Monday, December 12, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 21: April 1952





The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
21: April 1952


Ingels
 The Haunt of Fear #12

"Poetic Justice!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

". . . On a Dead Man's Chest!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig

"Till Death Do We Part!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"What's Cookin'?" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis


Abner Elliott has been the town garbage man for decades, but when his wife died two years ago he was lonely, so he began fixing up toys he found in the trash to give the kids at Christmas. Across the street from Abner's house live wealthy Henry Burgundy and his son, Harold, and they envy and hate Abner both for his relationship with the town's children and for his dilapidated house. Step by step they destroy his life, first by forcing him to give up the stray pets he's collected, then by ruining his business with unfair competition, and finally by driving the children away. At Valentine's Day, they encourage the townsfolk to send him cards with cruel sentiments. Abner is so distraught that he hangs himself, but a year later, on Valentine's Day, his corpse rises from the grave and delivers "Poetic Justice!" to the neighbors who tormented him.

"Poetic Justice!"
I don't know what I did to deserve the right to summarize this story, but Peter did me a big favor by assigning it to me. Both story and art are brilliant and this is the first story I've read that deserves an unconditional grade of A+. How sad that all of the townsfolk turn against Abner so easily; while his revenge is only acted out on his neighbors, one might argue that all of the adults in town deserve to have their hearts torn from their bodies for their participation in the cruel treatment of the kindly old man. I will never forget seeing the movie version of this at a NY Comic Con in the early 1970s and screaming along with the rest of the audience when the final scene played out. If anything, the rhyme on the movie's valentine made it even more effective than the version in the comics.

". . . On a Dead Man's Chest!"
Helen Anderson is a beauty who married Steve for his money and can't stand it when he goes on and on about his tattoos. When Steve's handsome brother Larry comes to town, it doesn't take long before Helen and Larry are plotting to murder Steve for his dough. The deed is done but something is wrong " . . . On a Dead Man's Chest!" Helen shoots Larry but when the cops arrive they find her trying to remove a tattoo from Steve's torso, where the murder scene is clearly displayed.

Oh boy, this is shaping up to be a great issue! Johnny Craig has a knack for illustrating gritty, hard boiled crime stories, and this one is a classic. The GCD says Gaines and Feldstein wrote the script, but it sure fits with Craig's body of work.

"Till Death Do We Part!"
When Tommy and Ernie rob a safe, they are surprised by the night watchman and make a run for it. Ernie is shot by the cops but drags himself to Tommy's apartment, where the man ignores him and heads off to leave town. Ernie makes his way back to the scene of the crime, only to see his own corpse lying in the street.

"Till Death Do We Part!" is an unoriginal crime story with uneven art by Joe Orlando--some panels look like mediocre Golden Age scribblings, while others are well done.

Herman and Charlie's failing roadside restaurant is given new life when tramp Eric Edwards convinces them to let him redo the place for half the profits. Soon, travelers from far and wide are stopping in to ask "What's Cookin'?" and sample the barbecued and fried chicken. Herman and Charlie get greedy and murder Eric so they don't have to split the cash, but when they tie him up and burn his house down, he manages to escape, his body burned beyond recognition, and he gets revenge by cooking them in the restaurant's giant chicken broiler and fryer.

Not quite as classic as "Poetic Justice!" but still memorable, this story shows the direction that Jack Davis's work would go as EC comics continued to develop. Oddly enough, I think the first panel, with the charred body of Eric, is even more effective than the last one, in which we get just a partial glimpse of the cooked crooks. --Jack

The first panel of
"What's Cookin'?"
Peter: If I was to pick one story that epitomizes what I love about EC Comics, it would be “Poetic Justice!” It’s all here: Graham Ingels’s drippy, morbid art, a beautifully told, compact story, and one of the best punchlines ever delivered. Of course, my love for the story might also have something to do with the fact that it was wonderfully adapted by Milton Subotsky for the Amicus Tales from the Crypt movie. Abner (here renamed Arthur Grimsdyke) is sensitively played by horror movie veteran Peter Cushing and the spirit of the story is captured almost frame for frame (one major difference: in the adaptation, Burgundy's father plays a very small role in the harassment of  Abner whereas, in the comic, pop and, indeed, the entire town are co-conspirators). Subotsky (and Amicus co-partner/ producer Max Rosenberg) certainly had a love for and working knowledge of EC Comics; they picked ten of the better stories from several different titles to comprise their two EC films. Just before the release of Vault of Horror, it was rumored there would be a third film, Tales of the Incredible, but the box-office failure of Vault (probably due to its R rating as well as its minuscule budget and shoddy effects) doomed the third installment. Probably for the best, since the film would have been an adaptation of the SF comics and, with Amicus's low budgets, special effects would have been kept to a minimum. ". . . Dead Man's Chest" is a lukewarm triangle drama with a ludicrous finale, but Craig's visuals are a definite plus (dig the gallons of sweat flowing from the murderers' foreheads in the climax!). "Till Death . . ." is 100% predictable and "What's Cookin'" suffers from a plot hook that's been done to death already (the businessman who murders his partner) but soars with its deliciously disgusting wrap.

