Monday, November 11, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 168: January 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 186

"Souvenir from a Headhunter"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Medic in the Dark"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: The Haunted Tank is parachuted into the jungles of Burma to find a hidden Japanese rocket base. Safely landing, the boys make friends with a gorgeous native girl who takes them home to dad. Unfortunately, pop has old-fashioned ideas about men who lay hands on his (ostensibly) under-age daughter. Just as the boys are about to lose their heads (literally), gunfire erupts from the jungle and salvation arrives in the unlikely guise of Japanese soldiers. The boys escape but conquer the enemy and destroy the rocket base.

"Souvenir from a Headhunter"
Or at least, I think that's what happens since, I must admit, quite a bit of this rubbish was hard to follow. The writing in "Souvenir from a Headhunter" is almost as murky as the art. The Japanese "ambush" that saves our boys makes no sense whatsoever (it's almost as if the bad guys were just firing off their weapons for the hell of it and managed to lay lead on the chief as he's about to swing his sword), nor does most of the cockeyed action Glanzman plops into his panels. I don't presume to know enough about World War II to question Kanigher's use of the parachuting tank but I do cry "you got to be kidding" to the panels of the Jeb firing at approaching aircraft while 10,000 feet above the ground! Wouldn't the kickback knock them right out of the sky? I'm still a bit confused as to why the Jeb Stuart is the only tank that seems to be at every major battle in World War II.

A G.I. ambulance driver becomes a "Medic in the Dark" when the "hysterical blindness" that struck him as a child revisits at exactly the wrong time. The Army rejects this kid for his psychological problems but the Red Cross thinks it's okay for someone--who might black out when he's under pressure--to drive the wounded through battle zones? Um, yeah right.

"Medic in the Dark"
Jack: It's only January and already we have a candidate for worst story of the year: "Souvenir from a Headhunter." In addition to the problems you note, Peter, we have to put up with Leiya's offensive pidgin English. I can't imagine why Kanigher had to send the Haunted Tank to Burma, only to tell this idiotic story. I asked Google if tanks can be dropped by parachute and it seems the answer is yes, but only very close to the ground in areas where a plane can't land safely. The idea of the Jeb Stuart floating down from on high (and firing away in the meantime) is absurd. Not quite as bad--but close--is the backup story, "Medic in the Dark." Poor art, a story we've seen before, but still better than Glanzman in Burma. Sam had better watch out--no more Jack Kirby for us to kick around anymore!

Our Army at War 288

"Defend--or Destroy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Lehti

"Medal of Honor"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

Jack: After British paratroopers are wiped out trying to blow up a drawbridge that was supplying German soldiers holding a French port, Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are sent to do the opposite job and hold the bridge, since the Navy plans to attack the port and the bridge is on the supply route. On the way to the bridge, a lone surviving British soldier joins up with Easy Co., but are they there to "Defend--or Destroy!"

Rock sends some of his men to attack a German ship and create a distraction that allows the rest of Easy Co. to attack the Germans holding the bridge. The German commander draws a bead on Rock but is pulled under the water by the British soldier, causing Rock later to raise a glass to his memory.

One of the less Kubert-y panels
from "Defend--or Destroy!"
Jack Lehti seems to have done a lot of newspaper comic strip work over the years, but seeing his name in a Sgt. Rock comic in 1976 is unexpected. I doubt we'll see him again in this series! The story itself is forgettable.

In June 1918, First Lieutenant Edouard Victor M. Izac displayed heroic behavior that resulted in another "Medal of Honor" being awarded. Izac was taken prisoner on a U-boat when his ship was sunk; he kept trying to escape until he was able to get out of a prison camp and make his way to Switzerland.

Norman Maurer is back with another run of the mill tale of heroism. I'm sure the real story was thrilling and inspiring, but it isn't told in a very exciting way and the art this issue is below par.

Peter: Even to my untrained eyes, it's obvious that Joe Kubert had a hand in helping Jack Lehti get his points across this issue. In the panels that look unassisted, Lehti comes off crude and sketchy (though nowhere near the extreme of Sam Glanzman). The story is decent, though nothing new. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see much in the way of originality in these strips anymore. "Medal of Honor" is informative and I guess that's the aim.

Our Fighting Forces 163

"Assault on Satan's Skull!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jack Lehti

Jack: The Losers are executed by firing squad and coffins containing their bodies are dropped from bomber planes flying over the English Channel. Fortunately, it was all a trick and the Losers are alive; they drop by parachute into the water and are picked up by a boat manned by German soldiers. The Losers quickly dispatch the enemy and head for French shores, each recalling the terrible incidents that led them to become a team.

Their present mission is to locate Dr. Tors Hanson, a scientist developing a rocket that can reach America. The Losers alone can identify him, so their execution was faked and they mount an "Assault on Satan's Skull!" to capture Hanson, who is located in a monastery nearby. They find two Dr. Hansons and take them both just to be safe. Making their way back to the boat manned by Captain Storm, the Losers run an enemy gauntlet with the two doctors in tow before making it safely back to the headquarters of General Thorne, who assigned them on the mission to begin with. The general's aide is revealed as a double agent when he kills the wrong Dr. Hanson, and the real Dr. Hanson has been brainwashed by the Germans and refuses to cooperate. Once again, the Losers manage to lose both versions of the doctor they sought!

Nah! Happens all the time!
It's such a relief to have Kirby off this strip that this book-length tale, even with some filler, is a welcome sight. Here's Jack Lehti for the second time this month, and his art is appealing in a primitive way. Best of all is having Kanigher back on script duties; even though there's nothing special about the story, its not an embarrassment like Kirby's stories were. Perhaps now the Losers can resume looking for Oona!

Peter: Why Big Bob feels the need to retell the Losers origin story is anyone's guess. If you put a gun to my head, I'd say it was to slam home the point that Kanigher was taking back the reins after a disastrous run by "The King." Though it's certainly more digestible than what Kirby wrought, Big Bob's script doesn't skimp on the outlandish. The parachuting coffins scene is ludicrous; there's no reason to take the subterfuge to such an extreme. Never mind the impossibility of activating your parachute while trapped in a coffin hurtling towards ground! Once the boys are out of sight of the traitor, they can go about their business in a much safer fashion. Are you telling me the pilot had no idea what was going on? Lehti seems to be flying solo here on this one (no Kubert trademarks that I can see) and, I have to say, the art is not half bad.

Star Spangled War Stories 195

"The Deathmasters"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Duel in the Desert"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Bill Draut

Peter: In part one of a two-part adventure, the Unknown Soldier is sent to a "School for Assassins" in Romania to impersonate budding Nazi killer Klaus Oster. Once undercover, the US is to destroy the compound and kill its commandant, Count Witschenbach. The Soldier safely ensconced in the academy, he befriends Witschenbach's pet killer, Ulrich Gherner, who confides in our hero that his father died from Nazi mistreatment and his mother desperately needs expensive medicine to keep her alive. The Nazis will pay Gherner for his "kills," so he's stuck performing atrocities for the men he'd rather be putting in the ground. Gherner is given the assignment to take out a Russian higher-up and the Soldier must follow. Before he begins his trip, he happily blows the School for Ratzi Murderers to hell!

