Monday, February 19, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 51

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  51: October 1954

MAD #16

"Shermlock Shomes in the Hound of the Basketballs!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Newspapers!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Restaurant!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Wreck of the Hesperus" ★ 1/2
Poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Just as arch-nemesis Arty Morty blows another dozen bullet holes through Shermlock Shomes, the master detective is called upon by the ravishing Prudence Basketball. It seems Basketball Hall has been plagued by the ghostly presence of a demon hound, leading Pru’s uncle Coolidge to recently die of fright. Reporting to the estate on the moors, Shomes quickly hightails it out of the story to leave Pru under the protection (and gropey hands) of his trusted companion Dr. Whatsit. Sensing the devilish dog closing in on them through the fog, Whatsit gives the beast a good thrashing before realizing that it’s Shomes, returned with a weighty accusation in his pocket as he fingers Pru as the real cause of her uncle’s death. But, as it turns out, supernatural shenanigans abound as Shomes and Whatsit bump into a very real devil upon the moor.

Say "uncle"!
("Shermlock Shomes in The Hound of the Basketballs!")
While it’s not quite as snappy as the first Shomes story, “Hound of the Basketballs” still has a good number of gags, like when Shomes and Whatsit hide under the nearest furniture after Pru regales them with her ghost stories. Elder’s art is also lacking somewhat in its usual fire; this is confirmed by holding up this story to Will’s other assignment in this issue, “Restaurant.” The reader can discern fairly clearly which of the two the artist was having a better time with.

Did you know, faithful comic book reader, that the material you love so dearly but that is denigrated by your so-called “wise” elders is actually the stuff of tame fantasies compared to the sensationalistic utter drivel called “Newspapers” that those janitors of morality are constantly poring over? It’s true! Just take a look at the blood-soaked exposes on the riots and meat grinder murders that fill its turgid pages, or any one of the columns relating the latest bit of Hollywood gossip to a smut-hungry readership (“Googie With Foofoo While Boobie Vacations”). Not to mention all the shyster ad space and frothing letters section and trashy movie previews… You want to know the real menace to society? Just check out that *other* area of your local newsstand!

Black and white and red all over, indeed.

Like “Movie… Ads” before it, Kurtzman teams up with Davis yet again to train their creative crosshairs on a medium that prefers to trade in the coarse rather than the cultured, contrary to popular perception. “Newspapers” benefits by not suffering from the redundancy virus that plagued the former story, here offering up something a little bit different than what came before it as we are taken through each of the daily edition’s skeezy sections. What this one *does* have working against it is an overabundance of tiny text crowding around the major images that leads to a bit of sensory overload. While this “prose” is frequently humorous as Peter points out below, the overall package leaves one wanting to just scan for the major points and then move on with their lives, at least on that first read.

It’s Sunday afternoon, and all the Sturdleys would like is a nice lunch together as a family at the local chow-mein restaurant. Fat chance! From the dirty dishes and the maddening crowd to the inattentive wait staff and the lavatorial demands of the baby, this supposedly idyllic excursion resembles nothing so much as a battle to swim up Niagara Falls. But even as the brat kids toss radios at heads and the Sturdleys are unceremoniously kicked out of their booth the second their meal is over, the stupid intrepid family knows that they’ll be back same time next week for another lovely afternoon out.

Fine dining at its finest.

In its depiction of the drudgeries of everyday life, when even a trip out to eat is riddled with heartache, “Restaurant” cuts closer to the bone than any number of goofy parodies could hope to achieve. What makes this particular “story” so funny is that we can relate to the escapades that the Sturdleys undertake within the six pages. We’ve all been there before, and while of course mundane annoyances are heightened here for comedic effect, the jabbering hellscape that Elder depicts with his pencil and pen resembles the emotional impression that all of our own special restaurant trips left on us. If this is an indication of Mad’s new direction, I’m all eyes!

You remember that long fellow what wrote the pretty poems you were forced to read in high school? Well, Mad does! In “Wreck of the Hesperus”, Harvey Kurtzman dons his adapter cap as he did before for “Casey at the Bat” and “The Face Upon the Floor” and the results… are pretty much the same. Wally Wood is the artist on tap this time out to provide risible illustrations for the straight-laced rhymes, but just as before the effect left me more or less cold. Barring a surprise cameo from Popeye, I found Wood’s art here mostly incomprehensible; he seems to be going for a goofy Jack Davis vibe, especially in his depiction of the captain’s daughter, that is just not a good fit for his style. --Jose

"Wreck of the Hesperus"
Melvin Enfantino: "Hound of the Basketballs," while pretty amusing, is nowhere near as funny as the first Holmes parody. "Newspapers!" and "Restaurant!" are windows into the future of Mad Magazine, a future where the editors will balance film parodies with barbed commentary on the absurdities of everyday life. "Newspapers!" almost has too much information (a lot of it hilarious) and threatens sensory overload, while "Restaurant!" reminds me of the kind of incidents that Larry David uses to prop up Curb Your Enthusiasm. A double shot of Will Elder is always welcome. "Wreck of the Hesperus" has some really oddball Wood art (at times this looks nothing like the work of Woody) and some very funny bits (I laughed out loud at the panel reprinted at left); not bad for a poem adaptation.

