Thursday, October 23, 2014

Voices in the Dark: The Horrors of Dark Fantasy (1941-1942) Part Five

by Jose Cruz

18. Pennsylvania Turnpike

Original Broadcast: March 20, 1942
    Cast: Ben Morris (Ken Miner), Fred Wayne (Hank), and Muir Hite (Filling Station Attendant). 
      An old hitchhiker saunters into a filling station, the friendly attendant inquiring as to his destination. Their casual talk eventually brings to light some strange facts and habits of the hiker: he doesn’t know what a sandwich is and he tries to use an authentic 18th century gold coin to pay for it. The old man is undetermined as to where he is going but he has a definite plan in mind. “I always pay off my debts,” he tells the attendant, adding an extra odd note when he explains that he only takes rides from men with red hair.
        The hiker owes a debt to a red-headed man and thus seeks them out as his travelling companions in hopes of settling his score. Just then a motorist enters the station asking the way to Pine Knob, Pennsylvania. The old man offers his help but first asks that the motorist take off his hat. The attendant goads the man to humor the hiker, and not only does the old feller see that the man has red hair but he makes note of the initials in the hat: “K. M.” for Ken Miner.
          Miner irritably asks the hiker again for directions to Pine Knob. The hiker offers to point Miner in the right direction if he’ll drive him there and the two promptly depart. Picking up a bag of tobacco that the old man had used, the attendant marvels at the insignia on it that reads “King’s Choice, 1756.”
            Miner tries to chat pleasantly with the taciturn hiker, who points to a road for Miner to take off the turnpike. Miner is perplexed as he hadn’t seen the road there before. Driving along, he’s astounded that there aren’t tracks from any other passing automobile on the road, just the deep ruts made from wagons and stagecoaches. “Six coal-black horses,” the hiker chirps. “The pride of Pennsylvany!” 
              Ken grows uneasy as the buildings and highway shrink in the distance the further they drive out. “Nothing but open prairie land,” he mutters. “Trees. Hills. Tall grass.” The hiker starts to get a little cryptic when he asks Miner to imagine something incredible happening to him, to think of his immortal spirit swearing vengeance throughout the ages for this incredible incident. “What could you do but roam place from place?” he asks. He goes on to say that time is ever-fluctuating, but Miner won’t hear it. “What’s going to happen certainly isn’t taking place now,” the driver retorts.
                Seems he spoke too soon. Just then they pull to a stop in front of a miraculous scene. Ken witnesses two men, both of them dead-ringers for the hiker and himself, conversing in front of a covered wagon. They’re discussing the fate of a stash of gold they’ve just acquired. The Miner of the past tells his companion Hank that he plans on taking the gold for himself. Hank refuses so Miner shoots him down in cold blood for his troubles. The hiker explains to Ken that the two panhandlers are past versions of themselves. “Nine score years I’ve waited,” Hank’s spirit wails. Taking control of the wheel, Hank sends the car over the edge of a cliff onto the rocks below.
                  Bishop scores more points for delivering an efficient, well-told tale that uses the supernatural to push the narrative smoothly forward. A small but considerable sense of mystery is generated by the real-time opening, stirring up questions in the listener’s mind as to what the ultimate endgame of the enigmatic hitchhiker will turn out to be and what such a strange turning point as red hair has to do with the whole thing. 
                    The tale possesses a Twilight Zone atmosphere, especially with its preoccupations with the shattering of time’s barriers, travelers, and roadside stops, recalling most prominently “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” and “The Hitchhiker.” The latter was actually broadcast on radio for Suspense four months prior to Bishop’s play, relaying Lucille Fletcher’s famous story of a man on a cross country trip trying to elude the damnable presence of a persistent spirit asking the eternal question “Going… my way?” 
                      Fred Wayne manages to turn his character’s surliness into a maintained sense of menace, with Morris and Hite putting in their always-reliable characterizations to balance the oddity of the proceedings. In comparison to the high antics and glorious pulpishness of the last several episodes, “Pennsylvania Turnpike” serves as a nice breather but one that nevertheless holds its own with its straightforward narrative of paranormal vengeance on the highway.

                      19. Convoy for Atlantis 

                      Original Broadcast: March 27, 1942

                      Cast: Ben Morris (Harvey Adams), Murillo Schofield (Winston Everly), and Garland Moss (Siegfried, the Ruler of Atlantis).

                      Harvey Adams and his friend Winston Everly have been stranded on an open boat for nine days without food or water, each passing hour feeling like an eternity. Harvey is a reporter who was hoping to get the scoop on the recent string of mysterious boat disappearances that had occurred in the open sea. Three separate ships had all seemingly vanished into thin air with no sign of the passengers or indication of a distress signal. Harvey solicits the aid of Winston and his yacht to trace the final course of the vessels and perhaps discover some answers.

                      What Harvey only knows in hindsight is that by doing this they had “offered [them]selves as bait for some unseen devil.” Harvey and Winston bicker fiercely during the voyage, the reporter convinced that the ships disappeared within the exact same vicinity of each other and that they themselves are nearing this perimeter now. Winston finds it impossible that all three ships should be wiped out in the same spot. To add further bewilderment to the affair, news reaches them that every single passenger from the vanishing vessels have returned safely to the mainland aboard lifeboats, though none of them can recall what had happened to them.

                      Just then a weird figure enters the room. The man identifies himself as Siegfried, the one responsible for all of the disappearances. He tells the two men that he needed the boats for his own purposes, all of which he will gladly show them. “It will entail a trip to the bottom of the sea,” he adds and mentions that all of the passengers from the other vessels were given the same tour. And like them, Harvey and Winston will remember none of the awesome sights that they will witness.

                      To prepare them for the journey, Siegfried commands them to imbibe a potion. Winston tries to back out of the deed, but the centuries-old denizen of the sea hypnotically controls the rebel to carry through with the plan. Harvey and Winston wake up later in the undersea chamber. Siegfried says that they are now 50,000 leagues below land and that the formula they drunk induced their spirits to leave their physical bodies behind, thus explaining the men’s ability to still be able to breathe underwater. That’s when Siegfried drops the big news on them: this is no second-rate oceanic kingdom, but the lost continent of Atlantis itself!

                      Having been sent to a watery grave 11,000 years ago by volcanic disturbances, Atlantis was still able to survive through the tenacity and perseverance of its people. Siegfried has been commandeering the ships in order to salvage their metal. As they’re pulled along by a sliding panel, Harvey and Winston sees that the Atlantians are using the steel to fortify their continent against the crushing waves that imprison them. At the end of the tour, the men are shown a chamber packed with gold, silver, and other innumerable treasures. Siegfried has been giving all of the human visitors a small but generous portion of the treasure, enough to cover any losses they might have suffered from the boat-snatching and then some.

                      Winston, his mind overflowing with riches, sneaks back to the treasure room to snatch his own reward. Harvey comes in looking for him and confronts him over his greediness. Just then Siegfried enters and sees the treacherous scene unfolding. “You could not conquer the worldly desire to steal our treasures,” he criticizes. Enraged by this betrayal, Siegfried tells both men that he shall be sending them back in time to face their due torture.

                      This brings us back to the opening episode with Harvey and Winston delirious from starvation and exposure. A cache of the treasure from Atlantis lays at their feet, utterly useless now. Driven past his breaking point, Winston screams that all of the treasure belongs to him before he takes it and himself overboard and into the ocean.

                      Although the prospect of another “kingdom under the sea” story set this listener a little ill at ease, Bishop shows that he has grown since the time of his scattershot sophomore episode, “The Thing from the Sea.” The writer demonstrates this mainly by keeping any convoluted background concerning Atlantis under the rug, concerning himself more with the motivations and interactions of his characters. A wise move no doubt.

