Thursday, September 20, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales: Marvel/ Atlas Horror! Issue 17

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Two
November 1949-May 1950
Narrated by Peter Enfantino

Sol Brodsky
Marvel Tales #94 (November 1949)

“A Night in Hangman’s House” (a: Gene Colan) 
“Spectacles of Doom!” (a: Bill Everett) 
“Hands of Horror!”  
“The Haunted Love!” (a: Gene Colan)   

Duncan and Laura get caught in a storm and must take shelter in a creepy farmhouse owned by a weird old man who tells them the story of the original proprietor of the house, a homicidal maniac who “hung everybody he could lay his hands on!” The nervous couple discover that the hangman’s noose is still very much alive and prowling the house. The randy rope murders the old man and only Duncan’s quick reflexes with a handy hatchet rescue the terrified lovers. Uniquely, the murderer’s ghost never puts in an appearance, leaving the dirty work up to his length of rope (the sequence with Duncan chopping at the writhing fibers is pretty amusing). More scratchy and undistinguished doodles from Gentleman Gene

Bill Everett’s art saves "Spectacles of Doom," a so-so tale of a miserly old geezer (think, oh, I don’t know, Ebenezer Scrooge) who receives a pair of new spectacles and promptly falls in love with a gorgeous gal named Miriam. After marrying the young woman, his glasses are removed and he discovers that he’s been the butt of a very nasty trick. The climax is a bit on the misogynistic side (a mite?--Miriam is a dead ringer for one of Basil Wolverton's MAD fans!) but the visuals are dazzling (the double-wide title panel is unlike anything we’ve seen so far in the Atlas horror comics).

WANTED: More Readers Like Miriam!

"Hands of Horror"
Carnival attraction Samson has mighty hands but little control over what they do. When Samson’s “friend,” Morty, gets wind that the big guy has got a big bundle of cash stashed in his tent, he enlists the aid of the lovely Zorina, another carnival attraction who has caught the eye of Samson. Zorina takes the big lug out to the cinema while Morty ransacks the tent. Too late, Morty realizes that it’s something in Samson’s living quarters that produces out-of-control limbs and he strangles himself to death. At least, I think that’s what happens since there’s no real explanation for the phenomena. Ugly artwork and a boring script spell doom for the “Hands of Horror!”

A beat cop notices the light on in the Penner residence every night and gets curious. The Penners invite the patrolman in and relate a terrifying story of  inherited farms and ghosts and, very soon, the cop knows why the lights stay on. Over-written in both the caption (As patrolman O’Leary, tough city cop, listened to the narrative of John Penner, his flesh slowly began to crawl with a sense of the unknown! For the story he heard was a macabre history of the other world…) and dialogue (“I’ve got to tell someone… about why we’re afraid… and of how she got that streak of white in her hair… and of why neither of us can stand it to be alone again… and why we live in the city amongst crowds of people…”) departments, “The Haunted Love!” is indicative of this embryonic stage of the Atlas horror titles, with a plot that seems extremely familiar and crude, almost amateurish artwork,

"Haunted Love"

Gene Colan
Captain America’s Weird Tales #75  (February 1950)

“Hoof Prints of Doom!” (a: Gene Colan) 1/2 
“Thing in the Chest”  
“The Bat” 1/2

The experiment at an end, the good Captain waves so-long to a brief dip into the horror pool and then watches the world pass him by for four years. Unlike the previous issue, this one doesn't even contain a Cap story and skimps on the horror with only three tales.

In an Algiers port, sailors Mac and Harris come across a strange old fakir who predicts Harris’ death. Appalled, Harris kills the fakir and the men are stalked by an invisible hoofed demon. "Hoof Prints of Doom" is probably the best story this issue and that's not saying much. Gene Colan is still stuck in his early-days rut of see-sawing art quality but it doesn't help that the scripter gives Gentleman Gene nothing to work with.

"Thufferin' Thukatash!"
In “Thing in the Chest," a playwright fashions his latest masterpiece around the myth of Pandora’s Box but, when the curtain rises, he finds the box is no myth, As portrayed by our uncredited artist, the demons that rise from the chest (see above) resemble something out of a Looney Tunes short. And, finally, Fernando de Toledano, Duke of Guadalajara, fears his wife, the gorgeous Countess Dolores Ibanez of Portugal, is a bloodthirsty vampire in "The Bat." Too late, he discovers her preferred meal is the Duke’s blood!

"The Bat"

Marvel Tales #95 (March 1950)

“The Living Death!” 
“The Gypsy’s Curse!” 
“Trapped in Time!” 

If only "The Living Death" had lived up to the promise of its spectacularly wild cover! Alas... A spaceship lands in the Polish town of Zillow and the population dwindles. Turns out a crew of aliens leaves the ship nightly to suck the entire insides out of the town folk in order to survive Earth’s atmosphere. Not a bad little thriller but a whole lot of the dialogue is pretty dismal (“Tell the people anything! Tell them it is a secret government experiment… or a comet on a rampage! Stress to them that it is harmless!”). Curiously, other than a quick glance at a caped and hooded shadow, the aliens are never shown.

In "The Gypsy's Curse!," Philip, Lord of Mac Arnish castle, is tortured by the singing voice of Lorelei, his gypsy wife, whom he betrayed and murdered for riches, years before. Overlong at ten pages, but some nice, atmospheric art (looks a lot like Gene Colan but GCD doesn't give a credit). And "Trapped in Time!" is a silly time travel short-short about a scientist who murders his future self during an experiment. This sort of story would be done to death (and better) by Feldstein and Gaines in the Weird Fantasy/Weird Science double-bill.

"The Gypsy's Curse"

Suspense #3 (May 1950)

“The Man Who Lost His Head!”  
“The Black Pit” (a: Sol Brodsky)   
“The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!” 
“The Forbidden Room!” 