"The Deathmasters"
"The Deathmasters" is one of the weaker Michelinie scripts so far, due to the fact that it seems quite similar to a couple other past adventures. I do like that, as is typical of Michelinie, the writer strays from the path he puts us on to beef up a sub-plot and make it the plot. We're not even sure that Witschenbach is at the academy when it goes blooey. Make no bones about it, a weak Michelinie story is still preferable to most of the other nonsense put before us this month. "Duel in the Desert" is just another tired Jack Oleck retread of a plot device we've seen countless times before: the Germans and the English clash over a Libyan waterhole in World War II. Neither side can win but both continue to fight until both sides are eliminated. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it's that Bill Draut is working his way up to becoming an average penciller.

Jack: I like the cliffhanger in "The Deathmasters," with the Unknown Soldier in his Nazi disguise racing into the midst of a ceremony and leaping into action, only to have the story end in mid jump! This is easily the best DC War series going at this point, with Michelinie and Talaoc working well together to tell one exciting story after another. It's the only war comic I really look forward to at this point. I agree with you about Draut's work on the backup--it's not bad.

"Duel in the Desert"

Next Week...
Jack and Peter attempt to
wade through the cheese.

Peter leads Jack ashore
after the December 1976 post.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Bill S. Ballinger Part Four: Escape to Sonoita [5.37]

by Jack Seabrook

Charlie and Bill are driving a tanker truck through the desert in southern Arizona when the radiator overheats and they have to stop, refill it with water, and wait for the engine to cool. Bill, the younger of the two, is frustrated and unhappy with the heat and the old truck; Charlie remarks that he has been "'haulin' loads to people out here since I was thirteen.'" Bill asks Charlie when he'll paint over the old "Maxwell Oil" logo and Charlie sees a cloud of dust that signals a car coming fast along the narrow track. The car tries to swerve around the stopped tanker truck and skids off the road, landing on a rock with a blown tires.

Bill opens the car door and finds a young girl in the back seat with tape over her mouth and more tape binding her wrists and ankles. She has been kidnapped by Tony and Larry, and Tony points a gun at Charlie and Bill, demanding to know how far they are from the Mexican border. Tony grazes a bullet off Bill's bicep and orders him to take the girl out of the car; Bill removes the tape from her mouth and gives her water from his water bag. Charlie, angry at the crooks for the way they have treated the girl, tells them where they are and goads Tony into leaving him, Bill, and the girl to die of thirst in the desert, rather than shooting them. Tony and Larry take the tanker truck and drive off.

"Escape to Sonoita"
was first published here
Charlie, Bill, and the girl sit in the shade of the car until the sun goes down, slaking their thirst by drinking water from the car's radiator and planning to walk to the highway in the cooler darkness. The next afternoon, a police car pulls up behind the stranded tanker truck and Charlie emerges with a policeman. They find Larry, shot to death and left alone in the cab. Charlie tells the policeman that Bill changed his mind on the walk to the highway and has decided to stay in business with Charlie. They deduce that Tony shot Larry and set off on foot with the nearly empty water bag when the old truck's radiator overheated and the engine seized up.

The policeman fills a water bag from a valve on the back of the tanker and remarks that Tony and Larry never knew that the truck was carrying 6000 gallons of water when they both died fighting over the small amount of water left in the bag. Charlie comments that he plans to have the truck repainted with a new logo: "'Davis and Son, Water Contractors.'"

"Escape to Sonoita," by James A. Howard, was first published in October 1959 issue of the British magazine Suspense. Clever and well-written, the story provides fair clues and benefits from a clear sense of place. The end holds dual surprises: first, that the tanker truck held a huge amount of water that would have saved the crooks from dying of thirst, and second, that Charlie and Bill, the bickering duo, are father and son.

Burt Reynolds as Bill
Almost all of the locations mentioned in the tale are real places that are easy to locate on a map. Charlie and Bill mention that they set out from Aguila, which is in south-west Arizona, not far from the Nevada border, and they drove along the highway before leaving the main road to drive into the desert on an unpaved track. The action in the story occurs at a spot called Hell's Basin, which appears to be fictional; the nearest town is said to be Ak Chin, an Indian village, and Tony and Larry's goal is to escape to Sonoita, where there is a border crossing into Mexico.

An editor's note in The Saint Mystery Magazine (September 1964), where the story was reprinted, mentions that the author, James A Howard (1922-2000), was a clinical psychologist practicing in Minnesota who had lived in the Southwest and presumably had some knowledge of the story's location. This is his only short story listed in the FictionMags Index but, in addition to psychology books, he wrote ten crime novels, eight of which were published between 1954 and 1961 and two of which appeared later, in 1981.

Murray Hamilton as Marsh
The story was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and was broadcast on CBS on Sunday, June 26, 1960. The teleplay is credited to James A. Howard and Bill Ballinger, which suggests that Howard turned in a teleplay that required enough revisions to bring in Ballinger to clean it up. The televised version of the story follows the printed version for the most part but contains one major change that allows the story to examine the crooks' personalities in an interesting way.

The truck's logo in the TV show is "Max Bell Oil Co.," not much different from the story's "Maxwell Oil." As usual, narrative passages in the story become dialogue in the TV show; Charlie is renamed Andy, while Tony and Larry are rechristened Marsh and Lemon. Marsh wears a dark suit and tie and is sadistic and smart, while Lemon, dressed more casually in a sports shirt and beret, is mentally slow, with three long scratches on his cheek. Those scratches came from Stephanie Thomas, a beautiful woman who replaces the kidnapped child of the story.

Venetia Stevenson as Stephanie
Did the producers (or the network censors) think it would be too harsh to show a kidnapped child in danger? Perhaps so, but whatever the reason, the teleplay uses this change to create sexual tension among the characters. Lemon displays a sexual interest in the woman and grabs her by the hair in a suggestive way to force her to take a drink of water from a suddenly phallic water bag. Bill jumps Lemon at this point and is hit in the back of the head with Marsh's gun, not shot in the bicep, as he is in the story. The odd sexual undercurrents continue: Marsh comments that Lemon had his chance with the woman earlier but couldn't make it, suggesting impotence, and Marsh then points his gun at Bill and urges him to kiss Stephanie. He changes his mind and tells Lemon to kiss her, then stops him; Marsh seems to get a thrill from the idea of Bill and Stephanie kissing.

James Bell as Andy
Marsh's sadism is played up and becomes part of Andy's calculus in goading the criminal not to shoot him and Bill; the teleplay also adds a lack of ammunition to the equation, since Marsh has only one bullet left in his gun and Lemon has two. The combination of the bullet shortage and the sadistic streak make the decision by Marsh not to shoot Andy and Bill more believable than it is in the story. It is Andy's knowledge and experience in the desert that saves the trio; as often happens, country wisdom trumps city smarts, with Marsh overestimating his own intelligence and allowing himself to be tricked by Andy.

The final scenes of the show are also slightly different than those in the short story. Bill insists on making the long walk through the desert to seek help but Andy slips away when Bill is not looking, leaving Bill to take care of Stephanie, the two young, attractive characters left together alone in the desert as darkness falls. Right after Andy disappears, Bill calls him "Dad" and we learn that the duo are father and son; the father has made a sacrifice for his child and we understand their relationship better. This secret was not disclosed until the very last sentence of the short story.