                      However, the script does still suffer from some of the logical inconsistencies that have plagued the show in the past. The most egregious of the lot is Siegfried’s “plan” that consists of giving his unintended victims a tour of home base. Firstly, why should he feel obligated to do this? No indication is given that Atlantis is going to be making a comeback or anything, so why couldn’t the continent just go on being perceived as a myth? Wouldn’t that make life easier for the Atlantians? This brings us to the second point: if Siegfried is doing this just to be a stand-up guy and show that there are no hard feelings by the work he does, then why in Neptune’s name would he erase the memories of all who found this out? Is he afraid that the world at large will rediscover Atlantis? If so, then why give people a Fast Pass to his homeland and show them what they’re all up to? And then on top of that he just throws money at them and tells them to buy themselves a new boat. Okay then.

                      It doesn’t help that “Convoy for Atlantis” suffers from some of the worst audio that has been heard thus far. Like “Curse of the Neanderthal,” there are some aural beats and clipping that make it difficult to discern the action, but this episode suffers from a persistent skipping that occurs during the opening and closing wraparound, making just about everything that happens complete guesswork. Does Winston (a great slimy portrayal by Schofield, by the way) jump into the ocean with the treasure? Is there a ship seen heading towards the men’s boat? Do both of them get eaten by a kraken? It’s anybody’s say.

                      20. The Thing from the Darkness

                      Original Broadcast: April 3, 1942

                      Cast: Ben Morris (Donald Thurman), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Princess Ilana), Fred Wayne (King Tinasi), and Muir Hite (Eivan).

                      Donald Thurman is awoken from a fitful sleep by his ringing telephone. The caller inquires if the pilot will be able to make a trip to Mantilla. Don is uneasy about traveling through the desert and insists that he be paid six hundred for the flight. During the voyage, a terrible sandstorm blots out all sight from the aircraft, Don commenting that the whirlwind is “thick as pea soup.” Hoping for a soft landing, Don noses the plane toward the ground.

                      The pounding of war drums is what arouses Don next from his slumber. A hulking native tells Don that he will be brought to King Tinasi, but he may be sacrificed to the leopard pit if it is seen fit. The native, Eivan, explains that when the moon is full the leopards become maddened and rabid until they are placated with human flesh. Don has been temporarily blinded by the sandstorm. “You have come where white man is forbidden,” Eivan tells the felled pilot.

                      Don also finds out that the tribe’s Princes Ilana is due to be married and that it was she who brought Don back to health. Eivan and the King believe that the man’s blindness was induced by gazing at the beauty of the princess. Guiding Don to the main camp, Eivan becomes highly excited when he sees leopard tracks in the dirt, convinced that evil spirits are loose.

                      At Tinasi’s court, the King accuses Don of rendezvousing with Ilana, despite the pilot’s denials. Don later finds himself left in the middle of the jungle as opposed to the prison hut that Eivan was supposed to lock him into. Seeing a “great star” coming over a ridge he realizes that it is the full moon and his sight has been restored. Don is met by Ilana, who tells him that Eivan did disobey orders and left him to die. Ilana is due to marry the brute but she can’t stand him. The nuptials are put on hold when they hear a leopard groaning in the bush and find Eivan wounded from a feline attack.

                      King Tinasi forbids the two from helping the warrior, though he is quick to blame Don for the attack due to the blood on his hands, stains he only got from trying to carry Eivan off to safety. Tinasi passes judgment that both he and his own daughter shall face death in the leopard pit. The couple are brought to the hole and forced down the stone steps to face furry death.

                      Ilana is hopeless, telling Don that once the full moon shines over the pit the “tenemahasi” will be driven to slaughter them. In the adjoining, gated room inside the pit they can see Tinasi cooing to the animals. Legend has it that if the prisoners are in fact not guilty the cats will not harm them. With just a few iron bars separating them from fangs and claws, Don and Ilana are prepared to meet their doom when suddenly a bank of fog passes over the sky, covering the moon’s rays. Disappointed by the change in weather, the leopards decide to make a meal out of the screaming King instead.

                      “The Thing from the Darkness” comes close to reaching the overzealousness of “The Thing from the Sea” as it details the intricacies of the foreign tribe’s superstitious beliefs involving possibly shape-changing wereleopards, but it’s mainly kept at a lively pace thanks to its E. C. Comics flavor that’s made when the romanticized jungle adventure meets a particularly nasty conclusion. The leopard feast foregoes any squelchy sound effects for the nerve-rattling screams of poor Fred Wayne.

                      The episode is also a touch confusing at times. At one point we hear a man that we eventually come to find out is King Tinasi speaking to his pet leopards: “Tonight is the night we hunt!” We imagine this is somehow tied to the sighting Eivan has of the leopard tracks that transform into human footprints, but the connection is unfortunately tenuous and not clearly defined.

                      Bishop also sticks in a rather unnecessary plot point delivered close to the conclusion where Ilana tells Don that she is actually white but is not Tinasi’s real daughter. Neat, I guess? Do you have any information about how to keep from getting eaten by wild jungle cats, Princess?

                      21. The Edge of the Shadow

                      Original Broadcast: April 10, 1942

                      Cast: Ben Morris (Steven Fuller), Eleanor Naylor Caughron (Martha Fuller), Muir Hite (Hank Marsh), and Georgianna Cook (Stewardess).

                      Steven Fuller is perturbed by the discovery he has made in the stables of his farm: one of his prize cows has been wounded by barbed wire. This is especially strange since Steven has no barbed wire fences anywhere on his property. He asks his farmhand Hank Marsh if he let the animal out, but Marsh says that he kept all the cows within the pasture. Stranger still is the bottle of disinfectant and the clean rags Steven finds in the stables, items he knows were stored elsewhere. Surmising that someone must have intentionally injured the cow and attempted to treat it before being interrupted, Steven has his suspicions confirmed when he finds the bloody link of barbed wire hidden in a stack of hay… and Hank holding a gun on him.

                      The laborer admits to the crime, his motive to get Steven out of the way so that he can be with his wife Martha who detests her husband and wishes for a divorce. Steven is confused as he knows nothing of this, but Hank is convinced Fuller has been savvy to the affair the whole time. Hank’s devious plan entails him shooting Steven through the heart and, once startled by the sound of the shot, the loose cow will rear up and trample the corpse past recognition, making the true cause of death undeterminable!

                      Thinking fast, Steven splashes the disinfectant into Hank’s eyes and wrestles the gun away from him. Steven’s a pretty forgiving sort, chastising Hank like a child as he guides him to the well to wash the burning fluid off of his face. As the sputtering Hank washes himself, Steven points out the airplane to New York that regularly flies over the farm at evening. But Steven realizes too late that the low aircraft is ablaze and on a crash course with the farm!

                      We find out Steve has been dreaming this whole episode. He is quite shaken by the night terror and convinces himself that it must have been real. When he runs to Hank’s bedroom and sees that he’s gone, he only becomes more ill at ease. He explains the crazy dream to Martha and she convinces him to go out to the barn to ascertain if there was any truth to it.

                      By the light of a lantern, Steven finds the very same cow with an identical injury, the barbed wire and the gun hidden in the hay just as they had been in the dream. Thinking Martha had somehow missed the plane crash, Steven rushes out but sees that there are no signs of fire or rubble anywhere. The airport later confirms that the New York plane had a safe flight, but even this and Martha’s insistence that all the other occurrences were mere coincidences does not sit well with Steven.

                      When Hank enters reporting on the cow’s injury, Steven’s fears are fully kindled. He becomes a hysterical mess, accusing both Hank and Martha of conspiring against him. They claim innocence and try to speak to Steven’s reason, but he isn’t having any of it. “You can burn together!” he roars before using the same gun to shoot both of them where they stand.

                      Later, Steven is on board the plane bound for New York. “They won’t find me there,” he tells himself. His nerves are calmed once the plane takes off, though he is a little jumpy when the flight attendant greets him. He tells her of his strange dream, including the bit about the plane exploding in the air! He glances out the window and sees the familiar farm below. “Look how close it seems…” he muses, just before seeing the wing of the plane on fire and feeling the vessel hurtling toward the earth.

