Monday, September 11, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 40

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 40: November 1953

Mad #7

"Shermlock Shomes!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Treasure Island!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Smilin' Melvin!" ★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

In foggy old London town, Dr. Whatsit makes his way to the residence of boon companion and detective extraordinaire, Shermlock Shomes. After getting shot in the head (again!) by his arch-nemesis Arty-Morty, Shomes attends to the pressing case of a woman selling Girl Scout cookies whose uncle has mysteriously died in his locked study. Applying all of his deductive know-how, Shomes performs a reenactment of the events leading up to the murder that involves him dropping down through a roaring fireplace and bashing Dr. Whatsit’s head in. The corpse promptly revives to explain how he died and Scotland Yard enters to take the raving and horny sleuth away.

Peter wipes the smile right off his client's face.
("Shermlock Shomes!")
“Shermlock Shomes” operates on the thinnest crust of narrative, giving way to a series of hilarious set-ups and payoffs that are all incidentally or tangentially linked to what’s come before it. The primary goal here is  not to tell a story, but to make us bust our guts. Sherlock Holmes and his world are so well-known that Kurtzman and Elder don’t have to worry about felicity to their source material and can instead give themselves over entirely to their zanier leanings. Stories like this really allow you to appreciate the firestorm that was Bill Elder’s visual innovation; not a single panel goes free of a great gag or non-sequiter. The king of the chicken fat still rules his roost.

After delivering a map to Captain Rollem Bones, young Melvin Hawkins figures he’ll sign up with a crew of pirates to hunt down the treasure that the map reveals. Led by the infamous Long-John Aluminum (who naturally sports some flashy red long-johns), the crew sets sail for the tiny island bearing the treasure, young Melvin fighting off the murderous advances of his shipmates all the while. Upon arriving at the destination, Long-John promptly disposes of the crew when he instructs them to dig—off the edge of a seaside cliff. Melvin quickly gets to work and, much to Long-John’s horror, excavates the chest brimming with their sweet reward: hundreds of gold-wrapped milk chocolates!

Jose walks in on Jack assessing the
new women's volleyball league.
("Treasure Island!")
“Treasure Island” isn’t necessarily a dud, but it’s a long ways off from the heights that we began the issue with. Unlike in the war titles, Severin’s contributions to Mad are *very* hit and miss for me, sometimes all within the same story. The most I can say for this one is that it has its cute moments (like when Melvin stumbles upon Captain Bones ogling a ladies’ dressing room through his spyglass) and that the cameos from other Mad characters help to support the notion that the series had a legacy and fanbase long enough and rich enough that it could afford to make those jokes and hope that their readers knew who the hell they were talking about.

“Smilin’ Melvin,” on the other hand, is a whole ‘nother basket of sour apples. It’s an appropriate title, seeing as how Kurtzman seems to be mugging his way through this turgid affair from start to finish. It might have been funny if it didn’t feel so utterly convinced of its own funniness, or if it stopped assuming that the person reading it was brain-dead. Following the exploits of its own cranially-challenged hero, “Smilin’ Melvin” chugs its way up a long, steep hill before it lets our hopes come plummeting down on the other side. This Little Engine might think it can, but I assure you that it most certainly cannot. That might be a lazy mixing of metaphors, seeing as how this is ostensibly an airplane story, but if nothing else that will help clue you in to the caliber of jokes we’re dealing with here. Add to that a mind-ripping tendency towards repetition and obviousness (“You mean if I DO THAT THING that you said I SHOULDN’T DO then SOMETHING BAD is gonna happen? Uh oh!”) and you have the airline vomit sack that is “Smilin’ Melvin.”

The “Hey Look!” shorts that came before it were alright I suppose.--Jose

What was the name of that jet again?
("Smilin' Melvin")

Melvin Enfantino: "Smilin' Melvin!" could be the most boring and tedious parody in the first seven issues of Mad. Not one larf. "Shermlock Shomes," on the other hand, brings the giggles fast and furious. This one's so densely packed with sight gags, it might be best to read it twice. The poor girl scout's injuries to the eyes are a gut-buster (as are her attempts to ward off said injuries) as is the final fate of Dr. Whatsit. I'm loving the cameos from other strips (the crew of "Ping Pong" and issue 2's Melvin Mole pop up in "Treasure Island!") and about four of every ten sight gags work (not a bad hit-miss ratio when you think about the vast number employed in these things). "Treasure Island!" is a concept that must have sounded hilarious pre-execution, a parody of the much-loved Classics Illustrated, but the finished product only manages to elicit a few chuckles from this old grump.

