Monday, October 23, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 43

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
    43: February/March 1954

The Haunt of Fear #23

"Creep Course" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Graham Ingels

"No Silver Atoll!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Hansel and Gretel!" ★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Country Clubbing!" ★★
Story and Art by Jack Davis

Dumb blonde co-ed Stella has a foolproof plan to get an "A" in what she considers a "Creep Course" of Ancient Civilization: bat her eyelashes at the old professor! She works at it all semester and finally wangles an invitation for dinner at his house, but when she arrives he tosses her in the cellar with other students who had gone missing and they all get fed to bloodthirsty beasts as he reenacts Nero's Colosseum antics. But wait! It's only a dream! When Stella really goes to see the old professor, he instead whips off his robe to reveal that he's dressed like an Ancient Egyptian and plans to mummify her!

"Creep Course"
Ingels is the right guy to draw the ancient stuff but the wrong guy to draw Stella, who is barely sexy enough to qualify as a co-ed in many panels. Wally Wood would have been a better choice. At least it's fun to see the professor as Nero and an Egyptian priest.

On a long plane trip across the Pacific, Ruth falls in love with Clark, another passenger. The plane crash lands in the ocean and the passengers and crew manage to guide their rafts toward a nearby island, but it turns out to be "No Silver Atoll!" when first all of the peoples' silver starts to disappear and second a werewolf starts killing them off by the light of the full moon! Ruth deduces that Clark is the creature and, when he tries to kill her, she stabs him with a hypodermic needle she found in a medical kit and injects him with a fatal dose of silver nitrate.

Mickey Spillane! Ha ha ha ha!
("Hansel and Gretel")
The title of the story tipped me off to the fact that a werewolf would be popping up soon and the story is mediocre. Fortunately, there is a passenger from Europe who makes speeches about werewolves, but I was reminded of nothing scarier than Abbott and Costello or Marty Feldman's Igor.

"Hansel and Gretel!" are eating their parents out of house and home, so the parents ditch them in the woods. The hungry brats find an old woman's house and when she shows them her treasure chest they kill her and head home with the cash, telling their parents the story we've heard all these years instead of the truth.

So help me, if I have to read one more of these Godawful Grim Fairy Tales I'll tear up my EC Fan Addict card! If Mad were this bad it never would've gotten off the ground.

Goosebumps, anyone?
("Country Clubbing")
An escaped convict in the swamp comes across a remote shack and clubs to death the old woman who lives there so he can eat her food. His "Country Clubbing!" does not go unnoticed, however, and he is pursued through one peril after another by her son, a lumbering monster who wields the cub as if he plans to do to the convict what the convict did to his mother. When the big fella finally catches up with the convict, he simply gives him back his club and turns and walks away.

Jack Davis's approach to this story shows that it's supposed to be funny rather than scary, and I guess it is, though I figured out what was happening fairly quickly and the perils that the convict encounters are all played for laughs. This was a disappointing issue of Haunt of Fear.--Jack

Handy guy to crash-land with!
("No Silver Atoll")
Peter: The highlight of the issue, for me, was "Country Clubbing!," a funny, text-light Jack Davis gem (story and art!). The con's run through the swamp reminded me of the obstacle courses used on Battle of the Network Stars (well, if the obstacles could eat you, that is), with each stop more difficult than the last. Davis's art is perfect for the subject matter. Like all the installments in Gaines/Feldstein’s “Grim Fairy Tale” series, the slant of "Hansel and Gretel!" is on comedy but, unlike the rest of the "Grims," this one is funny. Can't say I remember ever saying that about any of the previous entries. "No Silver Atoll!" has a great premise and a fabulous opening but the werewolf's identity is something less than a shocker. Orlando's art is muy atmospheric but his beast is about as scary as a big dog. That leaves "Creep Course," which predates the Saw/Hostel/Ad Nauseam "torture porn" franchises by fifty years, a pretty creepy tale until the Prof. whips off his Hefner smoking jacket and pops a mantle on his head. All in all, an above-average issue of Haunt!

Crime SuspenStories #21

"Mother's Day" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Understudies!" ★★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"In the Groove" ★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Blood Brothers" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Years ago, Donna Kingsley's husband ran off on her, leaving her with a son who looked like his no-good father and a baby not yet born. When the second boy was born and resembled Donna, she poured out all of her love on him and gave short shrift to her elder boy. Fred, the older son, tried to win his mother's love but she lavished it all on Harold, the older son. When they grew up, Harold became a criminal but Fred took the rap and went to the slammer for five years. Donna found a gun in Harold's room and he hit her in the head with it; the no-goodnik was killed two years later. When Harold finally gets out, he visits Mom and pleads with her to love him and to understand that he was the good boy all along. When she refuses to acknowledge him, he shoots and kills himself next to her bed, not knowing that the blow to her head had left her paralyzed and unable to respond to his entreaties.

("Mother's Day")
Reed Crandall turns in a fine art job on this Cain and Abel-like tale, but "Mother's Day" has a twist ending that makes little sense. Would Fred really not know his mother was paralyzed and unable to speak? No one told him while he was in stir? He couldn't figure it out himself while he yakked away at her for the longest time? It's a sad story about parental cruelty but come on, Fred--have some sense!

Jim and his wife Myrtle fight all the time, just like Gail and her husband. Jim and Gail walk out one evening and run into each other in a bar. It turns out they used to be lovers and they're sorry they ever split up and landed in unhappy marriages. Jim proposes that they both do away with their spouses and head for Europe together, which they do in short order. They take fuzzy photos and send them home to friends and family to keep anyone from becoming suspicious, but soon they decide they need to resemble each other's dead spouses more closely to make the photos better. With a change in looks comes a change in attitude, and before you know it they're fighting and thinking about murder.

Hey Kids! Comics!

A rare miss for Johnny Craig, "Understudies!" starts with a thin premise and heads toward an inevitable conclusion. His ability to tell a story in words and picture is not diminished, but this just isn't one of his better ones.

Garry Green, a famous radio DJ, has fallen for a new gal and devises a clever plan to kill his wife. He will record a five-minute intro to a platter and a five-minute afterword, then stack three discs to play automatically while he runs home and bashes his wife's head in with a fireplace poker. His listening audience will think he's live in the studio and provide him with a perfect alibi. Unfortunately, he didn't plan for the record to start to skip.

Kinda like the red hand--
("In the Groove")
"In the Groove" features yet another pipe-smoking, tweed-jacket wearing, Jack Kamen-illustrated killer getting his just desserts in an ending so obvious and predictable as to be almost amusing. There is a slightly above-average panel (for Kamen, and I admit the bar is set low) where Garry kills his wife but, overall, this is dreadful. It's hard to believe, I know, but it's a tad better than another grim Fairy Tale.

Alex pays a surprise visit to his brother Frederick at the latter's beach house but secretly plans to kill him with an axe he brought in his suitcase. Alex figures he's Frederick's only family and will inherit all his money. He slaughters his brother on the beach with an axe but the deed is such a bloody mess that he dives into the ocean to wash the blood off of his own body. The swirling blood attracts a shark and it's the end of Alex.

