Thursday, April 4, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 31

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 16
March 1952 Part I

 Amazing Detective #11

"The Black Shadow" (a: Fred Kida) 
"The Weird Woman!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Murder in the Morgue!" (a: George Klein) 
"A Voice from the Grave" (a: Harry Lazarus) 
"It's Time to Go, Higgins!" (a: Bill Walton) ★1/2

The 12th title to be added to our discussion, Amazing Detective took its time to get to our station. AD has one of the goofiest origins I've ever heard. See if you can follow this: Atlas published two issues of Suspense and decides to split it into two different titles, one devoted to crime (which was probably the most popular funny book genre at the time) and one concentrating on horror (which was just taking off in early 1950). But Atlas opted to continue the numbering for both titles, which is why there's no such animals as Amazing Detective Cases #1 or #2 and AD began life with #3. The stories in AD from #3 through #10 continued to be pulled from "the files of crime investigators," but perhaps crime wasn't paying for Atlas as the book was switched over to the horror genre with #11. All this change certainly doesn't seem to have been worth the hassle since the title will only last another four issues before shutting its case file in September.

Cemetery worker Mike Murry loves to talk to his shadow and it's made him the laughing stock of the town, especially to that millionaire's brat, Joe Thorn, who tortures Mike and Shadow on a daily basis. So, Mike's talking to his shadow, Willie (yes, Mike has named his shadow) on day, the to Mike's surprise, Willie talks back! Willie explains the rules of being a shadow, one of which is the shadow never talks. Having broken that cardinal rule, Willie hopes that Mike won't separate himself from his shadow. When Mike admits he didn't know you could lose your shadow, Willie explains that all you have to do is sprinkle salt on a shadow and say the word Ka-Ba-Bo! However, once the shadow is separated, the host feels everything his shadow does so Mike should probably be very careful.

"The Weird Woman"
The light bulb goes on over the tortured little man's head; here's how to get back at that Thorn in Mike's side! So Mike steals Joe Thorn's shadow and tortures it until a bed-ridden Thorn agrees to pay a hefty sum to his tormentor. The stunt works so well that Mike steals six more shadows and, very soon, he's rolling in the dough. The displaced shadows, however, take their ire out on Mike's doppelgänger and, the next morning, the police find Mike hanging from the ceiling in an apparent suicide. We've had numerous horror tales centering on shadows already (with umpteen more to follow) but "The Black Shadow" gives the old warhorse an imaginative curve. Mike is a good guy at first but something goes bad in that brain and he suddenly becomes a sadist, even to his buddy, Willie. There's a very effective panel of the loony stabbing a shadow (that's tied up!) with what appears to be an icepick. Truly, we are entering a Golden Age of outre suspense stories.

George Timmins falls in love with the exotic beauty of "The Weird Woman," Gloria, and pressures her to marry him but Gloria decides that George is not the man for her. George knows that Gloria is slightly "off" (she can walk through walls, for one), but he's willing to ignore such small drawbacks if he can possess her heart and soul. When she breaks off their love affair, George goes nuts and attempts to strangle her but the police arrive and haul him off to the pokey. There, a lawyer approaches him about Gloria and after a chat session walks through George's cell wall, thanking our hapless hero for helping him find the right girl. This is one of the strips that entertain just as long as you don't stop the page-turning to think about what you've just read ("Hang on, if Gloria can disappear when she wants, why does she allow George to throttle her?") and Joe Sinnott is the next best thing to Russ Heath, who's sadly missing from this post's titles.

Mobster Ace Hench has murdered rival, Harry Otis; of that, the Sheriff is convinced. He can't get the evidence so he hires hammy actor Jim Clyde to stand in as the dead man's ghost to scare a confession out of Ace. The ghost materializes and Ace spills his guts and is hauled off to jail just as the Sheriff receives a note from Jim Clyde, apologizing for not making it to the crime scene as he'd gotten another gig. Wow, "A Voice from the Grave" ends with a twist used so many times in the 1950s DC "horror" comics that the company should have issued a title called Fake Ghost Stories, but I'm hoping Atlas didn't overuse this reveal as well. I'm also hoping that the type of old-fashioned sketchy, bare-bones art used in "A Voice..." is slowly, but surely, being phased out. Either one of the short-shorts this issue are worth more than a line or two. A crazed night watchman at the local morgue accidentally runs down a man and then sees him rise on the slab in "Murder in the Morgue." And, finally, in "It's Time to Go, Higgins!," a small-time hood guns down a cop and then sees an eerie green face floating in air, following him everywhere, until he confesses to the police and goes to the gallows. There's the green face on the executioner. Artist Bill Walton's style is not my cup of tea (too many bug-eyed characters) but there are almost Colan-esque moments here and there thanks to some nourish "lighting."

