Monday, October 15, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 68

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
68: October 1955 Part I

Impact 4

"The Lonely One" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck?
Art by Jack Davis

"Fall in Winter" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Bitter End" ★
Story by Al Feldstein?
Art by Reed Crandall

"Country Doctor" ★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

Benson can't stand Miller and makes his life in a soldier's suit a living hell. What's the beef? Well, Miller is Jewish and Benson is a bigot. He prods Miller at every turn, calls him "yellow" and, at one point, beats the hell out of him. But Miller just keeps doing his job. Things reach a head when Benson finds out that Miller will be getting his corporal stripes; this infuriates the hot-head and he decides he's going to play a nasty prank on his victim. Benson grabs hold of a "dummy grenade" (one that soldiers practice with) and tosses it among Miller and his comrades, screaming "Live grenade!" Benson expects the younger man to turn tail and run but, instead, the kid throws himself on the TNT pineapple, earning the respect of the others in his platoon. Now it's time for Benson to be "The Lonely One."

"The Lonely One"

"The Lonely One"
Well, it took four issues but Al finally decided to throw in a Two-Fisted Tale among the soap opera whatzits and it's not too bad at all; certainly better than most of the war stories that stunk up the last batch of TFTs. It's confusing throughout the story to discern exactly where the prejudice stems from, since Benson's hatred is focused on a kid named Miller, probably one of the most innocuous names around, but thanks to a little research I found an interesting bit about the story in an interview with Bill Gaines that ran in The Comics Journal. Gaines insists that the name was made purposely "bland" so that the story could pass without interference from the Comics Code, an organization that was upholding moral values by eliminating any traces of Jews or Blacks in funny books. This wasn't the first run-in with the numbskulls at the CCA and it wouldn't be the last. Extra star for not ending it with Benson seeing the light and buying Miller a . . . Miller.

"Fall in Winter"
Why is Theodore Hamilton standing on the ledge of a high-rise building, threatening to jump? Through flashbacks, we discover that Theodore has had a rotten day. First, after thirty years of dedicated service, his boss, Mr. Abernathy, lays him off. There's no way his wife, Ruth, will accept the news with anything less than a screaming fit. Then, as Theodore is attempting to board his bus to go home, a woman ahead of him in line drops her purse. Without a second thought, he picks up the purse just as the woman turns and screams "Purse snatcher!" The cops arrive and Theodore panics, racing away with the purse still in hand. The police chase him into the building and onto the ledge where he now stands, but Theodore loses his nerve and begins to inch his way back to the window when he loses his footing and falls. Luckily, the fire department has arrived in time and catches the falling man in their net. The bus driver shows up to dispute the woman's claims and Mr. Abernathy seems to appear in a puff of smoke to deliver the good news: he'll be keeping Theodore on after all. It's a wonderful life! "Fall in Winter" begins as an involving human interest story (something we don't see much of in the New Direction titles); I wanted to know why this old man was up there on the ledge. But then, unfortunately, Carl Wessler decided he was writing a Hollywood B-picture instead and threw in some silly histrionics and outlandish last-second saves. Graham's style is slowly sliding into a post-Crypt tranquility; his characters look a little more human now that he doesn't have to worry about ghouls and swamp witches. Even his women (well, aside from the crazy bus lady) look a little softer.

"The Bitter End"
Nicholas Bullard is an embarrassment to his father, Gerard, who only wants Nicky to follow in the old man's shoes and become a multi-million dollar businessman. Nicky would rather be an artsy-fartsy, sensitive mama's boy (where have we heard this before?), so he rebels every chance he gets. Why, Nicky won't even date fabulous Sheila Cochrane, heir to the Cochrane millions, and instead becomes involved with a simple diner waitress. Pshaw! to that. Gerard pulls strings and has Nicky sent to New Guinea on a one-year business trek but, after all his letters to his son go unanswered, he has a change of heart and has him shipped home. To his surprise, Nicky's diner girl, Iris, shows up at Gerard's door, with baby in tow, to inform him that his son died while in New Guinea. Iris vows that Gerard will never see his grandson again. I kept waiting for "the Psychiatrist" to show up to tell Gerard what he was doing wrong and tell Nick that he's really telling his father, with his actions, that the family tree needs to be pulled down. It's not some of Reed Crandall's best work either; it's a rather hum-drum affair.

