Thursday, November 29, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 22

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Seven
April-May 1951

Vern Henkel
 Marvel Tales #100 (April 1951)

"The Man Who Wasn't There" (a: Vern Henkel) 
"Eyes of Doom" 
"Vampire" (a: George Klein) ★ 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #14)
"The Strange Machine" 
(r: Uncanny Tales #5)

It's an absolute Marvel I made it all the way through the inane "The Man Who Wasn't There" without wetting myself from laughter. Carnival barker Eddie Wallas has never liked swami Abdul, so when Abdul quits the carnival, Eddie just has to rub it in that Abdul is nothing but a fake. Despite the ribbing, Abdul pulls out a bottle and hands it to Eddie, explaining that the bottle contains pills that can reduce his size and return him to normal. Eddie gets home and, after giving the neighbor's cat a good kick in the side, the dope takes one of the pills. Sure enough, he's reduced to the size of a Barbie doll. Taking advantage of his new outlook on life, Eddie begins ransacking the local jewelers, amassing a small fortune in no time at all.
The big payday comes when the small-time hood (pun intended) steals a huge diamond and shoots the gem's owner. But the cops are on to the runt, as he discovers when he gets home and finds two detectives waiting for him. Eddie smiles and muses that he'll wait the cops out but things don't go the way he planned when the neighbor's cat pays a return visit.

Just about one of the dumbest short funny book stories I've read right from the get-go. You have a history of needling a guy and then you ingest a pill he hands you? And why would the fortune teller give Eddie the tablets in the first place? Let bygones be bygones? All through the story we're shown how the town's smallest crook is racing around, robbing these joints and scaling what would be for him skyscraper-like heights but we're never shown how the hell he's getting from point A to point B so fast or how he's breaking the glass on jewelry cases or how he's climbing to the top of a desk. The writer might have thought to have his magical pills grant wings as well! Vern Henkel's art looks like it was torn from the pages of one of DC's 1950s adventure/mystery anthologies (for the record, not a good thing); it's generic and lacking any kind of distinctive style. Interestingly enough, the title given on the cover and within the text of the splash is "The Man Who Vanished!" That was about the only thing I found interesting about this loser.

How did our old buddy Wertham miss
this obvious homo-erotic slip?
Equally inane but a tad more bearable thanks to its pessimistic climax is "Eyes of Doom," about a ship from another planet that invades Earth's atmosphere and then sits in a fabricated cloud. When the Air Force investigates, the aliens assimilate the humans and begin their takeover of earth. The only drawback is that when they get excited, their eyes bulge and their skin sags! When a last ditch trek to unravel the mystery of the ship is attempted, the hero manages to radio down a warning but the receiver informs his General that no transmission was received... just before his eyes start to bulge and skin sag. As with the opener, the art is almost primeval, an amateurish scrawl that conveys the message but only just (and the script is way too wordy to hold the attention of a pre-teen) but the final panels carry a needed "oomph!"

"Vampire" is an awful, poorly-drawn four-pager concerning a man whose brother is infected by a vampiress, and "The Strange Machine" is an amiable bit of nonsense about a couple reporters who stumble onto a ticker tape machine that spits out predictions for the following day. The boys use the machine to run up their bank balance but, as always, pay for their greed in the end. The absence of imaginative scripts and at least one solid artist (a Rico or a Heath) is landing Marvel Tales at the bottom of the quality pile, for now at least.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #4 (April 1951)

"Return from Mars" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2 
"The Man in the Crowd" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★ 
"The Lost Land"  (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
"The Train to Nowhere" (a: Werner Roth) ★ 

Patrolman Michael Reardon stops a speeder on the highway who happens to be an undercover agent from Mars. Reardon gets a free round-trip ride to the red planet, where he’s notified of the Martians’ plan to colonize Earth; they’re just waiting for the upcoming apocalyptic war to wipe clean any traces of mankind. To speed things up, alien agents have infiltrated the highest seats of every government. Reardon is allowed to return to Earth since the Martian hierarchy is convinced his story will be met with loud guffaws. Very early Russ Heath work (resembles Basil Wolverton a bit) and an amiable script make "Return from Mars" an enjoyable read. The final panels, with Reardon sitting before “United Nations” microphones (as though someone heard his story and felt it needed to be broadcast) might just stretch credibility more than an auto that flies to Mars!

"The Man in the Crowd"
In “The Man in the Crowd," failed artist Ivar Sloane meets a strange man dressed in black who promises he can halt Ivar’s losing ways with a “magic hand.” With nothing to lose, Sloane agrees and soon finds himself with a disembodied hand and a suddenly lively art career. Only problem is that there’s a murderer stalking the streets and the murders are eerily similar to those haunting Ivar’s dreams.

