean spirited, surly, and unpleasant; the majority of the articles he reprints in the book are hateful, rabid Red baiting jingoism that, according to Heinlein, many of his editors would prefer not to reprint but that he insisted be included in the volume. RAH seems to think his editors are trying to stifle the truth; I suspect they simply admired the old coot and were trying to keep him from being publicly embarrassed.

Whatever the case, the effect of reading much of the non-fiction material in Expanded Universe on this then 19 year old, starry eyed Heinlein fan was rather horrific.

Getting back, however, to how much influence on modern superhero comics anything in this volume may have had by 1985, I have to scratch my head and say I can’t see how it could have had any. The non-fiction is mostly, as I’ve noted, irate spittle flecked screeching about the "commissar slave masters" and the "Butchers of Budapest" who are going to bomb America back to the Stone Age if we do not become more sensible and pragmatic and, um, well, bomb THEM back to the Stone Age first. Red baiting was certainly an element in superhero comics of the 1950s, but I don’t think it was still around in 1985.

The fiction… well, some of it is reprinted in other Heinlein volumes (one of the major annoyances about enjoying the work of an author as popular as Heinlein is that his stuff tends to get reprinted all over the place, and when you pay your money for one anthology or collection, often a good third of it you’ve already bought in another anthology or collection) and while the material does deal with certain things that are common elements between SF and superhero comic books – scientific geniuses and their strange, advanced, world altering inventions, primarily – it’s worth noting that in science fiction, and especially in Heinlein’s science fiction about new inventions, the logical consequences this invention will have on society are cogently explored. In superhero comic books, on the other hand, the inventor tends to keep his or her potentially world altering invention all to themself, because superhero comic book editors, by and large, want the only difference between the world presented within their pages, and the world their readers live in, to be the presence of the costumed characters themselves. Therefore, while superheroes and supervillains have teleport rays, casual space travel, anti gravity, uniforms made out of unstable molecules, focused energy weapons, three dimensional holographic imaging, artificial intelligences, and sophisticated communications arrays the size of a credit card, they keep all this shit to themselves. All of which means that the very essential basis of science fiction – exploring how a particular innovation may impact society in the future – has had no influence on superhero comic books. Far less, then, is the influence of the specific themes set forth by Heinlein.

I should note here that Alan Moore has lately started presenting his readership with internally consistent superhero universes in which society has been warped and changed by the advanced technology routinely invented by superhuman scientists, and even in 1985, Jim Shooter was trying to present a world more realistically transformed by the presence of superhumans in his New Universe. But in 1985, Alan Moore was still writing Swamp Thing and Jim Shooter’s New Universe hadn’t yet seen Pittsburgh blow up, so superhumans actually having a significant impact on the universe around them simply by existing wasn’t an element that was present in the genre as yet. Perhaps Moore was influenced by Heinlein when he started his latter day Miracleman stories. Gaiman certainly seems to have displayed some Heinlein influences, so he may well have been influenced by Heinlein in his own Miracleman stories that followed Moore’s apocalyptic visions. But none of that would have been true in 1985, and I can’t be sure any of it is true now, since the idea of advanced technology… or common superhumanity… having an effect on the culture around us isn’t even originally Heinlein’s, but is simply endemic to SF.

Farmer In The Sky – Heinlein’s novel about farming, and Boy Scouting, on a distant planet in the process of being terraformed. If there is any conceivable way this story has had any influence at all on superhero comics, I can’t even remotely come up with it.

Despite the horrible title, truly rotten covers on every edition (the character of Bill is invariably depicted holding a pitchfork, Jesus, that’s something that will hook in a reader) and the generally lame description I’ve given it, this is one of Heinlein’s best juveniles and a really fun book to read. "Satellite Scout" was the title it appeared under when it was first serialized in Boy’s Life in 1950. I think they should go back to it; Heinlein usually comes up with horrible book titles and his editors are generally sensible enough to change them. FITS is one of the few that they didn’t polish up, and they really, really should have.

Regardless of all that, I just can’t see how this book has had any influence on superhero comic books… although the character of Hank Jones, Bill’s best friend, does remind me somewhat of Rick Jones.

Farnham’s Freehold – a near miss from a sneak Russian nuclear attack in 1963 throws a bomb shelter full of truly obnoxious mostly Caucasian Americans thousands of years into the future, where they emerge and discover that dark skinned Africans now rule the few surviving whites and use them as slaves and cattle. Heinlein mostly wrote this book, according to other fans than me, to show that ‘racism hurts everyone’, and also because he was pissed off about Russian missiles in Cuba. It’s one of my least favorite of all Heinlein novels, and I can’t see how it has influenced modern superhero comics in any way. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

Friday – published in 1982, this book has a rambling, almost chaotically episodic plot, and Friday puts forward a lot of obnoxiously objectionable moral philosophy in the course of her self narrated adventures. Still, many Heinlein fans like it a lot anyway, because it was the book that followed Number of the Beast, which, like Stephen King’s Cujo, made a lot of folks wonder if the author hadn’t been hit really really hard on the head by something and lost all capacity to write a good story.

Friday herself is a genetically engineered superwoman who tends to get into trouble by having indiscriminate sex with various different partners and then get out of it again by thrashing her opponents severely (and often lethally), and this particular book is much closer to being about superheroic themes than much of what Heinlein writes. Nonetheless, this is still very much a coming of age story, which ultimately ends with Friday having accepted her own essential humanity, happily married and raising kids in a utopian society on a distant world. The conflicts and opponents in the book are mysterious and mostly political in nature, and there’s really nothing in Friday that I’ve seen echoed in any superhero comics I can think of. As I noted above, Friday strikes me as possibly being inspirational for many modern day TV heroines, but, then, you could point to Emma Peel as being just as inspirational for, well, the chick in Alias, at the very least.

Glory Road – This one came out in 1963, and is very much reflective of its time period. Far more a social satire than an actual science fiction/fantasy adventure, this novel concerns the adventures of a larger than life hero as he hooks up with a gorgeous, sexy, astonishingly good in bed interdimensional blonde slut who turns out to be the Queen of a Distant Galaxy, or some such nonsense. Whenever the hero and heroine aren’t boffing each other or anyone else of the opposite gender who wanders into their sleeping areas, they’re having really contrived and two dimensional adventures which ultimately end up with the hero marrying the heroine and becoming some sort of galactic ruler/consort and Ultimate Stud of the Universe. If this thing has had any influence on modern superhero comics, it completely escapes me.

(I should, at this point, note that when I use the word ‘slut’, I do not use it in a deliberately pejorative fashion… I am, in fact, as Amy Alkon once said, attempting to reclaim a perfectly good word from general cultural condemnation. I will wryly note that as far as I have been able to determine, the word ‘slut’, when applied to women, as it generally is, can be defined quite accurately as ‘a fairly rare female human being who has nearly as much sex, with as many different partners, as any male would have, given the same opportunities’. I am making no general moral judgement on any woman who has a lot of sex, and my personal condemnation is reserved for any woman who has a lot of sex with a lot of different partners but not with me… in which case, as the old joke goes, she transforms from ‘slut’ into ‘bitch’, anyway.)

Have Space Suit – Will Travel – (1958) Probably the strangest and least linear of the Heinlein juveniles, although an enjoyable tale, and, I suppose, the first one on this alphabetical listing in which I will have to allow that it’s had some influence on modern superhero comics, if only in that Chris Claremont outright stole the ‘alien judgement’ scene from this story to use in his ‘Dark Phoenix’ storyline. Since then, a lot of other bad comics writers have also had Earth/humanity/some superhero get judged by aliens at some point, but most of that is imitation of the Claremont story.

HSSWT’s most important theme, however, is the same one Heinlein preached much more clumsily throughout Glory Road – that right and wrong are relative and culturally defined, and different societies may pass judgement using completely different standards than those familiar to us. This isn’t a theme that is generally explored much in superhero comics, and even when Claremont stole the ‘alien judgement’ scene, he didn’t have his aliens (who were actually very human in their attitudes) behave in a manner radically different than Earthlings would have. They were pretty much annoyed with Dark Phoenix because she’d blown up one of their spaceships and one of their planets, killing a whole lot of people. Earth courts would get a little pissed off at that, too. The X-Men tried to argue that Jean had been evil and corrupted by her own vast powers then, but now she was nice again, so, hey, let’s just get over it and move on, but the aliens didn’t buy it… although the always morally idiotic Claremont originally planned that they would let Jean off with simply having her powers removed, and only Jim Shooter’s editorial intervention caused her to be executed, as was much more appropriate to her crimes.

