Monday, January 8, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 48

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  48: August 1954

Melvin DaVinci
MAD #14

"Manduck the Magician" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Movie . . . Ads!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Countynental!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Plastic Sam!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Russ Heath and Bill Elder

Manduck the Magician, vigilante/peddler with the power to cloud men’s minds with “hypnotic gestures,” and his faithful assistant Loathar must continuously evade the wrath of the law and the pretty ladies he smooches every time he sets up shop, even going so far as to use his abilities to swap identities with a virtuous Boy Scout and his elderly charge while the real bystanders are pummeled with batons. Even when he tries to take the edge off by hypnotizing himself, obstacles still plague Manduck, namely when he’s summoned to the abode of Lamont Shadowskeedeeboomboom, “Shadow” for short, another superhero with the ability to cloud men’s minds who challenges the magician to a battle of mental suggestion that ends up getting everyone’s identities more mixed up than a barrel full of nuts.

A very special guest appearance.
("Manduck the Magician")
If “Manduck the Magician” is a low-tier Kurtzman/Elder collaboration—as some unnamed bloggers would have it—then it just goes to show that Mad’s first editor and star artist were still pretty damn funny even when they weren’t firing on all cylinders. Personally speaking, I think this newspaper strip parody can easily stand amongst the comedy duo’s other classics. With the exception of an unfortunate exaggeration of the size of Loathar’s lips, this story doesn’t have many false steps to fault it with. The thing that tickles me so much about Harvey Kurtzman’s brand of humor in general is that he was so eclectic in the variety of jokes that he employed: there are great traditional setups like when Manduck informs the crushed Loathar that he had no idea about the falling safe, unexpected cameos such as the ubiquitous comic book hunk Charles Atlas singing his praises, and the completely madcap climax that has the reader seeing doubles (and triples) of the characters in a final “mesmerizing” brawl.

Kurtzman pulls out his spades yet again to take a dig at the commercial machinations of Hollywood in “Movie… Ads!” Acting as a kind of inverse to “Book… Movie!” that showed how film adaptations generally neuter the scintillating material found in their source novels, this “story” demonstrates how the ad men of Tinsel Town copy and paste short, incidental scenes from a range of films including war epics, courtroom dramas, and romances to make them come across as X-rated wonderfests boasting the fleshy pleasures of actresses such as Vava Voom and Vava Vow, the “Pow” and “Wham” Girls respectively in their newspaper spreads. The first page of “Movie… Ads!” gets the point across just fine, but the pages that follow only succeed in taking a mildly funny joke and making us tired of it.

This is really all that we needed.

Men, lock up your wives and daughters: “The Countynental” is on (the prowl)! Yes, that’s right. That famed predator of feminine virtue is broadcasting live from the studio set doubling as his plush hotel room, eager to sway his intended victims with dry martinis and a foreign accent. Try as he might, the Countynental can’t seem to land himself a date, as the vagaries of 1950s television, such as fine tuning and vertical holds, take their toll on him, not to mention the boots and fists that come flying through the screen from righteous husbands at home. Finally able to retire from his program to spend an evening with his true love, the Countynental saunters off “arm in tripod” with the television camera of his affections.

What lovely furniture you have!
("The Countynental")
If you’re a six-year-old whippersnapper like me, you might only be familiar with the overall thrust of this parody from Christopher Walken’s bit on Saturday Night Live wherein he played the amorous wooer tempting the studio audience to bed down for the night. I found out from John Benson’s The Sincerest Form of Parody, as Jack might have, that the original televisual oddity being parodied here inspired a surprising amount of lampoons in the funny books. It’s also surprising seeing Jack Davis in this slightly more subdued, domesticated (but no less cartoony) mode, but I for one dig his handling of the material.

Life isn’t easy when you’re a superhero; just look at the crap that “Superduperman,” “Batboy and Rubin,” and “Woman Wonder” had to put up with. It’s no different for that rubbery rouge Plastic Sam either. If he isn’t putting up with the travails that come with having a malleable body, such as his pants slipping off for a crowd of a hundred ogling onlookers to see, then it’s the weary trials that come with having to put up with the reheated and rehashed plots that his partner and scriptwriter Wheezy Wunks cooks up for him. This episode finds Sam wiggling his way through a favorite chestnut, that of a low-down hood masquerading as the superhero during a bank robbery and Sam being persecuted by the law. But the hood proves to be even smarter than he looks (erm…) when he demonstrates how having an elastic body is just about the worst superpower one could ask for by tying knots and tearing holes into poor Sam’s anatomy like a tortured balloon. Thankfully Joe Friday and Ed Saturday from Dragnet arrive to sort out the kerfuffle, finally deciding to throw Sam in prison because, as they reason, “anything plastic is an imitation of the real thing!”