Farbin, the ruthless president of a mining company is informed his men have dug into a vein of untold wealth. Having a look, the greedy businessman is astonished to see walls of pure gold. A would-be blackmailing employee causes Farbin to explore the cave deeper and he stumbles upon a temple within a huge underground city. The denizens consider Farbin to be the god promised to deliver them to victory over the surface world. Realizing this is his way of becoming king of the world, Farbin promises to lead the mole men in war but, unfortunately, that skirmish is put on hold when an experimental explosion destroys the entire city and kills all of Farbin’s subjects.

"The Lost Land"
Fortunately for the would-be king, he’d been bathing in the rays of the “Eternal Light” machine and picked up immortality. Bad news is the tunnel back up is blocked by tons of rubble. Time to dig! "The Lost Land" is a hugely enjoyable and totally whacko story (in that supremely silly way only early 1950s Atlas stories could be) that begins at one point and hangs a fork at WTF? Street, climaxing in a non-conventional fashion.

In the issue's finale, “The Train to Nowhere," Warren Collins gives up all hope after losing his wife, Martha, and becomes a skid row alcoholic, living in a seedy hotel overlooking the El tracks. The continual back and forth of the trains leads Warren to an almost irrational interest in the line and its schedule. One night, a mysterious black train roars through and Warren decides he has to hitch a ride. The train takes him to purgatory, where he is briefly reunited with his dead wife, who explains that she’s trapped here until Warren dies. The suddenly-elated man returns to his flophouse, where a knock on the door brings Warren what he’s been waiting for: a ticket to “the world beyond.” Warren’s spirit glides out the open window, heading back to Martha. Crudely illustrated but moving story (written by Hank Chapman, who would go on to write many DC war stories), devoid of the usual bad guys found in Atlas short stories.

The moving finale of "The Train to Nowhere"

Sol Brodsky
Suspense #8 (May 1951)

"Don't Open This Door!" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"You Take a Pin..." ★1/2 
"The Other Head" (a: Gene Colan)  
"The Evil Eye" 
"The Walking Ghost" (a: Gene Colan) 
"The Maker of Dolls" ★1/2
"The Picture" (a: Don Rico) 

Lighthouse keeper Jean Miron Matisse hides a horrible secret behind the "Don't Open This Door!" sign, a secret that may be the death of him. Seems Jean fell prey to greed and allowed a Spanish ship laden with gold bullion to shipwreck on his reefs. Now, the spirits of the dead scream out to Jean nightly and the ghost of the Santa Almeria captain, decked out in a Grim Reaper hoodie, arrives one night, knocking on the lighthouse door. Or is it the captain? "Don't Open This Door" is a gloriously creepy nightmare, almost Lynch-ian in its weirdness, with a script that only really stumbles in its climax... kind of.

Ignore the next paragraph if you want no spoilers (my invisible ink well is dry):

When the hooded terror arrives at Jean's door, holding the uniform of Captain Pietro Tobarra, he backs the terrified man up the stairs and to the dreaded door. Jean opens the portal and falls, screaming, to the rocks below. He's then shown wearing the Grim Reaper's civvies, heading for the lighthouse door, where his past self answers the knock. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

You can come back now!
Yes, that finale is a bit cliche but, for some reason, it works in this case, maybe because I never saw it coming. Jean's evil deed is a well-kept secret from us until the closing pages and the nightly chorus of the dead (since there are no "sound effects," we must assume it's all in the old codger's mind) is an eerie little touch. I'm the biggest Russ Heath fan on the planet (thanks to being exposed to his DC war work) but it really seems as though Russ pushed himself on this one; this job must have taken him a bit more time than the usual one, as though he thought the extra imagination displayed in the script warranted something special. "Don't Open This Door!" is something special.

Not so great is the follow-up story, "You Take a Pin...," wherein businessman Henry Parsons discovers his partner, Charles, is embezzling funds and threatening to involve him if the cops are called in. So Henry does what anyone living in the French Quarter would do: seek out a witch doctor and buy a voodoo doll. The only thing interesting about "You Take a Pin..." is its twist ending; Charles finds Henry calling the cops, picks up the doll to nail his partner and accidentally throws the thing in the fireplace (yes, all offices had fireplaces in the 1950s), thereby relieving Henry of any guilt. The art is pedestrian, lacking any exciting detail or nuance.

A "big-story sniffin'"reporter stumbles on the biggest, and strangest, story of his career when a carved bust mysteriously appears in a museum case. "The Other Head" is a standard reporter/wanna-be detective tale livened a bit by writer Hank Chapman's supernatural undertones but weighed down a bit by its early, scratchy Colan art.

