RIP HUNTER...TIME MASTER #21, August 1964
Bill Ely original artist
Time travel stories have always fascinated readers--myself included--replete as they are with multiple conundrums and endless "what ifs". Aware of their basic appeal, DC Comics once based an entire series on a time-hopping adventurer back in the early sixties. Though ultimately a mere footnote in the history of the medium, the century shifting Rip Hunter chalked up 29 issues of his own title--after four trial appearances in SHOWCASE--between the years 1961 and 1965. Thereafter, he was quietly relegated to B-List limbo, patiently awaiting his chance to return in a more modern setting. He eventually did, but that doesn't concern us one whit here today. Nosirree, not with such historical honeys as Cleopatra and Helen of Troy in his care, each attempting to out-diva one another!?!
Remember those "ironic" time travel tales we've all read over the years? You know, the ones where a careless traveler accidentally leaves a role of Lifesavers behind while fleeing a group of irate cavemen, thereby insuring nothing less than the end of the world? (...Or was it a bag of M&Ms? No matter...) How an out-of-era visitor's actions ALWAYS had consequences, usually of the dire sort? Well, in rereading this 1964 issue of RIP HUNTER...TIME MASTER, I was somewhat bemused that this sort of by now logical thinking that's routinely applied when concocting time-spanning scenarios was distinctly absent throughout "The Beauty Contest of the Ages"!?!...

Written by Jack Miller in the wake of the then-topical Liz Taylor-"Cleopatra" debacle, the plot of this potentially intriguing story starts out quietly enough on a Hollywood back-lot. A beret bedecked film director, in full visual cliché-mode, avails upon Rip Hunter to help garner publicity for his latest epic. A Marie Antoinette biopic, our cigar-chomping auteur figures that by staging a beauty contest between the most desirable women throughout all of history AND his star actress, Liz Traymore, he'll have the public buzzing about his latest project. Rightly rejecting this self-serving notion as having absolutely no scientific merit, the naive Time Master is eventually persuaded to arrange the pageant when promises are made to donate twenty percent of the blockbuster's profits to Rip's favorite charities. (...Let's not even consider Tinseltown's creative accounting practices here, okay?...) As Hunter heads off to the Time Sphere to alert his crew of their latest--and highly dubious--mission, the chortling DeMille-wannabe whispers to an associate that he fully plans to rig the voting, making sure his gal out-ranks the lovely lasses of legend!! Sound stupid enough for you yet? Well, folks, that's just the set-up!

I'm not going to make you suffer. You needn't hear how each potential contestant--which, besides the two aforementioned ancient sweeties, includes Theodora (wife of the 6th century's Emperor Justian--and yeah, I never heard of her, either...) and the Princess Scheherazade from 950 A.D--all willingly and pretty much immediately hopped on board when the strange man in the green jump suit merely mentioned the prospect of competing for the title of most gorgeous gal of all time! And how, in order to spirit Helen away from the jealous ruler, Paris, Rip and crew blatantly tug a giant Trojan Horse inside the gates of Troy with their Time Sphere--in full view of everyone!! Thus, they're essentially tampering with history, not to mention precipitating much, much bloodshed!?! But hey, they've got themselves another cutie in tow for their silly competition, so I guess that's all that matters, comprende? And I probably shouldn't even tell you how the cat fighting between all these easily agitated historical figures--and, oh, WHAT figures!?! -escalates in the Time Sphere's tight quarter's to the point that it causes a crash landing of the congregation in the wild's of 18th century France!?! Stepping out for some air--and maybe a little moment of much needed sanity-- the crew winds up rescuing a homely servant girl from a pack of wolves (the four-legged kind, please understand). For reasons that make little sense, the time-travelers cart her along with them to witness the big event in the hopes of cheering her up (HOW, I couldn't tell ya...). When the Hollywood hottie finally joins the handpicked historical (or is that "HYSTERICAL"?...) contingent up on stage, with the judging imminent, the final plot device comes into play. Do you really need to know that the sneaky Sherry discreetly prepares to utilize a magic potion her dad the Court Sorcerer slipped her before she took off? The powdery substance makes ANY women utterly and totally irresistible, but just as Scheherazade begins to sprinkle it on herself, a huge gust of wind kicks up, and guess what? Remember that homely little French maid? Yup, it lands on her! She's then quickly and decisively chosen as the big winner of the Beauty Contest of the Ages! Ha! I guess there IS irony to be found in RIP HUNTER comics after all, isn't there?...

Yes, it was a tremendously dumb story, no doubt about it. Worse--the cover was deliberately misleading. Oh, that scene certainly appears, but see that line of dialog our hero spouts? About being doomed if the "girls"--as he so casually refers to this collection of distaff royalty--don't stop their bickering? He never--I repeat, NEVER--says anything even close to that inside the book. Nope. The ONLY thing their non-stop kvetching is gonna doom him to is the mother of all headaches, lemme tell ya!?!

And while artist Bill Ely did an acceptable job bringing these legendary lovelies to life, one can only imagine what the exact same story would've looked like if it had been drawn instead by someone the caliber of, say, Wally Wood, hmm? The mind boggles at the notion! One thing for sure--if the wondrous Wally had been at the drawing board, no one would've cared about this tale's glaring deficiencies, because believe me, brother, no one would've NOTICED!?! Hubba-historical-hubba!!