Monday, November 26, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 71

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
71: December 1955 

Aces High 5

"C'est la Guerre!"★★★
Story by Jack Oleck?
Art by George Evans

"Iron Man!"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Jack Davis

"Spads Were Trump"★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernie Krigstein

Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

When an American pilot named Adams crash-lands at a French base after returning from a suicide mission in WWI, the French colonel on duty questions the man about why he embarked on the dangerous mission to bomb a well-guarded German base. The American pilots drew lots and Adams was selected; he completed the dangerous mission and was badly injured on his return. The other pilots are envious of the time off that Adams will get due to his wounds and Adams reveals to the French colonel that he did not fly the mission because he lost in the random selection, he flew it because he won!

"C'est la Guerre!"
"C'est la Guerre!" gets the final issue of Aces High off to a good start with outstanding biplane work by George Evans and a likable tale of a pilot who risks his life for a little more shore leave.

After sixty-one missions flying against the Nazis in WWII, Fred Allison is known as the "Iron Man." Time after time, other pilots are shot down, but never Allison. At first, he's a hero, but after a while the other pilots avoid him, ignoring him and not speaking to him. He watches one name after another being crossed off the chalkboard as men die until he sees his own name being crossed out and realizes that the reason everyone has been ignoring him is because he is dead.

Jack Davis does a decent job drawing Allison and his air battles and we get some sense of the man's strange relationship to the other pilots, but the ending has been done to death and elicits nothing more than a groan.

"Spads Were Trump"
It's April 1918, and Lt. Walt Muller is the hero to a squadron of Allied fliers, but Walt has no time for flattery. He shows great emotion when a German ace known as the Red Eagle starts showing up in the skies and the other fliers in Walt's squadron think he's chicken, so they write a note challenging the Red Eagle to a duel. The Red Eagle accepts but Walt refuses to participate, so a new flier named Jordan jumps in Walt's plane and challenges the German. Things are not going well until Walt zooms into the fray and soon he has downed the German ace. Back on the ground, Walt tearfully reveals that the Red Eagle was his brother.

That concluding revelation was no surprise to anyone who has read more than a handful of war comics. Krigstein turns in his usual mid-level art job on "Spads Were Trump" and Wessler's script plods along to the expected finale. Why Walt's fellow fliers thought it would be a good idea to challenge the Red Eagle to a duel in Walt's name is beyond me.

Was Lt. Stoner afraid when he volunteered to join the Flying Tigers and help China against Japan in the run-up to WWII? No! Was he afraid when he battled the enemy in the air or when they attacked his base on the ground? No! So what "Ordeal" has him so worried? Why, he's getting a medal from Chiang Kai-Shek! That's what has him so worked up.

Is there any kind of story that Wally Wood does not excel at? This is basically an extended gag with a punch line that elicits, at best, a small grin. But Wood's air battles are terrific, so we put up with the mediocre writing.-Jack

"Iron Man!"
Peter: The art this issue is all aces but the scripts could have used a little work, I'm afraid. Only "Iron Man!" won me over and that was due to the right-out-of-left-field twist ending. Some would say a little too random, but I say, "Hey, look, it's a Weird War Tale!" "Spads Were Trump" has the weakest of the four scripts; raise your hand if you didn't see that final panel coming from a mile away. I had to double-check to make sure Bob Kanigher hadn't made a surprise visit to the EC bullpen in 1955. So, yes, a glass-half-full issue of Aces High but, since this is the final issue, we can look back at an admirable five-issue run that, like the equally strong run of Valor, keeps this title relevant when discussing great moments in EC history, when so many of the other short-runs are ignored.


Extra! 5

"Dateline: Long Island Sound" ★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Steve Rampart" ★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by John Severin

"Geri Hamilton" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

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

Keith Michaels (you know, the reporter who never does any actual reporting?) finds himself in the thick of more intrigue after a house-warming party that ends innocently enough until Michaels is conked on the head by a mystery man, who steals a new house-warming gift and then vanishes into the night. Turns out the gift (from girlfriend, Vicki), a piece of driftwood sculpted into a seagull, hides a treasure of uncut diamonds. Keith and Vicki head to the remote island where Vicki picked up the souvenir and become enmeshed in a web of murder and deceit.