"Country Doctor"
On this cold and snowy night, "Country Doctor" Joseph Brown is called out for two emergencies: farmer Eddie has had a run-in with his tractor, and young couple Fred and Alice are expecting their first child. Fred insists that Dr. Brown hurry as his wife is in pain but Brown deems farmer Eddie to be the more serious of the two. Several times while mending Ed's crushed leg, Brown receives pleading calls from Fred but tells the man to calm down, babies are born every day. Eventually Dr. Brown gets to the young couple's house but, unfortunately, it's too late: Alice and the baby are both dead. He sobs as Eddie's son, Chet, takes him home in their sleigh through the snow and Chet feels really guilty that Dr. Brown's daughter, Alice, died while the doc was helping his father. This is a tough one. I liked the little-town atmosphere of "Country Doctor" and, of course, the George Evans illustrations, but the twist is a cheap one, thrown in because there just has to be an O. Henry to wrap up an EC story, right?  I think the story would have had more of an Impact had it left well enough alone. The Doc would have been wracked with guilt regardless and that final panel, where Brown pretty much lays the guilt on Chet's doorstep ("I . . . choke . . . I promised to take a look in at your father, Chet . . .") is an odd turn. -Peter

Jack- This is a very strong issue for a New Direction comic. Davis is very good at drawing war stories and, though the Korean War was over and had stopped appearing as a location for EC tales some time ago, "The Lonely One" is not a bad little offering. It took me a minute to figure out that Miller was Jewish, which shows that Gaines was wise to pick such a bland name, but the cover telegraphed what should have been a more unexpected ending. I liked the Woolrichian sense of dread at the start of "Fall in Winter" and was surprised that attempted suicide paid off so handsomely; I also liked Ingels's smoother artwork. I was stunned to read your criticism of Crandall's work in "The Bitter End," since I was marveling at the magazine-quality illustrations on every page. I think it's some of Crandall's best EC work. Of course, George Evans is no slouch, either, and rivals Crandall for my favorite EC artist of 1955. I did not see the end of "Country Doctor" coming in advance but I sure liked the visuals.

Incredible Science Fiction 31

"You, Rocket"★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Time to Leave"★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Wally Wood

Peter suggests another
new blog to Jack
("You, Rocket")
After rocket engineer Allan Crane is killed in a rocket car accident, nearby scientists harvest his brain to use for an audacious project--they will link it to a spaceship and thus avoid the necessity of putting a man in space, something that has so far failed due to the fact that the astronauts went insane when confronted with the vast reaches of space. Allan's brain is trained to pilot a ship and he becomes convinced of his own power and importance. Launch day comes and the ship takes off, but when he sees the vast void Allan's brain turns the ship around, crying "Mama" like an infant and heading back to Earth.

Wally Wood was my favorite EC artist when it came to science fiction stories, but Jack Oleck is not my favorite writer of these tales. "You, Rocket" plods along as if it's going somewhere and seems vaguely like a Bradbury ripoff until the final panel which, oddly enough, does not clue the reader in that it's "the end." I turned the page thinking there was more only to find that that was it. Not a sign of a great finish.

Carter's pose recalls the early EC
work of Al Feldstein in this panel
from "Time to Leave"
Ancient Egyptians worship the image of the god Ra. Many years before, a disabled space ship landed on an unfamiliar planet. The skipper of the ship was a meek man and his wife a shrew; he enjoyed the primitive planet but she couldn't wait to leave. She nagged him until he used the ship's blasters illegally to destroy the jungle around it so that a rescue ship could find them easily. Soon, the rescue ship arrived and repaired the disabled ship; as it took off, a primitive man on the planet observed  the skipper in his oxygen ask. Back to ancient Egypt and now we see that the image of Ra resembles the space ship captain in his oxygen mask.

The good news is that Bernie Krigstein can drew a pretty sweet gal, even if she is a nagging beast. The bad news is that Jack Oleck falls back on one of the oldest tropes of bad science fiction, that being the idea that ancient astronauts visited our planet long ago and the reality of their existence became legend over time. "Fulfillment" is a poor excuse for a science fiction story but Krigstein's work is better than what I've seen from him in quite awhile.

In the year 2954, a man named Garvin calmly welcomes another "Prim," or time traveler; this time, it's Dr. Arnold Carter from North America in 1955. Garvin tells Carter that he'll show him around the city but he's sure that Carter will want to rush back home. Carter argues but, as he witnesses the emotionless perfection of the future city, he is repelled and when it's "Time to Leave" he is surprised that Garvin wants to join him.