Harry Dean Stanton as Lemon
The other alteration comes when Andy and Bill (in the story, it's Charlie alone) come back the next day with two policemen (one in the story). The foursome find Lemon dead, lying in the desert, with a bullet through his head. They then drive to where they find the tanker truck, and there is a moment of suspense as they approach, thinking Marsh is inside with a gun. Instead, the cab is empty. Andy tries to crank the engine but it has seized; Bill tells him that "'All we need's a new engine, Dad, and we'll be back in business.'" In the story, Charlie tells the policeman that Bill changed his mind about staying in business with his father; in the TV show, the dialogue between father and son conveys the change of heart more directly.

Not far off, the policemen find Marsh dead, and there is a graphic shot of him lying in the desert, his eyes wide open. As in the story, the show ends with Andy commenting about repainting the truck, but this time the fact that it will read "Andy Davis and Son, Water Contractors" does not carry the surprise that it does on the printed page.

Robert Karnes as a policeman
Stuart Rosenberg (1927-2007) directs "Escape to Sonoita" skillfully, drawing fine performances out of all the actors and keeping the story moving along at a rapid clip. Rosenberg got his start directing TV shows in 1957 and worked in both TV and film until the late 1960s, when he became exclusively a film director. He directed five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the most recent of which was "Road Hog," also from a teleplay by Bill Ballinger.

Top billing goes to young Burt Reynolds (1936-2018), who had tried acting after a college football career was sidelined due to injuries. Reynolds began acting on TV in 1958 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. After his first film in 1961, Reynolds starred in a couple of TV series--Hawk (1966) and Dan August (1970-71)--before making a splash in the film Deliverance (1972) and becoming a major movie star. He was the world's number one box office star for five years in a row, from 1978 to 1982, and continued to make films and TV shows until his death.

Murray Hamilton (1923-1986) plays Marsh, the smarter of the two kidnappers. other than some uncredited film roles in 1944, his film and TV career spanned the years from 1951 to 1986. He appeared in just this one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and he was in an episode of The Twilight Zone and one of Night Gallery as well. Hamilton's two most famous parts were as Mr. Robinson in The Graduate (1967) and as the mayor in Jaws (1975).

George Dockstader as Roy
The beautiful Stephanie Thomas is played by Venetia Stevenson (1938- ), the daughter of film director Robert Stevenson. Born in London, she had a brief career on screen from 1954 to 1961 and this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. From 1962 to 1970, she was married to Don Everly, one of the singing Everly Brothers.

James Bell (1891-1973) gives a sensitive performance as Andy, Bill's father. He was on stage from 1920 and his screen career spanned the years from 1932 to 1963. He was in I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man, both in 1943, but this was his only episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Playing the mentally-challenged but lustful crook, Lemon, is Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017), credited here as Dean Stanton. After serving in the Navy during WWII, he started acting on TV in 1954 and on film in 1956, with his first big screen role being an uncredited part in Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1956). Stanton went on to become a popular and respected character actor in films such as Cool Hand Luke (1967), Wise Blood (1979), Alien (1979), Paris, Texas (1984), and Wild at Heart (1990). He was still making films at the time of his death.

The two police at the end of the episode are played by:
  • Robert Karnes (1917-1979) as the lead cop; he is called Ted in the short story but not referred to by name in the TV show; Karnes was on screen from 1946 to 1980 and appeared in eight episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."
  • George Dockstader (1914-1987) as Roy, the other cop; he was on screen from 1947 to 1974, often in uncredited roles. He was on the Hitchcock show three times, including "The Cadaver," and had an uncredited role in Psycho (1960).
"Escape to Sonoita" is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story!

"Escape to Sonoita." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 37, CBS, 26 June 1960.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Howard, James A. "Escape to Sonoita." The Saint Mystery Magazine, Sept. 1964, pp. 116–126.
Pierce, J. Kingston. "PaperBack: 'Die on Easy Street.'" The Rap Sheet, 11 Nov. 2018,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
Venetia Stevenson - The Private Life and Times of Venetia Stevenson. Venetia Stevenson Pictures.,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2019,

In two weeks: Our look at Bill S. Ballinger's scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents wraps up with a discussion of "Deathmate," starring Lee Philips and Gia Scala!

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 20: September-November 1969

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

Vampirella #1 (September 1969)

"Vampirella of Draculon" ★1/2
Story by Forrest J. Ackerman
Art by Tom Sutton

"Death Boat!" ★1/2
Story by Don Glut
Art by Billy Graham

"Two Silver Bullets!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Reed Crandall

"Goddess from the Sea" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Neal Adams

"Last Act: October!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Mike Royer

"Spaced-Out Girls!" 
Story by Don Glut
Art by Tony Tallarico

"A Room Full of Changes" ★1/2
Story by Nicola Cuti
Art by Ernie Colon

On the planet Draculon, blood flows like water, so it's only natural that its inhabitants would be vampires. Now, due to a catastrophe caused by Draculon's twin suns, the blood has dried up on the planet and its citizens are in a panic. One of its prettier inhabitants is gorgeous Vampirella, a winged babe who just loves to fly around with nothing on but a smile. When a spaceship from (ostensibly) Earth crash-lands on Draculon, Vampirella discovers that the rich "H2O" that helps her survive flows through the astronaut's veins. Could this mean salvation for Draculon?

It's hard to take this as much more than it is, which is soft-soft-core tit-illation (see, I can do that just as well as Forry) aimed at pre- and young teens who can't get up the nerve to steal the Playboy from their dads' nightstands. "Vampirella of Draculon" is stuffed full of the same kind of puns and one-liners ("Smorgasblood!") Forrest J. Ackerman would use in the pages of Famous Monsters. If you don't stop to think about how inane the concept is, you might just enjoy the ride. Tom Sutton could certainly pencil a fabulous behind when he wanted to but there's not much else in the layouts to look at. If nothing else, "Draculon" is interesting in a Monday-Morning-Quarterback way, in that the whole vibe of Vampirella would completely change after a few issues, from the cornball puns to a more serious tone. For the better? We'll see. Vampi's costume, by the way, was designed by future comics artist Trina Robbins but only makes an appearance on the cover (it'll make its feature-length debut next issue). The vampish vampiress skits about in leggings and a halter when she wears anything at all. Her initial costume actually resembles what Gene Colan will whip up for Marvel's Lilith, Daughter of Dracula, a few years later.

"Death Boat!"
The sinking of a luxury liner leaves a handful of survivors left to drift in the middle of the ocean. As if the blazing sun and circling sharks weren't bad enough, it turns out there's a vampire on board the "Death Boat!" One by one, the castaways turn on each other until only one (gorgeous, bikini-clad) woman is left standing. Knowing she's not the vampire, the girl suddenly comes to the realization that it is the lifeboat itself that is the bloodsucker. Billy Graham's captivating art almost carries this one all the way through, but Don Glut's frankly silly climax sinks (Ulp! There goes Forry again!) the tale. As the sexy Angela ponders the man she's just stabbed to death to avoid exsanguination, doubt suddenly clouds her mind and the idea pops in her head that vampires were shape-shifters. The boat becomes a giant bat. Don Glut was a jack-of-all-trades (still is, as a matter of fact) in the 1960s and 1970s, spitting out scripts for Warren and Gold Key (the fan favorite Occult Files of Doctor Spektor), directing low-budget horror films, authoring the New Adventures of Frankenstein novels, as well as a handful of non-fiction tomes. Glut's The Frankenstein Legend (Scarecrow, 1973), an exhaustive survey of the Monster in films, TV, comics, and fiction, is one of the most enjoyable genre books ever written.