What a sad excuse for an issue of Crime SuspenStories, and what a waste of the talents of three terrific artists. Feldstein and Gaines were just pumping out stale plots at this point from the looks of things, and "Blood Brothers" is no exception. Alex even sets up an alibi based on timing, just as DJ Garry did in the previous story, but it's pointless because it doesn't affect the outcome. Crandall's work is quite good, though.--Jack

The axe was the first clue . . .
("Blood Brothers")
Peter: "In the Groove" is a badly-illustrated episode of Columbo. How is this record scheme the "perfect alibi?" Were the police really that dumb in the 1950s? And why would Garry want to dump a babe like Rita for a fuddy-duddy like Val (not that there's much physical difference between the two)? Surely, by this time, Jack Kamen could smell a rat when he constantly got the worst scripts pumped out of Al's Smith-Corona. "Mother's Day" is a bit too forced for my tastes but "Understudies!" is deliciously ironic and continues to fuel the argument that Johnny Craig was the second best writer in the EC bullpen. An interesting change-up with the one-page "prologue" before the splash. The first of two SuspenStories this month with the same title, "Blood Brothers" is a nasty little gem, one that hides most of its gore from your eyes but not your mind, made even more superior by George Evans's dark and moody visuals. With his prolonged and bloody deed, Alex shows he's just as successful an axeman as businessman.

Panic #1

"My Gun is the Jury!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"This is Your Strife" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Little Red Riding Hood" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Night Before Christmas" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Charles Clement Moore
Art by Bill Elder

When some unknown fiend shoots down a kid that had once polished his car, private eye Mike Hammerschlammer takes on the case to bring the criminal to justice… HIS justice, which entails enacting the same fate upon the killer following Mike’s rigid “eye for an eye” mentality. With homicide captain Chamber Pot lagging miles behind him in the “race” for the killer, goons trying to stab his head, and a bevy of beautiful women throwing themselves at Mike’s “lithe,” graceful frame, the dick has his work cut out for him in getting anything done. But they aren't any problems that a gun can’t fix, and Mike proceeds to erase every last one of them with shots of hot lead. Miraculously, after slaughtering his way through an entire cast of supporting players and cozying up with a vixen named Stella who wants to bed the detective in the worst way, Mike manages to piece everything together and figures Stella herself for the killer, delivering the fatal blast “a little below the belly button.” But Mike is stunned to discover that Stella… was actually a man! And that’s horrible news because Mike… is actually a woman!

"My Gun is the Jury"
I’ll have to rely on the reactions of my colleagues here and abroad to attest to the supposed felicity of Al Feldstein’s parody with the hyper-violent works of hardboiled author Mickey Spillane that it lampoons, but even without knowledge of the source material “My Gun is the Jury” still makes for some icky fringe entertainment. And I say that with love! As one of the “mixed-up fiends” that Hammerschlammer refers to in a couple of winking panels (a case of EC biting the hand that feeds?), I admittedly derived some sick satisfaction from the flippantly graphic and racy material that was being peddled here. “My Gun is the Jury” is more self-aware and crass in its displays of sadism and debauchery than something like, say, the infamous “Foul Play,” but in the end the result is basically the same: the violence becomes so cartoonish that you can hardly take it serious anymore. Point for point, this first story from the annals of Panic, EC’s in-house answer to the “inferior” Mad copycats they saw clogging up the newsstands, is more savage and rampantly gory than 90% of the company’s horror material, but this is communicated all through Feldstein’s overheated prose only to then be interpreted by artist Jack Davis as just another funny bit of slapstick. Context is everything!

On that perennial, tear-jerking favorite program of television, “This is Your Strife,” star of stage and screen Melvin Melville is “randomly” selected from the audience to act as the guest of honor. Emcee Ed Ralphwards grinningly introduces members of Melvin’s previous life in Pig Sty, Utah, from pharmacist R. X. Pillstuffer who sold Melvin a bottle of arsenic the day his wife disappeared to C. Smallprint, the agent who sold Melvin a $35,000 life insurance policy for his wife Emma Lou. As the yokels and God-fearing villagers are trotted out onto the stage, Sam Sucker is introduced as the man Melvin sold his old dog to, a vicious mongrel that hasn’t been good for anything except digging up a whole boxful of bones from the property. On closer examination, dentist Harry Yankum recognizes the upper plate he gave Emma Lou, as does Doc Hacker for the mended thigh bone. The pieces all come together, and soon Melvin is being escorted offstage by Pig Sty’s own district attorney.

Peter and Jack lambast Jose for getting
his reviews in at the last minute.
("This is Your Strife")
Say what you will about how long the joke gets dragged out, I still found “This is Your Strife” to be vastly funny and even, dare I say it, leagues more enjoyable than *anything* contained within the first issue of Mad. (Or even the first few issues.) Feldstein had a great brand of zany humor akin to Spike Jones and His City Slickers, and he knew how to wield it well. This story, in particular the “message from our sponsors” Pecan Cardinal’s No-Smudge Lipstick, points the way to the rampant film and media parodies that would become Mad’s calling card under Feldstein’s editorship. Despite the blatant obviousness of Melvin’s crime, I couldn’t help but crack a smile a perpetual smile as more horrific evidence of Emma Lou’s disappearance kept stacking up.

Foxy, red velvet-clad Gwendolyn walks the streets of her fairy tale village hearing the cat calls and wolfish jeers of sexually-starved rubes every day of her life, but she gives everyone a turn when she decides to step out one evening with none other than local doofus Melvin. As she explains it, her admiration for the simpleton stems from a traumatic incident from her childhood when, after receiving her famous scarlet cape from her parents, she traveled to her sickly grandmother’s house with a basketful of jet fuselage and tommy guns only to be waylaid by a ravenous wolf that was quickly gunned down (on the second shot) by an intervening woodsman. So Gwendolyn’s romantic appetites have tended towards the meeker shade of male, but nose-picker Melvin soon discovers that it goes much deeper than that. The woodsman, you see, actually killed Gwendolyn’s grandmother, and now as a matured young woman preening under the glow of the full moon herself, Red Riding Hood assumes her true shape and grabs herself a nice (chewy) piece of ass.

"Little Red Riding Hood"
In an issue filled with some very funny material, “Little Red Riding Hood” pales in comparison mostly for the fact that artist Jack Kamen isn’t anywhere near equipped to operate on the same gonzo level as Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, or Bill Elder. Still, this story is easily more humorous than the last seven Grim Fairy Tales from the horror titles put together. It seems like Al was consciously restraining himself from letting those yarns get too far out there (with the exception of maybe “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”), whereas here in Panic he can go into full-on silly mode without fear of repercussion from the GhouLunatics or any of  the Fan-Addicts. Red Riding Hood’s sassy rejoinders to the other characters (“Higher, idiot! You missed!”) and the random, startling bits of viciousness (Gwendolyn’s father telling her that she’ll wear her new cape or he’ll “rip off [her] arm and beat [her] with the bloody stump”) made me guffaw aloud on more than one occasion.

