Thursday, May 16, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 34

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 19
April 1952 Part II

 Venus #19

"The Madman's Music" (a: Pete Morisi)  

If I was commenting on the Venus-starring chapters in this final issue, I would tell you these are the best of the best; skin-crawling art adorning fun (if more than a touch of ludicrous) scripts. In particular, the opener (of which the cover is the tease), about Venus’ efforts to aid a man contacting the spirit world in order to reach his lost love, is a fabulous fantasy that’s a joy to read from page one to finis (the climax, in which Venus discovers that the man wants to die in order to join his love) works on many different levels. Bill Everett’s gorgeous, and frightening, art could be the best of the Atlas pre-code era. The cover is certainly Top Five All-Time Best. Alas, the story that falls within our parameters this issue, “The Madman’s Music,” is not in league with the titular heroine’s adventures, and the less said, the better. All right. All right. It’s about a clarinet player whose music can’t be heard by anyone but the dead. I warned you.

Strange Tales #6

"Uninhabited" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"The Eyes of March!" (a: Sy Grudko) 
"The Back Door!" (a: Pete Morisi) 
"The Killers" (a: Harry Lazarus) 
"The Ugly Man!" (a: Vernon Henkel) 

The story's been told a million times before (or maybe it's been told a million times since?). Earth crew lands on the moon, where 15 rocketships have landed and mysteriously disappeared, and find nothing there. Nothing that should alarm them. Then, one by one, the crew begin disappearing and only when we're down to our final spaceman do we find out that it's the moon itself that's swallowing up our boys. As I said, the story itself doesn't scream award-winning but the art, by Russ Heath, elevates it to Weird Fantasy-worthy. That's saying something since WF (and its sister Weird Science) pumped out the best science fiction comics of the 1950s (and, some would argue, of all time).

Heath was only 25 years old and had just started drawing for Atlas three years before but he already had a style that separated itself from the mostly generic work being done on the company's anthology books. Oddly enough, his most famous pieces of art may have been the jobs he did for a toy company that ran on the back covers of comic books for several years. "204 Revolutionary War Soldiers! Only $1.98!" screamed the ad and millions took the company up on its offer. There were several variations on that art (one depicted Roman soldiers). Heath's overhead splash to "Uninhabited" is a classic worth framing. It fills the reader with a sense of unease and wonder. What could this guy be running from (or to)?  His climax, where we see our sole survivor being sucked under the moon's surface, while his thought balloon lets us know he can feel something chewing on him from below, perfectly illustrates why, in some Strange Tales, it's even creepier not to see the monster.

"The Eyes of March" is an out-and-out humor story and, for the most part, it succeeds in ticking the funny bone. A poor schlepp goes in for new glasses but, once donned, they show him no one's face but his own. His wife has his face. His mother-in-law has his face. His goldfish has his face. You get the picture. After his wife needles him, he goes back to the optometrist for a new set but exits seeing the eye doc's face on everyone. "The Back Door" is a silly short-short about a salesman who gets fed up with his neighborhood and poaches another guy's turf. Unfortunately, it's a funeral parlor.

Toss this one out
"The Back Door"
Possibly even dopier is "The Killers," about scientists who are working on some kind of atom bomb but, instead, craft a virus "that would enter the body of a human being... and change his personality completely! That human would become a murderous scavenger... whose only aim would be to destroy humanity and take over the Earth for himself and others who would also catch the virus!" The only way to track the infected host is that they cast no reflection. Ace reporter Jason Hudkins cracks the story and wants headline news but publisher/cougar Claire Munson only has eyes for Jason and kills the sensational story. This (and the fact that the old bag despises mirrors) convinces Jason that Munson is the mad killer and he strangles her, thinking he's saving all of mankind. When he holds up a mirror, he discovers that it's he, himself, who casts no reflection!

Never mind that it's a stretch to create a new disease while working on an atom bomb, but I just love the fact that these nutty professors seem to know all about the disease without testing it on anyone. Seriously, how would they know the host would cast no reflection or even that their virus would work in such a way? Those 1950s eggheads were so much more efficient than their professorial descendants. Finally, we have the inane "The Ugly Man!" (with ugly art by Vern Henkel), about escaped con Brock Hines, who's picked up by the titular fiend and granted three wishes. Brock ends up wishing himself back in the pokey after two wonderful wishes become nightmarish.

Spellbound #2

"What's Wrong With Charlie Brown?" 
(a: Al Hartley) 
"The End!" (a: Russ Heath) 
"The Last Tattoo" (a: Fred Kida) 
"Horror Story" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

Wanda has a tough childhood in the old country village of Kisvarra. First, her father is killed by a vampire, then her mother is burned at the stake as a witch, then she is forced to hide in the woods outside of Kisvarra, until an ugly old man finds and cares for her. When he dies, he leaves her a fortune in jewels and Wanda uses the new-found wealth to travel to America and, while aboard the ship, she meets the handsome Charlie Brown. Charlie woos her but, mysteriously, won't let her see him after dark. "What's Wrong With Charlie Brown?," thinks Wanda? Well, she finds out, after following him, Charlie is a werewolf. But that's okay, because so is Wanda! A very strange little tale, with nice art, that doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be about witches or werewolves. The final panel comes right out of left field.

In "The End!," actor Carl Danton tries out for a new televised horror show based on Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," but soon discovers it's not a play and the director is none other than Edgar Allan Poe himself! Nice shocker with shudder pulp art by the master, Russ Heath; the final twist is not that much of a surprise but is professionally delivered. The closest Atlas has come to simulating Weird Tales.

Alex has been coming to the old hag tattoo artist, slowly but surely getting ready to apply for the job of illustrated man at the local circus, but when his eyes catch the old woman's pile of dough, he snaps and kills her. Taking the money, he goes to see his girl, Lola, to convince her to leave her husband, Bolo, but the giant comes home and throws Alex out. Bolo rips his competition's shirt off as he's leaving and then stares in horror at the tattoo across Alex's chest, a scene of Alex killing the tattoo artist. Later that night, Bolo comes to Alex's place and stabs him to death, remarking that no one will know the identity of the man's murderer. We know differently, however, when we see the tattoo on Alex's back. Obviously similar to Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, which was published the year before this issue hit the stands, and very adult for an Atlas horror story. Kida's art, usually a little too simple for my tastes, works well here.

Leo Grant, editor of Ghastly Stories, just can't get over the authenticity of the stories his top writer, "Mr. Morbid," conjures up for readers. When a problem arises with the checks being paid to Morbid, Leo sees this as a chance to meet Morbid face-to-face for the first time and understand how one man could fill a page with such terror. His search leads him to a graveyard and, just as he's about to put this down to a joke, he's called by Morbid and enters a crypt. There, Morbid shows his editor the characters that have populated his work (ghouls, werewolves, and fiends) and he informs Grant that it's time for him to enter the real world and what better disguise than a horror story editor? Leo feels his face melt and hasn't even got a mouth anymore to scream as he's placed in his coffin.

A fun read from start to finish, "Horror Story" taps into a vein I always seem to find pleasing: the world of the comic book/pulp producer. There are quite a few stand-out panels: the werewolf lying in his coffin, clutching his bone; Charlie Cross, one of Morbid's most famous characters, "the corpse whose face was half eaten away by rats, and who walked the night searching for the woman who murdered him"; the Basil Rathbone-esque Morbid; and the final two shots of poor Leo with his face melting. Echoes of this plot would find its way into John Carpenter's equally Lovecraftian classic, In the Mouth of Madness. All around, one of the best single issues I've run across so far.

Suspense #17

"The Little Black Box" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Night of Horror" (a: Werner Roth) 
"Norman Was Right!" (a: Goerge Roussos) ★1/2
"Joe's Friend!" (a: Pete Morisi) 
"The Dungeon" (a: Hy Rosen) 
"The Murder Club" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
"The Thing in the Shadows" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"The Dead Witch!" (a: Dick Ayers) 

Suspense returns to the 52-page format (with no price increase!) it enjoyed for its first eight issues (this latest upgrade will last until #23) and offers up eight new tales of chills and thrills. But will we actually be grateful for the extra page count?

