Monday, April 23, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 128: July 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 163

"Kill the General!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Dan Spiegle and Joe Kubert

"The Ace Who Died Twice!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #114, April 1966)

"Sgt. Storm Cloud"
Story by David Kahn
Art by Carmine Infantino
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #8, January 1954)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must put the kibosh on a plan to kill Ike in Paris but the Krauts may be just as skilled in deception as our hero. In the end, the Allies use keen war training (a cardboard cut-out of Ike standing in front of the HQ window!) and, of course, masterful make-up and very life-like masks to shut down Der Fuhrer's insane plot.

There seems to be a wild shifting of quality amongst our DC war series every year or so (except for Sgt Rock, which seems to maintain a level of average to high quality month in and out); just when you get used to the Losers being . . . losers, the editors throw a monkey wrench called Severin in. Likewise, the Unknown Soldier which, for its first ten installments, seemed to be a natural replacement for Enemy Ace. Bob Haney, for the most part, has been doing a very good job of fleshing out the character and drawing our interest in much the same way as Kubert and Kanigher enthralled us with the exploits of von Hammer, but "Kill the General!" has a juvenile, almost superhero-ish, quality to its writing. The Soldier's antics have never been what we could describe as "realistic," with his instantly manufactured masks and costumes, but at least the stories kept us involved. Not so here; US is almost a different character and the plot hasn't even been dusted off. The introduction of Dan Spiegle as artist is also a minus (get used to Dan, he'll be around for a while); his work is cartoonish and sketchy, a la Glanzman, Sparling, and Grandenetti. There may be a bit of hope on the horizon, though, in the form of Archie Goodwin.


Fresh off the reservation, "Sgt. Storm Cloud" (no relation to Johnny Cloud) hopes his forest-born skills as a Native American will come in handy against the Nazis. When Cloud and his men are ambushed in the African desert, the sergeant uses all his childhood training to outwit the enemy. Not bad for a mid-'50s war tale and, certainly, much more entertaining than the opener. Again, I must defend the work of Carmine Infantino, whose work here is dazzling and well-choreographed.  This Cloud is a heck of a lot easier to root for than the dour Johnny currently found in the Losers. The issue carries an announcement (reprinted far below) that, beginning next month, the price for a DC comic will drop to 20 cents. Publisher Carmine Infantino explains all the backstage rigmarole and exclaims that "all our magazines will soon contain additional pages of fresh excitement." That remains to be seen.

Jack: After the cool art/photo montage splash page by Kubert opened the Unknown Soldier story, I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Spiegle's art and enjoyed the tale. The Unknown Soldier can impersonate anyone convincingly, from an old man in a wheelchair to a female nurse! I'm with Peter in my admiration for the early '50s work of Carmine Infantino, and "Sgt. Storm Cloud" was an entertaining read and possibly a precursor to the later Johnny Cloud, though this soldier was not a pilot.

Our Army at War 247

"The Vision!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Color Me Brave!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Old Soldiers Never Run!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #91, February 1960)

Jack: Easy Co. is on a mission in France to scout anti-aircraft nests when they are surprised by a spotlight that makes them sitting ducks for a sunken tank turret. Suddenly, resistance fighters join them, led by a beautiful young woman. The tank is destroyed and the young woman reveals that she is Joan of Arc, back from the dead to lead her people to victory against the Nazis. Joan hears voices and awaits "The Vision!" to tell her what her next move will be.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. follow her to a village for some rest. Just before dawn, the soldiers and resistance fighters follow the young woman out of town, where they find the hidden anti-aircraft nest. The allied forces manage to blow up the nest before friendly planes fly overhead into the danger zone, but the young woman is shot and killed in the battle. The villagers gather around her lifeless form and Rock tells his men that he thinks she'll be back the next time she's needed.

Was the young woman really the reincarnation of Joan of Arc? It all depends on what you believe. One thing is for sure--Russ Heath draws her in a skintight outfit with a body like a centerfold model. Kanigher and Heath's latest Easy Co. stories seem straightforward and simple in a good way, allowing the art room to breathe without overloading the panels with type. I like the trend.

After the Japanese planes bombed U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma rolled upside down and began to sink. For the men on board ship, it was chaos. One steward's mate named Mac Stringer knew his way around the ship and risked his life in a heroic rescue of several other men who were trapped in a room and not thinking straight. Mac was commended for his bravery but later remained a steward because he was black.

If Sam Glanzman were a better artist, this would be one of the best stories of 1972. As it is, the tale is powerful and the ending completely unexpected. Glanzman manages to make a point without being heavy-handed, something that wasn't always accomplished in the DC comics of the early 1970s.

Peter: Nothing much to say about "The Vision!," other than it's gorgeously illustrated and the script seems overly familiar. I thought for sure we were seeing the latest adventure from Jack's favorite female freedom fighter, Mlle. Marie, but the climax explained the need for the new heroine. It's almost one of those Big Bob scripts that kinda sorta introduces supernatural undertones but pulls away before making a statement. Did I mention that Russ Heath seemingly can do no wrong? I've neglected commenting on the U.S.S. Stevens entries lately as they've all been pretty much the same thing: insightful script but raggedy art but, while the art remains rough, "Color Me Brave!" is one of Sam's best "scripts" of late, four pages overflowing with suspense and bravery. Nicely done.

