Monday, June 11, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 59

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 59: April 1955, Part I

Impact #1

"Tough Cop" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Diamond Pendant" ★★ 1/2
Story by Guy de Maupassant
Adaptation by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Dress" ★★  1/2
Story by Al Feldstein (?)
Art by George Evans

"Master Race" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

Detective Frank Monahan catches young Eddie Fuller trying to grab some cash from the open register drawer at a diner and plans to arrest him, but the boy's sob story leads Monahan to follow him home, where Mrs. Fuller lies in bed, gravely ill. Monahan calls an ambulance and the boy's mother is taken to the hospital. Monahan, who has a solid reputation as a "Tough Cop," then marches the boy right past the station house and takes him to his own home, where joins a group of other underprivileged boys the Monahans have taken in.

The disappointing ending of "Tough Cop"--
were they mocking the new Comics Code?

Carl Wessler tells this story in Guys and Dolls fashion, both in the captions and in the dialogue; he even tips the reader off to what he is doing in a caption on page two, where he writes that the diner is "crowded with guys and dolls." Crandall's art is decent, as usual, but the end of the story is an unwelcome twist.

Millie thought all the men were looking at
"The Diamond Pendant" . . .
Larry's boss invites him and his wife Millie to a New Year''s Eve party, so Millie borrows "The Diamond Pendant" from her wealthy friend Julia and is a hit at the soiree. She loses it on the way home and is so ashamed that she and her husband mortgage their future to pay for another one. They spend the decades that follow working like slaves to pay off the loan; Larry eventually dies and Millie becomes an old hag at 55. Finally paying off the loan, she confesses the truth to Julia, who is shocked and admits that the pendant was nothing but a cheap, paste imitation!

Guy de Maupassant was a great storyteller and I enjoyed this updating of his classic tale, though Ingels's art seems a bit too depressing for the subject matter. What was even more depressing was Millie's lament that, at age 55, she was in "life's twilight." That is particularly troubling to those of us born in 1963.

Jane keels over in "The Dress."
A young woman named Jane wants nothing more in life than to wear "The Dress" that used to belong to her grandmother, but her Aunt Agatha won't allow it. Martin Paulson, who lives upstairs, begins to think that Agatha delights in torturing Jane by refusing to let her wear the dress. He gets the other boarders to give Agatha the silent treatment, takes her to court, and finally breaks into the glass case where the dress is kept. Agatha bursts in and Jane is overcome by emotion and drops dead of a heart attack. Agatha finally reveals to Martin that the desire to wear the dress had been the only thing keeping Jane alive; the dress was so old that it would have fallen to dust if removed from its glass case.

Martin is such a busybody and Agatha is such a dolt! He should have just asked her what was going on and she should have confessed long ago. It would've saved everyone a lot of trouble and Jane would still be among us. Well, she'd be pretty old by now, but who knows?

One of many classic segments
from "Master Race."
Carl Reissman, former Nazi in command of the Belsen Concentration Camp, escaped from Europe after WWII and settled in New York City, afraid that one day his past would catch up with him. And so it does, in the form of a camp inmate who suddenly recognizes his former captor one day on an otherwise deserted subway car. Struck with fear, Reissman runs as the man pursues him, but the former Nazi's attempt at escape this time ends in tragedy as he falls beneath the wheels of a subway car.

"Master Race" is, of course, one of the all time classic EC stories, filled with powerful images and illustrated magnificently by Krigstein in cinematic style. It's impossible to put one's self back in the mindset of a reader in 1955, only ten years after the camps were liberated and the Nuremberg Trials held. How much of what is portrayed in this story was common knowledge then, and what was a story like this doing in a comic book, typically read by kids? Gaines, Feldstein, and Krigstein deserve a lot of credit for telling this shattering story and for doing it so well. That said, why did Jack Davis draw the cover?--Jack

