Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
You never forget your first

You never forget your first

I’m sure most of y’all are familiar with the infamous “Adam and Eve story.”

This is a science fiction trope where two people survive a nuclear war or stay behind after everyone on their world evacuates into space. And their names turn out to be … Adam and Eve. OMG, was this a story of our future  … or of our past???!!!

Apparently lots of aspiring writers hit on this twist with no idea it’s been done before; science fiction magazines have cited it for years as one of the plots they see over and over and never, ever accept. Which I can understand but at the same time, if it’s the first time you see it — well, it’s a cute tale. Sure, it’s about one step above a shaggy-dog story but the first time I read it (a reprint from one of Marvel’s old anthology books) I smiled.

Fans and critics of The Twilight Zone have mocked Rod Serling for using the cliche in a fifth-season episode, “Probe 7 — Over and Out.” I suspect lots of viewers were fine with it, though — Twilight Zone was a popular hit with the mass, non-genre audience, many of whom probably had no idea how often this trope had been done. It’s not a great episode but I give Serling a pass on the Adam and Eve aspect.

The point I’m making is a variation of Len Wein’s old line that “every issue is someone’s first.” The first time you encounter a particular twist, it doesn’t matter how cliched or trite or recycled the story is. As the film critic Pauline Kael once put it, for many of the teenagers going to Titanic it may really have been the most epic, most spectacular movie they’d ever seen.

To give a personal example, my Silver Age rereading recently brought me to the issues cover-dated January 1968 such as Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #108 with the Leo Dorfman/Curt Swan story “The Midas of Metropolis.”

Jimmy recently wrote an article mocking millionaire playboy Ron Hilton for how fast he blew through his fortune. Before Hilton’s recent death, he came up with a way to get his own back: offer Jimmy a million-dollar inheritance but only if he can blow through another million bucks within 24 hours. Jimmy has to spend the cash faster than Holt ever did or the inheritance, and everything he bought with the first million, goes away.

Despite the restrictions placed on him — no more than one of any item, no giving money to charity, spending any windfall he earns — Jimmy’s confident he can pull it off.

Fate, however, conspires against him, like when he buys a championship horse and rides it over a bridge.

Even buying a luxury yacht turns out to be profitable.Ultimately the 24 hours elapses with Jimmy one dime short of victory — because he didn’t think to put one in the parking meter. In an unconvincing happy ending, however, Holt turns the million Jimmy would have inherited into a charitabl efoundation and puts Jimmy at the head of it.

What I didn’t know when I read the story is that it was a very old chestnut. Brewster’s Millions was a 1902 George Barr McCutcheon novel with the same basic premise though a different rationale and a more prolonged time frame. The novel became a play, then a Fatty Arbuckle silent comedy, then a vehicle for multiple other stars including Dennis O’Keefe and Richard Pryor (I’ve seen both of those). I’m sure Dorfman was fully aware of this when he wrote the story.

I wasn’t, though. If I’d seen multiple versions of the story, maybe I’d have thought “Jeez, this old warhorse?” but as a kid it was new and delightfully funny (to give Dorfman his due, I still find it funny now). It was, so to speak, my first issue. Wein was right.

#SFWApro. All art by Swan,


  1. Le Messor

    While I agree that everybody who hits on a story cliché is going to hit on it for the first time, it still means that some writer is out there rehashing old plots. Though maybe not intentionally; a lot of literary writers dipping their toes in the spec fic pool end up writing the same plots, apparently honestly thinking they’ve never been done before.

    The Adam and Eve story is listed on the Turkey City Lexicon. (A list of clichéd stories, for those reading about it for the first time.)
    Though I think the first time I read it, the man said something like ‘my name is Adam’ and the woman said something like ‘my name is Yolanda’.

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