A nice wordless panel by Wood
Better than the first two stories but still seeming long at six pages, "Time to Leave" seems like an anti-Communist screed with gorgeous art by Krenkel and Williamson. The future city has men and women who all dress alike and everyone has the same amount of money. Dance shows are performed by robots. It really doesn't seem as bad as all that, but Carter can't wait to get back to sloppy, emotional 1955.

A space ship captain worries that he's a "Has-Been," too old to fight in outer space battles due to a slowing of his reflexes. This appears to be borne out when he misses a shot during a confrontation with another ship, and he thinks back to his own father's lament that he was too old to fight in space. Working his way onto the force, the young man made the cut for space flight and worked his way up to captain. Now he's past his prime and his second-in-command must intervene to save their ship. Back home and decommissioned, his father welcomes home the captain--who has reached the ripe old age of fifteen.

Huh? I guess Oleck's point here is that things happen so fast in the space race that only the very young have the reflexes to keep up and by their mid-teens they are too slow. The story is pedestrian and, as in all of Oleck's stories this issue, the surprise ending doesn't quite work. At least Wood is on his game, as usual.-Jack

Krigstein delivers "Fulfillment"
Peter: For the most part, this is a pretty good issue of Incredible Science-Fiction, fairly well-written and gorgeously illustrated (how can you find fault in a funny book that serves you up two Woods?), and yet all the stories smack of retread. All four seem very similar to plots we've enjoyed in the past (especially "You, Rocket!" and "Time to Leave"), with tiny tweaks. The best of the bunch, to me, is "Fulfillment," which takes one of the aforementioned EC cliches (the brow-beaten, spineless husband and his shrewish wife) and actually does something interesting with it. The twist in the tail is very effective! Was it just me or did Jack Oleck try to sneak something by the CCA in "Time to Leave," something that would have had Wertham writing another chapter in his infamous diatribe? When Dr. Carter asks why you can't tell the men from the women, the Control replies, "Is there some reason why you should?" Oh, my, subtle homosexuality forced into the suggestive brain of little Tommy! Oh, and why does the Control, after meeting and touring with dozens of other time travelers, suddenly decide that Carter is right, this future is not too great after all? Which begs another question from me: why did EC give up on horror comics after the CCA axe fell? Why not at least try out a few issues of a CCA-approved Tales from the Crypt ("Crypt" was not an outlawed word, after all) and see what happened? Yeah, I know, it probably would have run into trouble eventually (like this title will) and been shut down but the experiment (from a Monday-morning quarterback point of view) would have been fascinating.

Psychoanalysis 4

"Freddy Carter: Case No. 101 - Male (Session 4)" ★★
Story by Dan Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mark Stone: Case No. 103 - Male (Session 4)"  ★
"Mark Stone: Case No. 103 - Male (Final Sessions)"  1/2
Story by Robert Bernstein
Art by Jack Kamen

Young Freddy Carter shows up for his final session of psychoanalysis with his therapist and unloads on the doc. Seems Freddy's parents have been acting up again. Pop tells Freddy if he doesn't pass his math and engineering finals, he's an embarrassing failure as a son and should seriously think about giving up on life. Mom keeps right on coddling her baby, thinking it's so cute when Freddy tricks his dad into thinking he's studying his geometry workbook when he's really hiding his collection of Emily Dickinson inside. What's a kid to do? More importantly, what's a head-shrinker to do?

If I gotta read this crap, then so do you!
Well, it's been a long time coming but "the Psychiatrist" ushers Mr. and Mrs. Carter into his office and rips them both new ones, scolding them for their behavior and for screwing up this wonderful boy's life. Magically, the veil is lifted and both parents not only agree to go easy on their only child but also to seek professional help themselves! Therapy completed! I'm not sure why but I was able to make it through this particular chapter in the Freddy Carter saga much easier than the previous three. Maybe it's because it's so darned ridiculous and dated. Mr. Carter is so mean-spirited and vicious to his son, I was wondering why editor Feldstein didn't steal Graham Ingels away from Piracy for an afternoon's work. A much better ending (and one that would have fit very well into Ghastly's oeuvre) would have been Freddy burying his therapist's letter opener in the back of Pop's skull.