G.I. Combat 154

"Battle Prize!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Frogman Battleground!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #59, July 1957)

"Night Attack"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #53, January 1958)

"Count on Me!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #58, June 1958)

The Haunted Tank is captured by the Nazis and Hitler sends the crew of the Jeb on a tour of Germany, pointing out to his lemmings that this "junkyard tank" is "proof that the Allied military are scraping the bottom!!" While on a train bound for the next carnival, freedom fighters save the Jeb and send them on their way. Only problem is that the men find themselves in Russia! There, the boys become allies with Russian rebels camped in the forest and help the fighters win back their village. Casualties are heavy and, in the end, Jeb Stuart wonders how his men and the Haunted Tank will make it back to the front line.


Oh no, no, no, no . . . This will not do. Sam Glanzman may be palatable in small, four-page doses but not in a fourteen-page strip previously illustrated by DC's finest artist, Russ Heath. It's tough to keep the characters sorted out as Sam's sketchy art just blends them all together in a mishmash of pinks and black lines. Gone is the incredible detail and well-staged battle scenes; what we're left with here is what could best be summed up as plastic soldiers in front of a cardboard diorama. Even Dan Spiegle shows more care in his work. Big Bob's patchwork script isn't much better; it bops all around but doesn't seem to get anywhere. I'm not sure I'll survive much more of this.

Double Ugh!

"Frogman Battleground!" details the trials and errors of a newbie fishman trying to avoid, at all costs, that "rock bottom line" frogmen have to be aware of lest they lose their minds and drown. Nice Heath art but the story becomes a little too enamored of the "rock bottom line" (I'm really surprised that this wasn't the title) and our hero becomes a pinball jettisoned from one encounter with the dark deep to another. Much better is the Kanigher/Kubert collab, "Night Attack," which succeeds at illustrating the night fears of a foxholed G.I. and his almost OCD ability to protect his ground from the enemy. "Night Attack" is the best reprint we've had in years. Finally, "Count on Me!" offers up John Severin art that looks nothing like John Severin (uncredited inker?) and a script hanging upon that title.

"Night Attack"

Jack: It's not fair to put a new Sam Glanzman story in the same comic as reprints drawn by Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, and John Severin, even if the Severin story is not an example of his best work. Glanzman's faces are the least successful part of his art, but in a 14-page story that depends on characterization, the inability to draw faces is a big problem. Some of his layouts are passable and the story is more violent than we're used to, but the art is disappointing. There are a few panels where I wonder if he was swiping from Kubert or Heath, because it doesn't look like Kubert the editor redrew them but it also doesn't look like the usual Glanzman faces. I must admit that when mention was made in "Frogman Battleground!" of the aqua lung, my mental jukebox started playing "Sitting on a park bench . . ." "Night Attack" features truly superb work by Kubert. Let's face it, Peter, Kubert is better than Heath. Just admit it.

"We're going to make you love getting less for more!"

Next Week . . .
The purge continues as we take
one last trip down into
the Vault of Horror

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Caroline Munro Archive: Join the Lamb's Navy... Again

by John Scoleri

I'm back again with yet more rarities from my Caroline Munro collection, a continuing series here on bare•bones.

I previously posted a selection of Lamb's Navy Rum beer coasters I procured with shots of Caroline on them. I was excited to find what I thought was another batch of those, only to be pleasantly surprised when the following landed on my doorstep. These were not smaller beer coasters, but in fact larger bar mats (each measuring approximately 11" x 8"). 

This is a great shot from a previously unseen Lamb's Navy Rum photo shoot.

This photo is from the same shoot as this previously posted magazine cover.

This image pairs well with one of the aforementioned beer coasters.

Watch for more Caroline Munro rarities here on bare•bones, and be sure to check out the prior entries in this series!

Monday, April 16, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 55

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  55: January 1955, Part I

Two-Fisted Tales #40

"Dien Bien Phu!" ★★
Story by John Putnam
Art by John Severin

"Flaming Coffins!" ★★ 1/2
Story and Art by George Evans

"The Last of the Mohicans!" ★★
Story by James Fenimore Cooper
Adaptation and Art by Jack Davis

"Sharpshooter!" ★★★
Story and Art by John Severin

War correspondent Jean Duvoisin parachutes into "Dien Bien Phu!" and reports on action behind the lines for the French press. The French are quickly being massacred by the Chinese (who are being supplied by the Russians) and Jean must stand witness to the slaughter before, ultimately, falling before the onslaught himself. Extremely grim, "Dien Bien Phu!," like the best EC war stories, seeks to educate and entertain at the same time. The education part certainly works this time out but I'm not so sure about the entertainment factor. The story is a bit disjointed, seeming to flit here and there without really focusing on the business at hand. Severin's art is sketchy and doesn't contain the gorgeous detail we've come to be spoiled by. This was the first and only writing credit for John Putnam, who was MAD's art director from 1954 through to his death in 1980.

"Dien Bien Phu!"

Lt. Ben Russell is assigned to the 147th Observation Squadron during World War I, a post he is most assuredly not interested in, since Ben is one of the best fighter pilots in the war. When his C.O. explains that the Air Force needs good pilots to map war zones, Russell begrudgingly accepts but his thought balloons let us know he won't go without a fight. And a fight is just what awaits Russell the next day, when he and his partner head up to chart a very important area and the sky is filled with Germans. The bravado-filled lieutenant breaks with the observation and aims his machine guns at the Germans, taking down two of the fighters like fish in a barrel. His partner and C.O. are less impressed with Russell's show of machismo and, the next day, the egotistical ace discovers why the observation detail was so important when 500 soldiers are trapped by Krauts in the area that was supposed to be charted. Seeing the error of his ways, Lt. Russell volunteers to fly in and attempt a rescue of the men. His mission proves fruitful and his heroics earn him the medals he had so craved. "Flaming Coffins!" begins like (forgive the pun) a house on fire but quickly slips into the sort of maudlin hogwash that bedeviled the DC war comics. Russell is a self-centered, dangerous ass until he sees the errors of his ways and makes a U-turn in personality so fast you'd expect artist Evans to portray the Lt. with a broken neck in the ensuing panels. The change is just too fast and broad. While I'm not enamored of Evans the writer, Evans the artist gets high marks for his exciting aerial stunt work and layouts.