"Two Silver Bullets!"
Maria lives in a cabin deep in the Canadian wilderness with her father. One day, the gorgeous gal is attacked by a wolf and her father plants two rifle bullets squarely between its eyes. Miraculously, the creature runs off and Maria's father takes her back to their cabin to dress her wounds. Pop puts two and two together very quickly and is convinced his Maria has been bitten by a werewolf, so he sees a local Padre, who hands him "Two Silver Bullets!" and bids the man do God's work. That night, Maria sheds her nightgown and heads out into the snow to find her lupine lover. Papa comes upon the two wolves in the forest and fills them full of silver. A very simple tale with not much of a surprise (especially since the reveal is given away in the title), "Two Silver Bullets!" is recommended only for Reed Crandall's nice artwork. Some of these images almost look lifted whole from Crandall's EC days (the panel reprinted here sure looks like something from Shock SuspenStories, doesn't it?) and the weird "Maria and Pop living alone together out in the wilderness--wink wink" angle doubles that vibe.

"Goddess from the Sea"
One day at his beach house, Jim Judson has a visit from Lalora, a scantily-clad "Goddess from the Sea," informing him that she has escaped from Atlantis and is being followed by several nasty Atlanteans. Determined to save this delectable piece of womanhood from claws other than his own, Jim fights the seven scourges of Atlantis but watches helplessly as Lalora is dragged screaming into the sea. Jim follows, swimming down, down... only to discover that Lalora has lured him to his doom. Anything Neal Adams draws is infinitely better-looking than just about anything surrounding it but, heaven knows, Neal would get some turkey scripts now and then. Glut's juvenile prose (three of the Atlantean brutes are named Namlooc, Namelttil, and Namgib-- how clever!), chauvinist fantasy (Jim shows Lalora who's boss by planting one on her mere moments after meeting her), and cliched climax would make for impossible reading were it not for the talents of Mr. Adams. I like the fact that Adams leaves the art with a raw, almost unfinished look to it.

"Last Act: October!"
Meg Clayton is burned at the stake as a witch but, as her skin sears, she curses her executioner, Squire Pilkington, and his descendants to horrible deaths in October. Centuries later, the (ostensibly) last of the Pilkingtons, matronly Hortense, arrives at her babysitting gig on Halloween night. Since all of her relatives have died, as per the curse, in October, Hortense is hoping to see November 1st this year. Her employers startle her as they open the door, dressed in their Halloween party costumes, but she soon calms down and reads little Teddy a bedtime story. The precocious tot finally says his prayers and is out like a light but noises around the house have Hortense... tense. A little while later, Hortense checks in on the tyke and finds him restless, complaining of a terrible nightmare. Hortense leans in for a kiss goodnight and Teddy bares his fangs and his true identity. He's a vampire! "Last Act: October!" is a really dumb horror story that seems to have been whipped up in mere moments. There's no real flow between the events; who are Teddy's parents and why is Hortense so damn calm? Every one of her relatives has died a violent death in October (the time frame for these deaths is hazy--how many years have elapsed since Meg's burning?) and yet here she is, having a walkabout on October 31st! I'd be at the nearest police precinct in a padded cell. Mike Royer's art is very comic booky but, to his credit, he does find a way to subtly include that one scantily-clad-female panel required for each Vampirella story.

("Spaced-Out Girls!")
Things only get worse with Glut's fifth and final wet dream of the issue, "Spaced-Out Girls!," about a dopey "lady-killer" who stumbles onto a flying saucer populated by Playboy bunnies. They've come to Earth in search of a stud to take back to mate with their queen and re-populate their barren planet. With dreams of Raquel Welch running through his head,  this ninny volunteers to take the trip but, upon arrival, discovers the pin-up girls are robots and the queen is your typical Tony Tallarico monster. Somewhere in all my reading, I swear I read that Jim Warren wanted to create a title that would attract followers of the Women's Lib movement that had taken the country by storm and so Vampirella was born. Either I'm imagining things or Jim was winking and aiming at the lowest common denominator: the twelve year-old who hides girly mags under his mattress. Don Glut's low-budget films have always had that sleazy exploitation feel to them and his Warren scripts are just as icky.

"A Room Full of Changes"
The finale, "A Room Full of Changes," is an incomprehensible mish-mash that seems to have lost a page or two on the way to the printer. Writer Edward Blaine has just purchased the old Keil house, where once a vicious murder occurred. Blaine discovers that the crime has perverted the room where the murder took place; its four walls feed off its occupants' desires and, we find later, punish the guilty. Ernie Colon's art is not bad but Nick Cuti's pacing is erratic and (as noted) seems to be missing a few pieces here and there. We jump from event to event without proper explanation and the final panels resemble one of those Corman-Poe flicks where the castle burns down and the protagonists stand outside holding each other, knowing everything will be all right. The typos are horrendous (Blaine tells us in the opening panel: "I brought house lost in the country..." huh?) and Cuti falls into the same game Glut was playing, with his main character cuddling up to a perfect stranger minutes after meeting her. Still, this mess is preferable to the two gawdawful tales that preceded it. Not a stellar line-up for a premiere issue but then we're still mired in the Dark Age and, at least, we don't have to worry about reprints. This title will get much better in the future. I hope-Peter

Jack-Never having read an issue of Vampirella before today, I didn't know what to expect. Was the title character in every story? What the heck was she all about? After reading this mag, I kind of get it. "Vampirella of Draculon" is Ackerman corn with Good Girl Art by Sutton, not so much a story as a character introduction. Vampi then serves as the Uncle Creepy or Cousin Eerie for the rest of the issue, introducing each story and wrapping them up. Each artist draws her differently, including her costume, and the stories range from pretty good ("Two Silver Bullets!") to pretty bad ("Last Act: October!"), mainly depending on the artist. Neal Adams once again can't be bothered to ink his pencils, but when you have a new story by one of the all-time greats, who cares? Crandall's tale wins best in issue and I'm happy, for once, to read a Warren mag devoid of reprints.  I'm sure that Frazetta cover didn't hurt sales any!

Eerie #24 (November 1969)

"Head for the Lighthouse!"★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Mike Royer

"Pursuit of the Vampire!"
(Reprinted from Creepy #1)

"The Immortality Seeker"★1/2
Story by James Haggenmiller
Art by Tom Sutton

Story by Ron Parker
Art by Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico

"Scavenger Hunt"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Dracula's Guest"
(Reprinted from Eerie #16)

"Wrong Tennant"★1/2
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Reed Crandall

"Head for the Lighthouse!"
Old Ely Hatcher has manned the lighthouse for 28 years and enjoys regaling the local boys with tales of pirates and buried treasure. Folks in town want to replace the old lamp with a new model, meaning Ely will need to take a break for the first time in decades. He agrees with a lack of enthusiasm but the kids protest the idea. Ely then disappears and strange accidents plague the attempts to replace the beacon. Two men from the town committee decide to spend the night up in the top of the lighthouse to look out for trouble, since there's no light, and the shambling corpse of Ely decides to "Head for the Lighthouse!" The boys climb up and find one of the men has gone insane and the other is dead, his eyeless corpse serving as a beacon, providing light from the empty sockets.

