Monday, March 27, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 28: November 1952





The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
       28: November, 1952


Kurtzman
Mad #1

"Hoohah!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Blobs!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Ganefs!" ★ 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

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

Just like the very first issues of EC’s New Trend that debuted in late 1950, the premiere of the company’s first self-conscious humor title shows much of the creators’ enthusiasm but makes for a rather rocky start. Seeing Kurtzman parodying the house style of (re: Feldstein's) purplish prose and Jack Davis really letting his zany streak fly in the horror lampoon “Hoohah!” is a delight, but the story is, at least to these jaded eyes, a slog to get through. There’s a heavy reliance on big, bold onomatopoeia shooting and bursting across the pages, as if we’re meant to see just how *crazy* this new magazine is based on how loud its sound effects are. The jokes are at their most obvious in the lead story. If it weren’t for those two snot-nosed tykes promising to kill the stranded motorist couple when they got back to their haunted clubhouse, I might not have even cracked a smile once. This probably says more about me than anything else, but there you have it.

"Hoohah!"

As a piece of comedy, “Blobs!” is kind of an odd bird. At its heart, the narrative is almost nihilistic and it probably could have stood in as a straight drama in either of EC’s two SF titles had it just pedaled back on the goofiness. In the year 1,000,000 A.D., the entire human race is made up of infantile creatures who buzz around their futuristic city on miniature Rascals, having every telepathic whim granted by their ever-present robots. One prescient blob tries to warn his comrade that their complacency and dependency on the machinery could lead to their complete extinction if they don’t change their reliance on technology. Then the all-controlling Big Machine breaks down and the spineless blobs are left to crawl to their dooms. Ha-ha? Again, there’s only the occasional bit of visual comedy (one blob greedily licking his lips as a brand-spanking-new female robot escort comes sliding down the delivery chute to him) to break up the monotony of the script. For a story that’s supposed to be lampooning the company’s science fiction output, “Blob!” sure feels like one of them in all the bad ways!

"Ganefs!"
Things start to pick up steam again with “Ganefs!,” a hood rat drama that features a pair of criminal know-it-alls and numbskulls that Looney Tunes fans will recognize as cut from the same cloth as Rocky and Mugsy. “Boss” and “Bumble” are our two ne’er-do-wells here, and the thing that they especially never do well is carrying out successful crimes. Their latest job involves picking up a package containing ransom money and switching it out with an identical one containing a stink bomb, but of course the boys manage to fudge the works every step of the way. Bill Elder’s art fits the comedic mode like a glove. There are a number of very good bits in here, such as the Boss practicing drawing his gun from under his hat and through his pants cuff and the pursuing police managing to gradually gun off every piece of the criminals’ getaway car.

“Varmint!” clinches the book on a good note and proves that the relatively stoic John Severin was just as adept at the funny business as his colleagues. Kurtzman packs a lot of redundant dialogue into the panels, but the humor still shines through, particularly every time Textron Quickdraw narrows his eyes at another suspect in the murder of his old partner and literally shoots first before asking his questions later. It continues the streak of wry endings that we’ve seen by having star-studded Tex discover that the man who murdered partner was he hisownself and so, abiding by his strict moral code, ends up killing himself in his own hail of gunfire. Sound crazy? Nope, it’s just Mad!  
--Jose


We LOLed.
("Varmint!")

Peter: Though it would later devolve into something akin to the paper we use in our restrooms, Mad Magazine began its life as a ground-breaking funny book, parodying films, television, song, and even EC itself. The legend goes that Harvey Kurtzman wasn't happy with his pay and wanted more work so Bill Gaines suggested a humor title. Kurtzman bit and Mad was born. The new zine wasn't an immediate hit (the first handful of issues actually lost money) but, eventually, became EC's biggest seller and, in the end, their only survivor of the Comics Code purge. Mad's effect on popular culture cannot be underestimated; films, TV, and music the zine made fun of soon reflected Mad's skewed outlook of the world around it (the Zucker and Abrahams films, Weird Al Yankovic, and Saturday Night Live are only three examples of Mad-influenced pop culture) and dozens of copycat titles popped up on the stands (even EC got in on the act with a short-lived sister title, Panic, in 1954) within a year of Mad's success. For more in-depth analysis of the birth of Mad, I recommend Completely Mad by Maria Reidelbach (Little Brown, 1992) and, for an enjoyable run-down of Mad's "competitors," you can do no better than The Sincerest Form of Parody, edited by John Benson and published by Fantagraphics.

