Monday, August 14, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 38: September 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
    38: September 1953

Mad #6

"Teddy and the Pirates!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Melvin of the Apes!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Casey at the Bat!" ★★
Original Poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Ping Pong!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

It's time for high adventure in Hong Kong with "Teddy and the Pirates!" Pat O'Bryan assigns Teddy and his sidekick Half-Shot to find the inside man who has been hijacking their opium shipments. After meeting up with a beautiful blond named Burma Shave and a zoot-suited Asian named Connie, Teddy and Half-Shot end up with the Dragging Lady. They are shanghaied on a pirate ship; Half-Shot is fed to hungry sharks and finally figures out who the inside man is.

"Teddy and the Pirates!"
It's really not possible to summarize a wild humor strip like this and, not being overly familiar with Terry and the Pirates, many of the details go right by me, but Kurtzman is in great form and Wood's art is exceptional. We all know Wally can draw lovely ladies like nobody's business, and this story gives him plenty of chances to show off his skill at depicting the female form.

Sir Whitegreen Greystroke is exploring the jungles of darkest Africa when he comes upon "Melvin of the Apes!" A mole shaped like the family crest proves that Melvin is the long-lost Lord Greystroke, so it's back to London and the bosom of his wealthy family. Melvin creates such a fuss at a fancy dinner held in his honor that several members of the London branch of the family flee to the African jungle to get away from their raucous relative.

"Melvin of the Apes!"
(Guest starring Wally Wood)
John Severin really tries, and I give him points for that, but his stories tend to be the least funny ones in Mad. The sheer lunacy of Melvin's behavior at the dinner in London carries this one along reasonably well, but when Wally Wood sticks a drawing of the Dragging Lady from the prior story in one of the panels, it's clear who really excels at this sort of thing.

The Mudville Nine are losing 4-2 in the 9th inning when a couple of surprise hits with two outs set the table for Casey, but when he strikes out at the end of the game the crowd is disappointed.

Do we really need yet another retelling of "Casey at the Bat"? I like this old baseball poem as much as the next guy, and Davis does a heroic job of trying to take everything literally and make it funny (a runner is really hugging third base, for example), but this seems out of place in Mad.

The panel that made Jose squirt milk from his nose.
("Ping Pong!")
A ship chartered by movie producer Cecil B.V.D. Mill makes its way through the Tropics to the island of the ferocious Ookabolaponga, where they find "Ping Pong!" a giant and terrible ape. They capture him and bring him back to New York City, where no one pays him the slightest attention.

King Kong is my all-time, number one favorite movie, so I automatically love this satire, and Will Elder is the ultimate Mad artist, with more gags per page than anyone else (though Wally Wood is getting close). The story has the usual amount of guys ogling pretty girls, natives speaking with unexpected eloquence, and little signs in the corners of panels, but the ending is a bit of a letdown.--Jack

"Casey at the Bat!"
Melvin Enfantino: I think that a key to finding a lot of these parodies amusing is a knowledge of the victim. F'r instance, I've never read a single installment of "Terry and the Pirates," so "Teddy" only comes off as slightly amusing to me. It's readable because Wally can draw no woman homely and Teddy's side-kick, Half-Shot, has some genuinely funny lines ("I know this dame's type, Teddy! They act business-like on the outside, but underneath it all, they're feminine . . . cringing . . . delicate . . . like any other woman . . . treat 'em rough, I say!"). "Melvin of the Apes!," a sequel to "Melvin!" (from issue #2) is just as scattershot as its predecessor, hoping to wring laughs out of sight gags that really aren't very funny. "Ping Pong!" is about the funniest thing in this issue (it's worth noting that the obligatory native tribe here becomes the Ookabolapongas rather than the usual Ookabolakongas), with its deadly Archaeopteryx Iktheposaurus Razzledazzlebus Pterodactyl Ptooey (actually just a giant pair of pliers!) and its hilarious climax where Pong and the crew arrive in Manhattan and no one gives a stuff. I can vividly remember reading aloud (in character) "Casey at the Bat!" with a Mad-pal of mine in my early teens and thinking it was hilarious. Now I wonder what possessed Harvey to run the poem in the first place. Not a dig at Kurtzman, mind you, just an interest in how the man ticked.

Jose: It’s such a joy (and a relief!) coming to an issue of Mad and seeing the title really starting to form its unique identity, thus ensuring a healthy supply of belly laughs whereas the first issues had only managed to be mildly amusing. Granted, not every story here is a sure-fire classic, but the overall charge and acceptance of the inane that Mad has gradually been acquiring allows for most of the entries to feel one of a piece. “Teddy and the Pirates” allowed me to warm up to the idea of Wally Wood as a humorist; I hope we see more like this and better in the future. I thought “Melvin of the Apes” was, like its predecessor, one of Severin’s funniest outings and a marked improvement over other examples of his solo work. Stuff like Melvin’s rapid departure via car at hearing of the riches that await him crack me up! “Casey at the Bat” is an oddity for sure, never quite finding a good balance between the words that are being parodied and the lampooning images themselves; this one just came across as a rapid series of lukewarm punchlines. “Ping Pong,” on the other hand, is the kind of humor that I live for. From that random aforementioned pair of prehistoric pliers to a terrified sailor swimming away while a shark chews on his head, this thing is just firing on all cylinders in every panel. If the success of a Mad story is gauged by how much it makes you laugh, then “Ping Pong” is surely the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Crime SuspenStories #18

