Thursday, October 18, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales: Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 19

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Four
November-December 1950

 Adventures Into Terror #43 (first issue) (November 1950)
"The Monster Awakes" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"The Unknown Partner" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Ant World" (a: Mike Sekowsky)  
"The Man who Looked at Death"(a: George Klein)  

Like most of these pre-code titles, Adventures Into Terror began life as something very far removed from a horror title. Joker Comics was yet another of those annoying, yet harmless, comedy-romance books that glutted the stands in the 1940s, spotlighting the adventures of such forgotten jokesters/ career girls as Powerhouse Pepper, Tessie the Typist, Snoopy and Dr. Nutzy, and a certain future super model named Millie. The title stumbled along for eight long years, managing only 42 issues in that time, before holding its hands up in frustration and joining the soon-to-be-equally glutted horror comics side of the spinner racks. Like the other titles that had sprung up, AIT provided readers with a steady diet of Colan, Sekowsky, and Heath, and some dynamic, eye-catching cover graphics. AIT kept Joker Comics's numbering for two issues before shifting to its own numbering with #3. The title lasted 31 issues and was axed in May, 1954.

A pilot crashes in a weird valley and unwittingly awakens a sleeping giant and must watch as the (not so-scary-looking) behemoth goes on a rampage. "The Monster Awakes" has nice Heath art but a supremely silly script. In "The Unknown Partner," Titus Crockett may be the most cold-hearted and ruthless man on Earth (he bankrupted his brother and watched in glee as the man threw himself out a window), but that’s a plus to a man who walks into Titus’ office one day and requests a partnership. That man turns out to be… Satan! A couple of interesting twists keep this one from sinking under its heavy cliches.

In another early preview of what was to come years later when Lee/Kirby/Ditko would redefine the SF comics Atlas was pumping out, "The Ant World" concerns a young couple who buy the old Hoog place despite its reputation. You remember Hoog, the daffy scientist who was convinced he could make small animals gargantuan, the same nut who disappeared without a trace? Well, turns out his experiments were a success and the giant anthill on his property is the proof. Poor Gustav Van Doren loses his lovely wife and half of his body to the crazy gi-ants before he can escape. A tale that pinballs from one lunacy to another and, ultimately, leaves the reader unsatisfied.

The best was saved for last with “The Man who Looked at Death." Oren Van Schoon travels to India to learn her darkest secrets, absorbing the behind-the-scenes of the rope trick, the headless woman, the snake charmer, and other crowd pleasers. But there is a price to pay for one who revels in torture and that bill soon comes due. Reminiscent of "This Trick'll Kill You!" (from Tales from the Crypt #33, published two  years later), "The Man Who Looked..." is nicely done, with a nasty bite in its climax.

 Suspense #5 (November 1950)
"Hangman's House" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Mark of the Witch" (a: Russ Heath) 
"The Eyes That Stared!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Return from the Grave" (a: George Tuska) 
"The Painted Scarf" (a: Dick Briefer) 
"Even After Death" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2

Thomas Zane is so insanely jealous of Robert Kinsman's relationship with the gorgeous Mona Vincent that he makes a pact with Satan to off Kinsman. The devil has Zane take his friend to "Hangman's House" where, Beelzebub claims, the good stuff will happen. As usual, the devil has an ace up his sleeve and Zane is the one who swings from a rope in the end. Dreadfully dull, overlong, and marred by below-average Bill Everett art (at least GCD claims it's Everett), "Hangman's House" is indicative of the type of "chiller" left over from the 1940s and really does seem inspired by the radio show. The devil certainly looks natty in his red leggings and yellow belt buckle!

The great Bernie K.
"Mark of the Witch" features some really nice Heath visuals and a decent Salem witch trial plot but "The Eyes That Stared" is about as generic as its title (a trait I actually love about these early horror stories -- "The Monster That Was a Creature,""The Mouth That Talked," The Man Who Thought," etc. etc.). Joe Maneely filled the Atlas titles with several wonders but this was not one of them; this Maneely is ugly and scratchy. The parade of great 1950s artists continues with "Even After Death" a not-terribly-good revenge from beyond the grave yarn featuring the talents of Bernie Krigstein, who would go on to fame with his work a few years later at EC. Krigstein, as we've noted several times on our EC blog, was a man of two pencils: he could be squiggly, sketchy, and downright cartoony, but then (as in "Master Race" and "in the Bag"), on occasion, he could be downright cinematic and gloriously abstract. Here, Mr. K is very much on the cartoony side but enjoyable nonetheless.

"Mark of the Witch"

Sailor Gorham Munson loves money and he'll do anything to attain a great deal of the stuff. Munson comes up with a foolproof plan: he'll sink the S.S. Merchant and, once it's sunk to the sea bottom, plunder the half-billion in gold bullion hidden in its innards. All goes according to schedule, the planted bomb explodes and boat goes to the bottom. Things go wrong though when Munson hires a big thug to help him bring up the huge treasure chest. Turns out the brawny sea dog is the captain of the Merchant, risen from his watery grave to dole out some good old-fashion revenge. "Return from the Grave" isn't a great story, far from it, but it does have a nasty, violent edge to it that's welcome. George Tuska is not one of my favorite artists, his early 1970s Marvel work is atrocious, but here he's perfectly average. The visuals get the job done without being overly stylish. It's odd that the dead Captain is first seen drowning his sorrows in a bar and seems not to have known beforehand that Munson is the culprit; confessing his actual identity as he cuts Munson's deep-sea air-hose.