Peter Enfantino scrambles away in fright.
("Hoohah!")
 As far as the contents of the first issue go, "Hoohah!" and "Blobs!" are mildly amusing but sport attractive art (It's a weird look for Jack Davis in "Hoohah," isn't it? Very Kurtzman-esque.), while "Ganefs!" and "Varmint!" score highly in both departments. "Varmint!," in particular, elicited several guffaws, a heavy chuckle, and a score of "Hoohah"s from this reader. Particularly brilliant are Tex's patient wait for the Pig-Faced Kid and the reveal of the Kid himself. Kurtzman takes the cliches of the genre (the fast draw and the whiskey drinking) and turns them on their cauliflowered ear. Another highlight, believe it or don't, is the text pieces, something I usually ignore as they're whipped up and dumped in strictly for the Postal regulations. Here, it looks like Harvey put thought into the one-pagers (witness "Crow Vadis?," reprinted far below); it's clear he wanted this new project to shine in all aspects. Interesting that this first issue contains advertising, the absence of which became a source of pride for the title once it grew to magazine size and avoided the Code stamp (with #24). This Mad thing is gonna be big or my name ain't Kickiminabelly Kelly!

Jack Seabrook settles in for the night.
("Blobs!")
Jack: I could swear I had a reprint of this issue that came out in the ‘70s but I don’t see it on the GCD so maybe I’m imagining it. In any case, I love this comic! It’s a breath of fresh air and a great direction for Harvey Kurtzman, whose preachy war stories were already running out of energy. Satirizing four genres in four stories is a great idea; my favorite is “Ganefs!” with the Will Elder art that, for me, epitomizes the Mad comic book look. It cracked me up that there was a reference to Melvin on the cover and then in every story—it’s like a little clue that rewards the attentive reader and I found myself waiting and hoping for a Melvin mention as I read each tale (Was Melvin being groomed to be a possible mascot before Alfred E. Neuman came a'callin'?-Peter). I also appreciated Wally Wood’s efforts to find room for various beautiful girls in his science fiction story, especially the 1952 robot woman who comes sliding down the chute!


Wood
Shock SuspenStories #5

"Well-Traveled!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Hate!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"What Fur?!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Cold Cuts!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Jack Bailey moves into a new house and meets his neighbor, Horace Weems, a gentle, henpecked man who has built a model train set in the basement. Too bad his wife is "Well-Traveled!" Every time Horace saves up enough money to buy some model railroad cars to run on his tracks, she takes the cash and goes on a trip. Jack tries to help by secretly holding Horace's money for him, but Bess Weems finds out and demands that he hand it over, which he does. The next morning, Jack has decided to buy the trains for Horace, but when he goes next door, he finds that Horace has beat him to the punch. And Bess? She is taking a new kind of trip, as her dismembered body parts fill the model train cars that race around the tracks.

"Hate!"
Why open an issue with a Jack Kamen story? Just when we think they've worked out what he's best at--humorous tales with pretty girls--they assign him a domestic drama with a gruesome ending. Well, it might be gruesome in other hands, but in Kamen's it's rather tepid.

A quiet American neighborhood turns ugly with "Hate!" when a Jewish couple moves in. John Smith leads the campaign against the new folks, first with cruel signs, then with beatings, and finally with fire: the couple's house burns to the ground and the man and wife leap from the windows to their death. John's wife is ashamed of what her husband has done, but when his mother arrives for a visit and tells him that he's adopted and had Jewish parents, the neighbors turn on John and soon he finds himself being beaten.

Gaines, Feldstein and Wood serve up another helping of social commentary, as relevant today as it was in 1952 (substitute "Muslim" for "Jew" and it fits perfectly). The story is preachy and predictable but still packs a punch, especially as Wally Wood gives the art his all.

Who are you wearing?
("What Fur?!")
Some time in the future, Captain Limpfort is repelled by the furs of Emile Le Doux, who made a skunk stole for Mrs. Limpfort to wear around her neck. Skunks are highly prized for their furs and, when Limpfort tells Le Doux about a planet filled with the critters, Le Doux hires the reluctant captain to take him and his men there to harvest the stinkers. All goes well on the planet Verduvia at first, as Le Doux collects skunk after skunk to bring home. Soon, though, giant aliens attack the humans' camp. As Limpfort and Le Doux take off, they look out the porthole and see that the aliens have skinned humans and are wearing them around their necks like stoles.

With its predictable ending, "What Fur?!" lurches through the plot points as the reader follows along mainly to see how the writer gets to the inevitable punch line and what the final panel will look like. I have to admit, Joe Orlando does an impressive job of drawing human stoles, much better than Jack Kamen did with the model train filled with human body parts a couple of stories ago.

Who are you eating?
("Cold Cuts!")
Victor Benson has just murdered his wife Helen in their kitchen when the phone rings and his friend Charlie, the real estate agent, reminds him that he's coming over soon to show the place to prospective new tenants. Desperate for a place to hide the body, Victor cuts it up and wraps it like meat, storing it in the frozen food locker. The new tenants come and go without incident and Vic packs for his long trip, thinking he'll take his new supply of meat along and dump it at the side of the road. An emergency business trip pops up and, when he returns, he has to run over to Charlie's to get the key to go back into his own place to grab the meat. Charlie invites him to sit down for dinner and, after Vic has chowed down on some of the tasty goulash, Charlie reveals that the butcher shop was closed and he borrowed some meat from Vic's freezer. Vic's gorge rises as he realizes that he's just been eating his ex wife.