Jack: This is a very disappointing issue of Mad. The Holmes parody is a retread of something they've done better before and I have to wonder if the over-writing and overly-long word balloons are a sly nod to Al Feldstein's tendency to crowd out the art with words. "Newspapers!" continues the trend of whining about how it's not fair that comic books are being targeted. The point is made in a page or two and the whole thing seems designed to be flipped through rather than read carefully. "Restaurant!" is less a story than a drawn-out incident, while "Wreck of the Hesperus" wastes the talents of Wally Wood, who seems to give up on page six and just use white panels with sound effects.

The Haunt of Fear #27

"About Face" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Game Washed Out!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Silent Treatment" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Swamped" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

Back in 1886, Jeff Lorimer's wife, Amy, gives birth to twins but makes him promise to never try to see the ugly one named Olga. The pretty one named Penny grows up happy but, when she's 15, her mother dies. His wife dead, Jeff insists on meeting Olga and she turns out to be as ugly as promised. She's so ugly that when he walks down the street with her by his side, passers-by turn and vomit. Jeff decides the best thing to do is to kill her, so he shoots her, only to discover that she and Penny are the same person and Olga's hideous face grew out of the back of Penny's head.

"About Face"

Ghastly's artwork is suitably hideous in "About Face," but I guessed what was going on right from the start. The whole thing makes little sense and requires Penny to flip her blond hair over so that her Olga face is in front. But what about the rest of her body? Wouldn't her feet point the other way? I don't get it.

John Talbot and Becky Ames are a couple of horny Puritans having an extra-marital affair in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John's wife Priscilla catches him and threatens to tell the Council, so he kills her with a fireplace poker and throws her body in the local pond. When Becky's husband Calvin comes home early and catches his wife in the arms of her lover, Becky pretends she was forced into it, and the Council sentences John to be ducked three times in the pond by means of the ducking stool. As John is lowered into the pond, he sees Priscilla's corpse under the water; each times he goes under she gets closer to him, until at last she wraps her dead arms around his neck and pulls him down into the depths along with her.

"Game Washed Out!"

Despite the awful title, "Game Washed Out!" is a creative and original take on the "dead wife gets revenge" EC tale. George Evans's art is perfect for the 17th-century setting, since it can tend to seem a bit stiff, and the plotting is done well enough that I did not see what was coming until near the end. Extra points are awarded for having the Vault Keeper reading a copy of Seduction of the Innocent in the final panel.

A king who likes to party loud and hearty does not hear his daughter's cries for help when she topples out of a high window while trying to rescue her cat. She falls to her death and he institutes "The Silent Treatment" in his kingdom, ordering all sound quashed because he is haunted by what happened. Eventually, the peasants revolt and sew a metronome inside of him so that he goes bonkers and leaps off a cliff to his death.

"The Silent Treatment"

This story has so much going against it. I don't like Grim Fairy Tales and I don't like the Kamen art. Yet somehow, by the bottom of page five, it starts to get interesting, as the peasants approach the king with ill intent. On page six, suspense grows as the reader wonders what has been done to the king. A spider lowers itself closer and closer to the king, who lies immobile on a bed. And then, guess what? They blow the ending with a dumb twist involving sewing a metronome inside his body. Too bad! They had a shot at a good finish.

A ghoul builds a shack in the middle of a quicksand swamp and lures hunters to their deaths, eating their flesh and dumping their bones beneath the rickety structure. Eventually, the roiling mix of bones and mud causes the shack to collapse and the ghoul to fall prey to the bones of his victims.