"Dateline: Long Island Sound"
I love Johnny Craig but this series is (and always was) the pits. Michaels always seems to find himself in the thick of trouble (usually originating from innocent events such as Vicki's picking out the wrong gift), gets clocked a few times, and solves murder and mystery faster than a cop, all while keeping handsome and free from wrinkled clothing. Michaels delivers the obligatory two-page expository at the end of "Long Island Sound" while a cigarette dangles from his mouth. Sheesh. The second Michaels adventure this issue, "Dateline: Germershein," is microwaved Graham Greene, a tedious and silly espionage yarn about spies and double-spies and triple-spies that wears out its welcome long before the plot has to be rehashed and explained to us on pages six and seven. The two Michaels entries would be Johnny Craig's final full-length work for EC (he would contribute some spot illos for the Picto-line in 1956); after EC cancelled all titles but MAD, Craig would find work at Atlas/Marvel and then an advertising agency before making a triumphant return at Warren. We'll be going over his Warren work in just a couple months right here in this space.

Action gear provided by Fruit of the Loom
"Steve Rampart" is living the life of a photographer/bachelor, taking shots of beautiful gals at a carnival, when he stumbles into a con job put on by a fortune teller and his brawny bodyguard. The swami is putting one over on the trusting old Mrs. Mason, wife of deceased millionaire, Charles Mason, in order to bilk her out of her fortune. Rampart wins the trust of the old lady and then uses her to get the con man to reveal his true colors. Once again, Steve Rampart blurs the lines of photographer and cop (much in the way Keith Michaels uses his stationery to solve crime), even going to his boss at World Press and talking him into letting him cover "the story." Isn't that a reporter's job? This is not John Severin's best work (a lot of it looks rushed and sketchy and Rampart appears to be wearing a buttonless shirt under his coat and tie), but I would imagine the artist wasn't too enamored with the script he was assigned and decided to pump something out quick.

"Geri Hamilton"
Ace reporter "Geri Hamilton" has been assigned to a story in Egypt, where a rash of deaths has crippled an archaeological expedition tasked with finding the tomb of Anubis. The great God's resting place has been found but the unearthing comes with a curse, one that has taken the lives of six men. Geri won't accept that an ancient curse is responsible so she does a little homework and discovers that her guide, Dr. Mannheim, served in the Afrika Korps and he and several of his comrades stole and buried half a million in gold in a mining tunnel next to the dig. Geri catches Mannheim in the act of retrieving his gold, but the cad threatens our girl's life. The intrepid reporter causes a cave-in, which saves her life and alerts the authorities. Another exclusive for the cutest newshound going! "Geri Hamilton" gets a slightly higher rating than the rest of the stories this issue because Reed Crandall looks like he hadn't received his pink slip yet and was creating art just like he always did, meticulously and stylishly. The story is hogwash, of course. I'm still not clear on whether Mannheim buried his gold and then stumbled on the Anubis tomb or vice versa but, in the end, it doesn't really matter. Extra! will slide into obscurity (how many EC fans even acknowledge this, Psychoanalysis, or MD?) and you'll see not one tear shed from me. Like Psychoanalysis, Extra!'s biggest mistake may have been expending all its energies on a weak cast of continuing characters.-Peter

"Dateline: Germersheim"

Jack: Like the first four issues of this series, this issue was pretty good but in the end it was a waste of real talent. I love Johnny Craig's visual storytelling and the way he mixes words and pictures, and his half-splash pages on both stories this issue look great, but both of his tales run out of steam before we get to the end. I also thought Severin was not at his best in the fake swami story and the twist ending was superfluous. I always look forward to the third story in Extra! because it means more Reed Crandall, and I like plucky Geri Hamilton, but art alone does not a great comic make.

Impact 5

"Heart Interest"★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein?
Art by by George Evans

"The Travelers"★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Joe Orlando

"The General"★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein?
Art by Graham Ingels

"So Much More"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

The doctor gives Laura Harmon the bad news: in six months, death will separate her and her husband Walt. She refuses to tell hubby, though, and instead does everything to keep him from exerting himself. Eventually, he gets sick of the life of a homebody and tells her to leave him. When the doc goes to the funeral, it's Walt who asks him why Laura never told him she had a bad heart.

Even the squirrel wants out of "Heart Interest."
"Heart Interest" is deadly dull and the writer, who may have been Al Feldstein (according to the GCD) twists himself in knots to keep from the reader that Laura is the one with the bad heart, not Walt. For almost seven pages, we are made to think it's Walt. Yawn. Even George Evans can't enliven this dirge.

"The Travelers" are a family of three who are on a train hurtling through Pennsylvania on their way to New York City. They spy Edward, a boy alone and crying, and are nice to him, but when his mother doesn't show up they assume she's drinking in the club car. The train reaches its destination and Edward meets his father; his mother's coffin is unloaded from the train, much to the shock of the judgmental family.