 Mystery Tales #1

"The Dark Tunnel" (a: Gene Colan) 
"The Little Black Box!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
"The End of the World" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"Horror on Channel 15" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
"The Stroke of 12" (a: Paul Reinman) 

Yet another 1952 addition to the horror/SF line, Mystery Tales will see a healthy 54 issue run until the giant axe fell (as it would on most of the line) in Summer 1957.

Billy takes over the exterminator business when his father disappears but there's a big problem: Billy hates to kill insects. He feels sorry for the little buggers. Then one day he's called out to the old Kirby place and Mrs. Kirby directs him to the basement, where she says the cockroaches are coming from. Billy finds tons of roaches and sprays them with his specially prepared mixture (that annoys the critters rather than kills them) when he stumbles upon a huge opening in Mrs. Kirby's basement wall. Exploring "The Dark Tunnel," Billy comes across human bones, including those of his father, and then the full horror is unleashed when a giant cockroach flits out of the hole, grabs Billy in its mandibles, and drags him back into the hole. There, Billy discovers a race of giant, mind-reading roaches who debate between each other what to do with this human. Finally, they decide that since Billy was kind to their race, he can live but he must remain with them forever. After a year, poor Billy starts transforming into a giant cockroach! Gene Colan does his best to get us through the silliness but there are way to many unanswered questions (yes, even in a story about giant cockroaches, I demand lucidity); ferinstance, how is it that old Mrs. Kirby doesn't notice the exterminators never exit her cellar?

"The Dark Tunnel"
The Seven Sisters of Evil have bequeathed "The Little Black Box" to Luke Bramby for his excellent work in the field of deception, lying, and cheating. Thereafter, every time Luke lies, that lie come true so, naturally, he lies about money, a big house, killing his boss, etc. But al the goodies are still not enough for this loser, as he decides he really must discover what makes this little box tick. Bad decision. Classic Maneely horror illos and a really nasty end for Luke Bramby push this just above the "average" line. Why is it when these Bozos get their money, they dress in smoking jackets like Hefner?

Maneely's "Little Black Box!"
Larkin becomes the first small town in America to get its own television station and the boys behind Channel 15 aim to keep the ratings through the roof by putting on the scariest show on TV.  Program manager/producer/writer Bruce Baxter scours the country for ideas for his brainchild but not even haunted houses or graveyards produce results. Bruce decides he must use his imagination and sketches a monster so horrible that... well. let's just say this thing would give the Real Housewives of New Jersey a run for their money. A creature is constructed from Bruce's sketches but a catastrophe almost pulls the plug on the program when the monstrous prop falls across electrical wiring and soaks up enough juice to light up a small bowling alley.

The big show finally airs but the raves and huge audience numbers are pushed aside by the news that the two stars of the program have died from heart attacks on screen! Bruce smells a really big hairy rat and goes to the cops with the goofy theory that the monster was to blame. The police send him out onto the street with a kick in the pants but, shortly after, Bruce gets the news that the monster has escaped and murdered dozens in his path. In fact, as the giant behemoth wends his way through town, mauling and behaving, poor Bruce is found as dead as his hit show.

Starring Steven Tyler!
"Horror on Channel 15" is another of those Atlas stories where nothing really seems connected from Point A to B, as if Stan were throwing darts at a board. No explanation is made for where the monster is between the time he kills his two co-stars and when he goes on his rampage. Cafeteria maybe? "Horror on Channel 15" is almost spot-on with its prediction that local horror shows would rule the airwaves; a few years later, with Vampira and Zacherley leading the pack, no station was without its own horror host. Tumlinson's art, which could be viewed as a bit amateurish and cartoony attached to a more serious script, is perfect for the tone of this semi-humorous romp.