It is a real challenge to try to summarize a Bill Parente script, and this one is no exception. The events jump around with no clear flow to the action and it takes effort to figure out what's going on. As in prior issues, the twist ending makes little sense. Mike Royer's art is serviceable but that's all.

Tom "Wally Wood" Sutton
("The Immortality Seeker")
Who is the lone space pilot who travels to a far-off world and zaps the first monster he sees? Why, he's "The Immortality Seeker!" Convinced that the secret to immortality lies somewhere in space, he kills a man and cobbles together a second-hand spaceship to blast off to Pluto and the moon! No, actually it's a distant planet, where he finds a super computer that grants him what he desires--just not in the way he expected.

For the most part, when the Warren mags try to tackle science fiction, it's a mess. This story is no exception. Tom Sutton draws a fairly cool giant spider/crab of a monster but gets nowhere in his attempt to copy Wally Wood's space stylings, especially in a panel on page five where the spaceman's face is half out of the picture. Haggenmiller is a better writer than Parente in that he can tell a coherent story, but the space jargon ("he inserted an ammo-cylinder into his nucleo-pistol") would've elicited groans from a reader of sci-fi pulps in the 1930s.

Fraccio and Tallarico give Satan a really bad complexion.
One rainy night, Jerry Richardson visits the decaying mansion (or "manshion") of his friend Edward Vanton, where Vanton invites him to a game of chess with the "legendary" Devil's Chessmen. The pieces are ghouls, vampires, and so on, with the king being Satan. Ed announces "Checkmate" and tells Jerry that the loser is claimed by Satan. Next thing you know, Jerry finds himself on the chessboard, being menaced by the monster pieces!

Expectations are at rock bottom at this point, so this story does not seem as bad as it would if it were surrounded by others of quality. It's basically an excuse to let our favorite art duo draw ghouls, zombies, etc., and the end is no great shock.

A groovy party is in full swing until it's crashed by Peter Enfantino Borgo, a monster fanatic who likes to pop fake fangs in his mouth and show off his collection of monster memorabilia. The guests have a great idea for Borgo, who offers to recite some dialogue from the Conan books. Instead, the guests propose a "Scavenger Hunt" and give Borgo a list of things to find, such as a ghoul's fingernail. He gamely heads off into the night and the guests laugh after he's gone. An hour before dawn Borgo returns, having found everything on the list, but he's accompanied by the monsters, who want it all back!

"Scavenger Hunt"
Don Glut and Jerry Grandenetti have a bit of fun with the monster kids reading Eerie and throw in various references to things their readers love (or Warren sells), such as horror story collections or Conan books. Grandenetti's art is as usual, though the guests at the swinging party seem a tad long in the tooth. All in all, it's mediocre fun and certainly not the low point of this issue.

Finnius Wiggers and his assistant, Dr. Eric Gordon, are ghost hunters who have rid unfortunate homes of over fifty ghosts. They visit the old Van Weeper house, where Lady Van Weeper lives, and find that it has a specter that haunts her for no apparent reason. The ghost hunters set up shop until, one night, Dr. Gordon is frightened to death. Finnius soldiers on and confronts the ghost, killing it with a jolt of electricity that also leaves him numb. He then discovers why the house was haunted: Lady Van Weeper is a vampire, the ghost was one of her victims who sought revenge, and she now plans to feast on Finnius!

"Wrong Tennant" (sic)
Kudos to Bill Parente for telling a reasonably lucid tale from start to finish, though the twist ending, in which a character is revealed to be a vampire, has been used approximately one zillion times already in the Warren mags. The real star here is Reed Crandall, whose art is stunning. It's too bad Crandall came to such a sad end, since he was a great comic artist and could've contributed wonderful work to one of the bigger companies. Did I mention that Parente misspells a word in the story's title and then again in a word balloon? I can't explain it.-Jack

Peter-"Lighthouse" is just straight-up stupid, with no motivating factor behind Ely’s vengeful resurrection. These guys didn’t shoot Ely’s dog or rape his woman; they simply realized that technology made for a more effective and safer lighthouse. More and more, I know exactly what I’m going to run into by reading a Parente script. "Immortality" isn’t perfect but it is the best thing I’ve read in a Warren funny book in months. Tom Sutton is given that room to breathe I keep harping on and James Haggenmiller delivers a nicely ironic punch at tale’s end. Tallarico delivers the world’s least frightening chess pieces in "Checkmate" (that vampire bat looks suspiciously like an owl!), a story with a climax so confusing you’ll doubt your own sanity! "Scavenger Hunt" won’t show up on any "Best of the Year" lists but it’s easily the most enjoyable of the several Glut stories we’ve read this week. The author peppers the tale with tons of genre references and I’m a sucker for that kind of wink-wink. "Dracula’s Guest" is another yawner from the Pyramid collection, a paperback I wisely avoided as a youth. Imagine Reed Crandall, hoping for a script just a fraction as good as the foundations he received back in the EC days, sent the latest Bill Parente claptrap and shuffling, crestfallen, back to his drawing board. Reed, to his credit, still pumped out better-than-average graphics.

Bill Hughes
Creepy #30 (November 1969)

"The Mind of the Monster"  ★1/2
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Ernie Colon

"Drop In!" ★1/2
Story by Don Glut
Art by Tom Sutton

"The Haunted Sky"
(Reprinted from Creepy #17)

"The River"
(Reprinted from Creepy #15)

"To Be or Not To Be a Witch" 
Story by Bill Parente
Art by Carlos Prunes

"Piece by Piece"
(Reprinted from Creepy #14)

"Dr. Jekyll's Jest" 
Story by R. Michael Rosen
Art by Mike Royer

"The Mind of the Monster"
Professor Timmons is tasked with finding a way to destroy the giant monster on Mars that keeps wiping out our astronauts. After spending weeks in his laboratory, Timmons hits on a solution: he creates a three-headed monster out of dead bodies and household appliances, sure to defeat the creature on Mars. Things don't go as planned, though, when he rolls his new invention out before Army brass and Timmons discovers what devious schemes are lurking within "The Mind of the Monster."

Harmless but enormously dumb on several levels. For one, if you send six crews of men to Mars and every one of them is wiped out, don't go to Mars! Two, how does Timmons's huge tri-domed hulk resemble anything the scientist dug up from the local cemetery (and that's a hoot as well--the professor who's given the most important assignment in America has to do his own grave-digging!)? Timmons in no way looks like your average sci-fi scientist, unless that egghead is Ed Asner. I do like Colon's creature design, despite its improbability factor, but his human characters always have some kind of acromegaly in their facial features. Timmons almost seems to have a weird smile on his face, as though he's enjoying the futility of the situation.

"As the mystics and statistics say it will!"
Los Angeles will slide into the sea, everybody knows, but psychic/author Paulivius Dittmeyer (think Uncle Creepy in a three-piece) has written a book predicting the very hour that the city of debauchery will make its descent. The hour arrives and the city is pert near barren but the few remaining spectators watch as the streets crack open and... Satan emerges! Random? Yes, but so is everything else about this script. A rock 'n' roll band is introduced at the onset and then just disappears. The paranoia seems to grow out of nowhere and then we're introduced to Dittmeyer who's, ostensibly, taken advantage of the situation to make money. Or has he? Does he have Satan's unlisted number? Did he really pick up psychic messages via "a peculiar smell of ectoplasm?" Or is it all just one big coincidence? Tom Sutton's supremely goofy art is the only reason to keep turning those pages.

