Monday, April 20, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 51: August 1963

The DC War Comics 1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 133

"Yesterday's Hero!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The 'Candy' Spad!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: A Medal of Honor winner named Corporal David is the newest addition to Easy Co., joining his kid brother, whom Sgt. Rock calls Bright Eyes. Corp. David won his medal by holding off a breakthrough of Panzer tanks by himself with just a bazooka after the rest of his company had been wiped out. The experience left him shell-shocked, though, and he gives the cold shoulder to his new comrades-in-arms, including his brother. Rock has to save him when Easy encounters shelling on a road.

Kubert uses black and white to show
a soldier apart from the rest
Rock begins to suspect that something is wrong with Corp. David, a suspicion that is borne out when Corp. David tells Rock that he doesn't have what it takes anymore and is "Yesterday's Hero!" Rock is concerned that his men will be discouraged by the depressing behavior of the medal winner. Rock and his men fight off Nazi planes and David tells Rock that the sergeant can't understand what he's feeling because Rock is like a fighting machine. Easy Co. has to face oncoming tanks that seem to be traveling across quicksand and the sergeant is injured in the fight. When Rock loses his cool, Corp. David finally sees that his commanding officer is human, too. David grabs a bazooka and single handedly blasts away at the tanks, saving Easy Co. and losing his life in the process. As he dies, he tells his brother to keep the medal of honor in the family.

Kanigher's usual sure hand is a bit shaky in this Sgt. Rock episode. Though Kubert uses some neat techniques to tell us that Corp. David is suffering from shell-shock, the story drags and has trouble finding its footing. The panel where Rock has to freak out in order to get David going again does not ring true.

Peter: I found the same problems you did, Jack, but I still think it's a strong story, strong enough to probably be in my Top Ten of '63 (the quicksand sequence alone is worth the dime). There's a great line Rock uses about halfway through the story: "From fightin' together--awake or asleep--Easy was tied to me by nerve ends..." That summarizes, for me, the strengths of the Easy Co. stories. Corp. David describes Rock, on more than ten occasions, as "a well-oiled machine" throughout the story,  The same could be said for the Company. Is the intention, in those panels where Corp. David is the color of stone, to imply Corp. David had become hard and soulless as a result of his trauma? Yep, the story is a bit too long (a problem I found with the Showcase story below as well) but, aside from that and David's constant "well-oiled" drone, this is one solid read.

Lt. Shaw lights up the sky
Jack: Lt. Shaw volunteers to fly biplanes in WWI but when he's found to be underaged, he is grounded. He sees his idol, Captain Clark, shot down by the Iron Baron, but all he can do is fly a weak, gunless plane that he calls "The 'Candy' Spad" around on errands. When he is sent off with a planeload of fireworks to deliver for a July Fourth celebration, he manages to happen upon an air attack and use the fireworks to help the real pilots defeat the enemy. A weak entry with better than usual art by Jerry G., this WWI tale caps a disappointing issue of a usually reliable comic.

Peter: What a dopey story. Fighter planes that can't handle Roman candles and sparklers? What a fighting fleet the Germans had in WWI! Well, I'll give it one star for cracking me up with the immortal line: "The Iron Baron's guns--are licking my candy spad!" Where the heck was Wertham when this comic hit the stands?

Jerry Grandenetti

Our Fighting Forces 78

"The Last Medal!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The 14-Day Target!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Jack: Why is Sarge being awarded "The Last Medal!" on the island, and why did the recommendation come from the Imperial Practical Joker, Col. Hakawa? Gunner tells the tale. He, Sarge and Pooch were out on patrol when they were ambushed by a tank driven by Col. Hakawa. Sarge is thought dead but Gunner is tied to the front of the tank to deter attacks by U.S. forces. The scheme works flawlessly until Sarge comes to the rescue, disguised as a Japanese soldier. Hakawa is tricked and our heroes escape, leading Hakawa to send a message recommending Sarge for a medal.

"The Last Medal!"
When the American marines are gathered for the medal ceremony, Hakawa's planes attack! To get their revenge, Gunner and Sarge take Pooch and head across the island, where they surprise Hakawa in the middle of his own medal ceremony. The marines commandeer his tank and start shooting, escaping with the tank and Hakawa's medal, which is finally pinned on Sarge. This series keeps chugging on, not terrible but not very good either. It's almost like Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of . . . WWII."

Peter: Oh, I say it's terrible, Jack, mucho terribles! I can't find one positive aspect to this bilge. Why would the ultra-important Colonel Hakawa be flying solo in a tank? The hype on the splash informs me that " 'The Last Medal' will twist (my) heart into knots!" Say what? Hard to believe we've read 34 Gunner and Sarge installments and we haven't hoisted the white flag yet. Oh and, as if it needed to be repeated, Grandenetti is simply awful here, muddy as hell, as if he decided he didn't need his pencils anymore and went straight to the inkwell.

"The 14-Day Target!"
Jack: Phil Dwyer joins a new squadron flying WWI spads against the Germans and their ace, Von Klugg. He hears that no pilot has ever survived more than 14 days, so he starts checking off days on a calendar to see if he'll make it. He goes up against Von Klugg one day and realizes it's day 15--he has made it! After shooting down the ace, he returns to base and learns that the C.O. tricked him by crossing off the last day in advance. The story is strictly by the numbers, but Andru and Esposito dial their usual art up a notch with some very nice plane work.

