Monday, February 8, 2016

Do You Dare Enter? Part Seventy-One: September/October 1976

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


Leo Duranona
House of Mystery 245

"A Talent for Murder!"
Story by Coram Nobis (David V. Reed)
Art by Leopoldo Duranona

"Check the J.C. Demon Catalogue Under... Death!"
Story by Bill Parante and Guy Lillian III
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Deep in the woods outside Shakopee, Emmy Poole's son, Vernon, wants to know why his mother hoards catalogs when she never buys nothin'. One catalog, from J.C. Demon, catches Vernon's eye and he flips through its pages, revealing a sample pack of "magic seeds." Vernon dissolves the seeds in water and then hits the sack, musing how foolish magic is but how great it would be to play a joke on the rubes in town. The superstitious residents of Shakopee have always thought ol' Emmy Poole was a witch and when snow falls the next day (in July!), talk of a lynching makes the rounds. When Emmy and Vernon come into town for provisions, they are met with derision and hate. Later that day, one of the townsfolk is found dead of fright. A woman who had confronted Emmy disappears, as does her entire house!  And that's the straw that broke the camel's back. The villagers head out to Emmy's place and string up the old woman and her son. Vernon is buried with one of the seed packs and a huge creature emerges, swallowing the entire population of Shakopee.

While "Check the J.C. Demon Catalogue Under... Death" has one of the dumbest titles ever and features several well-worn plot devices (old witch on the edge of town, anyone?), I thought it was one of the best stories we've run across in a long, long time. It's full of goofy energy and, most importantly of all, packed with Alex Nino's stylish flair and creepy nuances (the jack o' lantern atop the pole for one); it's the perfect showcase for Nino's Lovecraftian visions. I loved the twists and turns Bill Parante and Guy Lillian III subject us to and their dialogue is crisp and avoids most of the "swamp witch" cliches, as when Shakopee's judge inquires as to the whereabouts of Agatha Fround, the woman who had belittled the Pooles:

Judge: Gone? Impossible! Where'd everything go?

Townie: You got me, judge. Only thing I found this morning when I came by was this mutt! Agatha was gone... house and all... disappeared.

Jack: I'm glad you followed what was going on in this story because I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I was so dazzled by Nino's art that it really didn't matter, though, except for what seemed like too many word balloons and captions getting in the way. We haven't been treated to a story by Nino in quite a while, so it's an extra special issue. I also enjoyed the first story, "A Talent for Murder!" though I thought Duranona's art seemed a bit unfinished.



Leo Duranona
House of Secrets 141

"You Can't Beat the Devil!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Exit Laughing"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Ernie Chua and Bill Draut

Peter: House of Secrets returns after a six-month hiatus, jettisoning its one-issue experiment with the Patchwork Man and reverting back to what it does best: presenting mediocre horror stories. While the lone installment of the Patchwork Man didn't light up my life it was, at least, an attempt by the powers-that-be to stir a rancid stew. Another file story from Bill Finger (at this time two years deceased), "You Can't Beat the Devil!" is an inane "bargain with the devil" story, at least somewhat redeemed by E.R. Cruz's art. There are some nasty, misogynistic bits in here and a "twist" you can see coming a mile away, but what sinks "You Can't..." is Finger's reliance on a plot that really needed (and still needs) to be put out to pasture.

Nicely evocative of the 1950s DC mystery stories?
Worse is "Exit Laughing," wherein Matt Sawyer returns to the site of a nasty college prank he played on the timid Ernie Cass and runs into... you guessed it, Ernie Cass! Cass was dared to spend a night in a haunted house and had his entire future altered when he was confronted by an axe-wielding ghost. Sawyer confesses that it was he, Matt, who was disguised as the ghost and Cass whips out a knife and stabs the practical joker to death. A pair of police conveniently pull up (as Cass is stabbing Matt) and explain to Sawyer's weeping widow that Ernie Cass had escaped from a mental institution the day before and had been living the last twenty years babbling about ghosts. There's nothing of Ernie Chan showing through Bill Draut's awful inks but Frank Frazetta couldn't have helped a groaner like this one. My favorite sequence would have to be the climax, where we see the two cops calmly exit their patrol car as Cass butchers his tormentor!

Jack: I enjoyed "You Can't Beat the Devil!" Finger's script is fun, especially in the way Stryker banters with the demon, and Cruz's art is sharp, including a Jerry Robinson-like splash page with an outsized Stryker looming over the city. That guy lives in an apartment building with an array of nasty folks! As for "Exit Laughing," I got a kick out of it! It's funny that House of Secrets makes its big return with 1) a deal with the devil story and 2) a spend the night in a haunted house story! I did not see the end of "Exit Laughing" coming, but then I'm not as old and wise as you are. Plus, I love any story involving an escapee from an asylum.


