Monday, January 14, 2019

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 74

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
The Picto-Fiction Titles
February 1956 to May 1956
The Second Issues

Rudy Nappi
Shock Illustrated 2 (February 1956)

"The Lipstick Killer"★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Reed Crandall

"My Brother's Keeper"★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by George Evans

"A Question of Time"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres
(from Crime SuspenStories #13)

"Dead Right"★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels
(from Tales from the Crypt #37)

Seventeen-year-old Lennie didn't mean to stab and kill her, but she shouldn't have surprised him as he rifled through her bedroom drawers! Its the third girl in three months, but this time the cops catch him and he is tried and sentenced to life in the state pen. During his second week in stir, "The Lipstick Killer" meets the prison psychiatrist, Dr. Mason (not The Psychiatrist, who has disappeared), who begins psychoanalysis. Talk therapy leads to the revelation that, when Lennie was four, he killed his baby sister and his parents gave him up for adoption. He has spent his young life seeking the mother he lost, but the breakthrough causes a psychotic break and Lennie is fitted for a straight-jacket.

"The Lipstick Killer"
That great cover painting by Rudy Nappi shows the opening of this story and looks like it would not be out of place on a contemporary issue of Manhunt, suggesting that Bill Gaines was trying to attract the male readers of crime and mystery digests. The story is drawn by Reed Crandall, but he doesn't have much room to stretch since it's mostly talking heads. At 18 pages long, it just goes on and on, but there's hope--in a note on the inside cover, the editors promise that this will be the last psychological story we'll be subjected to.

The kids like to make fun of Dave's slow, clumsy brother, Larry, and the town elders fear that violence will erupt, so they suggest an institution. Dave hates the idea of Larry being locked up, so he murders and buries his own brother, thinking this will free the lumbering man. What Dave did not realize is that the violence the townsfolk feared came from him, as "My Brother's Keeper" and, in the end, he is the one who is locked up.

An EC variation on Of Mice and Men, right down to Dave/George and Larry/Lennie, but with a silly surprise tacked on at the end. George Evans does his best, but the story is weak and derivative.

"My Brother's Keeper"
"A Question of Time" and "Dead Right" feature more quality art by Williamson/Torres and Ingels but add nothing new to the original comic book stories on which they are based. There is a letters column that features missives both for and against Shock #1, making me wonder how many (if any) of the letters were real and how many were fabricated. The second issue of Shock improves on the first by not having four deadly psychology stories, but one overly long shrink tale, one Steinbeck ripoff, and two re-dos of old stories do not a very good magazine make.-Jack

Peter: "The Lipstick Killer" probably came off as daring and insightful when it was published back in 1955 but, to me, it only comes off as bloated and dated in 2019. Surely, that's because of all the Hollywood flicks and episodes of Medical Center I've endured where the pansy-boy who loved mommy's panties turns to a life of sexual violence when he comes of age. But it might also be due to the hammy nature of the prose. "My Brother's Keeper" does a good job of walking the line between heart-rending and maudlin until it gets to its murky climax (and its shameful swipes of Of Mice and Men). Maybe I'm dense, but I can't figure out whether the reveal is supposed to imply that there really was no Larry or if the townsfolk thought Dave was the dangerous one all along. I'll leave that explanation to the college-educated of the bare-bones duo.

Jack: No problem, Pete, I've got you covered. Larry was real.

Reed Crandall
Crime Illustrated 2 (April 1956)

Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

"Fair Trade"★★★
Story by John Larner
Art by Graham Ingels

"Clean Sweep"★★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Screenplay for Murder"★★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis
(Originally appeared as "Cut"
in Crime SuspenStories #9)

"Pieces of Hate"★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig
(Originally appeared as "In Each and Every Package"
 in  Crime SuspenStories #22)

Arnold, a meek, balding man, sits in a jail cell confessing to a priest, explaining why he murdered his wife, Harriet. He was an accountant who liked to buy small treasures at an auction shop on his way home, but his wife always accused him of infidelity. Working late one night, Arnold takes a dinner break with a secretary and Harriet catches them together. Arnold decides to murder his wife and buys a large, clear glass jar filled with a colorless liquid. He brings it home and tells Harriet that it's a magic jar whose liquid will turn black when either one of them is unfaithful. One night, when Harriet is out, he puts ink in the jar. The next morning, he stares at the jar, takes a knife, and cuts his wife's throat while she sleeps. He explains to the priest that Harriet had come home and replaced the black liquid with clear water!

A disappointing twist ending finds the husband in "Motive" unexpectedly a cuckold and acting out of character, cutting his wife's throat when he finds that she has been unfaithful. Despite the fine illustrations, these stories can't overcome the limited skills of the writers.

A beautiful city girl named Cora marries a burly woodsman named Mart and moves to his cabin, soon to be followed by her no good brother, Lee. Lee needs money to set himself up back in the city, so Cora thinks of the $5000 life insurance policy (with double indemnity) that her husband has and thoughts of murder soon follow. She and Lee try to electrocute Mart but mistakenly kill his dog. She buys Mart a bright red jacket and convinces him to wear it when he goes hunting. She shoots and kills the man in the red jacket but is shocked when Mart comes home and tells her he traded his new jacket for Lee's electric razor.

"Fair Trade"

Ingels is at the top of his game in "Fair Trade," giving us a stunning Cora and a frightening last panel where her wide, staring eye is about all we see of her face.

Paul Matthews has three women in his life: his wife Sarah, middle-aged and suspicious; his secretary Edna, demure and in love with him; and his mistress Karen, a bombshell who knows about the other two but doesn't care. When his wife tells him that she's divorcing him and keeping her money, Matthews hatches a plan--he'll arrange for Sarah and Edna to be on the same plane and he'll blow it up with a time bomb! Matthews's nefarious plan seems to be going well until he discovers that Edna has left his rigged radio in his office desk and, at the appointed time, Paul and Karen are blown sky high!

