Monday, April 10, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic Issue 29: December 1952/The Best of 1952





The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
       29: December, 1952


Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #9

"Abe Lincoln!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"First Shot!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Choose Sides!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

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



The life and accomplishments of "Abe Lincoln!" are pondered over by a man sitting in front of his fireplace. We see Abe ascend from a boy living in a log cabin in Indiana to the 16th President of the United States just before the Civil War breaks out. As the man finishes his recollectin', a cannon fires in the distance and he heads for the door to see what's happening. Horsemen with sabres gallop past his cabin and he realizes it's the beginning of a civil war. As the "camera" moves forward, we see the man is black and hear him mutter prayers for Abe Lincoln, the "good man."

"Abe Lincoln!"

"First Shot!"
On April 12th, 1861, the Confederates attack Fort Sumter, launching the "First Shot!," and the Civil War begins. Many of the men of Fort Sumter have no idea what's going on; many are incredulous that the conflict has gotten this far. They return fire on the Confederates for the next two days but, by the 13th, the Fort is damaged and the men are without food. Army Major Anderson has no recourse but to surrender the fort. While retreating, a 100 gun salute sparks an explosion and one of the soldiers is killed. Ironically, no souls were lost during the shelling.

The war between the States is on and it's time to "Choose Sides!" An old man heading into St. Louis for trade is caught up in a battle for Missouri between the North and the South. At first, the man refuses to take part, wanting only to get on with his business but, before too long, he's involved in a bloody incident and winds up a victim of mob violence.

During the battle of "Bull Run!," three young Union soldiers vow to stick together no matter what but the horrors of war intrude upon their partnership.

Though an inside-front cover announcement from Harvey claims that the Civil War is just too big to be contained in one issue and has, therefore, been granted six, it seems as though the plan was curtailed. Only three "Special Civil War" issues were released (FC #9 and Two-Fisted #31 and 35). Of course, since the boom was lowered on EC by the Comics Code at the time of TF #35, there might have been an additional three issues still to come. In the essential Completely Mad, Kurtzman explains that he "became obsessed with the idea of communicating real events" and that it struck him "that war is not a very nice business, and the comic book companies dealing in the subject matter of war tended to make war glamorous. That offended me--so I turned my stories to antiwar." Fair point, but it could also be said that Harvey's scripts could, at times, be a little too educational to the detriment of entertainment.

"Choose Sides!"

"Bull Run!"
As far as this issue's chapters in the bloody saga go, "Abe Lincoln" is another of Harvey's "several incidents make up a sorta story," with the final bits of Lincoln's election and the reveal of the narrator being the highlights. Unfortunately, it's a bit too much textbook talky for me although I will concede that I might have gotten more out of this if there weren't a boatload of information out there via Ken Burns's mini-series or Wikipedia. The flip side of that is that when I was young, I wouldn't have paid much attention to a bio on "Honest Abe" anyway. "First Shot!," however, teaches and entertains me with its gorgeous Severin/Elder artwork and its dark humor. The old man of "Choose Sides!" is merely a pawn between the warring factions, much like most of the casualties of the Civil War, with an antagonist continually plying the old timer with booze and firing him up with jingoistic, hate-filled taunts ("Have 'nuther drink, gram'pa. I got a pistol to kill 'em with! I'm not afraid of 'em! You 'fraid of 'em, gram'pa?") in order to incite a showdown. Wally's art looks like a cock-eyed cross-pollination of Severin and Davis . . . but in a good way. "Bull Run!" may just be the most heart-wrenching of the quartet, with its portrait of three naive "greens," convinced this war would last only three months and then they'd be free to resume their lives of carousing and carefree fun, never knowing that two-thirds of the group wouldn't last the day. All in all, a fairly strong first salvo in Harvey Kurtzman's epic re-telling of the Civil War but, if I had my choice, I'd skip the themed issues. --Peter


"Choose Sides!"

Jack: I would definitely skip this issue. I recently read Bruce Catton's one-volume history of the Civil War titled This Hallowed Ground, and there was more entertainment on one picture-free page of that book than there is in these four stories put together. The art is passable but no one seems very enthusiastic about the material. I liked "Bull Run!" best but the whole issue was a chore to read.

Jose: This issue wasn’t as much a slog for me as it was for Jack, but the points regarding the dragging action of this special Civil War issue are valid. “Abe Lincoln!” acts more like a prologue rather than a story proper, similar to how “Iwo Jima” set the stage for FC 7. “Choose Sides!” is an incisive glimpse into mob mentality that would have been right at home in an issue of Shock. This tale possesses a particular frisson in seeing how unchanged modern minds are from that of our ancestors in the 1800s. “First Shot!” and “Bull Run!” are the real contenders here, the stories where we get a sense of that ol’ fire-in-the-belly spark that Kurtzman brought to some of his best work for the war titles. The two entries act as interesting, alternate versions of the same core concept: the shattering of the soldiers’ illusions that this was a neat and tidy dispute. The former is humorous for the majority of its length as the aphorism-spouting, senior trooper constantly henpecks his younger, hangdog comrade only to shed tears of disbelief over his friend’s senseless, accidental death. The latter story is a sadder affair in that we watch as the oath of three friends to stick together is felled one bullet at a time until only the youngest of the bunch is left to trudge back home through the rain and contemplate his loneliness and all the horrors to come as he lies shivering in a stranger’s doorway. Yep, that’s the ol’ Kurtzman touch alright.