Like most of the three-and four-pagers, "The End of the World" and "The Stroke of 12" have little in the way of story to tell (the former is about a proclamation of doom from a fortune teller, the latter concerns a murderer who hides his loot at the cemetery and is then pulled into a grave by a pair of dead hands) but at least "The Stroke of 12" features some very nice, atmospheric work from Paul Reinman, who has become a bit of a revelation to me. I knew (through my tenure at Marvel University) that Reinman was an occasional inker with Marvel until his retirement form the field in the mid-70s, but I had no idea how powerful his visuals were in the pre-code era.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #3

"A Shriek in the Night!" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Thing That Waited!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Nothing Can Stop Me" (a: Bill Walton) 
"The Quiet Men" 
"The Empty City" (a: Bob Fujitani) 

Whitey Kozak's good night's sleep at the Three-Fingers Flop House is disturbed by a cadaverous face and a hand that beckons him to riches beyond his wildest dreams. All he has to do is climb down into a man-hole and retrieve a small package for the ghostly figure. Turns out the come-on is a scam and Whitey falls down the hole into an underground city populated by giant creatures hell-bent on dissecting humans and finding what makes them tick, all so they can attack and conquer the surface world. Just before Whitey goes under the knife, the creatures give him the choice of death or becoming a zombie who will travel back to the upper crust and recruit more fresh bodies. Our final panel shows a zombie-fied Whitey reaching out for another skid-row bum. Much like my newly-acquired fondness for Paul Reinman, I have to admit to being a newcomer before the altar of artist Werner Roth. I'd probably seen his work in the pages of Crypt of Shadows or another of the Marvel reprint titles, but I hadn't really made a mental note of the name. Now, I smile whenever I see Roth's name attached to a terror tale.

A Korean War pilot has the wing of his plane burned off by a strange beam of light reaching out of the clouds. The ensuing crash kills the pilot but his soul rises and he is confronted by a tentacled terror that explains his situation in full. The pilot is dead and soon his inner being will be reduced to cosmic particles but, before that happens, the creature gloats about the upcoming Conquest of Earth by his home planet, Trisis. Years before, the aliens had infiltrated our society and masked themselves as humans. As our hero begins to fade away, the monster lifts the curtain and shows him a screen of marching aliens that slowly transform into stinkin' Commies in Russia! Oh, these 1950s Red-baiting funny book stories just do not hold up very well sixty-seven years on. "The Thing That Waited!" (I can't help but hold out hope for the ultimate Atlas title someday: "The Thing That Was the Man Who Couldn't Live in the House of Horrors!") is full of long, repetitive speeches made by the Lovecraftian tentacled monster and exasperated replies from the doomed pilot. Just get on with it, already! I still have yet to read in one of these "alien invasion" stories a valid reason for wanting Earth (let's say, maybe for its golf courses or fast food at least); they just want it!

The dope who claims "Nothing Can Stop Me" grows tired of coming out on the losing end of the love stick and downs an experimental strength drug that turns him into an ape. Neither script nor art (Walton can't seem to figure out exactly how big the main protagonist's head should be) inspire anything approaching thrills or chills. "The Quiet Men" (a really dumb title) has an intriguing premise (the crew of the bomber that drop the "cosmic bomb" that begins the destruction of the Earth are cursed to fly through  space forever) that isn't given the proper breathing room to bloom into anything other than an intriguing premise, though the visuals garner a big thumbs-up.

Reporter Johnny Hart stumbles across the story of the Century: an entire town's population has disappeared! Heading back to New York, a bolt of lightning fells a tree and blocks his car, uncovering a deep tunnel under the tree's roots. Johnny follows the tunnel down into an underground city where he witnesses ape-like creatures rounding up the people from the empty city and turning them to dust. As each human disappears, another of the monkey-men transforms into a human being and heads up to the surface. Johnny runs to the nearest station, hops a train, and spills the scoop to his editor. The boss-man tells Johnny well done and urges him to get to sleep, and then places a call to the ape-man leader telling him Johnny's address. Three old, tired, worn-out cliches are regurgitated once again and form the barely readable "The Empty City": the newspaper reporter (Atlas' favorite profession), the underground city (always looking for a way to conquer those insufferable surface people), the friend who is revealed to be the alien (the city editor who has an ape-like shadow!), and the manuscript found in the empty room that tells all (this time out we're told that boarding house landlady, Mrs. Markham, brought the manuscript to "Weird Worlds Publishing Company" when Johnny disappeared, rather than to the police!). Throw in hyperbolic sentences ("I felt a strange, unnatural, weird sensation standing there in the storm...") and the oddest coincidences (the tree that covers the tunnel to the city at the center of the Earth just happens to be struck by lightning just as Johnny is driving by), and you've got one silly and dull read.