The old hag wanted to know why her boarder coveted "the Little Black Box," and she wouldn't stop at murder to find out why. After burying an axe in the poor dope's head, the old woman hoofs it out of town and gets a room, preparing herself to discover what was in the Little Black Box. Unbeknownst to the old witch, her new landlord was eyeing that Little Black Box and wondering why it was of such import to the scrawny old thing. He uses his key to gain entry but finds nothing but a room full of little boxes! Knowing that the woman was hiding something worth a fortune, he buries a dagger in her while she sleep and grabs a hunk of the highway, Little Black Box in tow.

Once he settles in to new digs, the man opens the Little Black Box and discovers another little box inside. Obsessed, he keeps pulling out box after box, knowing eventually he'll come to the great treasure deep inside. Meanwhile, his landlord waits outside the door for the perfect time to kill his new tenant and steal his prized possession. Though "The Little Black Box" is a little too long (it could easily have lost one of the murderers and still kept its suspense), it's a fascinating read that never actually gives up its secret (the final panel has a tag that spoils the fun, so ignore it) and actually has something to say about the human condition (we want what the other guy has even if we have no idea what it is he has!); it's tantamount to the kind of tale Rd Serling would dramatize a few years later. Joe Maneely is in fine form; his hags are suitably gnarly and landlords just the right amount of sleazy.

Frat leader Happy Hobart loves to haze the new boys, but when one of his pranks leads to the death of a student, his comrades question Hobart's tactics. Seething, Happy agrees to let the others prank him by tying him to a tombstone in the local cemetery. Bad idea. The boys unwittingly restrain their leader to the wrong tombstone and Happy Hobart experiences his own "Night of Terror!" Next up is "Norman Was Right!," a fun little quickie about millionaire Norman Van Graet, who has his eye on the gorgeous black pantherette at a costume party. His wealthy friends bet Norman he can't successfully woo the buxom babe but Norman, who boasts of the three wives who committed suicide when he divorced them, approaches and wins the attention of the cat. Retiring to the garden, Norman attempts to remove the panther's mask and has a bombshell delivered to his doorstep: she's not wearing a mask! George Roussos knew his way around a female form (even if it wasn't human) and the whole package is a delightful surprise. I'm astonished that so many of these higher-quality strips weren't resurrected for one of the vast number of reprint titles Marvel pumped out in the 1970s, but I assume that has something to do with what original art the company still had in its vaults.

"The Murder Club"
After that, the quality slides with the two similar-themed dogs, "Joe's Friend!" and "The Dungeon." In the former, a man kills his wife on orders from his invisible pal (who turns out, predictably, to be his mirror reflection), and the latter throws the spotlight on one of Atlas' favorite protagonists, the escaped con. Dan Bigley is serving a long sentence but he's had enough of prison food so he decides to break out (in the grand tradition of legendary escapee, The Duke), with the help of his mysterious cellmate. Once Bigley gets on the outside and settled into the hide-out provided by said cellmate, he discovers he's got company: The Duke, who informs him that the ghost of the warden he murdered brings breakouts here to rot. Hy Rosen injects a little venom via a very Joe Maneely-esque art job, but the script is simply too predictable.

"The Dead Witch!"
Like any other Atlas nephew, Bruce Dawson is getting tired of waiting for his rich old Aunt Lucy to die and leave him her millions, but he lacks the spine to seal the deal. One night, while walking through the park and contemplating his problem, Bruce bumps into a stranger who seemingly reads his thoughts and tells Bruce he's got the answer to the Aunt Lucy problem. The weirdo leads Bruce to a castle he claims is the home of "The Murder Club," an organization staffed by members who have committed the cardinal sin for affluence or peace of mind. With the prompting of the members, Bruce finds his hidden confidence, heads home, and strangles Aunt Lucy. When he gets back to the castle to brag of his deed, the other members draw their guns and axes, explaining that the initiation into the club includes death. They are all ghosts, executed for their sins. A really nice job here by Gene Colan, who gives the proceedings a proper coat of black, and a script that, while a bit predictable, keeps the suspense-factor high. The issue, however, does not end on a high note. Two sub-par yarns, "The Thing in the Shadows" (the murderer who hops into a hearse and discovers he's hitching a ride with the guy he just murdered) and "The Dead Witch!" (guy discovers his wife is a witch so he murders her but she haunts him from the grave) give weight to the argument that too much paper was being wasted in the1950s. I will say, however, that Dick Ayers turns in his best art yet on "The Dead Witch."

I couldn't help but display even more
golden age Everett from Venus #19!

In Two Weeks...
37 more tales from
Beyond the Grave!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 155: December 1974 + The Best of 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 32

"My Enemy, the Stars!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"The Day After Doomsday!"
Story by Steve Skeates and Mary Skrenes
Art by Bill Draut

"A Glutton for Punishment"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"Mission Into Madness!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: G.I. Gene has been running on a streak of bad luck but he's convinced it's not his astrological sign, as his buddy Coley claims. Then, when Gene is laid up in the middle of a battlefield and watches as the stars descend from the heavens to battle the Nazis, he's not so sure.

"My Enemy, the Stars!"
A farmer and his wife have somehow missed out on the end of the world. The truth hits them square in the face when they have a drink from their well and begin shrinking.

During the Crusades, an obese commander leads his men into battle after battle but manages to stay far away from the combat itself while ravishing himself on the spoils of war. When the devil promises the fat slob he can live until he begs for death, the commander jumps at the chance to eat his way into the history books. As we've come to see in the past, Satan always seems to win these wagers.

A trio of G.I.s must face a whole platoon of killer robots.

"A Glutton for Punishment"
I can no longer keep it a secret. Weird War Tales has become a veritable torture to slog through; I sometimes find chores around the house in order to stave off the inevitable. Only Jack's calming coos of "It's almost over!" keep me going. What happened with WWT by the end of 1974 is exactly what we found befalling the DC "mystery line" at the same time: even while the skilled foreigners were joining the artistic bullpen, pushing to the side the archaic and skimpy abilities of Orlando, Grandenetti and Co., the editors at DC seemed content to let Oleck, Kashdan, and Kanigher pump out the same old cliches issue after issue. And so you get a bargain with the devil in which you can guess the outcome from the moment that Beelzebub materializes and the incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo that makes up "My Enemy, the Stars!" Never mind the two short-shorts where you almost feel as though editor Orlando (who, not coincidentally, was editing the aforementioned mystery titles at the same time) opted to run only the last couple pages of stories that were much longer. Not that I wanted to read any more. Skeates was a newcomer and was just getting his footing (he would go on to write some dazzlers for Warren), but Oleck, Finger, and Kashdan were past their sale-date. Based on the amount of typos found in the captions, I would say this was a title no longer given much thought or care at the DC offices. Aside from some passable art by Talaoc and Jodloman (whose styles were virtually interchangeable), this is one awful comic book.

Jack: Peter, Peter, hang in there! If you can read innumerable Atlas horror comics you can handle this. "My Enemy, the Stars!" starts slow but picks up halfway through and is more charming than weird, with decent art. "The Day After Doomsday!" is a ridiculous waste of two pages, while "A Glutton for Punishment" is a tasteless tale with ugly art. I don't think Jodloman can hold a candle to Talaoc. "Mission into Madness!" isn't as bad as "The Day After Doomsday!" but it's close.

Star Spangled War Stories 183

"8,000 to One"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Hell's Angels! Part III:
To End in Flames!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must impersonate a Nazi Captain and infiltrate the Gestapo in order to ax the planned slaughter of 8,000 Jews. The mission does not come without its sacrifices (US is forced to shoot a Jew who has turned rat in order to save her life) but, in the end, as Mister Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

"Ooooh, Captain!"
As with Our Fighting Forces, the exit of Archie Goodwin causes a bit of a shake-up in personnel but, unlike the Kirby debacle chronicled in our last visit, Star Spangled War Stories actually trades up from Robbins/Sparling to Michelinie/Talaoc and sees an immediate jump in quality. In the hands of Gerry Talaoc, the Unmasked Soldier is a horrifying sight to behold (although the reaction on the face of the Judas in one panel makes it look as though our Soldier is grabbing a handful of feminine rear end) and, thanks to Michelinie, the script has some bite to it. Gone (for now, at least) is the mud we'd been stuck in and what we get is a violent drama where the Soldier wins but realizes he's taken some hits as well. Save for one issue when Michelinie will be subbed by Gerry Conway, this is the writer/artist team we will ride off with into the sunset. Bodes well for future issues.