You know your life sucks when you *are*
the rotten tomato that people throw.
("Plastic Sam")
Though I wasn’t exactly blown away by Russ Heath’s artwork on this assignment—it felt a little more like “funny animal” than “zany satire” to me—“Plastic Sam” is yet another great send-up of the DC hero universe, filled with great bits that don’t reach the chicken fat levels of Bill Elder but that still deliver solidly and consistently throughout the story. I loved the sick and twisted humor involved in detailing all the nasty side effects of Sam’s elasticity, and the panel where the prison guards mistake the gooey, teeth-littered remains of Wheezy for Sam in disguise is a riot. I’m not sure if Harvey brought in Elder’s Dragnet caricatures to ease newcomer Heath into the Mad mold and give readers a point of identification, but I think that Russ could have seen the story through to its end all on his own. --Jose

Peter: It was only natural, after the classic laugh-fest we received last issue, that this one would be a bit of a letdown. It's got its share of smiles and giggles but no guffaws, unfortunately. "Manduck the Magician," the latest Elder/Kurtzman team-up, is the weakest parody the boys have knocked out yet. Manduck's unchanging facial expressions are a funny dig at Lee Falk and the final panels (especially the one where Manduck and Narda are crowded out of the panel by their own word balloons) are the funniest moments this issue but, overall, it's a bit of a chore.  Maybe I'm becoming an elitist Kurtzelder snob but "Plastic Sam!" did not make me laugh once and if you were to quiz me as to the identity of the artist, I'd guess anyone but Russ Heath. Don't get me wrong . . . it's good art . . . I just don't recognize it as Russ (and that may be due to the assist from Elder). "Movie . . . Ads!" has some interesting black-and-white art from Woody but, again, the script is weak. "The Countynental!" shows that Jack Davis can experiment (something we don't see much from Jack) but the strip is just not funny at all. If it didn't have the MAD logo across the cover, I'd swear this was an issue of Panic.

Jack: It isn't as bad as all that! "Manduck" is more a series of hilarious panel jokes than a story, but it's still extremely funny. I like seeing the return of the Shadow and I think there's a nod to Syd Hoff in the first panel where a man on the beach walks by a woman in a bikini and imagines she's wearing clothes. Wood is the perfect person to illustrate "Movie . . . Ads!" because his women are stunning; I thought the piece was a funny look at how movies are promoted. "The Countynental!" is another TV parody whose subject is lost to history; the TV show it satirizes did not last as long as the series of lampoons that followed. I just read Art Spiegelman's book on Jack Cole and was prepared for "Plastic Sam!," which features the strange spectacle of Russ Heath trying to draw in the MAD style. It's good to see the duo from Dragnet return briefly, but this story was doomed to failure partly because the thing it satirizes was wildly funny to begin with.

Feeling hemmed in?
("Manduck the Magician")

The Haunt of Fear #26

"Marriage Vow" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Shadow Knows" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Reed Crandall

"Spoiled" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Kamen

"Comes the Dawn!" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Davis

Try as he may to get out for a breath of fresh air, Martin Saunders can't escape his wife Eva, who used to be beautiful, rich, and randy, but who now is ugly, poor, but still randy. They wed seven years ago and Martin was happy to have her money, but when he tired of her company he murdered her by rigging an iron balcony to collapse under her weight and let her fall to be impaled on a spiked fence below the balcony. Unfortunately, Eva interpreted their "Marriage Vow" strictly as requiring them both to die before they may be parted, so she came back from the dead and now insists on marital relations even though she's rotting away.

An unusual panel design for Ghastly in "Marriage Vow."

More a situation than a story, Binder's tale sets up a problem and then spends eight long pages explaining what's going on. Ghastly is going through the motions once again and the disgusting point of the narrative, which is that Eva still insists on having sex with Martin even though she's a corpse, is one that can't really be fully explored in a comic book, thank goodness.

Eric Cooper's job means he has to spend a lot of time on the road, away from his lonely wife Mabel. He has an affair with Jondra and when she starts asking about marriage he decides to murder Mabel and marry his rich girlfriend. Eric gets away with staging Mabel's suicide, but soon her shadow begins to stalk him, which leads Jondra to think he is cheating on her. A policeman sees what appears to be the shadows of Eric murdering a woman on the street, but when Eric insists that it was only shadow play, the cop finds Jondra's dead body and Eric is arrested, tried, and executed. Finally, Mabel's shadow can rest.

Reed Crandall does his best in "The Shadow Knows."

"The Shadow Knows" is a poorly thought out piece of writing with Reed Crandall trying to bring some life to the proceedings. It's not clear who murders Jondra in the end but the story is so weak that it doesn't bear investigation.

Janet Grover was lonely and bored because her husband, surgeon Abel Grover, left her home alone night after night. She began to go out and, soon enough, an affair with Leon Payne began. When Abel found out about it, he exacted an unusual revenge by anesthetizing the lovers and sewing their heads on each other's bodies. Thus, their mutual attraction was "Spoiled."