"Return from the Grave"

Artist Edward Keller has a whopper of a surprise for his father: he's found his grandfather's last work, a frightening painting of a woman in a red scarf. Ed's dad is none too pleased with the discovery and almost collapses from the strain. When the old man gets his breath back, he explains that Ed's gramps was not playing with a full deck and that after he finished his masterpiece he murdered the model and was hanged for his crime. Pops begs his son to burn the atrocity but Ed is even more fascinated now. Some days later, Ed comes home to his studio to find his father dead on the floor and the woman with "The Painted Scarf" gone from the canvas! The stunned artist flees to the local precinct and begs for asylum from the murdering spirit but the cops later find the painter dead, apparently from strangulation. Ed seems like a good enough guy and his fate is not a fair one but that makes for a better story in my eyes. The artist's reaction to finding his father's corpse is a bit surprising; most people would be a little more upset by such a discovery.  I wouldn't exactly call the painting frightening; the poor gal looks a little deranged. Artist Dick Briefer was in between stints on his classic Frankenstein series for Prize Comics when he pumped out "The Painted Scarf."

Men's Adventures #5 (November 1950)
"The Secret of the Flying Saucer" ★1/2
"Dead End" (a: Bill LaCava & George Klein) ★1/2

Men's Adventures was a "variety" anthology, that rotated stories from the mystery, crime, adventure, science fiction, and horror genres. MA was a true collector's nightmare, birthed as True Western (for two issues), transformed into True Adventures (for one issue), then settled into life as Men's Adventures, which survived until #28 (February 1954). With its 9th issue, the format gave way, predominately, to war comics, and horror/sf was taboo until #21. The Human Torch became the spotlight for MA's final two issues. But, enough for thumbnail history, what about the two offerings this issue? Meh. "The Secret of the Flying Saucer" concerns a pilot who chases and shoots down a UFO (in a Welcome to Earth goodwill gesture), only to discover its occupant is infected with deadly radium. Contaminated, the American pilot becomes a hermit and dies alone in order to save the rest of the world. An interesting concept delivered as innocently and excitement-free as possible. That goes double for the horror tale, "Dead End," wherein a young boy accepts a dare to sleep in a haunted house and wakes to find his brother standing over him. The brother wishes him well and the boy goes home, beaming that he's won two bucks (!), only to discover his brother had been hit by a car and killed the day before. The art on both of these stories is uninspiring but at least I don't have to synopsize and critique the "sports adventure" that falls between these stories, "I Was Called a Weak Sister!"

 Venus #11 (November 1950)
“The Plot” (a: Russ Heath) 

In the year 2755, robots have rebelled against their human masters and plot a takeover of the universe. Luckily, we were on to those metallic rascals years before and placed undercover agent, Mark Gentry, in the robot ranks. Gentry quashes the rebellion and brings peace to the universe once again.

While I'm not going to cover the main events in this title, I will say (again) that some of the Venus-starring stories are very readable and feature supernatural and, in the case of this issue's showcase tale, apocalyptic elements. Granted, by story's end, Venus has restored the Universe to its rightful order, written it all up for Beauty Magazine, and is wrapped in the arms of her true love, editor Whit, but there's an edge there regardless.

"The Plot"

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #37 (December 1950)
"No Escape" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
"When Worlds Collide!" 
"The Sleeping Giants!"  
"The First Rocket!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2  

Boris Chetspoth helps Professor Polkin search the old Zika castle for that pesky invisibility formula Zika had perfected before he... um, disappeared. When the men find the recipe behind a hidden door, greed wins out and Boris murders the professor and downs the just-cooked serum. Alas, poor Boris never thought about an antidote! "No Escape" has some of the ugliest Gene Colan art I've ever seen; it's almost got an unfinished look to it.

In "When Worlds Collide!" (nice title that), a dictator declares war on the entire galaxy, never listening to his science advisor, who claims all-out atomic war can set planets out of their orbit and spell certain doom. Sure enough, a planet comes hurtling towards the warring world but it all turns out to be specks of dust in a scientist's eye. By coincidence the eggheads are discussing the fact that size is relative and the dust found in one's eyes could be planets filled with microscopic people! Imagine that!

"Eminent anthropologist" Rod Furbush (no, seriously!) has gotten the news he's been waiting for for years: that comet he claimed passed within a few hundred miles of Earth 3,115 years ago actually did pass Earth 3,115 years ago. But what does the date have to do with the sinister old Amazonian burial mound Rod discovered and won't allow passage to? Constant companion and daredevil/sex goddess, Janet Penny, insists they fly out to the jungle despite Rod's silly fears that there may be something sinister and supernatural going on in that mound. Janet gets her way and the two land at the mound, where Janet quickly finds a way into the (hereto impassable) temple. The duo find evidence of a race of giants who lived 3,115 years before but, before they can escape, one of the giants rises from his coffin and attacks. Soon, the temple room is filled with several giants and, for some reason, Janet and Rod are forgotten while the huge beasts make their way out the door and into our world. Suddenly, an earthquake dislodges huge boulders and the creatures are buried once more, this time forever! "The Sleeping Giants" is one of the few Atlas stories so far that I can say contains nothing remotely interesting or noteworthy (other than the fact that Janet Penny seems to be the member of the cast who has the balls rather than Rod who, for some unknown reason, spends the first couple pages whining about how horrified he is of investigating his archaeological miracle. Janet pushes Rod into the trip so much I suspected she might just be behind the eventual terror.