Capping this bone-tickling premiere is a reinterpretation of Clement C. Moore’s (or is it Henry Livingston Jr.’s?) famous Yuletide poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or, as it is more commonly known to us heathens, “The Night Before Christmas.” From its slaughterhouse opening depicting no creatures stirring—but plenty of them strung up as sides of meat—to the fateful visit of the “little old elf” himself cursing to his team of flying football players, Elder revels in sight gags and general inanity almost to the point of gratuitousness. Like the retelling of “Casey at the Bat” from Mad, the humor of “The Night Before Christmas” lies mainly in the visuals while the rhyming captions play it straight, but Elder uses the lines as a jumping-off point for some overly-literal imaginings of just what Moore (or Livingston) meant by his fanciful descriptions. Santa, for instance, is depicted with flowers sprouting from his “rosy cheeks” while the “sugarplums” that the tots dream about in their nailbed cots range from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell to a free lifetime subscription to EC Comics, natch. It all ends with a winning final panel in which the merry salutation of the season is voiced by none other than William M. Gaines himself as Santa Claus, the whole stable of self-drawn EC artists bursting from his sack of goodies. If that doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit, then nothing will! --Jose

"The Night Before Christmas"
Peter: With the newsstand bulging with imitators, Bill and Al decide to get in the game and imitate themselves with the first issue of Panic. Unfortunately, as we'll find very quickly, Feldstein is no Kurtzman when it comes to humor and this second funny book may be a case of stretching things too thinly. Maria Reidelbach relates, in her fabulous history of Mad (Completely Mad, published by Little, Brown), how "My Gun is the Jury!" got EC's business manager, Lyle Stuart, thrown in the pokey for selling disgusting material. This was at the height of the witch hunt and New York's finest decided it would side with the moral majority. "My Gun" may be salacious (for its time) but it certainly isn't funny. By this time, the repeated catch phrases being a hook is tired and lazy and Al uses a couple lines here over and over. For a parody of Spillane, I guess it's spot-on but I'd have preferred a couple giggles as well. Things go from bad to worse with the embarrassingly juvenile (and not in a good way) "This is Your Strife," which finds Al reaching constantly for what he thinks is funny material. There might have been a good idea in this mess somewhere but the one-note joke is stretched out to an interminably long seven pages. The material jammed into the first issue of Panic is worse than any of the imitation material found in the competitors' rags. "Little Red Riding Hood" is about what you've come to expect from the Feldstein/Kamen Fairy Tale series, though the panel of the little tyke pulling out her birth certificate and castigating her mother for calling her "Red" instead of her real name is pretty amusing. "The Night Before Christmas" has some giggly bits (the fake leg hanging from the fireplace in lieu of a stocking is genius) but the "put nonsensical banners on everything" hook may need a rest. The final panel is a classic.

Jack: I thought the Spillane parody was very funny and that Jack Davis was the perfect choice to draw it. I love Mike's increasingly obscure motives for killing dames and the finish plays off a later Hammer novel in a surprising way. This story was funnier than many of the stories in Mad. After that, the issue goes quickly downhill. "This is Your Strife" is a corny takeoff that is slightly improved by the gradual buildup to the revelation of the murder, while "Little Red Riding Hood" is a shade better than "Hansel and Gretel!" until the stock ending sinks it. "The Night Before Christmas" takes the familiar poem and makes it pointless--there's no need to read the captions when you can watch Bill Elder go wild with sight gags. As Peter noted, the last panel--a full-page--is a keeper and it's great to see all of the EC staff in one place.

Shock SuspenStories #13

"Only Skin-Deep" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Blood-Brothers" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Upon Reflection" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein, Bill Gaines & Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

"Squeeze Play" ★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Frank Frazetta & Al Williamson

A man, his face covered in bandages, awakens in a hospital room to the heavenly sight of a smoking blonde standing before him who claims to be his lover. (Not a bad way to wake up!) She is Gloria Anders and he is Robert Sickles, but their connection was not so innocent: according to Gloria, she and Robert were entangled in an extramarital affair that ended with the death of Gloria’s husband Charles at Robert’s hands, a feigned automobile “accident” that led to the scarring of Robert’s face. Thankfully plastic surgeons were able to restore Robert’s face to its former glory, and the befuddled but thankful gentleman is discharged into the arms of his paramour. Booking a quick wedding ceremony and a cozy cabin for their honeymoon, the two settle in as they begin their new lives together. That is until Robert takes a tumble onto the floor that night, jogging a particularly nasty memory from his amnesiac brain. So nasty in fact that he strangles his newlywed wife on the spot as she gasps in shock. As “Robert” explains to the police later, he is in actuality Charles Anders, the cuckolded husband who eavesdropped on the lover’s plot before getting the drop on Robert and stowing *his* unconscious body behind the wheel of the car. An exploded gas tank damaged his face and Charles, having switched clothes and ID with Robert, was given the face of his romantic rival when it was assumed that Robert had been the survivor of the “accident.”

Feldstein: Give me three of the goofiest, most unnatural poses you can think of.
Kamen: I'm on it!
("Only Skin-Deep")

I hope you got all that because there’s going to be a quiz following this review. “Only Skin-Deep” is pretty much Dullsville the whole way through, a story where I hoped that my prediction of the twist ending was going to be proven wrong but was unfortunately confirmed. Seems a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? Like Peter says below, was there literally nothing else to correctly identify Charles? Just because he had Robert’s ID, it instantly meant that he must be Robert? Kamen’s art looks even more tired as usual. In an interview contained in the B&W reprint volumes, Bill Gaines mentions that at this point in the company’s history the books were mostly operating on house plots; Gaines and Feldstein were just about tapped for any original ideas and would soon resort to bringing outside writers into the fold to spice things up. “Only Skin-Deep” is proof of just how badly they were needed.

Good thing these are all outdated beliefs.
The news of an African American family putting in an offer for Jed Martin’s house has some residents riled up, but none moreso than full-time bigot Sid. He confides his prejudiced fears with his neighbor and close friend Henry Williams, but Sid is left speechless when Henry reveals that his grandmother was black. Seeing this as a betrayal of the worst sort, Sid begins a one-man campaign of ignorance against the Williams family. As if getting Henry fired from his job after making an anonymous call wasn’t bad enough, Sid even stoops to telling his kids not to play with Hank’s boy and threatens to cease his business with local merchants if they keep serving someone tainted with “Negro blood.” The clincher finally comes when Sid sets fire to a crucifix on Hank’s front lawn, driving the persecuted man to finally take his own life. Old Doc Falk provides Sid with an interesting piece of local history as the man stands triumphant over the crucifix ashes: as a boy, Sid got into a terrible accident that required an immediate blood transfusion to save his life. The only person who had matched his blood type was George, the family's hired farmhand. As Doc Falk retorts, “ ‘Negro blood,’ pumped into your veins, snatched you from the jaws of death!” The physician leaves the stunned man to ruminate on his evil deeds.

If it weren’t for the going-out-of-its-way twist ending, “Blood-Brothers” just might have made the grade as an all-around excellent yarn, but for my money it would still have had a tough time distinguishing itself from past stories that tilled similar territory (and to much better effect) like “Judgment Day” and “In Gratitude…”, or its fellow loathe-thy-neighbor SuspenStory, “Hate!” Though he was (and is) more lauded for his fanciful SF illustrations, Wally Wood demonstrates most ably here why he was such a great fit for this particular EC title: his art carries a sense of weight, gravitas, and moral complexity that just about no other artist in the EC stable could touch for all their excellent draughtsmanship. You feel like you might have passed his characters on the street once, or in this case lived next to one.