Devised as a tie-in to the long-running radio mystery show of the same name, Suspense existed, for its first two issues at least, to serve up adaptations of creaky John Dickson Carr radio scripts like "The Body Snatchers" (adapted as "The Graveyard Ghouls" in issue #1), "Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer," and "The Bride Vanishes." The "Suspense" radio tie-in identifier on the cover would remain until the 11th issue, but the insides veered more towards the horror genre than thriller. Suspense would last 29 issues with the first eight being jumbo 52-page sized before reverting to the standard 36 with issue #9.

One of the best stories we've encountered yet on our journey is "The Man Who Lost His Head!" World-famous explorer and author, Kirk Hudson, runs up against a brick wall for the first time in his diamond-studded lifetime. His publisher has rejected the manuscript for Kirk’s latest masterpiece, a study of Jivaro head-shrinking techniques. But “Mr. Lee,” publisher of Marvel Books explains that the book is incomplete, lacking a final chapter describing the rituals themselves. Harrumphing but admitting Lee is probably right, Hudson heads to the Amazon in an attempt to witness head-shrinking in all its glory. The explorer finds it hard to hire a guide until a “sickly, dried-up prune” named Haro accepts the high-paying job. Hudson treats his guide like a slave and brutally beats him the entire way through the forests but, in a nice twist, discovers that it is Haro himself who is the “master head-shrinker.” Nice, creepy art highlights a pretty violent and mean-spirited script (which, of course, is welcome in a horror story). Hudson uses long, adjective-filled expletives to describe his Man Friday (“You stunted son of a two-headed monkey…”) and our uncredited scripter goes into great detail when describing the head-shrinking ritual (“River sand, roasted hot as sun in clay pot, is poured into head! Slowly skin dries and shrivels as sand is heated…”). A nice surprise.

No surprises will be found in the very silly and lackadaisical "The Black Pit," wherein a mine foreman is trapped by a cave-in but a lovely ghost comes to his rescue. Somewhat better (and at least three times more enjoyable) is "The Creature Who Didn't Exist!" Genius scientist Charles Cavanaugh invents a mechanical brain for the benefit of mankind but then goes off the rails when he catches his gorgeous wife conducting illicit experiments with Cavanaugh’s lab assistant. Suddenly, mankind is forgotten and murder is the scientist’s number one goal. To reach that goal, the nutty professor creates a synthetic man (who wears a shirtless vest in some sort of bold fashion statement) and then orders his creation to murder the adulterous pair. Stories like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist” (and “The Forbidden Room,” as well) are best enjoyed inebriated and lying on a couch. Fabulous dialogue and writing abound:

The shock of seeing his beloved wife in the arms of his trusted assistant drained the blood from his body…

His brilliant brain, once dedicated to science and humanity, became so corroded with the green slime of hate and vengeance that it rotted in its own bubbling cauldron of beastly cunning!

“…You are dead… dead… struck down by the instrument I fashioned and I shall be free to savor my revenge down through the years! Ah, the bell… the police! Now begins the final act in this comedy of confusion!”

…from his neck a rope ascended upward and his face was canted to one side in an awful travesty of listening…

Last up is “The Forbidden Room!”  Determined real estate agent, Sandor Dvorgny, gets private intel that a railroad has been proposed to run through an isolated castle atop a craggy mountain near the small village of Koztarsag. Smelling millions, Sandor races to the little town and arranges a meeting with the owner of the castle, Count Honved, a loony old man who’s been accused by villagers of being a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire! The Count won’t sell but Sandor is not one to take no for an answer and he begins a smear campaign (spreading gossip about an accused werewolf takes some doing but…) to drive the old man away. Admitting defeat, Honved sells out but cautions the realtor not to investigate the locked room found at the top of the stairs. Uh oh! Like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!,” “The Forbidden Room” exists only to fill space in a 52-page funny book but it does have its charms. Why a railroad would run atop a narrow, isolated cliff (rather than, say, around it) is a question only a comic book writer could answer, but he’s not talking. Dvorgny’s plot to tarnish Honved’s “good name” is a hoot; the con man goes so far as to tell one villager that he’s seen the Count “sticking pins into a small stuffed pig!”

In Two Weeks!
Let's Journey Into Unknown Worlds
for the first time!

Monday, September 17, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 66

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
66: August 1955 Part II

 Aces High 3 

"The Rules"★★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"The Spy"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

"The Case of Champagne"★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

When Lt. Edward Dale joins the 95th Pursuit Squadron in WWI, he is determined to make a name for himself and become an ace by shooting down as many German planes as he can. He ignores "The Rules" of chivalry and decency and pads his total by shooting down every plane he sees, even if the pilot is waving a white flag of surrender. His own men shun him and there is talk of grounding him. After he shoots down a German plane that had assisted a damaged Allied plane in landing, the Germans issue an ultimatum: Lt. Dale is no longer subject to the rules of decency and they will do whatever it takes to shoot him down. He is alone in the skies when he falls for a decoy trap and a group of planes descend from above to end his career.

"The Rules"
Jack Oleck tells a cracking good story here about a man who flaunts the unwritten rules and deserves his punishment. Evans is superb at drawing WWI planes and air battles and his soldiers look realistic. This is a great start to the issue!

The men of the 17th Aero Squadron believe that there is a spy in their midst and they are convinced it's Klaus Ritter, due to his German name and heritage. Ritter was nowhere to be found when German planes blew up gasoline storage tanks! When German planes intercept an Allied mission to bomb a German ammo dump, Ritter is the first one suspected of being "The Spy," especially when he doesn't fire on a German plane that downs an Allied flier. Though Ritter protests his innocence, the men of his squadron shun him. Soon, a dangerous mission to bomb a well-guarded German target is announced and Ritter runs off and flies away on his own. The men of his squadron are convinced that he is off to warn the Germans, but when word comes back that the ammo dump was destroyed and Ritter killed, they know the truth.

A decent story with pretty good art, "The Spy" plods along without any real surprises. I never doubted that Ritter was loyal to the Allied cause and so the ending did not come as a revelation. Bernie Krigstein's art is best when he's being creative; when he draws a straightforward story then the weaknesses in his technique are most apparent.

