Gold Key issue 3 (December 1968), “Invasion of the City Builders,” serves up a passable automation-gone-too-far story, but once again it’s wrapped in a tortilla with a large side of WTF sauce.
The Enterprise, continuing the galaxy-hopping trend of the two previous issues, is now “at the edge of a distant galaxy.” Impossible travel times aside, the writer clearly didn’t watch “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which established the energy barrier surrounding our galaxy and the negative side effects of crossing it. After a quick stop to repair “rocket engine #4”—including an exterior shot of space-suited crew with the Enterprise from such a weird perspective nothing about the ship makes sense—Kirk and his gang continue to “Planet Questionmark.” They should get there in “two lunar hours one galaxy minute.” I wonder how long that is in asteroid days and comet seconds? On the way there, Spock gets Kirk up to speed by showing him old “radio-photo films” of the planet. The Gold Key comics consistently use sci-fi lingo that sounds like it was written in 1945. I should note that I’m typing all of this with a smile on my face, not an angry nerd frown. These comics are a hoot.
The Enterprise reaches the planet and swoops down into the atmosphere, flying at news-chopper height over the city. And what a city! It stretches across most of the planet, yet there are no people in the endless streets. We eventually learn from the few survivors that increasing automation led down a slippery slope from robot lawn mowers to giant city-building machines that simply won’t stop building cities. Meanwhile, the machines that produce food have broken down, and the people no longer know how to do anything for themselves.
Amusing side note: Kirk introduces himself “in the interplanetary language Esperanta.” Esperanto was created in the nineteenth century to serve as a common international language. It didn’t take over the world, but it is the most widely spoken constructed language according to Wikipedia, so it must be true (because that’s where my research stopped, I’m assuming its only competition is Klingon and Elvish). It arguably reached its peak when William Shatner starred in the all-Esperanto horror movie Incubus (1966), which filmed shortly before shooting began on the second Star Trek pilot, the aforementioned “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
Now back to the story. The city builders are about to citify one of the last open spaces on the planet, and the native population is powerless to stop them. The landing party decides to help and calls upon the Enterprise to fire all weapons on the robot machines. Oops, no, that was what would have made sense. Instead, they use a laser rifle to make a big ditch for the machines to fall into. The machines simply build their way out of the ditch. When Spock does call upon the Enterprise for help, it’s to have a chemistry kit beamed down so he can find a weakness in the city builders’ metal. And the weakness turns out to be “a simple solution of NH2.” The metal “could probably withstand an atomic blast…yet a mild amino acid disintegrates it!” I’d try to research that chemistry if it didn’t take research.
Armed with Super Soakers, and with tanks full of amino acid on their backs, the crew and the natives take care of business. The city builders are destroyed and the natives are on the road to recovering their world and society. This is the first truly happy ending in the comic books!
Favorite exclamation: Kirk’s “Great novas!”