Gold Key’s 1962 Space Family Robinson comicbook predated the Lost in Space TV show by three years and in spite of the similarities in theme and source (both are spacefaring revisions of the Swiss Family Robinson), neither were derivative of the other (at least according to the courts), so the pre-existing series settled for a licensing of the name “Lost in Space” from Irwin Allen to promote their smaller, yet still groundbreaking sci-fi comicbook.
The TV show lasted three interesting seasons, though, like its contemporary Star Trek it had its fair share of “cheesy” episodes toward the end. Also like Star Trek, Lost in Space found new life in syndication, the big screen and in comicbooks. The Space Family Robinson comicbook (initially unrelated) continued until the early 1980s (burgeoned by the resurrected success of Star Trek in Syndication). Much as the American Captain Marvel Comics series was continued after the fold of Fawcett comics in the form of Marvelman, the characters created for Space Family Robinson were continued in the UK’s Lady Penelope. Still, Lady Penelope didn’t last into the 1970s, while Space Family Robinson lasted until 1982.
Once the title and Western Publishing (who owned Gold Key and Whitman and was integrally partnered with Dell Comics) folded, the license for Lost in Space was up for grabs (at least on the gridded page). After the Comics folded, Hanna-Barbera produced an aired pilot that never resulted in a series, so Lost in Space‘s prospects were grim.
The evolution of the saga from screen back to graphic novels came about due to the efforts of “Dangerous” Will Robinson himself, Billy Mumy. Mumy, already cult music artist (ever hear the song “Fish Heads”?) and writer had been lobbying Irwin Allen to continue the saga as a movie or a new TV show from much of the late 1980s. His wish finally came true in the form of a new Lost in Space comicbook,which was written by Bill Mumy himself (note, this was almost a decade before he made it back to sci-fi street cred with his role as Lennier on Babylon 5).
The comic was the most successful Innovation ever produced and, with its official license the series (which lasted 20 issues) was an official continuation of the original TV show (especially with Mumy’s involvement), now depicting the adults still in their prime and the kids all grown up. And by “all grown up, I mean especially the girls.
It’s hard for a small company, to get their titles noticed on the rack, even with a recognizable title lik Lost in Space. Thus, the marketing needs for this series required a certain sexualization of the female characters of the series. Meaning? Judy and Penny Robinson were both shown in tight, revealing costumes, which were often torn and/ or soaking wet.
Yeah, I know, I know, we all grew up with a BIG crush on Penny Robinson, so all grown up, this must be great, right? Well, the ham-handed way much of this was handled suggested much more of marketing-based grab at sales instead of a valid continuation of the series (fanboy crush on Penny or not). Some issues feature at least one of the girls “in the all-together” (with strategically placed word balloons for coverage), which might be hot if, well, she wasn’t standing there in front of her family. Many issues featured one or both of the Robinson girls either in a bondage-like situation (tentacles anyone?) or quite literally in bondage… when Penny and Judy are… accidentally sold into prostitution.
Yes, folks, we get it, this is NOT your father’s Lost in Space. The series did have some great moments and, to be fair, even Wonder Woman was wearing a thong into battle in the early 1990s. That doesn’t change the fact that Innovation’s Lost in Space series should be referenced under the dictionary definition of “incongruous”.
The saga reached a whole new height in 1998 when a big budget, big screen Lost in Space was released. However, even that near-blockbuster didn’t arise fully-formed without trouble. Remember our last entry into To Be Continued… when we discussed Ib Melchior, who was working on his own Space Family Robinson concept around the same time as the Robinson comic and the Lost in Space TV show? Melchior reared his head again when New Line Cinema first started talks of the resurrected saga, claiming that Irwin Allen’s original story was based on the Melchior pitch (in spite of the fact that the notable characters of Robot, Dr. Smith and Penny, were absent from that concept). Production house Prelude Pictures (from whom New Line bought the rights to Lost in Space) avoided further litigation from Melchior by hiring him as a consultant on the film-to-be.
The film was a success (it knocked Titanic out of the top spot) but wasn’t a spatial juggernaut enough to warrant a sequel. There was, however, an ill-fated 2003 (un-aired) pilot, which preserved the origin of the characters but went a drastically different direction. Even with John Woo in the director’s chair, the series was not picked up and the sets were sold off to the producers of Battlestar Galactica.
Although further litigation was levied over the profit percentage from the 1998 film, it is noteworthy that no post-release litigation took place and Irwin Allen remains the sole legal creator of the Lost in Space franchise. Thus, any future comics-to-be, hyper-sexualized or not, must still include the notation “Based on Characters created by Irwin Allen”. So if any comic company has the cojones to give this another try, I can get you Penny Robinson’s number.
What will To Be Continued… hold for you true-believers NEXT TIME? I’ll never tell! Tune in to PopMatters.com EACH WEEK for more on ALL THINGS COMICS!