Feldstein
Weird Fantasy #16

"Mass Meeting!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Skeleton Key!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson

"What He Saw!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Green Thing!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

The Uranium Mining Co. on Mars is running out of ore to mine, refine, and ship to Earth to provide atomic power, so Chairman Anthony Brisbane comes up with a brilliant idea: teleport ore from Venus to Mars! His plan is a huge success but eventually the mass of all the waste ore causes Mars to slip out of orbit. Venus is so much lighter that it, too, slips out of orbit. Soon enough, they crash into each other and Earth. Later on, an alien teacher explains to the class that this is why there are only six planets.

Well, that explains it!
("Mass Meeting!")
Zzzzzz. I think I fell asleep in "Mass Meeting!" class! Orlando's art is wasted on what is a very dull tale indeed. The greed and cover-up practiced by Brisbane ends up destroying three planets. But how about this? When the problem is discovered, he suggests teleporting the ore back to Venus but is told it would take five years. Why not start doing it, though? Wouldn't a few months of reversing the weight disparity be enough to change the orbits and avoid a collision course?

One of Al's shakier panels
("Skeleton Key!")
Archaeologist Seymour Karnes and two colleagues are out in the desert looking for dinosaur skeletons when up drives Bill Wentworth, Seymour's old university pal, who says he's working on a secret project. Seymour and Co. soon dig up a complete T Rex skeleton and are shocked to find a human skull in the area of its tummy. Seymour manages to keep working despite a headache caused by a metal plate that he's had in his head since a car accident. After Seymour visits Bill to see what he's working on, Bill comes back later to report that Seymour is dead. It seems Bill invented a time machine and, when they took it for a spin, they accidentally ended up in the Dinosaur Age, where Seymour was beheaded by a hungry T Rex. Sure enough, that's Seymour's skull that was uncovered in the desert, metal plate and all.

Kind of like a Twilight Zone episode with fair to middling Williamson art, "Skeleton Key!" is enjoyable enough, even with the cliched ending. The art pales next to the effort in this month's Weird Science, which makes me wonder about an uncredited inker.

Nice work by Kamen
("What He Saw!")
Poor Martin, marooned on a "barren lifeless planetoid for a little over four months"! He starts seeing beautiful women but knows they are mirages. He throws a piece of equipment at a sexy brunette and she vanishes. He threatens to shoot a hot blonde and poof! she's gone. Finally, his fiance Jean, a smokin' redhead, appears, but he shoots her and she vanishes. A spaceship lands to take him home and Jean emerges; when he hugs her, she disappears. Spaceship number two lands and out pops Jean again. Martin sings "Won't Get Fooled Again" and blasts her, but she was the real deal and he loses his mind with grief. Insane, he does not see the two aliens who admit that none of the women were real and now Martin will not tell anyone "What He Saw!"

Um, what exactly did Martin see and why do the aliens want to prevent him from telling anyone? Other than a series of foxy Kamen girls, I have no idea. The "Boy Who Cried Wolf" aspect makes this story seem like it's going in a predictable direction, but the final twist is a bit of a mystery to me. Oh well, when Jack Kamen starts drawing women and Al Feldstein writes captions like this, I don't really care: "She stood there . . . the hot wind tossing her golden tresses . . . the reddish sunlight accenting her womanhood!" Now that's comic book writing!

Taking one for the team!
("The Green Thing!")
George Menzies is out in the barn milking the cow when he is surprised by the flash from his teenaged son Kenny's camera, causing George to knock over a pail of milk. He calls Kenny a "lazy-good-for-nothing" but his attention is drawn elsewhere when a spaceship crashes on the farm and a mysterious green cloud emerges from it. The cloud enters the family dog, turning it green, so George shoots the dog dead. "The Green Thing!" next enters a horse, but George shoots that dead, too. Before George can wipe out all of his livestock, the cloud causes all of the folks on the farm to become color blind, so they can't tell where it's hiding. Kenny uses his camera's filter to determine that the cloud entered the body of his little sister Sarah, so he traps her in his darkroom and burns her to a crisp.

