Thursday, June 13, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 36

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 21
June 1952 Part I

 Journey Into Mystery #1

"One Foot in the Grave" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #1)
"The Clutching Hands" (a: Cal Massey) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #21)
"Haunted!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #21)
"It Can't Miss" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #5)
"Iron-Head" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
(r: Tales of the Zombie #1)

Journey Into Mystery is most famous, of course, for being the birthplace of the Mighty Thor (who will arrive from Asgard in exactly 82 issues), but before that it was also one of the only survivors of the "Atlas Implosion" of 1957 (well, if you want to get technical, the title did go on a 15-month hiatus before being relaunched in 1958) and one of Marvel's longest-running horror/sf titles. Take a look to your right and see if you can spot the difference between the cover for JIM #1 and those on any of the other Atlas titles. (I'll give you a few seconds) Yep, good spot. For some reason, Stan decided to forego the mountains of text and "Also in This Issue" banners he loved to stream across otherwise-gorgeous covers and let Russ Heath's illustration sell the zine on its own merits.

In "One Foot in the Grave," a heartless florist pays hoboes to steal floral arrangements from graves and then sells them at a premium. One night, the dead come back for their flowers. A very elementary story idea, the plot of which has been used before, but the art by DiPreta (again, very Colan-esque) is nicely done. Much better is "The Clutching Hands," about Ted Wayne, a hack novelist, who murders a rival writer and steals his unfinished manuscript, hoping to land a best-seller. That night, he awakens to find the dead man's hands at the typewriter, finishing the novel. Not one to look a gift hand in the palm, Wayne takes the now-finished book to his editor but is low-balled on the advance money. Just then, the hands appear and strangle the editor and his secretary enters in time to see Wayne flee. The writer is arrested and sentenced to death by hanging, but is granted a last-second stay while he stands on the gallows, noose around his neck. As the Governor's message is read, the clutching hands pull the lever and Wayne falls to his death. Russ Heath's brilliant artwork on "The Clutching Hands" is about as close as you're going to get to the look of EC Comics. The splash is brutal, but gorgeous.

The next two tales are pretty bad. "Haunted" is about a ghost who tries his best to dissuade buyers from purchasing his haunted house. Some of Carrabotta's work here is nice (his spectre is pretty creepy) but the story has almost as much dust on it as the haunted house. Worse is "It Can't Miss," which can't even work up much enthusiasm for its art (Jay Scott Pike almost seems to be going for an Eisner vibe with his doodlings). Murderer and general tough guy Frankie Arno is on the lam and is mistaken for a respectable businessman who looks just like him. Unfortunately, the guy’s been committed to an asylum. Why? Who knows?

The last story of the issue is very definitely the best. Bronson, a really really bad guy steals an undersea treasure while in a diver’s suit and blows up the ship and its crew to prevent any witnesses. He surfaces on a nearby island of natives who worship him as the god "Iron-Head." As long as he doesn’t remove his helmet, he’s okay. Obviously he can’t eat, so he starves. The final panel, of a native saying “Him no God! Axe make-em Iron-Head come off... just like chicken head!” and hefting a bloody hatchet, is a gem of dark humor! Dick Ayers comes through with a fabulous set of visuals, very reminiscent of fellow Atlas artist, Bill Everett.


Everett & Burgos
 Adventures Into Terror #10

"When the Vampire Calls!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Dracula Lives #4)
"The Dark Passage" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #5)
"What Walter Saw" (a: Ed Goldfarb) 
"The Snake!" (a: George Roussos) 
"The Old Hag" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 

The superstitious villagers believe the beautiful Lyra is a vampire, draining all the locals of their life blood, but Pierce is so in love with Lyra that he can't believe the stories. He follows the girl to her castle and discovers that she lures the young men to her home so that her vampire brother can sup. The finale sees the villagers, in grand old Universal style, burning the castle and its occupants to ashes. Not terribly original, but something about the whole package ticked al the right boxes for me. Joe Maneely's art here is the best we've seen in the Atlas horror titles so far (and the closest to the detailed magic he performed on The Black Knight). "When the Vampire Calls" could have fit into the Universal chronology somewhere between Dracula's Daughter and Ghost of Frankenstein (brother vamp actually looks more like "the Monster" and Lyra is the prototypical Gale Sondergaard eerie beauty).

"The Dark Passage"
Nick Raftis waits on death row but his nights are filled with torturous nightmares of hooded demons. Convinced he'll be rid of the night spirits if he breaks out, Nick steals an ambulance and smashes through the gate but doesn't get far before he runs out of gas. Fearful he'll be caught, he enters a house filled with hooded figures. Too late, he learns he's already dead and the figures lead him into "The Dark Passage." Nice ghoulies courtesy of Ogden Whitney, but the finish is a bit too cloudy (did Nick die in the chair or in his cell during the escape?) and reeks of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." "What Walter Saw" is a really silly short-short about a boardwalk telescope operator who can't make money with his weak lenses, so he steals a batch of powerful glasses and ends up seeing an invasion of aliens. Worse is "The Snake!," about a sailor who boasts of having a snakeskin in his knapsack and then has to sneak off to a deserted island in the night to search for one in order to save face.

