Space Cabby Sunday: The Evolution of Space Cabby!

The last solo Space Cabby story ran in 1958. He had been a staple of Mystery in Space for three years, but was suddenly and unceremoniously abandoned. He only appeared in reprints for several years afterwards.

In 1985, however, he returned in DC Comics Presents #78. This story (the second part of a two-parter involving “forgotten” heroes and villains) seemed to be a last look at some Silver Age characters before cleaning house with the infamous Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since DC was about to effortlessly and effectively wipe the slate anyway, writer Marv Wolfman was also free to add two new characters to the DC roster:

Space Cabby next shows up in the enigmatic DC Challenge, issues #7 and 8, in 1986. DC Challenge was a…well, let’s say experimental work, and its chaotic and “wacky” nature (issue 7’s title is “Don’t Bogart That Grape…Hand Me the Gas Pump!”) meant that it was inevitable for a “crazy” character like Space Cabby to appear.

Also in 1986 he appeared in both Who’s Who in the DC Universe:

and The History of the DC Universe:

These entries, especially the first, brought up some serious issues. As you can see, the art (by Bernard Sachs) is labeled “Space Cabbie”, which I am now prepared to declare is a complete misnomer. I documented all his stories and he was only referred to as “Cabbie” instead of “Cabby” a handful of times — and one of those times he was referred to by both names. What’s more, in the text of this very Who’s Who entry they call him “Space Cabby”. So I am being the decider here: His name is Space Cabby, not Space Cabbie.

However, the text of this article is not without problems of its own. I quote:

Space Cabby was orphaned young and raised by the military rulers of Ghengkis VII. As a youth, he excelled in deep space navigation and demonstrated a natural ability to pilot any craft.

This skill was put to the test in the Bored Wars of 2146 when the young pilot allegedly shot down a record number of fightercraft singlehandedly in a battle lasting three Terran days. Like many who fought in the short but bloody Bored conflict, the youth was feeling unsettled and restless after he was released from service.

In addition to this obvious chicanery (the “Bored Wars”?), his first appearance is given as Mystery in Space #26 (it was #21) and his height is given as 5’10” (he has always seemed tall to me.)

I can only conclude that whoever wrote this entry was up drinking cheap gin the night before it was due and hastily scratched it on a napkin before turning it in at the last possible second and should be ashamed of himself.

Space Cabby took the next five years off, but in 1991 he appeared in Twilight:

No, no, not that Twilight. This is the miniseries written by Howard Chaykin and beautifully illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It was a (naturally) “dark and gritty” look at DC’s stable of space heroes (minus Kirk and Who). Chaykin’s take on Space Cabby is…well…it’s Chaykin, and that pretty much says it.

That’s him on the right there, and it’s okay if you don’t believe me. In fact, the only thing we really have to go on, without the hat, the bow-tie, the pretty much anything consistent with the character is that he’s driving a cab, and it’s in space. But of course, Chaykin’s entire goal here was to paint every DC space hero in the most unflattering light possible. LET US MOVE ON.

Up until now, Space Cabby has been just making little cameo appearances in stories, but this changes in 1995, with Lobo #21. Space Cabby teams up with DC’s desperate attempt to grab some of that sweet sweet EXTREME cash in an adventure that simply defies reading. Whatever you think of the Silver Age, the mainstream comics of the 90s make it look like those earlier books were written by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and seventeen Brontës.

Then, in 1999, he made the cover of a comic again! (Well, his cab did.) In a storyline entitled “Stars My Destination” James Robinson’s Starman traveled into space for a journey to the farthest reaches of readers’ patience. In issue #55 — part NINE of the storyline — Space Cabby picks up two guys who tell Rashomon-esque stories of Starman’s space derring-do while cycling through various half-forgotten Silver Age space characters. And artist Peter Snejbjerg…

pays homage to an earlier illustration.