Peter: I agree on the art, Jack. This is one of the better Andru/Espositos we've seen. The script is another matter. Aside from the usual "hammer that catch phrase home" dilemma we get a C.O. who bolsters his new man's courage just before his shift by telling him all the pilots in the squadron are fated to die before their fourteenth day. That's bound to work wonders with confidence, isn't it? I want to see the sequel, "The 15th-Day Target" where Phil is shot down the very next day (you know, now that he's convinced himself he's immortal) and the C.O. tells Phil's replacement about the squadron's 15-day jinx!

Jack: Though the Grand Comics Database credited this cover to Joe Kubert, I'll bet my imaginary Bronze Star that it's by Grandenetti. There's no way those faces are Kubert's work, and the mask-like shading around the eyes is classic Grandenetti. The folks at the GCD changed it after a suggestion from bare*bones.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
All American Men of War 98

"The Time-Bomb Ace!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Jet and the Pilot"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

"Dogfight Dodger!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Peter: After the death of an innocent little girl (bless her dead little flower-holding hand), ace Johnny Cloud vows that his men, now nicknamed "Lily Flight," will destroy the Nazi terror rocket base responsible for the youngster's death. The men find and attack the base but Johnny is shot down and taken prisoner by a squad of stinking Nazi swine. Strangely, the Germans release Cloud, give him back his jet and report his whereabouts to the rest of the Lily men. To his utter horror, Johnny discovers why the Ratzis were so accommodating: they've booby-trapped Johnny's plane to explode when he rejoins his men. Some fancy aerobatics and some good dumb luck (the only way to explain Johnny commandeering an enemy's parachute while falling to earth) save the day and Johnny Cloud can lift his head to heaven and salute the fallen little angel. One of the better Johnny Cloud adventures from start to finish, "The Time-Bomb Ace" manages to ratchet up the excitement after a somber opening. Two sequences stood out for me as well as for an impressionable young George Lucas (Okay, so I'm speculating...): the Lily Flight descent between smokestacks to take out the Deathstar rockets is an amazing scene and Indy's Johnny's death-defying climb onto the tail of his crippled fighter is the stuff of nonsense but gorgeous to look at anyway. Bravo, Mr. Kanigher!

"The Time-Bomb Ace"!
Jack: I was worried when the story opened with the death of a cockney flower girl, but once Johnny and his squadron took to the air, this story took off! The run in between the smokestacks was neat, but the final sequence with the time bomb was gripping! I know Johnny's escape was far-fetched but I still enjoyed it.

Peter: A pilot doubts his new jet. A jet doubts its new pilot. With time and understanding, "The Jet and The Pilot" come to love each other and blast stinkin' commies from the sky. Thinking jets. Groan.

Jack: Little more than a vignette at only four pages, this story suffers from the parallel structure and the thinking jet.

That's our nausea

For one thing, the eyes are too small!
Peter: Poor Ed has a problem: the guys in his squadron have labeled him a "Dogfight Dodger" because every time he goes out on a radio call something happens and he's unable to contribute firepower. Now, his brother (who's also his C.O.) is about to ground him so the men don't whine about nepotism as well. One more raid for Ed then and, thank goodness, he makes amends by taking out half of Germany's fighting forces. The guys welcome him back with open arms and smiles, forgetting that a few hours before they were making chicken sounds and slapping him with towels in the shower. For some reason, I just knew that Ed would become a hero by the end of this morality play and, sure enough, I was right. Not one to settle on one cliche, Hank Chapman pulls two old templates off the DC War "Idea" Board: the fighter who can't seem to put any notches on his weapons and the siblings who happen to be in the same squadron.This reads pretty much like the last one of these we read.

Jack: Whenever a fighter isn't getting involved in the battles, you just know that by the end he's going to do something heroic. When we add a plane that can't leave the ground, you know it's going to fire and best a plane above it. The last panel is weird, almost unfinished. Very unlike Andru and Esposito in the main face.

Russ Heath
Showcase 45

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: The men of Easy Co. are so impressed with Sgt. Rock's heroism that they insist he must have been born a sergeant. Rock recalls things differently. In training camp, he and other privates practiced maneuvers with wooden rifles in front of Nazi POWs who mocked them as wooden soldiers. One POW tries to escape and gets into a brutal fistfight with Rock, nearly killing him. Rock never forgets this man, whom he thinks of as Fish Face.

On D-Day, Rock was still a buck private when he made landing with the rest of the troops. He blows up a Nazi pillbox and earns a medal, but when his C.O. tells him that the only way he will make sergeant is by replacing another who dies, Rock states that he is happy to remain a private. Eventually, men die and Rock earns his stripes, but he never forgets Fish Face, thinking that the Nazi POW was the only man who saw Rock as a weak "wooden soldier." Back in the present, Rock battles a Nazi tank all by himself in the woods and who should emerge but Fish Face, no longer a prisoner! He thinks Rock is dead and leaves him, but Rock tracks him down and walks straight into gunfire to avenge the beating he took back in training camp. As Easy Co. marches off, Rock thinks to himself that "Sergeants Aren't Born--!" they're made.