Jack: You are an old grump if you didn't get any smiles out of "Smilin' Melvin!" I have never read "Smilin' Jack" but Wally Wood is so good that it didn't matter to me. Severin's stories are getting better bit by bit and his art is flawless, but they're just not anywhere near as funny as the Elder stories. "Shermlock Shomes!" is a classic with something delightful in nearly every panel; the satire is brilliant and the gag in the last panel is a hoot. I'm glad we get to read some reprints of Kurtzman's "Hey Look!" but they don't really fit the Mad mood.

Crime SuspenStories #19

"The Killer" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Reed Crandall

"Wined-Up!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Murder May Boomerang"
Story and Art by Johnny Craig
(from Crime SuspenStories #1, November 1950)

"About Phase" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Ever since he was a boy, Jonathan liked to make things. Now that he's a man, he plans to marry Elsie but refuses to follow in his father's footsteps. The local guild refuses to admit him because his father is not a member, so he finally agrees to take up his father's work but he refuses to tell Elsie what it is. His wife gets pregnant but when the baby is stillborn, Elsie loses her affection for Jonathan. One day, he returns home from a trip to find that she had been having an affair and has murdered her lover. As she ascends the stairs to the gallows, Elsie finally learns her husband's profession: he is the hangman.

"Yes, honey, I know. You never wear your hood!"
("The Killer")
"The Killer" is an excellent story that keeps the reader in suspense from start to finish, wondering what Jonathan's secret profession could be. Crandall's art is outstanding and does a fine job of portraying the events, which appear to take place in the 18th century. I have just one question: why does Jonathan not have a hood on in the last panel? Isn't the whole point of the story that the hangman's identity is a secret?

Charles Ashland and his wife Laura have some unusual marital problems. Five months ago, they were in a car crash that left her unscathed but left him paralyzed due to psychosomatic causes. Now, she tells him that she planned to kill him and the crash was her fault. Ready to try again, she explains how she will wheel him out to the dock by the lake for her daily swim and then pull his chair into the water by a thin and invisible wire. No one will get to him in time before he drowns, since he can't move. She goes upstairs to get on her swimsuit, then comes down and has her usual glass of sherry before heading out to the lake.

After Laura dives in and pulls Charles in, she suddenly develops a severe leg cramp and he suddenly finds himself able to move. Rather than save his "Wined-Up!" wife, he explains that he knew she tried to kill him months before and has been faking paralysis all this time, waiting for his chance at revenge. He lets her drown, swims to safety, returns to their cabin, and empties out the sherry bottle, having filled it with denatured alcohol, which is known to cause cramps.

Got all that? It's not as complicated as it seems and the story progresses quite nicely, with more superb art from Evans. I had a feeling that Charles was spiking that sherry but I did not expect to see him recover his ability to move. I just thought they'd both drown.

Wilbur Fenwick loves to read stories from the newspaper to his nagging wife Myrtle all about the Moon-Mad Werewolf killer who is terrorizing London. Thinking that when the killer is caught, he will be judged insane and committed to an asylum until cured, Wilbur uses the occasion of the next full moon to murder his wife in the style of the killer, then confess to the police. Too bad he missed one small detail--there was an eclipse on the night he killed Myrtle and so there was no full moon. Sentenced to death, Wilbur realizes that killing the first three women to set up Myrtle's murder was a waste of effort.

There's nothing wrong with "About Phase," and the Evans art is great for the second time this issue, but the story kind of falls flat. I knew Wilbur was going to kill his wife in the werewolf style and the twist ending is not interesting enough to justify all of the buildup.--Jack

"About Phase"
Peter: The finale of "The Killer" is not much of a surprise (except maybe to the guy who pops "The End" on all the stories and forgot to add it this time) but at least we have some fabulous Crandall to gawk at. "Wined-Up!" excels at presenting a very sleazy Laura, thanks mostly to George Evans; the script is too dependent on silly nonsense (Charlie feigns paralysis how long while he waits for the perfect moment to be murdered by his wife so he can kill her first?). The writing in the previous two stories are flawless though, when compared to the dopiness Al presents as "About Phase!" Just try running the complexities of the twist through your head for a moment. Let's be thankful then for the double dose of Evans. Am I the only one who feels this issue was thrown together at the last second?