"8,000 to One"
In the "B" position in this issue's double-feature is the third (and final) chapter of "Hell's Angels," the big DC war hero mash-up between uber-villain Hans von Hammer and handsome rodeo man and balloon buster, Steve Savage. The two finally finish their begrudging grudge match, and the winner is... Oh, but that would be telling. I will say that I didn't think the triple length of this "epic" was justified, since the first two chapters were nothing but foreplay and the climax is a bit of a cheat. In any event, Frank Thorne's Joe Kubert aping (or perhaps an uncredited helping hand from the master himself) leave one satisfied visually. By far, the best issue of a DC war title this month.

"To End in Flames!"
Jack: I agree completely. That cover makes me think back to when I was 11 years old and bought this off the stands; I think this may have been the first issue of Unknown Soldier I ever bought. And it's a great one! The reveal of his real face on the splash page is a shock and the story is excellent. For once, I enjoyed it from start to finish and it could've been longer. Talaoc's art is perfect for the series and this is the best Unknown Soldier story in years. The Enemy Ace backup tale is not bad, there's just not much meat to it. The three-parter seemed too fragmentary and I would have preferred one long book-length story to three short ones. I thought they were really going to do away with Steve Savage, but no--there he is, wrapped in bandages, vowing revenge. Too bad.

Our Army at War 275

"Graveyard Battlefield"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Lucky... Save Me!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"
(Reprinted from Showcase #45, August 1963)

"Man Behind the Flintlock!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #22, June 1955)

"Trench Trap!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #39, October 1955)

"The Easy Way!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #67, March 1958)

"Valley of Missing Aces!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #106, May 1961)

No words necessary!
"Graveyard Battlefield"
Jack: While the rest of Easy Co. gets a much-needed rest, Sgt. Rock heads off alone in a jeep to visit a "Graveyard Battlefield" from WWI. He reaches the graveyard but his jeep is targeted by a Nazi plane; Rock crouches behind one of the crosses in the cemetery and shoots down the plane with well-placed fire from his machine gun. Coincidentally, the cross behind which Rock finds himself marks the last resting place of his father, Sgt. John Rock, who was killed in 1918.

Rock barely has time to talk to his late father before gunfire erupts from Nazi troops hiding in a nearby wood. Rock takes on the Nazis single-handedly and ends up bleeding and on the run, being tracked by a young Nazi officer. Rock manages to outwit and stab his pursuer, who tells the American soldier that the nearby German cemetery is the last resting place of his own father. Rock carries the officer to the grave of his father and leaves his body there, though the man lives long enough to thank the American sergeant.

I always get excited to see a 100-page super-spectacular from the mid-'70s, and this one is off to a great start with a classic Rock story by Kanigher and Heath. Sgt. Rock is the closest thing to a DC War Comic superhero that we'll ever see, and this story is essentially all Rock, with Easy Co. off resting somewhere nearby. Kanigher wisely keeps the verbiage to a minimum, allowing Heath to tell much of the story visually, and it works well. I know that it's too coincidental that Rock finds himself crouching by his father's grave when he is attacked, but I can live with it. I also like the humanity he shows toward his enemy at the end.

"Lucky... Save Me!"
A kamikaze plane crashes into an American ship and four men are incinerated in the blaze that follows. A fifth, Walt Rasmussen, is badly burned but alive, his only words being "'Lucky... L-Lucky." No one realizes he's referring to the beloved dog he played with as a child. Sam Glanzman is back with another U.S.S. Stevens story, though at four pages, "Lucky... Save Me!" doesn't amount to much.

Daniel Adams works in his father's gun shop but longs to join up and fight in the American Revolution. When he is old enough, he enlists, but quickly finds himself repairing guns once again. He is given the task of delivering guns to other fighting men and, on the way, Daniel encounters a troop of Hessian soldiers. The cunning of the young "Man Behind the Flintlock!" holds off the enemy until reinforcements arrive.

Herron packs some plot into six pages and Andru & Esposito's art has not yet (by 1955) settled into the annoying caricature it would become by the early- to mid-1960s, so this reprint is unexpectedly enjoyable.

An elevator operator before WWII, Mickey Williams longed for the wide open spaces of the battlefield. Of course, he ends up stuck inside a tank, battling the enemy and complaining a lot. When he finally gets out of the tank, he barely lives through a harrowing attack by plane and has to seek shelter in a trench. He is so happy to have survived that he rushes back to the tank and locks himself inside.

"The Easy Way!"
Not the best work I've seen from Russ Heath, and another in a string of Kanigher short stories where a point is driven home over and over again, "Trench Trap!" is predictable and meandering.

"The Easy Way!" is how a G.I. is taught to do things in basic training, so as not to over-exert himself. When he joins Easy Company, the sarge tells him to do everything the Easy way, but he learns quickly that the Easy way is not always easy.

Haney rips a page from Kanigher's book and drums a phrase into the poor reader's head over and over, but this time it's "easier" to take because of Mort Drucker's gritty, engaging art. If there's one thing I've learned doing this DC War Comics blog, it's that I can't get enough of Mort Drucker!

Peter: Despite the great Heath art, "Graveyard Battlefield" begins as something interesting and devolves into the usual maudlin, by-the-numbers script Big Bob had been hammering out for his most famous war hero by 1974. There's nothing new or thought-provoking here and Rock as indestructible Superman is getting really, really old. I had exactly the same reaction to the U.S.S. Stevens entry. We begin with the harrowing scene of the burning Marines and devolve into some kind of Disney After-School Special about a prize pooch. The tired "Man Behind the Flintlock!" espouses the thrill and fun of being "at the front" where the real men are. The Andru/Esposito wide-eyed art doesn't help one bit. Two stories full of Heath magic in one issue go a long way to settle my cranky disposition, but "Trench Trap!" is a dirge, cut from the same "Oh, isn't that ironic?" cloth that was surely down to its last two or three inches by 1955. Who would guess a guy stuck in an office would get drafted, expecting excitement, get stuck in a tank, and then learn to love his job? Not me! As far as "The Easy Way!" goes, I'll just end this review of the dismal 100-page giant-sized Our Army at War #275 the Easy way: I love Mort Drucker!

G.I. Combat 174

"Vow to a Dead Foe"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Hero in a Hole"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling

"The First and the Last"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: On the Alaskan coast island of Attu, Commander Jeb Stuart makes a solemn vow to a dying Japanese soldier and then wonders if he's not sacrificing the lives of his men to honor that vow. The goofy decisions the US Army made during WWII! Imagine, ordering a tank to travel nearly six thousand miles from Italy to the Alaskan coast just to see if the tank could survive the cold! Was the Haunted Tank the only vehicle the Army had left standing? And how long would it take to make such a journey? Was it by land, sea, or air? The story itself contains some interesting and earnest emotional material but, by the third act, these elements become maudlin and trite. It's ridiculous to think Jeb would offer up the lives of his comrades for the wishes of a dead man (and the scene where Jeb re-enters a burning building to retrieve the ashes of the fallen soldier is head -scratching... how would he gather up the proper ashes in a room burned to a crisp?). "Vow to a Dead Foe" does break some ground, though, in that I believe this is the first instance where the general's ghost actually plays a part in saving the tank from destruction.

"Vow to a Dead Foe"
"Hero in a Hole" is a silly call-back to the 1950s' DC war stories (with Bob Haney still writing them like in the old days) and "The First and the Last" is a so-so fight against greater odds tale with truly awful art. I'm surprised this didn't have the "Gallery of War" banner flying over the title; it very much feels like one of Big Bob's deeper scripts even if the outcome is predictable.