Ernie Chua
The Witching Hour 65

"A Handy Way to Die"
Story by Jack Phillips (George Kashdan)
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Loathsome Loner"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

"Laugh? I Thought You'd Die..."
Story Uncredited
Art Uncredited

Jack: Rolf, "The Loathsome Loner," mugs a beautiful girl named Elise Vaughn in an alley late one night but lets her keep her money when he discovers that she's blind. His subsequent crimes against other poor victims result in a change in his physical appearance so that he resembles a gruesome hunchback. The only good he does is to give some of his ill gotten gains to the pretty blind girl. She uses the money to have her blindness cured but, to Rolf's dismay, once she can see she agrees to marry Charlie, who is either a policeman, a security guard, or a doorman, judging from his outfit. As luck would have it, Charlie turns out to be a cop, and Rolf turns himself in without confessing to Elise that he's her sugar daddy. To top it off, once he's in prison, his good looks return! Shades of Charlie Chaplin! Leave it to Carl Wessler to rip off the classic City Lights, mix in some Jekyll and Hyde, and bake a loaf of confusion--all in a tidy five pages!


Peter: The opener, "A Handy Way to Die," by Jack Phillips, serves up the usual tasty art by E.R. Cruz but  disappoints with its inane script. We're introduced to Frank Crosley, a lucky guy who survives a tenement fire and, as one would do, visits a fortune teller to find the reason for his good luck. The old crone tells Frank he's got a blessed "time line" across his palm and that will enable him to live to be a "hunnerd." As most people would do, Frank takes this news at face value and plans a daring money-making scheme. He kidnaps a mobster for a perceived big ransom but the plan goes awry and the cops show up at his bell tower hideout. When Frank slides down the bell's rope, he burns through his time line and falls to his death. We're continually told Frank is a loathsome, nasty dude but, until the very climax, we're not shown any evidence of such. He's just a poor guy who lived through a blazing fire. We do know he's not that bright though since all it takes is a word from a swami and Frank's convinced he's invincible.


Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 175

"The Haunted Mountain"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Long Arm of Lunacy"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Buddy Gernale

"Mad Hacker of Kingston Row"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Teny Henson

Jack: Little Hans fell to his death from a mountain, so the villagers think it must be the work of Countess Freida Von Koerner, who admits she inherited a witching curse but claims she never used it for evil and certainly never harmed the child. Villagers being villagers, they drag her partway up the mountain and toss her into the boiling sulphur spring, but she does not die. Instead, she becomes a skeleton with raggedy clothes and blond hair, informing her tormentors that she will haunt them forever. In the days that follow, the mountain is covered in swirling mist that soon parts to reveal that the countess has used her witchcraft to carve a giant skull in the side of what is now "The Haunted Mountain." Unable to blow it up with dynamite, the villagers catch the countess alone on the mountain and try to kill her. She falls off and a lantern she carries ignites an underground gas pocket, blowing mountain, villagers and village to bits.


I really enjoyed "The Haunted Mountain" up to the end, which was a bit of a disappointment. I certainly liked seeing the countess come out of the boiling sulphur spring as a skeleton, and E.R. Cruz does a terrific job portraying her and the skull face on the side of the mountain.

Peter: Since "Long Arm of Lunacy" and "Mad Hacker of Kingston Row" are so gawdawful, "Haunted Mountain" wins Best Story this issue by default but it's by no means a good story. Nice, atmospheric art by Cruz is the only saving grace this time out. Well, that and the dynamic cover by Dominguez, which gets my vote for Best Cover of the Year.


Ernie Chua
House of Mystery 246

"Death-Vault of the Eskimo Kings"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Mike Vosburg and Sal Trapani

"Tomb It May Concern"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

Peter: Two Arctic explorers stumble upon the mythical "Death-Vault of the Eskimo Kings" and the vast treasures uncovered in the cavern turn the men against each other. Boring art and cliched characters. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Slightly better (in the slightest sense) is "Tomb It May Concern," about Chester Foyle, a bed-ridden and money-bagged old sleaze who needs to rid himself of his wife before curvaceous young nurse Peggy will marry him. Chester may be old but he isn't blind; he knows Peggy only wants his money but there are a couple things Peggy's got that he wants (way up firm and high, as Bob Seger would say) and money means nothing to a feeble old codger. Chester lays the groundwork of an alibi by letting on he's fearful of burglars and, one night, he heads for his wife's room with a long, sharp knife. He never gets there though as he's clobbered from behind with a hammer. Next thing he knows he lying on a slab in the morgue. Has Chester Foyle really shuffled off or is he in some kind of death-like paralysis? Though the outcome is disappointing, at least Jack Oleck didn't stray down the path I feared he was heading with the subtle hints of the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Breakdown," dropped in the opening panels. We discover, in the end, that the hammer-wielder was nurse Peggy, but did the curvaceous caretaker whomp the old perve by accident or...? That's left to the imagination. Jodloman's art is just the right kind of sleazy for the subject matter but, at times, the word balloons threaten to blanket the visuals. Not a great story but for this issue it's about as good as it's going to get.