A rocket ship crashes and burns in the New Mexico desert in 1963, but authorities are able to retrieve a diary, written by a member of a research team sent to explore the moon a year before. The diary reveals a frightening and fantastic tale involving the fate of the search team. When the trio had reached the moon, they discover it's already been colonized... by Nazis, who have enslaved the local moon men! Things go from bad to worse when the men find that the colony is overseen by, yep, you guessed it, Adolf himself (in full moon man gear!), who escaped that legendary bunker and hopped the first spaceship to the moon. Now, Hitler owns the moon and he's used all his resources to amass a huge artillery, weapons he intends to use to regain power on Earth. But the good guys get the message son enough to send battleships to the moon and destroy Hitler's Fourth Reich. "The First Rocket!" is a thoroughly enjoyable loon-fest that borrows heavily from Robert Heinlein's juvenile novel, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), and just about every space opera that had hit screens by 1950. Who cares if the thing's the work of plagiarism (most of EC's stories were stolen from other sources as well), as long as it keeps you turning pages and this one does its job well. Hitler hasn't held up very well in the ensuing decades since being presumed dead; the poor guy resembles a giant mustachioed, moon-suited rodent.

Marvel Tales #98 (December 1950)
“A Man Named Satan” (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
“The Black Cat”  (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
“I Saw To-Morrow” (a: Marion Sitton) ★  
“Juggernaut”  (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2 

That tired old war horse, the pact with the devil, is given a shot in the arm courtesy of "A Man Named Satan." Starving artist Emilio Bianca has tried for years to sell the fruits of his talent but to no avail; his sculptures sit, gathering dust. Frustrated by her shoddy surroundings, Emilio's wife destroys all her husband's masterpieces and casts him out of the house. At wit's end, Emilio calls out to the gathering storm, asking Satan for peace and to rid him of his nagging wife. A thunderbolt lifts the young man off his feet and when he comes to, a large chunk of black marble greets him, inviting Emilio to ply his trade. Hours later, a grotesque statue of the devil, wings, hooves and horns intact, speaks to Emilio, promising him that all the artist's wishes have come true and that Satan will never leave him. Emilio rushes home to find his wife has been transformed into a goat; he hacks the creature to bits and flees. Satan, true to his word, follows Emilio all around the globe, leaving death and misery behind them. Only trickery releases the poor man from his bondage.

Not only is "A Man Named Satan" a great read but it's also got some very nice visuals from Bernie K. (this is a less-cartoony Bernie than the one on display in "Even After Death") and some genuine pathos. Like some of Atlas' better protagonists, Emilio is a victim of his own  making but there's not a hint of villainy to the man; he just wants to share his talent with the world and keep his shrewish wife's mouth shut. Who could blame him for reaching out to Old Scratch for a helping hand?

On the other end of the quality scale, we find Mike Sekowsky's "The Black Cat," a then-modern variation on the Poe classic, wherein obese billionaire Farnum Brando terrorizes his superstitious manservant one too many times and gets sealed in the basement vault with the titular beast. The story itself is not all that bad, in fact it's got a nicely grim last few panels but, aside from those panels, the art is hard to stomach. "I Saw To-Morrow" is utter nonsense about a con man stumbling on a honest-to-gosh real crystal ball and hoping to make millions but actually coming to a violent end. The stooge sees his inevitable end coming at him but fails to stave it off, almost like the reader who sees the cliched climax coming three pages away and still turns the page. Shame on both.

"Juggernaut" is another story altogether. Sure, the tale of a cosmic armageddon is stock-filled with such bloated terms as "negative gravitation bombardment" and "super infiltrations of positive gravity," but its sense of wonder is off the scale. Doctor Xoldis has come up with a wild theory: he can isolate "physical mass from all sources of energy -- such as gravitation, atmosphere, movement, and life" and, effectively, isolate a planet from any other body in the solar system. Yeah, I know you're asking, "But for what purpose?" and so did I for the first few pages but then when Xoldis' wacky theory becomes reality and he zaps planet Amerus with a beam of cosmic power, the fun begins. His good intentions (again, we have no idea what the endgame is) go awry when Amerus becomes a gigantic magnet and the entire universe is sucked into it. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and newly-founded planet Monax (all planets who allied with Xoldis in his experiment) are the first to go up in flames, billions die, and Xoldis sees only one chance of reversing the process: he must fly a ship full of gravity bombs into Amerus and explode it into nothingness. His ultimate sacrifice works and the universe is once more safe. Well, what's left of the universe, that is.

The prize of the issue and perhaps the most fun I've had on this journey so far, "Juggernaut" is a science fiction, melodrama, and disaster flick all rolled into one and Bill Everett's art is the glue that holds the fun parts together. The best bit is when Doctor Xoldis gets a video call from Monax ruler Lunvar, who stands in front of burning wreckage and scolds the professor for "the cataclysm of death unleashed!" This downbeat winner is the very definition of a "Marvel Tale!"