Peter: After the hammer fell and the newly-devised CCA came into effect, outlawing the words "Terror" and "Horror" in all titles, Bill Gaines felt he had no choice but to retire his horror line. Though Shock SuspenStories didn't qualify as a horror title, its contents certainly crossed the line several times. Impact was obviously a reboot of Shock, featuring stories that would have fit comfortably within those covers. The standout is "Master Race," a story that has been the subject of perhaps more ink than any other EC story (aside from "Judgment Day") and yet isn't one that's usually brought up in conversation. That could be because it appeared post-New Trend or because it doesn't end with body parts in the deli window; who knows? It's a fabulously layered story, with more of those cinematic flashes Krigstein would show from time to time (the oncoming "steel monster," the commuters in the train's windows, the finale on the platform, etc.), and an effective twist ending that I suspected at first but then strayed from, only to have it thrown in my face. Oh, hell, he was the prison guard, not the new passenger! An interesting trivia note: "Master Race" was originally scheduled for Crime SuspenStories #26 (ergo the "falling man" cover) but Krigstein requested the 8-page length and so it was held back for a later issue.

Hey Kids! Comics!
("Master Race")
"Tough Cop!," with its contraction-free dialogue, is a weird, ultimately unsatisfying morality tale about perception. It would work if Monahan's personality turn-around weren't so unbelievably abrupt. And, speaking of morality tales, have you ever read anything as miserable as "The Diamond Pendant"? No, Millie doesn't take an axe and give Julia forty whacks (as she might have done in a Ghastly Crypt tale) but what is the moral here? That it's evil a woman should want to look a little good so her husband can advance in the world and raise them above the hellhole they've been consigned to? Maybe Wessler left out a few details from de Maupassant's original, but I fail to see much in the way of Millie's "pride, hunger, and envy for material things" on display. After such a great build-up chock full of suspense, I guess it was only natural that "The Dress" would have such a disappointing reveal (holy cow! the dress fell apart! now that's impact!) but at least we get some nice George Evans visuals to ease the pain.

Psychoanalysis #1

"Freddy Carter: Session 1" 0 (yes, you read that right, zero)
"Ellen Lyman: Session 1" 0
Stories by Dan Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mark Stone: Session 1" 1/2★
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Jack Kamen

Troubled teenager "Freddy Carter" has been brought to "the psychiatrist" by his parents, who are at the end of their rope with the juvenile delinquent. Dad's tried everything . . . "bribes, threats, beatings, reason," but now the little fool has gone and done it . . . Freddy has stolen his best friend's watch! Mom, meanwhile, has done everything she can to bring up a lover, not a fighter, but her bullying husband keeps butting in and interrupting Freddy's poetry classes. "I'm a man and I want my son to be a man . . . not some effeminate drip, writing sonnets about ladies' eyebrows . . ." Fair enough, Pop wants Tom Brady, Mom wants Nureyev. But what does Freddy want and why did he snatch Billy's wristwatch? Well, those are a couple of really good questions. Our hero, "the psychiatrist," informs Freddy that the reason for the theft lies behind the fact that he doesn't get enough attention from Mom and Pop. Billy's parents are so cool and Billy's pa doesn't care that Billy wants to become a lumberjack rather than a quarterback. Billy's mom feels a boy should just do what he wants to do, even dress in girl's clothing if that's what floats his boat. "So, you see," says "the psychiatrist," "you didn't steal that watch, Freddy, you were trying to steal Billy's parents." Promising to unlock the "pretty terrific guy" who lives deep inside the budding psychopath, "the psychiatrist" tells Freddy his hour is up but he'll help him some more next issue. Now scram, ya crazy juvie!

Norman Bates's younger brother opens up.
("Freddy Carter: Session 1")

True enlightenment may come at a cost.
("Ellen Lyman: Session 1")
"Ellen Lyman" is having really bad migraine headaches so she's come to "the psychiatrist" for answers but all he seems to want to do is ask the girl about her bad dreams about Scotch gardeners and big gates and exams she can't possibly get 100% on and skeletons who lie around trees so how in the heck is she gonna get cured this way? Turns out all of Ellen's problems lie in the deep-seated hatred she has for her sister, who used to steal all the love from Mom and get all the best dresses and Ellen would only get the hand-me-downs because Mom and Dad had financial problems and all Ellen would get to play with was that nasty dirty white rabbit her sister threw away and what kind of toy is that anyway? So the doc says Ellen's headaches come from the fact that she wants to see her sister dead and after all what good would that do anyway since it wouldn't bring the dead bluebird back to life or get her the Duncans' beautiful garden next door so . . . well, the hour is up and Ellen will have to come back next issue.

