Chris KL-99, the Christopher Columbus of Space, debuted in the first issue of Strange Adventures, DC’s premiere science fiction comic. His series ran during the period 1948 – 1951: End of an Era, but would not continue past it. The stories by Edmond Hamilton were solid and fun sci fi, but the early art, by Howard Sherman, hearkened back to an older futuristic style. Towards the end of the run, Carmine Infantino, and then Murphy Anderson, would alter the look of the strip, but it seems by then Chris’ days were numbered.
The first story introduces Chris KL99, the "Columbus of Space," who seeks out unknown worlds. Later, his name would be slightly altered to KL-99. Chris is accompanied by Halk, a Martian adventurer, and Jero, a Venusian scientist, on his expeditions on his ship, the Pioneer. He works for the government, and with each new planet he discovers, adds a model of it to the Hall of Planets. He is nicknamed the Columbus of Space because he has found more new worlds than anyone else. He even gets a brief origin, of sorts. Chris was the first human born in space. His birth name was simply Chris KL, but as he got 99% on his space academy tests, his name was amended to KL99. Imagine having your high school test scores as part of your name for the rest of your life. The story opens as Chris and his comrades find and explore a water world. Then, after the origin sequence, and Hall of Planets scene, they wind up heading in to the dreaded Green Nebula, in search of a lost ship on a radioactive world.
Chris' costume, and the general look of the series, make this feel very much like old science fiction, pre-1950s, though the story is appropriate for the 50s. On the radioactive planet, Chris finds radioactive people, who look like glowing crystal men. The lost ship is actually one of radium thieves. As the radium thieves were the ones to land on the planet first, one might think that they ought to at least be credited with its discovery, but that's not what happens. The thieves try to steal Chris' ship, but with the aid of the radioactive men they stop the thieves, and bring them back as prisoners. Chris get all the acclaim for having found the world. Halk and Jero, not being humans, don't seem to rate at all.
The story in Strange Adventures 7 expands on Chris’ origin tale. As the story begins, people comment on how Chris spends as little time as he can on Earth, always off in his ship, searching for something. Even Jero and Halk have no idea what it is that Chris is hunting for. On a distant planet, they find a spaceship, the Starfarer.
This is what Chris has been hunting for, and he explains to his comrades that this was the spaceship that belonged to his explorer parents. When he was still very young, they went off on an expedition, and never returned. He became an explorer in hopes of one day finding them. Sadly, although Chris finds the ship, his parents had died long before. The world is soon to be destroyed by asteroids, and Chris helps get the people to safety. He watches as the world his parents were buried on is destroyed in a cosmic collision.
This leaves Chris pretty shaken, and he decides he no longer has any drive to be an explorer. But then he listens to the final recording his father left him, in which he expresses his hopes that Chris will become an explorer, and continue to seek out unknown worlds. Guilt-tripped from beyond the grave, Chris decides to carry on.
Halk gets the focus in the tale in Strange Adventures 9. Halk is from Mars, but does everything possible to avoid going back to that planet, which makes both Chris and Jero wonder if he has some kind of criminal past there. He does, indeed. Halk explains how he tried to improve the water supply on Mars by tinkering with the power crystal, the source of their energy. But he messed up, cracking it, and wound up reducing the water supply instead. For this, the other Martians hate him, and he went into exile.
By extreme good fortune, just after explaining this, the explorers wind up on a world where a tyrant is using power crystals to dominate the population. Halk knows how to break the things, so gets rid of two of them, and then they take the remaining one back to Mars, replacing the one Halk damaged there. Chris and Jero expect that Halk will now stay on Mars, no longer being hated, but he prefers to stay adventuring with his friends. Awww.
I enjoy the art on Chris KL99’s second tale, largely because of the cool robots, on the planet that Chris finds. It takes the explorers a while before they find any humans, and they wonder who built the giant robots. It turns out that the robots were constructed to repair the abandoned cities on the planet, wrecked by a series of massive earthquakes. The population fled, to avoid being killed, and planned to return after the robots completed their repairs.