Jack: You're right to call Jodloman's art the right kind of sleazy. His nurse reminded me of one of Robert Crumb's women. It's too bad Fleisher's stories took such a nose dive. A few years earlier and the idea of an issue of House of Mystery with stories by him and Oleck would have had me looking for a classic. Instead, the DC Horror line has about dried up by this point.



Ernie Chua
Ghosts 49

"The Ghost in the Cellar"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Lee Elias

"The Dead Came Calling"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Pit Capili

"The Haunted Hoard of Gold"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Fred Carrillo

Jack: On a Caribbean island vacation, Chick Cahill and Georgie August encounter a cantankerous old man fishing from a dock. Chick pushes him into the water but Georgie saves him from drowning, so the old man relates the story of hidden pirate treasure and hands Georgie a map. Chick bashes the old man's skull in and then pushes Chick off a precipice to his death. When Chick finds the treasure, he is confronted by the ghosts of a pirate, the old man and Chick, though he thinks the latter two are still alive. Chick spins a tale about sharing the loot and the old man lets him go, but when Chick finds "The Haunted Hoard of Gold" he ends up buried alive in sand and drowned in water.

Chick is not very bright.

It was not easy to decide which of the three stories in this issue to write about, since all three are by Carl Wessler, all three have weak art, and all three are mediocre. I chose the final tale because Chick is such a jerk and the ending is so ridiculous. Why does he suddenly get buried in sand and then drowned? Wessler provides no explanation. It just happens.

Peter: "The Ghost in the Cellar" is about as juvenile a story as we've encountered on our long and arduous journey, Jack. From Lee Elias's seemingly unfinished art (stick figures might have produced better results) to Wessler's typically overblown captions and dialogue (They waited with bated breath for long, endless minutes... an eternity. Tension and terror took their toll... As they trod down the stairs, fear lashed them to the depths... gripping them with the shuddering dread of the unknown...), "The Ghost in the Cellar" is a sad commentary on just how far the DC horror line had slipped by 1976. Elias's idea of a terrifying specter is along the lines of the cheap sfx creature from Outer Limits' "Behold, Eck!"


Holy Bronze Star!
Can Sgt. Rock and the French kid escape?
Tune in on February 15th!
Same Easy time!
Same Easy channel!




Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Robert C. Dennis Part Fifteen: "A Little Sleep" [2.38]

by Jack Seabrook

"A Little Sleep" was the last episode written by Robert C. Dennis to air during season two of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This episode premiered on CBS on Sunday, June 16, 1957, and is based on "Lullaby," a story by Joe Grenzeback that was published in the February 1957 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

A comparison of the story to the TV show reveals that Dennis made a significant addition to the tale, one that changed its focus from a simple story of terror into a show with aspects of social commentary. In the story, a young woman stops at a diner while driving through the mountains. She encounters a group of men who have been searching the area for a man named Benny; the counter man tells the woman that Benny did something bad and assumes she would not understand, since her concerns are "money and games and nothing to do."

Drawing stares at the diner
The woman, whose name is Hallem, hears that Benny did something to a girl. She leaves the diner, starts to drive away and meets a young man, telling him that she's headed for the Hallem place, a cabin which he says is about twelve miles away. She admits to owning it and he says that the counter man at the diner is Ed Mungo, who looks after the cabin. Ed is also Benny's half brother; Benny broke the neck of a young woman and killed her dog.

The young woman drives toward her cabin, which she inherited from her uncle. She pulls up to the remote building and is startled by a man's voice; he invites her in and she tells him she's the owner. He admits to being Benny and explains that he killed the dog of a woman named Marcella and expects Ed to bring Marcella to the cabin soon. Ms. Hallem begins to suspect that Benny did not kill Marcella--she thinks that Ed did it and framed his half-brother out of jealousy. She asks Benny to come with her but Ed shows up and sends Benny outside to wait.

Vic Morrow as Benny
Ed says that Marcella got what she asked for and he wants Ms. Hallem to drive him and Benny to the next county. She is scared and accuses Ed of murder; she tries to escape and he advances on her. Benny returns and Ms. Hallem insists that Ed tell Benny what he did to Marcella. The two men struggle outside until there is silence and Benny appears in the doorway, his shirt torn, blood on his cheek. Benny says he'll ask Ed what he did to Marcella when he wakes up. He tells Ms. Hallem that he put Ed to sleep just as he did Marcella. He says he can demonstrate: "I can do it real quick . . . I'll show you."

Of course, the inference is that, for Benny, "putting someone to sleep" is the same thing as killing them. Ms. Hallem realizes this too late, understanding that when Benny said he left Marcella asleep he had really murdered her, just as he has done to Ed and is about to do to Ms. Hallem.

The story was first published here
"Lullaby" is an effective little crime story where a young woman's misunderstanding of what is really going on with strangers leads to her death. The author, Joe Grenzeback (1922-1968), had an unusual career as a writer. Most of his credits are for writing book and lyrics for musical theater shows such as Rose of the Rancho (1945), Sing Ho for a Prince (1951), The Dragon by Moonshine (1955) and Old King Cole (1955). He is listed as one of the writers of a syndicated children's TV show called Willie Wonderful that featured puppets and ran from 1952 to 1953. The FictionMags Index lists ten short stories by Grenzeback in various crime and mystery magazines from 1956 to 1961, including "Lullaby." The only credit on IMDb for Grenzeback is as writer of the original story for "A Little Sleep."