And, later on, they resurrected the character anyway, so no matter.

I will say, however, that I don’t really regard a hack writer stealing a specific scene from Heinlein as being a persuasive example of ‘Heinlein’s influence on modern superhero comics’. Still, most of us who have read HSSWT, and the Dark Phoenix saga, find it fairly obvious that Claremont got ‘inspiration’ from Heinlein, specifically from this novel, so I’ll note it. But discussing it would make for a pretty short panel.

I Will Fear No Evil – Published in 1970, I haven’t the vaguest idea what the theme of this particular novel might be. To be honest, I’m not sure it has one. Heinlein seems to want to explore social mores, especially sexual ones, and he does so by having the brain of an elderly billionaire get transplanted into the body of his young, hot, sleeps-with-anything secretary. Then he/she goes out and fucks a lot of different people. It’s a bad book, reading mostly like a soft core porn novel with vestiges of a 60s style artistic sensibility thrown in. As best I can recall, there are no conflicts or difficulties in the book other than the aged billionaire learning how to behave as a gorgeous young female slut. If Howard Chaykin wanted to adapt this as an adult comic book, I imagine a whole lot of us male geeks would buy it, but this thing has had no influence I can perceive on modern superhero comic books.

Job: A Comedy of Justice – This book was published in 1984, so I doubt it could be expected to have much influence on superhero comics circa 1985. Since it’s mostly an exploration of the solipsistic philosophical musings Heinlein fairly often let himself obsess on, along with the idea of Reality As An Artform being created and judged by higher beings that he first brought forward in The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, as well as being yet another of Heinlein’s literary drive by shootings aimed at Christian fundamentalism, and since solipsism, and the notion of the world as an art form, aren’t themes explored much in superhero comics (although I don’t know what all John Byrne has been doing since I don’t read his work any more), I don’t think this has had much influence on modern day superhero comics.

The Menace From Earth - an anthology initially published in 1959, containing stories originally published at various dates ranging from 1941 ("By His Bootstraps") through 1957 (the title story). A few of the stories in this particular collection have been very influential on science fiction in general, since "By His Bootstraps" pretty much lays down the essential foundation for classic time travel stories in which the protagonist uses a time machine to directly interact with his own personal timeline, while "The Menace From Earth" is a much imitated ‘girl’s romance’ sort of story set on the Moon, whose human powered flight has certainly inspired a lot of imitators charmed by the idea over the years.

It’s possible that the big wings used by Moon dwellers to fly in "The Menace From Earth" were, in some way, influential on Steve Ditko’s visual design for the character The Vulture. But I have no idea whether that’s true or not. And, again, if it is, it would be a pretty short and uninteresting point to bring up on a comics con panel.

Other stories in this anthology are "Year of the Jackpot", a surprisingly cheerful account of the end of the world; "Water is for Washing", a rather heroic adventure tale with absolutely no fantasy or science in it at all in which a flood throws a small group of refugees together and they have to work together to survive; "Sky Lift", a fairly simple minded story in which a pilot heroically volunteers for a rescue run and perseveres through an ordeal of intense acceleration that eventually causes irreversible brain damage; "Goldfish Bowl", a truly grim and depressing story in which it turns out that humans are no more to unseen intelligences that dwell in the upper reaches of our atmosphere than goldfish are to us; "Columbus Was A Dope", one of Heinlein’s stupider ‘gimmick ending’ stories I won’t bother to describe in detail, and the last one, which is actually rather like a superhero comic book in a lot of ways: "Project Nightmare".

"Project Nightmare", as I think of it, and skim through it quickly again (I’ve read it often, as has been noted, I’m fond of ‘comic book type stories’) could be seen to have had something of an influence on superhero comic books… although I can’t be certain that the particular element I’m seeing in this story, and that I’ve seen reflected in a lot of superhero comics, was actually originally derived from this story. Still, "Project: Nightmare" was published in 1953, so it certainly predates all the stories I’m thinking of, and could have influenced them, I suppose.

"Project: Nightmare" concerns itself with a Russian plot to force the United States to surrender by planting nuclear bombs in several major American cities and then threatening to blow them up if we don’t capitulate immediately. The government calls together a bunch of known clairvoyants and uses them to psychically search for the bombs, while at the same time, other psychics use telekinesis to keep the nuclear reactions in the hidden warheads from exploding.

Obviously, the theme of the government calling together a group of superhumans to perform some necessary task beyond the means of conventional forces is one that’s oft repeated in superhero comics. However, Heinlein may have done it first; I don’t think there were any government sponsored superhero teams prior to 1953.

In the end, having managed to disarm nearly all the Russian bombs (Cleveland gets destroyed when the mandatory imbecile in the story interferes with the psychic ‘damping’ its hidden bomb), the government asks the team of psychics if it could locate bombs still in Russia, and set them off from a distance. This is a little bit overly bloodthirsty for my tastes, but, well, the story was written at a time when America really really hated Russia, and Heinlein was one of the bigger Red baiters in science fiction. However, since, as a general rule, superheroes do not initiate nuclear holocausts killing millions of foreign nationals, and if our government asked them to we can only hope they’d refuse (and probably punch the general requesting it squarely in the jaw, too), I don’t think that particular ending has been very influential on superhero comics. Thankfully.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – A fuller, much more sophisticated and adult exploration of the literally revolutionary themes Heinlein had previously explored in the juveniles Red Planet and Between Planets, this is the story of how a small group of unusual rebels manages to spark a successful effort by the Lunar penal colonies to declare their independence of the United Nations world government.

The revolutionary cabal consists of a gorgeous, unreasonably competent, extremely intelligent woman, a down to earth, unreasonably competent cybernetics engineer and jack of all trades with a variety of very useful cybernetic arms, an aged, devious, even-more-intelligent-than-the-rest political professor, and a sentient computer. Thinking about it, I have to admit that that cast of characters certainly sounds somewhat like a superhero comic… perhaps if Alan Moore did a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen set on the Moon, it would be something like this. But this isn’t an adolescent power fantasy and the themes of a slave society successfully fighting for its members’ freedom isn’t one we see depicted in superhero comics very often, if at all.

The Number of the Beast – A brilliant old inventor builds a device that lets him, his new wife, his daughter, and her new husband leap from one alternate timeline to another, and a group of evil aliens pursues them all and tries to destroy the device. This sounds pretty exciting, but it sours quickly, and once it starts to curdle, it just never stops until Heinlein finally dies several years and two even worse sequels later. There is, as far as I can tell, nothing in this book that has in any way influenced modern superhero comics. And we should all be very grateful for that.

Orphans of the Sky – Originally published as ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Universe’ in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941, this short novel, as far as I know, is the first of many ‘generation starship gone astray’ novels eventually written by various authors.

(Two others I can immediately think of are Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop (1958) and Harry Harrison’s Captive Universe (1969), but I’m pretty sure there have been more…. In fact, on a bit of further cogitation, I realize that Harlan Ellison , in 1973, based his original script for the short lived SF series The Starlost around this theme, and Ed Bryant adapted that script into the enjoyable Phoenix Without Ashes in 1975. In Ellison’s introduction to PWA, he mentions that the idea actually originated in the 1920s with some Russian named Tsiolkovsky, and a British scientist named Bernal did a book on the idea in 1929. However, given how many times Ellison has announced he’s just delivered the final ms. for The Last Dangerous Visions to the publisher, and the damned thing still hasn’t shown up, I’m not sanguine about siting anything I find in an Ellison authored document as authoritative. )

As this demonstrates, "Common Sense/Universe" has clearly been a very influential work. Its central theme is the rather agnostic one that we should continue to think about and question even our most basic assumptions about the reality around us, since things that ‘everybody knows’ can turn out, upon some courageous investigation, to be completely untrue. Secondary themes echoing from this primary one are, always, that the courageous investigator who learns and then attempts to teach the truth will find himself staunchly and relentlessly opposed by the everyday person whose ‘common sense’ tells them he must be a nut… an attitude that is always subtly or overtly encouraged by the established powers that be, which benefit greatly from the status quo.

