The Cave Carson series, which debuted during the period 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age, imagines a fairly hollow Earth, lit by who knows what, filled with all manner of exotic plants and animals. While clearly nonsense, so far as science and reality are concerned, the adventures are fun, and the visuals often quite stunning. Although he finally got a series quite recently, in these years the strip was given try outs in both Brave and the Bold and Showcase, but never graduated to his own book.
France Herron and Bruno Premani introduce Cave Carson and his team of underground explorers in Brave and the Bold 31. Cave Carson, Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith all have their debuts in this story. A radio tower and a train get sucked into the Earth, and Cave Carson heads down to investigate, but never comes back up. A few days later, a balloon emerges from the ground with a note from Cave, pleading for a rescue.
Christie and Bulldozer had been finishing off a boring vehicle, the Mighty Mole, while waiting for Cave. So the pair take the car on its maiden voyage into the Earth. The Mighty Mole has a number of special features that enable its passengers to survive, and is able to travel on land and through water. It has a laser device on the front to penetrate the rock.
Christie and Bulldozer find Cave, and he leads them to a magnetic monster that was responsible for the disaster. But first they have to deal with carnivorous plants, a dinosaur, and even a living lava monster.
They finally reach the magnetic monster, and use the laser on the Mighty Mole to cut right through it. These may not be the best stories ever written, but I do love Cave Carson.
Bernard Baily does the art on the second Cave Carson story, in Brave and the Bold 32. Cave Carson, Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith are exploring a new set of caves when they come across a dying being, who looks almost like an alien. They trio find some notes and recordings, and after figuring out the language, follow his trail back to his home. They come across a spectacular underground city, lit by an artificial sun, but almost immediately come under attack by people from that city, and Bulldozer gets captured. Cave and Christie are aided by others from the city, and learn about how the place has descended basically into civil war. A strange gas has begun to permeate their underground realm, and threatens to kill them all.
One faction of the city has decided it is time to invade and conquer the surface world, thinking that they will find a cure up there. Those are the bad ones. The good ones just basically want to sit around and die, sure that there is no cure, and that they would infect the people on the surface. It's really not clear why they would be so certain about this. But it does make for two opposing camps, and easy for Cave and his crew to pick the side to fight on. They rescue Bulldozer, but the leader of the bad guys sends the artificial sun after them to kill them, and it takes some swift maneuvering of the Mighty Mole to escape it. Cave destroys the artificial sun by heating it so much it explodes, and this explosion wipes out the entire city and all of its people, no matter which side they were on. Somehow, this genocide of an entire civilization is heroic.
Cave Carson's first run in Brave and the Bold concludes with issue 33. There is less sub-surface action in this story than in the previous two. It begins with a robot attacking cities, and Cave Carson springing into action to defend them. He tries to fight the robot using the Mighty Mole, but the robot has a force field, and is able to shoot freezing pellets that threaten to damage the vehicle. So Cave Carson drives down into the Earth. With Bulldozer at his side, while Christie stays about to monitor the situation, he tracks the radio waves that are controlling the robot.
Apparently these are particularly powerful radio waves, as they travel through the ground. No wonder he can track them. Cave and crew find a couple of aliens deep in a cave, and learn that they have two robots, with which they plan to conquer the world. Cave and Bulldozer take out the first aliens they encounter, but there are others as well, controlling the other robot.
Cave takes over the controls and sends one robot after the other one. The story gets even more complicated when the aliens realize one of their robots has been taken over, and move to capture Cave, who disguises himself as one of them. In the end, the two men defeat all the aliens and send them and their robots back to their own planet.
Cave Carson returns for a second run in Brave and the Bold in issue 40, along with Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith. The art on this tale is by Joe Kubert, and is just exceptional. The story pits Cave and his crew against a collector named Zenod, who has learned about three magic crystals. The first crystal allows him to travel underground, which is fortunate, as it wouldn't be much of a Cave Carson adventure if it wasn't all underground. The second crystal gives him solar based powers, which he uses to hold off Cave as he hunts for the third.