                      The strength of its ominous opening scene is just about enough to carry “The Edge of the Shadow” over the finish line. It’s one that puzzles the listener, leaving them wondering as to just where the story is going to go next. Is this going to be a crime thriller? A ghost story about the executed hubby coming back from the grave? When the first scene ends with the airplane crash, we don’t even know if the only two characters in the play have just been wiped out altogether!

                      Once it is revealed that we’re dealing with a tale in the “nightmares come true” strain of horror, things seem to settle into a more identifiable pattern, but even then Scott Bishop manages to keep the proceedings fresh and engaging. Not even the actors tip their hands here. Maybe I’m getting rusty, but I honestly couldn’t foresee hardly any of the events in the show until they were actually happening, barring when it is revealed that our hapless “hero” Steven has boarded a quick plane to immolation. (Strange, by the way, how the flight attendant and the rest of the passengers are all incredibly silent during the accident. Another dream perhaps?)

                      A nebulous little curiosity, “The Edge of the Shadow” delivers some of the series’ best surprises.

                      Don't miss the sixth chapter of Jose Cruz' look at Dark Fantasy in two weeks!

                      Monday, October 20, 2014

                      Do You Dare Enter? Part Thirty-Eight: August 1973

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

                      Nick Cardy
                      Unexpected 149

                      "To Wake the Dead"
                      Story by Leo Dorfman
                      Art by Ernie Chua

                      "The Slayer Wore Skirts"
                      Story by Carl Wessler
                      Art by Rico Rival

                      "Deadmen Do Tell Tales!"
                      Story by George Kashdan
                      Art by E.R. Cruz

                      Jack: The neighbors complain that the noise coming from old Mr. Hobart's house is enough "To Wake the Dead," but when two police officers check it out, all they see is elderly Mr. Hobart and some very peppy ghosts! Senior Officer Corrigan tells young officer Matt about the weirdest mystery in the department's records. Three years before, rich Mr. Carson wanted to build a 50-story office building on old Mr. Hobart's land, but Hobart refused to sell. Carson bought up all the land surrounding Hobart's house and began to build, but when he bulldozed the family cemetery he went too far, and the family ghosts rose up and sabotaged the project, ending in Carson's death. To this day, the rotting frame of the skyscraper stands behind Hobart's house. This story was more palatable when it was Bugs Bunny's rabbit hole that they were building around. Leo Dorfman should stick to Ghosts.

                      "To Wake the Dead"
                      Peter: How many times have we seen this old plot line taken out of mothballs? It's harmless fun and the art's pretty good but the finale, when the young cop looks up and sees the half-finished "skyscraper" next to Mr. Hobart's house as if for the first time, is a hoot.

                      Jack: Someone is murdering men in the streets of Paris and the police think it's a woman, since one of the victims was able to report that "The Slayer Wore Skirts" before he breathed his last. Louis Blanc shares a flat with his mother ever since Dad ran out on them years ago, and Louis likes to take to the streets wearing a dress. But when the police arrest him, it turns out that the real killer is his mother and he was trying to take the rap for her. Now that's a devoted son! Too bad his crazy mother doesn't appreciate him.

                      "The Slayer Wore Skirts"
                      Peter: So, does that mean Louis would dress up like a woman, follow his mother to her kill sites, watch her commit murder, and then hang around until a witness would pop up, just so he could run away and give the appearance of a fleeing old lady? Do I need to point out that doesn't make much sense? Oh, it's Carl Wessler? Never mind.

                      Jack: Intrepid reporter Mr. Craig manages to get inside the mansion of reclusive magnate Mr. Belson for a rare interview, so Belson agrees to talk to him. Craig is one of many to suspect that Belson is really dead and that his death has been covered up, but he learns that "Deadmen Do Tell Tales" when he discovers that Belson is a reanimated corpse, kept alive by a computer. Craig is held prisoner but Belson's corpse tries to help him escape, wanting to get away from his own prison. They are caught in the act and, when a photographer comes looking for Craig, he finds him sitting alongside Belson and looking equally corpse-like. Boy, he sure rotted fast! This was a dreadful issue, something not altogether unexpected.

                      "Deadmen Do Tell Tales!"
                      Peter: I thought the climax was pretty cool, very downbeat (an innocent man suffers a nasty fate), but don't think about it too long as it doesn't hold much water. Is that a bullet hole in Mr. Craig's forehead? Won't the newspaper eventually wonder why Craig won't leave Mr. Belden's house?

                      Luis Dominguez
                      The House of Mystery 216

                      "Look Into My Eyes... And Kill!"
                      Story by John Albano
                      Art by Tony deZuniga

                      "Graveyard Shift"
                      Story Uncredited
                      Art by Bernard Baily

                      "Special Sale: Canned Death 1/2 Off"
                      Story by Doug Moench
                      Art by Abe Ocampo

                      Peter: Willie "Doc" Salem has an unusual gift (well, not so unusual for the DC mystery line): he can persuade his victims to do his bidding with just the few whispered words, "Look Into My Eyes... and Kill!" When he falls for a rich beauty named Alicia, she tells him the only competition he faces is a handsome race car driver. Very soon, with that obstacle driven into a wall, Doc convinces Alicia to marry him and he wastes no time attempting to eliminate Alicia. He parks on a high cliff wall and commands her to jump. To his dismay, Alicia gives Doc a shove and he falls to his death, leaving the beauty to remark that Doc's special powers don't work on a witch. Another one of those plots I swear we've seen before and a twist right out of left field. The reveal doesn't really work because nothing we've seen from Alicia would point to witchcraft. If she knew about Doc's powers, she must have known he killed her race car lover so why would she consent to marry the guy in the first place? None of it makes sense but the art is gorgeous.

                      Jack: Tony deZuniga's is the best art I've seen so far this month. Doc is a little freaky since he has one green and one yellow eye! The ending came out of nowhere and didn't work at all for me. There's a difference between a twist ending and a surprise ending, but I'm not sure this qualifies as either--more like a dumb ending!

                      Peter: Cabby Harry Baxter is one mean son of a gun, to his fares and to his co-workers. The guy won't lift a finger to help a poor soul unless there are dollar signs attached. One night, Harry hears one of his fellow cabbies, Old Gus, tell how he picks up one rider every night in the same place and the guy tips enough to keep the bills paid for a week. Harry locks his comrade in a supply room and heads out to pick the guy up. Turns out the passenger is a vampire and so was Gus. They met every night to "exchange blood." Harry becomes his latest victim. Since the "surprise" is given away on the splash page, I was waiting for the big reveal of "Graveyard Shift" and it didn't disappoint. Well, I mean the story disappointed me in that there's really nothing to it. Why would the old man tell his fellow cabbies about the rich passenger when they all know what a creep Harry is? And to make it even stupider, we learn that the cabbie knew his regular was a vampire because he's a bloodsucker. And what does the vampire mean when he tells Harry that he and Gus meet every night to "exchange blood?" I know I'm thinking too much.

                      "Graveyard Shift"

                      Jack: Baily's art in the '70s doesn't always work but it works here and looks suitably creepy. I love the giant vampire bat with the somewhat human face! The NYC taxi driver setting is nice and seedy and, for once, I was surprised that the rider was a vampire, especially since the cover made me think he would be a monster!

                      "Special Sale..."
                      Peter: Sheila Barker decides she's had enough of her husband, George, and his damn grocery store, so she places a roller skate on their stairs and becomes a widow. A week later, Sheila re-opens the grocery store but the lights go out and she's attacked by food cans and milk bottles. Could it be the ghost of George? She dies, buried under a mound of Spaghetti-Os, not knowing that the area had been hit by a major earthquake. To fully enjoy these things, one has to not only suspend the disbelief of the supernatural but also to believe that these characters can be such monsters. Take Harry, the cab driver, who won't stop for a woman who needs to get to the hospital or Sheila, who thinks nothing of breaking her husband's neck because his love for the grocery took precedence over her. I know there are people out there in the real world like this but I haven't run into any yet so when I come across them in our mystery stories they feel artificially enhanced. We have to hate them to cheer for the nasty things that, inevitably, happen to them. In some cases the writer does a good enough job without going overboard. Not so with "Special Sale: Canned Death 1/2 Off."