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"

At 25 pages, this is a real Rock epic and a milestone. Thrilled as I am to see an origin story for Sgt. Rock, I think the timeline is a bit off. Haven't we seen Rock as a sergeant fighting with Easy Co. in North Africa before D-Day? And didn't we see Easy Co. with Sgt. Rock participating in D-Day not too long ago? Am I imaging all of this?

Peter: Was the placement of "Sergeants Aren't Born --!" in Showcase due to the length of the story? Good question (I know because I asked it!). I think that Kanigher had decided an origin story had to be of a greater length and thus wouldn't fit in with the current format of Our Army at War's two-three shorts an issue policy. Jack thinks the appearance in Showcase was to boost sales of the war books and Showcase was certainly selling boatloads of copies (200-250,000 a month) so, just this one time, Jack may be right. In any event, it's a very good story but falls short of "great" status in my mind. There are a lot of bits from earlier stories that pop up in this one so it seems like very familiar territory and that climax, where the escaped Nazi is firing a machine gun point blank at Rock and hitting everything but our hero, is a bit much to take. Kubert's art is gorgeous though; no argument on that point.

Why we love Joe Kubert!

In our next terrifying issue-
Jack Seabrook dreams of a promotion!
On Sale April 27th at all finer netstands near you!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Four: "Man From the South" [5.23]

by Jack Seabrook

"Man From the South," first broadcast on CBS on Sunday March 13, 1960, is about as close to perfection as the half-hour episodes on the Hitchcock show ever got. Along with "The Jar," it is one of the best viewing experiences the series has to offer.

The story begins with an establishing shot of the Las Vegas strip as it looked in November 1958, when the program was filmed. The scene then shifts inside to a casino hotel bar, where an attractive young woman, played by Neile Adams, orders a brandy. Down to her last few coins, she appears dejected until a handsome young man, played by Adams's then-husband Steve McQueen, introduces himself. It is early morning, around 8 o'clock, and the fact that she is drinking so early suggests a long and unsuccessful night of gambling.

Carlos interrupts the couple's banter
The young couple moves to a table and sits together; the man, too, is broke and has only $1.86 left. From the start, McQueen plays his character as cool and charming: he intrigues the woman with witty remarks and surreptitiously smells her hair from behind as he pushes her chair in like a gentleman. We know he is a gambler because he rolls sugar cubes like dice across the table. The woman joins willingly in the casual banter, telling him that she is from Moscow--"Moscow, Idaho, that is." He gives her a cigarette and lights it; at this point, the camera pulls back from a close-up of her face and a third character enters the frame. An older man, played by Peter Lorre, invites himself to join them at their table and orders more coffee. We will later learn that his name is Carlos but, for most of the episode, all of the characters remain nameless.

The young couple are visibly annoyed at having their flirtation interrupted, but Carlos is nonplussed, "accidentally" breaking his cigarette and asking the young man to light another. The young man claims that his lighter never fails to light, which leads Carlos to propose a bet on that very topic. A middle-aged man in a hat and string tie steps up and makes the trio a quartet and, though the young man suggests betting a quarter that the lighter will successfully flame on thrice in a row, Carlos has a more risky proposition in mind. Inviting everyone up to his rooms, he proposes a more sinister bet: if the young man can light his lighter ten times in a row he will win a Cadillac convertible that is parked outside. If the lighter fails to light a single time, however, Carlos will chop off the little finger on the young man's left hand. The young woman is sensible and stands to leave, but the young man considers the bet before saying no. Carlos goads him into accepting the bet, however, and the third man agrees to act as referee.

Steve McQueen and his lighter
Up in Carlos's suite, the strange gambler tidies up some women's evening wear and the young woman asks if they belong to "Dracula's daughter . . . Have her come in off the drainpipe--she might catch cold!" The creators of "Man From the South" play with a couple of things in this brief exchange. First of all, the presence of the clothes suggests that a woman has spent the night in the room with Carlos and has only recently left, leaving him alone and at loose ends. Second, the comment about "Dracula's daughter" plays off the viewer's familiarity with Peter Lorre and his frequent association with horror movies in the 1930s and 1940s.

The young man remains focused on his cigarette lighter, playing with it and flicking it on and off, thinking about what he has agreed to do. Carlos asks a bellboy to procure nails, a hammer, a length of cord and a chopping knife. These items are used to tie the young man's left hand to the hotel room desk, his fingers clenched in a fist except for the little finger, which sticks out enticingly. The referee paces the room, standing in for the viewer, watching the events unfold and tossing back drinks to help calm his nerves. The young woman drinks as well, afraid for the young man she met only a short while before.

The game is on!
The game begins as Carlos stands next to the desk, chopper in hand, waiting for the lighter to fail. The referee calls out each number and the young man lights the lighter. Peter Lorre is brilliant here, holding the chopper up in anticipation and letting it droop a little with a look of disappointment on his face each time the lighter flames on successfully. There is a great use of montage from director Norman Lloyd and editor Edward Williams in this scene, as the camera cuts back and forth in alternating close-ups and medium shots, from the hand lighting the lighter, to Carlos holding the chopper, to the sweaty faces of the participants and the observers.