In 18th-century New York, the adventurer Hawkeye and Uncas, a Mohican, attempt to save the lives of the kidnapped daughters of a British Colonel. A choppy, confusing truncation of James Fenimore Cooper's famous novel, "The Last of the Mohicans!" is memorable only for its exciting Jack Davis art. New material might have become scarce in the last few days of the New Trend; that's the only explanation I can proffer for this head-scratcher. Also odd is Jack's insistence on interpreting for readers certain Mohican terms while ignoring others.

"The Last of the Adaptations"

Pinned down by a marksman, a group of Confederate soldiers must call on their own "Sharpshooter!" to save their skins. "Dead Eye" Jack Putnam arrives to save the day. As Jack attempts to scope out the Yankee on the other side of the river, he reminisces about how he got so good with a gun and the friend he lost to the politics of the Civil War. Jack's friend, Red Forrest, had become just as good a shot as Jack in his early years but the War (and their Pas) forced them to take opposing sides. Jack finally takes aim and fires at the same time as his opponent and both are killed. Jack and Red are finally reunited. Though the "twist" is hardly a surprise (how could it be when an emphasis is placed on Red's gun skills?), I found the story moving and fairly effective; Severin doesn't feel the need to jackhammer home the point that war destroys everything it touches, even the friendship of two young boys. --Peter

 "Flaming Coffins!" was my favorite story in this issue, mainly due to the superb art, but I also found the plot thrilling. It was interesting to see the French war in Vietnam in the 1950s as depicted in "Dien Bien Phu!," especially with the knowledge of what was to come in the following decade. "Sharpshooter!" reminded me of one of Ambrose Bierce's Civil War short stories, what with the inexorable hand of fate guiding the friends toward their destiny. Despite decent art, "The Last of the Mohicans!" was too wordy and dull for me.

Panic #6

"The Phansom" ★★ 1/2
Story by Nick Meglin and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Executive Seat" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"[Untitled Parody of Comic Advertising]" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Popular Mecpanics Magazine" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"The Phansom"
The Phansom, clad in purple tights and black mask, must rescue his girlfriend Dinah after she is kidnapped and rowed out to a boat moored three miles off shore. While waiting for her rescuer, Dinah tells the story of the Phansom, who is just the latest in a long line of men to wear the purple suit. His tale told, the Phansom swims out to the boat, saves Dinah, and returns to the beach. There, he reveals why he has never proposed marriage: the Phansom is a woman!

I love Bill Elder's work as much as the next guy, but even he has trouble livening up this series of corny jokes. Never a big fan of the Phantom comic strip, I found the parody somewhat lacking in originality. I do like how the Phansom is trapped under the title logo for a couple of pages, though.

Wally being Wally.
("Executive Seat")
Averice Bullhead, boss of a furniture making corporation, drops dead and five vice presidents jockey to fill the "Executive Seat." Will greed triumph over idealism? Will the hunger for money now outweigh the need to plan for the future? No matter: the idealistic scientist wins the day by killing off all of his rivals with poisoned pencils.

Wally Wood is a great artist, but the need to mix his talents with caricatures of actors and actresses from Executive Suite, the latest popular movie to be parodied, waters down the effectiveness of his work. This is another movie I've never seen, and not knowing much about it results in 99% of the jokes being lost on me. If the mark of a good parody is that it is funny even if you haven't seen the work being parodied, then this is a failure. However, it does point toward the direction that MAD magazine would go for the next, oh, sixty years and counting.

Six one-page parody ads follow, pitching such fake products as Ben-Goo (fast relief from aches and pains), a bodybuilding course by Charles Fatless, Neveready batteries, and so on. Joe Orlando's art continues to seem a little weird, but the ads are reasonably funny, kind of like Wacky Packages of the '50s.

Charles Fatless.
"[Untitled Parody of Comic Book Advertising]"

This issue of Panic wraps up with a 7-page parody of Popular Mechanics called, of course, Popular Mecpanics. Lots of ads, a letters to the editor column, and a classified ad page with such small type that only a bored kid would bother reading it, make up this section of "hilarity." I gave up well before the end. Peter does not pay me enough to pore over this stuff. And by the way, a blank cover is not clever--it's a cop-out.--Jack

Order now!
("Popular Mecpanics Magazine")
Peter: If Piracy was the best title EC was publishing in 1955, then Panic is clearly, easily, stupendously, the worst. Very little that appears between its covers is readable. Witness "The Phansom" (hoo hoo, what a clever title, right?), six pages of Will Elder desperately trying to drum up enthusiasm for a funny-as-cancer script and giving up caring half way through (same as I did, actually). My straight face continued through the other three vignettes (Mecpanics instead of Mechanics? Strop, You're Killing Me!) and, I predict, will remain smile-less through the remaining six issues.