Harsh! What makes Kenny think that the cloud can be destroyed with fire? Had there been another page to this story, it would have shown Sarah's burned flesh and the green cloud sauntering off to enter the body of the local postman. This was an average issue of Weird Fantasy, but I imagine if I had been a kid in 1952 I would have found it pretty cool.--Jack

Peter: The essential Tales of Terror tells us that the inspiration for "Mass Meeting!" is a story by Malcolm Jameson called "Tricky Tonnage" (first published in Astounding, December 1944); Al and Bill lift the crux of the story to create their enjoyable Venus and Mars cautionary tale. Though it's easy to connect the dots once the human skull is found (let's see, I wonder why we were told that  "old son of a sea cook," Bill Wentworth, has a metal plate in his head), I'm always up for a crackin' time loop fable and "Skeleton Key!" is a hoot. Stranded for months on a planetoid, Martin has been eating beans (and, oh, where's the water supply?) but it's that "longing desire" that's driving him berserk. Sorry, can't get past the requisite Kamen smirks and Judy Garland-esque maidens of "What He Saw!" That leaves "The Green Thing!," a wacky alien invasion yarn surely "influenced" by Campbell's "Who Goes There?," with its symbiotic menace and human paranoia. That is one brutal climax, with cute little Sarah taking one for the family. In the director's cut, months later, Kenny discovers he's made a big mistake about red filters and isn't sure he wants to share the info with his grieving parents.

Jose: I must’ve been in the mood for love for some prime EC science lecturing, because “Mass Meeting!” didn’t strike me as the thudding bore that I think it would have on any other day. The proceedings move along very plainly from A to B: teleporting the ore, explaining the orbital shifts, etc., but something about all the dry-mouth jargon just kind of appeased me this time around, like a bland appetizer that gets you hungrier for the juicier stuff to come. The dinosaurs in “Skeleton Key!” (what we see of them, anyway) pale next to the terrific beasties from Williamson’s last prehistoric excursion, “Captivity” (WS 15), and, to be honest, most of the art here looks pretty sketchy. But the flat artwork leaves room for a modesty delirious narrative to shine, one that features what I hope is the first of many decapitations-by-T-Rex. We see Jack Kamen’s contribution taking a decidedly more serious turn from his previous comedic SF tales with “What He Saw!” As glaring as the plot holes that my comrades mention are, I must admit that on my initial reading I was caught in the weave of this truly unpredictable yarn. Feldstein actually crafted a science fiction scenario that had genuine mystery and no small amount of menace. I couldn’t quite get a feel for just where the  plot was headed, and even if we never find out just why those catty-looking aliens needed to drive Martin crazy I still appreciate the effort made to do something different both on Feldstein’s and Kamen’s part. Speaking of taking things seriously, how about that final story? “The Green Thing!” seems like it’s *just* on the cusp of going over into wonky farce ala Orlando’s other genre perversions like “Revulsion” (WF 15) and “They Shall Inherit” (WS 14), but in the end it takes its cue from the similarly grim-minded and darkly-ending “Bum Steer” from WS 15. You keep waiting for Joe to wheel out the gape-mouthed caricatures and zany action but “The Green Thing!” sticks to the path of a gripping siege thriller as Farmer George is forced to kill one beloved animal companion after the other before barricading the family in the house against the invading menace. This is the second harsh ending we’ve seen Gaines and Feldstein concoct (the last one was “By George!” from WF 15) that dealt with a young, generally innocent character being brutally annihilated after being perceived/discovered as a monster. These SF mags are certainly proving to be fun for the whole family!


Ingels
The Haunt of Fear #16

"Nobody There!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"A Creep in the Deep!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

". . . From Hunger!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Coffin!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Eric Mondrum, respected surgeon, is cornered one night by creepo Alan Thorky, a club-footed devil who catches Eric in the act of accosting a beautiful mistress and uses his knowledge to blackmail the status-minded Mondrum into performing a new, radical, and unspeakable operation that’ll cure Thorky of his affliction, one that requires the fresh corpse of a young, strapping lad. The deed is done and the healed Thorky goes on his way but ten years later the fiend is back with malignant cancer, demanding another operation. Mondrum, fearful that Thorky will reveal the doctor’s abetting of the decade-old murder, agrees to go along again. Twelve years pass and Thorky’s back again, claiming that the operations are the fountain of youth and with a face to prove it. Mondrum gives in again and hopes that he’ll be dead the next time around. No such luck, but as it turns out Thorky is in even worse luck: Mondrum decides to confess all to the police, but not before he cuts the hose feeding blood to Thorky’s detached head, leaving the severed noggin to wail out its death before getting to claim its new body.

Yuck.
("Nobody There!")
“Nobody There!,” though it keeps its central gore offstage for the duration, devolves into a gross climax that feels more in line with the cheap shocks of EC’s imitators. Ironic, considering that just in the last post we saw a man butchered into individual chops and placed in a deli counter (“ ‘Tain’t the Meat…” TFTC 32), but the key difference is that we didn’t actually see our corrupt butcher divvied into prime cuts, only the grotesque outcome of the slaughter. With “Nobody There!,” we witness Mondrum severing the Thorky-head’s artery and watch as the villain strangles over his last breath. I suppose context and execution are everything.

