This Used to Be the Future: Rip Van Winkle 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 is about a Rip Van Winkle of Space, which is not to be confused with a Robert Van Winkle of Space.

We start with space-ambulance driver Hal Carter (the Green Lantern of Thanagar) investigating an accident where a spacecraft plowed into an asteroid. They get there too late…the only thing that remains from the flaming space-wreckage is the pilot’s “indestructible identity tag” which fingers him as Ross Burke, the notorious escaped criminal. And then we skip ahead a month.

I’m SURE this Ross Burke thing won’t come back later!

A month later Carter and his team come across a derelict spaceship floating in space, with markings indicating it’s an experimental rocket from 1960! Climbing on board, they make a startling discovery:

Carter’s colleague is skeptical. “Without a space suit,” he argues, “no one could survive in cold, airless space more than 24 hours!” But Carter suspects the pilot was flash-frozen into suspended animation.

They bring him aboard their space ambulance and give the astronaut a ray-injection of “spacecillin” (a triple dose!) in an effort to revive him. Sure enough, this fantastic super-medicine of the 21st century does the trick. He wakes up asking where he is and finds out it’s the year 2060!

The man, Ted Burton, is in fact from 1960, and was supposed to be the first man on Mars!

Ironically, the space ambulance delivers its patient…to Mars! There he is simply agog at the incredible progress of 100 years.

In the space hospital there’s a snag. There’s no way to verify Ted’s identity, since he doesn’t have an I-tag. After all, they weren’t introduced until 1988. As you all know, we all wear them now, and they’re made of secret, super-hard metal and can’t be counterfeited.

Burton is discharged from the hospital and Carter invites the man out of time to stay at his place. Over the next few days Carter has a good time watching Burton wig out at all the fancy new tech, such as push-button dinners, moving sidewalks, and (begin the chorus) personal jet-packs.

The two continue to pal around but something about Burton continues to bug Carter. Though the man is 140 years old, he seems oddly familiar.

Nevertheless, the next day Burton receives his own I-tag, which will allow him to travel back to Earth or wherever he may choose to go! But just as he takes hold of his new identity Carter slaps the tag out of his hand and declares him a crook! Burton is shocked, but makes for a window anyway.

Carter’s hunch is right! “Ted Burton” turns out to be none other than…Ross Burke! Burke found an old experimental rocket, faked his death in the asteroid crash, and risked dying in open space in an attempt to get a brand new I-tag! The fiend!

So how did Dr. Carter discover Burton’s/Burke’s ruse?

That cinches it. Burton is NOT a flash-frozen astronaut flung into the future from 1960 but a common, modern-day criminal. Wilma Deering will be so disappointed.

“Rip Van Winkle of Space”
Mystery in Space #27 (August-September 1955)
Writer: Otto Binder
Penciler: Sid Greene
Inker: Joe Giella
Editor: Julius Schwartz

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