She should have loaned him
Tales from the Crypt!
("The Travelers")
I knew right away that Edward's mother was dead, and these busybodies should have figured it out or asked Edward (or the conductor) some simple questions. Joe Orlando's art is not pleasing to my eye. John Severin did great work at EC in the '50s and DC in the '70s. George Evans did great work at EC in the '50s but by the '70s at DC his art was not so hot. Yet Joe Orlando's '50s art for EC is nothing to write home about, while his work at DC in the late '60s and early '70s was much better. Go figure.

Feodor, "The General," sits at a table with his guests and recalls his rise as a Russian general in the armies of the Tsar. He began as a peasant but later turned his back on his own kind and participated in killing them. The guests get up and leave and when the general puts on his cloak and walks out it is revealed that he too is a servant.

I did not get this one at all the first time I read it and on second reading it started to make a wee bit of sense, but I did not care for the surprise ending--it seemed to demean the more serious aspects of the general's rise.

"The General"
Ever since they were kids, poor Danny Herndon hated and envied the rich Lawrence boy. After an altercation with the Lawrence gardener, Danny ran away from home and lived on his own, eventually becoming a successful boxer. He never forgot his hatred for the Lawrence family and, when they fell on hard times, he used his winnings to buy the Lawrence home. He confronts Lawrence with his hatred but Lawrence admits he pities Herndon, since the poor boy always had "So Much More"--Lawrence has always been crippled and unable to walk.

The last issue of Impact is a real stinker and the last story barely edges out the first three for best in show, mainly due to passable art by the often overrated Bernie Krigstein.-Jack

The shocking climax to "The General."
Peter: During its brief five-issue life, Impact struggled to find a niche of its own, doomed to be just a mediocre step-child of Shock SuspenStories, and the final issue exhibits nothing to sway that view. But for one insanely bright moment ("Master Race" in #1), Impact is nothing to remember. "Heart Interest" features a bit of sly tomfoolery in its climax, and our uncredited writer does an admirable job of not tipping his cap, but the first six pages amount to a whole lot of tedium. Laura goes to the doctor for advice. Doc says tell Walt the truth. Laura says I can't. Doc says "Our time is up." Next page, let's do it all again. The reveal of "The Travelers" seems, at first glance, to be a powerful one but the entire story is built on a cheat. As if the conductor would answer Mrs. Horton's concern with a flippant, "Back there." But even if you could excuse the deception, there's still the matter of Joe Orlando's awful art, the blandness of which seems to leap from the page. Worst of all is "So Much More," a tawdry slice of maudlin pie that wastes a decent art job by Krigstein.

The only enjoyment I took from this issue, "The General," is a throwback to Harvey's war titles, and the twist is a humdinger. Feodor's fate is reminiscent of Jake LaMotta's at the climax of Raging Bull. Graham's art is the best this issue, detailed and stimulating; it's a damn shame that we've only got a little more time left with Ingels, as it seems he was becoming re-invigorated just as the ceiling was about to fall in.

Incredible Science Fiction 32

"Fallen Idol" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Joe Orlando

"Food for Thought" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"The Ultimate Weapon" ★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Marked Man" ★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Davis

"Fallen Idol"
In an apocalyptic future, a young man yearns to discover what's out in the "dead place," beyond his camp. Legends tell of a God named Hercules who dwells in the battle-scarred zone. When his father, the village leader, dies and the curious cat inherits the throne, he orders his people to accompany him into the "dead place." They discover gigantic carnivorous insects but, with the help of bow and arrow, they manage to defeat the creatures and wend their way into the ravaged city where they find Hercules in an abandoned building. They bring the steel God back to camp and the new leader dreams of the day he can use Hercules to build a new world. Even though the CCA has emasculated the hell out of "Fallen Idol," (the chief's right hand on page 4, panel 3 should be holding a club, but it's empty) it's not awful. It's not all that original though, and the "post-apocalyptic tribe that idolizes machinery" theme would be done much better fifteen years later in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I had to use my handy-dandy Google to figure out what Hercules was; best guess is he's a 1950s washing machine. Orlando's art doesn't help either; the whole enchilada looks like something that would have wound up in one of the 1960s' Gold Key titles.