Piracy #2

"Sea Food" ★★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Kismet" ★★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Davis

"The Shell Game" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"A Fitting End" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood

A band of ruthless pirates spies a merchant ship weighed down by goodies on the horizon and they promptly board her, pillage her booty, and lay waste to every crew member aboard. The captain has his sights set on selling the merchant ship, so he orders the vessel hitched to their own and all the pirate’s treasures transferred on to it in order to appease his mates who had suspected that their leader might try to cut and run. Running becomes the very next thing on everyone’s minds as a British frigate hones in on the pirate ship, forcing the criminals to cut the merchant ship loose. The British frigate gives chase and engages the pirates in a battle of cannons, losing spectacularly when their gunpowder stockade catches fire and sends the redcoats sky-high. But the pirate ship has taken some mighty blows and is set for sinking until divine intervention arrives: the abandoned merchant ship appears and the cutthroats set out for it. Too bad they didn’t count on the scores of starving ship rats that have made the merchant vessel their home and are delighted by the recent food delivery.

It's raining rats and sea-dogs.
("Sea Food")

Like “The Privateer,” “Sea Food” sets up its central cast of bastards for a cosmic beating with the details of all their rampant, unchecked deviltry, and boy does the anonymous scripter deliver with the surprise appearance of those peckish vermin. It’s an ending of the highest ironic order, and it feels completely justified and earned as the pirates fall victim to their own avarice. Reed Crandall’s artwork is less detailed here than his last few assignments, but paired with the red-blooded narrative of viciousness on the high seas it leaves this reader jolly as a roger.

Bucko Thomas has had to fight to get what he wants, and that’s no truer than when he wrested away command of the Unicorn from Captain Ames with a little foul play. Sailing out to the African coast where Muslim slave trader Amah awaits with his inventory, Bucko conspires with the crew as first mate to overtake the ship even as Ames plans for this to be his final voyage. Expressing his concerns over the lack of gold on the ship to trade slaves with, Bucko is pleased to see that Ames has secreted a store a precious pearls on his person. Ames is quick to make the transaction with Amah before heading out to sea again, and their haste is only compounded by the sight of a British cutter closing in on them, forcing them to dump their entire slave inventory into the ocean via a horrifying death-chain tied to the ship’s anchor. Incensed by the wasted trip and his desire for power, Bucko knifes Ames in the back and turns the Unicorn around after the British cutter leaves to return to Amah’s hold for another sale. Bucko paddles out to the fortress alone only to see the Unicorn blasted away by Amah’s cannonfire. Showering Bucko with the pleasures of his stronghold before ordering his execution by strangulation, Amah tells the sailor that his fate had been decided for him the moment Ames tried to pass off worthless globes of paste as pearls.

Jack calmly asks Jose to turn in his assigned reviews.
Told in a wraparound sequence that cleverly convinces us that Bucko is in store for a much different fate using a choice play on words, “Kismet” is one of most spritely plotted and relentlessly grim yarns I’ve read during this marathon. It’s not quite at a level of soul-crushing despair, but its coda of men being unable to escape the machinations of fate seems to reverberate throughout in the best tradition of noir. That this seafaring tale still manages to maintain its identity as a salty, bare-knuckled story of Piracy is quite the accomplishment, too. Though it admittedly didn’t wow me right after my first reading of it, I’ve found myself thinking of “Kismet” again and again.

The rumors of a sunken Spanish ship buried amidst the coral off the Florida Keys is too tempting for John Ordway to resist, and when he confirms the presence of treasure through library research and primary sources, he gets bitten by the hunting bug good. But the boat and equipment rentals are too much for John to manage with his meager salary, so he lifts $15,000 from the firm’s safe and juggles the books until he can return from his vacation and pay his loan back. A series of unfortunate events and the treacherousness of “Razor Reef” leave John with only a small window of opportunity, but after many unsuccessful trials he finally comes across the wreckage deep within the coral. There’s a chest full of priceless treasure, but there’s another surprise waiting for John too: namely a giant sea clam that clamps down on John’s legs. Pulling on his life-line, the crew of the rental ship yank (most of) him loose, and when his torn corpse is brought aboard they notice eight doubloons—roughly $15,000—clutched in his fist.

Peter surveys the royalties from his bare*bones pieces.
("The Shell Game")
Though this one is operating on a much more modest wavelength than “Kismet,” “The Shell Game” is still delightful as a simply- but well-told escapade with a nasty finish that would have been right at home in one of the horror mags (and probably would have made for a better ending to “Pearly to Dead” [TFTC 40], as a matter of fact). Williamson and Torres go for a more sleek, modern look with their artwork, and the final panels draw on insinuation and leave the grisliest bits to our overactive imaginations.

Veteran sea-dog Jack Roark has just about had it up to *here* with Captain Edmund Drummond’s incessant ordering of the crew (namely him) and his haughty airs. A fellow sailor comments on Roark’s black attitude toward the sea, so Roark treats him to an extended flashback where he provides context for his grouchy behavior. Seems that as a boy, Jack’s father had given him and his brother Charles two halves of a gold crown to wear about their necks so that they will always know each other should anything ever happen to them. The powerful metaphor barely leaves the old man’s lips when the ship is set upon by pirates, and Pops is killed in the fray while Charles is taken prisoner by the heathens as Jack hides on the ship. Ever since that day Jack has remained pissed at the ocean and desperate to find his long-lost brother. Drummond breaks the reminiscence up and provokes Roark to sock him a good one. Swearing to punish the entire crew for Roark’s insolence, Drummond instead invokes a full-on mutiny that leaves many dead and dying. As the mutinous crew hightails it when a British vessel appears in the distance, Roark decides at the last minute to stay and meet his punishment at the hangman’s rope: he’s finally found the twin of his half gold crown around the neck of the slain Captain Drummond.