I think I've been reading too many comic books, Doc!
("Upon Reflection")
“Joey Berksant, number one contender for the middleweight championship” is having a tough go of it. Ever since he whaled on his opponent Manny Williams too hard during that match at the Garden and killed the poor bastard, Joey’s been down deep in the blues. It didn’t help that Manny’s widowed wife burst into the locker room after the event, calling the pugilist a “twisted ugly blood-thirsty beast.” And when Joey wakes up the next morning, he most certainly is! His hands have become misshapen claws, and it isn’t long before the transformation spreads and he’s become a knuckle-dragging chimp wearing a monkey suit. Just before he blows his brains out, Joey hits on the idea of calling up psychiatrist Dr. Coleman to talk him out of it. Coleman tells Joey like it is: the transformation is all in his head and he’s merely suffering from a guilt complex. Fully human and relieved, Joey leaves the office before stopping in front of an outdoor mirror. What he sees causes him to snap and follow through on the earlier postponed suicide. As the storekeeper later explains to the police, the poor gentleman had just stopped to look in a funhouse mirror that was installed on the building as a publicity gag before taking his own life.

“Upon Reflection” is not only a doofy story but a strange one to find within the pages of the post-“EC Sampler” days of Shock SuspenStories. If it weren’t for Crandall’s art, I could be easily convinced that this was something from one of EC's competitors. Which is not to say that everything EC’s competitors did was bad, but this story just feels so entirely bereft of the the company's usual pizzazz that it could be mistaken for the work of someone else. Crandall himself doesn’t seem to have been too thrilled by the assignment. His artwork feels like a six-page yawn.

("Squeeze Play")
Harry, by every definition of the word, is a stud. A buckin’ sexual bronco, he’s a man’s man who won’t be hemmed in by the silly dreams of any woman, so when his girlfriend Cora brings their days of idle dating to a screeching halt first with questions of marriage and then with news of a baby, Harry starts to sweat. Harry doesn’t like to sweat; he likes to be free and to feel the cool breeze left from the exit of his latest paramour on his face. He might like to lift weights, but the thought of a wife and child feel like shackles to him. So when he and Cora take a trip to the local carnival on the pier, Harry starts percolating with ideas at the sound of screams from the rollercoaster. Dragging Cora kicking and screaming onto the ride, Harry beats her in the coaster’s last car and tosses her out just as the ride comes to its highest peak. The brute feigns horror as he disembarks, but the crowd isn’t having it: they saw the way he forced Cora onto that ride. The murderer hightails it from the carnival as pursuers give chase. Hiding under the pier, he sheds his clothes down to his bathing suit and then intermingles with the throng of beachgoers. He strikes up friendly conversation with some bikini-clad beauties, planning on using them to facilitate his escape, but then the giggly gals decide to pal around with their boy-toy by dragging him into the surf. Harry can’t swim, but he can’t make too much of a scene lest he out himself. But when the gals abandon Harry in favor of their other boyfriends, the killer is left to sink to the water’s bottom, fully weighed down by wife and child at last.

The horrifying death of Cora.
("Squeeze Play")

I had heard mention made of “Squeeze Play” over my years of EC fandom starting back in middle school, but I had always assumed that the notoriety was over the fact that it was the only story in the bulk of EC titles that boasted artwork entirely rendered by the legendary Frank Frazetta. Having now finally read the piece, I can certainly see why this might be seen as cause for reverent allusions, as the artwork here is fantastic (Frazetta’s characterization of Harry as a bonafide psychopath with James Dean looks is truly blood-chilling), but the story itself is an absolute knockout to boot. Thank the heavens above that the contents of this issue didn’t follow through on the threat made by the front cover and have Jack Kamen taking the reins of “Squeeze Play,” because Frazetta’s sole solo-work is a masterpiece and one that I would easily place in any volume compiling the “Essentials of EC.” (Anybody interested in publishing this? Bueller? Bueller?) In addition to Frazetta’s contributions, Feldstein’s script feels especially vicious and razor-sharp. The fitting justice that befalls Harry feels so natural and innocent as to be perfect. Feldstein should have been proud of this one. --Jose

Peter: Even sixty years on, "Squeeze Play" is still dynamic and risque material, with Frank Frazetta breaking away from the shadows of Krenkel and Williamson and striking out on his own with spectacular results. Harry is clearly modeled after the artist himself, striking manly poses throughout. The idea of pre-marital sex and (for shame) unwed mothers in a funny book must have given Wertham kidney stones. Even Al gets the whole package right by not selling out and having Cora's broken corpse weighing Harry down in the watery finale. Fantastic stuff. But for the maudlin final panel ("Oh God, what have I done," says the bigot in a moment of phony clarity when he realizes he's part-Negro as well), "Blood-Brothers" is just as powerful now as it was then (and just as relevant I hasten to add) and its jaw-dropping Wally art only seems to get better. The other two tales are a different story altogether, both containing dumb twists (and, in the case of "Only Skin-Deep" some blah art). Even before CSI, couldn't the cops tell the difference between one guy and another (fingerprints, anyone?)? "Upon Reflection" features nice Crandall art but even Reed can't save me from the eye-rolling madness that is the moronic reveal.

Jack: Peter, I agree with you on all counts. Another reprint from my fondly-remembered EC Horror Library of the 1950's, "Squeeze Play" is a stunning classic of illustrated crime fiction. "Blood-Brothers" is a powerful tale with fabulous art by Wood, but the forced surprise ending is unnecessary. "Upon Reflection" features uninspired art by Crandall and a weak twist ending that may be the work of Jack Oleck. Worst of all--as usual--is the Kamen entry which, for some strange reason, was chosen to open the book. An obvious twist is dragged out for eight tedious pages. Too bad Frazetta wasn't able to draw the cover to go along with his story!

Tales from the Crypt #40

"Food for Thought" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Pearly to Dead" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Prairie Schooner" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Half-Baked!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Food for Thought", indeed!
For years, married couple Marta and Carl have been able to work their odd gifts into a career at the circus (Marta can read Carl's thoughts--but only Carl's thoughts--and he works as a "transmitter"), but Marta has never loved her husband and now finds that she's fallen for lion tamer Eric, who persuades the beauty to run off with him when the month ends. Carl overhears the plan and, seething with rage, concocts a plan: he'll murder Eric and pin it on a local maniac who has been digging up corpses and tearing them into little pieces! Late that night, Carl walks Eric into the lion's cage at gunpoint. The bloody mess has Marta shocked, broken-hearted, and convinced of Carl's guilt. One day, while the circus tent is being broken down, a pole falls on Carl and he is pronounced dead but Marta can hear his thoughts: he's not dead, just paralyzed. At Marta's insistence, Carl is buried without being embalmed (nor an autopsy it seems) and his pleading thoughts scream out to his wife for mercy. Shoveling has the coffin-trapped murderer hoping he's gotten through to Marta but, once the lid comes up and the ghoul starts feasting, Carl knows otherwise.

"Food for Thought"
There are so many dopey obstacles in the road to the climax of "Food for Thought" that can't be ignored: why would Carl be buried sans an autopsy, seemingly on the same day he's "killed," and how in the world can he breathe underground for an entire day?! And how popular could a mind-reader be if she can read only one person's thoughts? I'd have at least liked to see how this gimmick was utilized under the big top. This circus triangle plot has been worked to death but at least Jack Davis was able to work in some nice cheesecake to alleviate the pain.