The downbeat climax of "Juggernaut"

In Two Weeks...
Magnificently, we will float into the

Monday, October 15, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 68

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
68: October 1955 Part I

Impact 4

"The Lonely One" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck?
Art by Jack Davis

"Fall in Winter" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Bitter End" ★
Story by Al Feldstein?
Art by Reed Crandall

"Country Doctor" ★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

Benson can't stand Miller and makes his life in a soldier's suit a living hell. What's the beef? Well, Miller is Jewish and Benson is a bigot. He prods Miller at every turn, calls him "yellow" and, at one point, beats the hell out of him. But Miller just keeps doing his job. Things reach a head when Benson finds out that Miller will be getting his corporal stripes; this infuriates the hot-head and he decides he's going to play a nasty prank on his victim. Benson grabs hold of a "dummy grenade" (one that soldiers practice with) and tosses it among Miller and his comrades, screaming "Live grenade!" Benson expects the younger man to turn tail and run but, instead, the kid throws himself on the TNT pineapple, earning the respect of the others in his platoon. Now it's time for Benson to be "The Lonely One."

"The Lonely One"

"The Lonely One"
Well, it took four issues but Al finally decided to throw in a Two-Fisted Tale among the soap opera whatzits and it's not too bad at all; certainly better than most of the war stories that stunk up the last batch of TFTs. It's confusing throughout the story to discern exactly where the prejudice stems from, since Benson's hatred is focused on a kid named Miller, probably one of the most innocuous names around, but thanks to a little research I found an interesting bit about the story in an interview with Bill Gaines that ran in The Comics Journal. Gaines insists that the name was made purposely "bland" so that the story could pass without interference from the Comics Code, an organization that was upholding moral values by eliminating any traces of Jews or Blacks in funny books. This wasn't the first run-in with the numbskulls at the CCA and it wouldn't be the last. Extra star for not ending it with Benson seeing the light and buying Miller a . . . Miller.

"Fall in Winter"
Why is Theodore Hamilton standing on the ledge of a high-rise building, threatening to jump? Through flashbacks, we discover that Theodore has had a rotten day. First, after thirty years of dedicated service, his boss, Mr. Abernathy, lays him off. There's no way his wife, Ruth, will accept the news with anything less than a screaming fit. Then, as Theodore is attempting to board his bus to go home, a woman ahead of him in line drops her purse. Without a second thought, he picks up the purse just as the woman turns and screams "Purse snatcher!" The cops arrive and Theodore panics, racing away with the purse still in hand. The police chase him into the building and onto the ledge where he now stands, but Theodore loses his nerve and begins to inch his way back to the window when he loses his footing and falls. Luckily, the fire department has arrived in time and catches the falling man in their net. The bus driver shows up to dispute the woman's claims and Mr. Abernathy seems to appear in a puff of smoke to deliver the good news: he'll be keeping Theodore on after all. It's a wonderful life! "Fall in Winter" begins as an involving human interest story (something we don't see much of in the New Direction titles); I wanted to know why this old man was up there on the ledge. But then, unfortunately, Carl Wessler decided he was writing a Hollywood B-picture instead and threw in some silly histrionics and outlandish last-second saves. Graham's style is slowly sliding into a post-Crypt tranquility; his characters look a little more human now that he doesn't have to worry about ghouls and swamp witches. Even his women (well, aside from the crazy bus lady) look a little softer.

"The Bitter End"
Nicholas Bullard is an embarrassment to his father, Gerard, who only wants Nicky to follow in the old man's shoes and become a multi-million dollar businessman. Nicky would rather be an artsy-fartsy, sensitive mama's boy (where have we heard this before?), so he rebels every chance he gets. Why, Nicky won't even date fabulous Sheila Cochrane, heir to the Cochrane millions, and instead becomes involved with a simple diner waitress. Pshaw! to that. Gerard pulls strings and has Nicky sent to New Guinea on a one-year business trek but, after all his letters to his son go unanswered, he has a change of heart and has him shipped home. To his surprise, Nicky's diner girl, Iris, shows up at Gerard's door, with baby in tow, to inform him that his son died while in New Guinea. Iris vows that Gerard will never see his grandson again. I kept waiting for "the Psychiatrist" to show up to tell Gerard what he was doing wrong and tell Nick that he's really telling his father, with his actions, that the family tree needs to be pulled down. It's not some of Reed Crandall's best work either; it's a rather hum-drum affair.

"Country Doctor"
On this cold and snowy night, "Country Doctor" Joseph Brown is called out for two emergencies: farmer Eddie has had a run-in with his tractor, and young couple Fred and Alice are expecting their first child. Fred insists that Dr. Brown hurry as his wife is in pain but Brown deems farmer Eddie to be the more serious of the two. Several times while mending Ed's crushed leg, Brown receives pleading calls from Fred but tells the man to calm down, babies are born every day. Eventually Dr. Brown gets to the young couple's house but, unfortunately, it's too late: Alice and the baby are both dead. He sobs as Eddie's son, Chet, takes him home in their sleigh through the snow and Chet feels really guilty that Dr. Brown's daughter, Alice, died while the doc was helping his father. This is a tough one. I liked the little-town atmosphere of "Country Doctor" and, of course, the George Evans illustrations, but the twist is a cheap one, thrown in because there just has to be an O. Henry to wrap up an EC story, right?  I think the story would have had more of an Impact had it left well enough alone. The Doc would have been wracked with guilt regardless and that final panel, where Brown pretty much lays the guilt on Chet's doorstep ("I . . . choke . . . I promised to take a look in at your father, Chet . . .") is an odd turn. -Peter