The last panel of"What's Cookin'?"
Jose: It sounds like we’re all in agreement that both the original comic and cinematic adaptation of “Poetic Justice” are absolute aces. I have to admit to having a shade more preference for the film version, though. There are various factors involved with that: it was my first exposure to the story, it features an incredibly heart-rending portrayal by Peter Cushing, and overall I think the changes that were made to it as adapted by Subotsky and directed by Freddie Francis were handled beautifully and made the (even gorier!) ending feel all the more righteous. I suspect this won’t be the last time we mention that superior Amicus anthology. “… On a Deadman’s Chest” and “Till Death Do Us Part” work pretty well as crime stories to varying degrees before both transition into the supernatural in their final panels. I think Craig’s is done with more style (surprise, surprise) even if the conclusion feels pretty inexplicable. It would’ve been neat if we got some kind of foreshadowing beforehand, like Steve going on about his tattoos are more than just art, they’re alive, Helen, they’re a reaction to the world around me … But then I guess we just would’ve run into another Bradbury swipe there! “What’s Cookin’?” is the third by my count of what is becoming a Jack Davis specialty, “Kill the Business Partner and Dump Him in Something.” First we had dairy products (“Cheese, That’s Horrible,” HOF 6) and then soap (“99 and 44/100% Pure Horror,” VOH 23) and now we have baking oil! To be fair, technically the murdered business partner isn’t given the southern-fried bath himself, but he does enact that vengeance on one of his persecutors, so I’m willing to include it in my half-assed triptych. Though the eye-popping splash panel screams “walking corpse” to the reader, some may be surprised to see that Eric doesn’t become a shambling revenant but rather takes his payback immediately following his attempted-murder-by-burning. That might stretch credulity as far as accounting for how someone in his state could overpower and cook two grown men, but it certainly makes the scenario all the more grimy and horrifying.


Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #5

"442nd Combat Team" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Bill Elder

"Stonewall Jackson!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"War Machines!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Big 'If'!" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

The troops that make up the “442nd Combat Team” are not your average Allied soldiers according to popular conception. Composed of Japanese men who are American citizens proudly fighting for their country, the unit tells a Nazi commander to go take a flying leap when the German offers to treat them well should they surrender as they traverse through a patch of hilly woodland where Axis gunfire surrounds them on all sides. The 442nd decides to stick it out and show those crazy Krauts what’s what. The Germans barrage the Americans’ hidey-hole bunker with everything they’ve got, but upon advancing to confirm their kill, they get a nasty surprise when the Japanese-Americans rain heavenly fire upon their disbelieving heads from a rise above the bunker from which they have sneaked out. The Axis soldiers' fatal flaw? Never question the patriotism of an American!

"442nd Combat Team"
“442nd Combat Team” is a tale in the classic EC war mold: solid art, some tense battle set pieces, and a valuable moral lesson as final accent. There’s a quiet beauty to some of Kurtzman’s artistic layouts, and Severin and Elder stun us with their depictions of grand nature and brutal warfare alike. Some panels, like the 442nd’s descent towards the bunker where German corpses litter the ground, force you to pause and take them in like works of art in a museum. A capable start to a fairly mediocre issue.

A rebel soldier narrates the epic story of “Stonewall Jackson!” to his fellows one night ‘round the campfire. Jackson was a general of infallible bravery and consideration for his men, getting his hands dirty when occasion called for it and holding every last Confederate soldier to the same high standards he maintained for himself. He won the devotion of all who knew him to the point that everyone would raise a joyful holler at his heroic departures upon his steed. But all good things must come to end, especially in war. After earning his nickname for standing unflinchingly at the front line during the Battle of Bull Run, a scare during a nighttime ride leads to the accidental shooting of Jackson, who later dies from his wounds and pneumonia. Back at the campfire, the mournful rebel muses how a rifle with a busted stock ended the life of the man whom all Confederates loved, and it’s only after the soldier leaves the campfire that his companions note the tell-tale condition of his weapon.

The prolonged death of "Stonewall Jackson!"

Having not been familiar with the historical account of Stonewall Jackson, I had no expectations going into this aside from a hope that it would prove entertaining, which it was, moderately speaking. Jack Davis continues to perform at a high level in his war pieces; his horror work has been making leaps and bounds from when he started, and that gritty, three-dimensional quality that has started to surface in those stories is on display here. My only disappointment with this story was that there wasn’t much human interaction going on, seeing as how this is another one of Kurtzman’s classroom lectures on antiquated wars gone by.