Is this Freddy or Mark?
My first reaction to the splash page for the latest entry in the "Mark Stone" whining epic is that Freddy Carter got home, changed his suit, and realized he forgot the murder weapon in the doc's office and had to go back but, no, it's a slimmer, more svelte Mark Stone (chalk it up to my not being able to tell the difference between one Kamen character and another) arriving for his fourth session. And a doozy of a session it is, my friends. Mark is suddenly aggressive towards his mental savior but the reasoning is a bit skewed. Seems Mark has been having horrible dreams about his mother running off to Bermuda and leaving him fish in a pan but that's only a metaphor for what's really bothering him: "the Psychiatrist" has told Mark that he's taking a week off and going fishing in Cuba (hmmm . . . fish . . . Cuba . . . Bermuda . . . yeah, this psych stuff is pretty easy) and that terrifies the previously-obese TV writer. According to his therapist, Mark has been transferring all his hates and fears about authority, abandonment, and emotion to his therapist and that's not a good thing. Oh, whoops, our session is over.

No, that's not Mark!
A month later (after a session not illustrated), Mark Stone returns for his final session and he seems to be loaded with anxiety again, but this time it's about the impending cessation of his therapy. He can't get on an airplane without thinking it's going down, he badgers his new girlfriend to marry him, he won't get into the elevator because it's going to crash . . . okay, maybe this head-shrinking stuff isn't that easy. But thank goodness, we have writer Robert Bernstein to sort out the muck. Mark was pressuring Laura to wed him because, without therapy, he saw no future and she provided something stable. Oops, the session is over but his therapist smiles and assures Mark that, yep, maybe he's screwed up enough to come back for three more sessions.

Perhaps my favorite panel
ever published in an EC Comic!
And let's all give a standing ovation to Bill Gaines for pulling the plug on this turkey before we had to endure any more of those meetings. I would assume by the quick wrap-up at the finale of both "Freddy Carter" and "Mark Stone" (I say quick wrap-up but I had to slog through 18 pages of "Stone") that Feldstein knew the jig was up for this New Direction title after only four issues (despite the fact that there must have been at least thirteen loyal readers left). Criticizing Jack Kamen's art after all this time is like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel but, seriously, can anyone tell me that anything Kamen has done in this series shows any bit of excitement or style? Look at the panels and the only way you can tell the difference between Kamen's characters is that some of them wear dresses and some not. Well, this is the first EC book that I've waved good riddance to but, sadly, it won't be the last. -Peter. 

Jack- It quickly became apparent to me that the real reason Freddy's parents were ending his sessions with the shrink was that the comic was being canceled. The first story is a hoot, from Freddy's Dad calling him a "novel-reading sissy" to a hilarious scene where the shrink dresses down the parents. Mark Stone demonstrates the usefulness of psychoanalysis as a tool for rapid weight loss, but the shrink's insistence on having a question and answer session with his patient seems laughable. By the end of this issue, I felt sorry for Jack Kamen for having to figure out how to draw panels to go along with the endless blather. It was the exciting three-panel sequence where the Psychiatrist cleans his glasses that made me realize it could not have been easy to illustrate this mess. Still, the bizarre idea of doing this comic at all kind of held my interest.

Next Week . . .
Can they really call these cool cats . . .
the Losers?


Unknown said...

Is the Dan Keyes that wrote Case 101, the Daniel Keyes who would later write FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON? According to his wikipedia page he worked for Atlas comics in the fifties.

Quiddity99 said...

Randy: Yes, it is the same Dan Keyes.

I've always enjoyed Fulfillment, not so much for the ending, which was an EC cliche and coming from a mile away, but I felt bad for the husband, and sad that such a large amount of jungle and all the animals in it got reduced to desert because of his wife's impatience.

Time to Leave is worth reading if only because it is the sole time Roy Krenkel does a solo credited story for EC. Gorgeous looking artwork.

As obsessed an EC fan I am, I have never bothered reading Psychoanalysis (although I do own reprints of all of it). The super bland material as well as Jack Kamen being its solo artist has driven me far away from it. Its the only New Trend/New Direction EC title I've never read any of.

Unfortunately for us, Feldstein will carry over the theme into the picto-fiction title Shock Illustrated, which I have read all of, and it does seem to work pretty decently there. Well, at least enough for me to bother reading it.

Grant said...

"You, Rocket" seems to have the same idea as the OUTER LIMITS episode "The Brain of Colonel Barham." Of course that story is a "Donovan's Brain" variation, but it goes in a whole other direction with the "brain piloting a spaceship" idea, as this story does.
I'm sure it's been used in other places too, and even though it sounds gruesome, I've even heard about the subject outside of fiction.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Grant. I guess the idea of implanting a human brain in a machine was often utilized in classic SF.