"Clean Sweep"

"Clean Sweep" begins as a dull story of a man with too many women and suddenly explodes in the final panels, with Joe Orlando showing an unexpected flash of brilliance as Matthews and Karen--a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe--experience the effects of a time bomb first hand.

"Screenplay for Murder"
Matinee idol John Hammond may be on top now, but he worries about losing his fans when his wrinkles begin to show. His stand-in, Russel Slade, is nearly his double, as makeup man Pierre Maisel points out. Slade decides he wants Hammond's life and resolves to kill the movie star. One day, Hammond is alone at his mansion when, for a lark, he decides to mow the lawn for the first time. Slade appears and shoots him in the chest but trips as he runs away and finds himself right in the path of the onrushing mower.

Ten pages fly by in "Screenplay for Murder," a straightforward story with a ridiculous ending. Jack Davis tones down his art and is a bit more serious than usual, but couldn't the guy roll out of the path of the lawnmower?

Norman is tired of his obese wife, Bertha, so he kills her with an axe, dismembers her, and buries the pieces around the back yard. He travels to New York City to meet his lover, Sally, who has had plastic surgery to resemble Bertha so she can go home and take the place of his wife. After a whirlwind tour of the Big Apple they go on a game show and win the grand prize, which is at that very moment being buried in Norman's back yard.

"Pieces of Hate"
A ludicrous plot dooms "Pieces of Hate," which had just been published in comic book form two years before. Johnny Craig's art is uncharacteristically bad, with only occasional flashes of the style we've grown accustomed to. Why redo bad stories with sub-par art when you're trying to sell a new format?-Jack

Peter: I found the stories of "Motive" and "Fair Trade" to be lacking ("Fair Trade" telegraphs its "shock" ending right from the get-go) but both excelled in the art department. Who would have guessed that Graham Ingels knew how to draw female breasts? My problem with most of these Picto-stories is that there's a whole lot of padding going on and it seems to take days to get to the point (if there is, indeed, a point). The only bright spots, to me, are when Al and Co. slip in some risqué bit (such as the implied incest in "Fair Trade" and Sarah's "sagging breasts" in "Clean Sweep.") just to remind us that this is, indeed, an adult magazine we're reading. Keeping track of all the different women in Paul Matthews's life was giving me a headache so I can't imagine what it was doing to him. There was a little too much One Life to Live-esque nonsense in this one for my tastes but I'll give an extra half-star for the sheer selfishness and evil of Paul's master plan. To blow up an entire plane full of innocents, so you can keep your dough, and not blink takes a special kind of guy.

Reed Crandall

Terror Illustrated 2 (April 1956)

"Horror in the Freak Tent" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall
(from Haunt of Fear #5)

"Requiem" ★★1/2
Story by John Larner
Art by Graham Ingels

"Mother Love" ★★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Charles Sultan

"Head Man" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Davis

"Reflection of Death" ★★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans
(From Tales from the Crypt #23)

Mr. Jeremy and Parks are two very hard-working grave-robbers in "Requiem," a long-winded terror tale with a few grim bits and some very nice art by Ghastly. One of the ghouls' "victims" is a ten-year-old girl, and writer John Larner certainly knows how to push a reader's buttons, as in this passage when Mr. Jeremy visits his dentist:

   Oh, my, yes, the dentist was very kind. It was common knowledge that Mr. Jeremy lived on a small pension. But Mr. Jeremy smiled and ordered the best. After all, the dentist would be paying for it himself, in a way.
   It had only been some six months since Mr. Jeremy had unearthed the body of the dentist's ten year old daughter... dead of pneumonia, poor little thing... and removed from her wasted neck her deceased mother's emerald brooch, sentimentally interred with her by her father...

If only the rest of the story were that skin-crawling, but it becomes a ponderous plod about Mr. Jeremy's impending death and his efforts to stave off Parks's inevitable pillage once Jeremy is in the ground. In his comments in the Cochran box set, John Benson quotes Ted White as saying that comic readers weren't happy about the text-laden Picto-Fiction line because "the average comic reader does not want to read..." That might not be far from the truth, since this average comic reader is having a hard time staying awake through a lot of the padded prose stories (other than the Confessions, because they cross the line into WTF?) seeing print in these titles.

"Mother Love"
Leona has known nothing but the back hand of a man all her life, first from her father and then from Clint, the man she'd been sold to. Life is cheap in the swamps. Clint purchases Leona (for the exorbitant price of twenty bucks) for obvious reasons, so when the girl gets pregnant she's useless to him. He beats her endlessly and then dumps her writhing body in front of a local hospital. There she gives birth to her child, but the doctors won't let her see the baby. In the middle of the night, she rises and goes to the maternity ward, scoops up her baby, and heads back to her shack in the swamp with vengeance on her mind. Soon after Clint has a few fatal stab wounds in him, troopers come to take Leona and her "baby" ("a misshapen pink and white horror" in a formaldehyde-filled jar) back to the hospital.

Reading just like a Gold Medal "swamp girl" novel of the mid-1950s, "Mother Love" is one huge hunk of bleakness, never letting up, especially with its grim climax. About that final image: similarities to Bradbury's "The Jar" are unavoidable but, in that story, we had no concrete idea of what was in Charlie's jar. Here, in "Mother Love," we know all too well the horror that floats in the clear liquid. This was the only chance the EC completist got to see of the work of pulp and men's magazine artist Charles Sultan (Sultan contributed one more story to the never-released Terror Illustrated #3); the artist's style is very similar to that of Joe Orlando.