Robert C. Dennis's script for "A Little Sleep" is fascinating, mainly because of the opening section of the TV show, which is completely new and places what happens later in a different light. The show opens with a beautiful young woman (Ms. Hallem) wearing a tight evening dress and dancing in front of an older man who watches her, appraising her with his eyes as loud jazz music plays on the soundtrack. She is dancing on a table at a party and a group of men and women sit on the floor, watching her and clapping along with the music. The camera looks down at them from her point of view and pans slowly from left to right across the group.

The young woman's dance is suggestive, as her hips sway back and forth, her arms outstretched before her, a wicked smile on her face. This scene is unlike anything we've seen to date on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and is surprisingly sensual for a 1957 television show--it and the party scenes that follow it are like something out of an episode of Mad Men set in the early to mid-1960s, but this is 1957--the Eisenhower era!

Watching the young woman, whose name is soon given as Barbie Hallem (in Grenzeback's story, she is never given a first name), especially closely are a young man in the seated crowd and an older man at the bar. The party takes place in an apartment, presumably in or near New York City. The men are in suits and the women are in evening wear, some wearing gloves.

Barbie descends from the coffee table where she was dancing and selects the young man from the crowd as everyone gets up to dance. As she dances with the young man, Barbie exchanges glances over his shoulder with the older man at the bar. She goes off alone to a side room and the young man, whose name is Chris, follows her; she asks him to get another drink and smooths out her stockings, displaying her long legs. "I really ought to marry you, Chris," she says, "you'd be such a good influence on me."

"I love you, Barbie," Chris replies, but Barbie doesn't respond in kind, telling him only "You're my guy," which is not quite the same as "I love you, too." He kisses her passionately and she lets him--for a short while. He goes to get her a drink and she wanders out to the balcony. There is then a humorous interlude between two businessmen at the party as one instructs the other to stand on his head to cure a case of the hiccups. This man is the same one who was appraising Barbie during her table dance, and things turn serious for a moment as he gazes at an abstract painting on the wall and tells Chris:

"This painting is the very essence of Barbie Hallem. No form or reason except when viewed through a veil of fever. Then you begin to get the meaning. An idiot's delight. A nightmare run backwards. A trauma in three acts."

With these remarks, we begin to see the dark side of Barbie Hallem's world. She is a young woman who may be the life of the party but, as the counter man in "Lullaby" comments, her concerns are "money and games and nothing to do." Chris finds her on the balcony, kissing the older man, and when she realizes that she has been found out she is completely nonplussed. She complains that the party is flat and says that she wants to go to the mountains, where "men are much more fascinating." Little does she know that she will discover just how fascinating mountain men are later that night.

Chris tells her that it's one o'clock in the morning, but she doesn't care about that or anything else. She leaves the party and he follows her; the scene then dissolves to one of Barbie driving a beautiful 1957 Thunderbird convertible wildly, drunkenly through the night (though day for night filming makes it look much brighter outside than it should!). Chris gets out to come around to the driver's seat and take over behind the wheel, but Barbie drives off, leaving him alone; a tracking shot taken from a vehicle traveling next to hers follows her from a point of view slightly above her. We then see a rear projection shot of her driving alone and she pulls up at a building with a sign that reads, "Ed Mungo--Cabins, Food."

Throughout the show Barbie is obsessed with her appearance, often checking herself in the mirror and fixing her hair. The camera lingers on her swaying hips as she walks from the car to the building; once she is inside, the six men at the counter stare at her as she walks by, sits down at the counter, and orders coffee. Another man enters and sits down in a booth. At the counter, Barbie continues to use her power over men, holding the counter man's hand as he holds a rag and using it to wipe the bottom of her coffee cup.

From this point on, the show follows the original story very closely, using much of the dialog almost word for word. By adding the long opening scene, Dennis portrays Barbie as a callous young woman who drinks, dances, and flirts with men; the Ms. Hallem of the story was not depicted this way, other than the counter man's comment about her, which could be taken as his assumption rather than the truth. In the TV show, when Mungo, the counter man, tells her that she would have nightmares if she knew what Benny had done, she laughs knowingly, as if to suggest that she has seen and heard much worse.

Jack Mullaney
Instead of going out to her car and encountering the young man who tells her about Benny's crime, he turns out to be the man in the booth who came in right after her, and their exchange occurs inside the diner rather than outside. There is another rear projection shot of Barbie driving to the cabin, and when she arrives and meets Benny, she turns on a radio inside and begins to dance before the man, just as she danced at the party in the first scene. Barbie fancies herself a siren, whose seductive dance will charm any man she chooses. Benny gets up and dances with her and she embraces him, but when he tells her his name she backs away in fear.