"Cold Cuts!" is another somewhat predictable story, but Jack Davis's art is so much fun that it hardly matters. Poor Vic is pulled here and there and surely does the fastest job in history of butchering his wife and cleaning up the mess! The final panel seems to miss a chance at something more gory, though I'm not sure what they could have done.--Jack

The inspiration for Ozzy's "Crazy Train."
("Well-Traveled!")
Peter: "Hate!" is a bit preachy (especially the reveal of John's roots, courtesy of Ma Smith) but its impact is unquestionable. Perhaps the most startling fact of all is that the murdering bigots get away with their crime (a regular plot point that will become legendary in Shock); where else in the funny book world would you be told that hating people for their race is a bad thing? Wally's art is great as always but there are a few too many close-ups for my taste. "Cold Cuts!" is a fabulously sick little groaner that immediately brings to mind Robert Bloch's short story, "Frozen Fear" (and, since Al and Bill loved to "borrow" plots from popular fiction, there might be a connection) but, happily, "Cuts!" goes in a completely different direction. And, unless I'm wrong, Vic is going to get away with the murder of his wife, right? He deserves a break after chopping his spouse up in little pieces, wrapping her up, and completely cleaning the kitchen in under a half-hour! "Well-Traveled!" and "What Fur?!" are predictable, clunky, and ludicrous and don't belong in the same zine as "Hate!" and "Cold Cuts!" By the way, does anyone else find it odd that Jack Bailey's wife is never shown?

"Hate!"
Jose: I was already in a tired frame of mind when I sat down to Shock #5, and I can tell you that having “Well-Traveled!” in the first story slot did not help one bit. It’s a tale that frequently forces you to step back and question the pointlessness of it all; are we really supposed to care that some middle-aged man can’t afford new model trains? Is that the gripping drama that's supposed to be reeling us in here? “Hate!” picks up the slack with solid art from Wood, even if the story is itself, as my colleagues say, a tad too forced in its delivery of the moral. (The reveal of John’s Jewish heritage just smells of contrivance. “You mean to tell me that I’m related to the same kind of person I’ve been hating my entire life? What are the chances?”) “What Fur?!” is totally worth it for those last few panels by Orlando. I honestly think that ol’ Joe is easily the best artist when it comes to depicting aliens, even over his own sensei, Wally Wood. Orlando gives his extraterrestrials such a bizarre, unglamorous bent, and the towering, lumpy rodents wearing their pink stoles that we see at the end make for a wickedly grotesque Macy’s parade. Davis’s hand at illustrating non-war stories has been improving over the last few months, and “Cold Cuts!” is a fine example of his escalating skill. Vic’s mania and desperation comes through particularly well, making the final sound-off all the more mordantly satisfying.



Craig
The Vault of Horror #27

"Silver Threads Among the Mold!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"People Who Live in Brass Hearses . . ." ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Davis

"Strictly from Hunger!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by George Evans

"A Grim Fairy Tale!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

In a faraway kingdom, in the time of long ago, there persisted a most loathsome infestation of rats that did beleaguer the good people and make them quite unhappy. The rats came in all sizes and striations, but the one thing the vermin all had in common was a ravenous appetite for the people’s food, the people’s homes, and sometimes the people themselves! Fed up with the plague, to put it one way, the good people took to the streets with weapons both blunt and sharp and proceeded to rid their village of the beasts once and for all. Their mission proved successful, but perhaps too successful for some. In the grand, moat-protected castle that crests the kingdom, the pulchritudinous King Siegfried and Queen Gwendolyn blanch at the villagers’ harsh treatment of the rats. Gwendolyn, who lovingly dotes on her prized pet mice, feels that all members of the rodent family should be respected and thus orders an edict passed down forbidding the annihilation of any sharp-toothed, scampering fiend henceforth. Needless to say, the rat infestation overtakes the village again with a vengeance, so the good people decide to visit same upon their king and queen. Storming into the castle, the mob wastes no time in stuffing a pair of large, starving rats down the monarchs’ royal throats and sewing their dignified lips shut before sitting back and watching the rodents eat their way of their new pudgy prisons.

Happily Never After.
("A Grim Fairy Tale")

Graham Ingels proves once again that he was the horror maven at EC Comics with this, the first of the company’s recurring wicked fairy tales feature. This mini-series would go on to be passed into the hands of other artists such as Jack Kamen, and while those entries were fitted as wiseacre parodies of the Walt Disney aesthetic, Ingels’ contributions would be more in line with the original versions of these eternal stories: unremittingly dark and never afraid to spotlight the horrific comeuppance of the villains. This theme was implicit in almost all of EC’s horror output—these comics were, when you think about it, retro-age household tales by a pair of Brothers Grimm straight outta Brooklyn—but the Grim Fairy Tales brought it all home and made the connection definite. Ingels seems to have really taken to the story, his illustrations and panel layout sparking with detail and locomotion that we haven’t seen from him in some time. The poor guy had probably had it up to here with walking corpses and saw “A Grim Fairy Tale” as a means of stretching his creative muscles. (His joy feels particularly distilled in that splash page showing a crowned Old Witch astride a giant, fuzzy rat.) This is one of those stories where you feel thankful that all the pieces fell together where they did to make this possible.