"Head Man"

"Horror in the Freak Tent"
Jack Oleck contributes the best original story this issue, "Head Man," another reminder that EC had decided its readership was predominantly adult. Nine-year-old Bruce is the son of big businessman John Emery and, to escape his father's bullying ways, the boy imagines himself in other worlds while playing in his dusty attic hideaway. A rash of child murders (beheadings) has hit the town and senior Emery is demanding that the town constable, Mr. Simpson, find the murderer immediately. Since the killer has left no clues and the town hasn't the budget to hire more men, the case is cold and Simpson can only shrug. After Bruce has a frightening run-in with Simpson in the woods and another body is found, suspicion is cast on the elderly constable and he finds himself fleeing for his life from an angry mob. The raging townsfolk catch up to Simpson hiding in a barn and burn the building to the ground. Later, that night, John Emery enters Bruce's attic sanctum to find him playing with four bloody heads. Even in the glory days of baseball games played with body parts and men reduced to dog food, it's hard to imagine such an unrelentingly morose tale seeing the light of day in Vault of Horror. It's only natural to guess the true identity of the killer in one of these things after years of reading EC whodunits, but that final panel, of little Brucie holding up one of his trophies, is still a shocker. The issue is filled out with two reboots, both very nicely illustrated. -Peter

Jack-The first reboot, "Horror in the Freak Tent," features a great story and great art and may well be the single best piece of work we get in the Picto Fiction line. Reed Crandall really outdoes himself here and the setting is one of my favorites. It's too bad the final panel is rendered somewhat discreetly, as it could've been a real shocker. "Requiem" held my interest, as I wondered how it would end, but once again, the ending was somewhat muted. I agree with you about the swamp atmosphere of "Mother Love" but I found the story so distasteful from start to finish that I could not warm up to it. Sultan's splash page is excellent but the rest of the story has shaky art. I knew who the killer in "Head Man" was right from the start but, like the rest of the EC crew, Jack Davis elevates his art here. Finally, "Reflection of Death" is much too long for its slender thread of plot and drags on, wasting the talents of George Evans and giving us another example of a big reveal at the end that doesn't amount to much. Even though EC turned to the magazine format to avoid censorship, they are still censoring themselves in ways that dampen the effect of the stories.

Rudy Nappi
Confessions Illustrated 2 (May 1956)

"I Sold My Baby" ★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"Unfaithful Wife" ★★1/2
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Reed Crandall

"They Ran Me Out of Town"  ★★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Jack Kamen

"I Destroyed My Marriage" ★★★1/2
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Joe Orlando

"Man-Crazy" ★★
Story by Daniel Keyes
Art by Johnny Craig

"I Sold My Baby"
Dora Edwards gets a letter from the War Department, informing her that her beau, Paul, is missing in action and presumed dead. Being seven months' pregnant, this news comes as a bit of a shock and Dora seeks answers for her future. What to do about the illegitimate bun in the oven? Poor Dora really is poor and was counting on Paul's paycheck to support them and Junior. Panicking, she contacts an old friend, who sends Dora off to a brokerage firm that handles black-market babies. The firm will put Dora up in a home for the rest of her pregnancy, give her five hundred clams, and then sell the baby outside the US to rich folk who haven't the time nor the patience for red tape. When the baby is delivered, Dora has second thoughts, but is told, too late, that the kid is already with his new parents. Imagine her surprise and consternation when she gets home and opens a letter from Paul, telling her he's fine and heading home to hug her and the little whippersnapper.
Uh oh.

Paul comes home, flips his lid when he gets the whole story, calls Dora a slut, and stomps out. A few days later, though, Paul calls his estranged fiancé and informs her that a crew of private investigators has located their baby in Montreal. Baby in arms, Paul and Dora head for the local Justice of the Peace. Lacking any of the humor and outlandishness found in the stories in issue #1, "I Sold My Baby" is the first Confessions Illustrated story to bore me to tears. The constant mood changes in the two principal characters are ludicrous; Paul's attitude towards Dora, in the climax, shifts from resentful and hating to loving and forgiving just like that.

"Unfaithful Wife"
Alice and Bill get married and settle down to a "happily ever after," but Alice learns very quickly that her husband's idea of Eden is eggs and coffee in the morning, a well-done steak in the evening, and whatever he wishes come bed time. Alice wants to travel... Bill wants to play bridge. Alice wants to dance... Bill wants to play more bridge. The daily grind (Alice has to inform the maid what to do each day!) and lack of excitement finally push our diva into the arms of another hunk. This one is Randy (a verrrrry appropriate name, we come to learn), a young writer who lives in a beach house and cavorts in the sand on his breaks, and Alice is smitten from the moment Randy coos, "Mind if I join you?"

The couple begin a hot 'n' heavy schedule of fooling around and horseback riding (in one particularly steamy scene, Alice and Randy actually combine the two activities) until Alice decides she can't take it anymore. She announces to Randy that she'll be asking Bill for a divorce, but his response is not what she'd hoped for. Randy tells her he'd love to continue their frolicking, but Alice should never fool herself; Randy will never marry a woman who would commit adultery. Our hapless heroine runs screaming from Randy's Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff, right into the arms of hubby, Bill, who'd become suspicious and followed Alice to Randy's. Bill gives Alice a stiff right cross and motors away, leaving his wife crying in the dirt. Once she gets home, the suddenly very-lonely beauty finds Bill's "Good-bye" note and launches into a session of self-pity, culminating in an inner debate between razors and sleeping pills. But Bill can't stay away for longer than three panels and he comes back to tell Alice he'd like to start again if she's willing to live the caged-up life. Alice smiles and says she wouldn't have it any other way.

Sure, Daniel Keyes has crafted a sexist, maybe even misogynistic warning for the 1950s' woman who craves more than being just a place mat and blow-up doll for the old man, but this idiocy does have certain charms and it comes complete with some stunning Reed Crandall art (yes, I know I've used that adjective to describe Crandall's work before, but some of "Unfaithful Wife" is simply gorgeous). And, hell, the story is a page-turner; you just know Alice is making a big mistake but, by golly, she can't help herself. The hilarity comes at the climax when Alice throws her hands up and resigns herself to the Stepford Wives life she was living before the fun interlude. How is it that she'll find love with the guy who bored her to tears just because Randy dumped her? I give the marriage another six months before Alice is making it with the milkman.