Jack- This is a very strong issue for a New Direction comic. Davis is very good at drawing war stories and, though the Korean War was over and had stopped appearing as a location for EC tales some time ago, "The Lonely One" is not a bad little offering. It took me a minute to figure out that Miller was Jewish, which shows that Gaines was wise to pick such a bland name, but the cover telegraphed what should have been a more unexpected ending. I liked the Woolrichian sense of dread at the start of "Fall in Winter" and was surprised that attempted suicide paid off so handsomely; I also liked Ingels's smoother artwork. I was stunned to read your criticism of Crandall's work in "The Bitter End," since I was marveling at the magazine-quality illustrations on every page. I think it's some of Crandall's best EC work. Of course, George Evans is no slouch, either, and rivals Crandall for my favorite EC artist of 1955. I did not see the end of "Country Doctor" coming in advance but I sure liked the visuals.

Incredible Science Fiction 31

"You, Rocket"★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Time to Leave"★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

Peter suggests another
new blog to Jack
("You, Rocket")
After rocket engineer Allan Crane is killed in a rocket car accident, nearby scientists harvest his brain to use for an audacious project--they will link it to a spaceship and thus avoid the necessity of putting a man in space, something that has so far failed due to the fact that the astronauts went insane when confronted with the vast reaches of space. Allan's brain is trained to pilot a ship and he becomes convinced of his own power and importance. Launch day comes and the ship takes off, but when he sees the vast void Allan's brain turns the ship around, crying "Mama" like an infant and heading back to Earth.

Wally Wood was my favorite EC artist when it came to science fiction stories, but Jack Oleck is not my favorite writer of these tales. "You, Rocket" plods along as if it's going somewhere and seems vaguely like a Bradbury ripoff until the final panel which, oddly enough, does not clue the reader in that it's "the end." I turned the page thinking there was more only to find that that was it. Not a sign of a great finish.

Carter's pose recalls the early EC
work of Al Feldstein in this panel
from "Time to Leave"
Ancient Egyptians worship the image of the god Ra. Many years before, a disabled space ship landed on an unfamiliar planet. The skipper of the ship was a meek man and his wife a shrew; he enjoyed the primitive planet but she couldn't wait to leave. She nagged him until he used the ship's blasters illegally to destroy the jungle around it so that a rescue ship could find them easily. Soon, the rescue ship arrived and repaired the disabled ship; as it took off, a primitive man on the planet observed  the skipper in his oxygen ask. Back to ancient Egypt and now we see that the image of Ra resembles the space ship captain in his oxygen mask.

The good news is that Bernie Krigstein can drew a pretty sweet gal, even if she is a nagging beast. The bad news is that Jack Oleck falls back on one of the oldest tropes of bad science fiction, that being the idea that ancient astronauts visited our planet long ago and the reality of their existence became legend over time. "Fulfillment" is a poor excuse for a science fiction story but Krigstein's work is better than what I've seen from him in quite awhile.

In the year 2954, a man named Garvin calmly welcomes another "Prim," or time traveler; this time, it's Dr. Arnold Carter from North America in 1955. Garvin tells Carter that he'll show him around the city but he's sure that Carter will want to rush back home. Carter argues but, as he witnesses the emotionless perfection of the future city, he is repelled and when it's "Time to Leave" he is surprised that Garvin wants to join him.

A nice wordless panel by Wood
Better than the first two stories but still seeming long at six pages, "Time to Leave" seems like an anti-Communist screed with gorgeous art by Krenkel and Williamson. The future city has men and women who all dress alike and everyone has the same amount of money. Dance shows are performed by robots. It really doesn't seem as bad as all that, but Carter can't wait to get back to sloppy, emotional 1955.

A space ship captain worries that he's a "Has-Been," too old to fight in outer space battles due to a slowing of his reflexes. This appears to be borne out when he misses a shot during a confrontation with another ship, and he thinks back to his own father's lament that he was too old to fight in space. Working his way onto the force, the young man made the cut for space flight and worked his way up to captain. Now he's past his prime and his second-in-command must intervene to save their ship. Back home and decommissioned, his father welcomes home the captain--who has reached the ripe old age of fifteen.