An accurate thumbnail of how "War Machines!" reads.

In a sadistic turn of events, the following story, “War Machines!,” provides precisely no emotional insight or even dialogue in its six pages of dull gear-talk. If you thrill at descriptions of the mechanics of war technology then you might find something to enjoy here, but otherwise this too-long-at-six-pages weaponry catalogue doesn’t offer much for anyone else and becomes further mired with a flat, repetitive panel layout and lifeless art by John Severin.

Here to take out some of the bad taste left in our mouths is Kurtzman’s own artistic contribution, “Big 'If'!” A young soldier in an unnamed Korean town sits before a cluster of sinisterly-smiling devil posts pondering a series of events that led to his current situation. The nearby three-foot crater left by an enemy shell seems to hold a particularly grim fascination for him. Working through the last few hours, the soldier wonders if events would have been different if Paul Maynard had stuck to walking on the road instead of riding on the tank, or if Maynard had stayed to man the machine gun as ordered instead of wandering off, or if Maynard had just walked a few feet further before stopping to tie his bootlace upon his return. All these thoughts are, of course, the thoughts of Paul Maynard, our misguided hero, who now sits bleeding from shrapnel wounds before the smiling devil posts, wondering in his last moments if he could have avoided dying today.

A poignant story that addresses universal fears and insecurities that all readers can sympathize with, “Big 'If'!” makes up for a lot in this issue in the storytelling department but suffers at times from some thinly-conceived art. A part of me has wished in the past, as I did here, that Kurtzman could have found another artist to handle his script. Harvey was so busy editing the two war titles and demanding down-to-the-last-detail accuracy from the other draughtsmen that when it came down to him filling in his own panels, his lack of time and focus cropped up in some mighty glaring ways. (The background action in several shots on Pages 2 and 3 looks particularly hasty and almost invisible.) But on the other hand, there are moments here that remind me of the Kurtzman that I like to see, especially the intense close-ups of the despairing Maynard as he contemplates the inevitability of his death. For that alone, I’m happy that Harvey was illustrating his own story, as I can’t imagine anyone getting to the truth and pain of that moment with his signature grace. --Jose

Peter: I'm not sure if it's because I've become spoiled by the stellar quality of Harvey Kurtzman's scripts thus far or if this is just a weak month for war (see my review of this month's Two-Fisted Tales further down). "442nd" is a preachy whose message is possibly truer today than seventy years ago; "Stonewall Jackson!" is, for me, Harvey's weakest "history lesson"; and "War Machines!" seems to be nothing more than a cataloguing of the weapons used to smoke men out of a cave (albeit with a nicely ironic finish). That leaves "Big 'If,'" easily this month's best war story. Kurtzman completely fooled me into thinking the young man had been pondering the Big If because he was the only G.I. left alive in his platoon. The reveal is shocking and grim, elements lacking from the previous stories.

"442nd Combat Team"

Jack: I love when we happen across a story I remember from long ago! I first read "Big 'If'" about 40 years ago in the 1971 Les Daniels book, Comix: A History of Comic Books in America, and it made such an impression that I've never forgotten it. It's the sort of thing I think about when I get in a car accident--what if I'd been delayed at a red light for another minute? What if I'd taken another route? It's a classic story, well-told by Kurtzman and with those looming, Godlike, silent totem poles looking on at the unfolding tragedy like wooden Jehovahs. The other stories don't come close to living up to this one: Kurtzman did the layouts for "442nd Combat Team," then Severin penciled it and Elder inked it, so it looks great, especially the numerous panels without word balloons. "Stonewall Jackson!" is historically accurate but I knew the end from the start, and "War Machines!" is plodding without the human element.


Feldstein
 Weird Fantasy #12

"Project . . . Survival!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"A Lesson in Anatomy!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Die is Cast!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"A Man's Job!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando



"Project... Survival!"
In a futuristic society, the Amalgamated Rocket Corporation has built a spaceship (labeled the A.R.C.-1) to take man to the moon. Concurrently, the rebels of Asia-Minor have rebelled against the World Republic and the very fabric of society is imperiled. An Electron bomb has been developed to quell the revolution but those pesky rebels concoct one of their own and put it to use. The explosion is devastating but the after-effects are fatal: the earth begins to slowly burn itself out. Doctor Jansen, the scientist who had designed the (ahem) A.R.C.-1 appeals to Luther Morton, President of Amalgamated: they must use the ship to speed away enough plants, animals, and humans into space to repopulate Earth once the Armageddon comes to a close and the planet cools itself. The ship is loaded and launched; the crew hovers above the world for four months and then lands, beginning its arduous task. Jansen holds an impromptu meeting in the new Eden and requests that the others call him by his first name . . . Noah. And if you still don't get it, Bill and Al kindly spell it out (actually, they SCREAM it out) in a helpful last-panel expository. As well-traveled as the story is, there's no denying that the art is stunning, breath-taking, jarring . . . you almost can't find enough adjectives to praise Wally's work here. The detail in the splash alone is mind-boggling. But one question... did Wally really envision a near-future where men wore capes? Oh no, sorry . . . two questions. Perhaps a scientist out there can confirm that the world can melt and then cool and then grow green stuff again in the space of four months. I'm slightly skeptical.