Newlyweds Philip and Margaret sail out to the middle of the lake bordering their cabin retreat one moonlit evening during their honeymoon. Philip’s fish-spearing is interrupted by Margaret’s bloody screams, and upon swimming back Philip discovers an overturned boat but no wife. The lake is dragged but no bodily remains are found, so Philip leaves the cabin estates in a state only to return calling for the returns on the sale of his cabin. As it turns out, the market is in a slump; a recent of spate of bizarre murders wherein bloodless corpses are found by the lake has sent people scurrying for the hills. Prodded by a disturbing hunch, Philip dons his diving gear, wades into the lake by cover of night, and quickly finds what he’s looking for: Margaret, transformed into a vampire and lurking at lake’s bottom. Ever the humanitarian, Philip ends his wife’s suffering with a wooden spear to the heart.

And you thought your anniversary sucked.
("A Creep in the Deep!")

“A Creep in the Deep!” is pure shlock and, while there isn’t anything wrong with that, it’s a fairly rote journey on the road to Philip’s brief underwater battle with his undead bride on the final page. Many EC stories would have benefited from nixing their mystery-bound storylines and just sticking with the monstrous action, as is certainly the case here, but then I suppose that wouldn’t have made them EC stories. We’ve talked about how comic book coloring adversely affected some of the artists’ work, and while the fault might lie in the reprint edition we read from, Evans’s compositions look more hemmed-in and muted here than usual.

In a fairy tale kingdom, the poor peasants are starving while their gluttonous king sits in his royal dining room shoveling platefuls of food prepared by his personal chef into his greasy maw. Each night the chef returns to his hovel and provides his famished family with scraps from the king’s table. Other citizens have it no better; one desperate man gets his hands lobbed off for trying to whisk away one of the royal calves from Ye Olde Pasture. When the king lays his paw on a meager cut of meat that the chef was planning on sneaking back home, it finally pushes the harried cook over the edge. That night he comes home showing the wife and kids what he did to that selfish pig: ground him into linked sausages, of course!

Jack Kamen returns from another bare*bones lashing.
(". . . From Hunger!")
Blergh. If it smells gassy in here, don’t blame it on the king. This by-the-numbers entry from EC’s line of “Grim Fairy Tales” is as much a lazybones as our munching monarch. It could be because of Jack Kamen’s sanitized art, but even though “. . . From Hunger!” is comparable in certain points to the original and superior “Grim Fairy Tale” from VOH 27, this story comes across as comic book inertia, with the obvious finale practically beaten over our heads as the chef preempts his vengeance by screaming, “YOU’RE A PIG! AN OVERSTUFFED FAT PIG! DO YOU KNOW WHAT A PIG IS GOOD FOR?” Yes, we do, but I’m sure you’re going to tell us anyway. Kamen’s barrel-chested Old Witch is easily the scariest part of this story.

Drunkard and bounder Richard Braling has grown curious as to what keeps his brother Charles puttering and hammering away in his workshop at all hours of the day, and Charles is only too willing to explain that he’s constructing a coffin. Figuring that his elderly sibling is building himself a final resting place, the conniving Richard dreams of Charles kicking the bucket soon so that he might drink in peace and luxury. His wish is soon granted when old Charlie’s ticker gives out one day while descending the stairs. Richard makes the arrangements to have the body prepared for a pauper’s funeral and then reasons that Charles likely hid some of his physical riches inside his precious experiment. He’s just made himself cozy in the coffin when a pre-recorded eulogy performed by Charles comes over a set of speakers. But the eulogy… is for Richard! Soon the mechanized behemoth has Richard chemically paralyzed and prepped for embalming. The last thing Richard hears is his brother’s voice as the coffin’s automatic spades dig his own grave.

"The Coffin!"
“The Coffin!” certainly boasts a gleefully macabre gimmick, but outside of that the narrative isn’t very engaging at all. Having not read Bradbury’s original story, I can’t claim that this was all inherent in Feldstein’s adaptation, but in either case the brothers’ relationship feels vague at best, with no concrete reason given for Charles’s brutal and hard-earned payback. This particular story doesn’t seem to agree well with the comics medium, with only the occasional standout panel cropping up in a sea of text-heavy captions. Jack Davis would fare better when he took on Bradbury again for the more insidious yarn, “Let’s Play Poison.” --Jose

This issue sends Peter into a coffin fit.
("The Coffin")
Peter: A very average issue of Haunt of Fear, to be sure, with really only one story rising its head just above the muck. "Nobody There!" is a talky turkey with a somewhat murky plot device; I was sure Alan was performing brain transferal for Eric until we got to the climax sequence, where we see the disembodied head of Eric hooked up to the blood-pumps. Someone explain to me how switching heads from one body to another every ten years could keep the head eternally young? Move on, you say? I will. But do I have to move on to another inane Grim Fairy Tale? One that ends with the chef killing his king and making sausages to feed to his kids rather than just offing the porker and stealing his food? No, I'll skip that one. "A Creep in the Deep!" is the lone bright spot this time out, an atmospheric and moody George Evans chiller with just the right lighting and 1950s horror movie lines to keep us going right up to its . . . admittedly disappointing finale. Lore tells us vampires can't cross water let alone live in it but rules were made to be broken, right? This issue does stand as a landmark due to the inclusion of the first authorized (as opposed to borrowed) Ray Bradbury story, "The Coffin!" Not one of Bradbury's best (first published in the groundbreaking Dark Carnival in 1947), but the prose version displays his dark wit, whereas the Haunt adaptation boils it down to the classic EC trope of brother vs. brother. That final panel, of the coffin burying itself, elicits laughter rather than chills. There would be a total of 24 official imaginings of Ray's short fiction in the EC titles from 1952-54, most of them stellar, but it's a shame Al never got around to adapting my favorite Bradbury, the fabulously creepy "The Trunk Lady," which would have fit very nicely into an issue of Crime SuspenStories.