Huh? I guess Oleck's point here is that things happen so fast in the space race that only the very young have the reflexes to keep up and by their mid-teens they are too slow. The story is pedestrian and, as in all of Oleck's stories this issue, the surprise ending doesn't quite work. At least Wood is on his game, as usual.-Jack

Krigstein delivers "Fulfillment"
Peter: For the most part, this is a pretty good issue of Incredible Science-Fiction, fairly well-written and gorgeously illustrated (how can you find fault in a funny book that serves you up two Woods?), and yet all the stories smack of retread. All four seem very similar to plots we've enjoyed in the past (especially "You, Rocket!" and "Time to Leave"), with tiny tweaks. The best of the bunch, to me, is "Fulfillment," which takes one of the aforementioned EC cliches (the brow-beaten, spineless husband and his shrewish wife) and actually does something interesting with it. The twist in the tail is very effective! Was it just me or did Jack Oleck try to sneak something by the CCA in "Time to Leave," something that would have had Wertham writing another chapter in his infamous diatribe? When Dr. Carter asks why you can't tell the men from the women, the Control replies, "Is there some reason why you should?" Oh, my, subtle homosexuality forced into the suggestive brain of little Tommy! Oh, and why does the Control, after meeting and touring with dozens of other time travelers, suddenly decide that Carter is right, this future is not too great after all? Which begs another question from me: why did EC give up on horror comics after the CCA axe fell? Why not at least try out a few issues of a CCA-approved Tales from the Crypt ("Crypt" was not an outlawed word, after all) and see what happened? Yeah, I know, it probably would have run into trouble eventually (like this title will) and been shut down but the experiment (from a Monday-morning quarterback point of view) would have been fascinating.

Psychoanalysis 4

"Freddy Carter: Case No. 101 - Male (Session 4)" ★★
Story by Dan Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mark Stone: Case No. 103 - Male (Session 4)"  ★
"Mark Stone: Case No. 103 - Male (Final Sessions)"  1/2
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Jack Kamen

Young Freddy Carter shows up for his final session of psychoanalysis with his therapist and unloads on the doc. Seems Freddy's parents have been acting up again. Pop tells Freddy if he doesn't pass his math and engineering finals, he's an embarrassing failure as a son and should seriously think about giving up on life. Mom keeps right on coddling her baby, thinking it's so cute when Freddy tricks his dad into thinking he's studying his geometry workbook when he's really hiding his collection of Emily Dickinson inside. What's a kid to do? More importantly, what's a head-shrinker to do?

If I gotta read this crap, then so do you!
Well, it's been a long time coming but "the Psychiatrist" ushers Mr. and Mrs. Carter into his office and rips them both new ones, scolding them for their behavior and for screwing up this wonderful boy's life. Magically, the veil is lifted and both parents not only agree to go easy on their only child but also to seek professional help themselves! Therapy completed! I'm not sure why but I was able to make it through this particular chapter in the Freddy Carter saga much easier than the previous three. Maybe it's because it's so darned ridiculous and dated. Mr. Carter is so mean-spirited and vicious to his son, I was wondering why editor Feldstein didn't steal Graham Ingels away from Piracy for an afternoon's work. A much better ending (and one that would have fit very well into Ghastly's oeuvre) would have been Freddy burying his therapist's letter opener in the back of Pop's skull.

Is this Freddy or Mark?
My first reaction to the splash page for the latest entry in the "Mark Stone" whining epic is that Freddy Carter got home, changed his suit, and realized he forgot the murder weapon in the doc's office and had to go back but, no, it's a slimmer, more svelte Mark Stone (chalk it up to my not being able to tell the difference between one Kamen character and another) arriving for his fourth session. And a doozy of a session it is, my friends. Mark is suddenly aggressive towards his mental savior but the reasoning is a bit skewed. Seems Mark has been having horrible dreams about his mother running off to Bermuda and leaving him fish in a pan but that's only a metaphor for what's really bothering him: "the Psychiatrist" has told Mark that he's taking a week off and going fishing in Cuba (hmmm . . . fish . . . Cuba . . . Bermuda . . . yeah, this psych stuff is pretty easy) and that terrifies the previously-obese TV writer. According to his therapist, Mark has been transferring all his hates and fears about authority, abandonment, and emotion to his therapist and that's not a good thing. Oh, whoops, our session is over.

No, that's not Mark!
A month later (after a session not illustrated), Mark Stone returns for his final session and he seems to be loaded with anxiety again, but this time it's about the impending cessation of his therapy. He can't get on an airplane without thinking it's going down, he badgers his new girlfriend to marry him, he won't get into the elevator because it's going to crash . . . okay, maybe this head-shrinking stuff isn't that easy. But thank goodness, we have writer Robert Bernstein to sort out the muck. Mark was pressuring Laura to wed him because, without therapy, he saw no future and she provided something stable. Oops, the session is over but his therapist smiles and assures Mark that, yep, maybe he's screwed up enough to come back for three more sessions.

Perhaps my favorite panel
ever published in an EC Comic!
And let's all give a standing ovation to Bill Gaines for pulling the plug on this turkey before we had to endure any more of those meetings. I would assume by the quick wrap-up at the finale of both "Freddy Carter" and "Mark Stone" (I say quick wrap-up but I had to slog through 18 pages of "Stone") that Feldstein knew the jig was up for this New Direction title after only four issues (despite the fact that there must have been at least thirteen loyal readers left). Criticizing Jack Kamen's art after all this time is like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel but, seriously, can anyone tell me that anything Kamen has done in this series shows any bit of excitement or style? Look at the panels and the only way you can tell the difference between Kamen's characters is that some of them wear dresses and some not. Well, this is the first EC book that I've waved good riddance to but, sadly, it won't be the last. -Peter. 