"Pearly to Dead"
Larry and Phil have always been best buds but Phil has always seemed to get the best of Larry in two important arenas: swimming and girls. In particular, one girl, Gladys, has both seeing stars. Now, as Navy frogmen during World War II, the pals dive into an atoll just off a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. While setting detonators and cutting underwater fencing, Larry spots a huge oyster field and decides to take some back with him. Phil convinces his friend that they have to exit stage left since the explosives will be going off at any moment but promises, when the war is over, to come back with Larry to dive for the treasure. Once the war ends, the boys land in San Fransisco to meet with Gladys, who announces she's made her choice: Phil. The guys make their travel plans but Larry, seething with jealousy, drowns Phil one night while they're practicing their pearl diving and makes advances towards Gladys. Larry sails to the small atoll in the Pacific but can't shake the feeling he's being watched by a bloated, stinking corpse all along the way. Turns out Larry's right since, once he dives for the pearls, Phil's rotting body swims up and gives his old buddy a hug. If we thought we'd seen circus murders one time too many, how about the old buddy-turned-murderer-over-lust-and-greed warhorse? Al just seems to biding his time until the inevitable final panel which is, SHOCKER!, exactly what we thought would happen. George Evans serves up some gorgeous, noir-ish visuals but that's the only thing "Pearly to Dead" has going for it, unfortunately.


Calvin Dugan, owner of The Sea Shell Restaurant, hates lobsters, thinks they're vile, filthy animals and revels in splitting them down the middle and watching them cook. Meanwhile, poor fisherman Ambrose can't figure out why his lobster traps are constantly empty, as if someone is making off with the spoils of his hard work, leaving his family penniless and hungry. When his chef tells him that the restaurant's stock of lobsters is running low, Dugan hops in his skiff and, once again, plunders Ambrose's traps. Ah-hah! Hearing the boat's motor from his house, Ambrose rows out to discover the big-time restaurateur in the act and promises Dugan will see jail time. Enraged, Calvin stabs the fisherman to death and scuttles his rowboat. Driving back to the restaurant, Dugan has a blowout and is broiled alive in the wreckage. 1/Wash; 2/Rinse; 3/Repeat. Aside from the really good Ghastly (especially the panels of Dugan at night in his skiff which have boatloads [pardon the pun] of atmosphere), "Half-Baked!" is deadly dumb from the splash right up to its oh-too-predictable finale. Calvin Dugan could be the most ludicrously over-the-top character to appear in an EC horror story, with his seething monologue about "horrible creatures" that "should die horribly!"

Our first glimpse of "Prairie Schooner."

Retired school teacher Millie Jackson leads a comfortable life until her ex-sailor brother, Ezra, comes to live with her. Ezra is a bit tetched, if ya know what I mean, and imagines the house as his ship, but Millie hasn't the heart to put him in a home so she swabs the kitchen floor and rises at 2 a.m. for the "night watch" without raising much of a fuss. The real trouble begins when Ezra gets a glance at the basement, where Millie does the laundry, and decides it's the perfect place for a recreation of his ship. Millie withdraws her life savings and has workers transform the basement into a Captain's quarters, complete with mahogany-paneled walls and port holes! Her savings tapped, Millie must take in laundry to make ends meet and, one day while doing the wash in the upstairs tub, Millie has a heart attack and dies. The water flows down into the basement, where Ezra does his best to salvage his sinking ship but, before too long, the ex-Captain is sent to Davy Jones' locker.

"Prairie Schooner"
A wild and unpredictable gem, "Prairie Schooner" is a breath of fresh air amongst the rest of the crap in this issue. Is it Bernie who brings his A-game to a brilliant script or Al who knew Krigstein would work magic? Regardless, this is a perfect melding of two masters at the top of their game; I'd point to "Prairie Schooner" (and, even more so, this month's "The Flying Machine," over in WSF) as the "big EC breakthrough" for Krigstein. From here on out, we're going to see some startling visuals from Mr. Krigstein. Readers wanting more information on Bernie should seek out the 6th issue of Squa Tront (the special BK issue can be found on eBay for around twenty bucks--well worth it) for a career-spanning interview (well, up until the time the interview was conducted in 1962) and an amazing page-by-page dissection of "Master Race" (more on that story in a few months).--Peter

Jack: Krigstein brings an exciting, new visual style to EC comics, but I was not as blown away by the story of "Prairie Schooner" as you were. At the end, I just kept thinking about how it was not possible for there to be that much water in the well, much less that much hot water in the hot-water heater! I know we have to suspend disbelief, but when a story is as realistic as this one I have a problem when the conclusion depends on something that couldn't happen. Perhaps Feldstein, a New Yorker, thought water came from an inexhaustible source! I was just as impressed with the art of George Evans in "Pearly to Dead," which seems, for much of its length, like the template for countless stories we've read in the DC War Comics. Sometimes Al Feldstein's over-writing and constant piling on of adjectives can get to be a little much for me to wade through. "Half-Baked!" wastes good art by Ghastly and swings and misses at the finale, where I was really hoping for a giant lobster, while "Food for Thought" takes one twist too many. My favorite moment in this story is when the caption says that "Marta slips on a robe" but Davis draws her in a see-through nightgown.

Weird Science-Fantasy #23

"The Children" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Fish Story" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"The Flying Machine" ★★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adapted by Al Feldstein
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"Fair Trade" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

On an unnamed alien planet, Ellen and David are overjoyed to be the first of the new human colonists to give birth to a child, but the happiness is torn right from them when the hospital, lorded over by Doctor Garden, who is apparently *not* a fugitive villain escaped from a futuristic 80s music video, immediately takes Ellen’s baby boy into their care. Garden says that new parents aren’t emotionally or mentally equipped to take on the burden of rearing a child and that a team of psychologists are best suited to raise babies properly. He promises Ellen that she may reclaim her son in two years’ time. But on the scheduled date, Garden shakes his head and tells Ellen that it’ll be another five years before her boy can be reunited with his family. David seems less perturbed than Ellen, entrusting his faith in science and logic whereas Ellen believes that love is the one thing that every child needs. When Ellen arrives at the hospital to claim her son on the seventh year, Garden tells her she’ll have to wait five more years. Finally incensed into action, Ellen rallies the other parents of the colony to storm the nursery. Garden is waiting for them, and before he lets the mob through he asks them one vital question: Are they sure they really want their children back? The planet, according to Garden, had a terrible effect on all the human offspring, mutating them into abnormal freaks. But when Garden opens the doors to the room full of dwarfed, tentacled, and misshapen kids, the parents rush forward in unabashed love to reunite with their children.

One Big Happy.
("The Children")

The mutant child trope had certainly been no stranger to EC, having cropped up in close to a dozen other yarns in the SF titles, if not more. But whereas the child’s otherness was the primary focus before, it’s kept a secret until the final reveal of “The Children.” The effect here is completely different to just about anything else we’ve seen before though. When the mutant child was revealed in past stories, it was usually to inform us that our rugged heroes had just unknowingly slaughtered their offspring. Here the idea is turned on its ear when the long con of Doctor Garden’s reverse psychology ploy pays off in spades, each parent blind to the deformities that mark their children and seeing only the baby boys and girls they’ve longed for all these years. Wood sells this moment superbly in a grand splash on the final page, marred only slightly by the humorous epilogue that shows Ellen and David’s boy shuffling from his bed on a set of noodly tentacles to fetch himself a glass of water.