                      Jack: Kind of a riff on "Eyes" from Night Gallery, don't you think? The woman thinks the groceries are attacking her in the dark but it's really an earthquake. Those must have been some angry soup cans to cause a death! And what's Doug Moench doing at DC?

                      Peter: The same kind of writing he perpetrated over at Marvel, it seems.

                      Luis Dominguez
                      The House of Secrets 110

                      "Domain of the Dead"
                      Story by Jack Oleck
                      Art by Fred Carrillo

                      "Safes Have Secrets Too"
                      Story by Mike Pellowsky and Maxene Fabe
                      Art by Flor Dery

                      Story by Jack Oleck
                      Art by Gerry Talaoc

                      Peter: Tom Akins has always wanted to live in a castle so he convinces his wife, Lisa, that they must rent the old Hargri estate despite the rumors that the old owner, a vampire, lives in the neighborhood. Their first day there, they're startled by the arrival of Father Xavier, a priest who only adds to Lisa's fears that the legends are true. Xavier talks the couple into allowing him to stay with them a few nights just in case. Sure enough, Lisa is attacked by the monster in the courtyard and the only thing that saves her is the Father's crucifix. Xavier talks Lisa into acting as bait for the vampire so that they can track him to his lair and then kill him. The plan goes perfectly and the pair find the creature in its coffin. Xavier explains to Lisa that she'll have to stake Hargri as a man of God can't get blood on his hands. She does the dirty job but Tom scoffs. After they discover the coffin empty, Tom tells his wife they're going to the police to stop the superstitious harassment, only to be told by the constable that Tom must believe there was a vampire since the young man acknowledged the presence of Father Xavier, a man who had died ten years earlier. I must admit I never saw the twist, that the priest was actually a ghost, coming. As Jack notes, "Domain of the Dead" has a very 1960s Hammer Film feel to it, an atmosphere I enjoyed. Good story!

                      "Domain of the Dead"

                      Jack: This story had a neat vibe to it, kind of like a Hammer Films adventure. I learned another lesson--never rent a castle in Transylvania as a summer vacation home. That Lisa sure was one game gal, wasn't she? But her hubby was a dud.

                      "Safes Have Secrets Too"
                      Peter: Kent Tryton has been embezzling from his safe company and his partner has found out. Not wanting to end up with his name on the social pages, Kent does the natural thing: he brains Ralph and hides his body in a safe that he has moved to his own house. Very quickly, Kent learns that "Safes Have Secrets Too" when his house catches fire and he's drawn into the safe by unseen hands. This was a really dumb one. Why would you want your partner's dead body at your home? At one point in the story, the guys moving the safe see blood leaking from the door. When the police come out to investigate, Kent opens the door to reveal a mound of ash. These cops don't even question him as to why he'd have a safe full of dust. Kent turns to us and lets us know that the night before, he'd burned Ralph's corpse in the furnace and then put his ashes in the safe. Now, that sounds rational, doesn't it?

                      Jack: "There is only so much horror the human organism can bear," writes Maxene Fabe midway through this story. Too bad it wasn't on the page. Despite decent art, this one was too unfocused to make much sense. Where did the blood come from that the workmen saw? And what about the blood at the end? Who knows? Not Maxene.

                      Peter: Adam Tolliver has only wanted to give his wife, Rachel, the best things in life but since they are near-penniless, that's been a tough mountain to climb. While in the village one day, they witness the burning of a witch and the rumors of a book of spells to be buried with the body. Adam convinces Rachel to help him dig up the book but the print is in Latin so it's useless to them. While the grave is open,  the witch's spirit escapes. The next few nights see the murders of those who stood against the witch. Adam becomes convinced Rachel is "Possessed" by the evil spirit and, when the townsfolk come to the door, crying "murderer," he kills Rachel so that the mob won't get to her. Unfortunately for Adam, there were witnesses to the latest murders and they all ID him as the killer. Right from the get-go, Rachel is too obvious to be the killer so that leaves only her husband. Surprise, exit stage left. The art by Gerry Talaoc, fast becoming one of the best pencilers in the DC mystery bullpen, saves "Possessed" from obscurity.

                      Jack: Best art of the month goes to this story! Oleck's tale is fairly straightforward and the twist ending is no great surprise, but the art is so strong that I was swept along in this tragic tale.

                      Nick Cardy
                      The Witching Hour 33

                      "Four Funerals"
                      Story and Art Uncredited

                      "Cold Ashes--Hot Rage"
                      Story by George Kashdan
                      Art by Alfredo Alcala

                      "A Choice Seat for... Doomsday!"
                      Story by Carl Wessler
                      Art by Jerry Grandenetti

                      Jack: Ned Phelps thinks everyone is out to get him. He worries constantly about the safety of his daughter Nancy. When careless driver Frank Nolan runs her over and kills her, Ned snaps and vows that there will be "Four Funerals." He picks up his rifle and murders Nolan and his family, one by one. He then goes to his office to kill some more people but just tears up paperwork when he finds no one there. He is caught and taken to the psychiatric hospital, where he gradually discovers that everything was a figment of his imagination. He never killed anyone and, in fact, he doesn't even have a family! At the end, he is cured and sent home, alone and lonely. The art is obviously by one of the Filipino artists, but I can't place which one. Abe Ocampo? Rico Rival?

                      Peter: I'd put my money on Ruben Yandoc. "Four Funerals" has an interesting premise and I like that a story that appeared to be just another revenge tale switched boats midstream and became a different animal altogether. I thought the final panel came up short but it's still a much better story overall than anything else this month.

                      "Four Funerals"

                      To this day, Marva's skirt is illegal in 12 states
                      Jack: Morton reads a prediction of his own imminent death in the Sands of Satan and his friend Thomas obliges by strangling him on the spot in a case of "Cold Ashes--Hot Rage!" Thomas begins spending a lot of time with Marva, Morton's widow, who keeps listening to the urn that contains Morton's ashes. Before his death, Morton told her that the ashes would tell her the identity of his killer. Thomas proposes to Marva and she accepts, then he intentionally drops the urn and it smashes, freeing Morton's spirit. Marva tells Thomas that the ashes told her a month ago that he killed Morton, but she refused to let Morton's spirit free because she wanted to protect Thomas. Morton's spirit kills Thomas and gets revenge. Alcala's art here is much better than we'll see in Ghosts this month, and Marva wins the prize for shortest skirt in a DC comic in recent memory!

                      Peter: Nice twist, with marvelous Marva admitting she ignored Morton's spirit in order to marry into money. Even though Alfredo Alcala is my favorite horror artist of all time, I will admit that most of his women (Marva included) were cut from the same cloth.

                      We can't make this stuff up!
                      Jack: Dan Jones's old grandpa tells Dan and a couple of visiting friends a story from long ago. Old Dan Jones was riding his horse and carriage along the road outside of town when the way was blocked by large rocks. The rocks rose up in near-human form and commanded Dan to follow them to an underground cavern, where they told him that their ancestors had been driven underground and had eventually turned into rock people who now want their revenge on the descendants of the villagers who tormented them. Looks like Dan had "A Choice Seat For . . . Doomsday!" The rock people give Dan a blue stone as a pass to escape safely when they come to attack on his birthday and tell him not to warn anyone. Dan disobeys and tries to warn everyone but they don't listen. On the fateful day, the rock people come a-marchin' but, right before they arrive, an earthquake wrecks the town. They march back to their underground cavern and find that it has caved in as well. Back in the present, Old Dan discovers that his guest is one of the rock people, still waiting for revenge. Too bad Jack Kirby didn't draw this one! This is such a crazy story that I ended up liking it. Kirby really could have gone to town with this.