Obviously, this is a theme beloved of SF readers and writers both, and one that comic book readers also like a lot. Despite that, however, it’s really not one that comes up in superhero comics all that much.

The Past Through Tomorrow –

(containing many short stories and the novels "If This Goes On – " and Methusalah’s Children)

"Life Line", 1939 –

"The Roads Must Roll", 1940 –

"Blowups Happen", 1940 –

"The Man Who Sold The Moon", 1949 –

"Delilah and the Space Rigger", 1949 –

"Space Jockey", 1947 –

"Requiem", 1939 –

"The Long Watch", 1948 –

"Gentlemen, Be Seated", 1948 -

"The Black Pits of Luna", 1947 –

"It’s Great To Be Back!", 1946 –

" – We Also Walk Dogs", 1941 –

"Searchlight", 1962 –

"Ordeal in Space", 1947 –

"The Green Hills of Earth", 1947 –

"Logic of Empire", 1941 –

"The Menace From Earth", 1957 –

"If This Goes On –", 1940 –

"Coventry", 1940 –

"Misfit", 1939 –

Methusalah’s Children, 1941/1958 -

A great deal of Heinlein’s best, and arguably most influential, fiction is collected in the Future History volume. A lot of my favorite Heinlein stories ("The Menace From Earth", "The Last Watch", "The Green Hills of Earth" and "If This Goes On –") I first encountered within these pages, and personally, I’m far more comfortable having Holly & Jeff comfortably housed in this anthology than I am having their story rubbing shoulders with the weirdness of all those other textual bizarrities in The Menace From Earth itself. Some of my least favorite Heinlein stuff appears here as well, unfortunately… "Gentlemen, Be Seated", a story in which a heavyset fellow seals an air leak on the Moon with his vastly fat ass simply strikes me as stupid and vulgar, the sort of thing you badly wish one of your least favorite writers had written so you could smugly heap opprobrium on the idiot. There’s other substandard stuff in here, too, and frankly, I’ve never cared much for Methusalah’s Children, although most other Heinlein fans seem to think it’s the shit just because it’s the first place Lazarus Long, Heinlein’s ultimate Absurdly Competent Protagonist, ever showed up.

While there’s little in any individual story that I could point to and say I feel has had much influence on superhero comics, of 1985 or any other era, I will admit to what seems to me to be the significant possibility that the very concept of the Future History has had a huge influence on modern day superhero comics… assuming, of course, that Gardner Fox, Mort Weisinger, Julius Schwartz, Stan Lee, and/or others influential in the creation of internally consistent superhero universes where ‘continuity’ was an essential element, were indeed influenced by Heinlein’s Future History timeline. However, I can’t in any way document that any of them, or any one else who might have had a hand in deciding to put Superman, Batman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern all in the same universe, and Captain America, Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk all in a separate but equal universe, has ever read any Heinlein, much less the Future History.

But, eerily enough, the first documentation of the existence of Heinlein’s Future History chart appeared in the February 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction… which, to any real scholar of superhero comic book history, is a bit of a hair-raising coincidence, given that the very first appearance of the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics #3 appeared right around this time, and was written by Gardner Fox, a fellow science fiction writer.

It could be argued, and has been by many comics scholars, that the Justice Society was the first significant attempt at creating, in the realm of superhero comics, a… well, in the words of Damon Knight, in his introduction to The Past Through Tomorrow:

"…an alternate probability world… which is logically self-consistent, dramatic, and recognizably an offshoot of our own past…."

…in which, I will continue, the characters and events depicted in several different, entirely separate storylines are clearly defined as co-existing in the same time/space continuum.

If, indeed, Fox was directly influenced by Heinlein’s Future History timeline in his creation of the Justice Society of America (a strip in which the heroes of many separate features were, for the first time ever, brought together in one place and time to battle crime as a group), this is a huge thing. This would mean Heinlein had inspired, not only the creation of the superhero team, but the very genesis of a superhero comic book multiverse with consistent continuity cutting across and incorporating the events of many different stories featuring many different characters.

As I say, this is huge. If the creation of the JSA resulted from Heinlein’s influence, then Heinlein’s influence on modern superhero comics cannot be overestimated.

Exhaustive research (by which I mean, about a dozen Google searches) have failed to turn up anything I could use to confirm, or even substantiate, a connection between the work of Fox and Heinlein in 1940 or thereabouts. Nonetheless, the astonishing coincidence of Campbell mentioning the existence of the Future History timeline in close proximity to the first appearance of the JSA is… well, it’s certainly noteworthy. Given the fact that publishers tended to ‘post date’ their magazines by months back then, in order to maneuver newsstand proprietors into giving them shelf space longer (if it were January, say, and a newsstand proprietor noticed a comic or SF mag with a December cover date, he’d pull it off the stands to make room for more current material… so a comic or SF mag that came out in December could very likely have been dated, say, February of the following year, to give it more shelf life). Since All Star Comics #3 is actually dated ‘Winter 1941’, it’s impossible to pin down an exact date when the JSA came into being… and since Heinlein had already published several stories in the Future History series by that point, it’s impossible to know (at least, for me, at this moment) if Gardener Fox had read them, noticed they took place in the same timeline (or perhaps, through some kind of inside contact, already gotten a glimpse of the Future History chart) and been inspired to take half a dozen featured characters from separate strips and combine them under one title… thus creating the very first multicharacter, cross-title, self-consistent supehero continuity.

Suddenly, the idea of Robert Heinlein’s influence on modern day superhero comics doesn’t seem like such a joke, after all.

Podkayne of Mars - (1963 ) One of Heinlein's more controversial books, not because of any particularly objectionable content, but simply because if you get any ten random Heinlein fans in a room at any given time, you'll find most of them have strong opinions on this book, in terms of how much they enjoy it. Some Heinlein fans love Poddy and her adventures entirely, while others loathe her completely. Some are outraged that Baen has recently chosen to restore Heinlein's original ending to the book, in which Poddy dies (that Scribner & Sons, in the edition in print for thirty years, demanded Heinlein change, according to oft repeated legend, because Heinlein's editor said "you can't kill off that sweet little girl"). Zealous Heinlein loyalists, however, as well as Poddy haters everywhere, are happy to have the original ending, in which Poddy dies because she goes back into danger to rescue a baby Venusian, restored. (Poddy haters, I should note, would be even happier to have every existent copy of the book burned, regardless of its ending; if you have a conversation with a Poddy hater, you may be surprised by how vehemently they feel that this one book is just a huge blotch on science fiction in general and Heinlein's body of work in specific.)

In terms of this particular essay, Podkayne of Mars, like the majority of Heinlein's work, would seem to have had no discernible influence on modern superhero comic books. The novel is pretty much a Heinlein juvenile, distinguished from every other Heinlein juvenile by two things: the protagonist/primary narrator is a teen age girl, and perhaps because teenage girls put more emphasis on social interactions than boys do, there is a lot more kissing and hugging and romance and 'girlie stuff' in Podkayne than there is in any other Heinlein juvenile.

One reason many male Heinlein fans may despise Podkayne of Mars is that unlike many other Heinlein novels, this one wasn't written specifically to appeal to a male audience. Heinlein is a mutated outgrowth of an attempt Heinlein made earlier in his career to break into other genre markets besides science fiction. Heinlein wrote a small number of stories specifically intended for the 'girl's romance' markets; the heroine of these stories was a plucky, zaftig teenager named Puddin', who dealt with such burning social issues as body image ("Cliff and the Calories"), the cruelty of high school cliques ("The Bulletin Board") and the difficulty of making a marriage work ("Poor Daddy").

Heinlein seems to have genuinely liked Puddin', which is probably all the reason he needed to sit down and write a typical boy's juvenile adventure, with the rather innovative impulse to make a slightly altered Puddin' the central character, instead. Many Heinlein fans would probably prefer it if Podkayne of Mars had been male, but I tend to think that such a book would have been fairly pedestrian for Heinlein... without the somewhat more whimsical feminine viewpoint Heinlein projects throughout POM, I think the book would have been a pretty tedious political/SF action non-thriller.