Pretty young school teacher Miss Whyte has noticed that one of her pupils, eighteen-year-old Lew Terson, has been making eyes and lewd gestures towards her during class. Then, one day after class, Lew spills the beans: he's mad about Miss Whyte and he knows she's reciprocal. The embarrassed English teacher spurns Lew's advances (while her thought balloons suggest she'd rather go down a different path - wink, wink) but the precocious teen is tenacious and makes his gorgeous teacher a deal: if she'll spend a night dancing and dining with him, he'll stop leering at and drooling over her in class. Admitting to herself that it's been years since she went out and had a good time, Miss Whyte agrees to the young hunk's terms and they go out on the date of a lifetime. Lew dresses like a businessman and sweeps the older woman off her feet. From there, it's only a hop, skip, and a hump to the hotel room, where Lew downs a bit of whiskey and grows horns and a tail.

Suddenly, Miss Whyte isn't so sure she wants to see what's behind that lettered shirt Lew is wearing, and heads for the door. Lew backhands Miss Whyte, throws her on the bed, and has his way with her. Two days later, stinking of raw sex and whiskey, Miss Whyte sneaks out the back door of the hotel and returns to school, only to find some obscene scribbling on the blackboard and notes placed around the classroom. Disgraced, Miss Whyte races home, but home is no sanctuary as, later that day, Mr. Jessup, the principal, arrives to tell the weeping teacher that not only has she lost her job, but the PTA is fixing to run her out of town. With nothing else to do, Miss Whyte moves to another town and starts another life but, she sighs, it'll be a cold day in hell before she trusts another man.

Poor Miss Whyte finds herself in pretty much the same dilemma as Kitty, the femme fatale of "I Can Never Marry," a woman without a town, sneaking out on the first train and trying to live down a sin that housewives and mothers find hard to forget. As entertaining as this tawdry tale is, you can't deny the misogyny present in these Confessions stories; women are used and thrown away, then punished for their "sins," denied a happy ending in most cases. I know that's the nature of this beast, as most of the readers (I'd love to see the demographics for this title... who was the intended audience?) want to read about characters who have it worse off than themselves. For once, I have no objections to Jack Kamen's art, which certainly comes off better in black-and-white than in the color titles.

"I Destroyed My Marriage"
When Louise's husband, Tod, tells her he'll be bringing his mother to live with them rather than finding her a "home," Louise begins a campaign of terror to ensure that her husband will regret the decision. She tells her two children to watch Nana around the baby because Gramma loves to eat children, especially fat little babies. Then she deliberately cuts her own finger and tells her mother-in-law to put the medicine bottle away in the cabinet, only to rush in later and place the bottle within reach of the children. The ensuing hysteria leads to Tod having second thoughts about Mum's stay but, to add a cherry on the top, Louise waits until the old lady falls asleep with her burning cigarette in an ashtray. The devilish woman sets fire to nearby magazines and then calls for her hubby in the backyard. Posed with a pot of water to douse the flames, Louise is startled to see Tod standing in the doorway. "I'm here... Louise... I saw... everything!" Tod sets his wife down with two choices: divorce or committing herself to an asylum for mentally deranged housewives. Louise begrudgingly chooses the latter but looks on the bright side: the mental institution must become her since, with the help of Joe Orlando, Louise makes a transformation from dowdy housewife to Marilyn Monroe!

Now here's a great Confessions story just itching for the Tales from the Crypt pay-off. Louise subjects her poor, innocent mother-in-law to such inhumane treatment that we can't wait for Mom to bury a conveniently-placed hatchet in her devilish daughter-in-law's head and serve her to the monstrous children as a cake! I was literally getting angry reading "I Destroyed My Marriage," because Tod's mom seems like a loving, caring individual, until that reveal, with Tod seeing the truth laid out before his eyes, brought a huge smile to my face. "See that, you silly cow?," I screamed at the page that dared not answer me back. I've thought of writing a Confessions-style yarn called "I Got Sucked Into These Mindless Fantasies That Taste So Good But Aren't Good For You!," but where's the market these days?

Let's not beat around the bush... Terry was "Man-Crazy"! Even though she's engaged to Vince, Terry ignores her mother's pleas to stay home and watch TV and hits the town for some action, in whatever form it might take. She's young, she's full of energy, she's got great breasts, and she knows how to use them. "Why let all this vigor go to waste?," she asks. So out she goes that night and the first ten guys who hit on her just aren't right. Nothing seems to click for her until a longshoreman sidles up to her and lets her feel his huge... shoulders. Terry is sold! They go out for a meal but the big hunk is strangely silent, almost maudlin. Later, they go for a stroll in the park, and the picture suddenly becomes crystal clear to Terry; in fact, she can see it reflected in her date's switchblade. Later, after it was over... newspapermen snap her picture as she lays unconscious in the park, longshoreman handcuffed to beat cop, and her face is spread all over the morning news: "Maniac Finally Caught With His Latest Victim!" Good news is that Vince doesn't care that she's damaged goods and marries her anyway. At last, a happy ending! But it happens to the one dame this issue who doesn't deserve it! The highlight of "Man-Crazy" is the gorgeous pencils of Johnny Craig, who gives the entire affair the proper noir touch. -Peter

Jack-Once again, Craig's art goes back and forth between his new, artistic, Picto-Fiction style and his old, dynamic, comic book style. I prefer the older Craig style, though I admit he does great work either way. As I read "Man-Crazy," I was thinking about how it would've ended much differently in a horror comic, with the tease carved up and left in the park. Instead, we get another sappy, happy ending. I thought the happy ending ruined "I Sold My Baby," which was otherwise curiously engrossing. I agree with you that Crandall's art on "Unfaithful Wife" is stunning, and reading this story made me realize that these are essentially cautionary tales for female readers. "They Ran Me Out of Town" is the second Kamen-illustrated story in the issue, and in both he seems to be doing better work than we've seen from him in some time. I did not like "I Destroyed My Marriage" as much as you did, though I'll admit that even Joe Orlando's art looks better than usual; there are still some wonky panels, so we can't have everything. What is wrong with us that we're enjoying this title so much?