                      Peter: Exactly the vibe I got from this one, Jack. It's a Kirby/Lee homage (something we don't see too much of in the 1970s mystery titles outside of reprints) sunk by typically bad Grandenetti visuals. It reminds me a lot of that classic Kirby/Lee " I Was the Man Who Released the Monsters Who Would Become the Menace from Easter Island" (way back in Amazing Tales to Suspend Astonishment #63, March 1961), complete with the "my old friend was actually an alien the whole time" climax.

                      Jack: Hey! That's not a real story!

                      Nick Cardy
                      Ghosts 17

                      "Death Held the Lantern High"
                      Story by Leo Dorfman
                      Art by Alfredo Alcala

                      "The Specters Were the Stars"
                      Story by Murray Boltinoff
                      Art by Gerry Talaoc

                      "The Devil's Ouija"
                      Story by George Kashdan
                      Art by John Calnan

                      Jack: Carl Ventriss and his family are vacationing in Cornwall when they see the ghost of a young woman walking the beach with a lantern. They learn from the locals that she is the specter of a mother whose children died a century before in a boat accident and she kept searching for her lost ones night after night until she died of grief. A week later, Carl and Donna leave their two kids alone in the vacation house while they go shopping. A terrible storm comes up and the parents can't make it home. The kids are frightened as the waters rise but they are led out of the house by a ghostly woman with a lantern. Next day, Carl and Donna find the house destroyed and think the worst, but soon they discover that the kids were led to a safe perch by the ghost and all ends happily. This is a rare story where the writing is more interesting than the art. I think Alcala must have drawn "Death Held the Lantern High" with his eyes closed!

                      This is what happens when Alfredo Alcala
                      holds the pencil with his toes.
                      Peter: Gotta disagree with you on this one, Jack. I think art and story are equally good. The story is really creepy (and could have been even creepier if it had gone where I thought it was going) and Alcala's art perfectly compliments it. An unnerving story in Ghosts? That's Unexpected!

                      Jack: An American movie company making a topical film in Northern Ireland learns that "The Specters Were the Stars" when the dailies are ruined by the ghosts of the Irish freedom fighters from 50 years before. This starts out as a very interesting story but then falls apart. Talaoc's art is strong, as usual, but Boltinoff's story goes nowhere. The first scene seems to be an emotional one involving a British soldier who shoots and kills an Irish boy, but then it is revealed to be a scene in the movie. A second scene finds the soldier killed by an angry mob at the funeral, but again it's a movie scene. Then the director watches the rushes, sees the ghosts, and scraps the project. 1972 was the worst year of the bloody period in the late '60s and early '70s in Northern Ireland, and it's great that DC Comics tried to do something so topical, but this story just doesn't make much of a point, except to suggest that it's all been seen before.

                      "The Specters Were the Stars"
                      Peter: Wow! You are spot on with this one. I thought we were in for a rare bird: a comic story that actually had something to say about important issues in the early 1970s rather than the usual "Fight the Power" crap that the Marvel hippies were coming up with. Weirdly, the interesting stuff is the "fake" story, the film within the funny book, which I'd have liked to have seen more of. The silly "oh my gosh, there are ghosts in this film" finale is simply a tacked-on excuse to get this into the pages of Ghosts rather than an organic extension of the story. There are no haunts, no spectre sightings, nothing, so the sudden climax feels like what it is: a cheat. I'd still give it a big thumbs-up for both script and graphics. Two winners in one issue? Could we score the hat trick?

                      "The Devil's Ouija"
                      Jack: In Hungary, Count Ritzky is angry that gypsies are on his land. He confronts them and is introduced to "The Devil's Ouija," which predicts that he will die from drowning in three days. He scoffs at this, since he's headed for the Arabian desert! On a train ride along the way, he has a vision of the train being underwater and fears his own death is near, but he snaps out of it and finds that all is well. Or so he thinks, since he promptly drops dead of pneumonia, a sort of drowning in itself. Moral: never ignore a gypsy fortune!

                      Peter: Curses. Foiled again. Just when you think you've got the best issue of Ghosts ever, you get this lousy bit of humdrum. Let's forget "Ouija" ever happened and declare this issue a winner, Jack!

                      Don't Miss Our Next Nail-Biting Issue
                      On Sale Oct. 27, 2015!

                      Thursday, October 16, 2014

                      The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Thirty-Nine: "Final Vow" [8.6]

                      by Jack Seabrook

                      What happens when an innocent young woman who has lived a sheltered life suddenly comes face to face with evil in the form of a violent criminal? This is the problem that Henry Slesar addressed in "Final Vow," which aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on CBS on Thursday, October 25, 1962.

                      "Final Vow" is a tale that involves a young nun and her search for guidance. The show opens during a quiet meal at a convent, as Sister Pamela drops a pitcher of milk and it shatters on the floor. The broken vessel foreshadows her own innocence, which will soon be smashed to pieces when she attempts to join the world outside. Unlike the milk, however, her own purity will be maintained. After the accident with the pitcher, much older Sister Jem consoles Sister Pamela, who has been considering leaving the Order. At the request of the Reverend Mother, Sister Pamela visits Sister Lydia in the infirmary. Sister Lydia recalls having been a novice once herself, with doubts similar to those Sister Pamela is now feeling. She tells Sister Pamela of a young student she had named William Michael Downey who grew up to become a criminal. Sister Lydia kept writing to him for thirty years and now he finally has responded with a letter asking her to pay him a visit. She is too ill to make the trip so she asks Sister Pamela to go in her place, to "see what faith and prayer will do."

                      Carol Lynley as Sister Pamela
                      Sister Pamela and Sister Jem travel together by train to the home of Mr. Downey, who lives in a penthouse apartment overlooking the city. Sister Jem sits down in a chair on the balcony and immediately dozes off, leaving Sister Pamela alone to speak with her host. He wears an expensive suit but has a rough, confrontational manner and Sister Pamela upbraids him for his remarks about prayer and its success or failure, telling him that "prayers aren't business deals." Yet his questions touch a nerve and he guesses correctly that she has been using the convent as a place to hide from the world. He gives her a small statue of St. Francis to take back to Sister Lydia and comments that it is five centuries old, by the great Italian Renaissance artist Donatello, and that it came from the Medici Palace. Sister Pamela awakens Sister Jem and they decide to take the next train back to the convent right away. "I hope this'll make it up to her," Downey quips, referring to Sister Lydia and his thirty-year silence.

                      Jimmy offers to help
                      At the train station, a young man appears out of the crowd and offers to help the sisters by carrying two of their three suitcases, one of which is the small suitcase that holds the priceless statue. He quickly disappears into the crowd ahead of them and they are distraught at the loss of the gift. They go to the police station, where Sister Pamela recognizes the thief in a lineup: he is James Bresson, who says he works at the Gramercy Appliance Co. and who claims to have been with his girlfriend at the time of the theft. Sister Pamela is not sure that he is the man and Sister Jem's kindness persuades her not to identify him if she is uncertain. Sister Pamela returns to the convent and tells the Reverend Mother that she wants to leave the order. She believes that she has hidden herself away from the world for selfish reasons and that the loss of the statue was a sign that she cannot be trusted.

                      Carmen Phillips as Bess
                      Pamela applies for a job at the Gramercy Appliance Co in the typing pool and soon runs into Bresson, who works in the shipping department. One day, as she eats lunch alone on the loading dock, Bresson approaches her and invites her to a party that Friday night. She accepts and, at the party, Bresson's girlfriend Bess is jealous of the attention that he pays to the pretty new girl. Pamela refuses to leave the party with him and instead stays behind to comfort Bess. When Bess leaves the room for a minute, Pamela sees a pawn ticket in an open drawer and notes the name and address of the Wormer Pawn Shop, where Bess says Jimmy often conducts business.