The Vault of Horror #33

"Together They Lie!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Slight Case of Murder!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and William Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Strung Along!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

One awful night, Alex Horton is awakened by his housekeeper, Agnes, who tells him that the boat-house is on fire and his wife, Sylvia, is trapped inside. Sylvia dies in the blaze and Alex is distraught. He has a double-sized tombstone placed at the head of his wife's grave, with her name and his inscribed on it, so that when he finally dies it will be certain that "Together They Lie!" He tells his lawyer that he'll give the money he inherited from Sylvia to charity.

"Together They Lie!"
Agnes then produces a letter from the lawyer to Sylvia and explains that Alex's wife was cheating on him and she could have saved her but chose to let her die in the fire. Alex is grateful to learn the truth. He breaks the headstone in two, changes his will to leave his fortune to Agnes, and kills himself. Over six months later, Alex rises from the grave and kills Agnes and the lawyer before repairing the broken headstone and joining his wife in her grave.

Here we go again! Raise you hand if you knew Alex was going to rise from the dead as a rotting corpse and go after the baddies. Reed Crandall's art is rather uninspired, probably because this story has been told so many times before. The idea that Alex would suddenly leave all of his money to his housekeeper because she told him his late wife was a cheater is ridiculous.

"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!"
Why the sudden interest in the justice system among the local kiddies? The townsfolk wonder this exact thing as they watch the kids carry a home-made coffin down the street. Just that afternoon, they asked the undertaker about funerals and burial. They also asked the doctor how to tell if something is dead, and they showed an interest a few days before in a newspaper report about a killer being fried in the electric chair. They asked the electrician how an electric chair works, and they asked their teacher to explain capital punishment. The town lawyer said kidnapping is a capital crime and the judge talked about jury trials. Why, who's this? It's Mrs. Phillips, who can't find her son, Freddy. It seems he stole Emmy Lou's doll and the other kids would not speak to him after that. The adults look on in horror as the kids finish burying the coffin, which presumably holds the body of little Freddy. The Vault-Keeper explains that the kiddies pushed Freddy into a live wire.

That's an awful lot of explainin' for a pretty simple story, isn't it? It's never good when the host has to clear up what happened in the last panel. Jack Davis can draw just about anything, so it's never dull, but this story is a long lead-up to a mediocre payoff.

"A Slight Case of Murder!"
Lately, it seems that Hilldale has experienced more than "A Slight Case of Murder!" In fact, four women have been brutally killed while locked in rooms with no entrance or exit that would allow a normal human being to get in or out. Doc Swanson arrives in town and tells Sheriff Moulton that he's solved the mystery and to meet him that night at the bottom of Mansion Hill. When they meet, Doc explains that, 25 years before, he delivered a monstrous baby at the Bates Mansion and now, he thinks that the baby has grown up to kill women who rejected him. It turns out that Sheriff Moulton is the killer and, when townsfolk rip the clothes from his body, they discover that he has a normal head and a lizard-like body that allows him to squeeze through tiny spaces.

George Evans fumbles the ball on the goal line, as you can see from the big revelation in the final panel. The whole idea is pretty disgusting, frankly, but the sight of it is underwhelming.

"Strung Along!"
Tony Zargono was a brilliant maker of marionettes and he entertained audiences with his amazingly lifelike creations, but he was lonely. When pretty groupie Nora came along, it seemed to good to be true. They were married and he showered her with gifts until he got too sick to keep performing. Once the money was all gone and he was on his death bed, she broke the news to him that she never loved him, only his money. Heartbroken, he waits for death but is surprised when Nora returns in the dark of night to hold him and console him. he dies happy, not knowing that she was dead as well and that the faithful marionettes had murdered her and made a puppet out of her and pulled strings to make his final hours bearable.