"Fall Guy for Murder" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig

"Juice for the Record!" ★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Frozen Assets!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"From Here to Insanity" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Fall Guy for Murder"
P.I. Gregg Saunders gets a call from Harry Wilson, a man Saunders has a bit of history with. Wilson stole the love of Saunders's life years before and now that love, Edith, is missing; Wilson wants to hire Gregg to find Edith. The private dick doesn't believe Edith packed everything and left; rather, he believes Harry murdered the woman and disposed of her body, so he takes the case. Some detective work unearths the tidbit that Wilson has become a great murder mystery reader, checking books out from the library two or three at a time. The flustered librarian informs Gregg that the final straw was when Wilson "lost" a book titled, Fall Guy for Murder. Saunders can't find a copy of the book so he tricks Wilson into leaving his apartment long enough for the detective to comb through the place. Book in hand, Saunders begins to read and realizes he's been set up; all the events in the book mirror what's been happening in real life: the disappearance of the old flame, the hiring of the P.I., the P.I.'s suspicions, even the trip to the apartment and the reading of the book. In the book's finale, the murderer comes back to his place to kill the P.I. and frame him for the murder of the wife but Saunders is too smart for that so, when he hears the door open, he empties his revolver into the oncoming figure. Unfortunately, that figure is Edith, with Harry Wilson right behind, explaining that he had met someone else and Edith was in the way so he wrote Fall Guy For Murder and let nature take its course. A very clever little noir with some great Johnny Craig art but don't think about it too much or the silliness and the holes will materialize (for example, the entire drama is built upon Wilson's assumption that Saunders will show up when the man he hates the most beckons him). Al and Bill were definitely reading Manhunt and Ellery Queen for inspiration; writers like Frank Kane and Richard Prather were pumping out P.I. fiction starring dicks like Saunders.

"Juice for the Record"
"Pop" Martin is a sweet old man who loves his job as caretaker of the giant generator at the city hospital, but his son, Richie, is a rotten apple who's taken to hanging out with mobsters and robbing banks. Pop tries to put his son back on the straight and narrow but Richie won't have any of that, spitting on his father's low-paying but honest job. One night, Pop tries to break up a fight between his son and a particularly shady goon who thinks Richie's holding out on him. Richie pulls a heater and ventilates the hood but gets one in the back while arguing with his father. Richie is rushed to the hospital and life-saving surgery is begun. Not wanting his son to die in the electric chair, Pop grabs a dictaphone cylinder (look it up on Google, you youngsters out there) and moans out a confession to the murder of the hood. Just then, one of the doctors hurries into the office and informs Pop that the electricity has gone out and they need him to reboot the generator fast--Richie will die on the operating table without power. Pop hands his confession recording to a cop and heads for the generator room. He gets the juice flowing again but it's too late as his son has expired on the table. The cop approaches the old man later and informs him that the recording was blank--the electricity had gone out before Pop had recorded his false confession! A maudlin dud through and through, "Juice for the Record!" resembles some of the product found in the titles published by the lesser funny book companies. Elder's art doesn't help either, giving the proceedings an amateurish look. Pop's story-length "woe is me" speeches are a drain. Yeccch!

"Frozen Assets"
Mort and Helen have murdered Helen's husband and locked him in a freezer for four months . . . but there's a good reason for that. You see, Jasper (the husband) has a really rich aunt who has named Jasper her only beneficiary when she dies, with one proviso: Jasper must outlive his aunt or the dough goes to a "state foundling hospital." With quite a lot of sweet talk, Mort convinces Helen that marrying Jasper is a great idea, and then, after the old bag croaks, they'll put Jasper in the ground and run off with the inheritance. The best-laid plans of mice and Morty, though . . .

After the marriage, Helen and Mort do their darnedest to keep their hands off each other while Helen's new hubby is around but, one night, Jasper surprises the couple while they're making out on his couch and he and Mort tussle. Helen gets some chloroform (which, I take it, was kept around the house for emergencies just such as this) and the couple lock Jasper in a freezer until a later date when he'll be thawed out. Jasper's aunt finally kicks the bucket and the ice-cold corpse is finally laid out for discovery but . . . not so fast. After an autopsy reveals that Jasper had oysters in his stomach, which hadn't been in season since four months before, the cops take the klutzy kouple into custody. I got a kick out of the twist in the tail of "Frozen Assets!" and the couple's choice of murder weapon (Death by Freezer!) is a particularly nasty one. If you've got to give Kamen work, this is the perfect vehicle for his assets: just some standard talking-head panels and character faces that are pretty much interchangeable; no heavy lifting here.