The tension mounts with each successful flame, yet Carlos looks strangely bored, like a gambler who cannot control his urge to keep playing but who no longer enjoys the game. After the seventh light, a woman's voice suddenly breaks the tension in the room by uttering for the first time in the entire episode a character's name: "Carlos!" By keeping the characters anonymous up to this point, writer William Fay (who adapted Roald Dahl's story for television) has allowed the events to progress as if in a dream, where archetypes act out a bizarre scene. With the arrival of Carlos's wife, we suddenly see the characters as real people and learn about a tragic past that two of them share.

Carlos smiles at the memory of 47 fingers
The wife takes the chopper from Carlos's hand and asks why he would "do this thing again." He whines like a petulant child and sits dejectedly on the couch, telling her "I just wanted to make a little bet." She apologizes for her husband and says she knew she should not leave him alone. "He is a menace, of course," she remarks, and explains that in the islands, where they used to live, he took 47 fingers from different people and lost 11 cars. Lorre, once again, is brilliant, his face lighting up with a smile at the memory of the 47 fingers he won and then returning to a look of sadness at the recollection of the 11 cars he lost. According to his wife, they were forced to move "up here" (hence the show's title, "Man From the South") when he was threatened with being put away.

Carlos's wife speaks the moral of the story: "How foolish and reckless young people can be, just trying to prove they are brave." This gets to the heart of the matter: why did the young man accept the bet? In his initial banter with the young woman, he expressed confidence at his own ability to win money at the casino that night. He had just met her when Carlos proposed the bet. The only time the young man gives a reason for agreeing to participate, he simply says : "I like convertibles," an ironic comment in light of Steve McQueen's later propensity for racing motorcycles and automobiles. One suspects that Carlos's wife possesses the wisdom of her years and sees the real reason behind the young man's behavior--it was a reckless decision calculated to impress the young woman.

Carlos's wife goes on to explain that her husband had nothing left with which to bet. The car is hers and he knows it. As she talks, we see the young man attempt to light another cigarette for the young woman--and the lighter fails to light. She looks at him in horror, realizing what this means, but he continues to display an air of calm acceptance of events. This brief shot tells the viewer that a horrible scene would likely have ensued had not Carlos's wife appeared just when she did. The referee tells her that he "just came along for the ride"; like the viewer, he could have stopped watching but was willing to let the horror unfold just for the thrill of seeing it happen. Carlos's wife says that she won everything from him and the show ends on a shot that is shocking and brutal in its implications as she reaches for the car keys with her gloved left hand, a hand that has only a thumb and little finger.

"Man From the South" is perfection in script, direction and acting, but leaves two questions unanswered. One: whose negligee does Carlos tidy up when the group first arrives in his suite? Did he have a female guest overnight? His wife states that she flew to Los Angeles and just returned, so she was not there. Was Carlos a naughty boy in regard to more than his bizarre bet? Then again, is the woman who arrives at the end really his wife? This is never expressly stated, just assumed. Two: if Carlos likes to take the little finger of those he bets against, why is the woman missing her middle three fingers and not her little finger? I suspect that the contrast of having just a thumb and little finger was too great for the filmmakers to resist.

"Man From the South" was first
published in this issue of Colliers
as "Collector's Item"
"Man From the South" was based on a story that Roald Dahl had been telling to friends as early as 1944 (in his biography of the author, Jeremy Treglown refers to the woman with Carlos as a "minder," further confusing the issue of whether she was intended to be his wife in the TV adaptation). Dahl put the story on paper in May 1948 and submitted it to BBC Radio as "The Menace." It was published in the U.S. in the September 4, 1948 issue of Collier's as "Collector's Item," but BBC Radio's Third Programme listings show that the story was read on air by Robert Rietty under the original title "The Menace" on November 22, 1948, and again on November 25, 1948.

The story was first dramatized for radio as part of a series called Radio City Playhouse. Though no recording exists, the October 16, 1949 half-hour episode of this series was called "Duet," and featured a dramatization of Ray Bradbury's story "The Lake" followed by another of Dahl's story, "Collector's Item," adapted by June Thomson.

Dahl's short story was retitled "Man From the South" and collected in his second book of short stories, Someone Like You, which was published in late 1953. The story shares the same basic plot as the TV adaptation, but there are differences. It takes place in Jamaica, not Las Vegas, and the characters are not all gamblers at a casino. In fact, the narrator of the story is the man who ends up refereeing the bet. The young man is an American sailor and the young woman is an English girl whom he meets in a pool. Other than that the story is the same. In adapting it for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, William Fay used the Las Vegas setting to establish the characters as a group of gamblers of varying ages and levels of success. The short story is clever and well plotted but the way it is brought to life in the TV adaptation makes all the difference in turning a memorable story into a classic half hour.

Neile Adams
"Man From the South" was so well-remembered after its 1959 premiere on television that, when Alfred Hitchcock Presents was revived in 1985, this story was remade as one of the four episodes that comprised the two-hour TV movie pilot. The teleplay was by Steve DeJarnatt, who also directed the show, and he based it on Fay's 1958 teleplay. John Huston plays Carlos and Melanie Griffith plays the young woman. Her mother, Tippi Hedren, who had her own history with Hitchcock, plays a small role as a waitress, and Kim Novak, who starred in Vertigo, plays Carlos's wife.

The story was also adapted as the first episode of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected in 1979, this time with Jose Ferrer as Carlos and Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Harry Truman on Twin Peaks) as the young man. Kevin Goldstein-Jackson adapted the story for this show and it was filmed in Jamaica, returning the setting to that of the original story.