One thing Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein seemed to know how to do was to funnel the right stories to the right artists. Clowns, circuses, carnivals, marionettes--these were perfect for Graham Ingels's particular style of art. The story itself is not terribly original, and they could have made it more horrific by showing us the process of turning Nora into a puppet, but instead they go for suspense and mystery, leaving the final surprise for the last panel.--Jack

Peter: "Strung Along!" is another subtle instance of EC interjecting sex into their funnies when dying Tony asks new puppet Nora to "make my last night complete . . ." Again, I want to see the deleted panels of the marionettes doing their work with little scalpels, hammers, and screwdrivers. "A Slight Case of Murder!" builds its Gothic atmosphere well but then slips on the banana peel of a climax; that final panel draws more guffaws than most Mad parodies. "Together They Lie!" is another cataloging of cliches best ignored. "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime!" is this month's best story, an effective thriller a la Bradbury (in fact, I had to double-check to make sure it wasn't one of Ray's babies, but this is a very rare non-RB month) with a whopper of a final panel; that last caption raises the hairs on the back of the neck. Kudos to Johnny Craig as well, whose only contribution is a subtle but chilling cover.

Tales from the Crypt #38

"Tight Grip!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

". . . Only Skin Deep!" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Last Laugh" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Mournin' Mess" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

A dusty old trunk is ecstatic to have finally been taken down from the attic by its owner, Wilma, who gets busy filling it with lovely, frilly clothes that she’ll be wearing during her honeymoon with her fiancé, Carl Roswell. Even after the couple is hitched and arrive at their idyllic hotel, the sentient trunk can’t help but feel a strange fear around this new man. It turns out that the old grip’s premonitions were well-founded: wielding an ax in the honeymoon suite, frothing Carl reveals that he was only in it for Wilma’s riches. Carl literally cuts off his wife’s scream and then cuts the rest of her down to size, stowing the chopped meat away in the trunk with the intent of sneaking out and disposing of one parcel at a time while he informs the hotel staff that his wife is sick in bed. The trunk tries to deter the murderer at every turn, first snapping its lid on the fiend’s bloodspattered fingers and then disgorging its gory contents right in the hotel lobby after it refuses to unlatch its lock for Carl in the honeymoon suite. Carl manages to make his escape while the trunk is bagged and tagged as evidence by the police. Lingering in the evidence locker for four years, the trunk gets a break when a pair of thieves busts into the storage unit… and one of them turns out to be Carl. A scare from a roaming security guard forces the killer to take shelter in the trunk, at which point the trunk begins to shrink down, squeezing Carl’s flesh out through the bullet holes the killer blasts in it and compressing his bones down into a fine dust.

What the...?
("Tight Grip!")
If your first question after completing “Tight Grip” is “Who put the roofie in my Kool-Aid?” then you’re on the right track. But this story's loopiness is also its main saving grace. The novelty of the talking trunk and the absurd payback it enacts upon its tormentor snatch the story from the soup of mediocrity and allow us to ignore the major plot contrivances and logic-lapses that would have sunk a more conventional yarn. This is a real chicken-or-the-egg piece: what came first, Feldstein’s idea of a story narrated by a trunk or his idea a guy being strained out from  a box like human dental floss?

Herbert and Suzanne have been meeting at the same Mardi Gras party for five years now, and young Herbert has been bitten by the love bug good. He can’t stop thinking about Suzanne and it would seem she’s just as crazy for him. The only trouble is that they’ve never seen each other’s faces, a leftover of a desire for mystery Suzanne expressed during their first meeting that they’ve upheld ever since. But Herbert desires to strip off his domino mask and to strip off other articles too, namely the wretched hag mask that Suzanne wears upon her conversely knockout frame. After Herbert proposes, the two lovers quickly tie the knot and sneak away to a hotel room to get to know each other as man and wife. But still Suzanne persists in wearing their masks. It’s enough to drive Herbert into dreaming of himself removing Suzanne’s hag mask only to see that her actual likeness is a mirror image of the mask. Upon awaking, Herbert is overcome with frenzy and deigns to tear Suzanne’s mask off with all his might. A decision he soon regrets, realizing too late that the sick mess he holds is all that’s left of his wife’s real face.

Jesus wept.
("Only Skin Deep...")