On the "Let's Make Tracks" page, new editor Murray Boltinoff introduces himself and answers one grumpy letter hack (who wants to debate a past missive that the "P-51 Mustang was inferior to the F-4 Corsair") with a grumpy response: "Let's get something straight, fellers. We can't be responsible for how the previous guy guided this mag." All you have to do is read Boltinoff's first issue in charge to know his reign will be nothing like the stellar job Archie did with his war books. Man, I feel grumpy this week.

Jack: "Vow to a Dead Foe" is one of three stories this month that I rated one star out of four. The story was boring and far-fetched, even for a tale about a haunted tank, but when the spectral general blew a big wind and then reached out his massive hand to catch the tank as it teetered on the side of a cliff, I knew we were in wretched territory, even despite Glanzman's chicken scratch art. "Hero in a  Hole" is slightly better, certainly more interesting at two pages long than the Haunted Tank entry was at twelve pages long, but the Spalding art is not pleasing to my eye. Finally, "The First and the Last" was well on its way to a one-star rating, what with Estrada alternating between his own "style" and that of Grandenetti, when the finish was surprisingly good--but it only lifted the rating to two stars. This issue and Weird War Tales belong in the 25 cent boxes at the local comic store today.



Best Script: Archie Goodwin, "Burma Sky" (Our Fighting Forces #146)
Best Art: Alex Toth, "Burma Sky"
Best All-Around Story: "Burma Sky"

Worst Script: Arnold Drake, "The Story of a Real Dog-Face" (Weird War Tales #31)
Worst Art: Bill Draut, "The Story of a Real Dog-Face"
Worst All-Around Story"The Story of a Real Dog-Face"
(A note from behind the curtain: "The Story of a Real Dog-Face" earns its place in Star Spangled DC War Stories history as, I believe, the only story to take all three honors in the Worst of the Year prizes. It's truly a feat that Orlando, Drake and Draut should be proud of.)


  1 "Burma Sky"
  2 "Catch" (Our Fighting Forces #150)
  3 "Breaking Point" (Weird War Tales #29)
  4 "The Elite" (Our Army at War #268)
  5 "Last Battle" (Weird War Tales #24)


Best Script: George Evans, "Trial By Combat" (Our Fighting Forces 149)
Best Art: Alex Toth, "Burma Sky
Best All-Around Story: "Trial By Combat"

Worst Script: Jack Oleck, "A Glutton for Punishment" (Weird War Tales 32)
Worst Art: Sam Glanzman, "Chain of Vengeance" (G.I. Combat 170)
Worst All-Around Story: "A Glutton for Punishment"


  1 "Burma Sky"
  2 "Arena" (Our Fighting Forces 147)
  3 "The Last Charge" (Our Fighting Forces 148)
  4 "A Bullet for a Traitor!" (Our Fighting Forces 149)
  5 "Trial By Combat"

Next Week...
More Ditko Black Magic!

From Our Army at War 275

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Nine: Coming, Mama [6.26]

by Jack Seabrook

Poor Lucy! Her bedridden mother is very demanding, insisting that her daughter tend to her every need and complaining all the while. Lucy would like to spend more time with her boyfriend, Edward, who complains that Lucy's mother's habit of cutting news items out of the paper makes it hard to read and sometimes changes the meaning of what words remain. Edward proposes marriage, not for the first time, suggesting a honeymoon at Niagara Falls. He also lives with his aging mother, and he suggests finding boarders for her so that she can support herself and he and Lucy can have their own home together.

"Coming, Mama" was first published here
Dr. Larson makes a house call and notices that Lucy looks tired from constantly attending to her mother. Feeling like a prisoner, Lucy thinks that she will only be free when her mother is dead. The doctor gives her medicine to help put her mother to sleep so Lucy, nearly 40 years old, can get some rest, and he encourages her to accept Edward's marriage proposal.

In the days that follow, as she takes care of her mother's every need, Lucy begins to fear that she will miss her chance at happiness with Edward. Her mother threatens to cut Lucy out of her will, and Lucy asks her mother to write a letter to Edward, as follows:

My daughter Lucy has told me she will never marry while I live. I am not well and my days are numbered. I love my daughter and want her to be happy.

Lucy then gives her mother twice the recommended dose of sleeping medicine and invites her neighbor, Mrs. Evans, to come over for lemonade. Lucy tells Mrs. Evans that her mother wants her to marry Edward but Lucy says that she will never stop caring for her parent. After Mrs. Evans leaves, Lucy falls asleep, waking at dawn and rushing upstairs to find her mother dead. She screams, Mrs Evans comes running over, and Dr. Larson later arrives to pronounce the death a suicide, based on the mother's note.

Madge Kennedy as Mrs. Baldwin
In the weeks that follow, the estate is settled, the house is sold, and Lucy prepares for a prompt wedding. They are married, but before they leave he reveals that his mother fell a few days before and is now an invalid. Knowing Lucy to be a skilled caretaker, he brought his mother to the new home that he had bought for himself and his bride. He tells Lucy that they must postpone their honeymoon and she enters the house to hear her new mother-in-law calling her impatiently. Lucy tells Edward that she will need to get Dr. Larson to prescribe some strong sleeping medicine and she heads upstairs.

"Coming, Mama" was first published in the September 1960 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Frederic Dannay writes in his introduction that the story was written by Henriette McClelland as part of a creative writing course taught by the editor. He remarks on the story's "cleanness and clarity, both of characterization and content, not found too often in 'first stories.'" He adds that Ms. McClelland is married and has two children, and that this is her first published story. The FictionMags Index lists two other stories by McClelland, one each in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1961 and 1962, but other than that she does not seem to have any published writing.

Don DeFore as Arthur
James P. Cavanagh adapted "Coming, Mama" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents not long after it was published, and the episode aired on NBC on Tuesday, April 11, 1961, near the end of the sixth season of the half-hour series. The teleplay follows the general outline of the short story, with one major change. The show opens ominously, as Lucy and Arthur (as Edward has been renamed) rush back to her house in the dark, with suspenseful music on the soundtrack creating a sense of urgency. Once inside, however, the lights are bright and there is no crisis. Both Mrs. Evans, the neighbor, and Dr. Larson are present, and Mrs. Baldwin (Lucy and her mother have been given a surname) reassures her daughter that she is fine.

We first see Mrs. Baldwin reflected in a dresser mirror next to Lucy as the daughter enters her mother's bedroom. Dr. Larson does not disguise his disdain for the mother's behavior, telling Lucy that her mother staged an attack for her benefit to punish her for going out. In a seemingly unimportant comment, Mrs. Baldwin sets up the show's final scene by asking about Arthur's mother and commenting that she's "'such an active woman.'" Dr. Larson gives Lucy the medicine to help her mother sleep and tells her, "'One teaspoon only--it's strong stuff.'"

Eileen Heckart as Lucy
After the doctor leaves, Arthur gives Lucy an ultimatum, telling her that she must decide by tomorrow if she wants to marry him or not. Lucy brings tea to her mother and they argue; Lucy is 34 years old and she is tired of her mother's selfishness and controlling behavior. Mrs. Baldwin responds by telling her daughter that Arthur does not love her and is only after the money she stands to inherit when her mother dies. After her mother threatens to cut Lucy out of her will, the younger woman leaves the room and looks at the bottle of medicine the doctor gave her.

Arthur telephones and, as she speaks to him, we see two images of the conflicted woman, one straight on and one reflected in a mirror next to where she stands. Lucy is being pulled in two directions by her boyfriend and her mother and the dual image illustrates her internal conflict. After Arthur repeats the next-day deadline, Lucy hangs up and returns to her mother's room, where she apologizes and administers the fatal dose of sleeping medicine. Unlike the story, Cavanagh's teleplay does not include the incident where Lucy asks her mother to write a letter to her boyfriend explaining that she cannot marry him. In fact, the idea of the written word having two meanings is absent from the TV show.

