Thursday, September 20, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales: Marvel/ Atlas Horror! Issue 17

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Two
November 1949-May 1950
Narrated by Peter Enfantino

Sol Brodsky
Marvel Tales #94 (November 1949)

“A Night in Hangman’s House” (a: Gene Colan) 
“Spectacles of Doom!” (a: Bill Everett) 
“Hands of Horror!”  
“The Haunted Love!” (a: Gene Colan)   

Duncan and Laura get caught in a storm and must take shelter in a creepy farmhouse owned by a weird old man who tells them the story of the original proprietor of the house, a homicidal maniac who “hung everybody he could lay his hands on!” The nervous couple discover that the hangman’s noose is still very much alive and prowling the house. The randy rope murders the old man and only Duncan’s quick reflexes with a handy hatchet rescue the terrified lovers. Uniquely, the murderer’s ghost never puts in an appearance, leaving the dirty work up to his length of rope (the sequence with Duncan chopping at the writhing fibers is pretty amusing). More scratchy and undistinguished doodles from Gentleman Gene

Bill Everett’s art saves "Spectacles of Doom," a so-so tale of a miserly old geezer (think, oh, I don’t know, Ebenezer Scrooge) who receives a pair of new spectacles and promptly falls in love with a gorgeous gal named Miriam. After marrying the young woman, his glasses are removed and he discovers that he’s been the butt of a very nasty trick. The climax is a bit on the misogynistic side (a mite?--Miriam is a dead ringer for one of Basil Wolverton's MAD fans!) but the visuals are dazzling (the double-wide title panel is unlike anything we’ve seen so far in the Atlas horror comics).

WANTED: More Readers Like Miriam!

"Hands of Horror"
Carnival attraction Samson has mighty hands but little control over what they do. When Samson’s “friend,” Morty, gets wind that the big guy has got a big bundle of cash stashed in his tent, he enlists the aid of the lovely Zorina, another carnival attraction who has caught the eye of Samson. Zorina takes the big lug out to the cinema while Morty ransacks the tent. Too late, Morty realizes that it’s something in Samson’s living quarters that produces out-of-control limbs and he strangles himself to death. At least, I think that’s what happens since there’s no real explanation for the phenomena. Ugly artwork and a boring script spell doom for the “Hands of Horror!”

A beat cop notices the light on in the Penner residence every night and gets curious. The Penners invite the patrolman in and relate a terrifying story of  inherited farms and ghosts and, very soon, the cop knows why the lights stay on. Over-written in both the caption (As patrolman O’Leary, tough city cop, listened to the narrative of John Penner, his flesh slowly began to crawl with a sense of the unknown! For the story he heard was a macabre history of the other world…) and dialogue (“I’ve got to tell someone… about why we’re afraid… and of how she got that streak of white in her hair… and of why neither of us can stand it to be alone again… and why we live in the city amongst crowds of people…”) departments, “The Haunted Love!” is indicative of this embryonic stage of the Atlas horror titles, with a plot that seems extremely familiar and crude, almost amateurish artwork,

"Haunted Love"

Gene Colan
Captain America’s Weird Tales #75  (February 1950)

“Hoof Prints of Doom!” (a: Gene Colan) 1/2 
“Thing in the Chest”  
“The Bat” 1/2

The experiment at an end, the good Captain waves so-long to a brief dip into the horror pool and then watches the world pass him by for four years. Unlike the previous issue, this one doesn't even contain a Cap story and skimps on the horror with only three tales.

In an Algiers port, sailors Mac and Harris come across a strange old fakir who predicts Harris’ death. Appalled, Harris kills the fakir and the men are stalked by an invisible hoofed demon. "Hoof Prints of Doom" is probably the best story this issue and that's not saying much. Gene Colan is still stuck in his early-days rut of see-sawing art quality but it doesn't help that the scripter gives Gentleman Gene nothing to work with.

"Thufferin' Thukatash!"
In “Thing in the Chest," a playwright fashions his latest masterpiece around the myth of Pandora’s Box but, when the curtain rises, he finds the box is no myth, As portrayed by our uncredited artist, the demons that rise from the chest (see above) resemble something out of a Looney Tunes short. And, finally, Fernando de Toledano, Duke of Guadalajara, fears his wife, the gorgeous Countess Dolores Ibanez of Portugal, is a bloodthirsty vampire in "The Bat." Too late, he discovers her preferred meal is the Duke’s blood!

"The Bat"

Marvel Tales #95 (March 1950)

“The Living Death!” 
“The Gypsy’s Curse!” 
“Trapped in Time!” 

If only "The Living Death" had lived up to the promise of its spectacularly wild cover! Alas... A spaceship lands in the Polish town of Zillow and the population dwindles. Turns out a crew of aliens leaves the ship nightly to suck the entire insides out of the town folk in order to survive Earth’s atmosphere. Not a bad little thriller but a whole lot of the dialogue is pretty dismal (“Tell the people anything! Tell them it is a secret government experiment… or a comet on a rampage! Stress to them that it is harmless!”). Curiously, other than a quick glance at a caped and hooded shadow, the aliens are never shown.

