This Used to Be the Future: Big House of Space!

Welcome to the exciting world of The Future! I’m your host, Dave Lartigue, and each Wednesday I’ll be taking you on an exciting and educational journey into the time to come! Sit back, pull up a cosmo chair, pour a space drink, and enjoy!

Today’s story comes from DC’s Mystery in Space #3 and is a gripping action yarn called “Big House of Space!” This is two-fisted red-blooded dameless action as can only be provided by a writer like:

Our Manly tale starts off with a rocket ship leaving earth, headed for the Big House of Space, a cosmic prison “peopled by prisoners too dangerous to be trusted on any of the planets!” This ship is full of these hardened criminals, including Bruce Trendon, who is whining to J. Random Guard.

Trendon claims to have been framed by Thidd, the lab caretaker. But is he telling the truth? Was the murderer tall, handsome Trendon with his full head of blonde locks? Or was it Thidd, with his large hooked nose and thin black comb-over?

It was Thidd. He admits it in the next panel. But he claims that Trendon will never be able to prove it! He also states that HE’S headed for the Big House of Space on a “simple robbery rap”. Man, if they’re sending a guy who swiped a Kit-Kat from the CVS to this place, the future has a different definition of “worst of the worst”.

They get to the Big House (which is a giant rocketship with smaller rocketships attached to it by arms) and are given their work details. Since Trendon is a scientist, he’s assigned to the chemistry lab. Thidd, on the other hand, gets to push a broom.

Right away, though, there’s trouble, and Trendon starts getting hassled by a dude called Burly.

Trendon gives Burly a fist across the jaw, leaving him floundering on the floor. Burly claims he’s going to tell the guards, but another prisoner steps in: Derek Crombie, Big Man on Big House. He insists that Burly fell and bruised himself and everyone saw it, including Burly. Capische?

We jump ahead to Trendon at work where, despite having no idea what he’s working on, he sees that progress is being made. In appreciation for his efforts, he’s called into Warden Wend’s office, where he’s given an attaboy. It’s tempting to think of this scene as needless padding, but I think Manly Wade Wellman was angling to make this a regular series.

Trendon goes back to his cell, where he discovers he has a new cell-mate: Crombie.

Ah, but Crombie has a plan…and a shift-ray gun — a device that allows one to walk through solid matter — that he’s cobbled together from stolen parts. Between this guy and Lex Luthor I don’t know why inventors don’t just hang out in junkyards and build faster-than-light engines from old vacuum cleaners.

They use the ray to hop down into the cell below, where Crombie has some pals. He explains to them that, since he helped Trendon earlier, Trendon will help them with their escape. Their plan is to steal one of the rockets bolted onto the prison and fly off to an uninhabited world, which seems to me like it’s not much of a difference from being in prison, except that there’s even less food.

Trendon asks them what they plan to use for food, water, and air on this destination world, and that’s where he comes in. The project he’s been working on is a formula that creates synthetic anything out of real nothing. Crombie wants Trendon to steal the formula so that they can manufacture their own basic necessities, hopefully before they all die of asphyxiation. If Trendon refuses? Crombie assures him he can make life very difficult for the scientist. Obviously he’s got no choice!

Later, Thidd brings more scavenged parts to Crombie — apparently Thidd is now part of this group as well. They plot the upcoming break and note that not only will they have to kill the Warden, Trendon will be rubbed out too, since “his usefulness will be at an end!”

But not yet! Back in his cell, Trendon tells Crombie that he wasn’t able to steal the make-anything formula, but he has memorized it. And with that, the prison break begins!

Crombie alerts everyone with a hidden radio he has, and then they escape from their cells with the shift-ray gun and then overpower the guards with their fists and their laser rifles that they somehow already had. This prison has the absolute worst contraband policy ever.

Now it’s time for Trendon to do his part for the cause! Crombie tells him to write down the secret formula for making delicious pudding out of rocks and stuff, and Trendon is only happy to oblige. But he makes Crombie come over and watch so they only those two will know. As Crombie leans in to peer at Trendon’s chicken-scratch, Trendon leaps out of his seat and pastes him one. Our hero grabs Crombie’s gun and declares that the mutiny is over!

Thidd takes a shot at Trendon, but misses, and suddenly it’s a full-on all-male short-pants brawl, just the way Manly comics fans like ’em!

But Trendon, like most scientists, is too strong and fast, and he manages to kick Crombie into Thidd, putting them both out of commission. The guards run in and succeed in putting down the rest of the jail-breakers, and the crisis is over.

However Thidd, suddenly mortally wounded, has a change of heart and confesses to the Warden that he killed the man Trendon was accused of murdering, clearing Trendon’s name! Thidd is assured that he’s not dying, and the prison hospital will have him fixed up in no time so that he can be executed for Murder One.

The wheels of justice turn quickly in the future (they are actually not wheels but retro-rockets) and the next day Trendon is being released from the Big House of Space.

Finally he can get out of that ridiculous prison outfit and into some normal clothes!

“Big House of Space”
Mystery in Space #3 (DC Comics, August-September 1951)
Writer: Manly Wade Wellman
Penciler: Bob Oksner
Inker: Bernard Sachs
Editor: Julius Schwartz

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3 Responses to This Used to Be the Future: Big House of Space!

  1. Johnny B says:

    I love Manly Wade Wellman’s tales of horror in the Appalachians, specifically his Silver John (aka John the Balladeer) stories. He did some time writing the Spirit during WWII, as well. Check it, boy-ee!

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    I keep reading the title as “Big (House of Space)”.

  3. Pingback: Dave Ex Machina – A Thousand Points of Articulation » This Used to Be the Future: What Is This Space?