"A Lesson in Anatomy"
Eight year-old Stevie Williams has an insatiable appetite for knowledge: no wonder since his pop is a doctor/coroner and there's been a murder in town. Seeking "A Lesson in Anatomy!," Stevie sneaks up to his dad's office window and spies on the surgeon while he's conducting an autopsy on the corpse. Doctor Williams becomes aware of his audience and hits the roof, telling Stevie to go play on the freeway. Into the woods the little boy runs, chasing butterflies across several farms, until he stumbles on a man lying in the bushes. Thinking the man dead, the little boy pokes at him but, to his surprise, the man awakens and offers Stevie a dime if he'll answer some questions. Later that night, the stranger comes to the boy's room and tells him he wants to see all the inventions Stevie's dad had created, especially the time machine (the boy may exaggerate a bit when it comes to his father's scientific abilities) and rocket-ship designs. Once in the lab, the stranger approaches Doctor Williams's fluoroscope (used to look at one's insides) and asks if this is the time machine. Stevie, thinking the man must be bonkers, nods and watches as the man turns the equipment on. Suddenly, Stevie hears his father's footsteps and warns the stranger he'd best be going. The doctor is naturally angry but his son manages to change the subject by asking if humans have wheels, wires, and sticks in their insides. The doc scratches his head, answers in the negative and orders the precocious lad to bed. The next day, Stevie drags his pop out to where the stranger hides and explains that he conducted an autopsy of his own and when he cut the man open, a "crab-like creature" hopped out. His father stares in awe at the intricate robot that lies before him. Meanwhile, somewhere across space, the invasion of Earth has been called off; Earth is too clever for these aliens. Gotta admit, though the space invasion plot line is getting old really fast (especially this variation), I found the twists to be clever and cute (cuter than the blood-thirsty brat who has the lead role in our drama) and Kamen's art didn't bother me as much as it does usually (although how that alien turtle-thing could be called "crab-like" is anyone's guess).

"The Die is Cast"
The crew of the Pleiades II is on an interstellar space mission when they discover a heretofore unknown solar system (how does that happen?) and are compelled to explore. Within the system lie three planets; two uninhabitable and one with atmosphere just like Earth's. The ship lands and the men investigate the surrounding areas. Suddenly, a huge chunk of rock crushes the ship, killing all but three of the voyagers. The men regroup but, very soon, two more of the gargantuan boulders roll towards them. Dodging the monoliths, the trio manage to salvage enough tech from the ruined ship to build a radio and they contact a nearby rocket, requesting a pick-up. The rescue ship arrives soon after and the men hurry into their salvation, just missing another thundering boulder. As they fly high away from the deadly planet, they see that the rocks have "whitish craters" on each side, arranged numerically. As the ship pulls even higher, it becomes evident that the Pleiades II landed on a gigantic dice-table! Well, the whole enchilada is pretty darn silly when you think about it (how come they never saw the giant aliens while they were landing?), but sometimes I don't think. Besides, I never saw the punchline to "The Die is Cast" coming so, well-played, Al and Bill! Wally's the king of outer space adventure by this time so every panel is a little treasure (in particular, when the first die lands on the Pleiades and Wally subtly renders it as a grey-metal skull being crushed.

"A Man's Job!"
Men see their machismo and identity erased when women become the dominant species in "A Man's Job!," a silly little bit of nonsense that simply takes cliched situations (the sexy woman sitting on the Lothario's lap) and flips the roles. The narrator, laid up in a hospital bed, details the progression of the reversal, from the first female President (that'll never happen!) to the dominance of women in the workplace and men as the homemakers and the reversals of male/female rituals in-between (the woman proposes to the man, etc.) and climaxing with the ultimate switch-over: we discover our narrator is about to whisked into the "Paternity Room" to deliver a baby. Some may see the tale (which might have fit snugly between the covers of Mad Magazine) as prescient but what brilliance there may be here is dulled by a litany of "one-liners" like the woman who stays out all night while her worried husband paces the living room floor or the father-in-law who comes to stay. A one-page joke stretched to seven. --Peter

Jack: In "Project . . . Survival!," outer space once again becomes the place we escape to after we've made  a mess of things on our own planet. The worries about the atomic bomb seem so dated now, as does the naive picture of how swiftly an atomic holocaust would clear up. I must admit I did not see the final twist coming, though I should have. It's rare that a Kamen story is as enjoyable as "A Lesson in Anatomy!!" but, for some reason, this one is fun--and no babes in sight! "The Die is Cast!" is just dumb and the ending made me say, "Oh brother!" "A Man's Job!" is fun but it goes on too long; Orlando's art is fine throughout.