As Cave and his gang pursue Zenod they come across a dinosaur egg (at least it's not an alien one), which hatches out a pretty big baby dinosaur that tries to kill them. This delays them even further, allowing Zenod to get to the third crystal. Zenod uses all three crystals against the team at the climax. The third crystal allows Zenod to animate objects, and he creates a number of rock monsters to battle Cave and the others.
But using all three causes the first one to shatter, and Zenod can no longer move through the Earth. He tries to steal the Mighty Mole, but Cave had rigged it, and it winds up blinding Zenod. Not being able to see, he cannot control his animations, and Cave overpowers and captures him.
Mort Meskin is the artist for the final Cave Carson tryout in Brave and the Bold 41. Usually I really like Meskin's art, but coming right after the Kubert issue, this feels like a let-down. Alien raiders are at the root of this issue. Thankfully they have no dinosaurs, but they do have a vehicle along the lines of the Mighty Mole, which they use to steal museum treasures. Cave Carson is called in to follow and apprehend them. It doesn't take Cave, Christie Madison and Bulldozer Smith very long to find the aliens.
Cave realizes that their base must just be an outpost for a larger civilization. They try to capture the aliens, but get shot with a dimensional transporter ray, and sent to their world. There they get framed by the real bad guys, caught and imprisoned.
Cave manages to bust out Christie and Bulldozer, and eventually convince those in charge of what is really going on. The best art in the story is of the alien world. I guess that's just because Meskin cannot compete with Kubert on the cave stuff. The story is a bit thin as well, and feels stretched out just to fill the length of the book.
A couple of years later Cave Carson returns for yet another tryout run, this time in Showcase. Showcase 48 sees a number of changes to the strip. Bob Haney and Lee Elias helm this issue, which sends Cave Carson and his crew deep into a cave in France, pitting him against an old enemy we had never before heard of. The changes made to the series since it's last appearance vary from the superficial to the significant.
Christie Madison has made new costumes for the group, and one has to admit they are visually more distinctive and appealing. Bulldozer Smith is revealed to have a criminal background, although that doesn't seem to mean anything to the other members of the team, and now as a pet lemur, Lena, as well. The biggest change to the strip involves Johnny Blake, who Christie loved and lost, and who turns the series into a weird romantic triangle.
Johnny Blake only appears in a flashback sequence in this story. He was a younger and brasher spelunker, who competed with Cave Carson, and stole away Christie's love. He vanished while exploring a cave in France, though the team finds his pickaxe and Christie thinks they may be on his trail.
But the pickaxe was left by Emile Basto, who has left it there, and painted glowing cave paintings of Carson, to lure them down to him. The group has to fight off a number of giant deadly insects, as well as underground prehistoric creatures. They get away from Basto, but there is no sign of Johnny Blake.
Cave Carson and crew find Johnny Blake in Showcase 49. The story begins with strange occurrences in a brand new capital city built in the middle of a jungle in a South American country. For the time period, this is clearly a reference to Brasilia. Natives are attacking the city, and it all has to do with a legendary firebird. At the same time, Christie Madison finds a note left by Johnny Blake indicating that he had not really gone to France after all. So when the crew see a fire being who resembles Johnny, Christie is certain that it is him. And the fire creature takes special interest in Christie as well, sealing her up in clay before carting her off.
It turns out that this is Johnny, alive but unconscious, and being used by the firebird, who is trapped in a sort of egg. Cave Carson and their local guy stay down with the firebird and the other two while Bulldozer Smith heads back to the surface, bringing Lena the Lemur with him as he steals the magical sceptre that frees the firebird. There is a big final aerial battle against the bird, which is unusual for this land based series.
Johnny Blake almost sacrifices himself to defeat the bird, but survives. So the issue ends with the romantic triangle of Cave-Christie-Johnny all established.
Cave Carson returns in the next period, 1964 – 1967: the New Look.