 Suspense #15

"The Machine!" 
"The Strange Shoes!" (a: Norman Steinberg) 
"The String of Pearls" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"The Wrong World" ★1/2
"Death Comes Calling" ★1/2

Five rather weak fables this issue, starting off with "The Machine," yet another crook-steals-a-time-machine yarn. Karl Gogan is on the lam and needs to get out of the present really bad when he hears about a nutty professor who's built a time machine and is about to test it. Throwing caution (and common sense) out the window, Grogan forces the scientist to show him how to use the machine. The egghead explains that the machine's bugs still haven't been ironed out but Grogan hops aboard anyways and makes the trip. Well, his skeleton does anyway, as we learn the hiccup with the machine is that anyone riding in the machine ages as well. Some nice art, and a legitimate "twist" in the tail, but the script is pretty silly (for some reason, this hardened hood has no problem believing in a time machine) and it drags on too long.

"The Machine"
In "The Strange Shoes," a derelict finds a pair of beat-up shoes and, when he pops them on, they give him anything he wishes for. Only catch is that he must wear them at all times. We don't see the shower scene so I imagine our hobo gets pretty odiferous after a couple pages. So does the story. Margaret has always coveted her husband's prize "String of Pearls," but Gerald insists the jewelry is cursed. And he would know, since he forced several natives to dive into the grotto of the Devil-Fish to acquire the pearls, and they suffered the fate of the damned. Later, one of Gerald's salesladies tries the beautiful bauble on and is choked to death  (the coroner remarks, "Death due to strangulation! I know that what I'm about to say will sound goofy... but by the marks on her throat, I'd say that she was choked to death... by an octopus!"). But what Margaret wants, Margaret gets, so she murders Gerald, opens the safe, and dons the necklace. And then the Devil-Fish enters the room and kills her. Nice Ogden Whitney artwork, very stark and animated, but the script falls back on cliches and doesn't make much sense (in the first murder, the octopus doesn't have to make an appearance, so why does the fella chance dry land to throttle Margaret?).

"String of Pearls"
A scientist, testing his rocket ship (again, we discover that in the 1950s you didn't even need a permit to test a space ship!), stumbles onto the greatest discovery in the history of mankind: on the other side of the sun is a twin world of Earth where everything happens exactly the same at the same time. He happens on this revelation when he is hit by a meteor and thrown off course, crashing back on Earth a few days later, just intimate to attend his own funeral. Yep, he crashed on Earth-II. So, our hero relaunches his ship and travels back to the other world but his dilemma is:which Earth is the "real one?" Wildly goofy and highly imaginative, "The Wrong World" is also very confusing at times but its sense of adventure and nice visuals more than make up for it. A rare case of a happy ending in the Atlas Universe. In our final story this time out, "Death Comes Calling," Dr. Cavari has decided his time is too precious to him and thus only the rich can afford his services. No more charity cases. Unfortunately, this new outlook on the medical field occurs just as a plague hits Cavari's little town. The people are falling all around him but Cavari's attitude remains unchanged. Then, one day, the good Doc gets a visit from someone who appreciates Cavari's stand; it's Death, of course, and after a long, rambling, boring speech, he cures the town and gifts the selfish doctor with the only fatal dose of plague. Nothing new here but I liked the stylish art; the artist is uncredited but several panels look like Everett (but Everett usually signed his work so probably not).