                      Don Hanmer as Wormer
                      The next day, Pamela visits the pawn shop, looking for a small religious statue. Wormer shows her the stolen statue of St. Francis and asks $20 for it; he grabs and empties her purse, looking for evidence that she's a cop. Jimmy bursts in, having been called by Wormer, who was suspicious of Pamela's behavior. Jimmy manhandles the young woman and suddenly realizes that she is the nun from whom he stole the suitcase. She says that she left the order over a month ago and he deduces that she tracked him down so that she could recover what must be a valuable statue. Though Wormer tells Jimmy that it is "bad luck--robbing a nun," Jimmy puts Pamela in the back room and tells Wormer to call Mike the Broker to find out the real worth of the object.

                      Don Hanmer and R.G. Armstrong, as Mike the Broker
                      When Mike arrives, Pamela is shocked to see that Mike is none other than Mr. Downey, the wealthy criminal who gave her the statue. He catches her eye and tells her to "shut up," then he convinces Jimmy and Wormer that the object is a piece of worthless junk and that they should let her go. Mike gives Pamela the statue and ushers her out, then he hands Wormer $20 and tells him and Jimmy not to bother him about such trifles in the future. Pamela rushes out into the street, clutching the statue, and Downey picks her up and drives her back to the convent. He apologizes for what he said to her in his apartment and tells her that he now knows that she is not hiding from anything. He leaves and she heads into the convent with the statue, presumably to resume her life as a nun, having experienced a taste of the outside world and having convinced herself of the certainty of her convictions.

                      Charity Grace as Sister Jem, waking up to see St. Francis
                      "Final Vow" is packed with themes involving religion and faith. The central question that it asks is whether Sister Pamela belongs inside or outside the walls of the convent. When she is sent by Sister Lydia on a mission to meet with a criminal, it is a test. The elderly and infirm Sister Lydia sends her in the company of the equally elderly Sister Jem, but Sister Jem falls asleep in an almost magical fashion on arriving at Downey's home, leaving Sister Pamela to face the criminal on her own. Downey's conversation with her recalls that of the Devil tempting Jesus, as he plants the seed of doubt in her mind that she is using the convent as a convenient hideout.

                      R.G. Armstrong as Downey
                      One may question whether accepting a gift from a criminal is even appropriate: is the statue of St. Francis truly a priceless art treasure, as Downey tells Sister Pamela, or is it a worthless piece of junk, as he tells Jimmy and Wormer? How did Downey come to possess such an item, if it is real? Did he gain it by dishonest means and, if so, should the convent accept it? None of these questions are answered in the story, but they are certainly worth considering. Downey's speech to Jimmy and Wormer is instructive, as he convinces them that religious people can revere something that has no value in the world of commerce, just because it has been blessed. Is he giving us a clue to the truth about the statue or is he telling them what they need to hear in order to save Pamela? In the end, it really does not matter, since the statue and the events surrounding it serve a higher purpose--that of showing Pamela the path she must follow in life, one of service and contemplation inside the convent walls.

                      Jimmy inspects Pamela's hand for rings
                      Sister Pamela learns from her experiences, some of which involve either observing or being the victim of various instances of violence that the men in this story commit on its women. From her first experiences outside the convent, Pamela gets a lesson in how men treat women. During the interview for a job in the typing pool, the man questioning her cautions her not to get married, suggesting that it would be bad for her job and for the company. When she first meets Jimmy on her lunch break, he grabs her lunch bag and inspects it, then he grabs her wrist and checks her hand for rings. He verbally abuses her, mocking her prim and proper attitude, and finally, when she agrees to come to the party, he puts his hand on her shoulder in a suggestive way. At the party, Jimmy and Bess, his girlfriend, come to blows and he ends up shoving her into a chair. Finally, and most dangerously, Jimmy assaults Pamela at the pawnshop, even after he recognizes her as the nun from whom he stole. He yells at her and physically attacks her, threatening to kill her if she tells the police about him. Clearly, Pamela's experiences outside the convent with men would not encourage her to embrace the secular life.

                      Pamela arrives at the pawn shop
                      Duality is also a theme in "Final Vow," as Pamela goes from nun to typist, from chaste bride of Jesus to reluctant party girl. Downey also shows two sides--he is the career criminal who seeks forgiveness through a gift to the convent, yet he is also the tough crook who is able to take a dangerous situation in hand and convince the unstable Jimmy to leave Pamela alone. Even in the final scenes in the pawnshop, Downey plays a dual role; he puts on a tough face for the men while subtly communicating with Pamela that he is there to help her. Slesar's teleplay does a competent job of portraying the difference between the world inside the convent and the world outside.

                      Our first look at Wormer
                      In a sense, "Final Vow" may be read as Pamela's descent into Hell. After she renounces her vows, she joins the workforce in a low-level job and is almost immediately assaulted by the words and physical actions of Jimmy. She then goes to a party, where she sees him attack his girlfriend. Further down she goes, into the shadowy pawnshop, whose owner is first seen as a monstrous figure with a seemingly deformed eye. The eye turns out to be a magnifier that he wears on his head, a symbolic appendage that allows him to examine things more closely but which does not prevent him from being fooled. Last of all, Pamela bursts out of the pawn shop and into the bright and sunny street, as if she is returning to the world of light from the world of darkness.

                      It is no coincidence that the statue Downey gives to the convent is a representation of St. Francis. St. Francis was a medieval man who lived a secular life until a vision led him to turn his back on worldly things and found orders devoted to poverty and faith. Sister Pamela spends her time in the world as well and eventually decides to follow the example of the man whose little statue sets the story in motion.

                      Although the title card for "Final Vow" reads: "Teleplay by Henry Slesar from his own story," the story must have stayed in a drawer for years. The next time this tale would surface was on August 15, 1974, when it was broadcast as an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater under the title "The Final Vow." Perhaps Slesar or his producers had short memories, since E.G. Marshall, the host of the show, says that it was "written especially for the mystery theater by Henry Slesar." This is obviously untrue, because the radio play follows the 12-year-old teleplay closely.

                      Slesar's story would surface again in March 1976, when it was published as "Hiding Out" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. This was the first time that the story was published in print and it is an unusually long story for Slesar, running 34 pages in its reprint in the collection, Death on Television. The story follows the televised version closely and has no significant changes. The title was changed back to "Final Vow" when it was reprinted in book form.

                      "Final Vow" was directed by Norman Lloyd (1914- ), who acted in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and directed 19 half-hour episodes and three hour-long episodes. Lloyd's direction here is solid, with a nice overhead shot in the train station when the sisters realize their treasure is gone and a jarring introduction to Wormer when Pamela first wanders into the pawnshop.

                      Carol Lynley in street clothes
                      Carol Lynley (1942- ) stars as Sister Pamela. Born Carole Ann Jones, she took the stage name of Carolyn Lee early in her career and changed it to the homophone Carol Lynley when she found out that someone else was already using Carolyn Lee. Lynley's TV and movie career began in the mid to late '50s and she appeared in one Hitchcock half-hour in addition to "Final Vow." Her most memorable roles for me both came in 1972, when she appeared in The Night Stalker TV movie and The Poseidon Adventure. Lynley's onscreen presence was always unusual, and "Final Vow" is no exception. Her beauty was unquestionable, however, and she posed nude for Playboy in 1965.

                      Portraying Jimmy Bresson is Clu Gulager (1928- ). This episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is notable because its director and co-stars are still alive at the time of this writing! Gulager was born William Martin Gulager and started his TV career in 1956, branching out into movies in 1964. He appeared three times on the Hitchcock series, including "Pen Pal." His performance in "Final Vow" is mannered and strange; he mumbles his lines in several scenes and seems to be trying to engage in method acting. Gulager maintains a website here.