Yuck! Red hair!
("Silver Threads Among the Mold")
Cedric Harrington is a sculptor whose love for his craft comes second only to his devotion to his beautiful, red-headed model Christine. Christine, for her part, greatly enjoys all the gifts and trinkets that Cedric buys for her but she isn’t so hot on taking him up on his marriage proposal. Poor Cedric is too enamored to see that Christine is stringing him along, oblivious to the annoyance she shows when she discovers that Cedric’s new surprise is not an ermine wrap but a state-of-the-art vat that will allow him to silver-plate his sculptures. After catching Christine making a suspicious phone call, Cedric follows her under cover of night and discovers that the vixen is secretly romancing a stud named Gary who she plans on marrying after getting one last deposit of cash from that sap Cedric. The artist confronts his model at their next session and an argument ensues when Cedric suddenly gets an idea. Gary eventually shows up asking for Christine but Cedric tells him she took off after their row. Months pass as Gary tries to track his beloved down, but to no avail. Desperate, he revisits Cedric and insists on buying the silver-plated statue of Christine that Cedric finished just before her disappearance. Later in a drunken stupor, Gary goes to embrace the effigy but knocks it over, revealing a rotting human hand beneath the metal. Panicking, he takes a crowbar to the statue’s face and unveils the ghastly truth: the decaying face of Christine’s fire-maned corpse stares back at him from beneath.

Taking a creative nugget all the way back from the premiere of Vault with “Portrait in Wax” from #12, Johnny Craig tries fluffing up the corpse artwork motif into its own sustained narrative but doesn’t quite hit the mark this time out. (He would prove much more successful shortly though.) While the notion of disguising cadavers as art pieces was made known to the reader early on in “Portrait…”, “Silver Threads Among the Mold” attempts to keep that idea a secret and hopes that no one will beat it to the punch before the finale. Granted, Craig goes about it in a fairly canny and inimitably subdued fashion by leaving Christine’s actual murder in the shadows, leaving off with an “hmm…” look crossing Cedric’s face as the model prepares to leave and then picking right up with Gary’s arrival at the studio. For all that subtlety, the narrative still doesn’t manage to fool anybody but manages to at least pay it off in a big way with a final panel that just screams classic pre-code horror and that seems to anticipate the Euro cult film The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave of twenty years later.

New healthcare reform in action.
("People Who Live in Brass Hearses...")
Folks can’t help but look askance every time Lionel Byrd rolls into town on his black-curtained, horse-drawn hearse even though the old codger has done so since his arrival. Byrd ignores the taunts of the barefoot children, refuses to come down from his seat to pick up vittles from the general store, and makes no apologies for any of it. Why does old Byrd ride the hearse everywhere, especially seeing as how the man ain’t no undertaker to start off with? The answer can be found in a bloody event that occurred before Lionel arrived in town when a pair of cutthroat hoodlums on the lam happened upon the old man’s cabin and coerced their way inside. Their true natures revealed after the posse comes around asking question, the felons quickly dispatch Lionel with some blasts of a gun and then prepare a mock grave in the backyard for the body. Reentering the cabin, the criminals are stunned to see Lionel alive and well with a shotgun trained on them. The old man steps over the puddle of blood at his feet and reveals the dead, Siamese twin hanging off his backside that was resting behind a curtained partition. Lionel (or is it Lionel-Two?) binds the felons with rope and then leads them to the grave at which point he pushes them into the pit and buries them alive. As Lionel returns to his new home from the general store, we get a sneak peek at the festering corpse of his brother as he dismounts from the hearse.

Outtake from Stuck on You.
("People Who Live in Brass Hearses...")

Two rotting-corpse-reveals in a row and one of them would have to compare less favorably. That would be “People Who Live in Brass Hearses” in this case. This is one of Jack Davis’ just-fine horror entries that doesn’t try to be more than the putrescent potboiler that it is. Even though we’ve seen the Siamese twin twist done several times before (and will continue to do so in future issues), Gaines and Feldstein manage to keep the climactic reveal fairly surprising when the dastardly crooks go back for their stiff and find him alive and kicking.

And to think this could've all been
patched up with a little cannabis.
("Strictly from Hunger")
A gun-toting posse is congregating outside the dark mouth of a forested cave when the good Doc Chambers intervenes and tells them that their bullets will be wasted on the weird, inhuman creature that they are hunting. Hopping aboard the Flashback Trolley whilst around an atmospheric campfire, Doc explains that the monster’s birth had its origins in a clinical visit over a year ago from Pete Feeley. Feeley had sought Chambers out after developing cancerous growths on his arm and, after being told that the tumors were malignant, a mortally-frightened Feeley had consulted the dark powers of the resident black magic hag on Bald Mountain. The witch performs a ritual ensuring that Feeley will never die, and she’s all too triumphant: though Pete shows no signs of dying any time soon, the tumors start to spread and overtake his entire body. In a short amount of time Pete ends up secluding himself in his cabin as he transforms into a cancerous blob with a hankering for healthy cells. Just then, the posse sees the Pete-blob attack one of their number as it oozes from the cave. They manage to prod it back into the cave with torches and blow the entrance with dynamite, thus effectively sealing in the beast for hopefully all eternity.