Astonishing #10

"The Man Who Owned a Ghost!" (a: Bill Everett) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #6)
"I Solved the Problem" (a: Mac Pakula) ★1/2
"The Walking Dead!" (a: Al Eadeh) ★1/2
(r: Creatures on the Loose #31)
"Melvin and the Martian" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Only an Insect!" (a: Pete Morisi) 
(r: Vault of Evil #14)

Alan Kent uses black magic to summon forth a ghost to kill his wife, Helen, who's planning to kill Alan very soon. The ghost explains to Alan that he can't kill humans but he can scare away all of Helen's guests and then Alan will have the peace and quiet in which to kill his wife himself. The haunting goes swell and the cliff house empties, leaving only Helen, who refuses to be frightened by the ghost. Alan sneaks up on the gorgeous dame while she's looking out the window to the rocks below and lunges at her, with an eye to knocking her off the balcony. But the dopey sorcerer takes a header right over the rail and down to the water below. As Ala is wondering how his wife could be a ghost, she explains to him that it's he who is the ghost. She killed him in his sleep a few nights before and has been wracked with guilt ever since. She plunges a dagger into her own heart and falls into the sea as the revelation comes to Alan that he summoned his own ghost.

Though it's monumentally silly and the climax is quite a few too many finales, Bill Everett makes "The Man Who Owned a Ghost!" a spooky riot, a la Beetlejuice or Ghostbusters. The last reveal, that the summoned ghost belongs to Alan himself, is a head-scratching hoot (if Alan is dead, how could he summon his spirit if he is the spirit?), as is the final panel where the two of them look at each other and scream in terror. Lots of great stuff here: Helen is a classic Everett beauty; Alan stands above what we come to find out is his own grave -- on the beach!; the ghost is a creepy/kooky concoction, part Scooby-Doo villain, part Poltergeist; and the layouts are pure Everett, with tons going on in each frame.

In the far future, war no longer exists and that creates the problem of overpopulation. Every square foot of land the world over has been given over to housing; no more space for harvesting or livestock. How to feed this mass of hungry people when the food supply will run dry within a year? I'm glad you asked. Luckily, the world's smartest man, Dr. Fell, has anticipated just such a nuisance and has applied his grey matter to solving the problem thus: he has created a plant that will bear fruit and grow on concrete walls, making it very easy for the populace to harvest their own food. But there's always a drawback isn't there? Dr. Fell doesn't anticipate the side effects to a plant that can grow anywhere and the foliage goes out of control, strangling its owners until the world is barren but for Dr. Fell, who lives in a very tall skyscraper. As the mad (but well-meaning) scientist contemplates what he's done, the ivy reaches out for him. "

I Solved the Problem" is a well-done ecological nightmare that predicts the similar wave of science fiction films of the early 1970s (Silent Running, Soylent Green, etc.). It almost seems as though this catastrophe has snuck up on the scientists, who should have known that when you pave paradise and put up a parking lot, Mother Nature will rebel.  Mac Pakula illustrated a boatload of war strips for Atlas at the same time "I Solved the Problem" appeared, but I have to say I don't care for his bland layouts and sketchy pencils.

Dr. Drago has been obsessed with bringing the dead to life for quite a while and, finally, all the proper ingredients are mixed (vibrating table to stimulate the heart, heat lamps to relax the reflexes, etc. etc.) and...voila!... a living breathing zombie. Drago is so excited he invites all his colleagues over for cognac and caviar, springing his zombie-man on them as a dessert. Isn't it like the science community to bring down a man's dream? One of the other professors commends Drago for the ability to raise an inanimate object from the dead but to what purpose when the thing cannot talk, reason, or think for itself. "You are right," sighs Drago, "I had created a mindless horror... the first of a race of living-dead idiots!" (oh, if only Drago had lived to see the teenagers of the 21st-Century!) The dejected doctor blows up his laboratory, killing both himself and his creation. Three pages does not allow for much character development (but then, neither does seven, does it?) so the primary appeal here would be for the art, which isn't bad, outside of that awful forced-perspective splash (is the zombie's arm really that big?).

"The Really Big Arm of the Walking Dead!"

"Melvin and the Martian" is a mildly funny short about a simple-minded man put in charge of guarding a Martian prisoner, and the mind games the alien uses to get information from Melvin about Earth's battle capabilities. After the Martian is told about a super-secret rocket that will be used against Mars, the alien steals the ship and heads home, only to detonate an H-bomb once he lands (a punchline we've seen before). "Only an Insect" is a really dumb yarn about a slow lab assistant who tortures insects and then has the tables turned when he's splashed with his boss' experimental shrinking formula.

In Two Weeks!
We'll look at 25 more shockers
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