Son... I think I hired the wrong birthday performers!
("A Fitting End")
Break out the Kleenex and the citrus, because this story has got tear-jerking moments as well as scurvy. “A Fitting End” is one of those yarns that ends up being disserviced by its short length, as Captain Drummond is really the only other character that Roark has any kind of interaction with, so the story is essentially left with no choice than to make him the brother. Wood works in some cool layouts, like the intro/outro flashback panels, so reading this final story becomes an exercise in watching him do his thing as the narrative merrily rolls along to its foregone conclusion.--Jose

Peter: Avast, ye lubbers! In my comments for Piracy #1, I wondered if editor Feldstein could keep stocking this title with quality pirate stories or if bilge water would fill the cargo and sink the shiny new vessel. So far, so good, if "Kismet" is any indication. We whine and moan about the predictable climaxes and awful Jack Kamen art that we have to snooze through (at least I do), but when I run across a script so well-written and full of nuance and surprises, it makes me realize just how spoiled the EC Comics have made me (though the scripter is uncredited, I'd put money on Al himself). You won't find dialogue this sophisticated nor plotting so well-thought out over at Harvey or ACG; it's as though Al and his comrades took their jobs too seriously and were hell-bent on delivering more than they had to. Even when the script doesn't gel (as in "Sea Food" where seven and a half pages spent on banal cannon-fire and pirate talk are wrapped up with a WTF? final panel), we're treated to the best illustrations in funny books at the time (Davis! Williamson! Wood! Crandall!). But, yes, I do question whether a couple thousand rats would have hardened pirates leaping into shark-infested waters or why Roark would suddenly search his dead captain's body for the half-crown. Despite the occasional silliness, Piracy is now EC's best title.

Jack: After all of the research that was done on EC for so many years by stalwarts like Russ Cochran, how is it that the first three stories in this issue remain uncredited on the GCD? Does anyone know who wrote them? "Sea Food" has excellent art by Crandall depicting an exciting story and a surprise ending that is pure horror and completely unexpected. In "Kismet," we have a classic EC twist ending suggesting that, at least for now, Piracy is carrying on the EC storytelling tradition in the wake of the death of the horror mags. "The Shell Game" shows that the quality of art in this comic is up to that of the EC science fiction line and the story is another thriller that builds to a great finish. I saw the end coming a mile away in "A Fitting End," but the story is superb and Wood's work is wonderful.

Tales from the Crypt #45

"Telescope" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"The Substitute" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"Murder Dream" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"The Switch" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

Eric Walford is evicted from his ship thanks to a storm at sea, left stranded on a desolate piece of lifeless coral rock with only a huge grey rat leftover from the vessel to keep him company. At the first they grudgingly respect each other, taking comfort in the other’s presence, but then the first pangs of starvation begin to needle them deep in their respective guts. Eric fails both to kill his competitor and to signal the native Polynesian fishers to his aid, but he does finally manage to stone a seagull from the air who just so happened to be in the middle of its own lunch of a fish. The rat beats Eric to the punch and begins gobbling the little gull up, swimming out to sea with meal in tow as Eric gives weak chase. Snatching the vermin up from the surf, the sun-maddened Eric starts to chow down on the live rat when, wouldn’t you know it, a shark sniffs out the commotion and hones in on Eric’s ass. The Polynesian fishers arrive just in time to kill the shark, but when they pull back the fish’s lips they get an eyewitness glimpse to a real-life diorama of the food chain.

EC's entry into geek show territory.
Lone survivor stories have a certain amount of dire suspense that’s intrinsic to their concept, so “Telescope” remains marginally engaging for its short length before Carl Wessler wheels out the grotesque gimmick at the end. It’s not to say that an author can’t think up an ending for their yarn first and then work backwards, but the stretch marks tend to show here; you can almost hear Wessler thinking, “OK, so then I’m gonna have the RAT eat the BIRD and then the GUY eat the RAT…” That said, Jack Davis acquits himself very ably in the art department and gives the assignment more time than it was worth. Eric looks like a hundred other Davis protagonists (but that was true of a lot of EC artists), but the feral desperation of the scenario comes through in Davis' illustrations, and there probably wasn’t anybody at EC who could draw a more vicious-looking rat than him, for whatever that’s worth.

Henri Duval poisoned a romantic rival, so now he’s sweating out his punishment in a French penal colony, clearing paths in the thick jungle overgrowth. Providence smiles upon him one day when he happens across hellebore in the wild, a plant loaded with a powerful toxin. Henri proceeds to sneak the plant and other nefarious tools of his trade back to his bunk, and soon he has fashioned himself a poisoned blow-dart which he proceeds to kill the colony governor with. The murder weapon is found in a fellow prisoner’s bed and the innocent man lashed to death for Henri’s crime. Fortune favors the killer again when he finds himself on coffin-building duty, cleverly boring holes in the casket to accommodate the corpse’s “expanding gases.” But really what Henri has in mind is the ol’ switcheroo, changing clothes with the dead governor, mutilating the corpse’s face, and leaving it behind in his place while Henri gets cozy for an all-expenses-paid boat trip back to Paris. But the one thing Henri didn’t count on was the governor’s wish to have a burial at sea.

("The Substitute")

If you don’t think about it too hard, “The Substitute” looks like a clever little ripper until you realize that an awful amount of luck had to be on Henri’s side for him to get into that coffin, and even when you do afford the intervention of dumb luck this story still pales in comparison to EC’s first go-round with the concept in “Escape”, all the way back in Vault of Horror #16. Jack Kamen’s art… well, look, I think 50+ posts in this EC marathon have made it pretty clear where bare*bones stands on all of that, but let me just say that while I think that ol’ Jack’s art certainly looks crisp, pretty, and even refined not infrequently, the comment that Peter makes below about “bending elbows and popping eyes” certainly sums up the visual motif of “everyone’s unfavorite” EC artist. His characters are like those paper cutout fashion dolls that were all the rage before Barbie came on the scene; very nice to look at, but about as dynamic as the sheets they were printed on. There; I think I’m done.