All that's missing from the last panel
of "Spoiled!" is an angora sweater!

Does it get much worse than this? Like "Marriage Vow," Binder sets up a situation on page one and then uses flashback techniques to show the events leading up to it before revealing the nature of the problem on the last page. Kamen is not the one to breathe life into this tired script, though the final panel is almost Ed Woodian in its awfulness.

Jack Bolton flew to Alaska with two partners to prospect for Uranium but found a vampire's coffin frozen in the ice. He freed the vampire and let it kill his partners, thinking that he was safe in his cabin until dawn, when he could escape. There's just one problem: dawn will not rise in that part of the world for another week and he's out of food!

Jack Davis presents a spooky picture of the Alaskan
vampire peering through the space between the logs
of the cabin wall in "Comes the Dawn!"

"Comes the Dawn!" is, by default, the best story in a poor issue of Haunt of Fear. Jack Davis can draw desperate men, a vampire, and a cold and snowy landscape quite effectively, and the idea of the frozen vampire is a neat one; however, Binder once again relies on the twist of having a character not pay attention to the calendar (last time it was the time change between time zones), so the ending is not terribly satisfying.--Jack

Stiff punishment.
("Marriage Vow")
Peter: While still plundering Al's old scripts, at least Otto Binder seems to be getting the hang of a Haunt of Fear story. "Marriage Vow" is about as sick and vile as they come (it's almost as though, even while the castle crumbles around him, Bill Gaines holds his middle finger up at Wertham and dares him to make something of it), which is just fine with me, thank you. The most nauseating aspect, amidst lots of nauseating stuff, is that Martin Saunders will be spending every night, for the rest of his life, screwing a corpse ("It's time for bed, Martin!"). What were the kiddies thinking when they read the words . . . Every night, the ritual? Seriously, is it any wonder the heat came down on the EC empire? "The Shadow Knows" is silly nonsense (if Mabel's shadow can actually do harm then why not kill Eric rather than Jondra?) but Reed Crandall's art makes the ride scenic (Mabel's death throes are exceptionally brutal) and it's certainly better than the Kamen entry this issue. "Spoiled" almost feels like an in-joke; Binder is winking at his reader, whispering "Switching heads on a Jack Kamen character! Get it?" The "shock" is certainly not worth the long, slow build-up. And, unfortunately, anytime you use the words "Vampire" and Alaska" together, any hoped-for surprises are pretty much thrown out the window. I liked Jack's art in "Comes the Dawn!," though his bloodsucker looks more like a werewolf.

Jose: “Marriage Vow” is one sick puppy, and it knows it. Revels in it, in fact. Otto Binder, much like the horny zombie wife of his story, seems to take delight in rubbing our noses in the putrescent conceit of the narrative, subjecting Martin and audience alike to every last taboo-shattering innuendo. While historians and fans tend to point to “Foul Play” as being the “point of no return” in the annals of EC horror, I think the case can be effectively made that “Marriage Vow” is the real anarchist here, flipping everyone off and being disgusting just for the sake of creating some chaos. One is tempted to call it a bad story, indicative of the company’s downward slide into the maw of public backlash, but its brazen ballsiness earns my perverted respect. The rest of the issue’s contents, all penned by Binder, are nowhere near as memorable. Reading dried-mouth tripe like “The Shadow Knows” and “Spoiled”, stuff that was passé even before the Old Witch lit her first cauldron, makes me wonder if Bill and Al played a more direct hand in pumping up the salaciousness of “Marriage Vow.” The three other stories read more like what we’ve seen of the author in the past, for badder and worse. “Comes the Dawn” at least has the draw of a fairly intriguing concept and setting that enhances the survivalist suspense and action, and the small peeks that Jack Davis provides of the bestial bloodsucker give it an air of mystery and increased menace.

Next Week . . .
Rock finds himself trapped in a vicious circle
He hates killing but . . .
No killing, no funny book!

From Haunt of Fear #26


Anonymous said...

Since there seems to be a dispute, I want to weigh in and say I'm staunchly Team Manduck. Kurtzman was great at picking stories that would show off Elder's art to great advantage, and he certainly does it here. My personal gold standard is "Starchie", and "Manduck" isn't up there with that one, but it's really, really funny. I have been laughing over that last page since I first saw it 45 years ago.

Best regards,

Jack Seabrook said...

Jim, I'm with you on Manduck. I thought it was very funny!

Grant said...

One other "Continental" parody I can think of (though I can't think of its name) is a Popeye cartoon, where Olive has a celebrity crush on the Continental, so he becomes Popeye's rival instead of Bluto.

Jack Seabrook said...

That must be one of those awful post-Max Fleischer Popeyes. I remember this thing best with Pepe Le Pew!