As always, when Heinlein writes from a female POV, you have to really pray he doesn't know as much about women as many seem to think he does, since if all women are as cold bloodedly calculating about all their social interactions as Heinlein women are, I'd like to opt out of the species, please. Heinlein's women are also often disturbingly masochistic and, in their heart of hearts, seem to yearn to be objectified. In POM, Podkayne's older mentor figure, supposedly worldly wise Girdie, at one point tells Podkayne that the only sincere compliment a man can ever pay a woman is making a pass at her. While this isn't as troubling as Friday's much later assertion that rape can be an enjoyable experience for a woman if her attacker is nice looking and uses a breath mint before hand, it's still kind of a shocking statement, coming as it does from a character who has clearly been set up in the narrative as being the Wise Old Guru and Voice of Truth (like many writers, Heinlein usually has at least one of these characters pop up somewhere to offer truth and enlightenment in all his juveniles).

Leaving all that aside, though, Podkayne of Mars is one of my favorite Heinlein books, for a lot of different reasons. First, I don't find Poddy anywhere near as obnoxious as most male Heinlein fans seem to. She starts the book with a lot of cocky self assurance, but by midway through the novel she's already questioning many (rather narrowminded) assumptions and plans she's made, and, assuming you buy into the reality where Poddy doesn't die in the end of the novel, has matured considerably and has a chance to turn into a very classy person by the resolution.

Of course, if she does die at the end of the novel, as Heinlein intended and originally wrote, and as is currently being published in the 'restored, original Heinlein' edition, it's not only a tragic waste of a wonderfully detailed maturing process, but it also seems rather misogynistic... Podkayne is one of five female protagonists Heinlein has ever written (four, if you count her and her literary precursor Puddin' as the same character) out of... er... I'm going to guess 40 male protagonists, about half of them narrators of their own adventures. Exactly none of Heinlein's male narrator/protagonists ever die (Valentine Smith isn't a protagonist, he's a plot device, and while Colonel Campbell of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls does seem to die at the end of that novel, I believe it's mentioned that he was actually saved at the last minute in To Sail Beyond The Sunset... I'm not sure, because I loathe both those books and haven't read them much).

Wait, I take it back... the guy in "The Long Watch" dies… Johnny Dahlquist. But he kind of has to; it's a heroic sacrifice for the good of the many story, written specifically for placement in an American Legion magazine. Anyway, the sheer number of Heinlein's male protagonists to female is hugely unbalanced; having Podkayne die, simply because Heinlein was in a grumpy mood when he wrote the book, strikes me as pretty horrible. It's almost as if Heinlein shrugged and said "Okay, well, yeah, THIS one can die... she's only a gurrrl, after all."

In Grumbles From The Grave, Heinlein tosses out some tedious nonsense about how the point of the book was that Poddy and Clark’s mother had been too busy with her career to raise them properly, and Poddy had to die in order to lay enough guilt on Clark for him to snap out of his sociopathic attitude and become a real human being… and if Poddy didn’t die, then bad parenting really had no price and the whole book became "just a series of mildly adventurous events, strung together". It’s revealing, however, to note that many of Heinlein’s male juvenile protagonists (perhaps most) are raised by spectacularly bad or misguided parents, and the hero of Between Planets is in a worse situation than Poddy and Clark… sent off to boarding school by parents too busy with their scientific careers to pay any attention to him. Heinlein seems to feel no obligation to kill off any of his neglected or badly raised teen age boys, I think it’s specious of him to insist that art requires Poddy’s sacrifice simply because her mother was too busy to pay much attention to her… and anyway, why isn’t Heinlein sticking Poddy and Clark’s dad with some of that shit? (Well, it’s because underneath a thin veneer of modernism, Heinlein deeply believed that the proper place for women was in the home, baking and raising babies, while the man is not only entitled to a career, he’s duty bound to pursue one. But every rabid Heinlein fan in the world is now reaching for their rifles with a foam caking up on their lips as they read this, so let’s pass on.)

POM is interesting in the context of this article because it marks probably the only place Heinlein seems to say anything nice about comic books as a genre. Towards the end of the novel, Poddy finds herself briefly imprisoned with nothing to read but some comic books she finds in her brother Clark's luggage. While commenting that, despite his intelligence, Clark is obviously in some ways still just a little boy (Heinlein telling us that comic books are children's reading matter), Poddy reads the comics, and even comments that they are 'quite entertaining'... the nicest thing RAH has ever said about comic books anywhere, since, while they rarely appear in his stories, when they do, they are generally being enjoyed by either genuinely depraved children (like Clark) or obviously stupid and emotionally retarded adults. (Poddy is neither, but bear in mind, she's only reading comic books under duress, and her admission that they were 'quite entertaining' is Heinlein's way of telling us that, in a lot of ways, Poddy is still a child, too).

Heinlein also uses the storylines of Clark’s comic books as a contrast to his own plotting. A bit later on, Poddy laments that she is unable to escape from her captor, Mrs. Grue, although she's sure the heroes of any of Clark's comic books could have done so with ease. This, again, is Heinlein putting down comic books; his fiction, he not so subtly tells us, is much more adult, sophisticated, and realistic than anything in some rubbishy children's picture paper. As a general rule, I would say that this attitude is a strong indicator that RAH's general contempt for comic books was, at the date of POM's publication, largely derived from obsolete data. The comic books of RAH's early adulthood in the 1930s were, indeed, garish and trashy; they were bought, read once, and thrown away by the millions right up through the end of World War II. But by 1962, genuine conceptual revolutions were occurring in comic books (one of the most seminal of which can credibly be traced to Heinlein's own influence, as I've previously indicated) and however sophisticated and adult POM undeniably is, for Heinlein to simply snort derisively as he compares his story about the adventures of an adolescent girl and her superintelligent brother on an interplanetary voyage full of unanticipated political intrigue, to the work that was being done by Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, over at National and Marvel Comics in 1962, is simply fatuous if not outright pig-ignorant.

This particular lack of regard for comic books, and anyone who reads and enjoys them, is unfortunately typical of Heinlein. He doesn't mention the medium all that much, but whenever he does, it's generally in a pejorative manner, as if the fact that kids (and some, always childish or simply stupid, adults) still read comic books in whatever fictional future Heinlein may be presenting at the moment is a damning indictment of humanity in general.

Given this attitude, it's a small wonder that the more erudite and elitist among Heinlein's fans (those who insist that Heinlein is a great American author and that all his product must be evaluated under strict literary guidelines, rather than as well written escapist genre entertainment for barely literate SF fans) also openly sneer at 'the type of comic book stories Heinlein was never very interested in telling'.

As I've stated before, Podkayne of Mars is one of my favorite Heinlein novels, and I obviously find it to be a charming and entertaining book. Having said that, I want to note once more that Heinlein's misogyny, or at the very least, his profound sexual bias towards the notion that a woman's place is in the home, gestating and raising babies, is writ large throughout this book, to a very nearly propagandistic extent. Heinlein has made it clear in his personal commentary on POM that he does not regard the book to be simply another juvenile with a female lead. Rather, he wrote the novel as being primarily a commentary on the tragic consequences of a woman neglecting her child-rearing duties in order to have a career, and for that reason, he felt Poddy needed to die at the end of the novel.

Besides that, Poddy is far less competent than all of Heinlein's other juvenile protagonists... you know, the boys. The male heroes of Heinlein's other juveniles survive arduous wilderness treks, foil villainous plots, take significant part in violent revolutions, build and pilot their own spaceships, conquer hostile alien worlds, rescue hostages, fight evil aliens, assume and competently carry out command duties when so required by circumstance, and explore interstellar space. They sometimes need coaching from 'older, wiser heads', and occasionally make mistakes (but never disastrous ones), but when the chips are down, they always manage to come through... and they are always hypercompetent kids obviously on the verge of becoming typical hyper-competent Heinlein men.

Poddy, on the other hand, is pretty much a cheerful moron from the start of her book to the end, a happy go lucky, blundering incompetent who is swept along by events and in the entire course of her adventures, manages to accomplish exactly one task through her own 'ingenuity' and 'resourcefulness'... she hides in a tray of dirty dishes in order to sneak out of her hotel suite past some guards, so she can go rescue her missing brother.

Which rescue she promptly, thoroughly, bungles.