The best cast and crew, however, belong to the 1959 version. William Fay (1918-1968?), who wrote the teleplay, wrote 16 episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Madame Mystery" and "Isabel." He was also a writer of short stories and he had been editor of the Popular Publications magazine line starting in 1935. He began writing for TV in 1954.

Norman Lloyd (1914- ) directed the show. His connection with Hitchcock is well-known, starting in 1942 with his famous role in Saboteur and continuing through his close association with the Hitchcock TV series, for which he was an actor, director and producer. He directed 22 episodes of the series over ten years, including "The Jar," so he was responsible for perhaps the best half-hour and the best hour. The last episode he directed prior to "Man From the South" was "Special Delivery." He is now 100 years old and still active.

Ready to chop!
The young man was played by Steve McQueen (1930-1980), one of the most popular movie stars of the 1960s and 1970s. Married to his co-star Neile Adams from 1956 to 1972, he began acting in 1952 and shot to fame as the star of the TV series, Wanted: Dead or Alive, which premiered in September 1958, two months before "Man From the South" was filmed. He also appeared in "Human Interest Story" on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He made no more TV appearances after Wanted: Dead or Alive ended in 1961 and his film career took off, continuing until his untimely death.

Neile Adams (1932- ) was born Ruby Neilam Salvador Adams in the Philippines to a Spanish/German mother and a Spanish/Asian father. She made movie and TV appearances from the 1950s to the early 1990s and was on three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Henry Slesar's "One Grave Too Many."

Katherine Squire
Appearing as Carlos is Peter Lorre (1904-1964), who was born Laszlo Loewenstein in Austria-Hungary. He began acting on stage in Vienna, then moved to Germany where he became famous, starring in Fritz Lang's classic M in 1933 before fleeing the Nazis to France and then England. He was in Hitchcock's 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much as well as the director's Secret Agent (1936). He came to Hollywood and appeared in many classic films. He started doing TV work in 1952 and appeared in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As his performance in "Man From the South" demonstrates, he was a great and underrated actor.

Tyler McVey
Carlos's wife (or minder?) is played by Katherine Squire (1903-1995), an actress who appeared in many TV shows starting in 1949. She was on the Hitchcock series five times, including Henry Slesar's "Pen Pal," and she was on episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

The referee of the bet is played by Tyler McVey (1912-2003), a busy character actor who was on TV and in movies from the early 1950s to the mid-1980s. He appeared on the Hitchcock show eight times and was in "Human Interest Story" with Steve McQueen.

Read the original magazine publication of "Collector's Item" here. The 1959 version of the TV show is available on DVD here. The 1979 version may be viewed for free online here; the 1985 version is here.

Dahl, Roald. "Man From the South." 1948. Roald Dahl Collected StoriesEd. Jeremy 
Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 181-91. Print.
"Genome Radio Times 1923-2009." BBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <>.
"Genome Radio Times 1923-2009." BBC. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <>.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.
"Man From the South." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 13 Mar. 1960. Television.
Treglown, Jeremy. "Appendix." Roald Dahl Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 849-50. Print.
Treglown, Jeremy. Roald Dahl: A Biography. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1994. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty: August 1974

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino and
Jack Seabrook

Super-Sized 100th Issue!

Nick Cardy
Unexpected 158

"Reserved for Madmen Only"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"A Hangman Awaits Me"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by John Calnan

"The Bewitched Beauty"
Story by uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery 24, March 1954)

"Prisoner of the Power-Stone!"
Story by uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin
(reprinted from House of Secrets 18, March 1959)

"Captives of the Ant Kingdom!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Lee Elias

"The Fearsome Fountain of Youth"
Story by uncredited
Art by Ruben Moreira
(reprinted from House of Mystery 36, March 1955)

"The Doom Game"
Story by uncredited
Art by Mort Meskin and George Roussos
(reprinted from House of Mystery 144, July 1964)

"The Menace of the Fireball"
Story by uncredited
Art by Bob Brown
(reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected 19, November 1957)

"Trial By Terror"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ernesto Patricio

"The End of Death"
Story by uncredited
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Frank Giacoia
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery 113, February 1953)

"Nightmare House"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jose Delbo

Shaggy! Get me a pizza!
Jack: Rich old Uncle Cyrus is scared when a spectre of Death pays him a visit, so he throws chemicals in the face of the wraith, not knowing it is really his nephew Gerald in a spooky costume. Gerald is plotting with Cyrus's nurse, Zena, to drive the old man mad so Gerald can inherit his wealth. The chemical splash puts Gerald at risk of going blind, but things get worse for the schemer when Zena tells him that the old man dropped dead a day before Gerald would have been eligible to inherit. Gerald goes mad and is carted off to a place that is "Reserved for Madmen Only." Meanwhile, Zena and Cyrus watch from an upstairs window. It seems Cyrus was fine and the two plotted successfully to get rid of Gerald. Cyrus is so grateful to his leggy nurse that he plans to make her his sole heir. The scary Scooby-Doo music started playing in my head on page one of this Kashdan special--the only plus is the short-skirted nurse Zena.

Peter: The nurse is nice but she's a result of the only plus here for me: the super-duper Rubeny art. That leaves just a so-so story and twist.

