Monday, September 3, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 65

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
65: August 1955 Part I

Incredible Science Fiction 30

"Clean Start"★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Conditioned Reflex"★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Davis

All the aliens in the universal Federation agree that, while the Earth is getting close to the point in its development that it will need to join the Federation, mankind is too violent to fit in. Brx and Lth travel to the third planet from the sun to do two things: wipe out all human life and give mankind a "Clean Start" by going back to the moment when the species turned from peace to violence and guiding them down the right path. Unfortunately, the aliens travel through time and find that man has always been a warlike animal. They decide that it's hopeless and they will have to take one male and one female and start over. Brx and Lth disguise themselves as a man and a woman and bring back what they think are specimens of the human race. Unfortunately, they discover that they've brought back each other!

The staff of bare*bones e-zine gets together.
("Clean Start")
This was kind of a silly story along the lines of "we had to destroy the Earth in order to save it" until that final twist, which I admit caught me by surprise and made me let out a guffaw. Whoops! Guess that's it for the human race! I presume the aliens of the Federation weren't too broken up about it.

The Rocket ship X-17 is the first ship to be launched into space with men aboard, but the reports that come back are a surprise, since the crew say that all of the planets are no bigger in space than they look from Earth! The crew picks up Uranus, which is the size of a volley ball, plays ring toss with Saturn's rings, and plays "Marbles" with the stars. Unfortunately, the scientists on Earth realize that space travel has driven the crew insane.

A pretty dumb story, this one has decent art by Krigstein that looks to be in the style of mid-'50s science fiction paperback covers (the ship looks like the one on the cover of The Lights in the Sky Are Stars). The final panel joke, where a crew member sobs that he has lost his marbles, falls flat.

Obviously he's an alien.
("Conditioned Reflex")
A scientist makes a presentation regarding a far-off planet he calls Thor, which had an atmosphere made mostly of methane and which suddenly burst into flame. Why? He does not know that the tentacled inhabitants of Thor had sent one of their own, disguised as a human, to gather information before they could attack and obliterate Earth. The alien named Quor is accepted into a farming family and learns their customs, which include smoking a cigarette to relax when he gets tense. On returning to Thor, he is ready to present his findings to the council of leaders when he finds himself tense and nervous. He lights a cigarette and the methane gas atmosphere explodes into flame.

We always knew that smoking was bad for you! "Conditioned Reflex" is a long shaggy dog story to get to a so-so punch line, but for once the Orlando artwork seems only moderately annoying. He's better at drawing aliens than humans, I guess.

Jack Davis drew this panel???
The Western Alliance sends its first spaceship hurtling toward Luna, hoping to beat the Eastern Alliance there in order to set up a base, but the ship crashes into an invisible "Barrier" and is destroyed. A second ship discovers the barrier and can't blast through it. Meanwhile, the Eastern Alliance is having the same problem. The two sides join forces and build a ship that succeeds in blasting a hole in the barrier, but when it passes through it sees a ship from outer space and turns around to head back to Earth. Realizing that the aliens have caged us, the military men ask what form of life would cage another. Then, the scientist points to a nearby monkey in a cage.

I don't think Jack Davis would be in my top ten choices of artist to illustrate a science fiction story. It doesn't help that "Barrier" continues the tired theme that Jack Oleck beats to death in this disappointing issue. Man is violent, Man should be confined to Earth. We get it.-Jack

Peter: Incredible Science-Fiction is the third (or fourth, actually) and final title change for EC's SF line, taking over from the seven issues published as Weird Science-Fantasy (which, in turn, took over from the 22 issues each published as Weird Science and Weird Fantasy) but not changing much else format-wise. The highlight this issue is the fabulous "Marbles," with its cinematic Krigstein art and its smart script that keeps you guessing right up to its grim climax. It's one of the best science fiction tales we've seen in an EC funny book in many a moon. Even though "Clean Start" is not graced with Wally's best work, I thought the climax was a genuinely surprising jolt. Never saw it coming and it left a very big grin on my face, remembering that Jack Oleck, now and then, could actually pull off the O. Henry without telecasting it pages before. "Conditioned Reflex" and "Barrier" are cut from the same cloth as "Clean Start": we Earthlings are a warring species and always will be. It's only natural other planets would want to shut us down. Three such tales in one issue is a little much.