Jesslyn Fax as Mrs. Evans
In another meaningful shot, on the pillow next to Mrs. Baldwin's head we see the shadow of Lucy's hands pouring the medicine. There is then a close up of Lucy pouring "'two tablespoons,'" followed by ominous music on the soundtrack as we observe her mother drink the spiked cup of tea. Lucy starts to put the cap back on the bottle but then stops and leaves it off. Next morning, Lucy takes a tray of breakfast up to her mother as Mrs. Evans visits downstairs. Mrs. Evans hears the tray crash and rushes up to the bedroom, where Lucy's mother lies dead. Lucy notices that the cap is off the bottle and says that she gave her mother one teaspoon and then closed the bottle. She asks, "'Why would she take more? I warned her not to...Why would mother want to die?'" Mrs. Evans concludes that Mrs. Baldwin ended her own life so that Lucy could marry Arthur and be happy.

Robert Karnes as Mr. Simon
Why did James P. Cavanagh make such a significant change to the story? In McClelland's tale, the idea of a note that can have two meanings is set up early by Edward's complaint about Lucy's mother's habit of clipping items out of the paper. He says that missing words can change the meaning of what is left. In much the same way, Lucy dictates the letter for her mother to write and, to her mother's ears, it clearly tells Arthur that Lucy does not intend to marry him because she must care for her mother. However, after she is found dead, the same sentences are clearly interpreted as a suicide note.

The plot point in the story seems forced, making Lucy ask her mother to deliver the answer to Edward's question in the form of a missive that Lucy dictates. Perhaps Cavanagh, either on his own or at the behest of the producers, decided that having Mrs. Baldwin write a suicide note was something that might not pass muster with the censors in early 1961. In any case, the TV script works better and handles the situation more adeptly.

Arthur Malet as Dr. Larson
After Lucy's mother is found dead, Lucy speaks with a man named Mr. Simon at some later date. He reveals that her mother had been living off an annuity that stopped at her death, so Lucy inherits nothing. Lucy (and the viewer) now realize that her mother's threat to cut off her inheritance was a lie, since there was no money to pass on after the mother's death. Arthur arrives and cheers Lucy up by telling her that he has arranged for them to be wed that Saturday. Lucy admits that she is broke and he responds by reassuring her that he loves her and that the money makes no difference. They plan to enjoy their honeymoon together.

Unfortunately, Saturday comes and, after they are wed, Lucy and Arthur return to his home, where she is surprised to find his mother bedridden from a fall down the cellar steps. Arthur's mother, Mrs. Clark, thanks Lucy for giving up her honeymoon in order to care for her. Lucy learns that Mrs. Clark fell a day or so before Lucy's mother died, suggesting that, when Arthur made his ultimatum, he knew that his mother would need care, even if he could not have known of Mrs. Baldwin's impending death. Lucy says that they will need to get some sleeping medicine from the doctor and the show ends on a close up of Lucy's face, a knowing smile spreading across her features.

Gail Bonney as Mrs. Clark
"Coming, Mama" is a fairly entertaining short story that is improved by James P. Cavanagh's revisions for the TV version. It is unusual in that none of the characters are particularly likable or honorable. Mrs. Baldwin is a selfish, controlling old woman who puts her own needs ahead of those of her daughter and who threatens to cut the young woman out of her will, all the while lying about money that she does not have. Her daughter, Lucy, is a murderer and a liar, and at the end of the show it is suggested that she will commit a second homicide. Arthur is a middle aged man who conceals important facts from the woman he professes to love, lies to her, and conspires with his mother behind her back in order to save money on hiring a private duty nurse.

"Coming, Mama" is directed by George Stevens, Jr. (1932- ), son of director George Stevens and an important Hollywood figure in his own right. He started out as a production assistant to his father, directed training films while in the Air Force, and directed a few TV shows, including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, before being put in charge of film and TV output in 1961 for the U.S. Information Agency. Stevens later founded the American Film Institute in 1967 and served as its director until 1980.

Lucy's dual nature is suggested by this mirror shot
Starring as Lucy is Eileen Heckart (1919-2001). Born Anna Eileen Herbert, she had a long career on Broadway, from 1943 to 1990, as well as on film and television. She won an Oscar for her role in Butterflies Are Free (1972) and she also won two Emmys. Though she was on screen from 1950 to 1998, this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Familiar-faced Don DeFore (1913-1993) plays Arthur; he was on film beginning in 1934 but is best remembered for his TV roles on two long-running sitcoms: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1957) and Hazel (1961-1965). He managed to fit in this one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in between those two series. A website devoted to DeFore is here.

Madge Kennedy (1891-1987) plays Lucy's mother and gives a strong performance as a manipulative, bedridden harridan. Kennedy was on Broadway from 1912 to 1932 and appeared in films from 1917 to 1928. She retired for two decades, then returned to acting in 1952 and made many appearances on TV and film until she returned for good in 1976. In addition to parts on The Twilight Zone and The Odd Couple, she was seen in no less than six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A True Account."

In smaller roles:
  • Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975) as Mrs. Evans, the neighbor; she was on screen from 1950 to 1969, had a small part in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), and was seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "The Woman Who Wanted to Live."
  • Robert Karnes (1917-1979) as Mr. Simon, who speaks to Lucy about her mother's estate; he was on screen from 1946 to 1979 and played countless bit parts. He was on The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, and he can be seen in eight episodes of the Hitchcock TV show, including "A Little Sleep."
  • Arthur Malet (1927-2013) as Dr. Larson; he was on screen from 1956 to 1997 and played many small roles, including one in Mary Poppins (1964). He was on Night Gallery and appeared on the Hitchcock TV show twice.
  • Gail Bonney (1901-1984) as Arthur's mother; born Goldie Bonowitz, she was on screen from 1948 to 1979 and played many bit parts. In addition to roles on Night Gallery and The Night Stalker, she was one of the most prolific actresses on the Hitchcock TV show, appearing in eleven episodes in all.
Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story, which does not appear to have been reprinted. Watch "Coming, Mama" for free online here or buy the DVD here.

"Coming, Mama." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 26, NBC, 11 Apr. 1961.
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
McClelland,Henriette. "Coming, Mama." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September 1960, pp. 73-80.
The FictionMags Index,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: A Jury of Her Peers, starring Ann Harding and Philip Borneuf!

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 7: July/August 1966

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Gray Morrow
Eerie #4 (July 1966)

"House of Evil!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Joe Orlando

"Hatchet Man" ★★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"Gnawing Fear!" 
Story by Ron Parker
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Shrieking Man!" ★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Undying Love!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Norman Nodel

"Island at World's End!" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"House of Evil!"
Lee Hargraves heads to his brother's moldy estate, answering an urgent telegram from Richard, but finds nothing but dust, cobwebs, and rot when he enters the huge house. Luckily, Richard had begun using the tape recorder Lee had sent him and, once the tape begins, Lee hears his brother's voice relate the macabre story behind the cursed house. The previous owners, the Japes, were a "barbarous clan of maniacs" who robbed and murdered until the nearby villagers tired of their shenanigans and did the full-out mob scene. The Japes were wiped out but the house survived. Richard's voice takes on a tone of panic as he admits that the Japes still hold court in this house. Just then, a rotting creature shambles through the door and Lee beats it to a pulp. At that point, the tape explains that anyone entering the house will develop rot. The creature, Richard, melts into a pool of muck and, as Lee looks at the mold developing on his hands, he knows he will meet the same fate soon.

"House of Evil!" sure feels like a story that needed to breathe; it's rushed and we only get bits of the information we need to set up a satisfactory conclusion (for instance, was there an occupant in the Japes house just before Richard took hold?). According to the GCD, Jerry Grandenetti ghosted this one for Joe Orlando (who receives credit and signed it). Truth be told, both artists are so awful by this time that either could have been responsible, but I suspect Grandenetti penciled and Orlando inked (or maybe vice versa), as it doesn't totally look like a Grandenetti job. It's a moot point, though, because the art here is truly dreadful, about as moldy and rotten as Richard himself.