“Strictly from Hunger” is a straight meat-and-potatoes meal that I enjoyed quite thoroughly. Its overall trajectory might read more as SF rather than horror as Peter mentions, but the artwork of George Evans give the story a nice rustic and homespun quality that makes it feel like a chiller told ‘round the hearth. Stephen King would essentially repurpose this tale into his story, “Gray Matter,” reprinted in the author’s first collection, Night Shift, wherein an out-of-commission, reclusive worker swigs a can of mutated beer that turns him into a slobbering amoeba. “Strictly from Hunger” has a similar straightforward, matinee vibe that rings all the right bells for me. --Jose


Yaaaiiee!
("Strictly from Hunger")

Jack: I keep waiting for EC to turn the corner and move in the more graphic and gory direction we all recall so fondly. This issue seems to point the way in light of some of the particularly horrible endings. Ghastly wins the day with superb art in "A Grim Fairy Tale!" and the story is a very good parody of the title literary genre, with its use of repetition. The last panel is more horrible to think about than to see, which is not the case for Johnny Craig's "Silver Threads," which features below average art for Craig but a stunning last panel that is more gruesome than what we're used to. Also disgusting is the entire idea of "Brass Hearses," the Jack Davis story--a dead Siamese twin is just terrible to consider, though I have to admit I like how the living twin dressed the dead one just like he did himself. A special bonus is the final panel, where the Crypt Keeper has a clothespin on his nose; it took me a minute to figure out what it was! George Evans draws well and I'm glad he's joined the fold, but "Hunger" just plods along and the reveal of the blob is nothing special.

Peter: Actually, I found "Hunger!" to be my favorite story in this issue filled with predictable finales, thanks to George Evans's boffo art and the 1950s atomic monster movie vibe that emanated from its very pores. Strange that this one didn't end up in one of the SF titles; it certainly sticks out like a sore thumb in VOH. As I said, the other three work themselves up to endings I saw coming a mile away but each has the strength of its art to merit thumbs-up. I had to giggle a bit when the Vault-Keeper felt the need, in a magazine filled with decaying Siamese twins and cancerous blobs, to explain that, YES KIDS!, a human body can be electro-plated and then mapped out the details. "Brass Hearses" probably sounded good on paper (wait . . . hold on . . . you know what I meant) but if I followed the Vault-Keeper's sudden concern for realism, I'd probably question whether the rotting of Mr. Byrd's "better half" wouldn't cause some fatal health risks for Byrd himself.  And hasn't the dead Siamese twin plot been used before? And, at last, "A Grim Fairy Tale" materializes. You may recall that I mentioned the Old Witch mentioning this story in her intro to "Marriage Vows" (from Haunt #15), claiming that "Grim" appeared in Vault #16. At last, the fog clears and I can see the light: when reprinting the EC series, Russ Cochran re-numbered the series and changed all references to the new numbering. Man, I feel better. As Jack says, the climax of "Grim" could have been more gruesome than the one we're presented with, but the one we are presented with is pretty sadistic anyway! Eat the Rich!

All Hail Lord Ghastly!


Craig
Crime SuspenStories #13

"Hear No Evil!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen and Johnny Craig

"First Impulse!" ★ 1/2
"Second Chance?" 
Stories by Al Feldstein
Art by Sid Check

"A Question of Time!!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"Forty Whacks!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen



Ears looking at you, kid.
("Hear No Evil!")
Rita Waldon marries Fred Reardon for one reason and one reason only: his dough. The only drawback is that Fred is stone deaf, the result of a war accident years before. Rita puts on the charm and writes sweet nothings on Fred's handy pad of paper (the poor fool never took to reading lips) and the charm pays off; Fred asks the sweet young thing to marry him and Rita quickly writes "yes." The money is wonderful for a while but, as these kind of relationships go, Rita becomes bored with the lifestyle and falls for one of Fred's best buds, the rugged and handsome insurance salesman, Vance Tobin. The two take a liking to each other and, before too long, they're meeting in secret places to work out aggressions. Vance decides he's tired of sharing this warm vixen and suggests murder. Rita agrees and it's only a matter of waiting for the right time. One afternoon, while the two adulterers are having a cuddle, Fred busts in and explains he's just wrecked the car but he's all right. The light bulb goes on over Rita's head and she fills Vance in on the plan: they'll forge a suicide note from Fred, explaining that he's despondent over his hearing loss, and pump his tea with cyanide. The three drink their tea but it's Vance who hits the floor head-first. When the police arrive, Rita confesses, allowing that she can't live without Vance, and the cops drag her away. Fred smiles, turns on the stereo, and muses how great it was to get his hearing back after the terrible crash.