"From Here to Insanity"
A homicidal maniac takes a poor old woman hostage, forcing her to give him shelter while he's on the run from the cops. When the police go door to door and come to the old woman's apartment, the loony orders her not to open the door and tells her what to say. The landlord joins in the conversation and, after a bit, they leave. The murderer, relieved at last, informs the woman he's going to kill her and she asks if she can pray first. At that moment, the police break the door down and cuff the bracelets on the wacko. Smiling, the landlord informs the befuddled criminal that he knew that something was up since Mrs. Greene is stone-deaf. How could she be answering questions through the door? The final panel shows the maniac, now insane, giggling in his padded cell. Crandall’s creepy artwork almost out-Ghastlys Graham Ingels (the nut's eyes are constantly popping from their sockets). As great as the script for "From Here to Insanity" is, Al and Bill had a little . . . um, inspiration . . . from a story called "You Got to Have Luck" by Stanley Ralph Ross, which appeared in the October 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In that story (the author's first), the thug was an escaped con and his victim was a young mother. In the twist climax, the police show up after the woman's mother rings and her daughter answers the phone, telling her she's just fine. The story was later filmed for the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. If it wasn't for the more-than-a-tad plagiarism, I'd salute this story with four stars. Even so, it's the best tale this issue. --Peter

"From Here to Insanity"
Jack: Peter, you may not believe this, but "Juice for the Record!" was my favorite this time out! The story is well-told and has a satisfying payoff, and I'm getting to like Will Elder's proto-comix art more and more as we read through these comics chronologically. "Fall Guy for Murder" is a rare Johnny Craig story that he drew but did not write; I love the private eye theme and the lending library that operates out of a drugstore. No one can draw tension and sweat quite like Craig, but the ending petered out for me. "From Here to Insanity" shows Reed Crandall quickly ascending to the top of my list of favorite EC artists with his depiction of the homicidal maniac but, since I knew the twist ending in advance, the story did not have as much power as it might otherwise have had. That leaves this issue's Kamen Kontribution, an okay story until the dopey twist ending. Oysters are out of season? That's really the surprise ending? Come on!

Jose: “Fall Guy for Murder” is one of the more complexly-plotted EC tales that we’ve seen in a while that resolves itself in a mostly-satisfying manner. All the lead-up to the final twist works like gangbusters, especially the tense moments of Gregg slowly realizing that he’s practically reading his life story ala “The Aliens” (WF 17) and growing increasingly wary of his executioner’s inevitable arrival. But, as Peter mentioned, once you look at everything in retrospect it starts to sound pretty damn funny. Can you imagine Harry’s reaction if his plan had gone to hell? “It took six months to write that freaking book! Four to find an agent… a year before it landed on an editor’s desk…” Talk about patience! “Juice for the Record” puts me in mind of a super-saccharine morality picture from the 50s with its tender-hearted elderly protagonist just wanting to do the right thing in a crazy mixed-up world of hood rats and dope peddlers. It’s like a low-grade, male version of Mildred Pierce, but for all of that it’s relatively harmless and innocent, much like ol’ “Pop” himself. An opportunity was missed at the end of “Frozen Assets” for Mort to meet the news of his oyster-related punishment with a depressed cry of, “Aww, shucks!” You know you would’ve loved that. Speaking of puns, I’m glad Al resisted the urge to spoil the ending of the final story by writing the title out as “From Hear to Insanity.” Reed Crandall continues to please with his lovely and rugose artwork, all of his characters looking like bowls of jello set into motion. The homicidal maniac depicted here is one for the ages, a bug-eyed creep who revels in the pain of his victims in some unsettling flashback sequences that show him panting over screaming faces and still bodies. If my crime stories ain’t freaking me out, then they’re broken!

Tales from the Crypt #37

"Dead Right!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Pleasant Screams!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Strop! You're Killing Me!" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"The Rover Boys!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Carl Winston and Joseph Fairbanks are two old doctors who have been friends since they met in medical school. They like to get together and sip brandy by the fire, but Joseph has a disturbing habit of bringing up his pet theory that human senses may continue to function after death. Poppycock! says Carl, until Joseph poisons him and Carl sees, hears, and feels the entire process of being prepared for burial. His coffin is lowered into the ground and the dirt begins to be shoveled when Joseph reveals that it was all a gag! Too bad Carl had a heart attack and died just before the undertaker came.

Jack discovered a deadline had been missed.
("Dead Right!")
Jack Davis's art is very good in "Dead Right!" and the story is interesting--it's just not that interesting. The idea that a body could still perceive the world around it for a while after death would explain so many of the narrators in these EC stories who describe their own demise and subsequent events; here, it's more scientifically intriguing than dramatic.

High school teacher Felix Purdy struggles through a dark wood and is killed by a werewolf. He then finds himself in a lonely alley, where he is killed by a vampire. A zombie next kills him in a deserted graveyard, then he is executed by guillotine, then buried alive by gnomes. Finally, he realizes that he's in someone else's dream and will disappear when they awaken. And awaken they do--the dreamer is a high school student who harbored particularly gruesome "Pleasant Screams!" about his teacher.

Jack makes sure no more deadlines are missed.
("Pleasant Screams!")
Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, this is a dud from start to finish, despite competent art by Joe Orlando. The parade of deaths by the usual suspects quickly grows tiresome and, in the end, the revelation that it's all the dream of a poor student is tiresome and obvious.

Nothing ever changes in the Lyndale Fire House, where Old Dan Harper and Clem Dunlop have served the small town of 452 souls faithfully for 17 years. But when Clem retires, Mayor Witter hires Frank Miller, a young taskmaster, to be the new fire chief and Dan's boss. Frank immediately sets out to modernize the firehouse and works Dan ragged, trying to get him to retire. Old Dan hangs on as best he can, so when Frank is on duty one night and a call comes in that Dan's house is on fire, Frank takes so long getting there that the house burns down and Dan is killed. After a new fire truck arrives a month later, Frank is again on duty one night when a call comes in that his own house is in flames, He throws on his fire-fighting clothes and slides down the newly-installed descent pole. In the morning, the townsfolk arrive to find Chief Miller sliced all to pieces, since someone (or something) had replaced the descent pole with a steel strip, sharpened to a razor edge.