Sergeant Stuart Warner is content to be a "Greasemonkey," repairing other men's planes, ever since an incident right at the end of his pilot training. He let his friend Smitty take his place on a night solo flight so Stuart could keep a hot date but Smitty was killed and Warner was consumed with guilt and thrown out of the pilot corps. Now, when a pilot captain reports that his wife has just given birth to a baby boy (as had the late Smitty's wife right before his death), Warner jumps into the captain's plane and completes a dangerous mission on his behalf. When he returns, the captain reveals that he's Smitty's brother!

"The Case of Champagne"
Wally Wood's gorgeous art aside, I liked this story because it did not follow the expected pattern. Yes, the fact that both brothers' wives had baby boys is a coincidence, but I expected Warner to be killed in the final flight; I guess I thought the story was going to go in the same direction as "The Spy" before it. The fact that it didn't and Warner made it back safely was a nice surprise.

Scotty returns to the 47th Squadron after being on leave in Paris and brings some fine booze with him, but he refuses to open "The Case of Champagne" despite the entreaties of new flier Nick Blaine, who remarks that "people die in wars" and suggests that they seize the day. Scotty's plane crash-lands after the next patrol but he ignores Blaine's suggestion to open the case and drink the champagne. Scotty grows obsessed with a particular German plane and is furious when Blaine downs the same plane while out on patrol with Scotty. Blaine ends up saving Scotty's life and they both return to base safely and finally crack open the champagne.

"The Spy"
Not a bad story, just the weakest in a strong issue. Jack Davis's style doesn't really fit air battle stories, in my opinion, and this one takes a coupe of twists and turns that end up being fairly meaningless because it's all about that case of champagne. Still, Aces High is an enjoyable comic.-Jack

Peter: I loved "The Rules" but why does it seem so familiar? Haven't we seen that plot before? Regardless, George Evans makes anything he illustrates into a great war story."The Spy" is a bit on the obvious side, don't you think? Bernie's definitely on his game this time, though. It's amazing when you contrast "The Spy" with "The Pyramid" (from Valor, below); Krigstein seemingly could change styles with a flick of his wrist. Talk about obvious, how about the maudlin "Greasemonkey?" It's just plain bad, until that final groaner pushes it into "awful" territory. Sheesh! At least Wally gives it a go despite being saddled with one of the dopiest scripts he'd ever been handed. "The Case of Champagne" is a lot like one of Hank Chapman's war stories--long and stuck on the same riff.

Extra! 3

"Dateline: Algiers" ★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Steve Rampart" ★★
Story uncredited
Art by John Severin

"Geri Hamilton" ★
Story uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Dateline: Paris" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Crack World Press reporter Keith Michaels is in Algiers when he bumps into someone dressed in a Legionnaire uniform, someone who looks very familiar. The man excuses himself, insisting they don't know each other but, as he walks away, it dawns on Keith: the guy's a Fed. Oh well, shrugs Keith, on to the real story at the oil field that's been bombed. The supervisor insists that the explosion was the work of a saboteur and Keith drives back into town to type up his report. On the way, Michaels notices a commotion in the street and pulls over. Pushing through a crowd, he discovers the body of the Legionnaire. Beside it, visible only to Michaels' well-trained eye, is an envelope with a perfume odor and an earring bearing the name, "Shira." Keith wanders into a nearby cafe and (I mean, what a coincidence!) eyeballs the belly dancer on stage, a gorgeous dame by the handle of Shira, who happens to be missing one earring! The girl heads out the back door and Steve chases her down to hear her tell a sob story of an American FBI agent and true love. Keith's soaking it in with a reporter's ear when that ear is clubbed from behind and he loses consciousness.

"Dateline: Algiers"
The hack wakes up to find no girl but, luckily, they left him his camel. The babe had mentioned a place the Fed was supposed to meet up with the bad guys and Michaels puts his camel into gear and gets there in no time. He meets up with Shira, who explains that her boyfriend was supposed to be meeting up with another Legionnaire, the man responsible for the oil field bombing. He pats the girl on the fanny and tells her to meet him back at his hotel. When the other Legionnaire arrives, Keith sucker punches him and the men have a sturdy tussle, with Keith emerging the victor just as the Algerian police arrive on the scene, accompanied by a French officer. Michaels explains the situation but the Frenchman puts the kibosh on Keith's exclusive by revealing the identity of the saboteur: the lovely Shiva. Keith groans in embarrassment as, miles away, the oil field explodes. Keith swears he'll get revenge on the dame who made him look like a clown.

Well, here we have an interesting experiment that's also a preview of what's coming very soon in the EC Universe: the picto-fiction story (though it's not referred to by that term just yet). Comprised of about 70% text and 30% illustrations, "Dateline: Algiers" is actually a very good read. Sure, it's shot full of the dumb stuff that plagues these Extra! stories (the fact that Michaels does everything but report is exceedingly annoying) but, for once, Michaels has mud, rather than smugness, on his face in the final panel. Craig won't be mistaken for John le Carre, but he holds his own in the prose department and we know how stellar his graphics are.

Our favorite news photographer, Steve Rampart, is in Algiers (isn't everybody?), covering the oil field disaster when he bumps into his best bud, Keith Michaels, still cleaning egg off his face. Michaels gives Rampart the lowdown on his adventure and then the two board a flight to Paris, where Steve is to catch a connecting flight to New York. The two super-dudes say their goodbyes at the gate and Keith heads off into Paris where he'll . . . (oh, but that would be telling!) . . . and Steve hops his over-nighter. On board, Rampart uses his manly ways, good looks, and charm to win over a gorgeous brunette sitting next to him. The two head down below for a drink but when Steve offers to take the lovely girl's pic, things get frosty.

"Steve Rampart"
Not one to take "no" for an answer (like so many of these macho 1950s men), Rampart snaps a load of photos while the beauty is sleeping. When she awakens and Steve comments that he's captured her loveliness on film, the woman snaps and calls for her bodyguard, the man-mountain known as Max(!), to clean the shutterbug's clock. Rampart comes to in time to see the lovely maiden (who we now know is Shira) and her companions parachuting to safety, so he does what any red-blooded newspaper guy would do: he hops on top of Max and away they go! The pair land and have a bit of a kerfuffle, with Steve winning out. Meanwhile, Shira and her fellow agent are hoofing it and flag down a passing car. Too late, they realize, it's being commandeered by Steve Rampart, who saves the day and captures the two enemy spies.