In "The Gypsy's Curse!," Philip, Lord of Mac Arnish castle, is tortured by the singing voice of Lorelei, his gypsy wife, whom he betrayed and murdered for riches, years before. Overlong at ten pages, but some nice, atmospheric art (looks a lot like Gene Colan but GCD doesn't give a credit). And "Trapped in Time!" is a silly time travel short-short about a scientist who murders his future self during an experiment. This sort of story would be done to death (and better) by Feldstein and Gaines in the Weird Fantasy/Weird Science double-bill.

"The Gypsy's Curse"

Suspense #3 (May 1950)

“The Man Who Lost His Head!”  
“The Black Pit” (a: Sol Brodsky)   
“The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!” 
“The Forbidden Room!” 

Devised as a tie-in to the long-running radio mystery show of the same name, Suspense existed, for its first two issues at least, to serve up adaptations of creaky John Dickson Carr radio scripts like "The Body Snatchers" (adapted as "The Graveyard Ghouls" in issue #1), "Mr. Markham, Antique Dealer," and "The Bride Vanishes." The "Suspense" radio tie-in identifier on the cover would remain until the 11th issue, but the insides veered more towards the horror genre than thriller. Suspense would last 29 issues with the first eight being jumbo 52-page sized before reverting to the standard 36 with issue #9.

One of the best stories we've encountered yet on our journey is "The Man Who Lost His Head!" World-famous explorer and author, Kirk Hudson, runs up against a brick wall for the first time in his diamond-studded lifetime. His publisher has rejected the manuscript for Kirk’s latest masterpiece, a study of Jivaro head-shrinking techniques. But “Mr. Lee,” publisher of Marvel Books explains that the book is incomplete, lacking a final chapter describing the rituals themselves. Harrumphing but admitting Lee is probably right, Hudson heads to the Amazon in an attempt to witness head-shrinking in all its glory. The explorer finds it hard to hire a guide until a “sickly, dried-up prune” named Haro accepts the high-paying job. Hudson treats his guide like a slave and brutally beats him the entire way through the forests but, in a nice twist, discovers that it is Haro himself who is the “master head-shrinker.” Nice, creepy art highlights a pretty violent and mean-spirited script (which, of course, is welcome in a horror story). Hudson uses long, adjective-filled expletives to describe his Man Friday (“You stunted son of a two-headed monkey…”) and our uncredited scripter goes into great detail when describing the head-shrinking ritual (“River sand, roasted hot as sun in clay pot, is poured into head! Slowly skin dries and shrivels as sand is heated…”). A nice surprise.

No surprises will be found in the very silly and lackadaisical "The Black Pit," wherein a mine foreman is trapped by a cave-in but a lovely ghost comes to his rescue. Somewhat better (and at least three times more enjoyable) is "The Creature Who Didn't Exist!" Genius scientist Charles Cavanaugh invents a mechanical brain for the benefit of mankind but then goes off the rails when he catches his gorgeous wife conducting illicit experiments with Cavanaugh’s lab assistant. Suddenly, mankind is forgotten and murder is the scientist’s number one goal. To reach that goal, the nutty professor creates a synthetic man (who wears a shirtless vest in some sort of bold fashion statement) and then orders his creation to murder the adulterous pair. Stories like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist” (and “The Forbidden Room,” as well) are best enjoyed inebriated and lying on a couch. Fabulous dialogue and writing abound:

The shock of seeing his beloved wife in the arms of his trusted assistant drained the blood from his body…

His brilliant brain, once dedicated to science and humanity, became so corroded with the green slime of hate and vengeance that it rotted in its own bubbling cauldron of beastly cunning!

“…You are dead… dead… struck down by the instrument I fashioned and I shall be free to savor my revenge down through the years! Ah, the bell… the police! Now begins the final act in this comedy of confusion!”

…from his neck a rope ascended upward and his face was canted to one side in an awful travesty of listening…

Last up is “The Forbidden Room!”  Determined real estate agent, Sandor Dvorgny, gets private intel that a railroad has been proposed to run through an isolated castle atop a craggy mountain near the small village of Koztarsag. Smelling millions, Sandor races to the little town and arranges a meeting with the owner of the castle, Count Honved, a loony old man who’s been accused by villagers of being a witch, a werewolf, and a vampire! The Count won’t sell but Sandor is not one to take no for an answer and he begins a smear campaign (spreading gossip about an accused werewolf takes some doing but…) to drive the old man away. Admitting defeat, Honved sells out but cautions the realtor not to investigate the locked room found at the top of the stairs. Uh oh! Like “The Creature Who Didn’t Exist!,” “The Forbidden Room” exists only to fill space in a 52-page funny book but it does have its charms. Why a railroad would run atop a narrow, isolated cliff (rather than, say, around it) is a question only a comic book writer could answer, but he’s not talking. Dvorgny’s plot to tarnish Honved’s “good name” is a hoot; the con man goes so far as to tell one villager that he’s seen the Count “sticking pins into a small stuffed pig!”

In Two Weeks!
Let's Journey Into Unknown Worlds
for the first time!


Jack Seabrook said...

Peter, you are a master at taking bad comics and making them fun. This is a very entertaining post.

Peter Enfantino said...

You complete me.

Jose Cruz said...

Get a room.

Unknown said...

I do love that little inside joke about "the publisher of Marvel Books named Mr. Lee"!!! 'Nuff Said!!!