No matter what Howard does, he is dogged by a horrible nightmare involving his wife being victimized by a mad killer every time he falls asleep. Things seemed so pleasant just a short time ago when he bought the quaint house on the English moor for his wife Catherine, with the added bonus of getting caretaker Claude Grymes bundled with the deal. But the knowledge of his wife being safe back at home doesn’t assuage Howard’s fears as he wrestles with his nocturnal demons while on business in London. The disorienting visions have him barreling through doors and stumbling upon Catherine at the mercy of the axe-wielding Grymes, but the grim dream shows him falling prey to the madman before Grymes turns the blade on Catherine. Sensing that something is terribly amiss, Howard races back to the country estate and finds Catherine weeping over a casket containing… Howard! It seems that Grymes has been suffering from another one of his insane delusions, and after having a brief moment of clarity wherein he realizes that he has already offed Howie, he takes out his ax and finishes the job with Catherine.

Krigstein doin' Krigstein.
("Murder Dream")

I can’t decide if “Murder Dream” is clever or confusing, but if one thing is for certain it’s that Bernie Krigstein was certainly in his wheelhouse here. His discombobulating style manages to sneakily downplay the fact that we never really get a clear shot of “Howard’s” face prior to the climax, but I think that this whole damn affair is so trippy that the character could have been portrayed as the innocent husband without the surprise reveal losing any of its WTF factor. While the three of us have generally agreed on the idea that the EC horror titles were going off the rails and devolving from their previous greatness following the regime change, I think that the majority of the assignments Krigstein undertook were demonstrations of the weird, modern higher ground that the terror mags could have taken.

Dr. Otto Octavius, I presume?
("The Switch")
Carlton Webster might have a checking account fit to bursting, but his life can’t help but feel empty without the companionship of a woman. Thus the millionaire is jubilant to find that young, beautiful Linda Stewart wants him not for his cash (which she has no knowledge of) but for his heart and mind. Linda likes what’s on Webster’s inside, but she’s not too hot about the old, wrinkly outside. Webster is given the name of a blacklisted surgeon by his doctor, and the good Dr. Faulkner tells the old man that he can most assuredly perform an entire facial exchange to the tune of $200,000, 50 g’s for him and the remainder for the young guinea pig whom they’ll need to lift the kisser from. George Booth, said guinea pig, readily consents and the checks are written out. But even with Webster’s new young mug, Linda can’t stand the sight of his withered body, so back he goes to Faulkner and George for a torso swap. Everything’s hunky-dory, until Linda points out Webster’s spindly legs and arms. Wiping out his entire savings to get the limb transfer, a triumphant Webster calls on Linda at her new uptown penthouse only to discover that she’s attracted to personal security more than anything else: she’s just married her millionaire husband, George Booth!

“The Switch” is one of the last gasps of the mordant humor that use to run rampant in the Gaines/Feldstein collaborations before the dawn of the strict gross-out arrived with Carl Wessler. But lo, look who penned this tale but Mr. Wessler his ownself! It’s nice to see Carl dialing back the gag effects here for a story that has no overt and hardly any implicit violence to speak of, instead riding on a morbidly whimsical scenario that delivers a true O. Henry finish. Also stepping back into the light is artist Graham Ingels, probably relieved to be free of the dungeon of walking corpses and mindless maiming that he’d previously been sentenced to. Panels like Webster cradled in the seat of his limo amid clouds of cigar smoke show that Graham had more talent up his sleeve than he might have been credit for, and it’s really a shame that he wasn’t given a chance to stretch more during his tenure with the company. But “The Switch” sure does make a nice parting gift.--Jose

Double-D Dangerous!
("The Switch")
Peter: The obvious winner this issue in both script and art is the (admittedly confusing) "Murder Dream," which kept me guessing right up to its shock finale. Krigstein is really having a boatload of fun in this outing, with his style morphing from panel to panel. That last shot, of Claude about to separate Cathy's head from her body, is a corker. "Telescope" has a fun reveal (and a clever title) but not much else; ditto the obligatory Kamen tale where the protagonists all look alike and rarely engage in any activities other than bending their elbows and popping their eyeballs. "The Switch" occupies the runner-up slot this issue with its genuinely funny finale and grotesque Ghastly artwork (what exactly are Linda's breasts doing in panel five on page 2? Attempting lift off?). This would have been the final issue of Tales from the Crypt had there not been a premiere issue of Crypt of Terror all set to go, but more on that soon.

Jack:  It's too bad movies and TV shows have made EC synonymous with horror, because I think the horror books were consistently the weakest of the line. This issue is a good example of the "good art, bad story" problem that has plagued EC horror comics since Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines stopped writing all the stories. "Telescope" is plain disgusting, especially the red panel where the castaway eats the rat. More gratuitous violence is found in "The Substitute," in which it looks like Jack Kamen has given up trying. At least "Murder Dream" has great Krigstein art, including several examples of his technique of using multiple figures in a single panel to show movement; the color in his stories is always interesting, too--I wonder if Krigstein did it himself (the GCD has no color credit here). Finally, Ghastly has some fun in "The Switch," which was goofy and kind of fun by the end, though I kept wondering why the idiot old man didn't just get a brain transplant.