Though I'm all for a little cross-over action now and then, this installment of "Steve Rampart" isn't the ticket. It follows the formula to the tee: Steve romances a dame (probably not one you'd take home to Ma), gets clobbered a few times, threatens to take a lot of pictures, and ends up staving off world domination by the Commies. Like our other World Press employee, Keith Michaels, Steve doesn't do much in the way of providing material for the company, instead flying around the world on their dime. The guy should be a Fed. I love Severin's graphics, though; that "Steve Canyon" vibe grows stronger every chapter.

"Geri Hamilton"
If there's one thing that Geri Hamilton can smell (even through her fancy French perfume), it's a good story and juvenile delinquent Eddie Harris is that good story. She and her camera-guy, Dagger, head down to the slums to try to smoke out the good-looking Harris and find out what's bugging him. Turns out a whole heck of a lot. Like enough problems to fill a week's worth of Days of Our Lives. The kid has no respect for elders and that goes for the poor old man, Pop, who raised him after Eddie became an orphan. Geri wants to know more about the troubled youth, so she digs up an old file and then suddenly realizes why beat cop Conley is always cleaning up the kid's mess. Seems he was the guy who ventilated Eddie's real Pop during a stick-up gone bad. Since then, both Conley and Pop have tried to bring Eddie up the right way despite his surroundings.

"Dateline: Paris"
Eddie has a confrontation with Pop over some dough and the old man's heart finally gives out, and Conley goes to search for him. Eddie tries kill his guardian angel, misses badly, and ends up in the clink. Geri doesn't get her happy ending after all. Why is every old man in an EC story nicknamed Pop? Despite the fact that Reed Crandall was professional enough to draw a typewriter into a couple of panels, I'm still not buying that this fashion model named Geri knows how to type or put a few words together to form a sentence, for that matter. These soap opera stories disguised as "human interest dramas" just suck the life out of my soul. It's like a really bad episode of Naked City.

In our second Keith Michaels adventure this issue, "Dateline: Paris," our favorite reporter travels to the city of love to check on a "rift in the French Cabinet" and uncovers what might be a case of adultery between one cabinet member and his rival's wife. But the suspected philanderer is found dead and suspicion falls on his lover. Since the police in every country Keith visits are morons, it's up to our hero to scratch at the doors and sniff out the facts. Back to the doldrums of Keith Michaels, Super Spy/Detective/ Romancer/Fashion Example, the boredom of which is inescapable. Only a sense of duty pushes me to read every panel carefully, looking for nuggets of zzzzzzzz . . .-Peter

"Dateline: Paris"
Jack: "Dateline: Algiers" didn't jell for me, despite the nice art by Johnny Craig. It's too hard to read the prose and then switch to panels with word balloons, back and forth, across eight pages. It took some figuring to realize that I was supposed to read across rather than down, and the text seemed overwritten. "Steve Rampart" flowed better for me and I liked the reference to It Happened One Night when the girl in the story flags down a truck by showing some leg. Severin's art is solid, as usual. "Geri Hamilton" doesn't work at all, after two linked stories, since it has nothing to do with them. Crandall is great but he really doesn't have much to do here. I was happy to reach "Dateline: Paris" and see that Craig was back to doing a straight comic story, but my excitement wore off quickly when I read this weak tale. Even Craig's art seems less tight and finished than we're used to.

Valor 3

"The Cloak of Command" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson

"Gentle as a Whisper" ★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Pyramid" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Debt of Honor" ★★★1/2
Story by E. Toomey
Art by Reed Crandall

Hoping to become as great a warrior as his father, Gaius Augustus marches a group of Roman soldiers through occupied Iberia, but arrogance and pride lead him down the wrong path into an ambush. Only the quick thinking of his father's advisor, Flavius, helps him avoid complete catastrophe after most of his men are run through. But, in the end, his complete 180-degree flip from mocking young stud to appreciative learner transforms Gaius into a man ready to ascend to greatness.

"The Cloak of Command"
Well, if these mini-epics are tantamount to sword-and-sandal sagas of the 1950s and 1960s, then "The Cloak of Command" is one of those on a par with Hercules and the Sons of Samson Meet the Daughters of Neptune, rather than Spartacus or Ben-Hur. It's not that our uncredited writer hasn't done a good job of creating a realistic scenario and interesting characters, it's just that it's a bit on the samey side. We've seen this before (and we'll doubtless see it again) in comics and movies and it's just not all that exciting. About the only bit that caught my attention was the scene where Flavius has the men anchor torches on their oxen and send them stampeding down into the Iberians, fooling the enemy into thinking the Romans were charging. Al Williamson, as usual, provides stunning visuals.

"Gentle as a Whisper"
A ship bearing gold stolen by Cortez wrecks on an island populated by Incas. The men are trekked to the temple where they are sacrificed to the gods, one man per sunrise. A Spanish friar convinces the Incas to let him have one night in their temple before he is slaughtered and he convinces the savages that their gods are no more than clay. He is freed. Though I get that the word "Valor" means more than sword-wielding vikings with big helmets, I'm not enamored with "Gentle as a Whisper," a slow-as-molasses morality story and its hot and cold Orlando art. Really, Joe's work looks fabulous in spots and absolutely awful in others. This story gives us a peek at what might have been should Bill and Al have opted for a religious funny book.

Thousands of slaves toil in the blazing hot sun of an Egyptian desert, all for their pharaoh, Amra. His royal physician by his side, the pharaoh sits in a tent, observes the work, and hopes it can be completed by sundown. For that is all the time his physician gives him. Feeling helpless, Amra takes his chariot out to beg his slaves to work faster, eventually offering them water, food from his palace, and then gold. The sun sinks lower and it becomes evident that the task is just too much when a worker cries out that they have finally uncovered a passage to "The Pyramid" where Amra's son had wandered in and become lost. The relieved father hugs his son and explains that the rest of the pyramid ("this folly") will be dismantled later. Without cheating one bit, Otto Binder steers you to an obvious conclusion (that Amra is sick and must be interred in a new pyramid by sundown) and then throws a very clever slider your way at the conclusion. Having a pharaoh feed his slaves is a nice change of pace as well. Bernie's art is a little on the doodly side here and there but, overall, it's nicely done.