                      The pawnbroker, Wormer, is played by Don Hanmer (1919-2003), who appeared in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Faith of Aaron Menefee," where he plays injured gangster Vern Byers.

                      Isobel Elsom as the Reverend Mother
                      Carmen Phillips (1937-2002) plays Bess, Jimmy's girlfriend. She had a brief career from 1958 to 1969 but managed to pop up in five episodes of the Hitchcock series.

                      The small role of the Reverend Mother is played by Isobel Elsom (1893-1981), who started in silent film way back in 1915 and appeared in Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux and Hitchcock's The Paradine Case, both in 1947. She also was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Back for Christmas," where she played the shrewish wife of John Williams.

                      Kindly Sister Jem is played by Charity Grace (1884-1965), an actress aptly named for portraying a nun! She was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Party Line."

                      John Zaremba interviewing Pamela
                      John Zaremba (1908-1986), who was the prosecutor in "I Saw the Whole Thing," returns as the man who interviews Pamela for a job at Gramercy Appliance Co. This was one of his eleven roles on the series.

                      Finally, R.G. Armstrong (1917-2012) is seen as William Michael Downey, the criminal and former pupil of Sister Lydia. Armstrong was on four Hitchcock shows and had a long career, spanning the years from 1954-2001. He was in many westerns. Online sources report that he grew up in a family of fundamentalists and that his mother wanted him to be a pastor, but he became an actor instead and his onscreen roles sometimes played off the tension between his upbringing and his profession. His character in "Final Vow" faces a similar question between his youth in a religious setting and his criminal career.

                      Finally, the musical score for "Final Vow" is worth a mention. It was composed by Lynn Murray (1909-1989), who was born Lionel Breeze and who composed music for film and TV from the '40s to the '80s, including the scores for Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) and The Twilight Zone episode, "A Passage for Trumpet." He scored 35 episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

                      "Final Vow" may be viewed online for free here. The radio adaptation may be heard online for free here.

                      "Final Vow." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 25 Oct. 1962. Television.
                      "Galactic Central." Galactic Central. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.
                      Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
                      IMDb. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.
                      Slesar, Henry. "Final Vow." Ed. Francis M. Nevins and Martin Harry. Greenberg. Death on Television: The Best of Henry Slesar's Alfred Hitchcock Stories. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. 146-79. Print.
                      Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 04 Oct. 2014. <>.

                      • Antenna TV is airing back to back episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents nightly and will host a 28-hour marathon this "Hitch-O-Ween"! Check out the daily schedule here.
                      • ME TV is airing The Alfred Hitchcock Hour every Saturday night! Find out this week's episode here.
                      • Coming in two weeks: "House Guest," starring Macdonald Carey and Robert Sterling!

                      Monday, October 13, 2014

                      Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 38: July 1962

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

                      Russ Heath & Jack Adler
                      GI Combat 94

                      "The Haunted Tank vs. Killer Tank!"
                      Story by Robert Kanigher
                      Art by Russ Heath

                      "No-Gun Crew!"
                      Story by Robert Kanigher
                      Art by Irv Novick

                      Peter: How is it that an unseen force is picking off Allied tanks without leaving a trace of its origin? The Haunted Tank finds itself on the menu for destruction when a voice over the com informs the men they will be destroyed in order of the number on their vehicle. The Jeb Stuart is No. 4 and the first three have blown sky high. It's only when a Nazi tank is discovered in a village with human shields and the No. 5 tank swivels its turret and prepares to fire that the Jeb catches on: the No. 5 had been hijacked by Nazis! The Jeb puts an end to the German trickery with a well-placed shell. The ghost of Jeb Stuart must have asked for a pay raise since he's only visible for a few panels this time out. The present day Jeb Stuart (since both human incarnations of the soldier and the tank itself are named Jeb Stuart, this can get confusing at times) has to rely on his wits and military training alone but the result is an exciting and, of course, beautifully drawn thriller. Yep, you guessed half way through "The Haunted Tank vs. Killer Tank" what was going on (it was pretty evident when the No. 5 went missing for a bit and then all this hell started breaking lose after she'd come back) but it didn't put a crimp in the fun, did it? This could have easily been a non-Haunted Tank story.

                      Jack: As usual, you're smarter than I am, since I did not guess what was going on until Jeb figured it out. I prefer Joe Kubert's art over Russ Heath's, but I'll admit that Heath's work is nearly always excellent, and this story is no exception. I did not miss seeing more of the ghost at all. I'm glad modern-day Jeb didn't have to pass out this time, though telling straightforward stories kind of takes the "haunted" out of the Haunted Tank.

                      Peter: Three graduates from Naval gunnery school have quite the reputation as sharpshooters. Nicknamed "Kaintucky," "Texas," and "Brooklyn," the trio must fight aversion from their comrades at sea until an attack on their ship from sea and air forces them to show how good they really are. The first couple pages of "No-Gun Crew" resemble nothing we've seen before on our journey. It's almost as though these two pages were reprinted from a 1940s war comic; the art is unrecognizable. Then it starts to settle down a bit (although I still would not have been able to identify Novick as the culprit) and it rests itself comfortably alongside dozens of other mediocre "war buddy" stories. The problem I have with stories like this (and I'll pull a 180 with my feelings about these kinds of stories when we get to "Stars and Stripes and Swastikas" in this month's Star Spangled so you're allowed to snicker at me if you like) is that, at no point do I feel that any one of the trio is in any danger despite strafings from Zeros and direct hits from torpedoes. The battleship they're traveling on is engulfed in flames and yet they nonchalantly climb back aboard to man their weapon. A rare all-Kanigher issue finds Bob batting .500. Not too bad.

                      "No-Gun Crew!"

                      Jack: The weird art lasts exactly one panel, as Novick seems to be drawing likenesses of real people from photographs. I have no idea if they are old movie stars, but that's what I thought when I saw it. After that, it looks like all-Novick to me. This story was entertaining but run of the mill, and I always wonder how these soldiers can fire guns at oncoming planes and not get killed. Wouldn't the plane reach them in a matter of seconds if it was close enough to shoot at?

                      Jerry Grandenetti
                      Our Army at War 120

                      "Battle Tags for Easy Co.!"
                      Story by Robert Kanigher
                      Art by Joe Kubert

                      "The Fort Had a Heart!"
                      Story by Bob Haney
                      Art by Russ Heath

                      Jack: Easy Co. is under heavy enemy fire while trying to take Hill 13, so named because 12 other companies died trying to conquer it. Rock is minding a new recruit who is on the verge of panicking, and the veteran knows that if one man panics it could spread throughout the entire company. Our favorite sergeant starts to tell the young man about the secret origins of some of the "Battle Tags for Easy Co.!" and explains how three soldiers got their nicknames. Ice Cream Soldier joined in North Africa and hated the heat but was as cool as ice cream when he used a bazooka to destroy an enemy tank on a frozen lake after a freak snowstorm. Wild Man spent so long lying in bed reading that he grew a long beard, but when he first went after the enemy he surprised everyone by fighting like a wild man. Bulldozer was an over sized gent whose clothes never fit but who barreled into the enemy like a bulldozer. Sgt. Rock's tales keep the new recruit distracted until the shelling stops and, when the young man single handedly destroys an enemy tank, he is nicknamed Green Apple because he gave the enemy indigestion! Little by little, Easy Co. is becoming more than just Sgt. Rock and a bunch of interchangeable soldiers. The development of a team of war heroes is probably a reflection of the popularity of DC's Justice League series, where superheroes were joined together to form a team.

                      "Battle Tags for Easy Co.!"