Forget the Sistine Chapel
After fifty thousand years, man returns to what was once a burnt-out and lifeless Earth. Re-seeding has grown a new landscape with new creatures and vegetation but the explorers deem it unlivable and prepare to lay waste to it yet again. This does not sit well with Grock, an intelligent tree that tries to get its message across through thought waves but has to resort to physical contact when all else fails. The explorers see this act as aggression and destroy Grock, then blast off, their destruction complete. Another script you'd swear you've read a thousand times before but gussied up with eye-pleasing work from Messrs. Williamson and Krenkel (according to 50 Girls 50, the Williamson/Krenkel volume in Fantagraphics' essential "EC Comics Library" series, Krenkel supplied the alien landscapes for "Food for Thought"). That splash is poster-worthy, as detailed as an acid trip, and fans remembered it fondly down through the years as it won the award for Best Artwork in a Science-Fiction Story at the 1972 EC Fan-Addicts Convention.  I'm sure it probably has to do with the CCA meddling, but what's with the square (rather than the usual oval) word balloons?  According to the von Bernewitz/Geissman tome, Tales of Terror! (the closest thing we have to an EC Bible), "Food for Thought" was to be a seven-pager until the good ol' CCA stepped in and objected to the ending. The climax was re-written and an extra page added.

When Peter visited Jack's house.
Fresh off conquering Mars, Gurt orders his men to fly their spaceship to Earth, where the destruction will be quick and easy. But his second-in-command, Andge, cautions him that the Earth people aren't like all the other planets they've conquered. After all, Earth has nuclear weapons and men have waged war among themselves for eons; how much fear will such a race exhibit? Landing on Earth, Gurt and Andge approach a farmhouse and ring the doorbell. A matronly old woman answers and immediately tears into both of them for trampling her roses. When Gurt explains they've come a long way and have a few questions, the woman tells him her husband is in town, but she knows all about the visitors and why they've come. Fearing a trap, Gurt orders Andge back in the ship and they hightail it, never to return. When the woman's husband returns, she tells him she regrets the day they made a deal with the movie company to film a science fiction film at their farm. The whole story is done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, so it'll do you no good to complain about the whopper of a coincidence that ends "The Ultimate Weapon." Krigstein does a good enough job for what he's given but, other than that Martian landscape on the splash, the entire story is nothing but talking heads. It's certainly more fun than the previous two tales this issue.

"Marked Man"
After the verdict on his court-martial comes down, Commander Abel Grant reflects on his twenty years of space duty, fighting battles with planets beyond Pluto and blasting Venusians who've taken Earthlings hostage, leading up to the event that got him into hot water. While taking the Grand Admiral of the Fleet out for a spin, their spacecraft is fired upon by "the enemy" and the ship has to make an emergency landing on an asteroid. The men escape and head for Earth but, on the way home, the Admiral keels over and dies from a strange disease. Informed that the bug is something Earth is not prepared for, the Commander orders the Admiral's body dumped into space. Some of his comrades see this as an inexcusable offense and put him on trial. When the trial is over, however, we discover there are men within the government who appreciate Grant's no-nonsense approach and elevate him to new Grand Admiral! Some great Jack Davis art and a surprise climax elevate "Marked Man" after a very slow first two-thirds. I thought it odd that, even though this is set in the (then) future world of 1999 and everyone wears space garb, the reporter giving his opinion on the Commander is dressed in the typical 1950s' newsman garb of long sleeves and Fedora! -Peter

Jack-The obvious standout this issue is the gorgeously illustrated "Food for Thought"; thanks for the notes about the censorship, Peter, I did not know about that. I wonder if Oleck was reading Walter Miller's "Fiat Homo" right before he sat down to write "Fallen Idol"? The Miller story, which would later be revised as the first part of A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), was published in the April 1959 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so it's temporally possible Oleck could've seen it. The woman's reaction to the would-be conquerors in "The Ultimate Weapon" is priceless and while I thought "Marked Man" was well done I have to wonder at some of the art assignments in this issue. Davis did the cover and the last story? Krigstein did a story? Where's Wally Wood?

Valor 5

"Dangerous Animal"★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood

"Important Man"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

"Treasure from Xanadu"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Day of Reckoning"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Al Williamson and George Evans

Octavius Tiberius Caesar leads his men in battle successfully and catches the eye of the beautiful Claudia, who flatters her way into becoming his wife. Fast forward ten years and Tiberius is fat and lazy. A young soldier named Andromicus begins to make noise that he wants to replace Tiberius, so he is promptly arrested and made to fight wild beasts in the arena. Andromicus is a "Dangerous Animal," however, and defeats lions and panthers before challenging the emperor to a one on one duel. Tiberius is shamed into fighting and loses his life; Andromicus takes his place but is canny enough to stay away from Claudia.