After Ed arrives and Barbie calls Benny for help, the two men struggle and a fistfight occurs outside. Barbie hears a gunshot and Benny appears in the doorway, telling her "He missed me." They go outside and see Ed lying on the ground; Benny tells Barbie that "A little sleep'll do him good," explaining the show's title. They walk to her car and Benny asks her about the man's jacket in the front seat. She explains that she made Chris get out of the car because "He bored me." This is the wrong thing to say, since Benny replies that "Marcella said the very same thing last night just before I put her to sleep." Barbie suddenly realizes that sleep equals death, and Benny's hands encircle her throat as she begins to scream. The final shot is a blurry closeup of Benny's face from Barbie's perspective as he strangles the life out of her.

Barbara Cook
Does Barbie get what she deserves, or "asks for," as Ed puts it? By adding the opening scenes at the party, Dennis makes Barbie Hallem a much less likable character than she is in Grenzeback's story. She is portrayed as a sexually active woman and, as such, she must be punished, much like the randy teenagers in slasher films of the 1980s. The dance that opens "A Little Sleep" is about as close to pure sexuality as one is likely to find in a 1957 TV show, so one reading of the show is that her behavior leads to punishment.

The show also inverts the classic theme of city vs. country. In novels such as Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900), a young woman leaves the relative safety of the country to go to the city, where she encounters danger. In this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Barbie Hallem can do whatever she wants in the city without worry, but when she exhibits the same behavior in the country, it leads to her death. "A Little Sleep" is memorable both for the script by Robert C. Dennis and for the electric performance by Barbara Cook as Barbie Hallem. Cook brings an excitement to her role and, without her performance, the episode would not be nearly as interesting. The director also deserves credit for the show's success; this was the second of twenty-nine Hitchcock episodes to be directed by Paul Henreid.

Barbara Cook (1927- ) began her TV career in 1950 and made about a dozen appearances on television up to 1962. She began her long career on stage in 1951 and won a Tony in 1958 for her role as Marian the librarian in the original Broadway cast of The Music Man; "A Little Sleep" probably was filmed in spring 1957 and The Music Man premiered on Broadway that December. Cook later made the transition from stage star to singer; she was honored in 2011 at the Kennedy Center with a Lifetime Achievement Award and continues working today at age 88. Her website is here.

Paul Henreid (1908-1992), the director, had a successful career as a film actor before he turned to directing. Among the episodes he directed were "The Kerry Blue" and "Annabel."

Playing the role of Benny is Vic Morrow (1929-1982); born Victor Morozoff, his career on screen lasted from 1955 to 1982, when he was killed while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie. His first film was The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and he starred in the TV series Combat from 1962 to 1967. Like Barbara Cook, this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He was also the father of actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Robert Karnes
In small roles, Jack Mullaney (1929-1982) plays the man in the diner who explains things to Barbie; he was last seen in the lead role in "The Belfry." Ed Mungo is played by Robert Karnes (1917-1979), a character actor who had small parts in eight episodes of the Hitchcock series.

"A Little Sleep" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of "Lullaby."

Sources:

"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. 18 Jan. 2016.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001.


Grenzeback, Joe. "Lullaby." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. February 1957. 46-55.

IMDb. IMDb.com. 18 Jan. 2015.

"A Little Sleep." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 16 June 1957.


Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 18 Jan. 2015.


In two weeks: "Mail Order Prophet" with E.G. Marshall and Jack Klugman!


Monday, February 1, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 71: April 1965


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


Joe Kubert
 Our Army at War 153

"Easy's Last Stand!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Flaming Bait!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: Sgt. Montana of Charlie Co. staggers toward Easy, lamenting the loss of every member of his company. Rock vows not to let the same fate befall Easy Co. so, when he and a sugar-addicted Joe nicknamed Pony Boy come upon a Nazi tank hidden in a haystack, Rock tries to avoid "Easy's Last Stand!" Thinking that shelling has killed everyone but him and Pony Boy, Rock drags the soldier toward the medics but must fight off a bridge full of Nazi machine gunners. Fortunately, when he gets Pony Boy back to base, Rock discovers that the rest of his company is just fine.


The Rock story is strong this issue, with superb art by Kubert. Kanigher and Kubert also team up to provide the second Enemy Ace story, though we're already starting to see Kanigher rely on gimmicks to tell his tales--this time, Enemy Ace is haunted by the fact that fliers who have their picture taken right before a mission don't come back alive.

Peter: I found the art on Rock to be infinitely better than the script, which goes over old territory once again. You're on the money about the Enemy Ace installment, which falls into the problem we see frequently with these war stories: an idea repeated over and over until it's driven into the dirt. The series' main asset is its necessary grimness--since we're spying on the bad guys, there can't be a happy ending and so the photographer who continually ignores Von Hammer's pleas not to snap pics of the pilots becomes a victim of his own foolishness. As with the Rock installment, "Flaming Bait" contains amazing art by Kubert, but what I find startling is the way Joe managed to manipulate his style so that Ace has a completely different look than Rock. Interesting that Kanigher would feature two series in one magazine; obviously Bob was bursting with ideas and couldn't wait to get them out there (or else he was tired of his often-weighty subject matters segueing into Hank Chapman's "Captain Jackass" nonsense). Rock gets the cover space but Ace gets the larger page count (14 to 11). This two-series-for-the-price-of-one experiment will last in Our Army only one more issue (#155) and then Enemy Ace will be mothballed until the series reappears in Star Spangled #138 (May 1968), replacing The War That Time Forgot.