It’s funny how these stories come around to you again. (Or how you come around to them.) I can recall reading “Only Skin Deep…” 12 years ago and finding it mostly unremarkable with the exception of the final gross-out, but now it seems to strike a whole new unsettling chord for me. I think part of that is my heightened awareness of Reed Crandall’s artistic prowess. “Little” details like the artist’s exceptional backdrops during the Mardi Gras and cypress swamp scenes and his dramatic staging and lighting of the figures would have sailed over my head at the time but leave me in awe now. It’s this display of genuine beauty and festiveness that builds up that last panel to be so shocking and gut-wrenching. The notion of someone literally tearing off the face of another might seem a bit too fantastic to swallow, but the grounded reality that Crandall so expertly depicts in his fine anatomy and noirish shadowings make just about anything seem possible. This is EC at its retina-smacking, modern-day Grand Guignol finest.

Ernie Ceely arrives at the offices of Dr. Falder with an unusual dilemma: it hurts every time he laughs. This is a particularly unhappy predicament for Mr. Ceely. Ernie, you see, is a practical jokester, one of the old-school variety who still gets a hell of a kick from calling up old ladies and telling them to turn out their street lamps before they go to bed. But Ernie isn’t one to shy away from the edgier thrills either. He suspects that his painful giggles resulted from the hilarious strain he caused for himself when he pulled his latest gag: dressing up a pile of horse meat in some children’s clothing, Ernie threw the mess under an oncoming train, thus convincing the boys playing by the tracks that they just witnessed a gory demise. At hearing this Dr. Falder gives Ernie some pills to help with the pain and ushers the patient out of the room so that he can prepare some tests that he’d like to make. Upon reentering, Ernie is regaled by Dr. Falder with a story of his own, one about an eight-year-old boy who thought that he had seen his three-year-old brother run down by a train and who raced back home only to be struck down by a car himself right in front of his mother, who promptly dropped dead of a heart attack. The three-year-old, left unattended in the bathtub, then drowned. Realizing the horrible chain of events his prank created and Dr. Falder’s connection with it, Ernie is strapped down to the table as a machine fitted with goose feathers tickles him into tortured delirium and the pills containing fish hooks he swallowed begin to cut their way out of him.

Jose subjects another hapless victim
to more of his lame jokes.
("Last Laugh!")
When you think about it, the conclusion of “Last Laugh” is only a few slight degrees more outlandish than a fireman slicing himself open on a sharpened drop-pole (see “Strop! You’re Killing Me!” from TFTC 37), but they say that a few degrees killed the dinosaurs. Bill Elder is in just as fine form as ever, and let it not be claimed that “Last Laugh” wasn’t a story suited to his tastes, but this one comes just short of the left-field weirdness that made “Strop…” stand out like a razor in a candied apple.

Sweeney is a reporter from the Globe who’s out to solve The Mystery of the Derelict Cemetery. Ever since the enigmatic group of benefactors collectively known as the “Grateful Hoboes, Outcasts, and Unwanteds’ Layaway Society” rolled into town there was fishy business brewing from the start. Not only was the organization strangely intent on assisting the homeless only *after* they died, but the grounds upon which the cemetery rested were unique in that none of the markers were adorned with grave mounds. More perplexing than this is the news seven years later that the Society was readying the cemetery for its thousandth burial; strange seeing as how by Sweeney’s calculations the area of the property could only hold over six hundred bodies. Performing a stakeout one night, Sweeney watches astounded as a grave mound actually sinks into the ground. Upon digging, the reporter comes to a metal door that swings out from under him and delivers into a underground labyrinth where Mr. Copehard, emissary of the Society, leads Sweeney to the dining hall of a nearby mansion. It seems that the anonymous benefactors truly stand by the name of their organization: “Grateful Hoboes, Outcasts, and Unwanteds’ Layaway Society,” or “G. H. O. U. L. S.” for short!

Too little, too late of this world.
("Mournin' Mess!")