Way too many sissies out there.
("Mark Stone: Session 1")
"Mark Stone" makes a bundle writing TV scripts but he's unhappy and waiting for the big heart attack that will kill him. He knows it's coming because all success stories end in heart attacks. Mark is so self-loathing that he can't go to the picture shows or the theater for fear of seeing true art and knowing, once again, that he's nothing but a hack. Then there's his horrible childhood, growing up Jewish and all with a demanding father and dodging rocks in an anti-Semitic neighborhood. It's enough to turn anyone into a highly-paid TV lackey. "The Psychiatrist" knows exactly what's at the root of Mark's problem but nine pages is just not enough to explain it so Mark will have to come back next issue.

I have a feeling this is going to be a rough four issues. I want to see the transcript of the office meeting where Al said to Bill, "I've got a great idea for a zine!" and Bill green-lit an entire title devoted to 1950s' problems solved by a nameless shrink. Oh, and let's have Jack Kamen (who, to be honest, is perfect for a waste of time like this) illustrate the entire run of the rag, as that will work up excitement among the dwindling fan base. Populated by cliches rather than characters and mostly scripted by (insanely enough) the guy who would go on to write Flowers for Algernon, can this get any worse? I've had to come up with a new "0" rating to help convey my true feelings for this swill. I'd love to be able to say this rating won't be trotted out again but alas...  The only thing that would have saved this experiment, for me, would have been a psychiatrist's postscript that told how the session really didn't work and Freddy later became one of those child-molesting sheriffs in Shock SuspenStories and Ellen was one of those swamp-molls who killed her husband and dumped him in the quicksand from Haunt of Fear and Mark became editor-in-chief of the New Direction titles. Instead, we'll have to put up with these insufferable stereotypes for another three issues. -Peter

Peter makes an appointment with the "psychiatrist"
when he discovers Psychoanalysis is not a one-shot.
Jack: Peter, when you talked me into this project, you did not tell me that I would have to read four issues of a comic book called Psychoanalysis and that they would all be drawn by Jack Kamen. Now that Jose has given up on us, we have no choice but to plod through these overly-wordy pages till we reach the end. The introductory page states that Mark Stone's story will take five "issue sessions," but since I think this comic is going to last only four issues, will we be forever left wondering  how the poor, tubby TV scribe will ever stop having chest pains? I have to admit that I found the analysis of Freddy Carter's problems kind of interesting, probably because I saw a bit of myself there. Ellen Lyman's tale perks up a bit with the dream sequence but that goes on too long. I thought sure that Duncan the next door neighbor would turn out to be the Scotch guard, but nope, they went in a New Direction. I am really excited for next issue!

Valor #1

"The Arena" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"Strategy" ★★ 1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

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

"The Return of King Arthur" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

Gladiator Andronicus has a very important fan in "The Arena" to watch him best the other contenders, a gorgeous gal named Agrippina, a woman who happens to be married to the emperor, Titus Flavius. Agrippina uses her wifely charms to persuade her hubby that Andronicus is wasting his talents in the arena and should be a captain in Rome's greatest army. The emperor agrees and sends Andronicus to battle the Greeks, much to the chagrin of Agrippina. While battling, Andronicus meets and falls in love with a beautiful slave girl named Theta and they begin a steamy love affair. When Agrippina discovers her lover has strayed, she sentences Theta to death in the arena, where she will be torn to shreds by bulls and gorillas. Unable to dissuade Agrippina, Andronicus drops himself down into the pit to face death with his true love.

Andronicus discovers that love hurts.

The "Strategy" revealed.
Tasked with "taming" the "savages" of Haiti, the General finds his adversary more than able and, in the end, the General is tricked by a crafty "Strategy."