Crapped out what?
("The Die is Cast")
Jose: I didn’t see the twist coming in “Project … Survival!” but as Peter said, Bill and Al made sure that I knew what it was when it did come. The drama preceding it is nothing we haven’t seen before, but feel free to get lost in the labyrinthine detail and stateliness of Wood’s art. “A Lesson in Anatomy!” was enjoyable overall—shades of Bradbury’s “The Man Upstairs” there—but is it just me or does it strike anyone else as perverse that a story with that title and narrative thrust should withhold any kind of visual representation of said anatomy? We don’t even get to see the cogs and wheels that make up the man-bot. There’s no flesh and blood involved here, and yet Kamen still dances around the notion of depicting “viscera.” Seems a touch too sweet and nice to me, even by his standards. I don’t know how you couldn’t have guessed the ending to “The Die is Cast!,” Peter. It’s in the title! Which isn’t to say that the story makes any more sense if you did guess it beforehand. Still, I chuckled at that last panel. I was also doing quite a bit of chuckling during “A Man’s Job!” It’s interesting and innovative in its own fashion on the one hand for being a story from the SF titles that doesn’t play too heavily on the trappings of the genre; it’s simply a projection of a possible future with nary a space cab or ray gun to be seen. That being said, the story’s tone is one of absolute ridiculousness. It’s tempting to read “A Man’s Job!” as casual 1950s misogyny, but even though the recast men are shown displaying “feminine” behavior that includes whining, fawning, and nagging, the playing field is completely even in the story because the recast women are seen displaying equally negative "masculine" behaviors that include lechery, savagery, and inattentiveness. So the moral here is that everybody has their bad qualities!


Kurtzman
Two-Fisted Tales #26

"The Trap!"  
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Hagaru-Ri!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Link-Up!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Bill Elder

"Hungnam!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

The Chungjin Reservoir, 1950. U.N. troops head into the northeastern part of North Korea after China enters the Korean War.

"The Trap!"
"The Trap!" introduces us to the U. N. grunts who are vainly attempting to get the upper hand on an enemy mortar squad stationed atop a hill. One marine thinks he knows better than his sergeant how to win this war but, in the end, he's in a state of shock when the men get the word that they're surrounded by 100,000 Chinese soldiers. The sergeant orders his squad to retreat. The U.N. soldiers fall back to the city of "Hagaru-Ri!" in an effort to regroup but find themselves being picked off by the enemy ringing Hagaru-Ri. Harvey and Jack perfectly illustrate in a series of panels how these Chinese soldiers are so much more prepared to fight in the freezing weather. Only a series of bombings from American jets dents the oncoming horde. After the slaughter, the soldiers are able to fight their way back out of Hagaru-Ri and slog towards the coast, hoping to "Link-Up!" with relief forces further inland. "Link-Up!" shows just how vicious and unstoppable the Chinese forces could be, marching through aerial strafings and bombings and sub-zero weather, to achieve their goal. Finally, "Hungnam!" chronicles the last days of the conflict and the huge evacuation effort. On Christmas Eve, 1950, the evacuation complete, the entire waterfront of Hungnam was destroyed by the U.N. to prevent future use.

"Hagaru-Ri!"
Unlike other issues of Two-Fisted Tales, #26 defies individual synopses since the four parts are to be taken as a whole. As I've stated before, Harvey's "classroom lectures" don't float my boat as much as his "straight fiction" might and this twenty-eight page history lesson (two of the chapters contain not one line of dialogue) about the Battle of Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir is no exception. Don't get me wrong; I admire Harvey's knowledge of the Korean War and his usual shocks, tense battle action, and punctuated (yet deep) dialogue are all on display here but, unfortunately, to me, Kurtzman spends so much time with the minute details of the event that the overall effect, in the end, is close to tedium. In a nutshell then, I appreciate that Harvey Kurtzman opened my eyes to a decisive conflict I'd known nothing about (in fact, as you guessed, most of my historical information is derived from Wikipedia) but, as a reader, I wanted more than a tutorial punctuated with acts of violence. The art, however, is glorious, with several panels pushing the boundaries of what funny books could get away with in the day. Severin's brave, confident G.I. marching up the hill is, one panel later, reduced to something akin to swiss cheese by gun fire. --Peter

"Link-Up!"
Jack: As I read this issue, I found myself thinking it was more admirable and impressive than entertaining. I enjoy learning about military history and know next to nothing about the Korean War. The art is fabulous, though I prefer Severin with Elder to Severin alone, and there's a full-page map of Korea on the inside cover to help explain things; each story ends with a section of the map as the final panel. I think my wife's uncle died at Chosin and I know my daughter interviewed a survivor, so this is close to home, yet this is a case where fact is not as powerful as fiction. This is probably the only EC comic we'll ever see that is comprised of one long story.

