Monday, September 17, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 66

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
66: August 1955 Part II

 Aces High 3 

"The Rules"★★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"The Spy"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

"The Case of Champagne"★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

When Lt. Edward Dale joins the 95th Pursuit Squadron in WWI, he is determined to make a name for himself and become an ace by shooting down as many German planes as he can. He ignores "The Rules" of chivalry and decency and pads his total by shooting down every plane he sees, even if the pilot is waving a white flag of surrender. His own men shun him and there is talk of grounding him. After he shoots down a German plane that had assisted a damaged Allied plane in landing, the Germans issue an ultimatum: Lt. Dale is no longer subject to the rules of decency and they will do whatever it takes to shoot him down. He is alone in the skies when he falls for a decoy trap and a group of planes descend from above to end his career.

"The Rules"
Jack Oleck tells a cracking good story here about a man who flaunts the unwritten rules and deserves his punishment. Evans is superb at drawing WWI planes and air battles and his soldiers look realistic. This is a great start to the issue!

The men of the 17th Aero Squadron believe that there is a spy in their midst and they are convinced it's Klaus Ritter, due to his German name and heritage. Ritter was nowhere to be found when German planes blew up gasoline storage tanks! When German planes intercept an Allied mission to bomb a German ammo dump, Ritter is the first one suspected of being "The Spy," especially when he doesn't fire on a German plane that downs an Allied flier. Though Ritter protests his innocence, the men of his squadron shun him. Soon, a dangerous mission to bomb a well-guarded German target is announced and Ritter runs off and flies away on his own. The men of his squadron are convinced that he is off to warn the Germans, but when word comes back that the ammo dump was destroyed and Ritter killed, they know the truth.

A decent story with pretty good art, "The Spy" plods along without any real surprises. I never doubted that Ritter was loyal to the Allied cause and so the ending did not come as a revelation. Bernie Krigstein's art is best when he's being creative; when he draws a straightforward story then the weaknesses in his technique are most apparent.

Sergeant Stuart Warner is content to be a "Greasemonkey," repairing other men's planes, ever since an incident right at the end of his pilot training. He let his friend Smitty take his place on a night solo flight so Stuart could keep a hot date but Smitty was killed and Warner was consumed with guilt and thrown out of the pilot corps. Now, when a pilot captain reports that his wife has just given birth to a baby boy (as had the late Smitty's wife right before his death), Warner jumps into the captain's plane and completes a dangerous mission on his behalf. When he returns, the captain reveals that he's Smitty's brother!

"The Case of Champagne"
Wally Wood's gorgeous art aside, I liked this story because it did not follow the expected pattern. Yes, the fact that both brothers' wives had baby boys is a coincidence, but I expected Warner to be killed in the final flight; I guess I thought the story was going to go in the same direction as "The Spy" before it. The fact that it didn't and Warner made it back safely was a nice surprise.

Scotty returns to the 47th Squadron after being on leave in Paris and brings some fine booze with him, but he refuses to open "The Case of Champagne" despite the entreaties of new flier Nick Blaine, who remarks that "people die in wars" and suggests that they seize the day. Scotty's plane crash-lands after the next patrol but he ignores Blaine's suggestion to open the case and drink the champagne. Scotty grows obsessed with a particular German plane and is furious when Blaine downs the same plane while out on patrol with Scotty. Blaine ends up saving Scotty's life and they both return to base safely and finally crack open the champagne.

"The Spy"
Not a bad story, just the weakest in a strong issue. Jack Davis's style doesn't really fit air battle stories, in my opinion, and this one takes a coupe of twists and turns that end up being fairly meaningless because it's all about that case of champagne. Still, Aces High is an enjoyable comic.-Jack

Peter: I loved "The Rules" but why does it seem so familiar? Haven't we seen that plot before? Regardless, George Evans makes anything he illustrates into a great war story."The Spy" is a bit on the obvious side, don't you think? Bernie's definitely on his game this time, though. It's amazing when you contrast "The Spy" with "The Pyramid" (from Valor, below); Krigstein seemingly could change styles with a flick of his wrist. Talk about obvious, how about the maudlin "Greasemonkey?" It's just plain bad, until that final groaner pushes it into "awful" territory. Sheesh! At least Wally gives it a go despite being saddled with one of the dopiest scripts he'd ever been handed. "The Case of Champagne" is a lot like one of Hank Chapman's war stories--long and stuck on the same riff.