"Hear No Evil!" is a silly mess from start to finish; Rita's motivation glides from greed (marrying Fred for his money) to bigger greed (she won't marry Vance because he's poor) to love (when she explains to the detective that Vance was the only man she ever loved). It's inexplicable that a man could not show astonishment when he hears his wife and best friend admitting hanky panky and planning mariticide but that's exactly what happens here. Wouldn't Fred's first words through the door be, "Hey, honey, I can hear again!"? And the art is no better; Craig as translated by Kamen equals too much Kamen.

She was just helping you gasp?
("First Impulse!")
Helen is convinced that her gorgeous younger sister, Joan, is out to steal her man, Bob, but Joan insists she has no such impulse running through her body. When Bob comes to the door and Joan answers, Helen overhears the two making plans to meet secretly the next afternoon. The enraged Joan follows Helen and Bob to a jewelry store where she spies them picking out a ring, smiling, and generally having a great time. Helen's "First Impulse!" is to buy a gun and, that night, she uses the weapon to mow down her betrayers. Seconds later, a delivery man drops off a small package and Helen opens it to find a ring engraved, "To Helen, with all my devotion." In a parallel universe, Helen gets a "Second Chance?" and, instead of blasting the supposed lovers, she listens to Bob's story.  Feeling the fool, Helen accepts Bob's loving gift and his story of a wedding proposal once he gets back from a business trip. Joan drives Bob to the station and Helen heads upstairs for a well-deserved lie-down. It's then that she sees the note written to her by her sister, telling Helen that she and Bob are running off to spend the rest of their lives together, so get over it. None of these "EC quickies" have been great, but these two are particularly odoriferous. The entire drama hinges on Helen's perception of her sister and boyfriend having a tryst and, by all appearances, that's what they're doing. The dialogue hints at something wicked going on behind the scenes, as does the body language. This two-parter is the last of the three Sid Check contributions to EC and we won't be missing much. Trying his darndest to emerge from his Wally Wood chrysalis and become a full-formed Al Williamson butterfly, Check fails miserably, leaving quite a few of his panels (especially those highlighting Bob's features) looking sketchy or unfinished.

There will be no tasteless jokes about
Jack's childhood posted here.
("Forty Whacks!")
Tired of being treated like a child by her parents, Fanny Weston throws a hissy fit and heads for the attic (naturally). There she finds an axe she's never seen before. Possessed by the instrument, she heads downstairs and gives her mother "Forty Whacks!" When she sees what she's done, she . . . you get the picture. Fanny is arrested for murder and hauled away. The murder weapon is taken to police headquarters, where Detective Ernie Vance receives an unexpected call from his mystery-novel-loving spouse and precocious toddler. Wife Edith has a theory: the axe is the very same weapon used by Lizzie Borden decades before in a very similar crime spree. The axe, Edith surmises, is evil and anyone who comes in contact with it inherits that evil. Ernie scoffs but eventually sees the light when Junior grabs the hatchet off Dad's desk and advances on his astonished parents. The deadline looming, Al pumps out whatever he can and hands it to Kamen, who gets out his stencils and does what he does best. Well, we've never seen a Kamen-illustrated axe as far as I can remember. About the only thing worth taking a look at here is the panel of Junior, eyes wide maniacally, hefting the hatchet and heading for a couple of dull noggins. Now, that's entertainment!

"A Question of Time!!"
The mutilated body of a woman is found in a cabin and the first suspect, as far as the sheriff is concerned, is the deceased's husband. Though the corpse's face has been mutilated beyond recognition, the sheriff's deputy confirms the sheriff's suspicions that the murdered woman is Lila Wismer, so the lawman heads out to Harry Wismer's place. The sheriff finds Harry whittling under a tree but, when he tells Harry of Lila's murder, the man acts odd, neither confirming nor denying the act. The sheriff allows as how the whole town knew it was only "A Question of Time!!" before Harry found out his wife had a wandering eye (and other vital organs as well) and did something about it; surely a jury will take that into account. Harry tells the sheriff that he won't surrender; he'll have to arrest him. The sheriff heads off but promises he'll be back. That night, Harry still sits under the same tree when Lila approaches, back from her "visit to her sister's." Enraged that he was the last to find out that Lila had been "with every man in town," Harry murders her. I'd bet money that the FBI read these funny book stories, with all their misidentified corpses, and decided to invent CSI. Though that final panel (the sheriff and deputy standing over the real Lila and murmuring that it was "only a question of time") comes off forced and silly, the rest of this SuspenStory is very effective. Harry's calm demeanor gives away none of the twist; he's genuinely surprised by the revelation that his wife is a long-time . . . bad girl. The calm, in fact, is unnerving. Williamson's pencils would probably have looked a great deal more like the Al Williamson we're used to but, unfortunately, his work is swimming in a dark sea of Angelo Torres (an artist who became one of Warren's top talents a decade later). The only shining light in an otherwise disposable issue of CSS.
--Peter

This panel looks to be all Craig and no Kamen.
("Hear No Evil!")
Jack: Peter, you are such a hard grader. I gave these stories much higher marks, though none is a four-star classic. I thought that the odd mix of Kamen and Craig worked well on "Hear No Evil!" and that the ending was a real surprise. Not so surprising was the end of "First Impulse!," but what was unexpected was the deterioration in Sid Check's art from the first quickie to the second, almost as if Wood lent a helping hand to part one. Yet another effective twist concludes the Williamson story and I was not as bothered by the Torres inks as you were, since I think the Al Williamson we've seen so far at EC has always been a little rough in spots. The only real stinker is the Lizzie Borden story. Now, I love a good carve up as much as the next guy, but the last panel where junior advances with his tiny ax is laughable!

