Thursday, May 03, 2012

Telling Tales Out of School: Otto Binder and the Silent Dead

ories about NASA and UFOs are legion, as are photos, films, and videos. One of the most cryptic - yet potentially most damning - concerned the Apollo 11 crew. 

Contrary to popular misconception, it was originally reported as apocrypha, as the author of the article it was first aired within couldn't confirm (or deny, apparently) its authenticity.

From a special UFO issue of Saga magazine in 1972:
Aldrin and Armstrong were making their rounds some distance from the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) when Armstrong excitedly exclaimed: “What was it? What the hell was it? That’s all I want to know."
“These babies were huge, sir…enormous… Oh, God, you wouldn’t believe it… I’m telling you there are other spacecraft out there… lined up on the far side of the crater edge… They’re on the moon watching us… “

The author of the piece was one Otto Binder, one of the most remarkable figures in 20th Century pop culture.
Whipsmart and mind-bogglingly prolific, Binder wrote thousands of comic book stories for Fawcett, DC and Marvel, spanning over several decades, as well as scores of science fiction novels and short stories

He was also the editor of Space World magazine in the early 60s, which was a big cheerleader for JFK's ambitions for the space race. He was co-author of the original "I, Robot", which was adapted into not one but two different episodes of The Outer Limits. 

Although some UFOlogists have often labeled him a "NASA insider" -- a claim debunked by James "Truculent Walrus" Oberg and never claimed by Binder himself -- the writer's resume is extraordinary nonetheless.

And Binder's connections to NASA are not entirely imaginary, by any means.
On the contrary, he was deeply and intimately connected to the space program from its earliest days. From an article on Binder and the UFO controversy:
(Binder) authored over 300 non-fiction articles on scientific and UFO subjects, and articles in science yearbooks on chemistry, astronomy, physics and biology. He was a member of the American Rocket Society, American Interplanetary Society, National Spaceflight Association and Aerospace Writers Association.
He was also founder and editor of Space World Magazine from 1959 til 1963, subscribed to by high school and university students, as well as professional people.... In 1963 he was awarded an honorary Master’s Degree in Astronautical Science by NASA, and from 1965, until his death in 1974 wrote extensively in the field of Ufology, with books and articles on analyses and statistics.

What so outraged shills like Oberg was that Binder went off-script and wandered off the reservation.
As detailed in Jeff Kripal's Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics and the Paranormal, Binder was a man of science who was fascinated by UFOs and ancient astronauts. 

And unlike his cowardly, brow-beaten peers he was not afraid to say as much in public. But as we've seen with Star Trek and the Villas Boas abduction or The Outer Limits and possible intelligence Leslie Stevens might have been privvy to through his powerful family, Binder might have been hesitant to openly write about sensitive information he'd gotten through his own high-placed connections in the military or aeronautical fields. 

Remember, many UFO stories we take for granted today were suppressed- if not actually classified-- in the 1940s and 50s (such as, oh, I don't know, aliens being telepathic, maybe?). And the story we're about to take a look at is still a touchy subject for obvious reasons. It's also one of the strangest and most enigmatic stories of a particularly strange and enigmatic period in comics history.

This story was printed in Strange Adventures #82 in 1957, the same year Jack Kirby was unleashing all of his AstroGnostic madness.
Binder wrote a lot of stories for this sci-fi anthology, most of them pretty tepid stuff. But this story is interesting on several different levels. 

Straight off the bat is that we're dealing with telepathic aliens roughly in the Grey family, whereas aliens came in all manner of shapes and sizes in these stories.

The story has a sci-fi writer-- clearly modeled on Binder himself-- looking to do a story on flying saucers
and happening to spot one near a nuclear plant. Notably unphased by the encounter, the writer and the aliens confront each other, frustrated by their inability to communicate.

The aliens aren't here on a lark;
they've sensed that the reactor is about to meltdown. While the authorities try to figure out what they want, danger strikes and the UFO springs into action.

Using "neutronic foam", the aliens contain the meltdown.
The writer convinces the generals that the aliens aren't hostile and the nukes don't need to be launched, but the aliens clearly have other plans.

The aliens then provoke the military who launch a nuclear strike. But the attack has an unintended effect; rather than destroy the aliens it transforms them. And now the story gets weird; Binder is trying to say something here that he can't say out loud.

The aliens are now gods, straight out of ancient mythology.
They explain to the humans that their world ran out of the uranium they needed to transform themselves from little green men into a strange blend of Horus and Hermes.

 Some of you might be familiar with Zechariah Sitichin's theories--some 20 years later, mind you-- that the Anunnaki depleted their ozone layer and came to this world to mine gold and were likewise regarded as gods by earthlings. Except in Sitchin's story it was the earthlings who underwent the transformation from pygmies to gods.