Impact 3

"Life Sentence"★★
Story by Al Feldstein(?)
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Debt"★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Totally Blind"★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Good Fairy"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein(?)
Art by Graham Ingels

A real method actor!
("Life Sentence")
Paul's father is found dead in his hovel but Paul feels no sorrow for him. Pastor Edwards tells Paul that, years before, Paul's father was devastated when Paul's brother died of typhoid. Paul's father went off to attend a hardware convention but came back early, a changed man. He soon left his family and moved into a house on the other side of town. Paul and his mother struggled to survive and Paul grew to hate the man who abandoned them. Paul's mother died at 38 and Paul never forgave his father. Pastor Edwards reveals that he found a newspaper clipping in the dead man's pocket that explains the bizarre behavior. Paul's father had not known he was a typhoid carrier who caused the death not only of his son but of at least 15 people at the hardware convention. He came home and imposed a "Life Sentence" on himself to protect everyone else and to keep the world from knowing that he was at fault. Paul has to rethink his father's actions.

I'm still not feeling very sympathetic for Paul's father. I don't really understand how he was helping his family by keeping his illness a secret. Only in the '50s could this make sense.

"The Debt"
Wealthy banker George Ryder meets Joe Wiler as Joe is released from prison after eight years. Joe's son Ted had been a wild teenager, stealing cars and running with a bad crowd, but Joe kept sticking up for him and getting him out of trouble. Joe even got Ted a job at Ryder's bank, where Joe worked, but after a few months it was discovered that $5000 was missing. Joe took the rap for Ted and was sent to the big house. When he finally gets out, he sees that Ted has settled down and is raising a family. Ryder has a heart attack and confesses that he embezzled the money! Ted was honest after all.

("Totally Blind")
Much better than the first story, "The Debt" has a neat twist and--unlike this month's science fiction comic--Jack Davis's art fits the mood perfectly. I did not expect Ted to turn out to be a decent guy. Joe did the right thing sticking up for him. The only false note is the last panel, when Joe attacks Ryder's dead body. The act doesn't fit Joe's personality as established throughout the narrative.

Mildred Wilson has a nice figure but an ugly face, so she never gets a man until "Totally Blind" Jim Shipley moves into the apartment next door. He falls for Mildred's great personality so, when she hears that a doctor can cure his vision for $1000, she agonizes but finally does the right thing and scrapes together the money. A fall down the stairs cures Jim for free and he tells Mildred he still loves her for her personality.

Whew! I needed my Kamen fix or the month. At least it's not a whole issue of it! I don't know if I could take that.

Mean old Sam Crowder is not thrilled when a poor little girl sets up a lemonade stand right in front of his candy store. The cop on the beat tells Sam to lay off and soon everyone on the block is buying from the ragamuffin and ignoring Sam. Things only get better for the gal when her lemonade pitcher is mysteriously filled overnight! Everyone wonders who could "The Good Fairy" be, but wouldn't they all be surprised to learn it's Sam? He has to do this act of kindness at night when no one is watching so he doesn't ruin his reputation as an old skinflint.

("The Good Fairy")
Ghastly's art is really good this time out, and the story is not bad, though I can't help thinking that if it were a couple of years earlier, Sam's head would end up in the lemonade pitcher in the last panel! The New Direction EC comics are all sunshine and butterflies.