Irv Novick
All American Men of War 108

"Death-Dive of the Aces!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

Peter: An albatross plummets straight for the cockpit of Lt. Johnny Cloud's 1917 Spad but he awakens before the gruesome man-faced bird can bring him down. Later that day, Cloud must contend with an enemy ace flying an Albatros D. III. An omen of doom? Maybe, but... hey, hang on, I hear you saying. The last we saw Johnny Cloud he was a Captain flying a Mustang in WWII, not a Lieutenant in the first war piloting a Spad. Well, that's because our man Johnny Cloud is having one of his dream-visions, this time of a mission he's given to destroy Flak Tower Bridge, an essential tool used by the Germans to advance their tanks. Before Cloud can bomb the bridge, however, a bird-faced ace swoops down and riddles Johnny's Spad to nothingness, leaving our hero to take the long dive to a loud splat. Johnny awakens from this dream to find he's been given a mission to destroy Flak Tower Bridge. All events follow to the letter the dream he had the night before but, luckily, the climax is a bit different: after the Nazi whittles Johnny's Mustang down to shrapnel, Cloud manages to manipulate his fall and lands on the tail of the Stuka. After killing the Nazi, Johnny opens his own parachute and watches with glee as the Stuka crashes into the bridge, blowing it to pieces.

The "Enemy Ace"

Yet again, Captain Johnny Cloud (for some reason, demoted to Lt. in his vision) has a dream/vision that comes true that very day. Wildly, Johnny has a flashback and a dream within his own dream (that would be tough to do, wouldn't it?) when he sees the bird-face of the enemy ace above the flames of the smoke-maker way back in his days on the reservation. His explanation for dreaming about World War I is that "... it was only a wild dream!" but I think Kanigher really dug combining the two big wars. Since Cloud's dream came true right down to the very words his C.O. used in the debriefing, I'd say this tale falls into the supernatural war sub-genre. Nurse Running Deer telling Johnny that she could see on his face that he'd "received a sign of death" is a stretch as well.

Usually, even in quasi-technical tales, Bob Kanigher manages to make his words flow almost like a tune but, in "Death Dive of the Aces," his script is bogged down by over-stuffed tactical confusion like: "Cloud to C-Flight! The enemy low flight will be ramming their own high flight unless they scramble out of their way!" and "Here comes the low flight! Opening fire already! To claw our tails off! Knowing we can't turn around to fire at them without giving their high flight the same free shot at us!" Novick does a good job at visualizing the proceedings but, as in his previous Cloud adventure, a lot of the panels are just too busy, crammed with explosions and distraught metal.

Yes, we see the resemblance.

That's one of the best covers we've had for AAMoW, by the way (a reimagining of a panel on page 24) and, along with the title, perfectly evokes the excitement of the 1940s war pulps like War Birds and Sky Fighters. If only the script itself were half as exciting.

Jack: The thirteen-page dream sequence that opened this story confused the heck out of me. I kept thinking it was a dream but it just went on and on and on and I began to wonder if Johnny Cloud really was in WWI and was older than I thought. Then it turned out to be a dream and I knew what was coming--a replay of the same events! And I was right. It's just ridiculous that Kanigher expects us to believe that Johnny Cloud could hang on to the tail of a flying jet and not get yanked off in a split-second, especially with his parachute pulling him in the opposite direction! Not one of Kanigher's better efforts.


Joe Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 91

"The Human Shooting Gallery"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Abel

"Aces Always Die on the Last Day of the War!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: It's the last day of the Korean War and Lt. Nick Blakeny believes that he'd better watch out, because "Aces Always Die on the Last Day of the War!" His grandfather was a pilot in WWI who downed his fifth enemy plane on the final day of the war and then was killed in a plane crash. Nick's father followed suit, reaching Ace status and dying in a fiery crash on the last day of WWII. Now the Korean War is at an end, and Nick wants to avoid the family curse. When enemy MiGs attack and Nick is the only one able to take off, he takes to the skies and reaches ace status before ejecting from his plane. When his parachute fails, it looks like he'll be the third generation to go down, but he grabs hold of the enemy pilot's chute and floats to safety, taking a prisoner in the bargain!


Nope, it's not cameo art
by George Tuska!
What makes this story interesting is the fact that both the narrator's grandfather and father die in plane crashes. The first is shown as a biplane plunges to Earth; the second includes a panel where the pilot is trapped in his cockpit as the plane heads toward certain death. I found these images a bit unusual for DC War comics.