Next Week...
Niño and Alcala make
Weird War Tales readable again!

And in Two Weeks...
The boys will wrap up their exhaustive
and exhausting coverage of EC Comics!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 25

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part Ten 
September/October 1951

 Mystic #4 (September 1951)

The Stranger  (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2
The Forest of the Living Dead 
(Manny Stallman & Joe Giunta) 
The Devil Birds (a: Basil Wolverton)  
The Man Who Cheated Death  

Ed writes books on the supernatural but that darn girlfriend of his, Laura, keeps interrupting him, wanting him to do girly things with her, like dancing (yeccchh!). Ed accidentally conjures up the Demon of Death, a spirit that takes the form of a loved one, while researching and the monster plays havoc with his love life. "The Stranger" has a good twist ending but it's interminably slow for the first six pages. Sekowsky’s primitive doodlings don’t help.

Ainsley Carson has ruled the “Purple Forest” since he scientifically altered the trees within the forest to kill and maim anyone who wandered into its midst. Now, years after last seeing her father, Druselda Carson, the daughter of the mad forest ranger, sends her fiancé David in to have a talk with her estranged pop. When Carson starts in on the loony “the woods are alive” speech, David does a 180 and heads for home only to find the old man isn’t as crazy as he sounds. The trees wrap their branches around the young man’s throat and begin to squeeze the life out of him. He’s saved only when Druselda wanders into the scene and the trees, thinking the girl to be her long-dead mother, drop David and strangle their master instead. Though the script for "The Forest of the Living Dead" is confusing and downright gibberish at times, the art is rather perky. Manny Stallman pumped out some excellent work for the competition at times and seems to be heading in that direction here. Perhaps the final words of the young couple, while surveying the climactic carnage, sum this one up best:

David: “It’s difficult to understand!”
Druselda: “Let’s not try, darling!”

Even after scores of explorers have disappeared into the Nevada desert where the first H-bomb was tested and, even after the old man had warned them of giant devil birds, scientists Brian Stover and Keith Adams venture into the hot zone, searching for their friend, the lost photographer, Randy Benson. What they find is a landscape from hell, ruled over by vulture-like creatures and a huge chasm in the earth. Brian is nudged into the abyss by one of the giant birds and, as he’s falling into the bottomless hole, a strange metamorphosis takes place and the man become a giant vulture. A peace of mind comes over Brian as he swoops down on Keith, hoping his friend will join him soon. No art in funny books was more stylized and distinguished than that of Basil Wolverton’s and that schizo-vision serves “The Devil Birds” well.

While his ship is sinking, Captain Frost cheats death by stealing another man’s life vest but, days later, he’s visited by death himself, who says Frost will live another fifty years but must live the life of the man he stole the vest from. Frost is ecstatic until he’s trapped in Africa with a flesh-eating disease and realizes he’ll have to live in pain and misery for five decades. "The Man Who Cheated Death" is forgettable, but enjoyable, fluff.

Joe Maneely
 Suspense #10 (September 1951)

"Dance of Death"  (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #7)
"Trapped in Time"(a: Rudy Palais) ★1/2 
"The Shadow" (a: Al Hartley) ★ 
(r: Frankenstein #15)
"Too Many Murders" (a: Rocco Mastroserio) ★1/2
"Tiger Man!" (a: Norman Steinberg) 

Dancer Eddie Baxter is a perfectionist but he's also an unknown and he's hoping the big dance contest will change all that. But there's a problem... he has no partner. He auditions several dames but all of them have two left feet. Luckily, Eddie runs across an ad in the paper from a woman seeking a male dance parter; in no time he's meeting the gorgeous Marla and discovering she's just the ticket. Eddie fans hard for the babe but she remains at arm's length, insisting they should be no more than partners and, anyway, she's involved at night and can't see Eddie outside the practicing. Even a day at the beach doesn't defrost the icy Marla but it does reveal to Eddie that the girl sure can take the sun without burning (hmmmm)! The night of the dance arrives and the couple win easily, but Marla can't seem to stop dancing, whirling Eddie right out into the park where she finally reveals her secret. She's a vampire looking for the perfect dancing partner and she's found him. Fabulous Heath art (Marla really is gorgeous!) divert attention away from the weak script. Too many unanswered questions (if Marla's a vampire, why can she go to the beach during the day but she's not available at night?) at the climax, which is too bad since the build-up is lively and suspenseful. Still, this is a better-than-average Suspense tale.


"Too Many Murders." Not enough good art.
Murderer Joie Castello signs up for a suspended animation project to avoid getting caught by the cops but, in the end, he finds out the whole experiment was cooked up by the cops in order to get Joie to confess. Here's one that defies logic; all the coincidences and lucky breaks (and expensive lab equipment!) that lead to this dope's arrest would never occur in the real world. A pity that artist Rudy Palais has no room under all the bulky word balloons to work his horror magic. Palais is probably best known for his stellar work for the Harvey horror titles, including dozens of their drippy, gooey covers. Here, in "Trapped in Time," that talent is wasted. At least only three pages are wasted on "The Shadow," a groaner about a magician (The Great Shodini!) whose shadow can murder. "Tiger Man" is no better; its tale of a sadistic big-game hunter contains nothing interesting or original.