What a letdown it is seeing Ingels being handed these lukewarm assignments time and time again. This is the same artist who we all seemed to unanimously proclaim was the King of Horror, and now it feels as if he can just barely rise above the turgid material that he lends his inks to. “Mournin’ Mess” is yet another Feldstein-penned script that battles the illustrations for panel space, and Ingels’ patented brand of grotesqueness is strictly limited to a single, all-too-brief glimpse of the corpse-munchers seated ‘round the dining table at the end. It’s not nearly as fun as “Midnight Mess,” the story that it cheekily references in a bit of meta-humor that has Copehard explaining that they got the brilliant idea for their society from a magazine called Tales from the Crypt. The boys might have been better off just reprinting that story here instead.--Jose

Original uncensored cover for Crypt #38
Peter: As anyone who reads the DC War blog knows, I can't stand stories narrated by inanimate objects (or donkeys, for that matter) and "Tight Grip!" is no exception. Carl's plan sure isn't thought out very well. Any slight error would have tripped him up; the smell and blood must have been nauseating. That final panel of "Tight Grip!" has got to be one of the silliest committed to EC paper but, conversely I dug the scene of Wilma spilling all over the lobby. I love how Bill and Al mess with our expectations in ". . . Only Skin Deep!" Yep, we know exactly how this will end and it sorta kinda does but with a sick twist. What's queasier in that final panel: the mess of Sue's face or the oozey thing in Herbie's hands? Only Crandall could have delivered that knife to the gut. "Last Laugh" is monumental in its stupidity. A boatload of coincidences (the biggest whopper of them may be that the doctor is able to provide Mr. Ceely with fish-hook-imbedded pills!) and nary a believable moment. The finale, Ceely strapped to a table and being tickled to death, almost makes me believe that Bill and Al were winking at us. Almost. "Mournin' Mess" is a fun hunk of self-aware nonsense that telegraphs its hook the second Copehard mentions the full name of the organisation. It's hilarious to think a band of ghouls would sit around reading Tales from the Crypt. Mention has to be made of the cover, which was censored, in-house, just before the issue was printed. Even then, about a year before the walls came tumbling down, Bill and Al could smell trouble coming and sought to head it off at the pass.

Jack: If a good EC horror story is all about the payoff, then " . . . Only Skin Deep!" and "Mournin' Mess!" can be counted as successes. Sue in "Skin Deep" has a rockin' body but what man would ever marry a woman without seeing her face? I was starting to worry that we were heading into "Lola" territory (The Kinks) but the finish was not bad, kind of like the ghost story where the woman always wears a ribbon 'round her neck and when her husband unties it her head falls off.

I enjoyed "Last Laugh" mainly because I have grown so fond of Will Elder's work and give extra points to any story he draws. Al Feldstein goes overboard with the word balloons in "Mournin' Mess" and doesn't give Ghastly much room to work--it reminds me of a story by Kurtzman (I think it was Harvey) where he drew little figures at the bottom of the panel being squashed by the giant word balloons. "Tight Grip!" stops making sense on page 7 and completely goes off the rails at the end.

Shock SuspenStories #11

"The Tryst" ★★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"in gratitude . . ." ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Space Suitors" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

". . . Three's a Crowd" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Tryst!"
Julie Adams comes to work for John Hendricks as his secretary but the man quickly becomes obsessed with the radiant, virginal young lady. Though much older than  Julie, John asks the girl out and she agrees. A courtship follows and then marriage. Hendricks buys his bride a huge mansion outside of town and forbids her to leave the estate, so jealous is he of sharing her attention with anyone else. One of John's clients, Mr. Farnsworth, begins visiting and comments that the married couple should have a child; later, Hendricks tells Julie that won't be happening as a child would spoil his angelic image of her. One day, John spots Julie heading into the woods and immediately suspects her of meeting with Farnsworth for a fling. John murders his client but, the next morning, the newspaper headline elicits nary a reaction from Julie . . . Hendricks has murdered the wrong man. That weekend, he follows Julie into the forest (armed with a pistol) and, from afar, sees her wave to someone down at the lake and remove her blouse. After his wife has redressed and headed back to the estate, John sees movement in a bush and empties his revolver, suspecting he's murdered his wife's lover. He returns to the house, where Julie asks him to return with her to the lake as she has a confession to make: though she knows John would not approve, she's been meeting with a boy from a local orphanage for picnics and swimming. The boy's bullet-riddled boy lies at the lake's edge.

"The Tryst!"