Extra! 3

"Dateline: Algiers" ★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Steve Rampart" ★★
Story uncredited
Art by John Severin

"Geri Hamilton" ★
Story uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Dateline: Paris" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Crack World Press reporter Keith Michaels is in Algiers when he bumps into someone dressed in a Legionnaire uniform, someone who looks very familiar. The man excuses himself, insisting they don't know each other but, as he walks away, it dawns on Keith: the guy's a Fed. Oh well, shrugs Keith, on to the real story at the oil field that's been bombed. The supervisor insists that the explosion was the work of a saboteur and Keith drives back into town to type up his report. On the way, Michaels notices a commotion in the street and pulls over. Pushing through a crowd, he discovers the body of the Legionnaire. Beside it, visible only to Michaels' well-trained eye, is an envelope with a perfume odor and an earring bearing the name, "Shira." Keith wanders into a nearby cafe and (I mean, what a coincidence!) eyeballs the belly dancer on stage, a gorgeous dame by the handle of Shira, who happens to be missing one earring! The girl heads out the back door and Steve chases her down to hear her tell a sob story of an American FBI agent and true love. Keith's soaking it in with a reporter's ear when that ear is clubbed from behind and he loses consciousness.

"Dateline: Algiers"
The hack wakes up to find no girl but, luckily, they left him his camel. The babe had mentioned a place the Fed was supposed to meet up with the bad guys and Michaels puts his camel into gear and gets there in no time. He meets up with Shira, who explains that her boyfriend was supposed to be meeting up with another Legionnaire, the man responsible for the oil field bombing. He pats the girl on the fanny and tells her to meet him back at his hotel. When the other Legionnaire arrives, Keith sucker punches him and the men have a sturdy tussle, with Keith emerging the victor just as the Algerian police arrive on the scene, accompanied by a French officer. Michaels explains the situation but the Frenchman puts the kibosh on Keith's exclusive by revealing the identity of the saboteur: the lovely Shiva. Keith groans in embarrassment as, miles away, the oil field explodes. Keith swears he'll get revenge on the dame who made him look like a clown.

Well, here we have an interesting experiment that's also a preview of what's coming very soon in the EC Universe: the picto-fiction story (though it's not referred to by that term just yet). Comprised of about 70% text and 30% illustrations, "Dateline: Algiers" is actually a very good read. Sure, it's shot full of the dumb stuff that plagues these Extra! stories (the fact that Michaels does everything but report is exceedingly annoying) but, for once, Michaels has mud, rather than smugness, on his face in the final panel. Craig won't be mistaken for John le Carre, but he holds his own in the prose department and we know how stellar his graphics are.

Our favorite news photographer, Steve Rampart, is in Algiers (isn't everybody?), covering the oil field disaster when he bumps into his best bud, Keith Michaels, still cleaning egg off his face. Michaels gives Rampart the lowdown on his adventure and then the two board a flight to Paris, where Steve is to catch a connecting flight to New York. The two super-dudes say their goodbyes at the gate and Keith heads off into Paris where he'll . . . (oh, but that would be telling!) . . . and Steve hops his over-nighter. On board, Rampart uses his manly ways, good looks, and charm to win over a gorgeous brunette sitting next to him. The two head down below for a drink but when Steve offers to take the lovely girl's pic, things get frosty.

"Steve Rampart"
Not one to take "no" for an answer (like so many of these macho 1950s men), Rampart snaps a load of photos while the beauty is sleeping. When she awakens and Steve comments that he's captured her loveliness on film, the woman snaps and calls for her bodyguard, the man-mountain known as Max(!), to clean the shutterbug's clock. Rampart comes to in time to see the lovely maiden (who we now know is Shira) and her companions parachuting to safety, so he does what any red-blooded newspaper guy would do: he hops on top of Max and away they go! The pair land and have a bit of a kerfuffle, with Steve winning out. Meanwhile, Shira and her fellow agent are hoofing it and flag down a passing car. Too late, they realize, it's being commandeered by Steve Rampart, who saves the day and captures the two enemy spies.

Though I'm all for a little cross-over action now and then, this installment of "Steve Rampart" isn't the ticket. It follows the formula to the tee: Steve romances a dame (probably not one you'd take home to Ma), gets clobbered a few times, threatens to take a lot of pictures, and ends up staving off world domination by the Commies. Like our other World Press employee, Keith Michaels, Steve doesn't do much in the way of providing material for the company, instead flying around the world on their dime. The guy should be a Fed. I love Severin's graphics, though; that "Steve Canyon" vibe grows stronger every chapter.