Jack: Young Terrence Jones walks with a crutch, but that doesn't stop the orphanage from sending him to live with Mr. Widdoes, who takes in orphans for a monthly stipend. Widdoes is a cruel taskmaster, but he meets his match in Terrence's invisible friend Mr. Greetch. Widdoes plays a game of hangman with Mr. Greetch and loses, but when he grabs Terrence's precious gold medallion Mr. Greetch sees to it that Widdoes learns why "A Hangman Awaits Me." If there's one thing worse than a bad George Kashdan story (see above), it's a bad George Kashdan story drawn by John Calnan.

Peter: Another fresh concept from the typewriter of George Kashdan. The sadistic foster parents were done to death by the end of the 1950s, weren't they?

John Calnan's "special" use of perspective

Jack: Scott and Madden are searching for the Lost Desert Gold Mine, the entrance to which is marked by a giant ant hill. They are menaced by a strangely costumed man who calls himself King Pharaoh. They fall down a mine shaft and battle a giant anteater, then accidentally discover a vein of gold while trying to avoid becoming "Captives of the Ant Kingdom!" Back above ground, King Pharaoh attacks them with a swarm of ants but they turn the tables by throwing candy at him. It really doesn't get much worse than this. "Ant Kingdom" will be in the running for worst of 1974.

Peter: I find it extreeeeemely hard to believe this wasn't a 1950s reprint. What editor of a "spooky" funny book would okay such a dim-witted fantasy? Ah, Murray Boltinoff, that's who. Never mind. This story is totally loony. Who's the Ant Man? Is he a guy dressed up as an ant? A mutant? Just a crook who goes to astounding measures and then pins his hopes on two dorky adventurers?

We are not really clear on why
King Pharaoh dresses like that.

Zee French, zey are a funny race
Jack: Bret and Harriet Hodge are vacationing in France when a violent storm forces them to seek refuge in a hotel. Most everyone there speaks French, but the language of death is universal and soon the happy couple is accused of murder, tried and sentenced to death. They escape and soon realize that it was no hotel but rather a madhouse, where they underwent "Trial By Terror!" At only five pages, this doesn't have much time to work up a head of steam, but with a little more care it might have been interesting.

Peter: Ever the optimist, Jack. Given more pages, it would have been longer to read. That's all. I love how, at the climax, Bret stops their car in the middle of a getaway to read his French dictionary because "something just occurred to him." A really bad story from start to finish.

So, it's not really a monster, see . . .

Jack: On the run from bobbies in the London fog, Charlie Robbins ducks into a "Nightmare House." Old Mrs. Winters helps him hide but he ignores her warning and opens an upstairs door, releasing a horrible monster! The monster chases Charlie and he cowers in fear until it is revealed that the whole thing was a stage play and the police are the audience. Peter, if you have any idea what the heck was going on in this story, please enlighten me.

Peter: Reading "Nightmare House" (with its moronic reveal and awful art) hammers home the point that, by 1974, the story was an afterthought with these DC horror comics. Oh, to be sure, there were a few Halloweens amongst the Friday the 13ths but, for the most part, the editors just didn't seem to care. This is even more evident when we're dealing with the 100-pagers where stories about sorcerers who can make men into talking caterpillars and witches who can make ugly men lovable are oodles more interesting than the new material.

No wonder she won the beauty contest!
Jack: Once again, the issue is saved by reprints. "The Bewitched Beauty!" is a hoot. Myra enters a beauty contest on a whim, sure she has no chance of winning. The old crone who lives in the apartment next door has her drink a witch's brew and she not only wins the contest but men start crashing cars and walking off of bridges when she passes by due to her astounding beauty. To end the "curse," she agrees to the old woman's request to show up at a mausoleum at midnight, where her beauty will raise from the dead a criminal who had been electrocuted! Readers of 1950s DC mystery comics will not be surprised to learn that Myra's Pop is a police detective and that there is more than meets the eye going on here. I could read stories like this all day.

Peter: Then why don't we, Jack? We could make believe we read "Nightmare House" and "Ant Kingdom" but actually read the complete adventures of Johnny Peril instead and no one would be the wiser. I love the "say what?" expository of "Bewitched Beauty." Trained stuntmen followed Myra around all day and performed stunts to give the illusion Myra has a special gift. Only at DC! Speaking of Johnny Peril (and I always am), we get yet another insanely plotted crackerjack adventure with Johnny. Peril always seems to be facing supernatural menaces that turn out, in the end, to be estranged lovers or wronged pharmacists. In "The End of Death," Johnny is being stalked by Death in an attempt to discredit Peril's testimony against murderer Eric Dexo. If you've read any of Johnny Peril's fabulously fanciful tales, you know it's not really the Grim Reaper who's harassing our hero, but Dexo's brother, an insane professor who has been hiring men all around town to wear Mr. Death masks to frighten our hero. Know this, evil men of 1953: Johnny Peril does not frighten easily, if at all.

Jack: A similar twist concludes "The Fearsome Fountain of Youth," in which jailbird Roger Hall is tricked into revealing the location of a hidden million by the promise of a drink from the Fountain of Youth. Cops in the fifties had some pretty nifty things up their sleeves! In this issue's letters column, eagle-eyed reader Danny McIntyre of Bethel Springs, Tenn., comments on the repeated use of the word "Ngyaah!" in Unexpected. Danny, if you're out there, we would welcome you as a third reader and writer for this blog. Trust me, we mean it!