"Hungnam!"
Jose: Like my esteemed colleagues, I found this issue of TFT to be more interesting as a one-time experiment than engaging and affecting drama. Harvey’s goal in this issue seems to be to shake the reader out of their blinders and their comfort zone by exposing them to the inconceivable and insensible horrors of war, a goal that was implicit in previous installments of the war titles but one that is made explicit in Harvey’s confrontational openings to two of the stories here. (“While you were rushing to get your Christmas shopping done, the Chinese were rushing somewhere too!”) However, his righteous tone gets sunk under the weight of a lot of dryly-delivered information that emotionally distances us from the action that our fine stable of artists has wrought. Seeing Severin working solo reveals the rough, raw intensity of his compositions, but Jack is correct in remarking that the artist’s collaborations with Will Elder just look nicer. There’s a really effective use of color in “Link-Up!” that perfectly captures a battle under flare-light with precise applications of red, blue, and yellow. Kudos to the underappreciated Marie Severin! My favorite story of the pack is definitely “Hungnam!” Classic Wood art and Harvey writing at his tear-jerking best to deliver a horrible frozen moment from history seen through the eyes of a trusting street dog. Yer killing me, Kurtzman!


Wood
Weird Science #12

"A Gobl is a Knog's Best Friend" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"The Last Man!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Android!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"Chewed Out!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Stern Captain Dexter has just finished admonishing crew member Donaldson for keeping his rambunctious young pup on too short a leash aboard their spaceship when the exploratory vessel touches down on the ubiquitous Alien Planet Equipped with a Habitable Atmosphere. The cadets have barely taken in the new scenery when suddenly the Batmobile a strange space-cab pulls up and from out of the driver’s seat exits an orange, 10-foot-tall reptilian creature that fails to understand English, for all its apparent technological advancement. The humans are invited into the creature’s ride and then driven to the ultra-cool alien city. Odder than the aliens’ silent but friendly demeanor is the presence of strange humanoid figures who attempt to speak to the humans in a garbled tongue. Just then the aliens surround the cadets and place them in a cell adjoining another containing more of the humanoid-race. When the language expert from the human crew confers with them, he discovers that the aliens are called “knogs” and that they refer to both the humans and the humanoids as “gobls.” Three points for guessing the right answer. Just as the sentimental Donaldson had doted on his scrappy pup, the knogs have taken to keeping the humans as their new pets.

Ever get that feeling you're being watched?
("A Gobl is a Knog's Best Friend")
“A Gobl is a Knog’s Best Friend” strikes me as the type of SF tale from the EC line that Bill and Al probably held in high regard, seeing as how it’s the lead-off for this issue and was handed to no less than the venerable Wally Wood to furnish with his richly textured visuals. And the concept, as it is, is not inherently poor so much as one that falls victim to the company’s locked-in template of polishing each story off with one of their patented SHOCK endings. This kind of delivery weakens a story like “A Gobl …” because any discerning reader can see the payoff coming from a mile away. There can be a level of charm to that approach, to be sure, but here it feels like the six pages in between start and conclusion are merely passing the time. If the “revelation” of the knogs’ adoption of the humans had been made earlier, the story potentially could have explored more fascinating territory like the psychological impact such an existence would have on the crew over time, to name one example. But there I go rewriting other people’s stuff again. I’ll just shut my trap and say that Wood’s art—and my friend Peter’s assessment of same—are right on the mark here.

Do you?
("A Gobl ...")
What does a guy who abandoned his family as a tender youth to join the circus do when he grows up? Al Feldstein is sure glad you asked. Larry is a fearless explorer and adventurer, and for his next trick he deigns to break an aviation record by floating twenty miles up into Earth’s atmosphere in his handy-dandy, souped-up, steel-reinforced hot air balloon. Lucky timing for Larry, seeing as how the Earth essentially becomes immolated through a chain reaction of fierce explosions after he’s taken off. After suffering a scare that he’ll be pressure-cooked in his little pie tin in the sky, Larry returns to the home planet mildly burnt but none the worse for wear. The same can’t be said of home, or anyone who lived there for that matter. Charred skeletons dot the endless expanse of empty, empty orange desert that Mother Earth has been reduced to like grim breadcrumbs leading up to a gingerbread house called Armageddon. Larry is just about to burst from the isolation-induced madness—not to mention pent-up physical needs—when he spots a track of dainty human footprints that he surmises belong to a woman. Lucky Larry looks like he’s hit the jackpot again when he stumbles upon a buxom, completely un-mutated blonde babe lounging against a backdrop of apocalyptic debris. Larry’s coy fascination and excitement are reciprocated by the blushing lady, but their hopeful prospects of repopulating the planet as the newly-christened Adam and Eve take a turn for the skeevy when the two survivors compare family photographs of when they were children.