Nathaniel Beck believes himself to be possessed by a demon, so he journeys to the home of a witch in order to be cured. Rebecca Sutter, rumored to be a witch, lives with her father in a remote cabin. When Nathaniel arrives and begs her for help, she and her father get to work. But, it turns out, 'Becca and her pop are charlatans, fooling the local populace for financial gain. They stretch Nathaniel on a rack and rob him of his gold but Beck prevails in the end when he reveals himself to be an actual demon!

"To Be or Not To Be a Witch"
Oh boy, "To Be or Not to Be a Witch" made my head hurt. I had to read it twice to make sense of the climax and that only made me mad at myself for wasting the effort. The reveal (Nathaniel is actually the devil going door-to-door to weed out actual witches) is head-scratching and just plain dumb. The devil comes off as such a weakling and dunderhead in these early Warren zines. Newcomer Carlos Prunes contributes a more-than-adequate job of penciling (though his demon is obviously ripped-off from Curse of the...), one of the first of the "Selecciones Illustradas" artists to contribute to Warren. This was Prunes's only American work but it definitely contains more than a hint of what was to come.

Tod is convinced that the genius, Dr. Sikh, is a brutal butcher who delights in administering pain so he goes to his best friend, Dr. Jekyll (nephew of the real deal), to help him get to the truth. Turns out Jekyll has perfected his uncle's formula and is Dr. Sikh. I hear you whispering, "So what?" Exactly. Uncle Creepy is kind enough to give away the big reveal of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest" in his opening monologue so there really is no reason to waste ten minutes with this tripe. In the time of awful issues, this is truly an awful issue.-Peter

Host Peter Enfantino was supposed to select a panel that perfectly
captured the feel of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest" but he fell asleep and the
bare*bones office custodian was kind enough to fill in

Jack-Thanks for clarifying the ending of "Dr. Jekyll's Jest," Peter. I really did not get it when I read it. That's become increasingly common as we slog through the Dark Age of Warren. "The Mind of the Monster" features a bad idea with confusing execution and the climax falls flat. It's R. Michael Rosen's first credit and he should've kept practicing. "Drop In!" has some unintentional humor with the groovy '60s band, but that's about it; Sutton's art is not up to his usual level. The art by Prunes in "To Be or Not To Be a Witch" is impressive and I wonder why he did not do any more work in the U.S. Parente's script is terrible, as usual--things just happen one after another with no reason.

Next Week...
So does a new team on The Losers
spell success?

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 46

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 31
November 1952 
Special Halloween Issue!

 Astonishing #19

"Back from the Grave" (a: Fred Kida) 
"A Thousand Years" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"Top Billing" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Roll Call" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2

Professor Gottlieb and his son, Carl, have been on the run from the Soviet government since the professor refused to work on the country's atomic bomb project. Now, the soldiers have found them and they gun down the elderly scientist. Carl manages to get away and hoofs it to the home of Ivan, a dabbler in the Black Arts and a man Carl thought he could trust. Bad judgement call. Carl forces Ivan to cast a spell and bring the Professor "Back from the Grave." While Carl is en route to the cemetery for the reunion with pop, Ivan rats out his fellow Russkie for a handful of rubles. Soldiers gun down young Gottlieb moments before the elder Gottlieb breaks free from his dirt prison. The walking corpse eliminates the soldiers then heads for Moscow, where he assassinates Stalin. You say that's not the way it happened? Stalin died of a hemorrhage in 1953? Prove it! The editors of Astonishing dare you!

By late 1952, it was quite clear who the real boogiemen were, at least to Stan Lee. Casting aside the vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and Misters Hyde that permeated the pages of Atlas horror titles (and those belonging to all the other publishers as well), Stan very slyly took advantage of the hatred and fear (the majority of) Americans had for all things Red. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about Lee's characterizations of the Russkies; they were bloodthirsty, they would stop at nothing to rule the world, they had no loyalty, and they smelled really bad. "Back from the Grave" is neither better nor worse than the dozens of other "vengeful corpse" stories we'll be subjected to on this journey, but its revelation, that Stalin was killed by a zombie, is good for at least a smile.

Timothy Wurnel, eccentric scientist extraordinaire, becomes increasingly paranoid that the world will end and to insure he'll outlive the apocalyose, he creates a machine that throws him into suspended animation for "A Thousand Years." Unfortunately, for Amateur Big Brain Timothy, he awakens to find that cats have taken over the world and, in an ironic (for Timothy, at least) twist, he discovers that it was his machine that granted felines increased intelligence. Really bad. Ed Robbins is a generic Atlas artist but, now and then, he can actually create some moody art. There are two or three panels here that fit that bill but, overall, this is a clunker.

The comedy duo of Sprinkle and Smith is all laughs and smiles on stage but backstage it's a different story. Smith, tired of being second banana (and feeling as though he's the funniest of the pair) continually nags his partner to give the title a bit of a reboot. But Sprinkle isn't buying it, so Smith has only one avenue open and that's murder. One night, after their latest performance, Smith conks Sprinkle on the noggin and lights fire to the dressing room. Alas, the door jams and Smith joins his partner in death. At the funeral, his fans mourn the dead duo but take a shine to the headstone: "Here lie the remains of Sprinkle and Smith!" A very funny short-short with a wry final panel, "Top Billing" tears away the facade of the happy comedy duo (think, oh I don't know, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis) and reveals just how much ego it takes to run a successful act. Again, I love Maneely's stuff but why couldn't Stan put him on something lengthier?

John Masters is enjoying a fight on TV when the electricity goes out. When it comes back on, the TV calls out three names, including his own and two people who live up the street. Intrigued, he wanders down to the houses of the first two people called and finds them both dead. Startled, he heads home where he finds his wife discussing her dead husband with the family doctor. John realizes the list he of names he heard was a "Roll Call" for Death! Deadline Doom Alert! This could be one of the oldest plots in horror fiction and the back of our uncredited writer was obviously up against a wall. Even Bernie Krigstein's work is weak here, filled with talking heads and sketchy profiles.

 Strange Tales #12

"Love Story" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Corpse" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Warning!" ★1/2
"The Dumb Slob" (a: George Tuska) 
"Graveyard at Midnight!" (a: Bill Everett) 

Rejected all his life for his homely face, Professor Phil Kassel labors over a hot beaker, perfecting his love potion, hoping he'll become the richest and most loved man in the world. Things take an unexpected turn when his guinea pigs drink up all the formula. "Love Story" is weighed down by a really, really dumb script (starring yet another independently wealthy schmuck/scientist), and below-average DiPreta graphics. "The Corpse" just might be worse! Ape is a no-good down-and-dirty murderer but the cops are after him for a jewelry heist he didn't commit so he needs to get back to Dolly's place pronto so she can tell the cops they were together during the robbery. On the way, Ape runs over a shadowy figure but doesn't have time to check on the victim. When he gets to Dolly's, the cops are waiting for him. Ape's dame won't be alibiing him anytime soon. She's the one the big Ape ran over! Ugh.