By this time you’d think that DC would realize what a dynamic character they had on their hands, but sadly, he was kicked to the curb again. With DC’s main writers all trying to out-obscure-reference each other, there was a mad rush to drop references to the most cobweb-filled corners of DC continuity. Space Cabby became one of those characters you throw into a montage to tell the reader, “Oh man, check out all the esoteric stuff we’re cramming into this one panel!”

Here’s his entire “appearance” in Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest (2000):

He shows up in the Elseworlds book that asks the question, “What if someone thought there needed to be a sequel to The Nail?”, Justice League of America: Another Nail (2004):

And don’t wipe your monitor, this is actually just his appearance in The Brave and the Bold #6 (2007), actual size:

I have no idea if he’s buried somewhere in Kingdom Come.

Part of this was because DC was spending those years deciding that its books had to either be So Very Serious or for kids. Which is why Justice League Unlimited #18, which falls in the latter category, is actually worth reading. In it, Space Cabby — who is delivering a fare across the time stream now — gets to help out Superman!

It’s hard to say where the character exists now with regard to DC’s editors and creators. His most recent appearance, in Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (2008) is a return to “wacky cameo from DC’s obscure, forgotten past”, so although it’s beneath his role standing alongside Superman in JLU, it’s a step above “background reference #47” in the previous three comics.

That brings us up to date with this beloved character, and brings Space Cabby Sundays to an end. I hope that I have gotten across my genuine love for Space Cabby. I think the idea of an everyday working-class guy seeing the fantastic future from the ground level (without having to constantly be in awe of all the Godlike Heroes), who has a reason to fly around space and get mixed up into all kinds of wild adventures is amazing, and is so full of untouched potential. Sure, I’ve made fun of the guy and the stories, but that one story I read over thirty years ago intrigued me and stayed with me more than just about any other comic.

Thanks a bunch to the folks who helped out with this series, whether it was providing scans of issues, helping find scans, giving positive feedback and support, linking and retweeting the posts, or just plain reading and enjoying them. Also to those who patiently sat there while I went on about a ninth-string DC character that nobody except me cared about.

DC, call me.

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10 Responses to Space Cabby Sunday: The Evolution of Space Cabby!

  1. David Thiel says:

    What a blast! (A SPACE blast, that is!) Sorry that it’s over so soon. I now feel that I know Space Cabby better than (almost) anyone.

    I’m glad that we have a ruling on the spelling of his last name. Perhaps you can declare the definitive look of his Space Cab as well? Or provide a name for his hitherto-unrevealed girlfriend?

  2. Dr. K says:

    It’s truly the end of an era. Thanks for a great series!

  3. Ray Cornwall says:

    Didn’t he also appear in Waid’s run of Brave and the Bold?

  4. Dave says:

    It seems he did, Ray. That’s why I included it. Though, as you can see, it’s easily missed…

  5. Dan says:

    I remember reading some of the Space Cabby stories in the early 60’s; I was trading my Archie comics for late 50’s Marvels and DCs. I had pretty much forgotten Space Cabby until you started running this series. Thanks for bringing back memories of my early collecting days. At some point, I gotta go thru the stacks and see if I still have any of them.

  6. Cathy says:

    Man, what a fun series this has been! I’m sad to see it come to an end. Thanks for sharing all this research and your enthusiasm for the character – the joy has been infectious, and it really has made me think more about what makes fun characters work.

  7. Sniffnoy says:

    I still have to wonder how he ended up with “Space Cabby” as a name…

  8. bryant says:

    Damn, those silver age dudes really knew how to draw!

    Having just read through all of these, I must say, I’m sad to see we’ve come to the end. When DC asks you to relaunch the character, let me know!

  9. Moonrock says:

    I’m so sad this series is over! Will you be picking another obscure character to cover on Sundays? I hope so!

  10. Chunky Style says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) Space Cabby is a descendant of Doiby Dickles. Or an alternate timeline version of Doiby Dickles. Or, perhaps, Doiby Dickles in his youth.

    2) Space Cabby will eventually be elevated to godhood and become Metron.