But one evil man has taken control of the robots, and is using them as his army. With the aid of one of the world's inhabitants, Chris, Jero and Halk take over the manual controls of four of the robots, and fight against the man and his robot army, which looks pretty cool. Needless to say, Chris wins, and adds another sphere to the Hall of Planets.
Chris KL99, or more specifically his ship, the Pioneer, gets the cover of Strange Adventures 3, the closest the character would come to a cover appearance. The story opens with the explorers finding a couple of new worlds, and then heading back to Earth to report on them.
They arrive just in time to see strange ships stealing the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. More thefts of metal objects follow. Chris figures out how to track the ships by the ionization trail that they leave, and as he pursues them discovers that they are stealing metal from other worlds as well. Reaching the planet the ships came from, he, Jero and Halk learn that the metal world that is their base of origin was devastated by a metal blight.
The thieves are in a desperate situation. Chris decides to help them, rather than just punish them, and uses the Pioneer's speed and resilience to retrieve a small metal world from very close to a star, and give them that in exchange for the metal objects they had stolen. And this becomes yet another new world that Chris has discovered.
It's in Strange Adventures 5 that Chris KL99 becomes Chris KL-99. An emergency call comes from the planet Ruun, which no one has ever heard of. The government consult Chris KL-99, but even he is not aware of the world. But he quickly deduces that it must be a subatomic world, existing inside a pebble. Luckily for him, Jero and Halk, shrinking rays have already been invented, although never tested on people. So Chris, Jero and Halk become the first to be shrunken, and venture down to the world of Ruun. Upon reaching it, they meet the man who supposedly called for them, only to find he has no idea why they are they.
They quickly discover that the real leader has been overthrown by his evil twin, who threatens to destroy the radium globe that functions as the planet's sun since their real one burned out. Chris enlarges himself enough to find small planet and toss it into the burned out sun, which re-activates it. At the end, the pebble containing the subatomic world gets included in the Hall of Planets.
Chris and his companions find a planet with a long dead civilization in the story in Strange Adventures 11. Exploring it, they find a photograph taken of the Earth, which shows two moons orbiting it. Chris figures the second moon must have shot out of orbit, and somehow manages to calculate where it wound up. They seek the second moon out, and find it, inhabited by people who are the descendants of those who lived on it while it still orbited the Earth. They explain to Comet how this moon went astray. They were at war with the other moon, and the weapons they used against it had massive recoil, which shot their moon away.
The people no longer understand the old weaponry, simply considering it evil, and imprison Chris and his friends for approaching it. But this moon is now in danger of being wiped out in a planetary collision. Chris and his friends have to break out of prison, and fight off the inhabitants in order to start up the machines again, using them to move the invading planet out of the path of destruction.
The people realize that the weapons are not so evil after all. Chris and his friends head back to Earth, and I guess the inhabitants of the second moon quickly become warlike again.
In the final Chris KL-99 story, in Strange Adventures 15, he and his friends deal with a rival explorer, Shan Kar. He is from so far away that he claims to be discovering the Earth, the way Chris claims the discovery of other inhabited worlds. Shan Kar announces his plans to enter the dark cloud in space, and see what worlds are in there. Chris tries to get people to talk him out of it, but we find out from his crew that Chris has entered the dark cloud himself, though never revealed what he found in there. Shan Kar goes anyway, and so Chris, Jero and Halk follow.
They land on a planet of massive diamond mountains. Shan Kar is all excited, until he discovers what Chris had already learned, that the diamonds give off radiation that causes people to grow at high speed. Shan Kar is soon much larger than his rocket ship. Chris has found a metal that neutralizes the rays, and builds a bunker, bringing Shan Kar in, so he returns to normal size. Shan agrees that the world must be kept a secret, and heads back to his planet.
Though there are no more Chris KL-99 stories, we do know that he continues exploring the universe with his buddies, as he pops up again in the 80s, in an issue of DC Comics Presents.
Chris KL-99: Strange Adventures 1 – 7, 9, 11, 15 (Aug/Sep 50- Apr 51, June 51, Aug 51, Dec 51)