Jack- It quickly became apparent to me that the real reason Freddy's parents were ending his sessions with the shrink was that the comic was being canceled. The first story is a hoot, from Freddy's Dad calling him a "novel-reading sissy" to a hilarious scene where the shrink dresses down the parents. Mark Stone demonstrates the usefulness of psychoanalysis as a tool for rapid weight loss, but the shrink's insistence on having a question and answer session with his patient seems laughable. By the end of this issue, I felt sorry for Jack Kamen for having to figure out how to draw panels to go along with the endless blather. It was the exciting three-panel sequence where the Psychiatrist cleans his glasses that made me realize it could not have been easy to illustrate this mess. Still, the bizarre idea of doing this comic at all kind of held my interest.

Next Week . . .
Can they really call these cool cats . . .
the Losers?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Five: Vicious Circle [2.29]

by Jack Seabrook

Dick York as Manny
Manny Cole discovers that "Murder Comes Easy" in Evan Hunter’s story of the same name that was first published in the March 1953 issue of Real, a men’s adventure magazine. Manny picks the lock on the front door of a man named Gallagher and enters the man’s home, waking him up by turning on the radio in his living room. Holding a gun on Gallagher, Cole tells the man that Mr. Williams is unhappy with him and then shoots him in cold blood, once above the kidneys and twice in the face. A beautiful young woman emerges from the bedroom and tries to save herself by removing her bathrobe and standing naked before the gunman, but her effort fails and he shoots her in the face.

Cole returns home to his wife, Betty, but storms out when she demands that he stop killing people. Manny encounters an addict named Turk who directs him to Julie’s, where a card game is in progress; Julie and Cole get into a fight that ends with Manny knocking his opponent out.

"Murder Comes Easy"
was first published here
Manny is summoned to see Mr. Williams, who tells Cole that Betty came to see him and gave him a week to solve the problem of her husband before she would go to the police. Cole gets nowhere trying to talk to Betty, so he gets high with Turk and, six days later, shoots his own wife twice in the forehead. After that, Cole is a big man in the organization and notices Georgie Davis, an up and comer. Cole goes home alone, calls Turk and asks him to send a girl over, and waits for the day when he will fall victim to the next young punk on his way up.

"Murder Comes Easy" is a tough, violent, sexy story without a twist ending, which makes it an unusual choice to adapt for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Cole brutally murders Gallagher and his unnamed lover; later in the story he brutally murders his own wife. Turk is a heroin addict and Cole uses drugs as well. When the producers of the Hitchcock show assigned this story to Bernard C. Schoenfeld to write the teleplay, he must have been shaking his head in wonder. He solved the problem in an interesting way and wrote a script that removes the rougher aspects of Hunter’s story, adds the requisite surprise ending, and introduces a subtle theme that appears clearer when viewed from a vantage point six decades later than it probably looked when the show first aired on CBS on Sunday, April 14, 1957.

Kathleen Maguire as Betty
Retitled "Vicious Circle," a title change that had been made when the short story was reprinted in the September 1953 issue of Verdict, the TV show opens on a moment that occurs before the beginning of the story, as we see Gallagher alone in his home and very nervous. He drinks, smokes, sweats, and jumps when the phone rings. He is waiting for a girl to arrive (the girl in the bedroom in the story is nowhere in evidence) and Manny slips in when Gallagher goes into his bedroom for a moment. Manny wears a black leather jacket and gloves and points a gun at Gallagher; before long he pumps three bullets into the unfortunate man without changing his own expression.

This is followed by a quick scene where we see Betty buy a newspaper with the headline, "South Side Mobster Slain"; the scene between her and Manny comes next, though they are not husband and wife, as they are in Hunter’s short story. Making them lovers instead of a married couple presumably lessens the horror when Manny is asked to kill her. Manny insists that his life of crime is the only way they can live a good life, suggesting that Schoenfeld wanted to try to give the young killer some sort of justification for his crimes.

George Macready as Mr. Williams
When Manny leaves the apartment he encounters Turk, whose harmonica music is heard through the window at the end of the prior scene, a siren song drawing Manny out into the street. Of course, we don’t witness Turk actually doing drugs, but he does seem stoned and complains that Manny replaced him in the hierarchy.

Instead of going to Julie’s card game, Manny next goes to visit Mr. Williams, whose role in the TV show is larger and different than it is in the story. Williams is a man in late middle age who wears sunglasses inside and treats his eyes with medicine that is first poured into a small cup and then applied directly to his eyes. He tells Manny to take care of Betty but when Manny talks to Betty she doesn’t listen to him. Manny returns to see Mr. Williams, who tells Manny that Betty has gone to the police; in the story, she only made that threat. Williams instructs Manny to kill his girlfriend and, in the next scene, he almost does but stops himself. Instead, after encountering Manny in a dark alley and escaping with her life, Betty rushes off screen and is run over by a car and killed. Schoenfeld thus avoids having Manny kill his girlfriend, though the question of whether she died in an accident or whether she intentionally walked in front of a speeding car is left unanswered: a bystander says: "Holy smokes! She walked right into that car!" Manny again shows no emotion, observing the corpse of his lover lying on the ground before he walks away from the crowd.

Kathleen Hughes as Ann
Once again, we see Manny with Williams, after Betty’s funeral. Williams assumes that Manny caused Betty’s death and praises the young man’s cleverness; in a telling change in their relationship, Manny now calls Williams by his first name, Vincent. They toast the future and the next scene shows what that future looks like. Manny is now a big shot, with a pretty woman named Ann ready to accompany him home from a party. Manny notices Georgie, who is dressed in a black leather jacket, just as Manny had been at the start of the show. Williams tells Manny that he is not happy that his latest crime did not go well and Manny goes home alone, where he behaves in a way similar to Gallagher in the first scene; he drinks, smokes, and sweats as he calls the party and asks Ann to come over.