 Poor slow-witted Rufus signs on as a hand on the "Emmy Lou." It's fast apparent to his deckmates that Rufus is not all there and they aim to have a little fun with him. They tell Rufus the world is flat and to go up to the crow's nest to keep a lookout for where the sea falls off the earth. Without a word of protest, the man climbs the pole and keeps watch. After a couple days at the top of the ship, Rufus yells down that he sees the end of the earth and that they should turn the ship around. Not done with their joke, the men put Rufus into a boat and send him off to warn other ships. As Rufus steers his rowboat away, he watches as the "Emmy Lou" does indeed fall off the earth! There's not much to "The Dumb Slob," but it made me chuckle and it's got a great final panel. No explanation for what's going on and that makes this little 4-pager that much more fun. In fact, "The Dumb Slob," with its "aw, shucks!" George Tuska art, would have fit well in one of those myriad MAD comic books rip-offs.

"The Warning" is a rare two-pager, not really worth spending much time on. Carl is about to pull a job when his brother, Rocky, interrupts to tell his little bro that he promised their ma he'd look out for the youngster and that the gun has to go. Carl decides to bow to his sibling's wisdom, chucks the weapon down the sewer, and visits Rocky's grave. He was dead the whole time! Character actor Charles Carew loves ot get out his make-up kit, disguise himself, and rob banks. Why does he do this? For kicks. Unfortunately, a couple of witnesses put Carew in the sights of the cops and he has to think fast. He might be a good actor but he's not a good thinker. And this is not a very good story. IT's got plot holes you could drive a hearse through and a five panel expository that will put you to sleep. Not even the great Bill Everett can help this one.

 Adventures into Weird Worlds #12

"Find the Pin and Pick It Up" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
"The Monster!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #1)
"Lost in the Graveyard" 
"Throw Another Coal on the Fire" (a: George Tuska) 
"Missing... One Head" (a: Bill Benulis) 

Professor Smoggs, expert on "Haitian folklore," is a lonely man. One night, a scratching at his door beckons and, upon opening the door, he finds a starving dog. Smoggs takes in the cur, feds him, adopts him, and names him "Haiti." While walking with his new master, Haiti strays into the private property of neighbor, Mr. Briggs, a big-game hunter and man of obviously short temper. Briggs give Haiti both barrels and Smoggs carries the near-dead animal home, swearing vengeance. As Haiti heals, Smoggs takes down his volumes on Voodoo and the Black Arts and gets to work. He calls his neighbor to let him know of the Voodoo doll created in his likeness. Though the big-game hunter cries poppycock, the pain begins immediately.

Briggs questions his East Indian servant, Kali, and discovers that the curse cannot be lifted until the hunter is dead but that the final vengeance may be in the hands of Briggs himself. Kali teaches his master the "art of reincarnation" and, once the final prick comes, Briggs is reincarnated... as Haiti! Not a lot of sense to this one (yes, I know it's a tale of voodoo and reincarnation but...); how could Briggs be reincarnated as a dog that's not dead? And I love how these professors and scientists never seem to have a way of paying for all their research in their big fancy houses. The one saving grace is Tony DiPreta, who continually wins me over with his art of simplicity.

Ingoor, "The Monster" from the Earth's bowels rises with a few of his pals to see how easy it would be to conquer the surface people. After a series of misunderstandings, Ingoor races back to the core of the Earth with his tail between his legs. Invasion averted! A cute little short-short with amusing Winiarski art. "Lost in the Graveyard" is equally silly but not as charming and suffers at the hands of its uncredited artist. Grave-digger Lester Brown is always losing things and his shrew of a wife lets him know how she feels about that with the back of her hand. His spirit buddies urge him to kill her by teaching Lester the art of taking his head off. So he doffs his noggin in order to scare the old bag to death but then he loses his head... literally.

"The Monster"
Comrade Vladimir has as much coal as he needs to keep his room blazing hot but the rest of his tenants, including the Yorskys, are freezing. When the tenants band together to complain, Vladimir threatens to report them as enemies of the State but the poor shivering people remind Vladimir that he's the janitor and it's his job to heat the furnace. And he does. You don't need to see the "Stan Lee" signature to know this Commie-loathing tale is by The Man; his Russkie-baiting bled over from his Captain America scripting. It's not a bad little stoiry though, and it's got a hilarious punchline. Those trademark Tuska "tusks" are out in the open long before he ruined Iron Man and Planet of the Apes.

"Missing... One Head" wraps up a dismal issue of Adventures Into Weird Worlds. A fake swami and his assistant trick a backwoods woman into giving them her money. They throw the old woman down a well but then the swami has to deal with the woman's husband later. The gimmick (the swami cuts the heads of chickens and watches them run around his seance room, "contacting spirits") is clever but the pay-off is a bit confusing and rushed.

 Spellbound #9

"The Vampire and the Lady!" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"The Morgue!" 
"The Death of Agatha Slurl!" 
(a: Edward Goldfarb & Bob Baer) ★1/2
"The Millionaire!" 
"At Your Service!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

Rising from his coffin (strangely situated above ground in the middle of the local cemetery!), a vampire flies off into the night to seek sustenance but his attempts are foiled until he sees a ravishing young woman through closed curtains in an apartment building. The vampire bat crashes through the window and feeds but, too late, discovers the woman is merely a store mannikin. Russ Heath's strong art makes "The Vampire and the Lady!" gorgeous to look at but don't read the print as it doesn't make a lot of sense. In addition to the blood-sucker's odd sleeping arrangements, there's the matter of a well-lit dummy in what clearly appears to be a residential home. I do like the fact that Stan tells the entire story in first-person (but, oddly, shifts to third in the final panel) and that Heath's vampire remains a (very large) bat throughout. At this p[oint in his career, Russ was also contributing heavily to the Atlas war and western comics (two particular genres I intent to delve into at some time), which forced the artist to cut back a bit on his horror contributions. Bummer.

The latest in above-ground living
for today's with-it vampire

"The Morgue!" is a forgettable bit of nonsense about an elderly couple who have scrimped and saved all their lives in order to afford their first telephone. The wife has constantly promised her husband that, once they get their phone, she'll be the first to call the house. Oh, and I almost forgot, the only other building in town that has a phone is "The Morgue!" Yep, you guessed it! Martha dies and calls hubby, somehow, while she's lying on a slab. Both script and art (GCD questions whether Mike Sekowsky is responsible and it sure looks like his work to me) are yawn-inducing.

Any suspense as to the real identity of the narrator of "The Death of Agatha Slurl!" (kept hidden in shadows) is given away in the first caption. Agatha Slurl has been treating our narrator "like a dog!" for far too long now and it's got to stop. Four pages that could have been given over to some nice house-ads or something more useful. Next up is "The Millionaire!," the story of Spencer Van Lucre (oh, how punny... my sides are hurting!), a man who doesn't trust banks and hires Cogwheel Collins, the world's "most famous engineer," to build an uncrackable safe. Job done, Lucre stashes all his valuables in the massive fort and then realizes he's locked his keys in the safe.

I'll give our uncredited scripter a couple points for the funny twist but points definitely have to be deducted for the perfunctory art, doodles that tried my inexhaustible patience. Since the perpetrator is not credited, I refer to the GCD (as always), which suggests it might be George Roussos. My second favorite part of writing this blog is research (the first is finding diamonds amongst the doo-doo) and my quick internet search on Roussos reveals that he and Mike Sekowsky actually teamed up to pump out (and, trust me, it looks like it was pumped out... nudge, nudge) art on DC's The Atom #38 (September 1968), with scripting by... wait for it... Frank Robbins! Sounds like a night in, with a six-pack, and Atom #38 to me!