"The Tryst!" is a nasty bit of business that works on so many different, uncomfortable levels. Hendricks is obviously a madman, so hellbent on preserving his unspoiled maiden (have they even consummated this marriage?), he'll commit murder without batting an eye. The scary thing about John Hendricks is that a lot of us, to a lesser extreme, can identify with his mental paralysis. Who hasn't been so in love with another that blindness can set in? Granted, the majority of us would not take it to the extremes that John did but, once given the pleasure of hindsight, we might agree we were a tad . . . protective. How refreshing is it that, right to the final panel, Julie is an innocent, monogamous woman who's not seeing the local welder for afternoon grab-fests in the woods? By golly, she defies expectations; she must have been in love with John and not his money! And, finally, "The Tryst!" features the fewest number of cigarettes ever drawn by Johnny Craig in an EC story: just two panels!

"in gratitude..."

"in gratitude..."
Joey Norris has returned from Korea and the town gives him a grand welcome home; dozens of townsfolk await him at the train station and a rally will be held at the town hall later that day. Wounded in the war, Joey has become the town hero. Once at home, he lunches with his mom and pop and explains that, before the rally, he'd like to visit Hank's grave. Sheepishly, Joey's parents explain that, throughout all their son's war correspondence, they'd grown to love Joey's war buddy, Hank, and when Hank had given his life to save Joey's, they naturally agreed to follow their son's wishes by burying Hank in the family plot. Then Hank's body showed up and the town began to talk; Joey's father couldn't risk losing business so Hank was buried in the nearby Greendale Cemetery. At the rally, Joey explains how he'd gone off to war, lost his hand, and fought for freedom and equality with pride but, now, feels only shame for a town that refused to accept Hank for his skin color.

"in gratitude . . ." is a powerful statement, one whose message seems, sadly, just as relevant today as it did in 1953. It's a bit on the preachy side and its "twist" is telecast from the moment Joey's pa mumbles out his explanation, but there's no denying that Gaines and Feldstein were taking chances few publishers would have gambled on. The war vet's mother telling of her vision of the heroic Hank is particularly stirring (here's a man who saved their son's life but isn't worthy of inclusion in anything but a grave somewhere out of the public eye) but the punch in the gut here, obviously, is Joey's condemnation of the crowd he grew up with (but wouldn't he have known of those faults before he came home?) and their racism: ". . . the grenade that tore (Hank's) skin to pieces didn't know its color . . . didn't care if it was black or white." Perhaps it was these observations, rather than some injury-to-the-eye or "headlight" panels, that roused Prof. Wertham?

"The Space Suitors"
Don and Wanda thought they'd planned it so well. Don had told his boss (Wanda's husband), Milt, that there was a planetoid out there full of uranium ore and the man had immediately scheduled the three of them for a rocket ride. But once they got their spacesuits on and were investigating the planet's surface, Don had dropped the charade and pointed a laser blaster at Milt's mid-section. Milt didn't have the reaction Wanda and Don had expected; he laughed and told them he'd known about their plan to get rid of him the entire time. If Don were to pull the trigger, a remote control on Milt's space suit would launch their ship into space, leaving the lovebirds stranded. Wanda cries "liar!" and Don ventilates his boss. Within seconds, to their chagrin, the couple learn that Milt wasn't lying and they watch their only way home blast off. Milt's now-bloated corpse smiles at them as they settle in for a long, slow death. Some time later, an expedition finds "The Space-Suitors," holding "bloated, ruptured hands . . ." Reed Crandall, my current favorite EC-artist (sorry, Ghastly!), proves he can wander into Wally Wood territory and do just fine, thank you (to be completely honest, though, Reed doesn't do nearly as much heavy lifting in the detailed-rocketship department as Wally). As with most of these triangle stories, the bump-off really isn't planned that well (how was Don going to explain the enormous hole in Milt or do they not need proof of death in space?) but it's a golden moment when the lovers discover they've been foolish and "couldn't even kiss, no less . . . ," well, you know.