"The Pyramid"

"Debt of Honor"
King Richard of England is in a precarious position: he's trying to force-feed Christianity to Jerusalem but Saladin, Jerusalem's ruler, is not buying it and Richard's men are starving. The kings of Germany and France both want to listen to Saladin's parley but Richard will not rest until Saladin and his men are run through with British steel. Guy Mortain, a traitor to Richard, convinces Saladin that he can serve Richard to him on a plate for a nominal sum. Saladin, wanting to avoid any more bloodshed, agrees despite his intolerance for turncoats. Mortain tells Richard of a secret passage into Jerusalem and offers to show it to him for one thousand pieces of gold and the king's oath never to punish him for his past betrayals. The king agrees; they enter the city and are ambushed and taken before Saladin, who offers the king his life if peace can be agreed upon. Richard begrudgingly agrees and is on his way. Later, that night, the rat Mortain has the gall to request his gold, knowing the king must keep his word. Richard gives the Judas his gold . . . in molten form.

An absorbing quasi-history lesson from page one right through its ironic climax (which would be echoed in a notorious scene from the first season of Game of Thrones), "Debt of Honor" is the best kind of history lesson. No dry sermons, packed with action, light on expository and stuffy dialogue, and beautifully drawn by Reed Crandall. -Peter

Jack-I agree that "Debt of Honor" is the best story this issue and I would give it four stars. I recently read a book on the Crusades and this story rings true, with an excellent, subtle twist ending and superb art by Crandall. Next in line for me is "The Cloak of Command," since I have an interest in Roman history. The young commander's hubris is well-portrayed and the exciting battle is drawn well by Williamson, though I prefer his science fiction work. "Gentle as a Whisper" features above-average art by Orlando, with none of the ugly caricatures that often mar his stories, while "The Pyramid" once again leaves me wondering what all the fuss is about in regard to Bernie Krigstein.

In Our 139th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories . . .
A death in The Haunted Tank crew!
Fer reals!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Three: Jonathan [2.10]

by Jack Seabrook

Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant adapted "Jonathan" from a short story by Fred Levon called "Turmoil" that was published in the October 15, 1948 issue of Maclean's. The story begins as a young man named George pleads with the reader for help. His mother died when he was born, so he grew up very close to his father, Harry, a successful lawyer. George reached manhood and Harry could no longer keep up with him; when Harry fell in love with his young, beautiful secretary, Rosine, his son resented the woman. The son went off to college and the father was married. On his summer vacation, George left a bottle of Scotch as a present for Rosine, knowing his father never drank, and headed for Mexico. While there, he received a letter from Rosine telling him that his father had taken ill and died.

George went home for Jonathan's funeral but did not get along with Rosine. He questioned the doctor about the cause of his father's death and learned that his heart gave out at age 42. Resentful of his stepmother, George seethes at the thought that she got away with murder and is now a rich young widow. He finally confronts Rosine and she admits having given Harry a drink from the bottle of Scotch that his son had left as a gift. Of course, she saw that the wrapping was cracked and a pinpoint had pierced the cork. George's attempt to kill his stepmother had given her the perfect method to kill her husband!

"Turmoil" was first published here
A clever twist follows well-placed clues in this tale of familial homicide, where the author misdirects the reader and the narrator, who is correct in thinking that his stepmother murdered his father but who is shocked to discover that his own attempt to kill the woman provided her with the means and opportunity to kill the man he loved best.

Fred Levon was one of two pseudonyms used by Levon Fred Ayvazian (1919-2009), who was born in Turkey during the period of the Armenian genocide. His family emigrated to the United States and he grew up to be a physician who developed a blood test for the early detection of lung cancer. He wrote a handful of short stories and three novels; one of them, Much Ado About Murder (1955), was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He wrote another novel (Andrew [1959]) as Kenneth Flagg. "Jonathan" was the only one of his works to be adapted for the screen.

The credits for "Jonathan," which aired on CBS on Sunday, December 2, 1956, state that the teleplay is by Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stirling Silliphant, suggesting that one of them wrote a script and the other revised it. However it was done, the end result is sharp.The show plays out in a series of scenes that alternate between the present and the past, shown in flashback. George's name has been changed to Gil and his father Harry's name has been changed to Jonathan; hence, the show's title refers to the person around whom everything revolves.

Art by Don Anderson
accompanied "Turmoil"
In the first scene, Gil arrives at his family's boathouse and his voice over narration sets the scene, explaining how he and his father had been together after his mother's death. Gil thinks "we were the perfect team," but his reverie is interrupted by Rosine and we learn that his father has already died and he does not hide his contempt for his stepmother. A flashback follows in the same boathouse setting and we witness Jonathan having chest pains after a boating trip with his son. This leads the father to encourage the son to make friends his own age and to reveal that he is soon to marry Rosine. Gil vows always to hate her and the scene returns to the present, where it is inferred that Gil was relating the flashback story to Rosine. In voice over, he wonders how she killed Jonathan, and this suspenseful question is left unanswered at the commercial break.

The second act begins with a closeup of Rosine pouring a glass of sherry for Gil; the viewer does not know it yet, but this act of serving an alcoholic beverage foreshadows the denouement. Jonathan's funeral has taken place off screen and the stepmother and son have returned to the family home, where Gil asks her directly how she killed his father. Another flashback follows, and the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place as we see Gil in the living room of the house after his return from Mexico, talking to his friend Don. Gil has brought an oversized bottle of brandy to leave for Rosine and he places it on the mantle, where it will not be overlooked. By using such a large bottle the creators of this episode make the bottle the focus of the viewer's attention.