To think of all those years I missed ogling her at home!
("The Last Man!")
Okay, look. I’m not sure just how long the SF titles plan on riding this train of uncomfortable sexual scenarios, but I thought that we had just about reached the apex (nadir?) of this bizarre trend with the unadulterated mommy-cuddling from last month’s story, “Why Papa Left Home” (WS 11). Before that, we had implied incest in a more subdued form with “Space Warp” (WF 6) before visiting the notion of accidental pedophilia in “The Connection” (WF 9). What’s next on the menu? Bestiality? I don’t mean to sound flip—well, too flip, anyway—but it comes as a genuine surprise to me that a significant number of the science fictional concepts that have cropped up in both titles have been used to explore, or at least lead to, some awkward pre- and post-coital notions. If only time travel didn’t make me bed my mother, or force me to realize that I fell in love with the toddler I babysat as an old man, or lead me to hook up with the daughter of my now-elderly best friend and dead ex-fiancée. In “The Last Man!,” the SF concept is nuclear Armageddon rather than time travel, so I guess that amounts to progress.

"It has to be seen!"
Well thanks for nothing, Kamen.
("The Last Man!")
Ronald Corwin has just hired a dazzling new secretary for his 65th floor office and he can’t seem to get her off his mind. In addition to her stunning beauty, Ellen is lively and vivacious, everything that Ronald’s wife Lita is not. Lita for her part can’t stand how her husband refuses to take her out and show her a good time after being cooped up in their apartment on the 208th floor all day long. Ronald’s misery over his marital life and desperation for Ellen are only exacerbated when Ellen gently turns him down, but a spot of respite seems to arrive when Ron is suddenly reunited with old pal and co-pilot Cal Tennis during a stroll through the promenade. Cal is sympathetic to Ron’s situation, so much so that the former is willing to share a secret with the latter about how to get a hold of an exact android copy of Ron that can be programmed with all his memories and thus alleviate himself of life with Lita. Ron happily acquiesces under the condition that he is to tell no one of the legally-precarious arrangement, but the vital part of the plan goes to hell when Ron confesses this all to Ellen only to discover that she is herself a secretary android made to order. Ron attempts to run back to Lita to let her know of the situation when Cal arrives on the scene with a well-timed shot from his paralyzing ray gun. Stunned into silence, the real Ron listens in horror as Cal explains to Lita that he is a renegade android who will be promptly taken back to the factory to join the scrap heap.

"The Android!"
While “The Android!” might seem like middle-of-the-issue hash with its bland title and familiar premise, there’s a lot to admire here under the unassuming surface. For starters, the futuristic world of the story is presented to the reader by Feldstein with a surprising amount of subtlety and entirely free of the cinderblock exposition that weighed down other tales. We’re expected to connect the dots and do the heavy lifting here; from the evidence on hand, it would appear that our cast of characters inhabit an incredibly overpopulated world where citizens are relegated into eking out their entire existences in gargantuan skyscrapers that hold everything from apartments to strip malls. (Think the super blocks from the Judge Dredd comics.) It’s also a world where androids are the rule rather than the exception. Ron doesn’t display gibbering disbelief at Ellen’s confession; this could possibly be due to the story’s limited space of six pages—if “The Android!” suffers from any one flaw, it’s the unfortunate smushing of its final three panels that leave Wood’s art with hardly any space to breathe—but I’m willing to take it on face value that Feldstein wanted Ron’s reaction to be in keeping with the rest of the piece. If “A Gobl …” found Wood’s art opulent and spacious but at the sake of a weak script, the modest but steadfast storyline of “The Android!” sees the artist making do with his limitations and  working small wonders. The little details are what grab you here. The décor and “art direction” of the scenery—note the prominence of statuesque faces—show a craftsman with the imagination to give even his minor assignments the Midas touch.