There's a "Hatchet Man" terrorizing the city, slicing up women and leaving a bloody message for the cops to decipher: "Harry did it stop him before he kills more," but all Phyllis's husband Harvey can worry about is the missing button on his shirt. Phyllis scolds Harvey before he heads to work and this gets the guy thinking (as guys will do sometimes), "Why couldn't the Hatchet Man take care of Phyllis?" So, Harvey clocks into work, stops at the store to buy gloves and a hatchet, and heads home to sort things out with Phyllis. Once Phyllis is sorted into different pieces on the floor, Harvey leaves the telltale message on the wall and walks back to work. The next morning, Harvey comes home to a house full of police. Unfortunately, the detectives are liking Harvey for this and the other Hatchet Man murders. It doesn't help when they find a suitcase containing a blood-stained hatchet. As Harvey is hauled away, he tries to plead his case but then his other personality, Harry, materializes and gives away the show.

A fabulously layered script and dazzling illustrations propel "Hatchet Man" into the stratosphere of Eerie classics. Gene Colan never struck me as a "Warren artist," perhaps because of his crowning achievements at DC and Marvel (not to mention his incredible work in the pre-code Atlas bullpen). "Hatchet Man" is so cinematic you could mistake it for a set of storyboards. And that splash is a marvel. Archie outdoes himself here with twists and double-twists (when the hatchet surfaced in Harry's bedroom closet, I assumed we were going to get a groaner reveal like "Phyllis did it!") that trick the reader at every turn. Perhaps it's already a cliche and we should stop comparing the Warren work to EC, but this really does feel like a story that could have fit nicely in Shock SuspenStories!

"Gnawing Fear!"
With the aid of his assistant, Edward, Dr. Hahn has been working on and perfecting a serum that would wipe out the rodent population on Earth and make mankind safe again. One night, after a particularly grueling session in the lab, Edward is awakened by screams from the den. When he races downstairs, he finds Hahn missing, with bloodstains leading to the cellar. A huge hole in the wall leads to a series of vast tunnels under the house and Edward heads in to look for the missing professor. Over a mile in, he discovers the chewed and mutilated body of Professor Hahn, covered with rats. He empties his revolver into the vermin but the shots set off a cave-in and Edward is buried up to his neck. The commotion attracts hordes of rats, who make a quick meal of the unlucky assistant. Ron Parker's script for "Gnawing Fear!," like his first published story ("A Vested Interest" in Creepy #8), is nothing more than an EC rip-off (or homage, if you want to be polite). It's got the requisite obsessed professor, animal hatred, and ironic climax, but it's missing logic. Why are these huge caverns under Hahn's house? Surely these normal-sized rodents didn't dig tunnels large enough for a man to walk through. And is Ron Parker suggesting that these same normal-sized rodents carried the professor off to his doom? What's missing here are the equally illogical giant rats, a solution that would tie up all the loose ends. Al Feldstein would never let such a sloppy script see print.

"Shrieking Man!"
Colbert has been assisting Dr. Mandrell at the insane asylum, but the old man doesn't seem to listen to much Colbert has to say. For instance, there's that "Shrieking Man!" in the padded cell who just won't shut up. Surely, the new experimental LSH-90 drug will help ease the mind of the disturbed inmate, but Mandrell insists he's tried everything. When Mandrell takes a night off and heads down into the nearby village, Colbert takes it upon himself to experiment on the Shrieking Man and it doesn't turn out well. Unnecessarily complicated and wordy, "Shrieking Man!" is a boring dirge redeemed only by the chaotic art of Steve Ditko, who always could work wonders with bad scripting. It's revealed that Mandrell has been experimenting on corpses, resurrecting them from the other side, but motivation is not provided and the hoped-for twist in the climax never materializes. Yep, this one ends with a whimper, not a "shriek."

Count Renaldo is in love with the beautiful Esmerellda, but the comely maiden won't give the nobleman the time of day, so Renaldo does what any smitten man would do: he pays a sorcerer to enchant Esmerellda. The wizard assures Renaldo that Esmerellda will love him to the end of time and the Count rides away, happy as a clam at high water. It's only when he gets to Esmerellda's place that the bad side of black magic rears its ugly head; the beautiful girl is dead, murdered by a vampire, and now she rises from her grave to sup on local villagers. At first, the revelation shocks and sickens Renaldo but, soon, he realizes that his love will never age or wrinkle and he settles into wedded bliss with a bloodsucker. That bliss doesn't last, though, since sleeping with a woman as cold as a fish (literally) is not Renaldo's cup of tea, so he drives a stake in her heart and cuts her head off as she lies in her casket. Unfortunately, the wizard's magic works too well. "Undying Love!" is a pretty silly story with a predictable wrap-up and sluggish, by-the-numbers art by Classics Illustrated mainstay Norman Nodel (as by Donald Norman). This would be the first of five contributions to Eerie and Creepy by Nodel.

"Island at World's End!"
The Celtic, a whaling ship, rescues a man named Sturgis, set adrift for months and barely alive, who tells an amazing story of how he came to be stranded at sea. Sturgis was a victim of mutiny who managed to escape the ship he was on and make it to an uncharted "Island at World's End!" There, Sturgis is set upon by half-human creatures who take him to a volcano, ostensibly to be sacrificed to their god. Up from the depths of the volcano comes a gorgeous woman by the name of Cthylla, borne on the hand of a hideous giant, the God known as Shoggath. The goddess deems that Sturgis should be her mate and she saves him from certain death, but Sturgis can't stand idly by when the God demands sacrifices. He pulls a gun and fires at Shoggath but hits Cthylla instead, killing her. Sturgis escapes the island in a small boat, destined to be rescued by the crew of the Celtic, but he can't escape the ire of Shoggath, who rises from the sea for his revenge. "Island at World's End!" is a weird one; it's very much in the Jules Verne adventure vein with more than a dash of Lovecraft thrown in (makes you wonder why Archie didn't go whole hog and adapt an HPL story or two, but maybe the rights were cost-prohibitive). I like it, it's never boring, and Gray Morrow's art is perfect for this sort of thing. Oh, and about Gray Morrow: he's no Frazetta but I gotta say that his covers are pretty darned atmospheric. -Peter

Jack: I'll agree with you about the cover, but my dislike for Lovecraft made me yawn as I read "Island at the World's End!" I assumed it was an adaptation from HPL, what with all of the "y" and "h" names (Cthylla and Shoggath), but I guess it's just a warmed-over imitation. I thought the main character in "Undying Love!" proved himself to be a "glass half full" kind of guy when he looked at the bright side of his gal pal becoming a vampire and reasoned that at least she'll always be hot. "Shrieking Man!" has prime Ditko art and I thought the whole story was original and creative, though no classic. "Gnawing Fear!" was not bad, and the finish reminded me of "Blind Alley," but the art was only so-so. "House of Evil!" was a weak story with the usual mediocre art by Jerry G, though one three-panel sequence--the one where the camera gets closer with each panel until there's just an eye and a nose in the frame--reminded me of Grandenetti's early mentor, Will Eisner. Best in show has to be Gene Colan's "Hatchet Man"; Colan's page designs and panel layouts are like no one else's, and his shadowy work here already looks ahead to the fantastic job he'd later do in Tomb of Dracula. I did not see the end coming and found the story thoroughly enjoyable.

Blazing Combat #4 (July 1966)

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"How It Began!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by George Evans

"The Edge!"★★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Give and Take"★★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Russ Heath

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Wally Wood, Ralph Reese, and Dan Adkins

"The Trench!"★★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Severin

Story by Archie Goodwin and Reed Crandall
Art by Reed Crandall

"Night Drop!"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

A Black medic in Vietnam stops to aid a wounded Viet Cong soldier. A white racist named Remick asks why he bothered and complains that the Black medic is uppity. Land mines tear up the squad and the medic rescues Remick, who is completely unappreciative and who later complains that the medic nearly killed him. When asked why he risked his life to save such a man, the medic responds that it's his job and he doesn't differentiate by skin color.

Once again, Gene Colan turns in excellent work and elevates what could have been a run of the mill lesson in tolerance from Goodwin. It's interesting that Warren was confronting issues of racism in Vietnam in a 1966 comic book; "Conflict!" is a more adult treatment of war than we saw around the same time over at DC, where the war comics--even the good ones--were aimed at a younger audience.

"How it Began!"
"How it Began!" is a two-page quickie in which Goodwin and Evans explain how the first fighting planes were developed during the Great War. It's interesting stuff and Evans is at his best when drawing aircraft.