"Tiger Man"
Ken is an amazingly ambitious man. He knows where a legendary treasure is buried on Mount Cragmore and, to find it, he's invented a machine that allows him to eavesdrop on the past. Conjuring up images of the Jonas Blake expedition, the previous treasure-hunting team, allows Ken and his two investor-friends to follow the trail right to the gold and, hopefully, avoid the tragedy that befell the Blake party. On the way up, Ken discovers that Jonas got greedy and murdered his two partners; not a bad idea, thinks Ken and, when he gets to the top of Cragmore he's on his own. Unfortunately for the bright but-not-too-bright fortune hunter, the cliff the gold is buried on is built on less-than-solid ground and Ken tumbles down the side of the mountain, buried in an avalanche just like his predecessor. "Too Many Murders" starts out intriguingly enough but quickly degenerates into inane nonsense, capped off by a laugh-out-loud final panel (reproduced here) where Ken warns the reader not to kill anyone to claim the treasure, all while he's buried under tons of rubble. Rocco Mastroserio's art is very crude and sketchy, certainly not horrible, but nowhere near as effective as some of his work for Warren a decade later ("The Rescue of the Morning Maid," with art by Rocco,was one of the greatest horror stories Warren published in the 1960s).

 Astonishing #6 (October 1951)
"The Coffin" (a: Bill LaCava) 

As is our custom with Astonishing, we'll flip right past those beautifully-illustrated Marvel Boy adventures by Bill Everett (the first one this issue has MBoy running afoul of a magician who bears an uncanny resemblance to Namor) and dwell on the sole fantastic tale, "The Coffin," yet another weak variation on Poe's "The Premature Burial." This time out, millionaire Milton Whitestone, afflicted with catalepsy, equips the family vault with a telephone and instructs his wife, should he die, to answer any calls from the grave. Being a 1950s wife, Sylvia wants the dough and no strings attached so, after her husband's obligatory funeral and "rise from the dead," the woman ignores the incessant ringing. Luckily, Milton expected such behavior from his spouse and had a second line installed, this one a hotline to his lawyer, who arrives in the nick of time to dig out his client. Mitlon, justifiably upset, exacts ironic revenge on his greedy wife. If you're paranoid about being buried alive, why would you consent to a below-ground burial in the first place? Milton's a dope and he deserves what he gets. The final panel throws in an out-of-the-blue supernatural angle as well. Bill LaCava's art is rushed and crude, among this a tale to avoid.

This issue closes out Marvel Boy's run in Astonishing and, next issue, the title will feature only short horror yarns. MB's next appearance will be as the Roy Thomas-rebooted Crusader in Fantastic Four #164, but that's a story for the Marvel University boys.

Yes, this is really bad!

 Strange Tales #3

"The Shadow!" (a: Joe Maneely)  
"The Man Who Never Was" 
(a: John Romita & Les Zakarin) ★1/2 
"Invisible Death" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"The Madman!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Voodoo" (a: Bill LaCava) 

George and Dick are always fighting over gorgeous Iris and their rivalry reaches a zenith when George pops Dick a good right and warns him to stay away from his girl. Not one to accept defeat, Dick heads to Iris' house for their date but is crestfallen when the girl refuses to answer his knock. On his way back home, Dick notices his shadow is acting strange, darting to and fro, before it leaves him for good. After Dick tries Iris on the phone without success, he requires the trail of his shadow, following it down into the cemetery, where a service is underway. The bewildered young man recognizes Iris at graveside and quickly realizes the funeral is his; George killed him with that right hook and then was executed for his crime. "The Shadow" proves you can have two below-par stories with the same title in one month -- not a goal one strives to achieve but one interesting enough to mention. If nothing else, these 1950s horror stories shows us that justice was delivered much quicker then -- located right next to Dick's freshly-dug grave is that of George, who had already been given a trial, convicted, and buried before Dick could be laid to rest. That has to be a record. Joe Maneely's art looks nothing like his incredibly detailed work a couple years later; in fact, if it wasn't signed by Joe, I'd scoff at the credit.

Joe Maneely, please come home!

Roger Hunt is asked by his old friend, reporter Jerry Bramley, to meet him at a local diner and, when Roger arrives, he finds Jerry in a flustered state, spouting nonsense about a friend they knew in school named Paul. Seems Paul was a scientist, working on a theory that Death actually "exists in a tangible form" and got too close to the Reaper. Now, Death is wiping out all traces of Paul, including the memories of all who knew him. Only Jerry seems to be able to remember his missing buddy and, soon, Jerry vanishes off the face of the Earth. Is Roger next? "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a solid suspenser that only has a few lapses in logic (having all traces of Paul disappear reaches a ridiculous level when the building he lives in vanishes!) and a pretty grim climax. Sadly, John Romita, Sr.'s talent is buried under Les Zakarin's inks and yet another case of overburdened word balloons.

Planet Mondu sends an invasion fleet (cloaked in invisibility) to bomb both the US and USSR, sparking a war between the unwitting nations. Only "the blind science wizard," Kevin Scott and his equally blind (but gorgeous) assistant/soon-to-be-wife Moira can stop the "Invisible Death!" 6 pages of sheer lunacy, cornball dialogue, and awful art don't always make a great read. This one feels like the "pilot" for a really bad Challengers of the Unknown spin-off, with its superhero scientist and porky alien assassins. Blind wiz Scott somehow manages to fly a spaceship and destroy an entire alien militia with nothing but his smarts and white cane. "Voodoo" is a limp noodle about a man who sees a witch doctor about offing his wife and "The Madman!" is a cute two-pager about a crafty poltergeist in a boarding house.