Never mind the 'comic book heroes' that would have accomplished Poddy's goals so admirably and economically; had Poddy been a male Heinlein teenager in a similar situation, Mrs. Grew and her Venusian stooge JoJo would have been neatly trussed up and awaiting arrest by the Space Patrol two chapters after the daring escape from the hotel suite. As it is, Poddy is lucky a Heinlein male in training happens along; without Clark, she would never have gotten away... although it's worthwhile to note that without Clark, there wouldn't have been a small nuclear bomb planted in the bad guy's hide-out to start with, either. And an older Heinlein male wouldn't have screwed up the break out as badly as Clark did, either, resulting in Poddy's death or serious injury, depending on which ending of the book you choose to believe in.

I enjoy Podkayne of Mars because I think it showcases one of Heinlein's greatest literary abilities... to provide his readers with a lot of wonderfully nuanced cultural details regarding his often highly stylized and individual futuristic societies, without having those details intrude in any way on his narrative pace. Podkayne of Mars is a thrilling interplanetary adventure with a lot of interesting political intrigue, and yet, at the same time, it's also packed with fascinating highlights regarding the world and the culture to which Podkayne belongs. And, as I've stated previously, I don't find the central character to be all that obnoxious, and certainly, she's considerably more charming than, say, Lazarus Long is, in Methusalah's Children, and a great deal more interesting than, say, John Lyle is.

However, I'm not much of a 'Heinlein purist'. The copy I own of POM is one that was given me back in 1975 by a guy named John Sullivan at, I think, my 14th birthday party. It has the original ending (the happy one Heinlein was forced to rewrite because his editors didn't like the grimly tragic one he originally submitted) and that's the one I prefer, just as I prefer the leaner, more heavily edited version of The Puppet Masters to the fatter, more lethargically paced 'uncut' version that is on the stands now.

The Puppet Masters (1951) - and, speaking of The Puppet Masters...

One of my all time favorite Heinlein novels, this one is also near the top of most other Heinlein fans' favorites list, too. The original version (by which I mean, the Doubleday/Del Rey paperback version, not the heavily hacked up version edited by Galaxy’s editor in its first serialization) is a high velocity bullet train of a book, with a narrative stream that moves like a Titan rocket booster, arrogantly shrugging aside anything that might possibly impede its forward momentum.

The Puppet Masters has been highly influential on TV and film; I can't count the number of TV SF shows that have done episodes in which alien invaders land and infiltrate humanity by riding on human bodies somewhere and mentally controlling their hosts. It's a nightmare that has become an intrinsic part of our culture's fantasy backdrop and Heinlein was the first to coherently codify it, as far as I know. And I imagine the plot has been used in comics a few times, too... in fact, an obscure Marvel Comics super-villain known as The Controller, who puts 'slave discs' on people to turn them into his obedient drones, may well have been directly inspired by this novel... although, oddly, Marvel Comics super-villain The Puppet Master seems to not derive from this novel at all, as, while he does mentally control his victims, he has to carve a 'puppet' of them out of radioactive clay first.

While commenting on The Puppet Masters, its worth noting that the central romantic/sexual relationship in this book is pretty disturbing (although, when you're 13 years old, you don't notice that at all, you're too caught up in watching Sam run around shooting mind controlled bad guys with his ray gun). Mary, the redheaded, ultracompetent, utterly lethal and deadly as a coral snake female agent in this book, starts out tough and utterly self-reliant, spurning Sam's lecherous advances towards her with reflexive, almost contemptuous nonchalance all through the first half of the book. By the second half of the book, though, Mary is completely compliant, biddable, and submissive to Sam, in one sequence actually begging Sam in the most embarrassing manner imaginable to take her somewhere and bang the living hell out of her... and the difference, as Mary later mentions after Sam has pretty much forced her to marry him, comes from one simple act: earlier in the novel, Sam had slapped the bitch hard.

This, Mary makes plain, is why she fell in love with Sam... not because he heroically stood in for her in the nightmarish "Project Interview", volunteering to be re-possessed by his former Titanide master so his boss could interview a Titanide and gather intelligence, thus sparing Mary the ordeal. No, Mary began to love Sam when, as he was being led out of the room following the interview, she ran up to see if he was all right, and Sam, believing Mary had allowed herself to be used to sucker him into doing something he had initially refused to do, slapped her really hard.

Most of Heinlein's male/female relationships have similar sado-masochistic, male dom/female sub overtures, but The Puppet Masters is the only book I can think of where it's so overt... where the actual mechanism by which a dominant male causes a seemingly dominant female to fall in love with him and submit to him so abjectly, is so openly violent, and where the previously dominant, aggressive seeming female becomes so immediately, shockingly compliant... to the point where she actually begs her new 'master' to take her sexually, even. Most of Heinlein's strong, aggressive female characters remain unhappy, discontent, and unsettled until they finally meet a Heinlein man who is macho and dominant enough to actually dominate them, but only in Friday is the submission trigger (a rape) even more violent than in Puppet Masters. And Friday's personality at least remains somewhat intact after her submission, whereas in TPM, the docile, agreeable and fully supportive Mary at the end of the novel bears absolutely no resemblance to the hard, tough, viciously deadly, utterly self sufficient Mary presented to us at the start.

Of course, the novel is narrated by Sam, and Sam's voice is so strong that it takes a very dispassionate, uninvolved, analytical reading to notice how comprehensively Mary's persona changes. This is primarily because Mary is a supporting character in Sam's story, and her personality is entirely defined through her interactions with Sam... as is every other character in the novel, regardless of their relative importance.

I enjoy The Puppet Masters probably for much the same reasons most other Heinlein fans do... it's a gritty, scary, fast moving action/horror novel with a tough, competent hero fighting against an insidious and terrifying opponent. While reading the novel, the average SF geek, who has always suspected that there is some sort of conspiracy amongst the 'in crowd' anyway, feels validated for being an 'outsider', since while Heinlein intended The Puppet Masters to be a thinly disguised allegory on the dangers of Communist infiltration in America, it works just as well, or better, as a rousing, thrilling sermon on the nobility of the individual man fighting against the hordes of mainstream conformity... a theme beloved to all SF geeks everywhere.

It's also got tons of action, amazing and memorable dialogue, great characterizations, and some of Heinlein's most subtly deft writing, as he not only shows us the horrors of alien infiltration from the outside, like many lesser writers have, but from the inside as well, with Sam's first person narrative of the story continuing during a horrifying period when Sam himself is under the mental control of the invaders.

Red Planet - (1949) One of Heinlein's more serious juveniles, and the first one where he really ran afoul of his female editor at Scribner & Sons, who forced him to remove quite a few passages from his original draft in which he quite openly and truculently declared his passionate belief that any interference on the part of the authorities with a private individual's right to arm themselves was intolerable tyranny.

Heinlein's editor felt that juvenile adventure novels weren't the appropriate place for political polemicizing, and she may have had a point, although in point of fact, Heinlein's politics tend to evidence themselves in all of his other juveniles, as well... he's just usually more subtle about it than he was in the first draft of RP. Starman Jones, for example, contains a powerful, if subtle, anti-union message, while several passages in The Star Beast seem to cry out against world government, albeit in such an indirect way as to not be noticed by most.

Leaving aside the gun control controversy, Red Planet is one of Heinlein's better juveniles, in that it presents a rather thrilling story replete with interesting and intelligently imagined details as to colonial life and survival on Mars. Heinlein also provides one of SF's first and best visions of a truly alien race and culture that really cannot in any way be comprehended or understood by humanity, as well as a fairly detailed look at a planetary revolution... a theme he was to return to in less detail in a future juvenile (Between Planets, one of his lesser efforts) and in much more detail with one of his most celebrated adult novels (The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress).

In terms of our particular theme here, though, Red Planet is a wash; while it's been a very influential SF story on the genre of SF itself, I can't see how it's had any influence on modern day superhero comics.

Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) - Often credited as Heinlein's first novel (it isn't, that was "If This Goes On -" which originally appeared as a serial in one of John Campbell's magazines), this is Heinlein's first attempt at writing both to specific order for a specific market (it's his first 'juvenile' for Scribners & Sons) and at producing a novel length work told entirely in third person... a much harder narrative voice to write well than first person, which "If This Goes On -" was written in.