Peter: I find it interesting that the Blakeny who fights in World War II is told the war will end that day and, rather than cheer, he's upset that he hasn't been able to kill enough Germans to satisfy the family quota. As for our resident whipping dog (pun intended), Gunner, Sarge and Pooch return with more WWII hijinks in the grand style of Hogan's Heroes. Even though Jerry Grandenetti exited stage left several installments ago, it's nice to see that replacement Jack Abel keeps the quality level even. Col. Hakawa's teeth are so buck, it's a wonder Jack doesn't just pencil squirrel whiskers on him as well. The good news, for me at least, is that Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch are T-minus 3 issues and counting until retirement. The bad news, for me at least, is that I'll feel a sense of responsibility to read those last three.


But it is!
The penultimate issue of
Do You Dare Enter?
Slimes across your computer screen
February 8th!






Monday, January 25, 2016

Do You Dare Enter? Part Seventy: July/August 1976


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


Ricardo Villagran
The House of Mystery 243

"Brother Bear"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Franc C. Reyes

"Things Like That Don't Happen"
Story by Sheldon Mayer
Art by Jess Jodloman

Peter: Hunter/tycoon Zebulon Hunt is sentenced to die by electric chair but... for what crime? In a flashback we see that Hunt has a penchant for polar bears and their skins; in fact, he's dressed his entire mansion with pelts and heads. His manservant, Umiak, tells Zeb that he should not be hunting polar bears anymore as it will bring bad juju but the tyrant won't listen. When Zeb jumps in and nails a bear that Umiak was hunting (in an admirable fashion), the gods are disturbed and a price must be paid. Umiak disappears but that doesn't keep the great hunter from his fun and, while out on the frozen tundra, the biggest polar bear ever to cross Zebulon's path practically gives itself up to him. Zeb takes advantage of the free pass and then lops off the head and walks it down to the taxidermist. That's where the trouble starts. Though "Brother Bear" is a variation on a theme we've seen before (several times in a jungle setting with Alfredo Alcala art), Bob Haney (whose work we've been critiquing in our DC War room) manages to pull this one off. I especially liked the fact that, when the payoff comes, Umiak's noggin is never seen, only gasped at, a subtlety we don't see often in these here parts.


Jack: I preferred the second story, "Things Like That Don't Happen," in which a Boardwalk Gypsy King fortune teller machine gets revenge by murdering the no good husband of a decent woman. Jess Jodloman's art is always a bit on the scratchy side but I've gotten used to it, and any story that involves a Boardwalk fortune telling machine already has a leg up in my book. Millie, the gal who is killed, shows admirable skill when she picks the lock on the machine to prop up the Gypsy King after he suddenly falls over.

Something sexual about this panel!


Luis Dominguez
The Witching Hour 64

"The Mark of a Murderer"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by E.R. Cruz

"Mirror of Madness"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Buddy Gernale

"My Mother Was a Witch!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan

Jack: Poor Julie Burrows! After her father walked out on her and her mother when she was just eight years old, the other kids at school started to pick on her. Good thing she could say that "My Mother Was a Witch!" Mom waves her hand and the bullies regret their behavior. The same fate awaits teachers and parents who don't mind their manners. Two years later, Julie's Mom dies and the girl is sent to an orphanage, where she retaliates against the cruel matron with a little witchcraft of her own. Finally, Dad comes to retrieve her, revealing that he's a warlock and little Julie takes after her old man--Mom was never a witch after all! Wessler and Calnan combine to create a story that barely edges out the other two travesties in this, another forgettable issue of The Witching Hour.



Peter: Wessler and Calnan combine to create a story certain to top my "Worst of the Year" list. Wessler's script is inane but Calnan's amateurish chicken scratches seal the deal. Just plain ugly. Nothing about this story made sense. Julie's dad is sent away by her mom because her mother didn't want anyone to know he was a warlock? Why wouldn't she let dad hang around and help Julie master her skills? Wouldn't that make more sense? None of the stories this issue have a twist ending. They just end. If there's one speck of respectability here, it lies in the artwork E.R. Cruz delivers for "The Mark of a Murderer." Nicely atmospheric. Otherwise, it's the usual issue of The Wretched Hour.



Luis Dominguez
Unexpected 174

"Gauntlet of Fear"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Don Perlin

"Sands of Time"
Story by uncredited
Art by Rich Buckler

"The Long Arms of Death"
Story by Weshley Marsh (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Fred Carrillo

Jack: Gerald left England to become secretary to a wealthy man in India, but all he can think about is the man's pretty but lonely daughter, Kaleli. Ignoring the father's warnings to stay away from his daughter, Gerald turns on the charm and before you know it he tells Pop he wants to marry the gal. Oddly enough, she never wants to go for a swim, or dance, or basically do anything involving removing her shawl. Gerald tells Kaleli he bought airline tickets for the both of them and, when he robs her Dad's safe, he is surprised by his employer, who tells him to keep the cash but leave the girl alone. Gerald kills the boss and is attacked by his bodyguards, but soon Kaleli grabs them and Gerald sees that she is Kali, the ten-armed goddess. She does not cotton to his suggestion that they go to London and have eight of her arms removed by a surgeon, so she gives him a great big ten-armed hug and crushes him to death.