Bill Elder plays Can You Top This?
("Strop! You're Killing Me!")
There are several stories that appeared in Horror Comics of the 1950s that disturbed me so much that I have not been able to forget them more than 40 years after reading them for the first time. "Strop! You're Killing Me!" is a key example of one of those tales. Like the razor across the eye scene in Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, there's something about the slicing and dicing that really bothers me at a visceral level. The story is a brilliant tale of revenge and the end is a real shocker.

Dr. Sheldon Remson won't take being stripped of his license to practice medicine lying down! Inspired by a vaudeville act with trained seals, he murders the five members of the medical board that sanctioned him and then implants their brains into the craniums of five dogs, thus creating "The Rover Boys!" The dogs are the toast of vaudeville and seem incredibly intelligent for canines. One night, the pups get their revenge, killing Dr. Remson and placing his brain into the noggin of a horse; from then on, the horse that pulls the milk wagon is harried by five very persistent pooches.

Jack makes double dog sure no deadlines will be missed.
("The Rover Boys!")
Why does Ghastly seem to get some of the dumbest scripts from Bill and Al? Your guess is as good as mine, but this one gives him very little to do. As is often the case, his best panel is on the first page, where the Old Witch introduces the story. Healthy dog and horse cartoons don't give him much to work with.--Jack

Peter: I have to give "The Rover Boys" a couple of extra stars for being just about the most ridiculous thing I've read in a long, long time. I'm hoping Al was kicking back a few pints when he dreamed this one up but, for heaven's sake, let's see the full eight-page version that was censored, the one showing the dogs doing brain surgery on a horse. I'd buy that for a dollar! Did we really need the prologue that's also the epilogue? "Dead Right!" has a twist built on a ridiculous amount of extremes. Surely, Joseph knew that Carl had a bad heart, so why would he play such an elaborate joke on the man if it was all in fun? "Pleasant Screams!" has a great O. Henry twist but is saddled with some of the worst Joe Orlando art we've seen yet (and that trend will continue into Shock SuspenStories, below); I'm not sure why Orlando hit such a wall at this time as his earlier work was outstanding and the stuff he contributed to DC a decade later stood with the other superstars DC had in their bullpen at the time. "Strop, You're Killing Me!" is remarkable for two reasons: the bad guy turns out to be Chief Miller instead of old Dan Harper, the obvious heavy since he's being wronged. The other stand-out element of this one is the over-the-top final panel, resplendent with reds and cut meat and bone. Bill Elder was an odd choice to draw this strip (it's more of a natural for Davis); you almost expect to see little banners on the firehouse wall reading "Your mother wears army boots" or something along those lines. With Elder at the helm, you can almost substitute Archie and Jughead for Chief Miller and Old Dan.

Jose: “Dead Right” is yet another story that plays that old “Breakdown” song by putting us in the headspace of a protagonist who is “mistaken” for a corpse, but the thing that surprisingly kept my attention for the duration was Jack Davis’ art. Whereas before Davis seemed to wilt a bit in the horror mode when compared to his war stories, he really looks like he’s coming into his own here with “Dead Right,” adding more detailed linework and upping his facial expression game considerably. “Pleasant Screams,” on the other hand, has neither art nor story to recommend. Fittingly, it plays very much like what we eventually find out it is: the demented, monotonous murder-fantasies of an idle-brained student. Sadly, that means that the yarn becomes a slog to read through early on. If I have to read one more line about “needle fangs rending flesh…” etc. etc. “Strop! You’re Killing Me!” is the biggest surprise and winner this time around. After reading this, I wish that Elder had been given more horror stories. Sitting comfortably right between the barely-restrained zaniness of Jack Davis and the wholesome apple pie aesthetics of Jack Kamen, Elder’s illustrations take you gently by the hand and guide you smoothly across pages populated with those charming little doll-like people of his before whacking you upside the head with that final tenderloin shot. Zow-ee! More of that, please! Like Peter said, “The Rover Boys” cut out at the exact moment that would’ve made this story worth all that dreary buildup. All we get is a pack of mad hounds and one of them menacingly gripping a hypodermic in its jaws? Yer killin’ me, EC!

Shock SuspenStories #10

"The Sacrifice" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

". . . so shall ye reap!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Home Run!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Sweetie-Pie" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

The whole mess gets started when insurance salesman James Reed hits up his old chum John Fielding to offer a hot deal on a policy only for him to fall head over heels for hot dish Mrs. Fielding. Gloria definitely reciprocates the feeling, going so far as to tell James to come on back now, ya hear? Thus begins their steamy affair, and it isn’t long before Gloria is whispering sweet something-somethings in James’ ear about offing John. (Murder? P-p-perish the thought!) But James’ objections last as long as it takes for him to look at Gloria again, and then we’re off to the races and John is off to the pavement when James gives him the heave-ho over the balcony. Enter Paul Nichols, the friendly neighborhood pervert who spied the homicide from across the way and who now plans on using his knowledge to blackmail Gloria into becoming his sex slave marrying him while James blubbers away on the bench. Crushed at seeing his beloved degraded on a daily basis, James pens a confession taking all the blame for the plot, sends it off to the cops, and then chugs some poison. Gloria is delighted by the news; as James lies dying, she phones her lover Paul to tell him that their plan has gone off without a hitch.