Rocket Ship Galileo is a rough, crude work and I suppose it really shouldn't be held against Heinlein. It's exciting enough, I guess, and in Heinlein's own writings he states that the only real element of 'fiction' in the story is that the boys and their adult mentor manage to accomplish a series of tasks that he felt in reality it would take a huge team of scientists and engineers to do... although I personally think that's really too huge a jump for serious science fiction to make, putting RSG firmly into 'Tom Swift, Jr.' territory. And the ultimate conflict of the book, in which The Young Atomic Engineers (Heinlein's original title for the book; he initially pitched it to Scribners as a juvenile series, very similar to "Tom Swift, Jr.", except with a team of kids as the heroes) take their backyard rocket-ship to the moon and discover a secret base of Nazis there, is pure corn.

RSG seems to have had little or no influence on modern day superhero comics, although I suppose, if one really wanted to, one could see the crude etchings of, say, the Legion of Superheroes, in the atomic powered space gallivantings of the Young Atomic Engineers. Whether the creators of the Legion had read any Heinlein, however, I couldn't tell you, and since the Young Atomic Engineers are pretty clearly influenced by the gee whiz, let's conquer the universe inventor/adventurers of E.E. Smith's Skylark of Space serial (just, you know, younger), I'm not sure where you'd really put that influence... perhaps Heinlein was subtly influenced by a glance at a cover for one of the many Simon & Kirby 'kid gang' comics on the newsstands at this time.

The Rolling Stones - (1952 ) In terms of superhero type continuity, this particular book is noteworthy as one of the very few attempts Heinlein ever made to create a continuity, of sorts, between one of his books and another, when he attempted to connect The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress to this much earlier novel, by having the grandmother character from this book, Hazel Stone, appear as a young child in TMIAHM. Like pretty much all of Heinlein's other attempts at doing specific interstory continuity, this one doesn't work well at all; it's virtually impossible to accept the chaotic, libertarian, Russian & Asian influenced, motley flotsam mongrelized culture of TMIAHM as precursor to the rather sedate, "Ozzie & Harriet On The Moon" society depicted in The Rolling Stones, which supposedly takes place only two generations after the events of TMIAHM. In the 'earlier' TMIAHM, a shortage of women in comparison to men in the Lunar prison colony has given way to a bizarrely anarchistic social structure indeed, in which unconventional group marriages have entirely supplanted the more conventional monogamous couplings of Earth. Two generations later, those odd and utterly distinctive, as well as rather controversial, domestic innovations have apparently been entirely supplanted in turn by a nuclear family unit much more typical to the utopian 1950s of, well, Ozzie & Harriet, or Father Knows Best. In fact, The Rolling Stones could adequately be described as "Father Knows Best In Space", and while it's certainly a well written and always entertaining romp, there's nothing at all controversial about this book... in fact, it's probably the only 'juvenile' written by Heinlein which does not have a central adolescent male as its protagonist, preferring instead to diffuse its dramatic focus amongst the entire Stone family (while, it must be admitted, severely short changing Edith and Mead, the mother and sister of the family, respectively, in terms of time and attention).

The Rolling Stones could, I suppose, have been somewhat influential on the family structure of the Fantastic Four, but I suspect any similarities I'm seeing are sheer coincidence. A family unit gets into a rocket and goes into space... that's pretty much the only real resemblance the FF has to the Stone family. But who knows, maybe Jack Kirby or Stan Lee were big Heinlein fans.

Sixth Column (plotted by John W. Campbell) – (1941) -- In this story, which as I've noted, wasn't plotted by Heinlein but was written to order by him over Campbell's plot, a successful Chinese invasion of America is eventually repelled by a secret 'sixth column' of American scientists, using superscientific breakthroughs that they disguise beneath the semblance of a new religion. Heinlein notes himself that the superscience is mostly gibberish and he wouldn't have ever plotted a story this way.

To the extent that most comic book super science is also gibberish, I suppose you could call this story influential, but I myself suspect that the reason for comic book super science that makes no actual sense is a simpler one... most comic book writers don't know much of anything about science (and if they did, they'd have a hard time writing about human beings who can burst into flame and fly through the air, anyway).

Space Cadet - (1948) Another of Heinlein's better juveniles, this book really needs a better name in today's marketplace... Space Patrolman, or Star Cadet, or simply Space Academy, would work a lot better, I think. For the most part, this book is just a thrilling and straightforward coming of age story, in which the central protagonist and two of his buddies go off to a military style space academy to learn how to eventually become members of the illustrious Space Patrol.

This book also represents, sort of, one of Heinlein’s infrequent attempts to incorporate cross-story continuity, in that in 1949, Heinlein wrote his short story "The Long Watch", fleshing out the barely mentioned tale of John Dahlquist, one of four immortal heroes of the "Space Patrol" whose names are always included any time members of the Patrol are gathered together and call the roll.

This particular attempt at cross-story continuity is unobjectionable, although I vaguely recall that the Venus detailed in Space Cadet doesn't quite match up with the Venus described in "Logic of Empire"... which, since LOE is firmly set in the Future History timeline, along with "The Long Watch", it really should. But Heinlein obviously wasn't as anal a continuity nut as I am.

The Star Beast - (1954) The last of the Heinlein 'juveniles' for Scribner & Sons (Heinlein followed this one up with Starship Troopers the following year, which the publisher rejected as 'too something'... adult, violent, militaristic, reports vary, but they rejected it, and Heinlein decided to concentrate on more adult oriented SF from that point on), this is also one of the most sophisticated, and in fact, Heinlein wrote it as, and considered it to be, very much an adult novel, albeit one with a juvenile protagonist.

In addition to being a quite mature look the dichotomy between human and alien psychology, as well as the rather complex politics of the particular future society The Star Beast is set in, this is also one of Heinlein's most openly satirical and straight out comedic novels. It's extremely entertaining and extremely thoughtful at the same time, and as he usually does with his juveniles, Heinlein manages to provide his readers with a great deal of interesting cultural nuance in the background of his narrative, without noticeably intruding on, or slowing down, the development of his plot at all.

As to any possible influence this book has had on modern superhero comics, well, I confess to not being able to see any at all. But it's, nonetheless, a good book and well worth reading in its own right.

Starman Jones (1953 ) - John Varley, in his brilliant novel Titan, seems to have almost written a parody of this book's last few chapters in his initial descriptions of the inner world of Gaea, although I don't know how consciously Varley imitated the alien world found and briefly settled by the passengers and crew of the starship Asgard.

Leaving that aside, though, I can't think of any other influences this particular book has had, on SF or especially on superhero comics. As I've noted before, there is a strong anti-labor subtext throughout much of Starman Jones, but Heinlein writes it relatively subtly and the lectures don't intrude on the always exciting narrative at all.

Starman Jones has one of the most deeply satisfying resolutions to be found in any Heinlein juvenile, as Max Jones, who initially employs forged documents to secure himself a billet as the lowliest member of a passenger starship's crew, is eventually forced (through some truly Byzantine plot developments) to assume command of the ship and pilot it safely back to Earth. And I probably shouldn't have said that Starman Jones was only influential on Varley's Titan, since at least the first volume of David Feintuch's Seaford Saga series, as well as F.M. Busby's Star Rebel, seems to me to be very much influenced by Starman Jones.

Nonetheless, as far as influencing modern superhero comic books, I have to say, I just don't see it.

Starship Troopers (1959) Without a doubt, this is one of the most discussed Heinlein novels ever. Much of what I have to say about this particular Heinlein novel (the last one he submitted as a ‘juvenile’ to Scribner & Sons, the rejection of which was inarguably a watershed moment in Heinlein’s career) I stated in my previous Heinlein article, HEINLEIN: The Man, The Myth, The Whackjob . In the context of this article, well… it’s possible the powered armor worn by all members of the futuristic Mobile Infantry in this book influenced the creation of Marvel Comics’ Iron Man… but as I’ve noted before, if Stan Lee was a Heinlein reader, I’ve never read or heard any mention of it.

Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) Heinlein’s self described ‘Sex and Jesus book’, and one of my least favorite of all Heinlein’s novels that I don’t consider outright awful. Heinlein himself also stated baldly in a letter to his agent that this novel was not SF, but was a ‘Cabellesque satire on religion and sex’, so I don’t feel too bad disliking it, nor do I apologize for wishing that someone who was as good at writing straightforward, entertaining science fiction had stuck to doing so, instead of writing an endless and bloated tract on everything wrong with modern day civilization.