Peter: "Life Sentence" is the usual "I saw the light in the end" nonsense, saved only by Reed Crandall (who has swooped in and saved many a maudlin script). "The Debt," on its surface is another of EC's studies of the ever-growing burden put on the parent of a 1950s' JD. I saw the twist coming a mile away but had a good long chuckle from those final panels. Joe's calm demeanor as he hears his dying boss's confession; his swivel to Ted with a father's pride in his eyes; and then, the crazed throttle, like in some Abbott and Costello routine. "Totally Blind," in the end, is sentimental pap worthy of the Hallmark Channel but I did like the way that Carl played with our expectations of an EC funny book story. The second Jim brought up the mysterious Dr. Svenson and his $1000 miracle operation, I was on to this con man. But then, nope, that wasn't it at all, was it? And when Jim fell down those stairs, I assumed he was getting a bit of EC retribution and was now really blind. But, nope, not that either! Extra star for fooling me twice. Graham Ingels proves there's still petrol left in the tank with what appears to be a Tale from the Crypt, but "The Good Fairy" ends with a monumental cheat. There's no rationale behind the old man's surliness nor his filling the girl's lemonade pitcher every night other than to give us a twist in the tail. Well, you can call me a grump but I don't buy it. Oh and, at first glance on the newsstand, that cover is more sleazy than anything that ever graced a Tales from the Crypt or caught Wertham's attention. You know the story behind the old man's gaze after reading "The Good Fairy," but it sure looks like he's licking his chops over some under-aged cutie, don't it? How the heck did it pass inspection?

Psychoanalysis 3

"Freddy Carter. Case No. 101 - Male (Session 3)" ★
"Ellen Lyman. Case No. 102 - Female (Session 3)" ★
Stories by Dan Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mark Stone. Case No. 103 - Male (Session 3)" 0
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Jack Kamen

The last time we encountered Freddy Carter, the 15-year-old hypochondriac had revealed that his asthma was a put-on for attention, and that he'd stolen his best friend's watch "to hurt his parents in retaliation for pulling his personality in two different directions." Entering his office for Freddy's third session, the psychoanalyst notices the precocious teenager perusing the sports page but when the doc brings up the young man's choice in reading, Freddy goes all "Bwana Devil" on him. It just so happens that when Freddy opened the newspaper, it was on the sports page. That doesn't mean he likes sports.

"Oh, but on the contrary," explains our favorite shrink, "You love sports but so does your father and you hate your father. And the reason you hate your father is because he's always bragging about his college sports days and how successful he was at running the ol' pigskin down the field. And you're a mama's boy and your parents are always arguing about your lack of sports prowess and how that embarrasses your father and how Ma wants you to learn how to play the piano like that fine Liberace boy down the street. The piano is not a feminine instrument. No siree." Freddy counters with the time he played high school football and broke his leg and how Pop told him he was a little girl for getting hurt and Ma told her sweet little boy that he was all she had in this world and why did she ever marry that jackass? The doc snickers and nods. "Well, you better grow up and stop being a little sissy hiding under mommy's petticoat," says the shrink, "but that's all the time we have for today." Freddy smiles (the boy is cured yet again) and asks the doc if he can take the sports page home with him.

Ellen sees through the facade and discovers
she's actually trapped within a really bad funny book
If you recall, we left Ellen Lyman completely cured after a lifetime of migraine headaches that actually masked her hatred of her (admittedly prettier) sister, Ruth, but as our hero, the Analyst, discovers, Ellen's even more screwed up than we figured. It all started back in the summer after she graduated high school and went to stay at her Uncle Mike's farm; that's when she met handsome pig farmer, Ted. This strapping bruiser asks her to the hoedown but Ellie declines, citing her two left feet. Ted, never one to leave things at "No!," plants a kiss on the shy young blonde and tells her she's soft an' purty just like the buttermilk biscuits his Ma makes for the county fair.

Ellen flees and finds solace in her bedroom, crying into her pillow, allowing how Ted couldn't possibly think she's pretty as she's the ugliest girl she knows. Then she tells the doc about the weird nightmare she has where she gets dressed up in a ball gown in a house of mirrors and Ted visits her and tells Ellen she's actually as ugly as that old sinkhole he and Pa found behind the outhouse (and you can tell Ted is a really mean guy because he gets those bulbous eyes Jack Kamen gives to all his baddies). The psych nods and snickers, explaining that Ellen actually enjoys having these feelings of homeliness and remember how dreams always play a part in our deep subconscious and that her conscious mind is censoring her true feelings and that all this guilt and self-loathing can be diagnosed as neurotic behavior. If Ellen wants true happiness, she shouldn't deny herself that true happiness. Like the sun rising on a new day, the clouds are lifted from Ellen's vision and she tells the doctor that she is, indeed, fully cured! Case #102 is officially closed.