Bill Everett
 Venus #16

"Thru the Lens" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: The X-Men #88)

Raf, an astronomer on a planet a thousand light years from Earth gets a little overtime at work when his boss insists he stay late and witness an occurrence on a star a thousand light years away. Meanwhile, on Earth, Professor Marston shows off his new invention, an engine that runs on water. Unfortunately for the professor, his former aide (extremely angry for being axed) breaks into the lab and destroys the engine. The destruction sets off a chain reaction in our atmosphere which leads to the entire destruction of Earth. As the distant star explodes and goes out, Raf tells his impatient girlfriend they can finally go out for a night on the town. This one’s a little tough to follow (it took me a couple of reads to figure out the whole “water = armageddon” thing and then decided I really didn’t need bother, not when you’ve got art by the great Joe Maneely to gawp at. But this one really could have used a couple more pages.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #7

"The Men Who Conquered the Earth" 
(a: Russ Heath)  ★1/2
"Escape from Death!"  (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Planet of Terror!"  (a: Basil Wolverton) ★1/2
"The House That Wasn't There" (a: Paul Cooper) ★1/2 

A well-meaning but bone-headed brilliant scientist tries to bring together the nations of the world by creating a catastrophe that only brotherhood could overcome. The egghead shoots an "atomic spear" at the planet Mars and pulls it closer to Earth, thus making it easier for the war-like citizens of that planet to gas up their low-range spaceships and conquer our world. Unfortunately, the big brain didn't count on the warriors of Mars to bring all their big guns with them and, very soon after the invasion, it's apparent that no amount of Earthling hand-holding will repel the slaughtering aliens. After he's captured, our hero/dunderhead tricks one of the Martians into taking him back to his lab where he reverses the "atomic spear" and lets Mars return to its proper place in the galaxy, stranding the not-too-bright Martians on a planet where they have no food and the air is too polluted for them to breathe.

The next day, as the professor sighs and shrugs his shoulders, the world gets back to dividing race and borders. I had to Marvel at all the silly science going on in "The Men Who Conquered the Earth," and I'm not even good at science. No one else in the scientific community noticed the large beam of energy flowing through outer space nor the fact that Mars somehow dislodged from its orbit? How the heck did this guy harness enough energy to magnetically pull an entire planet out of its neighborhood? If you're a Martian getting ready to conquer a planet, do you wait until you arrive to realize you haven't brought any snacks with you? Oh, and why would a race of BEMs want to overthrow a planet they can't live on? "By the beard of Oog," as one of the head Martians exclaims, it makes no sense. That doesn't mean it's not a heck of a lot of fun, as most of the Russ Heath-illustrated Atlas tales have proven to be. There's a dynamic sense of exhilaration to Heath's work that's unequalled in the field, whether he's working in horror, SF, or war comics.

"Escape from Death"
At only three pages, "Escape From Death!," doesn't have the room to blossom into any more than a quick showcase for the talents of the legendary Joe Maneely (now, this looks like the Maneely I fell in love with as a kid reading the "Black Knight" reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces). It's about a death row tough who's convinced his gang will save him, but it's Satan who comes to collect him after the switch is thrown. The final story in the issue, "The House That Wasn't There" is a lifeless and overly long fantasy tale about Ed Miles, an ambitious mailman who will stop at nothing to become postmaster. Unfortunately, for the carrier, a goofy couple who can jump in and out of time and space, have decided that Ed is the only man for the job on their street. There's some loopy twists here (as though Grace Slick, high on whatever she used to pump out "White Rabbit," stumbled into the Atlas offices one lunchtime and got hold of a typewriter) but the narrative is sooooo slow and boring that you won't care if there's a bit of imagination in every 20th panel.

A pair of space explorers land on Saturn, searching for a previous, lost expedition. What they find is a "Planet of Terror!," ruled over by a god named Mokog. When the men are brought before the mighty Mokog by savage Saturnians, they discover the fierce, large-headed creature is actually Leo Gorman, leader of the doomed expedition the men are searching for, who took advantage of some low-IQ aliens to become master of the world. Mokog is shot and killed and the spacemen are allowed to leave Saturn in peace. An obvious "homage" to Wizard of Oz, "Planet of Terror" has the oddities and unique touches found only in the work of Basil Wolverton, but the story lacks excitement and adventure. When it comes to guessing storyteller or artist credits, I'm useless, but the very style of Wolverton's art and nature of the grotesqueries that populate his panels leads me to believe that he wrote his own stories. Prove me wrong.

"The House That Wasn't There"

 Adventures Into Terror #6

"The Return of the Brain" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Giant-Size Weewolf #4; Curse of the Weird #3)
"You Can't Escape" 
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #4)
"The Dark Room!" ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #17)
"The Girl Who Couldn't Die!" (a: Paul Reinman)  ★ 
(r: Giant-Size Chillers #1)

In the sequel to the mind-melting saga known as "The Brain," we discover that the disembodied head of evil Nazi genius, Otto von Schmittsder has used its amazing pogo-sticklike ability to hop aboard plane and, later a moving van bound, coincidentally, for Otto's destination: the lab of US government secret genius/ scientist/ inventor/ babe Gilda Spears, whose use of valuable chemicals badly needed for our country is particularly interesting to our favorite noggin. Otto worms his way into Gilda's brain, enslaving her to do his bidding, which includes framing one of her colleagues. Luckily, Gilda has a handsome boyfriend, Steve Manners, who also happens to be an ace FBI agent. Steve intercepts letters Gilda has written to the USSR (under Otto's command), giving away some behind-the-scenes secrets, and confronts her. The Brain does some quick thinking and orders Gilda to murder Steve but her love is too powerful and, after an unfortunate benson burner accident, the lab goes up in flames. Steve and Gilda embrace, knowing that tomorrow is a new day, unaware that the Brain has hopped out a back window and is planning his next adventure.