It’s odd for me to type out this article and look up the date Stranger was first published, because 1961 is a very personal year for me… it’s the year I was born (towards the end of it, in late November). Had I been asked to simply blue-sky a guess, I would never have guessed SIASL came out that early; it seems like such an archetypical 60s type book I would have thought it had been published in the late 60s, or even the early 70s. But no… Grumbles from the Grave states quite clearly that SIASL was being written, on and off, throughout the 1950s, with the bulk of the work being done in 1959.

Obviously, then, Stranger has been a vastly influential book, and I couldn’t even begin to guess how influential it may have been on the modern day superhero comic. I feel I can discern echoes of Stranger in Steve Englehart’s work on Dr. Strange; if that’s true, then Heinlein influenced the creation of the occult superhero comic tradition I’ve discussed in SORCERORS, SWAMP THINGS, SANDMEN, AND SOPHIE: The Stream of Consciousness Running Through Four Occult Superhero Comics . But all I can really say is, Stranger has been a profoundly influential book, and it has probably had some influence on superhero comics, too… but I couldn’t specifically tell you what that influence is.

Time Enough For Love (1973) One of my favorite novels by Heinlein, and one I badly need to buy a new copy of, since my paperback dates from the late 70s and has been read and reread to tatters at this point.

I’ve often wondered, had I been old enough to be reading Heinlein’s novels as they came out sequentially, if TEFL might not have restored and rejuvenated my faith in Heinlein’s ability to write… at least for a little while. Looking at the books Heinlein produced prior to TEFL, going back to Starship Troopers (which ended Heinlein’s run of ‘juveniles’, all of which I at least find very readable), we have Stranger in a Strange Land, which I didn’t much like the first time I read it and which would have been simply an appalling shock to me, had I been old enough to be reading Heinlein as one of my favorite, still productive contemporary authors, one whose new works I eagerly looked forward to, at the time it came out. Following Stranger we had Podkayne, which I like fine now but probably would have found a bit disappointing back then, had I read it in sequence… I might have wondered, following SIASL, if Heinlein hadn’t lost a step or two. Following Podkayne was Glory Road, which is more goddam social satire in the form of a fairly lousy novel, and that would have made me near-certain Heinlein had completely lost his ability to tell a decent story. After Glory Road would have come Farnham’s Freehold, and honest to God, I think I probably would have crossed Heinlein off my list of ‘must buy’ authors at that point, just as I did with Stephen King after reading Cujo. (Christine got me back again, and Different Seasons was great, but it’s all been precipitously downhill for King’s writing abilities since then.) But then would have come The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which someone would probably have had to force me to read… but I’d have liked it, and perhaps been given hope that Heinlein still had the chops… but thenI Will Fear No Evil. And yes, I think I really would have simply sworn off reading Heinlein forever at that point, had I been picking up his books in sequence.

Fortunately, I didn’t start reading Heinlein as an avid fan until around my mid teens, and I didn’t read his novels in any particular order. So it was that Time Enough For Love seemed to me to be a somewhat more challenging story than the juvenile stuff I really enjoyed by him… that whole long sequence between Galahad and Ishtar early on really annoyed me back in my mid teens, it simply seemed pointless… but every time the story bogged down a little, it would pick right up again. I found myself persevering through the slow stuff and really enjoying the more adventurous material. Nowadays, I simply find the entire novel brilliant from start to finish.

Of course, had I been reading Heinlein in sequence back then, I would have been utterly appalled by his next book, The Number of the Beast… and in fact, that book came out when I was in college, and I picked up a trade paperback edition of it (the only edition available for a long time) and absolutely hated it so much that a buddy had to talk me into trying Friday when it came out in 1982. Fortunately, Job followed Friday, and fostered the illusion that Heinlein was writing well again… an illusion that was heartbreakingly shattered with the godawful Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and whose shards and flinders disintegrated into utter nothingness when I winced my way through the indescribably wretched To Sail Beyond The Sunset… which I see is coming up, in another couple of entries. Yay.

I like Time Enough For Love enormously, and I suppose it’s possible that some of the sex scenes in it may have influenced Howard Chaykin. But beyond that, I can’t see how it’s had any influence on the modern day superhero comic.

Time For The Stars (1956) Yet another of Heinlein’s juveniles showing really bad parenting… something that Heinlein always underscores by having another character in the book, who is never a parent themselves, wisely point out at some point just how bad a job the actual parents of the protagonist have done with the poor kid. In this case, however, the protagonists on the bad end of the lousy parenting are two poor kids, Tom and Patrick, who happen to be identical twins.

Tom and Patrick get caught up in a project that wants to use identical twin pairs to facilitate faster than light communication on starships. One twin stays on Earth, the other is placed on a starship, and through the telepathic link that (this book states) most identical twin pairs share, messages can be sent back and forth despite the vast distances between ship and Earth.

I’d really think that this book should be a highly influential one on superhero comics, since the idea seems a natural one for adaptation to the comic book medium… you’d think that telepathic twin pairs would make wonderful superheroes, or, at least, the occasional supervillain team. Yet, in point of fact, I can’t think of any twin pairs at all in superhero comics, and can only come up with two in the entire ‘superhero’ genre… the Wonder Twins, from Super Friends, and Jan and Jase, of Space Ghost. And I don’t think either of those twin pairs was defined as being telepathic with each other.

Uh… well, wait… I’m overlooking Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (it’s easy to do, they don’t seem like twins) and Aurora and Northstar of Alpha Flight. But neither of them had a telepathic link to each other, either, as far as I know. So it would seem that this particular juvenile is also a bust, as far as having much or any influence on modern day superhero comics.

To Sail Beyond The Sunset (1987) I find it hard to write coherently about this book, because I loathe it so entirely. I would consider this piece of shit to be one of the worst pieces of shit ever written by any author, anywhere, at any time; the fact that it was written by Heinlein, and in its pages, Heinlein revisits one of his best (and one of my favorite) novels, Time Enough For Love, and literally fucks with his previously established events and characterizations until I personally simply want to vomit in each and every page of this literary calamity, simply makes the book utterly execrable and abominable to me.

Re-reading Grumbles from the Grave, I’m interested to find that RAH was evidently very ill during the period he wrote I Will Fear No Evil, and apparently, he was in a long, painful illness that turned out to be terminal during the last two years of his life, when he wrote this miserable piece of crap and its predecessor, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Of course, I don’t see any sign that he was particularly sick when he wrote Farnham’s Freehold, so apparently I can’t conveniently blame all Heinlein’s really lousy books on him being in poor health when he wrote them. But I find this particular book, Heinlein’s last, to simply be intolerable, and I don’t tolerate it: as far as I’m concerned, this book is simply not a ‘valid’ entry in the Future History universe, or in the apparently endless saga of Lazarus Long. (I similarly disregard Cat and Beast from inclusion into any valid Future History continuity; both books are crap, and the events they detail regarding characters from other, much MUCH better novels, must be disregarded in their entirety.)

As this book was unwritten at the time of Mark Evanier’s worst con discussion panel experience, it can’t be expected to have had any influence on the subject of that discussion panel, i.e., RAH’s influence on modern day superhero comics. And I don’t think it’s had any influence on superhero comics since, either. At least, I hope it hasn’t. Although it would be nice to blame the excesses of people like Byrne and Ellis and Morrison on it…

Tunnel In The Sky (1955) - Retreating into the safe, warm past when Heinlein could still write and was actually willing to, we come to this, one of his better, more mature, and more entertaining juveniles all at once. TITS (okay, that’s an unfortunate acronym, let’s not use that again), like most of Heinlein’s other juveniles, concerns a badly parented young male protagonist who despite being raised by fuzzy headed liberal pacifists (about the worst thing you can be, in a Heinlein universe) ends up as the leader of a primitive colony on a distant, hostile planet, after he and several hundred other students of an alien survival course wind up stranded there through a teleportal accident.

