I assume the Gardner Fox/Carmine Infantino/Murphy Anderson story “The Flying Gorilla Menace” from Strange Adventures #125 was one of their “cover first, story later” creations. If so, they put far more work into it than they had to.
That’s part of why I love Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space during Julius Schwartz’s editorial tenure. Jack Schiff’s books such as Tales of the Unexpected didn’t aspire to more than having something on every page; if they weren’t blank, that was good enough. Schwartz and his crew really seemed determined to do more than just fill space. I was planning a long post on that subject, but as I’m squeezed for time, a close-up on this yarn (which I reread as part of my Silver Age reread) will do for now.
We open with astronomer Jim Bryant spotting what he thinks is a spaceship heading for Earth, then realizes it’s a miniature world. With an atmosphere, plants, and ruins of cities — but at 60 miles across, how can it possibly retain any air? Undeterred by Bryant’s astonishment, the planetoid settles down into a hover over the United States, then disgorges ginormous winged gorillas who proceed to swat our planes out of the sky. As if that wasn’t alarming enough, the planetoid then starts sucking up our atmosphere.
Naturally, this means war. We launch an atomic missile at Planet Gorilla, but one of the apes intercepts the blast, shrugs it off and warns the military that if humans do destroy their world, they’ll take ours. Just relax, let them steal all our air and they’ll be on their way.
Bryant, however, sees a solution: if they want our atmosphere, they must breathe, which means we can attack them with nerve gas (which he identifies as a “fear gas” rather than a deadly poison — did the Comics Code think chemical warfare would be too gruesome?). Bryant and a military strike force land on the planetoid where they meet one of the natives, Lyasa. She reveals they’re standing on one of hundreds of generation ships their ancestral world planned to send out before it went Krypton (theirs was the only ship that made it). To keep the memory of the homeworld alive, each ship was sculpted into a miniature replica, with generators that maintain an artificial atmosphere. Generations later the gorillas found the ship, occupied it and telepathically dominated the inhabitants. Now the atmosphere generator is running down, so the gorillas are after ours.
Needless to say, the gas trick works. The gorillas go down, the liberated captives set the planetoid controls to send the apes back to their native planet, then Lyasa’s people resettle on Earth. Happy ending!
My point is not that this is deathless SF to rival [fill in whoever you think constitutes great SF], simply that Fox & Co. could have filled 10 pages with much less effort. Giant flying gorillas would be enough of a threat, and delivered on the promise of the cover. The literal world-ship running out of air could have been a story in itself; so could aliens stealing our atmosphere. But the creators just keep on making the story wilder and wilder, even when they could have gotten by with less. Not that all the Schwartz-era stories were that fun or that jam-packed, but I’m impressed any of them were.