"The Fearsome Fountain of Youth"

Luis Dominguez
House of Secrets 122

"Requiem for Igor"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Centaur"
Story by Sam Glanzman and Martin Pasko
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Grave Business"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"There He Is Again!"
Story by Don Kaar
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Jan Bartos will never be anything but second best to piano virtuoso Igor Zabac. When a gnarly crone known as Old Rose approaches Bartos with a devilish proposition, the pianist scoffs and shuns the old woman. Later, when the woman has proven to Jan that she possesses magical powers, he relents and listens to her offer: she'll give him the hands of Igor Zabac if Bartos pledges his soul to her master, Ol' Scratch. Bartos again demurs, claiming he'll not be party to murder but, after a particularly frustrating night at the keys and a humiliating backstage visit from Zabac himself, Jan agrees to Rose's demands. A pair of hoods murder Zabac and visit Rose and Bartos backstage before his big night. Once Rose has been informed of the devious act, she informs Bartos he now has the hands of Zabac. Unfortunately for the #2 pianist in the world, the hoods burned the body and all the musician is left with are ashy stumps. Lower-tier Alcala (which is still miles above just about anyone else) and a padded story built around a stale punchline make "Requiem for Igor" nothing more than a mediocre time-waster. That punch is dragged across nearly two pages, by the way, when it could easily have been delivered in two panels. 

Jack: This is a cross between a sell your soul to the Devil story and a Mike Fleisher-esque shock ending story. The witch reminds me of Mildred from The Witching Hour. Not the best we've seen from Oleck or Alcala, but a pleasant diversion.

"Requiem for Igor"

Peter: A hunter discovers "The Centaur" and travels with it into a magical land. Thinking only of dollar signs, the hunter bides his time until he can trap the half man-half horse creature and take him back to civilization. Even though the centaur warns the hunter that if he should tell anyone of the existence of the other world, there will be consequences, our man is convinced he's about to be rich. When he makes it back to our world, he attempts to tell his friends about his discovery but, before he can, he's transformed into a deer. Not a bad little tale and, I've got to say, the best Glanzman I've seen yet (I think his DC war art is dreadful) but the final punchline is botched by an illiterate letterer. The hunter's muse about becoming "bigger than the guy who brought back King Kong" almost infers this is a world where Kong actually existed. Or I'm just reading subtext into nothingness. By the way, this is as good a place as any to hype "A Sailor's Story" by Glanzman. Why hype a book featuring art I'm not crazy about? Well, because some people swear by Glanzman (this volume collects Sam's autobiographical naval war stories first published by Marvel) and the book is published by Dover, employer of one of our very own, Professor Tom Flynn from the Marvel University. The second reason is more important than the first, though.

Jack: A three-page vignette with the best art we've seen yet from Glanzman. He's better at drawing animals than humans, much as Grandenetti was better at drawing planes and tanks than people's faces.

"The Centaur"

Peter: Mrs. Van Tilsburg comes to funeral director Jebediah Smythe with a proposition: open the coffin of her recently-deceased husband and share with her the one million dollars that resides in said casket. Her husband, being the nasty sort, left instructions that his wife was to get not one penny of his estate and that the dough was to be buried with him. Smythe quickly poo-poos any such idea but, before too long, greed raises its ugly head and Van Tilsburg's coffin is about to be jimmied open. The widow makes an appearance, demanding her cut, but Smythe plays innocent, sticking to his morality story. After the dead man is buried, Smythe digs up the coffin but is approached yet again by the Mrs., this time brandishing a firearm. Jebediah gets the drop and whacks the girl upside the head and dumps her body into the tomb but, in a comedy of errors, knocks himself unconscious and falls into the casket as well. When Smythe's absent-minded grave-digger comes along, he innocently believes he's forgotten to bury the coffin and rectifies his "mistake." There are a whole lot of "give me a break" moments in "Grave Business" (a popular title for horror comic stories, I believe), chief among them the fact that the widow and Smythe can't seem to work together to split the million. Smythe doesn't even want the money at first, then he suddenly wants it all. How much trouble could have been avoided if he'd have simply okayed opening the coffin and making a withdrawal right there in the parlor rather than partaking in shenanigans at the gravesite? And that's an awfully small sack to be holding a cool million. Maybe it's a check? If anything is to be learned from "Grave Business," it's that they made awfully big coffins in 1974, boxes big enough to hold three people comfortably.

Jack: Where did Mrs. Van Tilsburg come from when she caught Smythe about to pry open the casket? Did she just hang around the funeral home in the shadows every day waiting for him to do the inevitable? For a guy struggling with ethics, Smythe changes quickly into a brutal killer, and how crazy is it that he and his victim both fall into the coffin and the lid slams shut? I'd put money on that not happening one in a million times.

Peter: The two-page short-short, "There He Is Again" defies description so I won't even try. The moral of the story isn't that little kids become a part of the big picture but that sometimes two Alcalas in one issue is not paradise.

Jack: A two-page waste of Alcala's talent.