Fish-people have problems too.
("Fish Story")
A rocket ship crash lands into a planet with an atmosphere made up completely of water. Two of the fish-creatures who live there, Cxargx and Zlafl, watch intently as the vessel sinks to the depths of their world. Knowing that their own planet is doomed to become engulfed by a super nova in a short time, Cxargx and Zlafl plan to kill the human astronauts inside the vessel and then take their ship back to Earth to begin their gradual colonization and takeover of the planet. Blasting a hole into the craft, the aliens assume ownership after the human astronauts drown and then make ready to evacuate their world a few days later. Later, back on Earth, the Galactic Exploration Patrol is saddened when attempts to dredge the rocket ship from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean prove fruitless. They give up hope that the astronauts survived the crash, but the incident did stir up some bizarre lifeforms and findings though, such as that the bloated bodies of the weird, gilled creatures found near the scene of the crash were actually that of fresh-water fish!

“Fish Story” is not exactly a whopper but just serviceable enough to pass the time with, featuring some great close-ups of the catfish-faced villains mucking around courtesy of Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel. Like “The Children” before it, the power of “Fish Story” comes from its ending, here delivered in characteristically wry EC fashion with the delivery of the professor’s autopsy report of the aliens.

EC's new look?
("The Flying Machine")
In 400 A.D., Emperor Yuan of China is just enjoying the pleasant weather and a cup of tea when one of his servants interrupts his reverie with news of a grand sight: a man has mastered the power of flight, twirling through the air on a magnificent homemade contraption of bamboo sticks and colored paper in the style of a dragon. After calling the pilot down and briefly interrogating him, Emperor Yuan calls for his two executioners and has the pilot beheaded on the spot. The emperor, though enraptured with the pilot’s ability to soar through the sky and the thought of the incredible views he must be experiencing, realizes that the pilot’s power over gravity could just as easily be appropriated by men with more sinister purposes, such as attacking his beloved homeland. As such, the knowledge of flight must die along with its owner, and Emperor Yuan returns to the simpler, more innocent pleasures of the harmless mechanical diorama he has created back at his palace.

Told in the graceful fashion of an ancient fable, “The Flying Machine” remains one of Bradbury’s most understated and heartfelt stories, an entire world away from the type of Rockwellian science fiction that he’s become so well known for. The artistic contributions of Bernard Krigstein, whose singular style of thin, wavering lines reminiscent of 60s cartoons has started to grow on me since my salad days, complement the proceedings perfectly, bringing gentleness and beauty to a story that contains in its wistful demeanor dark allusions to Man’s reach far exceeding his grasp and the terrible destruction that typically comes about with each of his innovations. Like Peter states below, “The Flying Machine” may very well have pointed to the “New Direction” EC was hoping to take its publications, so it’s a pity if the PR nightmare that was the Senate hearings took the juice out of that effort in its mission to staunch all the blood and viscera from the company’s other books.

The leader of a tribe of cavepeople recalls how he came to the desolate ruins across the river that his aged father had warned him about. Despite the old man’s prophecies, the tribe leader does not instantly die from heavenly fire following his forbidden tour of the ruins as had his grandfather before him, so after Dad kicks the bucket and leaves the Keys to the City to Junior, the tribe leader takes the gang across the river to populate the spacious and cave-friendly ruins. But when the primitive clan spots the brilliant descent of a rocket ship upon their home, the gang thinks their punishment has finally arrived. But from out of the ship comes a gaggle of suited astronauts who claim to come in peace, waving a generous offer of beads and blankets in payment for ownership of the land the ruins rest upon. The cave-people, in a mixture of bewilderment and relief, accept the tokens and hightail it out of there. The astronauts, meanwhile, have bigger plans of expansion and hope to wipe out the native savages completely. The land of the ruins, named “Manhattan Island” by the savages, will just be the start.

Next stop: Disneyland!
("Fair Trade")

Hmm. Alright then. “Fair Trade” is too unfocused and cryptic to generate anything close to interest during the first two-thirds of the story; we have a pretty good feeling that this is going to end in some post-apocalyptic, they-were-on-Earth-the-whole-time reveal, and even though we’re not sure *how* it’s going to be revealed that still doesn’t make us care any more than we already didn’t. The lazy allusions to the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans feel like an afterthought and a wasted opportunity for a meatier parable. Orlando’s art is strictly by-the-numbers and unfortunately bereft of his usual loony aesthetic. --Jose

Peter tells Jose another bedtime story.
("Fair Trade")
Peter: In the same issue of Squa Tront mentioned in the review of Tales from the Crypt above, EC expert/historian Bhob Stewart (who passed away in 2014) admits he considers "The Flying Machine" to be "the greatest story that has ever appeared in comic books." While I think the tale is nicely told (and very nicely illustrated), I'm afraid I don't find it nearly as satisfying as Stewart. I'm not even sure why it's been included in an issue of WSF as there are no fantastical elements (unless the idea of flight in the 5th Century is the sf/fantasy hook). It certainly sets itself apart from just about any other EC tale we've seen so far in its theme and presentation. If the EC funny books had not been shut down by the witch-hunters, perhaps this was the road the titles would have taken anyway, a more highbrow package. The original prose appeared in the Bradbury collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun (Doubleday, 1953). Elsewhere in this issue, "The Children" has a long, slow buildup to a hell of a twist ending; the sight of the parents lovingly welcoming the mutants into their arms is a nice change of pace. "Fish Story" has some gorgeous art but a pedestrian hook, one that I swear we've seen already. It's got a boatload of coincidences to boot. Al wraps up this so-so issue with a preachy of monstrous magnitude. Al throws stones at the government and reminds us what the pilgrims did to the Native Americans as well. The dialogue between the two astronauts at the climax is a preach too far though:

Astronaut 1: "Pretty stupid, selling a hunk of land that size for a handful of beads and some old blankets . . ."
Astronaut 2: "At least we gained their confidence! That's a start . . ."
Astronaut 1: "Later, we'll just drive them off the land . . . even kill them for it . . ."

The silliest thing about the deal the "savage chief" made is not how royally he got fleeced but how quickly he gave up the land after making such a big deal about getting there!

Jack explains the medical benefits package
to a new bare*bones staffer.
("The Children")
Jack:  The greatest comic book story ever? I wouldn't put it in my top ten, even though I gave it four stars in my notebook. Krigstein demonstrates an unusually sensitive hand that is guided by an understanding of the language of film and how to convey it in the graphic story medium. I thought the Wood story was equally impressive, as was his cover, and it seems like Wood has become the go-to guy for stories with adult themes. Williamson and Krenkel provide more beautiful art and their story has a nice, subtle twist; the first three stories are so strong that Orlando's final tale suffers in comparison, though I would've liked to have seen what Joe Kubert would have done with "Fair Trade."

Mad #9

"Little Orphan Melvin!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Raven" ★★★
Poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

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

"Hah! Noon!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Little Orphan Melvin!" is a poor, redheaded girl who wanders the streets of the city during the Great Depression talking to her dog, Gravel. Crooks grab her and shoot her out of a cannon but she is rescued at the last minute (sort of) by her protector, Daddy Peacebucks, who enlists the aid of his helpers, The Gasp and Punjoke. After a few exciting rescues, Melvin is revealed to be a stunning, fully-grown redhead, giving new meaning to the term "Daddy."