Next Week . . .
Our feelings about the NEW Unknown Soldier
will be unmasked!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

50th Anniversary Night of the Living Dead Photo Book

by John Scoleri

You guys know me. If it isn't Caroline Munro, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, or Ralph McQuarrie—then it's George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

Well, I'm very excited to announce that this Fall, Dreams and Visions Press will be publishing the latest passion project of mine—a fully authorized book of rare photographs from the making of the film. As the announcement image indicates, fans are in for an amazing selection of previously unpublished photographs taken on the set of the film, and rest assured, when using images that you may have seen before, you won't have seen them in this quality. The full press release is below. If you're interested in receiving email updates on the book, sign up for notifications on the website at


Dreams and Visions Press has reached an agreement with Image Ten, Inc. to publish a book of rare photographs from the making of the classic horror film Night of the Living Dead™ in the Fall of 2018, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the film’s release.

“Back in 1967, The Latent Image, Inc. (the film production company George Romero and I formed in Pittsburgh, PA in 1962) and Hardman Associates, Inc. (Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman’s audio studio) had plenty of “dreams and visions” to pursue. Coming together, those two companies formed Image Ten, Inc. to make the leap from TV and radio commercials into long-form, filmed entertainment, and the production of Night of the Living Dead™,” said Russ Streiner of Image Ten. “When the film was released in October 1968, who could have known where those dreams and visions would lead.”

“As a lifelong fan of Night of the Living Dead, I’m thrilled to be working with Image Ten on this project,” said John Scoleri of Dreams and Visions Press. “For years, I have longed to have a photographic retrospective of this film on my bookshelf. I’m honored to be publishing a book that will feature the highest quality reproductions of photographs from the making of the film, including many that will be seen for the very first time.”

“I’ve been thinking about a coffee table book on Night of the Living Dead since 2008 when I got back into this with The Living Dead Fest,” said Gary Streiner of Image Ten. “We know John as a major fan of the film and trust him to establish a real story of Night of the Living Dead with this book. I’ve seen a few of the photos pulled for this and they are stunning. I have a very strong feeling that come this Fall, this book will be on every fan’s bookshelf alongside their Criterion Blu-Ray of the film.”

About Dreams and Visions Press

Dreams and Visions Press was founded in 2007 with the publication of The Art of Ralph McQuarrie, a collection of the Star Wars conceptual artist’s body of work. That was followed in 2010 with The Art of Tomb Raider, a two-volume retrospective of artwork from the video game franchise. Additional Dreams and Visions Press titles include 2013’s Battlestar Galactica: 35th Anniversary Portfolio and an expanded follow up to their debut release, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie: Archives, in 2015.

About Image Ten, Inc.

Image Ten, Inc. – founded in 1967 by director George A. Romero and his associates at The Latent Image Inc. and Hardman Associates to produce a single picture – holds the rights to Night of the Living Dead’s characters and sequels. The Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation, along with George A. Romero, Gary Streiner, Russ Streiner, and John A. Russo, oversaw the 4K digital restoration of the 1968 film from the original camera negative. Funding was provided by The Film Foundation, the George Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation. The restored version premiered at the Museum of Modern Art on November 4, 2016 and was released theatrically through Janus Films in the US and Canada in 2017. The Criterion Collection released the new restoration on Blu-Ray and DVD on February 13, 2018.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Stanley Ellin Part One: The Festive Season [3.31]

by Jack Seabrook

"Death on Christmas Eve"
was first published here
Stanley Ellin (1916-1986) has been called one of the best mystery short story writers of the twentieth century. Born in Brooklyn, he held various jobs as a young man and served in the Army in World War Two before turning his hand to fiction. His first published story was "The Specialty of the House" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May 1948), which had a big impact at the time of its publication and which has been reprinted many times throughout the years. He went on to win three Edgar Awards and he was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America in 1981. Also a novelist, he published many stories and books in a writing career that lasted nearly forty years. Many of his works have been adapted for film and television, including eight episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In this series, three of his episodes have already been discussed: the first two ("Help Wanted" and "The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby") and the last ("The Faith of Aaron Menefee"). I will discuss the five episodes in between over the next ten weeks. Stanley Ellin's third published story, "Death on Christmas Eve" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 1950), was adapted by James P. Cavanagh for season three of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and broadcast on CBS on Sunday, May 4, 1958.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve, as the Boerum family lawyer, who is not given a name, visits Charlie and Celia Boerum at their Victorian home. Charlie's wife Jessie is dead and his sister Celia was cleared of murder at an inquest. The lawyer finds that Celia has set Jessie's possessions out to be discarded. Charlie is convinced that Celia killed Jessie by pushing her down the stairs and he wants to see her convicted and executed. The lawyer explains that, without a witness or a motive, the case can't be proved.

Charlie has always felt bullied by his older sister and has not left the house since the inquest, so the lawyer encourages him to visit his favorite bar and grill. Celia appears, having overheard the conversation, and tells Charlie that he can't go out to a bar during the mourning period. Charlie is furious that Celia has disturbed Jessie's possessions. While speaking to the lawyer, Celia nearly confesses to murder, but the lawyer advises her to be quiet. He leaves the home and walks to Al Sharp's Bar and Grill, where Al the bartender has been expecting him. The lawyer always visits on Christmas Eve, ever since Jessie died twenty years ago.

Carmen Mathews as Celia
"Death on Christmas Eve" depends on the author and the main trio of characters keeping a secret from the reader until the final lines, when a surprise ending reveals that they have been acting out a pattern every Christmas Eve since the death of the absent character, Jessie. The lawyer is a stand-in for the reader and observes the siblings abuse each other as if the death were recent, yet he knows the key fact that the reader does not. As a result, he must play a role that helps keep that important detail hidden.