Get this guy a lollipop!
("The Sacrifice")
Sure, you can see James M. Cain’s fingerprints all over “The Sacrifice,” but Al manages to pen a sordid little shocker that matches up quite nicely with Kamen’s sensibilities. Once Paul enters the scene he cuts through the staid “lovers kill the husband” mechanics like a hot knife through butter and kicks the narrative into gear with his not-so-subtle allusions to just what he plans on doing once him and Gloria tie the knot. Not quite Snidely Whiplash, but Kamen seems to be enjoying the chance to draw a character so vulgar and oily for a change. James, on the other hand, is one of the most thin-blooded protagonists we’ve seen yet; the panel of him self-admittedly crying in Gloria’s arms like a kid running to his mama is like a parody of the typical nicey-nice fellas Kamen has traded in in the past. Thankfully there’s a lot of seediness and anguish that follows that up before the perfect capper of Gloria’s dimpled, cheery face brings it all to a close.

Somewhere, a middle-aged husband and wife sit together in their home while, somewhere else, their adult son sits in the dark, thinking. All three of them are reflecting on the past, specifically the events that lead to the son’s current, sorry state. The parents are confused: didn’t they treat him well with the utmost respect and instill the best of morals in him? The son is angry: didn’t they see how hypocritical they were in their life lessons, how obliviously cold they were when he needed them most? The parents accuse him of tramping around with his girlfriend when they spy lipstick on his collar, but the son knows that it was only from when she fell asleep on his shoulder; they criticize him for bullying a smaller kid before turning around and boasting of their victories over their lessers. And so the pendulum swings back and forth until finally the son’s (legitimized?) offenses escalate to the full-blown crime of gunning down a woman for her purse. Even as the son writhes in the electric chair, the parents are filled with indignant rage at what he has done to them while the son, in his final conscious moments, finally confesses to himself that maybe everything happened just because he wasn’t a good person.

Say what you will about the ping-pong effect that “…so shall ye reap!” may have on your eyeballs, this is undeniably one of the more powerful “preachies” that have come from Feldstein’s pen. The thing of it is, though, one pauses to give it that name as there really isn’t any cause or message that’s being broadcast here, at least not at the volume that previous examples like “The Patriots” or “Hate” have had. What allows “…so shall ye reap!” to become so haunting in the final analysis is that the accusatory finger that Al normally has prepared by the opening splash still hasn’t settled on either party by the end of “…so shall…” We’ve seen both parents and son perform incredible acts of kindness as well as incredible acts of selfishness. But the brilliancy here lies in the fact that *all* of these events are filtered through personal memory, that most fickle of narrators, so that even in a tale that is ostensibly third-person we have no way of telling for sure just how accurate any of this is. All that we can objectively know is that two parents sat in their living room crying while their son was executed in prison, and that they blamed all their misfortunes on him while the son came to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, he really was a rotten bastard the entire time. And if you’re asking me, that lets you know right there which one of them was probably telling a story closer to the truth.

The blob, five pages too late.
("Home Run")
Doctor Muller wants nothing more than to transfer out of operating the atomic pile and attempt to take  a crack at developing a rocket capable of shooting man out of Earth’s orbit and to the moon—and beyond. At first army brass laugh off his requests as fantasies, but when the doctor insists they relent and let the old greybeard have his fun. Color them much surprised when Muller turns around and delivers on his promises, and soon he’s rounding up a team of space explorers to man the first-ever trip to that angry red planet, Mars. But on the way into Mars’ orbit, Muller lets loose with a bombshell: he is in fact a castaway Martian inhabiting the body of Dr. Muller who has used his disguise and advanced alien intellect to construct the only means of returning to his home base. Pulling a gun on the crew, he promises the men a quick and fairly painless absorption by his fellow amoebas upon touch-down. The crew get the upper hand and Muller is shot in the scuffle, but the victory proves short-lived as the horrified men watch the corpse revert to the Martian’s protoplasmic body and hear the dreadful, sucking advance of his pals up the ship’s ramp.

Writing out the synopsis of “Home Run” like so actually makes it sound like it might be worth a damn, but sadly this is not the case in reality. After the engrossing and heartstring-tugging “…so shall ye reap!” this SF tale sinks the issue like a lead weight, nearly begging the reader to close their eyes and give in to sleep after seemingly endless panels of Muller and his disbelieving military supervisors going about the terribly exciting business of proposing space travel, testing rockets, talking about how determined and amazed they are and oh no zzzzzzz… The last-minute revelation that this has all been an insidious plot by an evil blob to suck its way through mankind just barely salvages this one, but I would’ve definitely preferred it had “Home Run” just introduced that thread on Page 2.

Can we keep it?!
Something is causing multiple car crashes to occur at night along lonely highways—and something else seems to be snatching the bodies of the victims from the scene—and by gum Phil the reporter is going to find out what and what! But the cars keep stacking up and the corpses keep slipping out no matter how hard the police search for them… until a handful of cadavers begin turning up of their own accord. Autopsies reveal that the bodies have been entirely drained of blood, and the presence of two telltale marks in the throat has Phil shouting “vampire!” and everyone else shouting “can it!” Phil’s fiancé Sally pulls him away from his Nosferatu obsession just long enough for them to get married and drive off for their honeymoon, but a pair of brilliant lights send the happy couple ass over teakettle down a hill. Phil, completely paralyzed from the neck down, can only watch in dread as a dark, menacing figure collects him and his wife and transport them to a makeshift morgue. There the odious gentleman pleasantly explains to Phil his love of sweet things and how his late-night snack runs have rustled up the occasional rotten morsel; thus the random cadavers that have turned up. As the gentleman prepares Phil and Sally for blood draining, the case becomes quite clear: this man is no vampire, but a ghoul!