Jose: You’re both crazy—“Forty Whacks!” is an unheralded classic! I’m only half-kidding. Sure, the story might be loony, but it’s just the kind of loony this issue needed after a rocky start. I know I’ll sound like a big ol’ fat hypocrite when I say that the tongue-in-cheek goofiness of “Hear No Evil!” wasn’t my cup of tea and yet widdle kids swinging hatchets at their parents certainly was my cup of tea, but different strokes and all that junk. The EC Quickies continue to just be “there.” “A Question of Time!!” is the only straight piece in the entire lot, a grim drama of extra-premeditated murder that still confused me more than intrigued me on the first read.


Davis
Tales from the Crypt #32

"' 'Tain't the Meat . . . It's the Humanity!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Roped In!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Cutting Cards!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Fred Peters

"Squash . . . Anyone?" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels


Zach Gristle is just another small town butcher until meat rationing during WWII suddenly makes him very popular. At first, he sticks to the rules and sells only good meat to those with ration cards. Soon, greed and temptation get the better of him and he begins selling his good meat on the black market and supplying his honest customers with low-quality food--first horse meat, then stale meat, and finally tainted meat. His wife learns of his treachery and gets angry, but when customers start dropping dead, Zach tells her it's time to leave town. Too bad their little son is having dinner at a friend's house and that friend's parents bought some of the tainted meat. When Junior comes home and collapses dead on the floor, Mrs. Gristle grabs a butcher knife. Next morning, she stands, catatonic, behind the butcher shop's display case, which features the finest cuts of her late husband.

Why Peter is a vegetarian.
(" 'Taint the Meat . . . it's the Humanity!")
How do you do, classic EC story! " 'Taint the Meat . . . It's the Humanity!" is a four-star effort all the way, from the great setup to the classic ending to the art by Jack Davis, which fits the story perfectly. This is another tale imprinted on my brain from its inclusion in 1970's EC Horror Library, and it further supports what I wrote about this month's Vault of Horror--the EC we all know and love is finally making itself known.

Donald Morgan is arrested for using substandard concrete in a hospital building project, not knowing that his partners were behind the scam and he was unwittingly "Roped In!" Morgan is convicted of manslaughter because 21 patients died in a building collapse. His partners gloat about a new job they've won to build a Bolivian power plant and fly off to South America the next day in a small private plane. Blown off course between two mountains in the Andes, the plane is hung up in a mysterious web; when the men venture out they are attacked and devoured by a giant spider. As the story ends, the last survivor waits, insane, inside the plane while Morgan rots, also insane, in a jail cell.

The itsy-bitsy JESUS CHRIST.
("Roped In!")
George Evans does fine work on this bizarre little story, where the beginning, about a construction scam, could never be expected to lead to the end, with a giant arachnid eating Morgan's three partners. It boggles the mind as to how Al Feldstein could have put this one together.

Gus Forney and Lou Crebis are big-time gamblers whose rivalry gets the best of them when they go beyond simply "Cutting Cards!" and engage in a deadly game of Russian Roulette. When the bullet turns out to be a dud, they move on to Chop-Poker, where the winner of each hand chops off a digit or limb from the loser. By the end, they are limbless, playing checkers by pushing the pieces around with their noses.

There is a line between satisfyingly gruesome and just plain disgusting, and Feldstein crosses it here. This may be the worst EC story I've ever read and the art is surely the worst we've ever seen. Obviously a swipe of Roald Dahl's "Man from the South," without any of the wit or suspense, this story should never have seen the light of day.

Well, I'm stumped.
("Cutting Cards!")

Another circus, another unhappy couple: Milo the elephant trainer and his wife Renee don't get along, except during their act, which involves having Emma the elephant touch her mammoth foot to Rene's nose. Along comes Leeta, Milo's girl on the side, who encourages him to play a game of "Squash . . . Anyone?" and "accidentally" have Emma put all her weight on Rene, making her into a circus patty. Milo puts up the briefest amount of resistance but is so horny he gives in, and the next night poor Rene is smeared all over the Big Top. A year later, and Milo and Leeta are back in the town where the accident happened. Suddenly, out of the shadows comes the huge, rotting body of Emma the dead elephant with Rene the dead wife riding on top of her and guiding her to kill Milo and Leeta. The gruesome job done, the two corpses dissolve into a pile of putrescent slime.