"Dangerous Animal"

Carl Wessler gets creative by mixing up some real names from Ancient Rome with one that's almost real (Andromicus) and cooking up a far-fetched tale of succession by sword fight. Of course, it's all a fantasy. I read Suetonius's The Twelve Caesars and know full well that there was no emperor by this name and no soldier who killed and replaced him. Still, with Wally Wood at the drawing board, it's an impressive yarn.

"Treasure from Xanadu"
During the French Revolution, Dr. Antoine Louis had become an "Important Man" by inventing the guillotine. He coveted Robespierre's place and accused the man of treason; the trial had resulted in a death sentence, one he waits to see carried out. Yet the death sentence had been passed on Louis, not Robespierre!

Not the same gimmick again! Didn't we just have this in this month's Impact? With "Heart's Interest"? Not even Ghastly, who could have done so much more with a story involving a guillotine, can save this weak soup.

Kublai Khan gives Marco Polo a small box that holds "Treasure from Xanadu," a method for making silk and thus a gift more valuable than gold or jewels. Marco's uncle Nicolo schemes to steal the valuable box but is rebuffed at every turn until finally, with the aid of some native marauders on horseback, he succeeds in pilfering the treasure. He opens it and is terribly disappointed to see a handful of worms and a few leaves!

Not a bad little story, but I guessed the ending. Krigstein is good form and the journey back from Xanadu is intriguing, but in six pages it's hard to develop characters that have more than one dimension.

That's a George Evans face!
"Day of Reckoning!"
When his father's army had attacked Corcy Castle, Philip had broken his sword and run in fear. His father was angered by Philip's refusal to uphold generations of family honor and made him practice to face his future enemy, the son of Corcy. Both fathers are killed when Corcy attacks Philip's father's castle and Philip vows to avenge the old man's death. Yet when the "Day of Reckoning" arrives and young Corcy meets Philip, the visitor wants peace rather than battle. Philip refuses and challenges Corcy to a duel by sword. Though Corcy is afraid and untrained, he kills Philip, who does not even draw his sword. Peace between the families will follow and few will ever know that Philip's sword was rusted tight inside its scabbard and he could not pull it out.

It's an odd match with Evans inking Williamson, but it has a Prince Valiant look to it and Williamson's usual beautiful visuals have a definite Evans flavor here and there. The story is strangely uninvolving and the twist ending is dumb--why would Philip not have tried to pull his sword out before the duel, since it was his idea to fight in the first place? Still, the last story in the last issue of Valor is of a piece with the entire five-issue series: good art, decent story, nothing great but not bad either.-Jack

"Important Man"
Peter: "Dangerous Animal" has some fabulous Wally art, but the script feels like it was pulled verbatim from the Encyclopedia Britannica; cold and uninvolving. There's nothing surprising about the twist in "Important Man," since it's pretty much telecast from panel one, but the script isn't going to keep you turning pages. It's the exquisite "Ghastly" art. I'll call him by his famous nickname this one last time because this is the kind of art (and story) Ingels excelled at during the horror title heydays. Take a good look, drink it in, this is probably the last great Graham "Ghastly" Ingels art we're going to see. The climax of "Day of Reckoning" is open to interpretation (at least in my mind, it is); does Philip see, in the "cowardice" of Corcy Jr.,  a way to seize  his moment of fame and is then tripped up, or does he deliberately sacrifice his life for the betterment of his people? Either way, it's certainly visualized splendidly with a dream team-up of Williamson and Evans (and both artists can be seen very clearly!). "Treasure from Xanadu" bored me to tears, something that very few Valor tales can lay claim to. This has been a splendid title, one of the two best of the New Direction books, and one that I will miss a great deal.

From Valor #5

Next Week . . .
Rock, POW!

+ The Best Stories of 1973
Star Spangled #144.
As you were.


Quiddity99 said...

I wouldn't say this is the end of Craig's full length work for EC, he does do several full length picto-fiction stories, and while there is less panels per page for them, they tended to be longer stories which pretty much cancels it out.

Anyway, hard to believe you guys are almost at the end of the New Direction era! I generally agree with the disappointment you have shown towards it. The picto-fiction era, although short lived I'd consider better as we're back into EC's key areas of expertise (horror, crime and suspense) and the art is just so phenomenal. Can't wait til you start them up.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks! We're working on the pictos already and there is definitely some good stuff there.