“Sweetie-Pie” manages to build up genuine intrigue as we try to suss out the riddle of the disappearing/reappearing bodies, and the introduction of the grinning fiend in the climax and his matter-of-fact manner of talking to his food is authentically chilling, but all of this loses some of its—ahem—bite when we discover that we were being set up for the old “monster switcheroo” trick that EC so adored. Still, it feels good being in the hands of Reed Crandall, whose jittery George Evans act produces some striking compositions. --Jose

Peter: Poor Gloria (of "The Sacrifice") is stuck in a world where all her paramours look alike. What's a bad girl to do? "Home Run!" is ruined by pretty poor purple prose and one of Joe Orlando's lesser art jobs. "Sweetie-Pie" has some great Crandall work but suffers from a script torn from the pages of Spicy Terror Tales ("I'm not a vampire! I'm a ghoul!"). ". . . so shall ye reap!" rises majestically over its three mediocre compadres this issue. The "He Said . . . They Said" format actually acts as the great divide; we have no idea which side is closest to the truth and Al seems very happy keeping it that way. The climax still packs a wallop and I can't even begin to guess how it went over 64 years ago. Not being a wealthy man myself, I'm reading these EC funny books courtesy of the reprints Russ Cochran published in the 1990s. Not only did Cochran do us a service by sharing these classics with us but he also would, from time to time, take us behind the scenes of EC. Such is the case with the letters page for Shock SuspenStories #10 (December 1994), wherein Russ reprints before-and-after panels from   ". . . so shall ye reap!" Evidently suspecting that the panel reprinted below would cause trouble, EC self-censored the art before it was published.

(". . . so shall ye reap!")

The panel that was published.
(". . . so shall ye reap!")

Jack: I thought ". . . so shall ye reap!" was a chore to read and a waste of good art. Who wants to read this sermon? On balance, I sided with the parents. As I began to read "The Sacrifice," I thought the writing style was a joke, since it sounded more like a Love Story pulp than an EC comic, but if there was a joke in there I must have missed it. The tale is yet another variation on James M. Cain's Postman with no surprises. "Home Run!" is boring and overly talky, but I did like the panel where the Martian blob eats the scientist. That leaves "Sweetie-Pie," which I loved from start to finish. A great mix of crime and horror with a worthy twist, it features more superb art by Crandall.

The Vault of Horror #32

"Whirlpool" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Out of His Head!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"An Ample Sample" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and William Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Funereal Disease!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Taking a hot dip in the "Whirlpool!"
Why are three strange and ugly creatures trying to kill a poor, distraught young woman? Why is she subjected to tortures such as the rack, long needles, scalding baths, and freezing ice, with the pièce de résistance being the electric chair? Well, actually she's not. This poor woman is caught in a "Whirlpool" of madness within her own mind. When she awakens and a kind man leads her down a hallway, three doctors (the three monsters from the intro) explain each phenomenon to the distraught young lady: the long needles (simply a sedative), the scalding bath and ice (shock treatment!), and the electric chair (electro-therapy). You guessed it; our heroine is an inmate at an asylum and, as the three doctors transform back into monsters in the woman's mind, we learn that this madness will continue. "Whirlpool" is akin to a 8-page funny book version of the Hitchcock/Dali dream sequence from Spellbound; it works for what it is but it won't make anyone's Best of the Year list. Johnny Craig is vague as to this woman's circumstances (we're never even told her name) and, in this case, that might be a good thing. There's a risqué, almost S&M vibe to some of the "tortures" the protagonist is put through--dress unbuttoned, cleavage exposed, the poor maiden is grabbed by the hair and stretched out on a rack a la the Spicy pulps.


He thinks he's so cleaver.
("Out of His Head!")
Out in the woods, Alex buries a meat cleaver in the skull of his law partner, Stanley, but the man refuses to stay down. Though he flees the scene and heads back to his lush apartment, Alex can't get rid of the walking corpse. Everywhere he turns, there's Stanley with that ridiculous cleaver halfway through his skull! Alex finally gets the bright idea that if he can't see Stanley, Stanley won't be there, so he takes an ice pick to his own eyes. Waking up in the hospital after an eye operation, the first thing the murderer sees is a bright, shiny object embedded in a skull. Knowing he can never escape Stanley, he throws himself out the hospital window. The doctor, with his head-reflector atop his noggin, mutters that Alex must have been "Out of His Head!" Like Johnny Craig with "Whirlpool," Al sidesteps motive and history (other than to have Alex exclaim that "everything is mine now!") and, while he's at it, an involving story. This is a two-pager strrrrrrretched to seven.