It would be nice if this book had had some influence on modern day superhero comics, since it’s one of Heinlein’s best, but in point of fact, I can’t see any way it has had any.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag – actually an anthology collecting together a small number of Heinlein’s stranger stories, including the titular novella, that don’t appear anywhere else:

"Unpleasant Profession of et al" (1942)

"The Man Who Traveled In Elephants" (1957)

"They" (1941)

"Our Fair City" (1948)

"All You Zombies" (1959)

"And He Built A Crooked House" (1940)

"Unpleasant Profession" is (this surprised me when I glanced at it) one of Heinlein’s earliest works, and sows the seeds for one of his most original ideas… the concept of Reality As Artwork, where the beings we think of as ‘gods’ are simply artists working with materials that we, ourselves, regard as the basic building blocks of the time/space continuum that we inhabit. Life, and even self awareness, is simply one more ‘color’ on the artist’s palette by the peculiar and imaginative philosophical conceit Heinlein puts forward in this novella. This is a theme Heinlein was to explore more fully in later works, especially Job: A Comedy of Justice. Alas, while Alan Moore has rather thoroughly explored this theme in various places, most notably his Supreme run for Awesome, I have no way of knowing if Moore got his inspiration from Heinlein. And of course, in 1985, Moore hadn’t written any of that stuff yet.

"The Man Who Traveled In Elephants" – A wonderfully evocative story without much of a plot, in which a retired traveling salesman dies in a bus accident and ends up going to heaven, which, it seems, is The Greatest County Fair Of All Time. He’s reunited with his long dead wife and their long dead dog, and they eat hot dogs and cotton candy happily ever after. I don’t see any way this is influential on modern day superhero comics, but according to Spider Robinson, this was perhaps RAH’s favorite of all his own stories.

"They" is about as masterful, concise, and thorough a study of paranoid delusion crossed with solipsism as Heinlein’s "By His Bootstraps" is of the basic time travel plot. As such, "They" has been very influential on fantasy, SF, and psychological horror fiction in general, but I don’t think it’s had much impact on modern day superhero comics.

"Our Fair City" is just plain stone weird. A cynical big city reporter looking for corruption at City Hall, an elderly parking lot attendant named Pappy, and a seemingly sentient whirlwind named Kitten are simply the starting point in one of the most whimsically indescribable hard boiled pieces of pulp fiction ever written. But unless there’s been a sentient whirlwind floating around superhero comics that I’m not aware of, this story hasn’t been very influential on the capes & cowls genre, either. But I could be wrong. Maybe Stan Lee read this and immediately created the Human Top.

"All You Zombies" – You can tell Heinlein was in a really bad mood when he wrote this, probably the bleakest and most depressing examination of solipsism via time travel anyone has ever put down on paper. This story doubtless influenced all those Mort Weisinger-era Jimmy Olsen stories where Jimmy travels back in time, has a sex change operation, gets impregnated by his past self, and ends up giving birth to himself as an infant. Or something like that.

"And He Built A Crooked House" – a demented architect builds a house with a tesseract in it, and some other people get lost in it and keep opening doors that lead into rooms that can’t exist or are in different dimensions or something. This story probably was influential on the ‘haunted house’ genre of anthology spook story comics that flourished for a while in the 1950s and 1960s. But as far as superhero comics goes, no, I don’t think so, unless the Batcave or the Fortress of Solitude are a lot weirder than we think.

Waldo & Magic Inc. – The first novella, Waldo, was published in 1942, according to the bibliography at the back of Grumbles from the Grave. The second, Magic, Inc., was printed two years earlier, in 1940. Waldo is an interesting story about a high tech world in which, basically, a person learns that you can do pretty much anything you put your mind to, regardless of what other people tell you. Magic, Inc. is one of Heinlein’s most utterly delightful works, which is built around the now fairly commonplace conceit of a world exactly like ours (as it was, back in 1940) except for the fact that magic basically replaces technology. A great many writers have worked around this theme since Heinlein wrote this story, and some of them have done it very well – Steven Brust’s first couple of Vlad Taltos book were basically hard boiled detective stories set in a fantasy world of elves and magic, until he started taking himself much too seriously – but as far as I know, Heinlein got their first.

Magic, Inc. hasn’t really been influential on superhero comics, although I seem to be remembering that one passage from it… a passage where the heroes have to pick one particular demon out of the assembled ranks of Hell… was used fairly intact in one of Neil Gaiman’s early issues of Sandman. (Unfortunately, my copy of the graphic collection I have that Sandman story in is in storage up north, so I can’t make sure of it right now.) Other than that, I don’t think this particular story has been all that influential on comics, but I want to note that in fact, Magic, Inc. very nearly is a comic book… Heinlein’s exciting, fast paced narrative and extremely visual descriptions of his world setting and the characters that inhabit it could almost painlessly be adapted to comics by any competent writer/artist team with minimal changes.

* * * * * Epilogue * * * * * *

And here we seem to have run out of Heinlein material to examine for possible influences on modern day superhero comics.

At this point, it must be admitted that my initial thought… that Heinlein has had no discernible influence on modern day superhero comics, at most, Heinlein’s fiction and the superhero comics genre enjoy largely overlapping audiences… seems to have turned out to be incorrect. And my initial intention, to write this article as an extended joke, doing brief descriptions of everything Heinlein has ever written, each finishing with ‘no, this doesn’t seem to have had any influence on superhero comics, either’, hasn’t panned out, either… which is just as well, since it was a pretty stupid idea, and the joke would have gotten old probably right around Citizen of the Galaxy, if not sooner.

And of course, on deeper reflection, my initial idea turns out to be hogwash. Leaving aside the more minor areas where certain of Heinlein’s stories or novels may have had small influences on superhero comics… and there were several more of them than I would have thought… even the possibility that Heinlein’s Future History actually inspired Gardner Fox to create the Justice Society of America allows for the potential of Heinlein having an incalculable influence on the entire superhero comic book genre.

However, until somebody asks Gardner Fox if he’d read the Future History stories prior to his creation of the JSA (and it was sixty goddam years ago, so I’d be really surprised if Mr. Fox answered with anything but ‘damned if I know’), we can’t know definitively one way or the other.

But it’s one helluva fascinating speculation.

As a final thought, I’ll just say this… if Mark Evanier ever reads this article, I hope it will move him to maybe pick up and read some stuff by Heinlein. Then, if anyone ever tries to put him on a panel about Heinlein’s influence on superhero comics again, he may at least be able to tell his fellow panel members that Robert A. Heinlein definitely was not the guy with the claws in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies… and something of who Heinlein was, as well.

For that matter, if anyone else reading this has never read anything by Heinlein… you really should. I recommend you start with Citizen of the Galaxy, or Double Star, or The Door Into Summer, or, if you like short stories, The Past Through Tomorrow. You could even start with Farmer In The Sky, which is a great book, if you can just get past the spectacularly lousy title. But if you’ve never read Heinlein, well… I envy you.

To be able to read all that great stuff for the first time all over again… wow. Now that would be something.

Feel free to comment, if you like:




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NOVELS: [* = not yet written]

Universal Maintenance

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Time Watch




Warren's World

Warlord of Erberos

Return to Erberos*



In The Early Morning Rain

Short Stories:


Good Cop, Bad Cop


Talkin' 'bout My Girl

No Good Angel

No Time Like The Present

Pursuit of Happiness

The Last One

Pursuit of Happiness

Return To Sender



Alleged Humor:

Ask A Bastard!

On The Road Again

Meeting of the Mindless

Star Drek


Fan Fic:

The Captain and the Queen

A Day Unlike Any Other (Iron Mike & Guardian)

DOOM Unto Others! (Iron Mike & Guardian)

Starry, Starry Night(Iron Mike & Guardian)

A Friend In Need (Blackstar & Guardian)

All The Time In The World(Blackstar)

The End of the Innocence(Iron Mike & Guardian)

And Be One Traveler(Iron Mike & Guardian)



AMAZONIA by D.A. Madigan & Nancy Champion (7 pages final script)

AMAZONIA (Alternate Draft 1)

AMAZONIA (Alternate Draft 2)

AMAZONIA (World Timeline)

TEAM VENTURE by Darren Madigan and Mike Norton

FANTASTIC FOUR 2099, by D.A. Madigan!







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Two heroes meet their editor...

At the movies with some legendary Silver Age sidekicks...

What really happened to Kandor...

Ever wondered how certain characters managed to get into the Legion of Superheroes?

A never before seen panel from the Golden Age of Comics...