"...Three's a Crowd"
Della and Alan are heading up to their cabin this weekend for what Alan hopes is a "fresh start" anniversary vacation but Della invites their best friend, Andy, along. Andy has just bought himself a cherry of a car (decked out with a phone, no less!) and insists on doing the driving despite Alan's nervous protests that the roads are winding and Andy tends to have a lead foot. No matter, the trio makes it to the cabin in one piece but when Alan heads to the trunk to get the suitcases out, Della and Andy suspiciously head him off at the pass and inform him they'll be taking care of the luggage. That night, Alan wakes to find Della gone from their bed and follows voices to the guest cottage. Eavesdropping at the door, he can hear his wife and best friend making plans. Believing those plans involve Alan's exit from Della's heart, he plots their murder. He asks them to go into town the next day, despite having received a call informing him that the bridge had washed out. When Della and Andy have left, he goes into the guest cottage and discovers a banner reading "Happy Anniversary, Daddy!" along with a basinet and maternity clothes. Realising he may have made a mistake, Alan rushes to phone Andy in the car but discovers he's come down with laryngitis. But for that lame last panel, ". . . Three's a Crowd" is not a bad little case of mistaken adultery with a nice, nasty twist. Sure, Jack Kamen's characters look like they just got of the boat from his last art job but if you've got to employ an artist with such a limited range, best to give him a "talking heads" story such as this one. All in all, a very solid issue of SS. --Peter

"...Three's a Crowd"

Jack: These are four very strong stories--I liked the Wood one best, mainly for the gorgeous art. Craig's story is excellent, as usual, though I think he could've made the orphan look younger so that he didn't look old enough to be a lover rather than a surrogate child. Crandall's story is also top-notch, with an ironic twist and that knockout panel showing Milt dead. Even the Kamen story, usually reliably the weakest of the bunch, is very good, up until the last panel flops. It's interesting that three of the four stories this time involve jealousy and fear of adultery; this seems to be the biggest reason that people in EC stories commit crimes.

Another look at the Crypt #38 pre-fix cover

The debut of the EC Fan-Addicts Club

Fun for the whole family!

Next Week . . .
The Enemy Ace flies off into retirement


Quiddity99 said...

The question was asked with respect to the Crime SuspenStories issue if it was thrown together last second, and that's kinda what happened as this is a rare month for EC where a lot of stories seem to have been shifted around and changed. It starts with Shock SuspenStories, where the usual 8 page lead Kamen story "Three's A Crowd" was reduced to a 7 pager and shifted to the back of the book; to replace it Craig's lead story for Crime SuspenStories "The Tryst" was shifted to be the opening story in Shock (Craig's only appearance in Shock), and they used a reprint of his story from Crime #1 to replace it. For some reason he didn't do his usual lead story in the Vault of Horror either, making it only one of 2 Vault issues to not feature a Craig story. We still get his usual Vault cover, but he did the Shock one instead of Crime. They then shifted the last 2 stories for that month's Crime to the front of the book (giving us the weird 6/7/8/7 structure instead of the usual 8/7/6/7 one), and moved "About Phase" from Shock to Crime, forgetting to remove the "Horror SuspenStory" label from it. Quite a confusing mess, especially for Feldstein who was usually able to run things as if it was an assembly line.

Anyway, highlights for the month for me are largely stories you guys enjoyed, "The Tryst", "In Gratitude" and "Only Skin Deep". Despite the censored cover, they are really going over the top with the gore here inside this month's Crypt with "Only Skin Deep", having a guy literally ripping the face off his wife. "Tight Grip" truly has one of the most bizarre and nonscenical endings to an EC story (and overall story structure) ever. Crandall continues to impress and shows that at times he can be just as gruesome and scary with his art as Ingels in his own way, with "Only Skin Deep" and "Space Suitors" in particular (a rare rotting corpse story for him this month too!).

I always really enjoyed "A Slight Case of Murder" for its last couple of pages and final panel, as ridiculous as it is (how in the world did he construct that fake body?). This month's Vault was actually quite popular on the Tales From the Crypt TV show with the latter 3 stories all being adapted as episodes, although both this story and "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" have nothing whatsoever to do with the source material. On the other hand, this month's Crypt, which has 2 of its stories adapted were quite a bit better; "Mournin Mess" was quite faithful to the original story, and while "Only Skin Deep" was a bit different, it was one of the scariest episodes of the show. "Three's A Crowd" from Shock was also adapted in a relatively faithful, but rather "eh" episode.

An overall very strong month for EC.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Q99. I've been reading EC comics on and off since the '70s but this is the first time I've read them all the way through, so I don't have a fraction of the knowledge about them that you do. I appreciate all of your insights.