Just as much brainless fun as its predecessor, "The Return of the Brain" is almost critic-proof thanks to its sheer dopiness. Otto's limberness, despite not having limbs, is astonishing; we witness leaps into moving trucks, atop high shelves, even into a woman's hat box aboard a plane, with agility an Olympic pole-vaulter would envy. As with the first installment, Russ Heath's art here has a whole lot to do with our enjoyment. Otto's noggin isn't simply a menacing head; it's evil, scary, and hilarious all at the same time, often highlighted by a pink or yellow glow depending on von Schmittsder's mood, I suppose. Sadly, this was the last of the "Brain" series but, with a little imagination, you can almost see him bouncing from alleyway to alleyway and making it, finally, to the White House in November of '16.

In "You Can't Escape," a crazy fella breaks the fourth wall by letting me know he's going to get to me through the funny book I'm reading. No, seriously! This guy writes a script, pays an artist to draw it (hopefully someone with a little more pizazz than the uncredited hack who pumped this out), then pays a printer a bundle to print one copy so that he can sneak the story into the latest issue of Adventures Into Terror for me to pick up on the newsstand. And it works! A cute idea that smacks of deadline doom. A small boy comes to stay with his mysterious Uncle Helas, who lives in a castle high atop the cliffs of Zornhiem, unaware that the man is a practitioner of the dark arts and conjures up giant snakes from "The Dark Room!" Amateurish art and cliched script doom this one.

"The Dark Room"

Fake swami Larry Benson has been bilking lots of dough from poor old Mrs. Evans, who only wants to see her dear departed niece, Louise, a few more times. For that luxury, she contributes heavily to the charity of Larry and his sweetheart, the lovely Sandra. The charity, of course, is the lining of their pockets. Larry handles the front end of the ruse and Sandra handles the visual and vocals of Louise, completely fooling the poor old woman, and everything goes smoothly until the real Louise appears from the spirit world and throws a monkey wrench into the couple's plans to build their "temple of spiritualism." Sandra believes Larry's been working too hard but has a chance of heart when she discovers that Louise was actually an axe murderer. Unfortunately, she receives this news after Louise has lured Larry to a dark mansion and shows him her weapon of choice. "The Girl Who Wouldn't Die" contains another of the Horror Comics Top 20 Cliches (the fake oracle), but then manages to whip up a couple of sly surprises to keep the interest. Paul Reinman's distinctive style helps enormously, with the final panel, of Louise delivering the killing blow, a standout.

Marvel Tales #103

"Touch of Death" (a: Paul Reinman) ★1/2
"When Time Stood Still" (a: Ross Andru)  ★1/2
"Behind the Mask" (a: Jerry Robinson)  
"The Ink Blots!"(a: Manny Stallman)  

Gravedigger Walter loves money, lots of money, and he'll do anything to gain more of it. So, when a strange voice offers Walter as much cash as he can imagine if he'll only dig up a casket, the greedy dope starts digging. He comes to discover that he's unearthed the "Black Magician of the Dark World," and the grateful spook makes good on his promise, giving his savior the gift of King Midas. Only, with Walter, everything he touches turns to dollar bills. Eventually, Walter learns what Midas learned: greed is not good. A particularly rough Reinman job here to go with a ho-hum script, "Touch of Death" is really not very memorable and, since it sticks right with the Midas myth, not very surprising.

Speaking of weak art, our old DC war buddy, Ross Andru, puts his... unique... stamp on the SF tale, "When Time Stood Still," wherein brilliant professor Gene Handley accidentally concocts a formula that halts time for 24 hours (the elixir works so well it freezes a cat in mid-leap!) and then, naturally, uses his discovery to rob lots of banks. The poor sap is undone by an even smarter professor who deducts that the guilty party would be the only man to have eaten in the last 24 hours and a handy-indy PH paper proves to be Handley's downfall. The final story in the issue, "The Ink Blots!" continues the trend of weak art this issue, spotlighting the "talents" of Manny Stallman, an artist I never could get into while reading the Avon and Harvey horror books. Stallman falls into that "wiggly" category where characters almost resemble spineless jellyfish rather than humans (yes, a lot like Rocco Mastroserio and Jerry Grandenetti). The story, about a magician who takes a mute boy under his wing and then pays dearly for it, is not all that bad, and it's got a smart twist in its tale but it's hard to get past those squiggles.

Morose at the Mardi Gras, Charles Roll perks up a bit when a vendor convinces him to buy one of his life-like masks. Roll opts for one resembling vanished billionaire, J.P. DuPont, and agrees to have the mask back by the end of the night. Roll has a blast disguised as the money-man and then neglects to return the mask, heading for homestead. His landlady awakens him the next morning and is astonished to see DuPont in Rob's bed. Once the news gets out, Roll decides he may be able to pull off the con of the century "Behind the Mask," and slides into DuPont's life. After a bit of a honeymoon learning all there is to learn about being a corporate giant, Roll/DuPont grabs the reins and never looks back, becoming more and more of a heartless SOB every day. Then one day, the old vendor arrives at Charles' door, demanding his mask back. Roll ties the man up and decides he's going to kill him but, by the time he returns the man has escaped. Too late, Charles learns the old man had used his marvelous mask-sculpting skills to impersonate DuPont's butler and his "day of reckoning" is delivered. very imaginative and nicely illustrated by Batman vet Jerry Robinson,

"Behind the Mask" is one of those rare Atlas tales that convinces you that you're heading down Street A when you're actually swerving toward Street B. Yep, it's somewhat reminiscent of "The Masks" from Twilight Zone, but I doubt writer Rod Serling had time to peruse Marvel Tales for ideas. You do have to check your brain at the door a bit (but then, have we had many stories during this journey where we didn't) when the idea is trotted out that a mask is so well constructed it could fool every person who knew DuPont prior to his disappearance. I'd think authorities would at least want to take fingerprints.

In Two Weeks!