Irwin braves a steady downpour to return a hammer and saw to neighbor, Bert, and asks Bert to come over to his place to see what he's built. Bert tells him that as soon as the rain stops he'll be more than happy to see his neighbor's new project and invites Irwin to wait out the storm. Irwin begins crying and Bert pulls the story out of him. Years before, Irwin and his wife, Hannah, were happy as could be but then Hannah developed a sweet tooth and would spend every dime of Irwin's meager pay on fancy chocolates (as a substitute for what Irwin "as her husband, couldn't satisfy"). Gaining an enormous amount of weight, Hannah eats the couple right into the poor house but the final straw is when the behemoth finds the money that Irwin has been saving up for a new set of duds (he hasn't bought any new clothes in years!). "I murdered her, Bert!," the distraught man confesses and begs his friend to follow him back to the house. When they get there, Bert sees exactly what Irwin has been up to with the borrowed tools: a giant candy box filled with "An Ample Sample" of Hannah! Milking that "Foul Play"/" 'Taint the Meat . . ." climax yet again, Al proves that what he needed most in 1953 was a little time off and maybe another writer on these horror stories. Hannah's transformation from lovely (and thin) girl to selfish (and obese) shrew seems to be pulled out of whole cloth, with the throw-away rationale being that Irwin can't give his wife that extra something in bed, so she turns to the cocoa bean for comfort. I love George Evans but there's not much room for the artist to flex his muscles, with just a couple of loony panels (Irwin's bug eyes as he shows Bert the new toy and the reveal panel itself).

Ya never know what ya gonna get.
("An Ample Sample!")

"Funereal Disease!"
Gardener Jasper Milliken has been working on the Fairchild Estate for decades and now, nearing the end of his life, he's saved up just about enough for a nice funeral. Since a proper burial was denied his mother and father (they got the potter's field), it's been Jasper's life goal to have a nice send-off. His boss, Niles Fairchild, on the other hand, hasn't got the proverbial pot to piss in and discovers Jasper counting his pile of greenbacks one night. Knowing that the money could get his life back in order, Niles enlists his business partner, Tom, to help murder Jasper. Deed done and Jasper buried in the same potter's field as Mom and Pop, Niles re-establishes himself in the world of profit and success. The partners have a celebratory drink and Tom heads for home. Soon after, the rotting corpse of Jasper Milliken makes a call on Niles and beats him to death. The authorities arrest Tom for murder so he can't make Niles's funeral but that's okay, neither can Niles. Jasper's dumped his body in the potter's field and taken Niles's place in the sumptuous coffin. With a few variations, we've seen this one before. I thought it interesting that Niles involved Tom in the murder but the rising of Jasper is almost, note for note, the resurrection of Arthur Grimsdyke in "Poetic Justice." Is the title a take-off of "venereal disease?" If so, it's another example of Al pushing that envelope. All in all, a very average issue of The Vault of Horror.

Rich man, poor corpse.
("Funereal Disease!")

The cover was self-censored post-production (but before the issue was published) in a ludicrous fashion. Are we to take that the corpse at the door has just been crapped on by an enormous seagull? No, nothing that sinister. Fearing that they'd take hell for the violence on the cover as well as between the covers, Bill and Al had the original cover (shown below) tinkered with. Not that the tamer version kept Wertham off their backs.--Peter

Original cover for Vault #32,
pre-censoring, from a house ad.
Jack: Peter, did we read the same comic book? I think this may be the best horror comic I've ever read, with no story getting less than three stars. Craig's cover is astonishing in its violence and makes me want to write to my congressman. "Whirlpool" is another classic that I remember from the big book and my young friends and I used to chant its refrain of "Who are you? What's your name?" to each other. Craig and co. make great use of words, pictures, colors, and lettering to tell a gripping and horrible story, and the final transformation of the three doctors into three floating heads of horror is truly terrifying. The circle is closed and we return at the end to where we were at the beginning.

Jack Davis also does fine work in "Out of His Head!" though his drawing of the head with the cleaver stuck in it is not as brilliant as Johnny Craig's version on the cover. Still, the image is a shocking one and it is repeated over and over until we readers can almost sympathize with the monstrous choice to put out one's eyes with an ice pick! EC is going farther and farther with the gore here and it will soon be the end of them. "An Ample Sample" has a great buildup and a socko ending and, while it does recall the earlier stories Peter mentions, this kind of creativity never gets old.

Finally, "Funereal Disease!" finds Ghastly in top form doing what he does best--drawing a shambling corpse exacting its revenge. I'll say it again: from cover to cover, perhaps the best horror comic I've ever read.

Jose: While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that VOH 32 is one of the best horror comics I’ve ever read, I will say that I lean more closely to Jack’s estimation of this issue than Peter’s. “Whirlpool” has a bit of a lag to its pacing, but it’s a worthy experiment in terror and form that’s a pleasure to drink in with your eyes. The frequent comparisons Jack has made between Johnny Craig and Will Eisner feel especially warranted by this story, as we see Johnny constantly toying with the limitations and the opportunities of the comic book medium to add to the mood of his story. (Take for instance the canny utilization of the shrinking room to create a series of four diminishing panels against the dark backdrop.) “Out of His Head” was a tale that I had a lot of fondness for back in my salad days, and though like “Fare Tonight…” from TFTC 36 my adoration of it might have cooled just a bit it still remains a fun read that showcases Jack Davis’ ever-increasing prowess at depicting more convincing anatomy and great facial expressions. I see what Peter means about this one feeling stretched, but if you ask me—and you are, aren’t you?—“Out of His Head” is just about the perfect length for a dramatized adaptation. I remember thinking “An Ample Sample” was a lazy retread on my first exposure to it, but my growing affection for George Evans’ art and keener critical eye (ha!) have allowed me to appreciate this one much more on its own terms. A simple yarn that falls back on the old “what-can-we-do-with-the-body-parts-this-time?” shtick, perhaps, but under Evans’ unerring pen it strikes truly unsettling chords, particularly in that final, grimmer-than-I-first-realized panel. “Funereal Disease” is another serviceable story that benefits from Feldstein’s and Ingels’ charming portrayal of poor, old Milliken. The gardener doesn’t elicit the sympathy of an Arthur Grimsdyke, but we get just enough of his personal history and motivation that we can’t help but root on that hobbling, sour-looking cadaver when it comes back to literally kick the crap out of his tormentor and then pull the bastard’s funeral ceremony right out from under him. (P.S. I could never put a finger on just what pun was at work in this title, but now that Peter has pointed out that one salacious possibility I'm kind of in shock.)