Two short scenes follow as the story returns to the present and Gil finishes his conversation with Rosine. There is a brief scene where he chats with a maid and then a dissolve to the final scene, set in Rosine's bedroom. Gil enters, alone, and finds the large brandy bottle hidden in her closet and partly empty. She enters , tells him the truth of what happened, and he breaks down in tears and smashes the bottle into her mirror. The show ends with a shot of Gil's distraught face reflected in the shattered glass, which shows the fragmented reflection of a young man whose whole world has just been broken by the knowledge of his unwitting complicity in his father's murder.

Corey Allen as Gil
Gil is in turmoil for several reasons: his beloved father is dead, his stepmother got away with murder, he was the indirect cause of the man's death, and he can tell no one because to do so would reveal his own plan to murder his stepmother. "Jonathan" ends with Gil in a no-win situation, his stepmother triumphant, his world in fragments. By telling the story in a series of scenes that alternate between the present and the past, the writers create dramatic tension that is less present in Levon's short story, which is told in a linear narrative by George as he looks back on what went wrong.

Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996), who is credited as co-writer of the teleplay with Bernard C. Schoenfeld, got his start working for Disney as a publicity director and writer for The Mickey Mouse Club. He produced independent films, including 5 Against the House (1955) but is best known as a writer for both television and film from 1955 to 1995. Among his finest work are the TV shows Naked City and Route 66, as well as the film, In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which he won an Oscar. He wrote 11 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Glass Eye." A biography of him is called Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God.

Georgeann Johnson as Rosine
"Jonathan" is well directed by John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002), who keeps the story moving and includes interesting shots along the way. He was a writer and director who worked mostly in television from the early 1950s to the early 1980s. He directed only three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he also directed episodes of Star Trek and Night Gallery. He grew up in Hollywood and wrote a memoir called Eighty Years in Hollywood; of interest is the fact that his stepfather was film director Michael Curtiz.

Georgeann Johnson (1926-2018) receives top billing as Rosine. She had a long career, mostly on television, from 1952 to 2007 and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Night of the Execution" and "One for the Road." She also had a role in the film, Midnight Cowboy (1969) and appeared on soap operas in the 1970s.

The real star of the show is Corey Allen (1934-2010), who shines as Gil, the tortured son. Born Alan Cohen, he acted in film and on TV mainly from 1954 to 1965, though he made a handful of appearances in the decades that followed. He also had a long career as a TV director from 1966 to 1994. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he is best remembered as juvenile delinquent Buzz Gunderson, who loses badly to James Dean's character in a chickie run in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Douglas Kennedy as Jonathan
Douglas Kennedy (1915-1973) is effective in his short scene as Jonathan; he was a busy character actor in film and on TV from 1940 to 1973. He appeared with Bogart in Dark Passage (1947) and was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "A Little Sleep."

Though Nancy Kulp is listed in the credits, she does not appear in the show, so perhaps her part was removed at the last minute. Walter Kingsford and Heidi Mullenger also suffered the same fate. The three are credited as a doctor and two nurses, suggesting that a scene in the story where George visits his father's doctor may have been filmed but did not make the final cut.

Read "Turmoil" online in the Maclean's archives here. Buy "Jonathan" on DVD here or watch it for free online here.

The FictionMags Index.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“Fred Ayvazian.”
“Jonathan.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 10, CBS, 2 Dec. 1956.
Levon, Fred. “Turmoil.” Maclean's | The Complete Archive,
Stop, You're Killing Me!,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sept. 2018,

In two weeks: The Better Bargain, starring Robert Middleton and Henry Silva!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 138: June 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Luis Dominguez
Weird War Tales 14

"Dream of Disaster"
"A Phantom for a Co-Pilot"
"Too Late for the Death March!"
"The Ghost of McBride's Woman"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Tony DeZuniga and Alfredo Alcala

Peter: December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. Army Sgt. Mike McBride has a "Dream of Disaster" about a Japanese invasion but then awakens to a fateful meeting with a spectre, who informs Mike that he didn't have a dream. It was a clairvoyant vision. Mike then remembers back to the night before when he came home to find that his Japanese wife, Tsuko, had been kidnapped by her father, the powerful exporter, Kukomura. Mike heads to his father-in-law's warehouse, where he discovers some interesting documents on Kukomura's desk, papers that tell of the upcoming Pearl Harbor invasion. Kukomura arrives and informs Mike that he has sent his daughter back to Japan and now he will kill Mike before setting off himself. A tussle ensues, shots are fired, and Mike is brought back from his memory to discover the invasion in full swing and two dead bodies at his feet: Kukomura and Mike himself.

Four days later, Tsuko awakens aboard her father's yacht, which has been converted into a mini-anti-aircraft ship, and is told of the deaths of her father and husband. Considering herself an American citizen, Tsuko quashes the shooting down of an American bomber and pays for her bravery with her life. The bomber pilot, aware that the woman saved his life, is wary of dropping his payload in case Tsuko clings to life, but her ghost appears to him, urging him to sink the ship. As the bomber glides away from the sinking wreckage, Tsuko vows that she and her husband will be reunited somehow.

Five months later, on Corregidor, two soldiers have found themselves the lone survivors of an ambush and desperately fight to stay alive. It's their lucky day, though, since Sgt. Mike McBride's ghost is still wandering through limbo, looking for his wife, Tsuko. McBride's specter leads the pair of G.I.s through the jungles until they connect with a band of Filipino guerrillas. Later that night, the two discuss the hospitality of McBride's ghost.

Three years later, most of the Philippines have been recaptured by the Allies but G.I.s are still being dropped onto Luzon. It's there that a pair of G.I.s, Hank and Dave, accidentally become separated from the rest of their battalion and must rely on the kindness of a ghostly Japanese woman named Tsuko to find shelter and avoid death by Japanese bayonet. Once her good deed is complete, Tsuko is magically reunited with her husband after more than three years in limbo.