Jack, however, hasn't been feeling like himself today.
("...From Hunger!")
Jack:  I was also disappointed in the Bradbury adaptation. I have burned into my skull a Don Rosa illustration of the conclusion from an old RBCC and, in this instance, Rosa's drawing was better than Davis's. Kamen's story is not bad but, as usual, Jack pulls his punch at the end and the conclusion is a letdown--a string of sausage links just doesn't shock me. The vampire story does feature nice art by Evans but the tale is run of the mill and I had to wonder what ever happened to the vampire that bit Margie? My favorite story this time was "Nobody There!" by Ingels, though in at least one panel Ingels has a real challenge with perspective. This is a rare case where I think the story is better than the art and--for once--Ghastly succeeds in drawing a pretty girl.

Wood

Weird Science #16


"Down to Earth" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"Space-Borne!"  ★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Al Williamson

"Given the Heir!" ★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The People's Choice!" ★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Joe Orlando





Behind every great man . . .
("Down to Earth")
A series of plane crashes has the world in a tizzy. As the fatalities mount, airports are shut down and flying becomes a thing of the past, but an octogenarian scientist thinks he knows what's in the wind. In a remote cabin, the big brain practices a speech he'll be giving to Congress, outlining his theories. With the help of his twenty-something babe wife, Sarah, George reflects on all the big crashes and how the disasters coincided with reports of UFOs in the area. George is convinced that men from outer space are concerned that Earth has come very close to the age of space travel and mean to shut that down. The old-timer further expostulates that grounding the aircraft could mean annihilation when the BEMs come calling. Of course, he's right. That night, a ship lands on his property and several creatures emerge, zapping both the scientist and his wife and burning his theories. Outer space is safe from man once again. Al's script is pretty skimpy, comprised mostly of statistics from plane crashes, but it gives Wally the chance to dream up the quintessential aliens of the 1950s. These cats are the real deal, with gigantic mouths (I think those are mouths!), saucer-shaped eyes, and a fabulous spacesuit that would be ripped off for decades to come. The addition of Sarah also enables Wood to demonstrate his mastery of the female form. Age undetermined, Sarah is, nonetheless, a foxy Ellie Mae Clampett prototype, lounging in her easy chair, perky breasts at attention, and Al fits her with some hilarious comebacks to her ancient spouse.

Great speech, by the way!
("Down to Earth")

Celebrating their wedding, Lon and Enid head off into space in their private rocket ship with a plan to honeymoon in distant galaxies. As the ship leaves Earth's gravity, Lon notices that Enid appears pale and faint. They both chalk it up to the girl's first space trip and head out for the stars. After a couple of weeks, Enid grows weary of flying by stars and planets and suggests they land on an unexplored planet. After a little coaxing from his gorgeous wife, Lon agrees and sets the ship down on a nearby planet. When they've landed, Lon realizes that his wife has passed out and, being a physician, diagnoses a bad heart. Once Enid has regained consciousness, her hubby explains the situation and breaks the bad news: since another take-off would surely kill Enid, the couple are stuck on this planet forever! And so, the newlyweds explore the terrain and discover they've lucked out: the world is full of yummy fruits and vegetables and fish-like creatures.

Al, you old tease!
("Space-Borne!")

Reunited and it feels so GAAAAAAAH!
("Space-Borne!")
Like Adam and Eve, they set about creating a new civilization. But a woman is never satisfied and so, a year later, Enid tells Lon she wants him to return to Earth and get her some of the "modern comforts" she's become accustomed to. Knowing he can't possibly fit the contents of Macy's, Bloomingdale's, and Neiman-Marcus in one spaceship, Lon tells his little plum he'll do the best he can and, since overdrive allows him to get to Earth and back in only two weeks, he'll be back before Enid can find the electrical outlets. The best laid plans and all. Lon's overdrive conks out on the way and it takes him six years to get to Earth, sign the proper credit card forms, shop 'til he drops, and then head back to the new Eden. When Lon lands on their new home, a multi-tentacled creature approaches menacingly and the weary traveler blasts it to a crisp. Lon can hear Enid's wailing a mile away and, when he finally confronts her, she explains that she sent Lon on the trip to get necessities because she was about to give birth. The planet's atmosphere messed with the little guy, though, and Enid gave birth to the monstrosity that Lon just EZ-baked. With hate-filled eyes, the woman chokes out, "You've just killed our son!"