Thirteen years before the French "Revolution," young Claude Gaulois, son of a poor baker, finds himself in love with the daughter of Duke de Chambeaus, a cruel and tyrannical man who has no time for baker's sons. Claude's father, Pierre, works for the resistance in his off hours and finds his son's predilection for the child of his enemy to be distracting. Through the years, Pierre tries to talk sense into his stubborn son but to no avail; the boy cannot shake his love for the beautiful Nanon. When the Bastille falls, the aristocrats and their families are sentenced to death and Claude has no choice but to don a Zorro-like mask and save his love and her father. As their small boat sets off for London, the Duke praises Claude for his actions but reminds him he is only a baker's son and not fit to marry the daughter of royalty. Nanon reminds her pompous pop that he is no longer royal and that she'll court whomever she pleases.

Could the strange knight who has appeared throughout the countryside to wrong rights and free shackled men really be the famed King Arthur of Avalon? How could it be when Arthur had died there centuries before? Whoever this vision is, he's successful at raising an army of like-minded men as he travels from village to village. But once this King Arthur ascends to the throne, it becomes obvious he is only a fraud using the legend to obtain wealth and power. However, this "King Arthur" discovers that it's not wise to besmirch the name of a legend, even a dead one.

They say they want a "Revolution."

As Shock gave way to Impact, so Two-Fisted begat Valor, a war title that didn't advertise itself as a war title but as a funny book devoted to "mortal combat." For the most part, editor Feldstein did a good job laying claim to the talents of artists who had proven their combat mettle in Two-Fisted and Frontline (how Al ever thought Graham and Bernie were battle guys, I'll never know). I liked "The Arena" quite a bit. It's a lot like those big-budget Hollywood epics (Gladiator, Braveheart, etc.) that have a downbeat ending but somehow make you feel good about life! Not that Andronicus and Theta were feeling great about life in the panel following the finale! Wessler provides lots of great little historical details that I thought Andronicus surely must have been a real-life hero but it seems as though he might be a composite of several historical characters. As for the rest of the premiere issue, well, that's a mixed bag. "Strategy" has a great surprise but not-so-great art from Bernie, who is in full "Grandenetti-mode" here. Perhaps Bernie upped his game when he found something that challenged him or offered him an empty landscape. Similarly, Graham Ingels contributes his first bonafide success outside the horror genre with "Revolution," but the story left me a bit cold. On the flip side, I thought "The Return of King Arthur" was very clever and Wally contributes one of his typically detailed and stunning artjobs. So, I guess I would echo my misgivings at the onset of Piracy -- can Al find enough quality scripts to fill five issues of Valor? -Peter

Jack: The gorgeous art in "The Arena" carried me along and I thoroughly enjoyed this rousing tale of lust, love, and heroism in Ancient Rome. Krigstein's art in "Strategy" is fine, and the story was a satisfying one with a knockout surprise ending. It's no surprise, however, to see a black man victorious in a 1955 EC comic, hot on the heels of 1954's Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education! Ingels seems best-suited for period pieces, so "Revolution" works, but "The Return of King Arthur" is just historical enough to be a bit too confusing to enjoy completely, despite Wood's excellent art.

Weird Science-Fantasy #28

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

"Lost in Space" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, and Roy Krenkel

"Round Trip" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Trial of Adam Link" ★★★
Story by Eando Binder
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Inferiors"
A ship traveling through deep space lands on an Earth-like planet, hoping to find out what caused an ancient civilization to wipe itself out utterly. The spacemen find a helpful disc and projector and learn that the dead civilization reached the pinnacle of evolution and then began to go backwards. Knowing their fate, they agreed to kill themselves but allowed a handful of members of their race to live and travel to another planet, where they would breed, survive, and devolve until they reached the lowest rung on the evolutionary ladder. Of course, that planet was Earth, and the lowest rung is man.

While it's nice to read a Feldstein/Wood collaboration and enjoy the artwork in "The Inferiors," the story is rather predictable and there's little new to see here. Yes, man is violent. We get it. It was clever the first time but by the tenth  it's getting to be old hat.