In the final scene, Ann visits Manny but fails to seduce him; she notices that he still has a photograph of Betty hidden on the inside of his closet door and he sends her home. There is a knock at the door and Manny opens it, thinking it is Ann; instead, it is Georgie, holding a gun and telling Manny: "Mr. Williams sent me." The show ends on the implication that Manny has followed the pattern established by Gallagher: a young gunsel who succeeds for a time before he fails and is replaced by the next young punk with a rod.

Russell Johnson as Turk
Schoenfeld took Hunter’s short story and did a significant rewrite, changing the structure but retaining the main plot points. Sex and violence are greatly decreased and drug use is barely suggested. Manny and Betty are not married and Mr. Williams is a much more important character. Manny never kills a woman: the murder of Gallagher’s lover is eliminated and Manny finds himself unable to shoot Betty. The oddest thing about this episode is the subtle gay theme involving Mr. Williams and the series of young men who cycle in and out of his favor. I don’t think we can assume that the black leather jackets worn by Manny at the start and Georgie at the end are meant to evoke the gay community; rather, in 1957, they signaled juvenile delinquency. Perhaps Williams’s eye problems are meant to suggest some sort of flaw in his character. Certainly, the older criminal boss seems to spend all of his time with a series of younger men, tossing them aside when they no longer please him and replacing them with similar models. This theme is nowhere in Hunter’s short story but it seems rather obvious in the TV show, especially when Williams carefully puts a flower in Manny’s lapel. It seems clear that Williams has no interest in the many nubile women at the party he and Manny attend.

Paul Lambert as Gallagher
Whatever Schoenfeld’s intent, "Vicious Circle" is more interesting to discuss than it is to watch, and the young punks all seem a bit too old for their roles. Dick York (1928-1992) is effective as Manny, even though he was 28 years old when the show was filmed. York had started out in radio as a teen and acted on Broadway before taking roles on film starting in 1945 and on TV starting in 1953. He was on the Hitchcock show seven times in all, including "You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life," and also made memorable appearances on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. His best known role was as Darrin Stephens on Bewitched, from 1964 to 1969.

George Brenlin as Georgie
As Betty, Kathleen Maguire (1925-1989) is even older, at 31, and seems a bit long in the tooth for the role of Manny’s young girlfriend. Like Dick York, she moved from Broadway roles into TV parts starting in 1949 and, despite appearing in a handful of films, she mostly worked on television for the next three decades or so. She was seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "Guilty Witness."

Familiar as a heavy, George Macready (1899-1973) had been on stage since 1926 and began working in film in 1942, adding TV roles in 1951. He had a noticeable part in Gilda (1946) and was on the Hitchcock show four times; he also made appearances on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Night Gallery.

Kathleen Hughes (1928- ) plays Ann, following her role in Schoenfeld's "The Better Bargain" several months earlier. Born Elizabeth von Gerkan, she had a key role in It Came from Outer Space (1953) and has continued to appear on screen to this year.

In smaller roles are three actors who only appeared this one time on the Hitchcock show:
  • Russell Johnson (1924-2014) as Turk; he was an Air Force flyer in WWII who was shot down and later awarded a Purple Heart; he had a long career on screen from 1950 to 2011 and made memorable appearances on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits but is always thought of as the professor on Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967).
  • Paul Lambert (1922-1997) as Gallagher; his screen career lasted from 1956 to 1995 but this was his only time on the Hitchcock show. He was also seen in episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
  • George Brenlin (1927-1986) as Georgie; he had an undistinguished screen career from 1954 to 1985.
"Murder Comes Easy" was
reprinted here as "Vicious Circle"
Evan Hunter (1926-2005), who wrote the short story upon which "Vicious Circle" is based, was born Salvatore Lombino but changed his name to Evan Hunter in 1952. He also began using the pen name Ed McBain in 1956. Hunter was working as an editor at the Scott Meredith agency in 1951 when he sold his first short story. His 1954 novel, The Blackboard Jungle, was made into a hit film in 1955, and he began writing the long series of novels about the 87th Precinct under the McBain name the following year. He wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock’s film, The Birds (1963), and was named a Grand Master by the MWA in 1986. "Vicious Circle" was one of three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which he was involved; learn more at this website. Hunter also briefly mentions "Vicious Circle" in his 1997 memoir, Me and Hitch.

This episode is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992), the great actor-turned-director who helmed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock TV series; "Vicious Circle" appears to be the first TV show that he directed to be broadcast; he would do much better in the years that followed.

"Vicious Circle" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here. Hunter’s short story was included in his collection, Jungle Kids (1956); the title is clearly a tie-in capitalizing on the success of The Blackboard Jungle film, since the characters in this short story are hardly kids.

The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Hunter, Evan. “Vicious Circle.” Verdict, Sept. 1953, pp. 134–144.
“Vicious Circle.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 29, CBS, 14 Apr. 1957.
Wikipedia, 26 June 2018,

In two weeks: The Percentage, starring Alex Nicol and Nita Talbot!