Last up in this very average issue of Spellbound is "At Your Service!" Mrs. Cotsworth is not easy to work for, replacing servants like some people replace air filters. She warns the temp agency that if they don't deliver this time, she'll find a company that can. Delivered quite quickly is a matronly woman who is all business and not much in the way of personality. At first, the woman's cleaning skills, her way around a one-minute egg, and her hair-care talents bedazzle, but the continual "Yes, ma'am... yes, ma'am" begin to fray Mrs. Cotsworth's nerves. When her overbearing mistress confesses she misses her husband (lost in a divorce) and wishes she were dead, the new servant takes that as yet another command. The last panels, where the maid strangles Cotworth and admits to being a zombie, ruin the tension built up previously in order to deliver a lame "shock" ending. The admission, out of the blue, is accompanied by the sudden ashen look of her face, even though her skin looked just fine before. The Sinnott art, however, is just fine (it sure looks like Russ Heath had a hand in this as well), so it's really not that bad of a tale.

 Suspense #24

"Horror Story" (a: George Tuska) ★1/2
"Back from the Dead!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"The Striped Suit!" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"Boiling Point" (a: Carmine Infantino) 

The best story this issue, "Boiling Point," is a slow-burn with a dynamite pay-off, but you have to wade through three fairly wretched terror tales before you get to it. Egotistical Broadway has-been Roland Lester has been taking advantage of the kindness and pocket book of his lovely co-star, May Jones (who we first meet dressed as a wicked witch). May believes that Roland's star will shine brightly again some day and she's merely funding the comeback. Quite by accident, May discovers that Roland is not only sapping her funds but he's also stepping out with another dame! The next day, back on the set, May decides to change the script a bit and drops her beau into a bubbling cauldron. Well, yes, sure there shouldn't be a real bubbling cauldron on the stage but please don't interrupt.

I found "Boiling Point" to be a sheer delight despite its cliched main character; I guess maybe because Stan's climax is just so grim.  May seems to have slipped off the edge of sanity as she's pretty darn calm, talking to her director about lunch after boiling her boyfriend alive. I continue to love love love Carmine Infantino's work; it's so unique from the other artists in the Atlas bullpen (I've probably already likened Carmine's penciling to that of Bernie Krigstein) that I find it a shame his contributions to the horror titles were few and far between.

Pulp writer Myron Morgan is sick and tired of rejection slips so, realizing his work needs more "realism," he murders his best friend, Harry, and then writes about it. His editor at Horror Happenings magazine goes crazy over it and so does the public. A paperback house publishes a version of the story and that leads to Hollywood. Morgan is a certified star but now his editor says the rage is ghost stories so he hits the streets for inspiration. His trek leads him to Madame Tania, a medium who raises a spirit from the beyond who's more than willing to tutor Morgan on the pros and cons of "the other side." Unfortunately for the not-so-bright scribe, the ghost he's brought back is his old pal, Harry, who's still (justifiably) angry at Morgan for putting him in the ground. Ghosts with buck teeth! The mind boggles! It's not one of the most imaginative ghost stories and the reveal is pretty lame but at least we're still in manageable Tuska territory and the visuals are not half-bad.

Joe Maneely's art (left) is the only aspect of "Back From the Dead" worth mentioning; certainly its slim plot (mean-hearted DA dies and goes to hell, but is given a Get Out of Jail Free card from Satan if he can locate one person on Earth who misses him) stretched out over six pages is best forgotten. We finally get that lengthier Maneely contribution I've been whining about and, aside form a handful of panels, it's stock full of talking heads. Arrrgh! "The Striped Suit" is no better. A padded melodrama about a murderer whose wife sells the suit he was wearing when he committed the sin and he has exactly six pages to get it back before the curtain falls on him. And on this issue.

 Mystery Tales #5

"Blackout at Midnight!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Hand is Quicker" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"The Mind Reader!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Enemies" (a: Sy Barry) 
"Beware of the Beggar!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 

There's not a heck of a lot to talk about when it comes to Mystery Tales #5, which holds the distinction of being the worst single issue of the 159 Atlas comic books I've read so far. Usually, when the scripts are bad, at least the art department will come through, but in this case everyone was asleep at their respective desks. Be it vengeful corpses ("Blackout at Midnight"), heartless con-men ("The Hand is Quicker"), dopey gangsters ("The Enemies"), social prigs ("Beware of the Beggar"), or the "he was dead the entire story" reveal ("The Mind Reader!"), no cliche is left unturned and, seemingly, no professional artist was paid. What accounts for the general laziness this time out? Who knows, but let's hope Stan spreads the wealth and doesn't make Mystery Tales the dumping grounds for sub-par thrills and chills.

A Fred Wertham prototype sharpens his tools.

Mystic #14

"Hiding Place" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Marvel Feature #10)
"They Can't Catch Charlie!"(a: Mannie Banks) ★1/2
"The Corpse and I" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"The Reluctant Ghost!"
 (a: Edwin Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
"Guillotine!" (a: Larry Woromay) 

In the opener, "Hiding Place," Joe’s been in prison for twenty years but, as soon as he gets out, he’s looking up old partner Mike to interest him in robbing a fancy apartment. They get in the joint but then the security guard hears them and enters the apartment. Joe ducks into what he thinks is a closet, not knowing about one of the new conveniences of home… the furnace! Wickedly funny climax to Joe's life of crime.

“They Can’t Catch Charlie!” is a weak SF tale about a crazed inventor who plans to use his time machine to get away with murder but doesn’t count on all the intricacies of time travel. The twist is not that bad but Mannie Banks' visuals definitely make for dismal viewing. In “The Corpse and I," yet another perfect murder goes awry when professional killer, Joe Nelson, impersonates a cop to lure his target out of the house. He handcuffs the stooge to himself and then ventilates the sucker but loses the cuffs key! Talk about giving away the twist in the title! Slightly better, at least in the script department, is “The Reluctant Ghost!” A sly businessman hits on the perfect moneymaking scheme: he’s going to buy a haunted house and then rent the rooms out to students from the nearby college. After a few months, the kids will be so scared out of their wits, they’ll break the lease and pay the penalty. But what happens when the ghost won’t cooperate? Pretty silly stuff here but entertaining.

French Mobster Henri Blanchard is being black-mailed by a man who seems to know everything about his criminal activities. The man wants five million francs or he’ll go to the local gendarmes. Knowing the next destination will be the guillotine if the cops get the info, Henri agrees but then double-crosses his extorter by planting an explosive in the hush money bag. Since the only person alive to know Henri’s secret is his lady friend, Kiki, the remorseless killer heads to her apartment, where he beats her to death. Fleeing the murder scene, Blanchard opens the elevator to find an empty shaft. Pushed behind by Kiki’s ghost, Henri watches in horror as the elevator fall from the top floor, beheading him. No escape from the guillotine for this bad guy! While we’ve seen that climax a few times before (or, to be fair, maybe we saw it after), there are enough nice little twists and artistic touches (the splash, for one) to elevate this above just about anything we’ve seen in Mystic so far.

Next Issue...
The triumphant return of
Basil Wolverton!