Madeleine Chaumont comes to the Hotel Desleret in Paris to investigate the death of her fiancé, who hung himself in room nine of the hotel on the eve of their wedding. Madeleine soon discovers that her love was actually the fourth young man to hang himself in the room and quickly discovers the cause of the suicides: a beautiful woman in a hotel room across the way has "The Evil Eye" and hypnotizes the room's occupant, convincing the unwary visitor to take their own life. Madeleine turns tables and gets her revenge but the taste is bittersweet. "The Evil Eye" is a highly imaginative little chiller that doesn't fall back on the usual cliches, giving us a strong female lead who's convinced from the beginning she'll get what she wants and watches, coldly, as her counterpart across the way, meets the same fate as her victims.

The art (unfortunately uncredited) is hot and cold, at turns cutting edge (especially in the panels that have a cinematic, almost noirish, flavor to them -- Madeleine in the courtyard of the Desleret, Madeleine through window blinds, etc.) and at other turns, bland and lifeless, but the minimalist style almost works to the advantage of the tale. "The Evil Eye" is another highlight of 1951.

"The Walking Ghost" and "The Maker of Dolls" both suffer from weak scripts and flaccid art (I'm eager to see at what point Gentleman Gene Colan gets his groove as it sure ain't there as of May 1951); the former is a haunted house tale with a confusing twist and the latter involves 1950s horror cliche #3: the evil doll-maker, but at least the ending is nice and grim. "The Picture" has decent Don Rico work and a nasty twist climax and concerns a hapless hubby who buys an evil painting at auction and then is sucked into the canvass. His wife saves him but is, in turn, trapped herself forever. All in all, a pretty strong issue of Suspense.

Mystic #2 (May 1951)

"The Black Dungeon" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2 
(r: Beware #8)
"The Faceless Man" (a: Chic Stone)  
"The Day I Die"(a: Allen Bellman)  
"The Forbidden Drink"(a: Pete Tumlinson) 
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #4)

In our lead-off story, "The Black Dungeon," Helga aids the gruesome hunchback, Otto, and the poor man vows to look out for the girl for the rest of her life. When the town tailor, a sadistic SOB, asks for Helga’s hand in marriage, Otto attempts to murder the man but is killed in the process. After Helga and the tailor are married, the tyrant locks his wife in the house and forbids her to venture out. While traipsing around the mansion, Helga finds an eerie dummy, one which uncannily resembles Otto. True to his word, the hunchback comes to the girl’s rescue when her husband attempts to kill her. A bit wordy but still an effective little chiller. But where’s the dungeon? Unfortunately, that's all the quality story-telling we'll get in this issue. The other three are below-average fare.

Steve discovers the true identity
of "The Faceless Man"
"The Faceless Man" orders banker Steve Parker to embezzle eight grand and play the horses. When the money is blown, Steve keeps dipping into the well until the boss gets suspicious. When Steve sees his life crumbling before him, he buys a gun and blows away the faceless man. Unfortunately for Steve, he was the faceless man! Chic Stone's art is dreadful, with no style or atmosphere.  In "The Day I Die,"  John Corey waits on death row when an alien face appears before him in his cell, inquiring about an interplanetary soul swap. “Why not?,” Corey blurts out, amused that he’ll be free (if on another world) and the alien, Varga, will be marched to the chair very soon. Turns out Varga’s in the same boat as Corey. And finally, Pete Tumlinson's nice graphics are wasted in "The Forbidden Drink," wherein an actor sells his soul to Satan to be young again. That would be variation #235 in a series of 34,008.

Pete Tumlinson's "The Forbidden Drink"

Just one more taste of "The Evil Eye"

This month's
floating Heath head
This month's other
floating Heath head!

In just two weeks...
Are you ready for some Strange Tales?!


Nequam said...

"The Black Dungeon" sounds oddly like someone wanted to adapt Robert Bloch's "The Weird Tailor" but backed off (or was told to back off) at the last minute.

Peter Enfantino said...

Good catch! There are definite similarities between "The Black Dungeon" and "The Weird Tailor," but I doubt anyone was told to stand back. Not sure any writers (besides Ray Bradbury, of course) was paying attention to all the ripping off that was being done in the pre-code horror comics.

Anonymous said...

"The Evil Eye" sounds like a plot swipe from "The Invisible Eye," by the Erckmann-Chatrian writing duo.

Denny Lien

Peter Enfantino said...

"The Evil Eye" certainly does bear more than a resemblance to "The Invisible Eye." Thanks for pointing that out and for the link. You guys are contributing more history to this blog than I do!