Ah, the 1960's! What a period in American history were the fun-loving sixties! Life was so much simpler then ... well, that is, except for that whole Vietnam thing that started ... and the Cold War ... and the assassination of JFK ... and probably some other things. Still, it had the Space Race. It had TV's STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE ... but, before those popular programs were given their chance to shape a generation, the Robinson family was already `lost in space' in the oft-overlooked SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, given premium treatment here with the collection of VOLUME 4 of their forgotten tales.
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of characters and plot. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
If you're familiar with the TV program, then you already know the story - a family, the Robinsons, meant to be the first in space ends up way off-course in the spaceship, trapped thousands of light years from home (i.e. Earth). They braved the final frontier as a family, all four of them trained to live and work amongst the stars, always searching for the path home that eluded them.
What you probably don't know is that the stories of the Robinsons actually began much earlier than the TV show. There's a fair amount of controversy about who founded what exactly (much of this is detailed in this volume's introduction by Brady Connell, son of the late Del Connell who ran Western Publishing Company's comic book efforts at the time of the title's launch), but, in the end, what mattered more was the stories of family and friendships made between these people of Earth and the various aliens they encountered out in the stars.
What still works today is the unbridled sense of enthusiasm prevalent in all of these tales. Despite being stranded and practically forever lost from their home planet, these Robinsons - Craig, June, Tim, Tam, and their pets - maintained an almost militant optimism about their quest to return. In the journeys, they'd help whoever they encountered, often times putting themselves in the face of jeopardy. No matter the odds, they'd prevail ... because that's what families did at times like these. Just like America was kinda/sorta falling apart socially all around itself, one could make the argument that these unexplored worlds and their indigenous dangers paralleled the great social struggle of that era. No matter the risk, the Robinsons faced them. No matter the danger, the Robinsons rushed into the unknown to defend life - theirs and others. Some may find all of this more than a bit passé, but I found it delightful.
And, seriously, science fiction fans couldn't ask for more from SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON. It had space ships. It had space stations. It had ray guns. It had escape shuttles. It had science. It had dinosaurs. It had aliens. It had bird people, plant people, and bug people. It had robots, unexplored planets, time travel, pocket universes, and much, much more. Scribes Dubois and Fallberg went to great lengths to incorporate a contemporary understanding of science, passing along little lessons to their readers, not forcing it down their throats but showing that only those with an understanding of the world around them would survive when mankind broke the barriers of our world.
Not only was it smart and inspiring, but it was everything artistically you'd want to look at. Dan Spiegle's artwork was perfect for the time, choosing to depict the family with basic lines - nothing all that fancy - but sketching and coloring the many environments of these worlds with bright colors, clean interiors, and a snappy sci-fi look. He probably couldn't invest the kind of time and effort spent on `world creation' that happens in today's market, but, for a man who helped bring a different world to life once every thirty days, I thought he did a bang-up job. When it could, he clearly kept it simply; when he knew that the sky was the limit, he delivered something bigger than life ... or, at least, big enough for the lives being lived by the Robinsons.
It's a grand collection. It earns my highest marks.
SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, VOLUME 4 is published by Dark Horse Comics. Its stories - a collection of single and double-issue reprints - are written by Gaylord Dubois and Carl Fallberg; the art is provided by Dan Spiegle; and the wonderful (wonderful!) cover paintings are done by George Wilson. The hardcover volume bears a cover price of $49.99 ... and, sure, that's a bit steep, but for sci-fi purists like myself, it's definitely worth it if you have the money to spend.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. The continuing adventures of the Space Family Robinson are nothing short of a pure delight. Of course, coming as they do from the sixties, these yarns are decidedly dated. Everything happens quickly (especially by today's standards) and, to no one's surprise, everything works out the way you'd want (or maybe even predicted) it to. Volume 4 is a slice of pop culture perfection complete with two loving parents, two high-spirited children, their sidekicks (a dog and a parrot), a traveling space station, crazy creatures, friendly aliens, ray guns, and space wars.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, VOLUME 4 for the expressed purposes of completing this review.