In the Korean skies in 1952, Major Lowell Tucker, pushing forty and still flying combat missions, leads a squadron of four planes into MiG Alley, where the U.S. fighters encounter Chinese jets. Thrilling battle action follows and Major Tucker's years of experience allow him to anticipate enemy movements, giving him "The Edge!" he needs to avoid being shot down, destroy the Chinese jets, and return home safely with his squadron.

It's no surprise that Alex Toth can do anything, and here he demonstrates how to make a story about high-speed jet fighting both exciting and instructive. Goodwin shows plane mechanics commenting that Tucker is "pushing forty" at the start of the story and remarking that flying jets is a young man's game; at the end of the tale, those same mechanics boast that it is Tucker's experience that helps him defeat the enemy. As a person who has been working in the same field for a quarter century, I empathize with the worry about keeping up with young folks and welcome the conclusion that experience is valuable.

Pushing forty? ("The Edge!")

During the Allied push up through Italy in the spring of 1944, American soldiers watch a farmhouse being destroyed by mortar shells and then inspect it to see what's left. One of the Italian-American soldiers finds a bottle of high quality wine intact in the cellar, but before he can get away safely, Nazi soldiers appear and there is a gun battle. The German troops are too numerous, so the Americans are forced to race for their own ditch, but the wine-loving soldier realizes he forgot his precious bottle of wine and races back to the farmhouse to retrieve it. Despite covering fire provided by his fellows, he is shot down on the way back to safety. American mortars once again provide cover, but before he heads back to the farmhouse one more time, the dead soldier's friend smashes the wine bottle on the ground, angry at the loss of life it caused.

"Give and Take"

Four stories in, and this is shaping up to be a stunning issue of Blazing Combat with one of the finest group of War Comic artists ever assembled. Russ Heath, who was a mainstay in the DC War books, provides gorgeous art in "Give and Take," using a highly realistic technique whose name I don't know. Of course, the soldier was going to get killed retrieving that bottle of wine, but the art is just so darn good that any cliches in the story can be overlooked.

Early May 1945, and the end is near for the Third Reich, with the Russians approaching Berlin from the east and the Americans closing in from the west. One slim hope remains: the "ME-262!" is a new fighter jet much faster than anything the Allies are flying. Going back as early as 1938, the German government did not put a priority on jets, insisting that bombers were more necessary to the war effort. Even in 1943, when the tide was turning against the Germans, Hitler insisted that the planes be developed as bombers rather than fighters. Finally, in 1945, there are but a few of the jets available, and they are wiped out by the superior Allied air numbers.

More great work by Wood, Reese, and Adkins marks yet another terrific tale of air war, only this time the historical aspects are more interesting than the human aspects. It's fascinating to look back at wars and see the bad decisions that seem to have made victory or defeat almost inevitable; reasonable minds surely differed at the time, but hindsight is always 20-20.

"The Trench!"
During WWI, "The Trench!" was a place where soldiers waited and waited and slowly went mad. One man grows tired of waiting and climbs out, only to be shot dead by German bullets. His friend is assigned to a night patrol to find a German listening post. A flare goes up and a sergeant is shot, but the man and another soldier survive and find the German hideout, at which point brutal hand to hand combat erupts. The other man is wounded and, despite our hero's best efforts at keeping the injured man quiet, moans of pain alert nearby German soldiers. The Allied soldier shoots and runs, barely making it back to the trench, alive but now gripping the sides of the beloved, safe gash in the earth.

Wow! The soldier may love the trench, but I have grown to love John Severin's war stories! In a tremendous issue, I vote this story the best so far. The tale is thrilling and the art matches it perfectly, demonstrating humanity, brutality, fear, and relief in black and white.

Just one of Crandall's terrific
pages from "Thermopylae!"
In 1941, as Allied soldiers fight a delaying action at "Thermopylae!," one soldier tells another the story of King Leonidas and his 300 men, who guarded the same pass against the superior army of Persian king Xerxes in Ancient Greece. Just as Leonidas and his men delayed the Persian advance long enough to buy time for the rest of Greece to prepare for invasion, so do the soldiers in WWII hold off advancing Nazis in order to allow for Athens to be evacuated.

Reed Crandall is given co-writing credit along with credit for the art, and this story is stirring and instructive, with nary a rippling abdominal muscle in sight. Crandall must have done a fair bit of research for this tale, as his depictions of the ancient forces are brilliant. I really liked how the modern battle was compared to the ancient one.

A group of American paratroopers are dropped from a plane over Nazi-occupied France and soon, the Americans who survive the initial landing are huddled in a farmhouse, surrounded by German soldiers. After some grenades are thrown, only one soldier remains alive, but when the Nazis are summoned elsewhere in a hurry the prisoner of war is quickly executed by an enemy soldier who hates his job but reasons that he is just doing his duty.

"Night Drop!" is exciting but seems to end abruptly and doesn't quite get it's message across as successfully as it might. I think Archie is trying to tell us that soldiers on both sides are capable of evil deeds in the name of duty, but he doesn't accomplish this in the short space allotted to him. On the other hand, Angelo Torres ends the issue with more superb art, capping off one of the most consistently excellent comic mags we're likely to see.-Jack

"Night Drop!"
Peter: There's no warning to dedicated Blazing Combat readers that the fourth issue would be the last. In fact, Archie ends a response to a letter from a member of the West Virginia Comic-Collectors Association (who had informed Goodwin that Creepy had won the group's Best Regularly Published Fantasy Comic Award and Blazing Combat had finished in the top five), "Hope our efforts this year will produce something to represent us in next year's awards." Jim Warren had been able to continue publishing BC for four issues despite a staggering drop in circulation, thanks to the continuing success of Famous Monsters and the initial strong numbers for Creepy. The bottom finally dropped out and Warren was forced to axe his favorite child. There's some decent stuff here, but perhaps Archie was running out of steam. "Give and Take" and "The Trench!" fit in with those ironic little ditties Harvey used to pump out for Frontline; "ME-262!" and "Thermopylae!" could pass as two of Harvey's Two-Fisted history lessons; and "Conflict!" is well-meaning but a bit forced (certainly not as forced as Big Bob's 1970s takes on Ebony and Ivory Go To War). I think the most powerful story in the final batch is "Night Drop!," even though it seems oddly incomplete thanks to a very abrupt ending. Angelo Torres's work has never looked so good. Though Blazing Combat lasted a mere four issues, its reputation grew through the subsequent decades. Warren would publish a compendium of 17 of the best BC tales in 1978, and further reprintings would occur in 1993 and 2009 (by Apple Press and Fantagraphics).

Creepy #10 (August 1966)

"Brain Trust!"★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Into the Tomb!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Midnight Sail"★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"Thing of Darkness!"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"Collector's Edition!"★★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Brain Trust!"
Dr. Elliot just wants to help, so why won't Chester Holcomb let the doc enter his home? Elliot thinks back to when he first met Holcomb, at the funeral of the prior town doctor. Holcomb was unshaven yet drenched in shaving lotion. Soon, Holcomb smelled so bad that the town grocer refused to serve him. A week before the old doctor had died, Holcomb was hit by a truck and thought dead, yet he surprised everyone when he survived. Soon, a very smelly someone is stealing food all over town and Elliot rushes to the Holcomb house, determined to help Chester before a mob takes matters into its own hands. Elliot is turned away and goes back to the old medical files and diaries, where he learns the horrible truth. Returning to Chester's house, Elliot insists on switching on the light, but before he can do so Holcomb shoots himself. The light reveals what the doctor had learned from the diaries: Chester was a twin, the other twin was a giant head whose massive brain controlled both bodies, and the body that stunk had been dead and decaying for some time.

"Brain Trust!" is one of those, "there's something weirdly wrong here and I'm gonna find out what it is!" stories that horror comic writers love so well. The storytelling is rather convoluted, and it took me a little thinkin' to figure out what happened, but what really struck me was the (to me) obvious swipe of at least the last panel's imagery from a 1954 story by Jack Kirby called "The Head of the Family!" I read it when it was reprinted in Black Magic #1 by DC in 1973 and it's one of those gross images that always stuck in my head, even 46 years later. I don't think Goodwin and Torres came up with the idea all on their own. Uncle Creepy even refers to Chester as "head of the family" in his closing comments.