"The Long Arms of Death" is easily the most fun story in this issue of Unexpected, which also features a dreadful entry by Kashdan and Perlin and a two-page flop by Rich Buckler.

How many arms does
she have on the cover?

Peter: With the cover illustration and a "stunning beauty" named Kaleli, I sure never saw that shock ending coming! But I thought the highlight of the issue was the delightfully dumb "Gauntlet of Fear," in which psychiatrist Dr. Terrell is hired by the President of a "remote tiny republic" to help soothe his fears of assassination. The doc is kidnapped by The Great Bajir, an evil and rotund terrorist whose goal is to brainwash the headshrinker into murdering the President. Bajir's personal fear of dirt (!) becomes his undoing in the end. "Gauntlet" has a script that's one part Man From U.N.C.L.E. and six parts dopiness and art by one of the crown princes of mediocrity that suits its inanity. Hell, at least it's a lot more fun than 90% of the swill that's being presented as professional comic book material this month.



Luis Dominguez
The House of Mystery 244

"Kronos--Zagros--Eborak!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Frank Thorne

"Your Epitaph is Only a Birthday Card"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Frank Reyes

Peter: Doug Moench gives us a little bit of the deep preaching he became famous for over at Marvel with "Your Epitaph..." Two men discuss reincarnation and the afterlife in a hospital waiting room while, unbeknownst to them, a barbarian's soul drifts through space, waiting to be reborn. In the end, one man's friend dies a peaceful death and the other becomes a father (to a very young barbarian, no doubt). The reason why Moench's near-sermon about how to live life works here whereas it never worked in, say, his awful contributions to the Frankenstein series in Monsters Unleashed, is that, by 1976, the writer had honed his skills. Sure, there's a bit of the pretentiousness found in his Marvel work but, seemingly, Moench had finally learned to rein in not only his purple prose but also his firm belief that the world was going to hell in a bucket and everyone was out to get the young man. I'm more open to listening to the message if I don't think the messenger is full of shit. The issue's opener, "Kronos--Zagros--Eborak," about a lawyer in the Public Defender's office who's assigned to investigate a satanic worship ring, sports nice visuals from newcomer Frank Thorne (whose work on Red Sonja is being discussed, as we speak, over at Marvel University) and a clever twist in the tale. Overall, a decent issue of House of Mystery.


Jack: I liked the Frank Thorne story and I, too, was surprised by the twist ending. The only laugh out loud moment for me was the disguise worn by the lawyer when he goes to investigate the satanic cult--he looks like Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch! The Moench story seemed preachy and obvious to me, and the art made me long for the good old days when Gil Kane drew the sword and sorcery stories for the DC horror line.

Lawyer in
disguise

Huggy Bear


Luis Dominguez
Ghosts 48

"Showdown with a Specter"
Story Uncredited
Art by Tenny Henson

"The Phantom Head"
Story Uncredited
Art by Buddy Gernale

"The Girl Who Inherited a Ghost"
Story Uncredited
Art by Gene Ureta

Jack: In the summer of '68, Villem Kruger takes his wife and little boy to a remote part of South Africa, where he explores the rubble that remains of his late grandfather's diamond mine. Little does he know that he's about to have a "Showdown with a Specter!" The ghost is that of a laborer who died when the mine caved in, and he vows revenge on Villem, the grandson of the cruel mine owner. That night, Villem's son Jan disappears, and Villem follows him into the mine, where he is confronted by the specter. The boy volunteers to sacrifice himself in place of his father, but the ghost reveals that the boy is adopted and thus not a blood relative to the mine owner of long ago. Impressed by the boy's courage and by the father's willingness to adopt a child, the ghost decides to let bygones be bygones and heads off to his final rest.

This is one of several stores we've seen that are drawn by Tenny Henson, and it looks like the work of a young artist with a lot of promise. At this stage in his career, Henson's strength seems to be in portraying beautiful blondes! I liked this story a lot, especially the ending where the ghost changed his mind and respected the kindness and self-sacrifice of Villem and his son. This was my favorite story of this two-month period.

One other comment--I think "Gene Ureta," who signed the last story in this issue, must be a pseudonym. The art is very strong and has echoes of Gene Colan as well as some panels that look like Neal Adams stopped by to ink them. "Gene Ureta" has no other credits anywhere. Ever.

Peter: Other than the decent art of Tenny Henson, there's not a lot to get excited by in this issue of Ghosts. "The Phantom Head" is another of those stories I would imagine was scribed by the most prolific of Ghosts' writers, Leo Dorfman. I can imagine Dorfman, sitting in his office, opening Encyclopedia Britannica volumes with his eyes closed, and pointing his finger at some random subject. In this case, Leo's finger stopped on Michelangelo.

The Second Flight of
Enemy Ace!
Exclusively in the 71st Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories!
On Sale February 1st!