David Sivier travels back to the future to look at an example of how popular culture affected, and was affected by, the UFO mythos.

Marvel Preview (1) was one of the magazines the mighty comics empire published in the 1970s. It appears to have trailered new ideas and characters for possible development into future comics in their own right. This edition of the comic appeared at roughly the same time as the release of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, though the comic's writer and editor declares in the first paragraph that the two are definitely not connected, and that this story would have appeared in the magazine's previous issue, which would have come out very much before that film's release. Kraft insists that the story is very different from Spielberg's – which it certainly is – but ends his editorial by recommending the forthcoming comic book adaptation of Spielberg's masterpiece by Marvel stalwart Archie Goodwin.

Alongside the central comic strip are various articles by Kraft, Doug Moench, D. Jon Zimmerman, H. Aberdeen Harvey, a short story by Don Pendleton, and an extract from Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger, discussing how he came to believe (or not disbelieve) in the Illuminati. Kraft in his editorial talks about his own UFO and alien sightings growing up in 'very rural region' of North Dakota. Moench's article is on Jimmy Carter's UFO sighting, while the article by Kraft and D. Jon Zimmerman is on John Lennon's close encounter. D. Jon Zimmerman and H. Aberdeen Harvey also review Project Blue Book.

The tone throughout is that UFOs are real, nuts and bolts alien spacecraft, and that John Lennon definitely was not hallucinating when he saw one over the Golden Gate bridge. As the spiritual inspiration for legions of youthful hippies at one time took so much LSD that he was on the way to becoming the classic acid casualty, a hostile sceptic could argue that it could have been an LSD flashback. More likely, his head was clear, and it was a classic case of misidentification.

It's the comic strip itself that I remember. This was reprinted over here as one of the supporting stories in Marvel's Star Wars comic. This follows a young girl, Sissie, and her father, Tom, as they flee, pursued by malevolent alien machines and the creatures that built them, across America, to France and thence to Egypt. The father is a scientist, working on pyramid power. Inspired by Wilhelm Reich's concept of 'Orgone' energy, he builds a pyramid 'energy accumulator'. At this point, the alien machines attack, killing his wife, the girl's mother. During their flight across the world, the father experiences a series of hallucinations, dragging him back to his past lives, in which he witnessed the appearance of UFOs in ancient Egypt, as a fighter pilot during the First World War, and as a fugitive from the Nazis in Hitler's Germany.

During the voyage from France to Egypt, the aliens attack and sink the passenger ship the two are travelling on. They seek refuge in the father's energy pyramid. The aliens retreat, but the two together share another hallucination, in which they witness the destruction of a Brazilian airliner. Tom is convinced that they ancestral memories, and that exposure to the pyramid and its energies is awakening special, latent powers within them. Entering the pyramid again, they witness a meeting between the aliens discussing the scientist and the threat he poses to them. The aliens are a degenerate species, dependent for their survival on harvesting psychic energy. They are determined to prevent the pair from going to the great pyramid of Cheops. Emerging from their pyramid, the two resolve to go to the the Pharaoh's monument. On their way through the desert they are attacked by the aliens themselves, disguised as bedouine.

Arriving at Cheop's pyramid, they go back into their own to experience further revelations. There they witness the aliens harvesting psychic energy from humans via high technology. One woman revolts, and is gunned down by the aliens. They witness the aliens draining the life force from one of the captured men in order to vivify an alien baby. The aliens are racially degenerate, and can only survive by feeding off the psychic energies of captured humans. Power levels inside the scientist's own pyramid are building to potentially lethal and explosive levels. He gets out, only to be killed by the aliens. Sissie stays inside, surrounded by the aliens, feeling the power build up inside her, awaiting not just her death, but the slow and painful death of her alien tormentors.

It's a grim tale, especially as much of it is told from the girl's point of view. It's also very much a product of the 1970s, containing many of the elements of the later abduction myth popularised by Streiber et al. The aliens are very definitely not the Space Brothers of the contactees, but more like the Greys, though tall and spindly rather than short. Like the Greys, they are a species long past their evolutionary peak, and have declined to the point where they need to find on humans. This, however, is clandestine, and there is no suggestion of a conspiracy with human collaborators in the story.

It also obviously includes many of favourite ideas of the emerging New Age counterculture at the time: Wilhelm Reich (left), pyramid power and race memories. Part of Marvel's success was in matching and taking on developments in youth culture at the time. In the 1960s this was Surrealism, particularly in the art of Steve Ditko. Their heroes were frequently anti-authoritarian rebels. Bruce Banner's transformation into the Hulk, for example, was due to his own exposure rushing a teenager, Rick, to a nuclear shelter to protect him from a nuclear test explosion. Rick was an alienated teenager, very much in the mould of Rebel Without a Cause. The Hulk's nemesis was a general, the father of Banner's girlfriend, adding an element of generational rebellion to the strip. In the original Spiderman strip, the figure of oppressive authority was Peter Parker's editor, the boorish and reactionary J. Jonah Jameson. There was also a brief period when Captain America, in disgust at the corruption of contemporary America, doffed his patriotic name and attire, to become Nomad, a superhero with no country. All this could make Marvel seem more left-wing and countercultural than it actually was.

How many read or were influenced by the comic is questionable. It was only one of a number of SF, UFO and related paranormal comics and related merchandise around at the time. The story itself was a one-off, and doesn't seem to have spawned a continuing strip. Despite this, it does show clearly the increasing darkness of UFO myth and the evolution of the Greys as malignant species.

1. Marvel Preview, no. 13, Winter 1978. David Anthony Kraft, writer and editor, illustrated by Herb Trimpe and Klaus Janson, cover by Jim Starlin.

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