Next Issue
War may be Hell but . . .
Heath is Heaven!


AndyDecker said...

I don't get the self-censoring. Why is the cleaver in the head worse then the famous severed head or the hand hanging in the subway? I can rationalize editing the necking couple in the cellar out, but why changing the gender of the reefer bringer? Don't nice girls do this? :-) It is puzzeling.

I tried a few times to get into EC, but I have to confess that the often endless captions and the big speech ballons obscuring the art are a damper. I like well-written narrations, even if they are too purple, but EC always seemed a bit excessive in that regard.

I read the foreign edition of MAD Magazine as a kid at the begining of the 70s. I don't remember much except the fabulous art on the movie parodies, Arragones, Spy vs Spy (both I still find funny) and of course Don Martin. At the time I never realized that the magazine was that old.

Jack Seabrook said...

Mad has a long and rich history! I also loved Don Martin's comics when I was a kid. I tend to like more writing in my comics rather than less writing, but there needs to be a good balance between words and pictures. From what I've seen of today's comics, there is way too little writing and too much of a focus on art, but some of Al Feldstein's EC work is definitely wordy.

Anonymous said...

Kurtzman eschewed Feldstein's wordiness in the war comics and Mad. Craig did the same in the stories he wrote. If Feldstein's captioning puts you off -- and it leaves me cold -- you might still find yourself a big fan of the EC books that those two wrote for. Also, some of the art in the New Direction titles is beautiful and not obscured by excessive verbiage. Krigstein's stories in Impact #1, Weird Science-Fantasy #23, and Valor #2 are three of the best examples of comic book art that anyone ever created.


Grant said...

As far as I know, "Casey At The Bat" was Mad's all-time favorite poem to parody, because I can name a few of the times they did it. The one that always stays with me (and it would even if I didn't own it) is "Howard At The Mike" from # 155. Instead of being about a ball game, it's about Howard Cosell talking nonstop all through the game, and everyone else having to sit through it!
I forget the writer, but it's drawn by Jack Davis, which is always a lucky thing.

Jack Seabrook said...

Jim, I agree with you and am looking forward to getting to those comics.

Grant, thanks for the note about the later parody. We won't be following Mad once it switches to magazine format. That might just be the end of our sanity!

Quiddity99 said...

General thoughts about this month's entries...

Regarding the censorship, this was during an era where Gaines was running all their stories by an attorney and was getting recommendations to censor certain things. I'm not sure if the censoring done in the Shock story was caused by this, but the censoring in this month's Vault of Horror issue was because of it. In the original comic, they not only censored the cleaver in the corpse's head on the cover, but they also whited it out in all the panels in the interior story (so the corpse's head just kinda looked like it was glowing) and also rather nonsensically censored the labels in the final panel of "An Ample Sample", for all intents and purposes ruining the ending. I'm not sure of the exact cause of why they felt the need to do this, but I suspect it may have been the aftermath of the huge controversy over the fake Bill Gaines bio in Mad #5. Tales from the Crypt #38's cover, which you'll cover in 4 weeks was also censored due to this. Thankfully they have restored the original artwork on the various reprints of these issues that have appeared over the years.

Reed Crandall's art is really a highlight this month, the homicidal maniac in "From Here to Insanity" and the ghoul in "Sweetie Pie" are both very scary looking individuals. I never realized before that these two stories were drawn the same month. As always, Craig's art is a highlight as well, particularly with "Whirlpool" and the covers he did this month. Was never much of a fan of "Fall Guy for Murder", a rare non-Craig written story he drew. Couldn't the protagonist simply have read the author of the book and ruin everything?

"So Shall Ye Reap!" and "Strop You're Killing Me!" are the other highlights for this month. I think Elder only did two horror stories, the second of which we'll see in the next issue of Crypt. Good to see him get some crime and horror comic appearances; I think once Mad goes to monthly and Panic premieres he exclusively only appears in those two the rest of the way. Two Ingels stories this month that while decently drawn are weak stories.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Q99. I still don't get the appeal of the preachy Wood story, much as I love Wally Wood.

Anonymous said...

Re "Fall Guy for Murder" -- as a librarian myself (now retired), a pet peeve is stories in which a librarian blabs to a casual inquirer/private detective/whoever about just what books a third party has checked out. Bad bad juju ethics.

Denny Lien

Jack Seabrook said...

Denny, you've shone a whole new light on that story!!!