Gives unmedicated birth to monster,
still has six-year supply of lipstick. #winning
("Space-Borne!")
"Space-Borne!" is just about the best SF tale we've gotten around here in months! Yeah, there are a whole lot of plot holes you could fly a two-passenger X-79 space-cruiser through, but who cares? Williamson's art is glorious (Junior is a genuine Cthulhu-ian masterpiece), with Wood-esque panels of the couple lounging in space swimwear and . . . well, just interesting little nuances like Lon's and Enid's flowing hair on the splash (yeah, okay, call me nuts but I love this kind of detail in what should be a disposable art form). Al's script is nicely paced, with no filler, and contains a couple of sly double entendres, as when the love-starved maiden coos, "Do you realize we're alone . . . at last?" and Lon gives Enid a long, deep smooch and says, with a wink at the reader, "I leaned over . . . switched on the overdrive . . . and . . ." Then there's the climax [you can say that again -Jose], a twist no one saw coming. How will the two now co-exist on this planet? Hell, the big galoot's been gone six years and all Enid's had to keep her occupied is washing that one dress everyday and, oh, delivering her own baby without assistance (that's the missing panel I want to see!). "Space-Borne!" is the kind of story that makes a fifty-five year-old man keep coming back to that stack of funny books.

Heil, er, hail from the future!
("Given the Heir!")
Seymour loves Helen with all his heart but, for years, refuses to marry her until he has vast riches. That seems to be a far-away dream to Helen until, one day, Seymour pops the question and the two are married. Carrying his new bride over the threshold, Seymour gleefully reports that the following day the couple will be swimming in dough. When Helen pushes for an explanation, Seymour allows how he'd been visited by their great-great-grandson, Zenob, a few days before (the descendant had been on a time-travel outing and decided to pop in on the "old timer") and the two had talked about their family tree. Seymour's "great-grandmother's first husband was a millionaire! But when he divorced great-grandma, she didn't get a cent" so Seymour hatches a plan: Zenob will head back into the past and murder the man before he divorces. That will leave G-G-G a wealthy woman and, by virtue of estates and wills, Seymour and Zenob will reap the benefits further down the line. There's a big mix-up, however, when Zenob goes back in time and murders Helen's great grandfather. Seymour watches tearfully as his wife disappears in a puff of smoke. Exactly one story after the triumph that is "Space-Borne!," Al and Bill remind me that there's a flip-side to funny book stories: the cliched, incomprehensible nonsense perfectly embodied by "Given the Heir!," a story whose climax is so contrived and, at the same time, confusing, that I had to go back and re-read it three times to make sure I was understanding the outcome. I'm still not sure but does the reveal mean that Seymour and Helen are actually related prior to their marriage? Zenob goes back to kill Seymour's Great-Gramps (who is identified as John Mulvaney) but, when the dopey husband explains the plot to his disbelieving wife, Helen explains that Mulvaney is actually her Great-Grandfather! Huh? Jack Kamen shows why Wally Wood is the only EC artist who can get away with dressing his characters up in capes; Zenob looks like Captain Marvel, Jr. If we had opted to include a Worst-of-the-Year category, "Given the Heir!" would surely win by a landslide.

"The People's Choice!"
What seems a one-off joke on the Cuckoo, Fan, and Allie Show builds into a groundswell for change in American politics. Allie, a hand-puppet, announces his intention to run for President during the election and the American people, tired of the same old politicians, answer with support in the form of a protest vote. Insanely, the puppet is elected President of the United States in a landslide and Congress calls Allie's "voice," Snag Fillbrum, before an emergency session to glean what the man's intentions are. Since a puppet cannot serve in office (Says Who?!), Congress informs Fillbrum he's the POTUS, but Snag reveals that Allie is actually an alien from outer space who captured him years ago and lives, parasitically, on his arm. All through the country, millions of arm puppet alligators crawl from the swamps and attach themselves to humans, just in time to shoot down an impeachment action and allow Allie to serve as "duly elected President."

"I heard a cold-blooded reptile is
running for President."
"Yeah, so is an alligator."
("The People's Choice")
I swear on a stack of Joe Orlando original art I didn't make this up!  And I swear that this story was not actually written in the last few months! A biting political satire, "The People's Choice!" could very well be the best original story we've seen so far from Al Feldstein. Using the massively popular Kukla, Fran, and Ollie Show (which ran from 1947-57) as a springboard and injecting some insidious political wit, "The People's Choice!" skewers the American political system as well as labeling the American people as lemmings who'll follow (and elect) anything that's popular rather than digging for substance. I can imagine a very young Steve Gerber reading this story and creating the very similar maligning of society known as Howard the Duck. Breathe these pages in, folks; comic books don't get much better. --Peter

The Glass Teat beckons, and we answer.
("The People's Choice!")