A connected quartet of stories (which are actually subtitled chapters 1-4), this issue is one very large, and way too long, lukewarm ghost story, courtesy of DC hack Sheldon Mayer. All through the 23-page "epic," we're treated to the narration of a rotting corpse in G.I. gear (ostensibly "Death") but our host never bothers telling us why Tsuko and Mike are hand-picked to be guardian angels (or, for that matter, why the five Americans are picked to be saved by these spirits). Mayer falls back on cliches of the ghost story, offering up nothing new to the genre. Oddly enough, we follow the loving spooks on their path to reunion but the actual occasion happens off-panel! I give editor Joe Orlando points for trying something different (again) but, like the last time he turned the entire zine over to Shelly (the "Trenches" novel back in #11), the results are weak. Can't find fault with the art, though, which is vintage Alcala/DeZuniga. Absolutely gorgeous. The full-novel experiment will get an Act III in issue #19 but, since the scripting chores will be handed to Arnold Drake, I'm preparing myself for another nicely-illustrated disappointment.

Jack: Peter, I disagree with you! "Dream of Disaster" is an excellent, creepy tale that is well-executed even though the premise is familiar. "A Phantom for a Co-Pilot" is a very good ghost story with the unusual twist of a Japanese woman who became a U.S. citizen turning and fighting against the Japanese forces. The mix of DeZuniga and Alcala is particularly interesting in "Too Late for the Death March!" and I love the thread of story that weaves its way through the incidents that make up this issue. By the end of the comic, I was unsure how to interpret the credit that says art by DeZuniga and Alcala. The GCD attributes pencils to Tony and inks to Alfredo, but I don't think it's that simple since some panels look to be all DeZuniga while others look to be straight Alcala. I looked up the two artists and was interested to learn that Tony was the first Filipino artist to be accepted here and that Orlando and Infantino went to the Philippines in 1971 to scout talent. Alcala seems to have emerged third, after Nestor Redondo. The Filipino artists certainly had a huge effect on DC comics in the '70s. I wonder if they were inspired by some of these stories, since the Japanese forces invaded the Philippines during WWII.

Our Army at War 257

"The Castaway"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Sea is Calm . . . The Sky is Bright . . ."
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Picking up from where we left off at the end of last issue (if you can believe that), Rock flies off in the plane that is supposed to take him back to Easy Co. after he's finished training sergeants. But wait! Anti-aircraft fire takes down his plane and he has to jump out with a parachute. He is the only survivor and dutifully buries the others who were on board. Attacked by a Japanese soldier, Rock battles the man in hand to hand combat and knocks him off the edge of a cliff to his death.

Sgt. Rock then fashions a hang glider from spare parts of the wrecked plane and his parachute and glides down from the cliff, avoiding fire from the same Japanese anti-aircraft gunners who brought down the plane. He manages to knock out the gun and men and ends up in the drink himself, hanging on to what's left of his glider and wondering how he'll ever get home.

"The Castaway"
As I write this, Russ Heath has just died less than a week ago and I have to marvel at his artwork in "The Castaway." This story continues the positive trend of Kanigher backing off from writing so many detailed (TNT-filled?) captions and letting Heath tell the story mostly through pictures. Page three is a terrific, full-page shot of Rock falling from the plane, and the rest of this 14-page stunner features more creative work by the artist, using different panel arrangements and sometimes spreading out into neighboring panels to create a masterful effect. Heath's talent will be missed!

A sailor on the U.S.S. Stevens wonders how to write a letter to his mother. Of course, he can't write about the horrors he witnesses, so he simply writes: "The Sea is Calm . . . The Sky is Bright . . ." Okay, Sam, we get it. War is Hell. You can't very well write that to the folks back home. Once again, the "story" is not a story at all.

"The Sea is Calm . . ."
Peter: Even though "The Castaway" is pretty darn far-fetched (Rock might as well be Bruce Willis in one of the Die Hard flicks for all the firepower he evades and the on-target TNT pineapples he drops from far above), I loved every gorgeous panel of it. Thank the DC war Gods that Archie Goodwin showed up on the scene and banished the long-held belief that continuing stories kill sales (Joe Kubert is still listed as editor of OAAW and Allan Asherman as "Editorial Assistant," but I suspect Archie put in his two cents here as well). Like the multi-chapter "Captain Storm" epic over in Our Fighting Forces, this "Rock's Journey to Easy" story line is bearing tasty fruit.

Star Spangled War Stories 170

"Legends Don't Die!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jack Sparling

Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Walt Simonson

Peter: The Unknown Soldier may be facing his most challenging mission yet (yes, I know I said that about last issue's mission, but I really mean it this time) when his CO sends him to the Solomon Islands to impersonate the legendary Major Edge, a one-man wrecking crew who's gone missing and is presumed dead. Without Edge's bravado, his men might just give up and turn tail rather than continue their endless fighting. US manages to infiltrate Edge's platoon and gain their trust, guiding them up into the Hornet's Nest, a tactical hill swarming inside with Japanese ants.

Oh, my.

But halfway up the hill, the Unknown  Soldier is in for a big surprise: Japanese Commander Akito Shimura has captured Edge and is holding him on the ledge of the Hornet's Nest for all his men to see. This naturally raises some questions but, thank war stress and lousy k-rations, the men are easily swayed into believing US's story of a ruse. They march up into and take control of the Nest but the real Edge is killed. Sometimes, "Legends Do Die!"

Well, the Unknown Soldier has a real quandary on his hands: Major Edge is dead (after displaying very un-macho behavior due to "battle fatigue") and US is left holding the saber. Eventually, the Major's men are going to have to be told that their Rock is dead (that is, unless the title of this series becomes "The Unknown Soldier is the Edge!") when our hero up and disappears, off to his next adventure. Archie's doing what he can with the limited resources but there's not a lot of originality going on here. What began as an exciting concept has degenerated into the World War II version of Man of a Thousand Faces. No need to discuss Jack Sparling's art as it hasn't gotten any better, nor will it.