The shading around the eyes is classic Grandenetti, but
we can't be sure..."Into the Tomb!"
On an archaeological dig in Egypt in 1908, Professor Peters disappears! His daughter Laura and another archaeologist named Armand had gone to Cairo to fetch Laura's fiance Alan, but when they got back to the site of the dig Professor Peters was gone. Armand leads them down ancient stone steps into the long-hidden burial chamber of Pharaoh Amen-Thet, where they find Professor Peters dead and installed in a sarcophagus. Armand reveals that he is the reincarnation of the pharaoh, but when he tells his faithful servant Horuta (a shambling, bandaged mummy himself) to kill Laura and Alan, Horuta instead turns on Armand, ensuring that the reincarnated pharaoh is once again sealed "Into the Tomb!" for eternity.

Whew! This moldy bit of mummy nonsense stinks worse than Chester Holcomb did in the story before it! I guess this must really be Joe Orlando's art, since it's not obviously ghosted by Grandenetti, but the art is no treat. The story makes very little sense and I only gave it one and a half stars rather than one star because I always liked mummies.

A "Monster!" emerges from his hiding place in the sewers, anxious to learn what awaits him above. He wanders through the streets of a deserted village and comes to the cemetery, where he hears a couple discussing how he murdered a man named Paul. The monster's memory is jogged and he recalls carrying Paul's corpse and being chased and attacked by villagers. One man helps him hide in the sewers and he recalls that the man had created him in a lab. That same man, a scientist, had used him to murder and dispose of Paul's body. The monster grabs the scientist and carries him to a bog, where they both sink in quicksand. The scientist's last words reveal that Paul was fatally injured in a lab accident and his brain was transferred into the monster's body, so the monster is actually Paul, the man everyone thinks he killed.

Got that? If I mixed anything up, please forgive me. The story is somewhat convoluted and it doesn't help that the pages appear to have been printed out of order! The scientist--or at least I think it's the scientist--at one point wears a hat with a buckle, like something out of the 1600s, but later seems more like Victor Frankenstein. The whole thing doesn't make much sense and the twist is pretty weak. Mastroserio's art is in the lower end of the middle of the pack of Warren artists.

"Midnight Sail"
Some young folks can't seem to get their sailboat going until a salty old sea dog happens along and is more than willing to take the helm and head out on the water. He relates a tale of when he was on the good ship Kilgore, where all but a handful of crew members had died mysteriously. Felton (the old sea dog) insisted on keeping hold of the ship's wheel and when the captain tried to take it from him, Felton killed the man by tearing out his throat with his own teeth! With just a cabin boy and a woman left alive, Felton steered the ship off the end of the Earth and was killed. Luckily, the other two jumped overboard in time to safety. It turns out that, in the present, the old sea dog steered the ship over some falls and was killed, while the young folks survived.

"Midnight Sail" is hardly Johnny Craig's best work, but it's pretty cool when the ship seems to sail off the end of the Earth. It's too bad that the story as a whole makes little sense and the time shifting back and forth from the present to the past of the story is so clumsily handled. Did the storyteller really kill everyone on the other ship? Was he a vampire or a ghoul? And what happened to the other two people on the sailboat?

In the Old West, gunfighter John Terrell rides into a town and enters a saloon, where an old man tells him that a trial is about to begin in the back room as soon as the twelfth juror arrives. There are 11 notches on Terrell's gun for the 11 men he's killed, but he reveals that he just killed the twelfth--a young plowboy--in a nearby town. A funeral coach pulls up and disgorges the final juror, who is the dead plowboy. The jury of 12 ghosts sentences Terrell to death and carries out the sentence with gunfire. Terrell again rides into town, thinking he had a nightmare, but soon learns that the sentence will be carried out a dozen times.

One of Colan's great pages from
"Thing of Darkness!"
At least "Backfire!" makes sense from start to finish, something I can't say about the two stories that came before it. Morrow's art is fairly good but not up to his usual standard. The story yields no surprises but gets an extra half star for being coherent.

A "Thing of Darkness!" frightens New York City subway worker Sid Avery one day while he's below the city inspecting the tracks. The creature turns Sid's hair white and he barely avoids being run over by a train. After spending a month in the hospital, Sid goes home, afraid of the dark and certain that light is the only thing that will keep the monster away. Unfortunately, the lights start to flicker, the monster pushes at his door, and everything goes dark in the big blackout of 1965.

Once again, Gene Colan's spooky art and dynamic page layouts take a run of the mill story and make it a page-turner, at least until the fizzle of a finish, where we have to assume that the monster got Sid. Goodwin was so pleased with himself for using the blackout as a twist ending that he forgot to show or tell us what happened to his main character.

Danforth is an obsessive collector of strange books, and Murch is the dealer in rare items who usually finds what he needs. When Murch mentions that he might have a lead on a volume called Dark Visions by the Marquis Lemode, Danforth can think of nothing else. Lemode was an artist and devil-worshiper in the 17th century who collected all of his knowledge in one book before being executed at the guillotine. All copies of his book were meant to be destroyed but a few survived, and Danforth will pay any price to get his hands on one. He takes all the money from his wife's emergency fund and is shocked to learn that Ramsey, the man whom Murch suggested might possess the rare book, has been murdered.

"Collector's Edition!"
Danforth rushes to Murch's shop and forces his way in, killing the dealer when Murch refuses to part with the book. Danforth races home to peruse his new treasure and is in for a surprise--the pages show recent events, such as Murch killing Ramsey, Danforth killing Murch and, a few moments hence, Mrs. Danforth cleaving her husband's skull with an axe. Sometimes the collecting bug is unhealthy!

A tepid issue of Creepy ends with classic work by Goodwin and Ditko. The story is gripping, especially to those of us who tend to collect rare items, and Ditko's art is at its best. Not only does he propel the story along, but he also adds little horizontal panels (reproduced below) with closeups of eyes, and I think they're meant to show the deteriorating mental status of Danforth. Bravo!-Jack

Peter: I think this must have been the very first issue I picked up on the newsstands (or rather my dad picked it up, since I would have been about five), and I have several fond memories, but nostalgia can be a double-edged sword when you look at something fifty years later. "Brain Trust!," for instance, has an expository so detailed and complicated that I'm still trying to wrap my head around all the "nuances." So, Chester was a walking corpse who smelled funny but, otherwise, showed no signs of decay until the second he pulled that trigger? And there must have been a disconnect between Archie and Angelo, since Archie's prose clearly pronounces Doc Elliot a "young man" on page one. "Into the Tomb!" and  "Monster! are equally unimpressive. "Tomb" suffers from a banal plot and awful Orlando art, while "Monster" is insufferably confusing (and not only because its pages were published out of order). I'm going to start sounding like a parrot but Johnny Craig's "Midnight Sail" confounded me, since there doesn't seem to be any transition from flashback to present during Felton's monologue. As with past Craig contributions to Warren, I find no fault with his penciling. The Creepy Fan Page serves up an early illo by future Warren contributor, Frank Brunner.

"Backfire!" is an okay "weird western," and "Thing of Darkness!" has fabulous Gene Colan art (and thank goodness for that, because Archie's script is thread-bare), but Creepy #10 really only offers up one masterpiece this issue and that's "Collector's Edition!" I've probably read Archie's story of an obsessed occult book collector dozens of times over the last half-century and it never gets old. Goodwin is in full-on Lovecraft mode here (a speed I wish he'd have shifted into more regularly at Warren), crafting two very oily and cutthroat bibliophiles and a whopper of a climax. All through the story, we're treated to Ditko's prescient bottom-page panels, and we wonder what's up with this guy. A little too much brandy? Up late reading his forbidden tomes? When Steve delivers that reveal, the reader can't fail to smile and whisper: "Got me!"

Next Issue...
Our picks for
Best DC War Stories of 1974

From Creepy 10