Jack: This is certainly above average for an EC science fiction comic! Williamson's art is as good as any I've seen thus far in an EC issue, and that's saying something--it reminds me of Alex Raymond's work. I guess reading these one after another means I see the endings coming most of the time, since I figured the creature must be Enid's son. I did not see the end of the Kukla, Fran & Ollie story coming, though, and what started out as a Mad-like satire turned into a horrifying reflection of the 2016 election. Wait, this came out in 1952? I found myself cheekily thinking, "I'd vote for Allie!" and then feeling foolish when he turned out to be a space alien bent on world domination. I had to smile at the mention in the Wood story of "famed Newark airport" and all of the disasters that befall Elizabeth, NJ, since I lived in Newark in the late '60s and later lived a half-hour from Elizabeth. I did not dislike the Kamen story as much as you did, Peter, since I tend to find time travel paradox stories engaging. Yes, the couple turns out to have had the same ancestor, and it's weird that they wouldn't have realized that before!

Wasn't this just on C-SPAN?
("The People's Choice!")

Jose: Quite the boon of quality SF we have here in the final pull for 1952! The only one that feels like business as usual is the ho-hum (and ho-huh?) “Given the Heir!,” yet another time travel tale from EC that posits weird sexual couplings. (I swear that I’m going to write an article about this trope one of these days.) “Down to Earth” is similarly front-loaded with dry statistics as this month’s “Mass Meeting!” from WF 16, and like my experience with that one I felt taken with all the anecdotes and hard numbers albeit how relatively boring they were. Wood certainly more than makes up for it with some killer artwork, from the eyeball-snatching splash page with its dramatic lightning and nosediving planes and grinning, moon-sized skulls to the final page that illustrates some genuinely heavy metal squid-headed aliens stamping out in Bioshock gear ready to take on Planet Earth one raygun blast at a time. “Space-Borne!” shows the Al Williamson I love after a handful of rocky assignments, fully giving himself over to the SF mode that is the dream of geekdom: beautiful heroes boasting fierce futuristic fashion, gear play, and, of course, slavering aliens that bring all the best elements of reptile, insect, and even vegetation together. And what can you say after reading “The People’s Choice!” aside from a few squeaks from your unhinged jaw? This is a not only a level but a mode of writing that I don’t believe we’ve seen from the EC bullpen yet, a story that feels truly modern and yet timeless as opposed to all the fantastic and moralistic fables to which we’ve grown accustomed. Operating under a superficially cutesy aesthetic, “The People’s Choice!” disguises the fact that it’s one of the very few stories to possess real teeth, teeth that lay bare our mores and hubris in a way that rings just as true now as it did 65 years ago. Those are all the hallmarks of Great Literature, and don’t let any alien hand puppet ever tell you that comic books can never attain that distinction.


Davis
Two-Fisted Tales #30

"Bunker!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Ric Estrada

"Knights!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Wake!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Gene Colan

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

On the Korean War front, a platoon of white American soldiers gets ready to rush the western slope of a hill, while a platoon of black American soldiers gets ready to rush the eastern slope. The hill is guarded by bunkers with Chinese inside, armed with machine guns. The black soldiers take out one "Bunker!" and then another with grenades, allowing the white soldiers to take the hill, but when the white soldiers brag about their achievement and the black soldiers disagree, an officer reminds them that they're all part of the U.S. Army.

"Bunker!"

When I saw Ric Estrada's name on this story I braced for the worst, because I never liked his work at DC in the '70s on comics like Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw, even though the story is a bit heavy-handed and doesn't really go anywhere.

"Knights!"
In 14th century Europe, a red-headed peasant named Alard rants that enemy "Knights!" attacked and set fire to his village. Certain that the Black Knight will protect him, he is captured by the enemy and about to be hanged when the Black Knight shows up and fights mightily on his behalf. Alas, the Black Knight is beaten and stripped of his armor; as he skulks off, Alard is shocked to see that the famed champion of his village has red hair and looks like Alard, a peasant!

Wally Wood could draw just about anything and make it look good, but Harvey Kurtzman is really reaching with this story. By demonstrating that our heroes are no different than we are underneath it all, he tells a little lesson, but it is very small indeed.

"Wake!"
Just before Pearl Harbor is bombed, civilian workers and marines work overtime to build an airbase on "Wake!" Island, which is situated in a strategic Pacific Ocean location. After attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack Wake Island but are repelled. Weeks later they try again and succeed due to overwhelming numbers.

That's it? Not much of a story but I'll admit it's an intriguing history lesson and one I knew nothing about. What's really exciting here is to see early work by Gene Colan, one of my favorite comic artists, who showed remarkable consistency in the decades that followed.

Two inexperienced pilots in WWI learn the ropes by flying missions back and forth over Europe. Lt. Becker is a "Fledgeling!" who gradually realizes that it's hard to tell friend from enemy in the skies. By the time he sees serious battle action, he's glad to have had plenty of experience.