"Little Orphan Melvin!"
Some of these EC comics just come back to me the moment I see them, and this is one of them. That great cover by Kurtzman is imprinted on my brain due to a reprint I once had, and I love Kurtzman and Wood's takeoff on Little Orphan Annie. I am not very familiar with the comic strip, having grown up with the Broadway show as my touchstone for the character, but I know enough about the original to enjoy this parody a great deal.

A solitary man sits alone in his study one bleak December night when "The Raven!" flies in through an open window. Despite the man's pleas for the return of his beloved Lenore, the raven only responds with a single word: "nevermore."

I'm not really sure how best to appreciate these Mad/Panic stories where a classic poem is illustrated in a zany fashion. Am I supposed to slog through each caption of poetry and then be amused by the ironic picture below it? It's all a little much and it blunts my enjoyment of the Elder craziness.

"Bop Jokes!"
After a full-page "Bop Dictionary" that explains the meaning of hip terms, we are treated to five one-page "Bop Jokes!" As unfunny as it is dated, this couldn't have been particularly hilarious back in 1954 and it has not aged well.

As "Hah! Noon!" approaches in a dusty town in the Old West, Marshall Kane weighs the pros and cons of waiting for the train to arrive with a killer and the shootout that is certain to follow. Though he longs to take the earlier train out of town and avid the confrontation, he ends up facing down the villain, who is utterly confused by the train timetable.

I think this is a Mad classic! This issue shows that, along with Will Elder, Wally Wood and Jack Davis were able to master the parodic formula that really made for the best Mad stories. Kurtzman knows the movie backwards and forwards and his script is clever; Davis milks every last joke out of the situation.--Jack

"Hah! Noon!"

Lenore as never before!
("The Raven")
Melvin Enfantino: Hard to believe, but Bill Elder's lunacy seems to be escalating . . . and that's a good thing. The whacko stuff we find tucked into every nook and cranny of "The Raven" is a joy to breathe in. It's like getting one of those variety packs of jelly beans and just tucking in, letting the mystery flavor overtake you. That's what it's like turning each page. Here we have a dog eating from a box of "Giant-Sized Dog Food" and growing larger as the stanzas roll on. Or the bust of Pallas that is, panel-by-panel, stripped to its skull. This stuff could literally warp a kid. Our first glances of "Little Orphan Melvin!" are of a patchwork waif with no irises and peanut butter/mashed potatoes stacked precariously atop her head. Wally then adds extra ornaments to Melvin's coif, such as eggs and flowers. The first few pages made me larf out loud several times; you get the feeling Wally and Harvey were giggling over the source material and wondering why anyone would eat this crap up. Unfortunately, there were five more not-so-funny pages attached. At least Wally maintains the Elder-esque high quotient of sight gags per panel. The climax of "Hah! Noon!" is pretty funny but the rest is a repetitive slog.

The Vault of Horror #35

". . . And All Through the House . . ." ★★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Tombs-Day!" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Davis

"Beauty Rest" ★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Kamen

"Shoe-Button Eyes!" ★★
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Graham Ingels

"... And All Through the House ..."
On Christmas Eve, a woman gives her husband the ultimate gift: a poker across the head. Having planned this months ahead of time, the gorgeous blonde calmly gets to work on cleaning up her mess. She trots upstairs to see if daughter Carol is still asleep and then heads back down to begin work. She lights a cigarette and turns on the radio. "Jingle Bells" is interrupted by a special announcement: a maniac, dressed as Santa Claus, has escaped a nearby sanitarium and authorities advise that everyone stay in until the nut is apprehended. The looney's vice is strangling beautiful young women and our heroine/murderess certainly fits the bill. Suddenly, a knock on the door summons the woman to the window, where she beholds a yule tide surprise: a man dressed in a Santa suit! Panicked, she rushes to the phone but remembers she can't call the police since her husband's body might elicit pesky questions and she can't get rid of the body because she can't get out of the house. What to do? She races around the house to make sure all windows and doors are locked then heads down into the cellar for some wood to shore up her defense. After finishing, she finally drags hubby down to the basement (lest Carol wake up and ask more of those pesky questions) and then heads back upstairs to check on her young'n. Finding the bed empty, she panics until she hears Carol calling her from downstairs. She races down the stairs, only to find Carol standing in front of the open door, gleefully telling mommy that she has let Santa in.

" ... And All Through the House ..."
Another classic Craig strip and yet another tale that was faithfully adapted by Milt Subotsky for Tales from the Crypt, ". . . And All Through the House . . ." is ghoulish holiday fun. I love how Craig has our nameless heroine calm as a millpond, sparking up her ciggie and coldly sizing up the corpse on her living room rug, but when the shit hits the fan, our girl is racing around doing five things at a time (and not doing any of them all that well!). She begins to hide that body three times but is always interrupted by some other thought. Little Carol's beaming face in the final story panel is a classic. I'm on the fence as to whether Subotsky improved on Craig's story or if they're just about equal (the one thing that the story has over the film is that Craig is able to sustain the dread without actually showing the maniac until the very last panel!). Joan Collins does a fabulous job as the cold, calculated murderess and the suspense keeps you right on the edge of your seat; it's a hard thing for a filmmaker to do when only given about fifteen minutes.

Professor Burton leads a small expedition into the tombs of an Egyptian sphinx, trying to locate a previous group of scientists who'd disappeared just after reporting a terrific find. Once in the tomb, the group is cut off from the outside world by a series of trap doors and, one by one, each member is murdered in gruesome fashion. Realizing their only way to safety is to find some other way out, Burton leads the dwindling group further into the tomb, only to stumble over a cache of priceless gems. As Burton and the only other survivor gawk at the treasure, the professor reads the hieroglyphs on the wall, detailing the entombing of a living sphinx, half man and half lion. Suddenly, the creature of legend leaps from the shadows and it is . . . the end. "Tombs-Day!" is another by-the-numbers mummy (well, technically, you're right, there's no mummy, but . . .) tale with nothing to add to the mythos and a whole lot of talking Jack Davis heads. Burton is a total dope in that he suspects the previous expedition went missing somewhere in the tombs but sees no problem wandering into "secret panels." The only bright spot is JD's sphinx monster in mid-leap in the final panel.

She had some stiff competition.
("Beauty Rest")
Helen Curtis is certainly tired of all the attention her room-mate, Joyce Noble, gets from the men, especially since Helen is the more talented and prettier of the two, so when opportunity knocks, Helen answers. When Joyce comes home, bragging of her latest date and how the schmuck is going to fix a beauty contest for her, Helen sees red and pops a dose of sleeping pills in Joyce's hot milk, with an eye to taking her room-mate's place at the contest. Next day, Helen arrives and discovers she's to be crowned "Miss Corpse of 1954" at the annual Undertakers' and Embalmers' Association convention but must accept her prize that night at the award presentation. In the meantime, the excited young miss heads home and finds, to her surprise, that Joyce is still out. In fact, Helen may have given the cold miss a few too many sleeping tablets. Quickly erasing all evidence, she calls the cops and sobs out the story of her best friend's suicide. Shrugging her shoulders and glad she's rid of Joyce, Helen heads to the award ceremony, held in the dank basement of a creepy brownstone. Too late, Helen discovers, as several men emerge from the shadows with gleaming blades, she's actually going to become Miss Corpse of 1954! The ludicrosity factor of "Beauty Rest" is very high, dangerously high. How would these undertakers ever get away with the murder when other women entered the contest? What possible motive would they have for wanting an actual corpse? Are they ghouls or simply maniacs united in one common goal? Too many questions? Maybe. Have I spent too much space pondering this dreadful waste of time? Certainly.