"Geri Hamilton"
If there's one thing that Geri Hamilton can smell (even through her fancy French perfume), it's a good story and juvenile delinquent Eddie Harris is that good story. She and her camera-guy, Dagger, head down to the slums to try to smoke out the good-looking Harris and find out what's bugging him. Turns out a whole heck of a lot. Like enough problems to fill a week's worth of Days of Our Lives. The kid has no respect for elders and that goes for the poor old man, Pop, who raised him after Eddie became an orphan. Geri wants to know more about the troubled youth, so she digs up an old file and then suddenly realizes why beat cop Conley is always cleaning up the kid's mess. Seems he was the guy who ventilated Eddie's real Pop during a stick-up gone bad. Since then, both Conley and Pop have tried to bring Eddie up the right way despite his surroundings.

"Dateline: Paris"
Eddie has a confrontation with Pop over some dough and the old man's heart finally gives out, and Conley goes to search for him. Eddie tries kill his guardian angel, misses badly, and ends up in the clink. Geri doesn't get her happy ending after all. Why is every old man in an EC story nicknamed Pop? Despite the fact that Reed Crandall was professional enough to draw a typewriter into a couple of panels, I'm still not buying that this fashion model named Geri knows how to type or put a few words together to form a sentence, for that matter. These soap opera stories disguised as "human interest dramas" just suck the life out of my soul. It's like a really bad episode of Naked City.

In our second Keith Michaels adventure this issue, "Dateline: Paris," our favorite reporter travels to the city of love to check on a "rift in the French Cabinet" and uncovers what might be a case of adultery between one cabinet member and his rival's wife. But the suspected philanderer is found dead and suspicion falls on his lover. Since the police in every country Keith visits are morons, it's up to our hero to scratch at the doors and sniff out the facts. Back to the doldrums of Keith Michaels, Super Spy/Detective/ Romancer/Fashion Example, the boredom of which is inescapable. Only a sense of duty pushes me to read every panel carefully, looking for nuggets of zzzzzzzz . . .-Peter

"Dateline: Paris"
Jack: "Dateline: Algiers" didn't jell for me, despite the nice art by Johnny Craig. It's too hard to read the prose and then switch to panels with word balloons, back and forth, across eight pages. It took some figuring to realize that I was supposed to read across rather than down, and the text seemed overwritten. "Steve Rampart" flowed better for me and I liked the reference to It Happened One Night when the girl in the story flags down a truck by showing some leg. Severin's art is solid, as usual. "Geri Hamilton" doesn't work at all, after two linked stories, since it has nothing to do with them. Crandall is great but he really doesn't have much to do here. I was happy to reach "Dateline: Paris" and see that Craig was back to doing a straight comic story, but my excitement wore off quickly when I read this weak tale. Even Craig's art seems less tight and finished than we're used to.

Valor 3

"The Cloak of Command" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson

"Gentle as a Whisper" ★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Pyramid" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Debt of Honor" ★★★1/2
Story by E. Toomey
Art by Reed Crandall

Hoping to become as great a warrior as his father, Gaius Augustus marches a group of Roman soldiers through occupied Iberia, but arrogance and pride lead him down the wrong path into an ambush. Only the quick thinking of his father's advisor, Flavius, helps him avoid complete catastrophe after most of his men are run through. But, in the end, his complete 180-degree flip from mocking young stud to appreciative learner transforms Gaius into a man ready to ascend to greatness.

"The Cloak of Command"
Well, if these mini-epics are tantamount to sword-and-sandal sagas of the 1950s and 1960s, then "The Cloak of Command" is one of those on a par with Hercules and the Sons of Samson Meet the Daughters of Neptune, rather than Spartacus or Ben-Hur. It's not that our uncredited writer hasn't done a good job of creating a realistic scenario and interesting characters, it's just that it's a bit on the samey side. We've seen this before (and we'll doubtless see it again) in comics and movies and it's just not all that exciting. About the only bit that caught my attention was the scene where Flavius has the men anchor torches on their oxen and send them stampeding down into the Iberians, fooling the enemy into thinking the Romans were charging. Al Williamson, as usual, provides stunning visuals.

"Gentle as a Whisper"
A ship bearing gold stolen by Cortez wrecks on an island populated by Incas. The men are trekked to the temple where they are sacrificed to the gods, one man per sunrise. A Spanish friar convinces the Incas to let him have one night in their temple before he is slaughtered and he convinces the savages that their gods are no more than clay. He is freed. Though I get that the word "Valor" means more than sword-wielding vikings with big helmets, I'm not enamored with "Gentle as a Whisper," a slow-as-molasses morality story and its hot and cold Orlando art. Really, Joe's work looks fabulous in spots and absolutely awful in others. This story gives us a peek at what might have been should Bill and Al have opted for a religious funny book.