The surprise ending must have made "Death on Christmas Eve" seem like a good story to adapt for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the script was assigned to James P. Cavanagh (1922-1971), a writer who mostly worked in episodic television from 1952 to 1967. I have been unable to find any published work by Cavanagh, but he wrote fifteen episodes of the half-hour Hitchcock show and won an Emmy in 1957 for one of them, "Fog Closing In." He also wrote an early draft for Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). "Death on Christmas Eve" was retitled "The Festive Season" for television, a title that is more ironic than that of the short story and describes a time of year that is hardly joyous for the Boerum siblings.

The TV version opens with a brief establishing scene, as we see the lawyer, now christened John Benson, driving at night and pulling his car up in front of the Boerum house. He is invited inside by Celia and they have a long conversation in the library. The scene covers the same ground that is gone over in the story but it is longer and features more dialogue. Benson points out that Celia kept living in the family house even after her late father left it to her brother; she replies that Charlie is "all I have . . . all I ever had." Cavanagh's script amplifies a theme that had been more subtle in Ellin's story, the idea that Charlie had been smothered by his mother and that Celia took her place after she died.

Edmon Ryan as John
Charlie calls down to John and meets him on the stairs, rather than remaining cooped up in his room. There follows a long conversation between John and Charlie, who says that his room was the only place he could be apart from his mother and his sister. He had married Jessie and moved into another room with her, but when she died he retreated back into his childhood room and resumed the role of younger brother to Celia. He suggests that Celia resented his marriage and murdered his wife in an attempt to return the family to its prior state.

In the story, Charlie believes that Celia threw Jessie down the stairs: he heard his wife fall, ran out of their room, and heard Celia's door slam. In the TV show, Celia was away in Boston, shopping, and Charlie claims that she tied a cord across the stairs before she left, knowing that Jessie would come out of her room after an afternoon nap and fall down the dark stairs. Charlie shows John a ball of cord that he found in Celia's room and claims it's the cord that was used to kill Jessie.

As in the story, Celia appears in the door to announce that Charlie's dinner is ready. He finds that Jessie's possessions have been removed from her room and confronts his sister, threatening to kill her if she ever touches Jessie's things again. John visits Celia in her room and says that he has decided to spend the night in town, warning her to stay in her room tonight. She says she is not afraid, commenting that "Charlie has never done anything in his whole life--except talk." Celia leaves the room and heads down the stairs, tripping on a cord that has been stretched across them and tumbling down the flight of stairs. She is not hurt, though, and tells her brother that his effort to kill her failed. He says he is sorry that she survived. Cavanagh added this scene near the end of the show in an attempt to bring some excitement to a story that is essentially a series of conversations between the three main characters. The change in the method of Jessie's death was necessary to set up this scene late in the episode; it would be less dramatically satisfying to have Charlie try to push Celia down the stairs to reenact what he thinks she did to Jessie.

After her fall, Celia denies having killed Charlie's wife and he responds that she has been killing him "little by little" by smothering him in the same way that their mother did. He threatens that there will be "other times" and tells John to leave. The scene then dissolves to the final scene in the bar, and Cavanagh's script follows the original story very closely, ending with the same surprise. The twist ending is still a shock but the episode as a whole is too talky and drawn out to be satisfying. The addition of the attempt to kill Celia adds a modicum of excitement but does not overcome the tedium of the overly long conversations that precede it.

Richard Waring as Charlie
The episode is directed by Arthur Hiller (1923-2016), who does little to liven up the proceedings. Born in Canada, Hiller had a long career as a director, starting out in TV and ending up in film. He was president of the Director's Guild of America from 1989 to 1993 and directed seventeen episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Forty Detectives Later." He also directed three episodes of Thriller and the classic comedy, The In-Laws (1979).

Starring as Celia is Carmen Mathews (1911-1995), who is familiar to regular viewers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from her roles in six episodes, including "Conversation Over a Corpse." She was born in Philadelphia and started her acting career on stage in England before returning to America, where she was seen mostly on TV and occasionally on film from 1950 to 1992. She was also frequently on Broadway, from the late 1930s until the early 1980s. Her performance as Celia Boerum is solid, as usual.

Benny Baker as Al
Edmon Ryan (1905-1984) plays the lawyer, John Benson, and was born Edmon Ryan Mossbarger in Kentucky. His screen career spanned the years from 1936 to 1970 and he also had some roles on Broadway during that time. He was on the Hitchcock show four times, including a part in the hour-long "Isabel," and he was seen in Hitchcock's spy thriller, Topaz (1969). As Benson, he holds his own in his scenes with the formidable Ms. Mathews.

The smothered son, Charlie, is portrayed by Richard Waring (1910-1993), who was born in England. He appeared mostly on TV from 1948 to 1965 and was also seen in a couple of films. He had various roles on Broadway from 1930 to 1968. In this, his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, he is intense but does not seem as believable in his role as Mathews and Ryan.

Benny Baker (1907-1994) plays Al, the bartender, who is in the show's final scene. Born Benjamin Michael Zifkin in Missouri, Baker had a long screen career, from 1934 to 1991, and frequently played small roles on film and TV. This was his only time on the Hitchcock show.

Read Stanley Ellin's "Death on Christmas Eve" for free online here. The TV show is available on DVD here or may be watched for free online here.

Ellin, Stanley. “Death on Christmas Eve.” The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, Vintage, 2013, pp. 396–400.
“The Festive Season.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 31, CBS, 4 May 1958.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"Stanley (Bernard) Ellin." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003. Contemporary Authors Online,
CA&xid=384fa888. Accessed 31 Mar. 2018.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2018,

In two weeks: "The Blessington Method," starring Henry Jones and Dick York!