                      Peter: Though it only clocks in at 14.5 pages, this entry has the feel of an epic full-issue size story. There's a lot of interesting backstory packed into its brief length and I'm hoping its a tease of things to come. I love the mini-origins of some of the Easy boys, something I've been requesting for quite a while. Kanigher got smart, it seems, and realized that this squad needs personality rather than blurred faces in the background. The eye-opener here is that, if we're to believe the hints dropped, Rock is not the Sarge's surname but a "tag." One question that plagued me during the sequence when Green Apple truly becomes a member of Easy: wouldn't Rock have riddled him with machine-gun rounds when the kid ran right in front of his spray?

                      Jack: The U.S. fliers love the Saucy Lady, a flying fort that seems to have a mind of its own and saves them from Nazi planes time and again. After a bombing run, the Lady is forced to land in Nazi territory and the crew makes its escape, leaving the plane to the enemy. Soon, the Lady is back in the air, but this time it's being flown by Nazis and the U.S. fighters are hesitant to attack their favorite plane, thinking that "The Fort Had a Heart!" No attack is necessary, though, since the Lady remains faithful to the Allied cause and dive-bombs into some Nazi fighter planes just in the nick of time, destroying them and itself in the process. Russ Heath's art is the highlight of this lightweight story, where there are no surprises.

                      "The Fort Had a Heart!"

                      Peter: This is the format we need: 2 tales of longer length rather than three short stories. There's more room for our war writers to play with their characters, to actually give them a history and make the reader interested in them. Luckily, three out of four of our titles this month follow this strategy. The Heath art is gorgeous as always and "The Fort Had a Heart" is one of those quasi-supernatural stories I really dig (especially that eerie last panel--reprinted above). Kudos to Haney for not explaining the mystery and leaving it up to us to decide.

                      Jerry Grandenetti
                      Our Fighting Forces 69

                      "Destination Doom!"
                      Story by Robert Kanigher
                      Art by Jerry Grandenetti

                      "Last Chance for a Frogman!"
                      Story by Bob Haney
                      Art by Jack Abel

                      "T.N.T. Mailman!"
                      Story by Bob Haney
                      Art by Joe Kubert

                      Jack: Gunner, Sarge and Pooch survive an attack on their assault boat and destroy a Japanese mini sub and an attacking zero before holding off multiple Banzai charges on the beach. Colonel Hakawa tells his men that they must first distract the Marines and then attack. Unfortunately, his men tend to jump the gun and yell "Banzai" in excitement before he finishes explaining his plans. The Colonel's planes drop messages to the Marines and the papers burst into flames, singing the Marines's hands and making it difficult for them to fire their machine guns during another Banzai attack. Gunner's foot gets caught in a rope trailing from a Japanese plane and he is dragged through air and sea before destroying the aircraft. He requisitions a Japanese boat and returns safely to base. It seems like Jerry Grandenetti's art rises or falls to the occasion depending on the story he's illustrating. In "Destination Doom!" he's at his stylized worst (for 1962), unlike his story in this month's Star Spangled War Stories.

                      Colonel Hakawa's men are so much fun!
                      Peter: "Destination: Dumb" is more like it. What we learned from this one:

                      1/ Pooch is so smart he can shut a submarine hatch just like that!
                      2/ Sniff--Sniff = "We're about to be attacked, boys!"
                      3/ Arf--Arf--Arfff! = "We're about to be attacked from the sea, boys!"
                      4/ Arf--Arf-- = " I got me a feeling that's Gunner manning that Jap ship, Sarge, don't shoot!"
                      5/ Jerry Grandenetti's art is the pits.
                      6/ The same colorist that dumped all kinds of red on Johnny Cloud bought into that Yellow Peril myth big time.
                      7/ We're wasting time reading this tripe.

                      "Last Chance for a Frogman!"
                      Jack: The commander of the Japanese ship Tagawa is wanted by the Allied Forces because he has destroyed so many subs. When a frogman discovers his ship, he reads a message painted on the hull telling him that there are American POWs aboard. Loath to destroy the ship and kill his fellow soldiers, the frogman figures out a way to lure the boat over a sunken sub, thus ripping a hole in its hull and allowing the prisoners to swim to freedom. He then plants a depth charge inside the ship and, when the pressure mounts, the ship is destroyed. A tense and exciting little story with above-average art from Jack Abel, "Last Chance for a Frogman!" succeeds in five and a half pages where Gunner and Sarge failed in twelve and a half.

                      Peter: The art's not great but the story's a nail-biter and I loved the ingenuity the frogman used to rip a hole in the Tagawa.

                      Example #1 of why we love Kubert
                      Jack: Charlie Company is pinned down in the snow by Von Krull's men, but the captain sits writing a letter instead of giving orders! Little does Von Krull know that the captain will be a "T.N.T. Mailman!" by the time the fight is over. The letter tells the story of the first time these two met, when Von Krull used a sandstorm as cover to dig up mines and attack Charlie Co. To Von Krull's surprise, Charlie learned a lesson and pulls the same trick under cover of snow. In the end, Von Krull is captured and the captain's letter is delivered in person. Wow! What a great story. This is as good as Joe Kubert's art gets inside a comic book and there are panels that could be collected in a "best of" collection.

                      Peter: This one's a big-time winner from first panel to last. I'd have loved to see "T.N.T. Mailman" benefit from a 14-page length (and Kanigher wasted twelve and a half on Pooch and Hakawa) but maybe it's the brevity that pushes this one into Top Ten of the Year status; there's nothing wasted on its lean bones. A classic showdown between Von Krull and a Captain who could easily be Sgt. Rock's little brother. I want a rematch!

                      Example #2

                      Example #3

                      Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
                      Star Spangled War Stories 103

                      "Doom at Dinosaur Island!"
                      Story by Robert Kanigher
                      Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

                      "Stars and Stripes Against Swastikas!"
                      Story Uncredited
                      Art by Jerry Grandenetti

                      Peter: With a giant Japanese robot chasing them, Mac and his robot buddy Joe must face "Doom at Dinosaur Island!" The boys dodge flying reptiles and rockets from the giant's metal fingers before Joe saves the day by blinding the gargantuan with machine gun bursts. Well, there's not really much to say about this other than it's the first story in the history of "The War That Time Forgot" to carry over a story line from one issue to the next. That's something, ain't it? I haven't peeked ahead so I don't know how long the Mac and Joe series lasts but it needs a new hook fast.

                      Jack: I liked the giant robot and, especially, its machine-gun fingers! This series is bringing out the kid in me. The Andru-Esposito art looks like all other Andru-Esposito art and the stories are repetitive, but there is something about the relationship between Mac and Joe, his robot buddy, that appeals to me. I like the way Joe is starting to seem like a sentient being.

                      "Doom at Dinosaur Island!"

                      "Stars and Stripes Against Swastikas!"
                      Peter: In the 1938 Olympics, the Nazis demolish the Americans in a downhill skiing competition (and they don't do it with grace, we hasten to add). Flash forward five years and a German plane carrying top secret World War II-winning documents to Hitler is shot down on the same German mountain slopes where America suffered its most bitter defeat. Now, the same two teams that skied against each other in 1938 are once more bitter enemies as they race to the downed plane to salvage the black satchel bearing the secrets to total world domination. A game of see-saw commences as the papers pass from Good Guys (Us) to Bad Guys (Them) until a Nazi trick backfires and the Allies retrieve the black bag. I'm one to scream "Yeah right!" at the silly coincidences thrown at us in these war stories (and this one has possibly the biggest "Yeah Right" of them all) but I enjoyed "Stars and Stripes Against Swastikas" for what it is: mindless entertainment. Exciting and brainless like a James Bond film, and with an equally high body count. I would like to know how our last man standing survived point blank machine gun fire.

                      Jack: Yeah! Very cool snow scenes and action from Jerry Grandenetti! The black bag's contents don't matter--it's the back and forth between soldiers that counts in this action-packed tale. I am slowly starting to revise my opinion of Jerry Grandenetti's art. I nominate Bob Haney as author of this uncredited story--it seems like his work rather than that of Kanigher or Chapman.

                      IN OUR NEXT FLESH-FREEZING ISSUE!