In the far future, spaceship technician Stacy Taylor must face the Ultimate Fighting Machine ("UFM"), a gizmo created to keep peace on Earth, but he doesn't stand a chance. As with a lot of these 1970s' science fiction comic book tales, "UFM" completely loses me about a third of the way through the complicated sf jargon (it's a sorta-kinda Beneath the Planet of the Apes, is what I came away with), but who cares about the script when you've got Walt Simonson's visuals to absorb? Editor Archie, on the letters page, explains that "UFM" is only Walt's second pro sale (the first being "Cyrano's Army" in Weird War #10) but that it impressed him mightily. It did me as well. The panel layout is very similar to what Rich Buckler would do with Deathlok the Demolisher a year later for Marvel. Lots of tiny or oblong boxes break up the usual monotony of eight or twelve squares. Archie also questions us regular folk as to whether Star Spangled should feature sf tales or if they should be confined to Weird War. I don't have a problem as long as it's a well-told tale. On the aforementioned letters page, Archie challenges the audience to find Simonson's (by-now) instantly-recognizable signature and, since I'm a nice guy, I've reprinted that page below for you to find the "Easter egg."

Jack: I thought the premise of "Legends Don't Die!" was a good one, with the Unknown Soldier having to replace the legendary major in order to inspire the troops to keep fighting. The image of the mask being partly blown off to reveal the bandages beneath is cool and I really think Sparling is rising to the occasion with better than average art. I was thrilled to see the early work by Simonson in the second story, and I also thought of Deathlok as well as Charlton's Doomsday + 1, which would come along a couple of years later and give a start to John Byrne. I was 10 when this issue of Star Spangled came out and, though I hadn't yet started buying Unknown Soldier comics, I would've been impressed with the package.

G.I. Combat 161

"The Day of the Goth!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Push-Button War"
Story by Gerry Boudreau
Art by Dan Green

Peter: General JEB Stuart confides in his descendant, tank commander Jeb Stuart, that they'll both be facing down a ghost today and the results will shape both their fates. Meanwhile, in a remote Austrian castle, Colonel Wolf von Todstrom has just received news that his brother, Major von Todstrom (seen last issue), has been killed in battle by the men of the Haunted Tank. Forsaking his vow never to fight in combat again, von Todstrom vows to dismantle the Haunted Tank and sell its parts to the highest bidder in Hell! Though the threat may sound hollow, he's got some high-powered back-up in the form of an ancient barbarian giant named Alaric the Goth, who's itching to fight General Stuart and send him to purgatory. Von Todstrom doffs his smoking jacket to reveal his old Nazi uniform and commissions a tank to hunt down the Jeb. All parties meet on a precarious cliff and the bad guys earn the upper hand by blasting a chunk out of the side of the mountain, burying the Haunted Tank and its crew. Can the General defeat the mighty Alaric and, perhaps, save his Earthly wards?

We wanted it and we finally got it! A two-parter! But is it worth the wait? Well, sorta. Though Archie Goodwin was one of my favorite funny book writers, "The Day of the Goth!" is a pretty lazy script, with a lot of odd shortcuts, and some of it is downright confusing. The Colonel's flashback to how he discovered Alaric is almost like shorthand, as if we're supposed to be in on the story. Sgt. Grauer, the Nazi who delivers the bad news to von Todstrom, explains that the tank that took down the Colonel's brother appears and vanishes "like . . . a phantom" but does the Jeb really do that? Not quite. Also, we get the obligatory scene where the men discuss Jeb's obvious nutty behavior of talking to a ghost but, this time out, it seems Jeb must have had a talk with his men because they know all about the General and how he's their guardian angel. On the plus side, there's a definite Gothic horror vibe to "The Day of the Goth!" that's very welcome to this war-weary traveler (just take a gander at that castle above!). Archie also tries to work in a couple of the continuing subplots (easing the new guy, Gus Gray, into the stories and dealing with Arch's failing marriage) but there's just not enough room for soap opera here. The action's high-energy and the visuals (for the most part) are top-notch so I'll give this a thumbs-up and look forward to the conclusion.

A private has just been debriefed on the Army's latest toy in the Vietnam War, the Seismic Intrusion Detector, a device that allows the military to detonate mines in enemy territory from the safety of a building a hundred miles away. The moral dilemma, for the major, becomes: what if innocents stray into the SID's area and are accidentally killed? His Captain scoffs at the insinuation that America would kill innocent bystanders and tells the Private to man the board for a bit. Meanwhile, a farmer and his family, who tend their crops at night (when the bombers are inactive), watch as their crops are reduced to ash and then do just what the Private had feared by wandering into a "kill-radius." The innocents appear on the Private's radar screen and the Captain orders him to make the call. The button is pushed as the Private asks for God's forgiveness.

Comic book writers in the early '70s were funny animals; they seriously believed that, like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, millions of people would listen to (or read) their protests and the war would end. Well, it did, eventually, but I'd bet all my Bob Dylan bootlegs that Richard Nixon never even came near a funny book when making his decision to bring the boys back home. I get it, these guys were right out of college and itching to make their displeasure known . . . so, why do so many of these 1970s' protest tales seem like a little kid whining? Could it be the portrayal of America as the evil conqueror, a military with no regard for human life, or just the fact that most of these moral fables seem to melt together, after reading so many of them, into the same ol' same ol'? I can appreciate a "War is Hell" story just as much as the next guy (Harvey Kurtzman wrote several such scripts that hold up to this day), just not something as one-sided as "Push-Button War." End of rant.

Proof that Glanzman could conjure up atmosphere
Jack: The visuals are top-notch? Peter, have you been smoking Napalm? Glanzman's art on "The Day of the Goth!" is so weak that it takes away from my enjoyment of the story. On the plus side, Gus is a nice addition to the faceless crew of the Stuart tank, though I fear that the coming attraction warning that one of the crew will die could mean curtains for Gus. He's like all those members of Easy Co. who get killed while bullets whiz harmlessly by Ice Cream Soldier and Bulldozer. If Gus does survive, I'd love to see his opinion of General Stuart as mascot! Dan Green's art gives "Push-Button War" a modern look and, while he's a tad better at drawing faces than Glanzman, he's not going to give Neal Adams a run for his money. It's interesting that a story like this could run in a DC War comic in 1973--something so anti-American would not have been welcome not too many years before. The Vietnam War was such a disaster by this point that even comic book editors knew the kids reading their product would understand.

Next Week . . .
As we wind things down,
Johnny Craig gives us a glimpse of EC's future!