Deleted scene on the special features of
Dumbo: The Gold Edition.
("Squash . . . Anyone?")
For six pages, this is another ho-hum tale of adultery and murder with mediocre art by Ingels. But when page seven comes along--wow! Ghastly really knows how to sell a wild finish, doesn't he? The corpses of the elephant and the woman look great and the finale, though it makes no sense, is really jolting. The Old Witch wraps it all up with a classic commentary, offering to sell the kiddies at the circus bags of putrescent slime. Now that's just plain fun!

And by the way, how great is the Jack Davis cover? His illustration for the last story is better than anything Ingels puts on the page. Does anyone else think that girl on the cover was a swipe from a Sci-Fi pulp cover? I can't believe Jack Davis could draw such a gorgeous doll without help.--Jack

Peter: Zach Gristle. Get it? Gristle? Sheesh! But " 'Taint the Meat . . ." is one of those terror tales that has stuck around for a bazillion years, one of the infamous ones. It's not much different than any of the other "punishment fits the crime" cautionary tales but it does erase the line and re-draw it a bit further down Bad Taste Lane. The Zach display is an omen of "Foul Play" to come."Roped In!" contains a very nice Evans visualization but one of the most WTF? scripts we've run across. The Vault-Keeper tries to tie it all together with a "web of evidence" moral but it's still one loony story. Why does Morgan go insane in his cell? Is it tied to his partners' fate? And wouldn't someone in the Andes have noticed that gargantuan spider-web? I guess I don't have to understand it to enjoy it.

This entire sequence deserved to be reprinted intact.
("Squash . . . Anyone?")

I’m not sure why I hated “Cutting Cards!” so much but everything about it made me think of Myron Fass's Eerie Publications of the 1970s. It could be the ugly Fred Peters art (though Peters was one of the artists Gaines employed during the “Pre-Trend,” “Cutting Cards!” would be one of only two contributions the artist would make to the “New Trend” line) or possibly the sleazy Feldstein script; I can’t put my finger on it. The company often “crossed the line” but this was something altogether different, an almost gleeful look at self-mutilation. Needless to say, HBO snapped it up for their awful Tales from the Crypt series (starring Lance Henriksen and directed by Walter Hill, both of whom have done much better work) and accentuated the negative with lots of gore and dangling appendages. Let's get this out of the way upfront: "Squash . . . Anyone?" is pretty doggone dumb. Why would anyone want to commit murder so that they could live the exotic life of an elephant trainer's wife? We've seen the dark dames of EC plot and connive their way into the hearts and wallets of wealthy dopes before, but a circus performer? That said, this is, like the first two stories in this issue, immensely entertaining despite (or maybe because of) the logic lapses. A fabulous finale, with the rotting Emma and René being two of Ghastly's most haunting creations.

Jose: “ 'Tain't the Meat…” is certainly EC in the raw: a red-blooded American Guignol at its finest that easily feels sleazier than the last butcher story that ol’ C-K served up on his putrid platter, “Grounds for Horror” (TFTC 29). This is ironic considering the fact that “Grounds…” ends on a much more graphic note with the brutal butcher getting his comeuppance when he is pushed into a meat grinder by his son’s invisible protector and poured out the other side as chuck meat. The seediness of the characters certainly adds to the atmosphere of corruption, as does the rotten, nauseous punishment that Zach Gristle inflicts on the intestines of his casual victims. I remember not really jiving with George Evans’s art when I was younger, but revisiting it has allowed me to appreciate his precise technical skills and expert use of dramatic lighting. Personally, I didn’t find the plot developments of “Roped In!” to be so weird and random, at least not any weirder or more random than *anything else* that happens in a typical EC story. Would it have been any more logical if fall-guy Donald had died in prison and then returned as a moldering corpse with one of several bones to pick? I think the reason “Roped In!” sticks out is because the mode of vengeance is comparatively exotic next to other ones we’ve seen done time and again. That being said, Evans draws one hell of a terrifying gargantuan arachnid (even if its head looks more like a fly’s fitted with pincers) as well as expressions of gibbering madness.

“Cutting Cards!” has all the markings of a trunk story, something better left rotting in the file cabinet of scripts that was plucked out at the last minute when the issue was found one story short. Like both Peter and Jack have said, this one feels like both a throwback and a look ahead, what with its prehistoric art (my eyes actually widened at the startling transition from Evans’s work to Peters’s) and its mindless violence. (Topic for another day: discussing how impactful, far worthier narratives featuring bloodshed were targeted by the Senate Subcommittee while sadistic drivel like this scraped by unnoticed.) Wow, “Squash… Anyone?” That’s some tale, huh? You can just keep staring at those climactic panels wondering how the hell this got made, in a *good* way. (See last story for the *bad*.) I don’t think it can be considered a stone-cold classic, but, man, are you overjoyed that it actually happened, and that it landed in the hands of Graham Ingels to deliver. This is everything that the similar “Bum Steer” (HOF 10) wishes it could have been. I’d say more about it, but I’m too busy looking at THAT WALKING CORPSE RIDING A ZOMBIE ELEPHANT.


Text page from Mad #1

In the barn-storming next issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories . . .
Will Jack Seabrook be able to make it through
two more Sgt. Rock stories without Mlle. Marie?

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