After abandoning hope of finding interesting
panels, Enfantino just grabs one at random
And, finally, we revisit Mark Stone, a Hollywood writer whose overeating may be the cause of his anxiety attacks. Or it may be the fact that he's an embarrassed son of an immigrant in a land of bigots. As we zoom in on Mark (not too close, though, as he's a whopper), he's having a conversation with America's hardest working psychiatrist . . . The Psychiatrist . . . who quizzes Mark on the wallet he'd left behind after last issue's session. Oddly, the billfold contains no pictures and that tells the shrink that Mark Stone is a very lonely man, a man with no direction . . . with no purpose. Mark allows that he's "given up on the accomplishment of satisfaction!" (Whatever the hell that means.) The doc says a man of Mark's prestige must have a lady love and Mark brags he's got several but he quickly becomes bored with them and dumps them like a bundle of unsold Panics. This intrigues the over-paid head shrinker and he has the overweight scribe lie on the couch and use stream of consciousness to reveal his thoughts on women. As suspected, there's a deep-seated hatred of the opposite sex highlighted by a dream Mark continues to have about a female car cornering him in a deserted alley and calling him by name before transforming into a beat-up jalopy. (Whatever the hell that means.) The doc smirks and nods and tells Mark that, of course, the automobile symbolizes Mark's mother and therefore all women! That explains Stone's contempt, cruelty, hostility, and fear towards women. Just then, Mark jumps up and admits he has a picture of a girl in a secret compartment in his wallet! "I know," laughs the doc, "But your time is up!"

Oy, my head hurts after reading this psychobabble hogwash, and I would eat pickled Freddy gonads to see the issue-by-issue sales figures for Psychoanalysis. Surely, the numbers dwindled to nothing by the end (which is, thank Odin, only one more issue away); what kid, or right-minded adult, would waste time with this cliched nonsense? The dialogue is more wooden than Captain Storm's leg; the only one left smiling after this one must have been Jack Kamen, who continued to line his stencils up and pump these strips out without having to strain his brain on minor things like choreography or depth illusion. You know, the kind of thing that kept the other EC artists up at night. As a fascinating aside (just about the only fascinating tidbit I could come up with for Psychoanalysis), editor Al Feldstein had a boatload of problems with the then-new Comics Code Authority concerning the Mark Stone character. Evidently, the CCA had a problem with Stone's being a Jew and rejected Feldstein's use of the character's original Jewish name! The whole story can be found in the Von Bernewitz/Geissman volume, Tales of Terror! (Fantagraphics, 2000). -Peter

Jack: Peter, your summaries and comments were way more entertaining than slogging through Psychoanalysis #3! The psychiatrist is a pushy jerk and Freddy's Dad is kind of pathetic, too, with his room full of college trophies. These stories sure don't make me wish I lived in the 1950s! The Carters are one heck of a family. While we're on the subject of decoding, why does the Psychiatrist always have a pipe stuck in his mouth? Hmm? Oral fixation?

Reading the Ellen Lyman case after the Freddy Carter case made me start to worry that I was seeing aspects of myself in these characters and stories, but then I remembered the same thing happened when I took Psych 101 in college and I found out that everyone feels that way. At least, that's how I remember it. I'm glad Ellen is cured and can go to the concert with Paul.

In the Mark Stone case we learn that the Psychiatrist is also a snoop! Mind your own business, shrink! Mark is a creep and the (presumably Freudian) dream symbolism is ridiculous. Of course it's all Mom's fault! By the way, I kind of like Kamen's swipe from Hitchcock's famous dream sequence in Spellbound on the cover.

Next Week in Star Spangled #138 . . .
Has the Haunted Tank met its match?

And this Thursday . . .
Something Old is New Again


Will said...

Paul's father still abandoned hiss family, when he could have really easily explained it to them.

I know very little about psychiatrists, but I know that the Psychiatrist is a quack.

Jack Seabrook said...

I would not send my dog to him! Thanks for stopping by, Will!