Born blind, little Billy has always tried to "look" at the bright side of life, even when his father dies and his mother remarries a "not so nice" man who taunts and tortures the little tyke. Luckily, Billy has his teddy bear to keep his spirits up when the step-father is abusing mom. One night, the mean old man gets drunk and rips the "Shoe-Button Eyes!" from teddy and taunts the boy with the disfigurement. Billy's mother gets sick on Christmas Eve but, before she dies, she fixes teddy up with some new eyes and begs her husband to take care of Billy. The drunk smacks his stepson and the boy hits his head, blacking out. The next morning, after hearing terrible screams from the house, neighbors break in and find the man torn to pieces, his eyes replaced with shoe-buttons and the teddy bear soaked in blood. Billy finishes his story by letting us know he can see now and the view from "up here" is pretty. Though the final panel has a reveal I didn't see coming (narrator Billy has been dead throughout his narrative), the bulk of the story is oozing with soap opera pathos and unrealistic characters (as I've said before, the more loathsome the villain, the more unrealistic that character becomes to me and the more uninvolved I become). Dismiss the story and you've got hot and cold Ghastly; most of his talents here are wasted on talking heads and that final panel might elicit laughs rather than chills. The corpse on the splash, with candles stuffed in every orifice imaginable, sees Graham Ingels ignoring the sign that reads "Overkill" and speeding straight for the cliff. --Peter

Jack: Craig's opening tale is eight pages of sheer terror, and even though I remember the ending from the movie it's still great. I'm not sure what it says about me that I really like stories about homicidal maniacs who have escaped from the asylum--"The Dangerous People" is one of my favorite episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I think "Shoe-Button Eyes!" is a classic, with a tight script by Craig and fine art by Ingels. Is this the only time the two have worked together? The other two stories are forgettable. While I love a good Egyptian tomb tale, Oleck and Davis don't wring much excitement out of this one. At least the Kamen story does not involve a fairy tale and allows him to draw pretty girls, his greatest strength.


From Panic #1

Sign us up!
(from Tales From the Crypt #40)

Next Week . . .
Will we learn anything new about
The Unknown Soldier?


Anonymous said...

I lean toward Bhob Stewart's view on Krigstein in general and "The Flying Machine" in particular, but there are other Krigstein stories that I love even more than this one. -- "Master Race" and "Poetic Justice" from Valor, to name a couple. His work in Mad #12 and #17 is also ground-breaking, and the art in his two SS stories is almost as good as the art in "Master Race". I'm not that much of a fan of the science fiction titles, but WSF #23 is easily my favorite EC sci-if issue because of the combination of Krigstein's story and the likewise extraordinary "The Children." Like the early issues of TFT and FC that contain stories by both Wood and Kurtzman, the issues of 1954 and 1955 comics that contain stories by both Wood and Krigstein tend to stand out. The great, great Mad #12 and SS #14 are examples that come to mind.

I agree with your observation that Wood's consummate draftmanship in his SS stories and covers is a big part of what gave this title such unusual gravitas. By this stage of the run, SS was clicking on all cylinders. The stretch from 12 through 14 in particular is so good that, even though #13 contains the once-in-a-lifetime gem "Squeeze Play", I think it is the weakest issue of the three -- in part because the cover is so disappointing when compared with the corresponding panel in the story. I'm no expert on the horror titles, but for my money Frazetta's ground-eye view of the murder is the scariest panel in any EC comic.

-- Jim

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your comments, Jim. You have now whet my appetite for Mad 12 and SS 14!

Quiddity99 said...

Big month! I forgot that they shifted around the rotation here, giving us basically every EC comic aside from Two-Fisted Tales for this month.

Well, on the bright side I think there's only 1 more Grim Fairy Tale left after this month, and I think its quite a ways off. I get why EC went with them (surely an easy day of writing for Feldstein at a time when they were running out of unique ideas), but by this point they're kinda just reduced to parodies of well known ones with Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood all done in a short period of time. The rest of this issue is fairly strong though, including Davis' comedic horror story, I think his only writing credit for a horror story.

Yikes, I couldn't disagree more about "Understudies" which may be my favorite Craig Crime story. The interesting panel style, the slow transformations of the protagonists into what they hate, just a top notch story all around for me. Overall I'm quite happy with this issue of Crime, "Mothers Day" is quite strong too and the remaining 2 stories are decent as well. Val > Rita though!

I was never much of a fan of Panic (nor original Mad either), and don't have all that much to say about the stories themselves. Our one and only appearance of a Grim Fairy Tale outside of the horror comics. This issue brought up probably more controversies than any other EC story, with the first and last story in particular. The first story had lots of controversy over the panel where the main chararacter shoots a woman and the clothing of I think the same charcter in an earlier panel, enough so to get Lyle Stuart arrested for selling offensive material (which was promptly thrown out of court), and the Christmas story was considered blaphemous enough for Panic to be banned in my own state of Massachusetts!

Agreed on all counts with Squeeze Play a terrific story with even greater art by Frazetta in his sole EC solo story. Crandall's art in Upon Reflection is fairly good for a so-so story. I'd agree with you about how mediocre that opening story is. As for Blood Brothers, it is for all intents and purposes just a redo of the superior "Hate" from issue 5.

I'd lean more towards Jack's opinion on Prairie Schooner, an okay story, but not on the level of say "The Flying Machine" or the later "Master Race". Otherwise very enjoyable art throughout an issue with so-so stories. "Pearly to Dead"'s ending essentially gets redone (in a different setting) with Evans art again a bit later in Haunt 27.

An excellent issue of Weird Science-Fantasy, making up for the downward trend in the 2 sci-fi stories as they reached their end. First 3 stories are all great, while the last is rather so-so at best. The combination of the titles for at least a little while seems to have upped their quality which is good to see.

Absolutely classic story from Craig to start off this month's Vault of Horror, arguably Craig's best and most well known horror story, having been adapted not only for the movie, but the first episode of the Tales from the Crypt TV show too. Unlike the adaptions, Craig ends it at exactly the right moment, in line with his usual style of implying, but not actually showing the violence. "Shoe Button Eyes" is another Christmas themed classic, although I gotta admit I missed what the ending meant for many years. The question was asked if this was the only collaboration for Craig and Ingels, and unfortunately it was. This is Craig's first issue as editor for Vault of Horror and he'd have a short stint writing stories for other artists, doing so for Ingels this issue and both David and Krigstein in the next.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Q99! We covered 2 months on this post, since only 1 comic has a February cover date. Thanks, as always, for your interesting comments!

A. Stern said...

Interesting reviews, and I agree with some of them, but HARD disagree with the critical review of "Shoe-Button Eyes." Both the art and the storytelling are disturbingly brilliant in that one, and it even rivals the classic "...And All Through the House" as the best story in that issue, although "...And All Through the House" is much more fun. And while "Beauty Rest" is the weakest story in the issue, I didn't find it a bad story for what it was. Also, while "Half-Baked" is only average as a story, the lovely Ingels art really brings out the main character's nastiness, and makes it a much better story than it would have normally been.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment! After reading countless Warren comics, we may have to go back and give every EC story 4 stars.