"Swamped" doesn't sound like much when summed up, and the fact that the shack narrates the story is not a plus, but Reed Crandall's work really shines through the muck. There are so many fine panels that it's hard to choose just one to reproduce!--Jack

"Yeah, yeah, and then what happened . . ."
drooled the councilman!
("Game Washed Out!")
Peter: Please don't ask me to dig through my stack of notes but I know I've seen the punchline of "About Face" before. Tell me how Jeff could have gone through the years without once seeing the back of his pretty daughter's head. The 15th (and final) Grim Fairy Tale, "The Silent Treatment," isn't really as bad as I expected it to be (usually, this feature is pretty bad) but, and I'm beating a dead horse yet again, you can really tell why Feldstein would hand these softies over to Kamen. Jack's visuals are as exciting as watching grass grow. "Swamped" seemed to be a tale headed for something special but, by the time the cliched finale rolls around, not even Crandall's graphic graphics can save it from mediocrity. By default, "Game Washed Out!" is the issue's best tale, thanks mostly to George Evans's art and some unintentional humor from the councilmen (at least, I think it's unintentional). Gotta admit though, we've seen that climax one too many times (in fact, it's a variation on the final panels of "Swamped"), haven't we?

Two-Fisted Tales #39

"Uranium Valley!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Oregon Trail!" ★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"The Secret!" ★★★
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by Gene Colan and John Severin

"Slaughter!"  ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

The fabulous Ruby Ed Coffey leads his merry band of raiders through a canyon above the Urubamba River, where the boys discover a cave containing the mummified remains of an Incan king and a secret passageway to the fabled "Uranium Valley!" Ed and Cannon decide to take a swim (Fred Wertham had always suspected Ed of favoring manly flesh) and, while investigating a mysterious underwater cavern, Cannon is kidnapped by a band of savage Incans and taken to the ruler of the valley, a king seated on a golden throne. The king orders that Cannon be thrown into a pit with "the monster" and the beleaguered but muscular adventurer is charged by a giant with a mean streak. Cannon uses his wits and vastly superior knowledge of fighting skills to break the gargantuan's neck but the king deems our hero "the new monster" and sets his guards on Cannon. Just in the nick of time, Indiana Coffey arrives with plenty of bullets and saves the day. I haven't been a big fan of Ed Coffey's exploits to this point but, of the four (and "Uranium Valley!" is Ed's final voyage), this is the best. Ironically, it's the Coffey adventure that, for the most part, ignores its star and focuses on supporting character Cannon. The final panels have a nice irony to them in that both sides see the other as the hostile race. Well, the script is the tightest of the quartet but Severin's art is scratchy and almost unfinished in spots (in particular, during Cannon's battle with "the monster"), nowhere near the detailed and stylish Severin work we've become accustomed to.

During the American Indian Wars, scout Simon Chuter is taken prisoner by a band of Cheyenne led by Cheyenne Hawk. Hawk explains to Chuter that the Sioux will be ambushing Chuter's troop farther up the "Oregon Trail!" and offers the help of his party to defeat the Sioux. When Chuter returns to camp and reports the news, his Lieutenant scoffs and informs his scout that they'll be just fine without the help of the enemy. Realizing the troop has ignored his offer of help, Hawk cooks up a deception and tricks the army men into teaming up to defeat the Sioux. Slow-moving and a tad confusing, "Oregon Trail!" just didn't do much for me in either the script or art department. As with his art on  "Uranium Valley!," Severin's work here seems rushed and incomplete. Evidently, Cheyenne Hawk was being test-driven as another continuing character in the TFT stable (a "more about Cheyenne Hawk in the next issue" tag appears in the final panel) but no further adventures were chronicled. It's just as well as it seems the story was pretty much told.

Dermot Wilson has a plan for the ultimate weapon so he goes to his old friend, Nick, a senator who has the ear of the President. Nick gets Dermot in to see the Prez and, with an audience of only one, "The Secret!" is spilled. Word gets out that a weapon to end all wars has been developed and is ready for testing and the dirty Commie rats send word to their "insiders" that the formula must be stolen at all costs. Test day comes and a battleship is vaporized in the Atlantic; the Russkies now order their agents to kidnap Dermot. By all appearances a meek scientist, Dermot Wilson was wrestling champion in college and a student of Judo. The Red hitmen are arrested and the Soviets are forced to sit down and discuss peace with the President. Years later, Nick has become President and looks forward to learning exactly what Dermot's secret weapon is. Much to his surprise, Wilson opens his attache to reveal . . . nothing! A little psychological warfare has led to peace. A nice, surprising little tale with a brilliant twist. Though sole art credit is given to Severin, "The Secret!" is unmistakably the work of Gentleman Gene Colan (whose tenure at EC ends after a too-short term of two strips, but don't feel bad as Colan's later contributions to Atlas's horror comics were amazing!). Severin, no doubt, inked the finished pencils but, curiously, Gene isn't credited. That may have led to Colan's bad memory when it came to his brief stint at EC; interviewed for the Colan biography, Secrets in the Shadows (written by Tom Fields and Gene Colan, Twomorrows, 2005), the artist explained how he had done a "try-out story" for Harvey Kurtzman ("Wake," Two-Fisted #30), only to be disappointed when Kurtzman "didn't think (Colan) had hit the mark." So, at some point Gene must have been invited back by new editor Colin Dawkins; how else to explain this second story?