It’s a regular hootenanny of a hoedown out on the lonesome Arkansas property of Harold Setiker. After establishing contact with voyaging aliens after piecing together a ham radio on a whim, Harold has become a regular cause célèbre that draws the attention of the U.S. government, hundreds of curious gawkers, his science fiction nerd brother, and two New York editors by the names of Bill and Al. It seems these aliens have been attempting to reach our planet for going on two years now (our time) and through Harold’s radio connection hope to have the way paved for a peaceful meeting of the species. Military brass isn’t so hot on playing nice, especially the tough-as-nails General who bosses the young farmer around without mercy. When the crowd readies for the creatures’ imminent arrival and radio transmissions from their ship report back with fabulous and impossible stories of crashing into a lake teeming with monsters, the General accuses Harold of playing a stupid prank that’ll earn him thirty years in the slammer. Disgusted with the ordeal, the General orders a hot dog with the works from a nearby vendor, ignoring the last transmission which reports that the ship is now being crushed. Smarting at a sudden pain in his mouth, the General fishes the scrap out to discover that the only wiener around here is him.

Yum!

Not since the early contributions of Harvey Kurtzman have we seen the SF series delve into out-and-out humor, and “Chewed Out!” certainly does not disappoint. Its depiction of hillbillies and military types might be broad and simplistic, but I count myself a fan of comedy drawn broad and simplistic, if done right. And this one does it right. Joe Orlando, clearly exerting the sizable influence his mentor Wally Wood had on him, matches the madcap plot tit for tat with an exaggerated aesthetic populated with rubber-faced characters that seem like they stepped whole and breathing from the pages of the underground comics of the 60s. The story’s build up and refutation of popular expectations (naturally looking up into the sky to spot the incoming flying dinner plate, for instance) are sly and rather clever, and the ending has the feel of a punchline you see coming yet can’t help but delight in its inevitable delivery anyway. Here’s hoping we’ll see more like this in the near future. I know that I, for one, will surely relish the experience. --Jose

General Enfantino scarfs down his sci fi sauerkraut.
("Chewed Out!")
Peter: "Chewed Out" was my favorite tale this issue, a hilarious little parody of everything Weird Science (even including cameos by Bill and Al), with dynamite Wood-ian art by Joe Orlando. This is the type of story rampant in DC's Plop, a horror/humor funny book edited by, you guessed it, Joe Orlando (it's all one big circle, isn't it?). If you look close enough at the first panel on the final page, you'll see the spaceship sinking in the General's sauerkraut! "A Gobl . . ." is highlighted, of course, by Wally's wondrous art but it's got a funny and very effective twist in its tail as well. I used to marvel at the detail of Wood's aliens but now my eyes have opened up to the detail on just about everything else . . . weathered old faces, pockmarked landscapes, even uniforms. "The Last Man!" begins his trek searching for any kind of companionship but about halfway through the journey, I get the sense the old testosterone kicked in and nothing but a gorgeous blonde would do. And, hey, about that twist; any old port in a storm when you're the last man on earth, right? Even though I knew what the hook of "The Android!" would be right from the beginning (and so did you), I never saw the second whammy coming. That's always a bonus.

Captain Seabrook remains skeptical of more than just dogs.
("A Gobl ...")
Jack: EC's well-known theft of stories from Ray Bradbury has me seeing parallels everywhere. "A Gobl is a Knog's Best Friend" reminded me of "People Are Alike All Over" from The Twilight Zone, which was based on a short story first published in a magazine that came out a month before this one. "The Last Man!" has a yuck factor at the end that reminds me of "Why Papa Left Home" from the previous issue of Weird Science. "The Android!" is not too far off from Bradbury's story, "Marionettes, Inc." The only story that seems original is "Chewed Out!" but the ending is given away in the first panel and I think Harvey Kurtzman would have done a better job with the art.


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2 comments:

Jordan Prejean said...

What a great issue of The Haunt of Fear! Some really stellar work from Ingels and Davis in this one. "Poetic Justice" is certainly the standout story. I completely agree about the performance of Peter Cushing in the film version. It's one of his most emotionally powerful performances and, for me at least, it's easily the finest segment of that great horror anthology.

Interesting thing about the Amicus film is that the producers (presumably) didn't have access to the original issues of the magazine at the time of production on the Crypt film and instead developed the film based on the Ballantine paperback reprint volume that appeared in 1964 (titled simply Tales from the Crypt). Every story from the film can be found that book, which pulled from all three EC horror titles, though I don't believe an editor is listed. Incidentally, the title of the Ballantine paperback which reprinted some of the EC science fiction material was Tales of the Incredible. Ballantine also put out a Vault of Horror volume (though the producers don't seem to have relied upon that volume in the same way) and a couple volumes of the Bradbury EC adaptations, one horror (The Autumn People), one science fiction (Tomorrow Midnight). Great job as always, guys!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jordan! That was a great movie. I saw the sequel at the Union Drive In in Union, NJ, in the rain, so the windshield wipers kept getting in the way of the big screen!