Thousands of slaves toil in the blazing hot sun of an Egyptian desert, all for their pharaoh, Amra. His royal physician by his side, the pharaoh sits in a tent, observes the work, and hopes it can be completed by sundown. For that is all the time his physician gives him. Feeling helpless, Amra takes his chariot out to beg his slaves to work faster, eventually offering them water, food from his palace, and then gold. The sun sinks lower and it becomes evident that the task is just too much when a worker cries out that they have finally uncovered a passage to "The Pyramid" where Amra's son had wandered in and become lost. The relieved father hugs his son and explains that the rest of the pyramid ("this folly") will be dismantled later. Without cheating one bit, Otto Binder steers you to an obvious conclusion (that Amra is sick and must be interred in a new pyramid by sundown) and then throws a very clever slider your way at the conclusion. Having a pharaoh feed his slaves is a nice change of pace as well. Bernie's art is a little on the doodly side here and there but, overall, it's nicely done.

"The Pyramid"

"Debt of Honor"
King Richard of England is in a precarious position: he's trying to force-feed Christianity to Jerusalem but Saladin, Jerusalem's ruler, is not buying it and Richard's men are starving. The kings of Germany and France both want to listen to Saladin's parley but Richard will not rest until Saladin and his men are run through with British steel. Guy Mortain, a traitor to Richard, convinces Saladin that he can serve Richard to him on a plate for a nominal sum. Saladin, wanting to avoid any more bloodshed, agrees despite his intolerance for turncoats. Mortain tells Richard of a secret passage into Jerusalem and offers to show it to him for one thousand pieces of gold and the king's oath never to punish him for his past betrayals. The king agrees; they enter the city and are ambushed and taken before Saladin, who offers the king his life if peace can be agreed upon. Richard begrudgingly agrees and is on his way. Later, that night, the rat Mortain has the gall to request his gold, knowing the king must keep his word. Richard gives the Judas his gold . . . in molten form.

An absorbing quasi-history lesson from page one right through its ironic climax (which would be echoed in a notorious scene from the first season of Game of Thrones), "Debt of Honor" is the best kind of history lesson. No dry sermons, packed with action, light on expository and stuffy dialogue, and beautifully drawn by Reed Crandall. -Peter

Jack-I agree that "Debt of Honor" is the best story this issue and I would give it four stars. I recently read a book on the Crusades and this story rings true, with an excellent, subtle twist ending and superb art by Crandall. Next in line for me is "The Cloak of Command," since I have an interest in Roman history. The young commander's hubris is well-portrayed and the exciting battle is drawn well by Williamson, though I prefer his science fiction work. "Gentle as a Whisper" features above-average art by Orlando, with none of the ugly caricatures that often mar his stories, while "The Pyramid" once again leaves me wondering what all the fuss is about in regard to Bernie Krigstein.

In Our 139th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories . . .
A death in The Haunted Tank crew!
Fer reals!


Anonymous said...

Although the Orlando cover doesn't do much for me, Valor #3 is the latest in date of the most-loved EC comics of my youth. It's the end of an era -- the last of the stories of Ancient Rome that contains gorgeous Williamson art and the last really quirky Krigstein story for EC (although some of the stories he illustrated for Atlas before leaving the industry are interesting). "Debt of Honor" is excellent, and the writer at least captures the spirit of Saladin's personality, but you can never rely on Valor for history. The writer was no doubt influenced by Sir Walter Scott's entertaining but completely fictitious story about Richard III and Saladin meeting in his novel The Talisman, but of course the two men never met in real life.

I have been reading Aces High along with you guys. What a good comic book it was! I should have read it decades ago. I have always been very familiar with George Evans' airplane stories in TFT and Frontline Combat and was really impressed, but other than the two that he wrote himself for the last two issues of TFT ("Flaming Coffins" in TFT #30 and "Yellow" in TFT #31), the stories themselves that he illustrated -- detailed Kurtzman-penned history lessons about famous combat fighters in TFT #34 and FC ## 11, 13, 14, and 15 and a modern-day propaganda piece in FC #12 -- all left me pretty cold. In this title, with the more dramatic World War I stories in this title, Evans repeatedly reaches that heights that he had achieved in "Yellow."

Best --

Will said...

I suppose Aces High and Valor had access to more interesting subject matter.