Young Myra Van Dyke spends her days on Mars, pining away for her boyfriend Jim on Earth and whining to her father about wanting to go back to her beau. Dad tries to distract her with fun activities, such as hunting on a moon of Jupiter, but to no avail, and she escapes from him, buys a space cruiser, and rockets back toward Earth and her Jim. She is shocked to see no sign of Earth and thinks she has overshot the green planet and become "Lost in Space." Instead, she had never left her father and the trip was all in her addled mind. Her father tries to tell her once again that Earth and Jim were destroyed by a comet, but she cannot hear him and just keeps begging him to let her go back.

"Lost in Space"
Al Williamson's art is so beautiful that it hardly matters what story he's illustrating. This one is fairly good, though it is really little more than a story about a crazy teenage girl who wants to see her boyfriend and whines for pages on end.

Sixty-three year old dishwasher Henry Wilkens grew up wanting to go into space but never made anything of himself. His wife Ellie has never done anything but nag and now he's old and has no prospects. He must resign himself to being stuck on Mars.

Maybe someone can explain "Round Trip" to me? Is it really as simple as it seems--an old man never got to go into space and oh, by the way, he lives on Mars, not Earth? So?

"The Trial of Adam Link"
Adam Link, the intelligent robot last seen in "I, Robot," returns in "The Trial of Adam Link." Dr. Link's nephew Thomas is a lawyer determined the defend his uncle's robot. On the eve of trial, Adam saves two people from a burning building, but nobody witnesses his heroic act. During the trial, the prosecutor's case is too strong and, though Adam saves a young child from being run down in the street, the jury comes back with a guilty verdict and he is sentenced to die in the electric chair.

This is a fascinating story, simplified for the comics but still captivating, even with Joe Orlando's somewhat homely portrayals of the humans involved. Since we're near the end of our EC sci-fi run, I have a feeling the tale of the thoughtful robot ends here, but I'd like to see more.--Jack

"Round Trip"
Peter: "Lost in Space" could have used some of the excitement of the TV show. Who cares that Earth was destroyed by a comet? All I wanted was for Myra to stop that incessant whining ("sobbbb"). Raise your hand if you were surprised by the finale of "The Inferiors." Right . . . you, the one with his hand raised . . . you need to stay after class and re-read all the EC sci-fi stories. Obviously, Al Feldstein did. "Round Trip" is like a hundred other Jack Kamen-illustrated "bad marriage" stories with a Martian backdrop (big deal!) and "The Trial of Adam Link" is the second installment in the really bad robot series. Obviously, editor Al was looking to fill some pages with continuing series characters like those in Two-Fisted; I just wish he'd looked elsewhere.

Next Week . . .
Things are getting Weird!


Desperately needed for an upcoming project. If you have scans for the following Atlas comic books, or can make us a scan, please contact us:

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
Journey Into Unknown Worlds  #38 (3rd issue), 9, 10, and 48
Mystery Tales #4, 8, 11, 12, 21, 42, 43, 49, and 51
Mystic #13
Spellbound #14
Suspense #26 and 28

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Anonymous said...

I love "Valor". I collected a full run of the title, not just as the follow-up to TFT and Frontline, but because of two really neat things that I liked about it the moment I first saw it decades ago: First, the fantastic job that Williamson did with his stories of Ancient Rome in the first three issues and in his incredible cover for Valor #2 (one of my favorite single comic books of all time. Second, the really odd, interesting assignments they gave to Krigstein, who indeed was no "battle guy." "Strategy" isn't one of my favorites, but the next two issues have fascinating Krigstein efforts.

"Master Race" is a big reason why I became interested in comic books and is, in my view, the best comic book story of all time. I wouldn't presume to say anything else about it; it has all been written.

- Jim

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks as always for your thoughtful comment, Jim. I must admit that Batman was what got me into comics around the time of the TV show in the late '60s. I first read "Master Race" in the Horror Comics of the 1950s book, which I probably got sometime in the mid-'70s. I had not thought about this before, but it is kind of a precursor to what many graphic novels are doing today.

Will said...

I read "Master Race" online a few years ago, and it is very good.

I had no idea Psychoanalysis existed before now, and I have to say, I find it's existence baffling.

Jack Seabrook said...

Perhaps that bafflement stems from a childhood incident. Let's explore that.

Jose Cruz said...