Harvey must have been focusing his energy on Mad by this time, because this is barely a story at all. Thank goodness Jack Davis illustrates it, because his WWI planes are absolutely gorgeous! I am beginning to think there is nothing he can't do!--Jack

"Fledgeling!"
Peter: "Bunker" is a typically hard-hitting slice-of-war with a subtle racial tension underlying its main message of one-for-all and all-for-one. Ric Estrada only drew two EC stories ("Bunker!" and "Rough Riders" in the upcoming Frontline #11) but became a go-to guy for DC war mogul Bob Kanigher  in the 1970s. It's surprising, to me, that Estrada wasn't used more in the EC war books since his style is similar to Boss Kurtzman's. On the way to yet another lecture class, Harvey decided to turn down another road and tell an engaging and humorous tale in "Knights!" That's not to say that Harvey's lectures are all boring but, as I've said before, I prefer these little history vignettes rather than the full-blown Social Studies class we've grown accustomed to. The final reveal is a chuckler. With no story in sight, "Fledgeling!" comes off more like a series of news items than a cohesive whole. Jack Davis's art is competent but there's not much meat to that either, with a high percentage of the panels given over to dogfighting. The standout this issue is "Wake!," a grueling info piece that educated me to an important piece of WWII I had no knowledge of. Unfortunately, Gene Colan only dipped his toes in the EC water twice (both contributions landing in Two-Fisted) before jumping ship and penciling blazing battle tales for DC (Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, etc.) and Atlas (War Action, Battle Ground, and several others). Of course, Gentleman Gene made himself a funny book household name with Marvel's Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Tomb of Dracula. Though "Wake!" shows that Colan had boatloads of style and skill as a young man, it only hints at the master he would become a decade later.

Jose: I’ll parrot what those other two GhouLunatics said above regarding the history behind “Wake!” In all the fervor and attention geared towards Pearl Harbor, it seems that accounts of the other little island attacked by Japanese forces have been mostly swept away in the high tide of time. One wonders if Harvey had picked up on this general sentiment as well (December 7 wouldn’t be nationally observed as a Remembrance Day until 1994) and sought to shed some light on a neglected corner of the battle map. It certainly helps that we have some really lovely art by Gene Colan, showing here even in his salad days that he had an immediately distinctive style and a propensity for triggering emotions. The rest of the issue looks skimpy by comparison, with by-the-numbers “Bunker!” unsure if it wants to be a story and “Fledgling!” barely trying. The former gets too late a jump on its “central conflict” (simmering racial tensions in the Army) so that by the time we realize what’s going on the story’s already over. The latter, in addition to lacking any humanizing dialogue whatsoever, starts off by introducing us to two rookie pilots and their sage major and gets us geared up for a buddy-adventure full of growth and learning and maybe a little tragedy before totally dropping both the major and one of the rookies from the narrative and ambling on to a so-so ending. “Knights!” may not be much better, with the exception of Wood’s great art (I almost felt as if I was seeing the medieval age for the first time), but it at least has a clearer sense of its journey and a spunky attitude to help it make go down easier.



THE BEST EC STORIES OF 1952!


JACK

1.   Out of the Frying Pan . . . (Crime SuspenStories 8)
2.   Poetic Justice! (Haunt of Fear 12)
3.   . . . On a Dead Man's Chest! (Haunt of Fear 12)
4.   Big 'If' (Frontline Combat 5)
5.   Halloween! (Shock SuspenStories 2)
6.   A Little Stranger! (Haunt of Fear 14)
7.   Split Second! (Shock SuspenStories 4)
8.   Death of Some Salesmen! (Haunt of Fear 15)
9.   'Taint the Meat . . . It's the Humanity! (Tales From the Crypt 32)
10.  Space-Borne! (Weird Science 16)


JOSE

1.  The People’s Choice (Weird Science 16)
2. A Little Stranger (Haunt of Fear 14)
3. Mopping Up (Frontline Combat 7)
4. Wolf Bait (Haunt of Fear 13)
5. Halloween (Shock SuspenStories 2)
6. A Rottin’ Trick (Tales from the Crypt 29)
7. Stumped (Shock SuspenStories 3)
8. A Grim Fairy Tale (Vault of Horror 27)
9. Poetic Justice (Haunt of Fear 12)
10. Corpse on the Imjin (Two-Fisted Tales 25)


PETER

1.   The People's Choice (Weird Science 16)
2.   Poetic Justice (Haunt of Fear 12)
3.   The Patriots (Shock SuspenStories 2)
4.   Wolf Bait (Haunt of Fear 13)
5.   Home to Stay (Weird Fantasy 13)
6.   With All the Trappings (Vault of Horror 24)
7.   Bomb Run (Frontline Combat 4)
8.   The Guilty (Shock SuspenStories 3)
9.   Yellow (Shock SuspenStories 1)
10.  Space-Borne! (Weird Science 16)


Coming Next Week in
Star Spangled War Stories #102...
Are you ready for
The Nazi Ghost Wolf?!

2 comments:

Grant said...

Speaking of the recent election, it's funny see to Allie's team coming out of a SWAMP. But at least no one can accuse THIS candidate of promising the drain the thing.

Jack Seabrook said...

I think an alien takeover might be preferable at this point.