Nick Cardy

The Witching Hour 45

"Something Sinister About Uncle Harry"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Bet Your Life"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"For Whom the Ghost Bells Toll"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Alex Nino

Jack: Mac and Jeannie Dowling are happy to welcome Mac's Uncle Harry, especially since Mac is his only living heir. Their adopted son Bruce thinks there's "Something Sinister About Uncle Harry," since he sees him as he really is--a horrible demon! Little Bruce's parents don't listen and threaten to send him back to the orphanage, so Bruce takes a photo of his uncle and, when Mac sees it, he confronts the demon, who agrees to hit the road. Bruce chases and catches up with him, suddenly realizing that he, too, is a demon and that Harry is his real father. It's never a good thing when an issue opens with a new Grandenetti story, is it, Peter?

Jerry being Jerry
Peter: Oy! This is my nominee for All-Around Worst Story of 1974 and it's going to take an awful, awful story to beat this one. The narrative makes no sense whatsoever. The kid is trying to expose the uncle as a demon while having an inkling that Harry is his real father? Think about all the coincidences that have to take place for this arrangement to even be possible. Grandenetti's art is about the worst we've seen, even more cartoony and exaggerated than usual. One gigantic smelly egg.

Jack: Count Czerny is on a winning streak in his nightly card game, but he has help from an old witch named Dolma. When he wins big and she demands half, he murders her, but the next night his luck turns bad when he draws a card with the witch's face in place of the queen. It's a sad state of affairs when a story like "Bet Your Life" is an improvement on the one before it, but that's the case in this issue.

Peter: With just four guys playing poker, they have to be pretty rich for the stakes to be a million bucks. As short and inconsequential as the story is, I thought Perlin's art was a bit more edgy than the stuff he used to pump out for Werewolf By Night.

"Bet Your Life"

Jack: Just before lovely Lauren is to be hanged for robbery and murder, she makes her boyfriend Kurt swear to keep his promise. In the months that follow, he is haunted by her ghost. He signs on as a ship's crew member but to no avail, since Lauren's ghost follows him even on the high seas. A year after her death, he insists that the ship's captain perform a wedding ceremony, since his promise to Lauren had been that he would marry her a year after her death. He quickly finds out "For Whom the Ghost Bells Toll," as his spectral new bride drags him off to the next world. Leave it to Alex Nino to rescue this issue, even though Leo Dorfman's story is his usual, boring ghost tale. At least the visuals are grand.

Peter: I thought the story was a cut above the usual Dorfbilge that gobs up the pages of Ghosts. Sure, it's not Fleisher, but it holds together and tells a decent tale. Nino is aces here, with the highlight being that first glimpse of Lauren's ghost aboard the ship (above). Absolutely creepy!

Nino saves the issue!

Nick Cardy


"The Haunted Lady of Death"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Howling of the Ghost Hounds!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Art Saaf

"The Claws of the Phantom"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Shanghai, 1946, and war hero Sir Victor Goddard is being honored at a party when a man in a turban suddenly confronts him with a prediction that he will die that night. The vision specifies that Victor, a man in a military coat, a female and the pilot will be killed in an airplane crash. Victor is summoned back to Tokyo urgently but thinks he's safe from the prophecy because his companion is a civilian and no woman is aboard the plane. Yet the civilian wears a military coat by mistake and, when the plane crashes due to snow and ice, the dying Victor sees that "The Haunted Lady of Death" was the aircraft itself, named the Lady Anne. E.R. Cruz's stodgy art can't save this dull and obvious ghost story.

Peter: So, since our narrator informs us that the incident was used as the basis for the film, The Night My Number Came Up, does this qualify as a movie adaptation? 

We knew he was gonna crash!

Jack: Germany, 1904, and Hans Helmut hates and fears dogs. Too bad his kindly old neighbor attracts strays. Hans kills the old man while robbing his house and ghostly dogs begin to drive him crazy with their howling. The police send dogs out to hunt the killer and Hans confesses, driven mad by "Howling of the Ghost Hounds!" that only he hears. He is put to death and the ghostly dogs howl in triumph. Well, the first story was dull with run of the mill art. This one is just plain bad with art to match. The only thing worse would be John Calnan . . .

Peter: You had to use the "C" word, didn't you, Jack? "Ghost Hounds" left me howling at the really bad Saaf art (it looks a whole lot like Tuska to me).

The ghostly dogs are suddenly
replaced by extremely large dogs

"The Claws of the Phantom"
Jack: Germany (again), 1950s, and ruthless industrialist Horst Kessler razes a precious, historic site where he finds the body of Kurt Von Falken, hero from the Middle Ages. Horst grabs the helmeted skull of the late falconer as a souvenir, and that night he is haunted by a headless ghost in armor with a spectral falcon. Though he continues to be terrorized by "The Claws of the Phantom," Horst ignores the danger until he is killed in a plane by a flock of birds. Some stories are so bad they're good. Then there are the stories in this issue of Ghosts, which lack any sort of entertainment value at all. DC should have had to answer for false advertising when it put another great Cardy cover on the outside of this dreck.

Peter: Some of the other titles can get away with bad stories as they always seem to pull an Alcala, Nino, or Yandoc out of a hat. Ghosts can't even make that boast with a line-up consisting of the dregs of comic book "artistry." All that's missing this issue is a swamp monster story by George Kashdan and Jack Sparling.

Next Week: A special expanded edition of
Star-Spangled DC War Stories!