Ranch owner Cal Barron has a rustling problem so he sends for the famous Black Jack "Slaughter!" The tall, handsome gunslinger arrives at Barron's spread and quickly takes charge, looking for clues in the mountains around Barron's land and keeping one eye open at all times. While in town, Slaughter recognizes wanted steer rustler, Waco Bill, and informs the fugitive he'll be runnin' him in. Waco ain't amenable to that but the two men strike a bargain: whoever loses their shootout pays for beans and coffee. Slaughter outduels Waco, ventilating his non-shooting arm, and a friendship is born. Waco agrees to be taken in to the nearest marshall but, on the way, the men are ambushed by Cal Barron's ranch foreman (the man responsible for the rustlin'!). Waco proves himself a true pardner when he blasts the ornery foreman and saves the day. A partnership is born. As cliched as "Slaughter!" is (the town's name is a cliche . . . the land baron's name is a cliche . . . our hero's name is a cliche . . . even the freakin' horse's name is a cliche!), I enjoyed the heck out of it, dopeyness and all. Black Jack Slaughter's initial adventure reads like a condensed version of a George Appell novel (Google him); Dawkins barely scratches his main plot hook of cattle rustling when he takes us down a different dusty trail and introduces Black Jack's future pardner. The wrap-up, the reveal of Hank Heeley as the mystery rustler, almost seems like an afterthought and, to tell the truth, I'd forgotten the main plot point anyway. "Slaughter!" is almost a template for 1950s western funny books. Further adventures of Waco and Slaughter were promised but, like Cheyenne Hawk, never materialized, probably due to the end of the Dawkins/Severin run on Two-Fisted.--Peter

Jack: "Uranium Valley!" is very much like an old Sunday newspaper comic in story and art style; Severin sticks almost exclusively to rectangular panels and the unfinished feeling you noted reminded me of classic newspaper strip art. "Oregon Trail!" is an excellent western with a nuanced portrayal of two tribes and how they relate to white men. It's surprising that "The Secret!" is credited only to Severin since it's so obviously Colan's work; Severin's inks tighten up Colan's pencils and remove some of the shadows we know so well. "Slaughter!" is a fun western but there's nothing new in the plot. The art in all four stories this issue is very impressive.

Next Issue . . .
Will Jack and Peter sing the praises of
John Severin's Flying Tigers?


Quiddity99 said...

My first time commenting in a few months, but have finally caught back up with your EC posts. If only I had more to say this month! Got nothing on Two Fisted Tales or Mad, an issue of which I've never read.

I've always enjoyed "About Face" despite its obvious flaws (it only really works if she can turn her head around 180 degrees), because Graham Ingel's art is just that horrifying. Olga is one of the scariest things we'll ever see in an EC comic in my opinion. The TV show adaption may have been the closest to the source material out of any episode in the quite mediocre final season (and gets bonus points for having Anna Friel in it), but also has a rather ridiculous ending when the father goes on a rampage. "Swamped" is a fairly good story as well with strong Crandall art and an off-formula story. "The Silent Treatment" marks the end of an era, our final Grim Fairy Tale! "Game Washed Out" has decent art, but has essentially the exact same ending as "Pearly to Dead" from less than a year earlier.

Grant said...

I've read both "Shermlock Shomes" stories. Even though it might be less popular to say this now than ever before, Dr. Whatzit makes an entertaining cartoon letch. (You see tiny hints of that in the Rathbone and Bruce movies themselves, so I guess it isn't an incredible reach.)

Anonymous said...

Was that joke about Wertheim, or did the good doctor actually wring his hands and write that he was worried that Ed favored manly flesh? Actually, I can see it; rich, hypermasculine, with no wife or ex-wife or girlfriend in sight, our aging bachelor spends his life with a coterie of young dudes with whom he can share exotic adventures, victorious gun-battles and sword fights, and underwear swims. Okay, then good for Ed. He showed a lot of self-confidence by being out in the early 1950’s. I’m sorry that Colin Dawkins went back to his day job and never wrote any more Ruby Ed stories; Severin said the same thing in one of his interviews. I would have been happy to read more of them.

— Jim

Jack Seabrook said...

I think it was a joke--Peter? I agree with you about Colin Dawkins. His stories are fun.

Jack Seabrook said...

Grant, I think you're safe to comment! God help me, this morning I thought maybe I should find a copy of Seduction of the Innocent and read it. I don't think I ever actually sat down and read it.

Anonymous said...

I read it once; excellent illustrations.

— Jim