Binder would write about all of that well before Sitchin but we've been down that road several times before.
It's interesting to see it all in allegory and flipped around, but the main plot of the story is much more interesting, given Binder's long-running connections to the space program and the rest of it. 

A plot even more interesting in that Binder puts an obvious version of himself in the story and obviously portrays himself not only as someone in the know about aliens but also on good terms with the military brass. I'm talking about an issue that would have been extremely touchy during the Cold War-- the disturbing interest UFOs were said to have taken in nuclear installations. From a paper entitled "Do Nuclear Facilities Attract UFOs?"
On numerous occasions, UFOs have been reported over nuclear power plants as well as nuclear research facilities and nuclear weapons storage bunkers at military bases...Highly trained government scientists and military personnel, who had been granted top-secret military clearances, made many of these reports. In a well-documented series of incidents in early November 1975, nocturnal lights and unidentified “mystery helicopters” visited a wide spectrum of American military bases and missile sites across the northern tier of this country...
A similar rash of incursions occurred in December 1948 (Los Alamos), December 1950 (Oak Ridge), July 1952 (Hanford AEC, Savannah River AEC, and Los Alamos), August 1965 (Warren AFB near Cheyenne, WY), March 1967 (Minot AFB, Malmstrom AFB, and Los Alamos)...
These reports led some to speculate that the intelligences behind UFOs have an interest in nuclear weapons and nuclear power. One feature of these reports suggesting a direct link deals with light rays or energy beams being focused on nuclear materials... 
In addition, there have been unsubstantiated rumors from enlisted men that the telemetry of the weapons at some sites had been changed or that other weapons had been rendered inoperative. Some researchers have suggested that the occupants of UFOs have a deep concern about the safety of nuclear power, and our proliferation of nuclear weapons, and are therefore keeping a close scrutiny of these sites.
During the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster on April 26, 1986, technicians reported that they observed a fiery sphere, similar in color to brass, within 1,000 feet of the damaged Unit 4 reactor during the height of the fire, about three hours after the initial explosion. 
Two bright red rays shot out from the UFO and were directed at the reactor. It hovered in the area for about three minutes, then the rays vanished and the UFO moved slowly away to the northwest. Radiation levels taken just before the UFO appeared read 3,000 milliroentgens/hour, and after the rays the readings showed 800 milliroentgens/hour. Apparently the UFO had brought down the radiation level.
That last story is particularly interesting if it can be verified. It's worth noting that the UFO and abduction wave-- whatever you personally make of it-- coincided with the nuclear anxiety of the Cold War, as well as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. 

It's worth noting that abductees often report lectures on nuclear power and weapons by their captors, whatever you personally make of the stories themselves. We discussed this issue a while back when a UFO was spotted on national television at the Idaho National Laboratory during the wildfires in the area. 

What interests me is why Binder would write about and go so far to put himself in the story. The story itself is stylistically different than a lot of the other stories he wrote for Strange Adventures, which tended to be somewhat over the top and childish. 

 Given Binder's deep connections he may well have heard about the UFO's interest in nuclear installations from his sources within the military and used this very silly sci-fi comic to tell this tale out of school, as it were. 

Why he chose to double that up with the AAT stuff is beyond me, but perhaps the Watcher/Igigi theories were being bandied about then. Binder in many ways is the opposite of Kirby-- a deeply-connected man with a sizable resume outside of comics. But obviously the two men shared many of the same obsessions. 

But those in power seem to worry most about paper trails and name-namers, and the next chapter in Otto Binder's story got the nodes in my tinfoil fedora vibrating just a little bit...

Hmm, what is the artist trying to tell us?

The same year NASA gadfly Gus Grissom and the Apollo 1 crew died a fiery death on the launching pad, unspeakable tragedy visited Binder.
From the Wiki:
"I'm far from retired, simply because I can't afford it. All the money I made from the Marvels and had saved up went down the drain when, in 1960, I invested as junior partner in publishing Space World, a magazine about astronomics... 
I think it was a good job I did as editor-in-chief—although the public stayed away from it in droves... 
So that left me without money reserves, and it was back to the comics until 1967, when my daughter—our only child—was killed by a car at age 14. For reasons difficult to explain, my wife and I moved from Englewood, New Jersey, to upstate New York where Jack lived. 
I was pretty broken up and found it difficult to write again up here, but went back to sci-fi, this time as the market hit. " (Binder's) daughter, Mary, died in 1967. She had been on her way to school one morning when a car jumped the curb, went into the driveway in front of the school and killed her.
Binder would continue to write, particularly on UFOs and ancient astronauts. But by all accounts he was never the same after his daughter's death. A terrible, terrible shame. 

 Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to rewatch "Paperclip"....