"The Old Hag"
The issue ends on a high note with "The Old Hag." Tired of being homely and poor, a man asks an old hag to make him different. She does, by making his entire body elastic. TV shows and personal appearances make him rich and he pays the old witch every month, but he forgets to visit her one month and she dies of starvation. His powers of "normalcy" wear off and his body becomes a rubbery mess. He's forced to get a carnival job. Creepy art and a nasty bite in the tail elevate this one to "keeper" status. That final panel, of the hopelessly rubberized dope, is pretty freaky.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #11

"Frankie Was Afraid!" (a: Bil Everett) 
"Kiss of Death" (a: Bernie Krigstein)  
"Once Upon a Corpse" (a: Marty Elkin & Gil Kane) 
"I Can't Stop Screaming" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"The Neat Trick" (a: Harry Lazarus & George Klein) ★1/2

Dr. Le Doux specializes in treating patients of their fears -- doesn't matter what kind of fears, he's your man at fifty dollars a session. So when Frankie shows up to the Doc's office and claims he's afraid of midnight, Le Dous sees dollar signs and tells the poor schmoe it will take thirty sessions to cure midnightaphobia. After the 29th visit, Frankie approaches the head-shrinker and reminds him he only has one session left, and he's still terrifies of the witching hour. Le Doux grabs his patient and drags him out to a graveyard, thinking that will do the trick. Unfortunately for the dim-witted therapist, Frankie reveals why he's afraid of midnight... by sprouting fangs and wings. Any surprise in the climax of "Frankie Was Afraid!" is muted by the fact that the exact scene plays itself out on the cover! Bill Everett's LeDoux is a dead ringer for the joker and his winged vampire is a delight but there are way too many crowded panels for my tastes.

"Frankie Was Afraid!"

Dede, the heroine of "Kiss of Death" falls in love with a statue in the park, much to the dismay of her boyfriend. The legend goes that, two thousand years before, Hemus and Xanthia were lovers in Greece but Hemus had a wandering eye, and when he stepped out one too many time, Xanthia buried a blade in his back and then killed herself as well. Now, Dede can't seem to take her mind off the stone Adonis and heads out to the park late at night for another look. Hemus, having bottled up two thousand years of libido, drops a line or two on the bewildered young lady and then follows it up with a smooch. Xanthia, still the jealous woman, dispatches Dede with her blade and the two statues return to their perch, none the wiser. A decent enough fantasy, but the Krigstein art is low-grade Bernie, one of his sketchier jobs. There's also a bit of 1950s risqué cheesecake, when Dede hops out of bed in lingerie to go on her midnight walk.

In "Once Upon a Corpse," Monk Bennett tries to kidnap a little boy outside a cemetery but it turns out the kid is from the other side, looking for some fun. The climax is murky (we're not really sure what the kid's motives and powers are), but not nearly as murky as the truly awful art (Gil Kane inked over Marty Elkin but there's not a trace of Kane to these untrained eyes). Mr. Green, importer of rare silks and cloth has a meeting with a strange hunchbacked chap who shows Green the most beautiful material he's ever seen. The two strike a bargain and Green promises to pay the oddball upon delivery. When Green opts to stiff his new partner, the hunchback pays a visit to Green's office and spins a web around the shyster. You guessed it! The fabulous material is silk spun from the man's bulbous abdomen. He's a giant spider! And one who can hide that enormous thorax and eight legs nicely under a trench coat! Dick Ayers' art for "I Can't Stop Screaming"... ouch!

The best, again, is saved for last with "The Neat Trick," a humorous yarn about big-mouthed heckler, Harry Bogan, and the night he decided to accuse Lokar, the Magician of being a phony. The public spectacle tarnishes the good name of Lokar and he finds himself with out a job but that's neither here nor there to Brogan, who laughs the whole thing off. Later, that night, the two men stumble into each other in the woods and Bogan is anything but apologetic. Regardless, Lokar is kind enough to show Bogan his most famous trick: making his own head disappear. Astonished, but calling it a parlor trick, Brogan asks Lokar to teach him how the stunt is performed and the magician is only too happy to oblige.

 Marvel Tales #107

"The Thing in the Sewer" (a: Fred Kida) 
"The Man With the Whip" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"Going My Way?" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
"The Glass Eye" (a: Allen Bellman) ★1/2
"Trapped By the Dead!" (a: Gene Colan) 

In a dark cemetery, a robber/murderer has set his sights on his latest victim, a graveside mourner, but from nowhere his mark is set upon by another man. After forcing both men to accompany him into his subterranean lair (which comes complete with picked-clean skulls), the murderer is about to dispatch the interloper, the man sprouts wings and fangs. Didn't we just read this story in another title?

A child is kept locked in a basement, the only exposure to the outside world is his guardian, "The Man With the Whip." One day, the man forgets to lock the door and the child ascends the stairs and kills his torturer. As he heads out the front door, he wonders why the man kept him hidden from others. The final panel, of the monstrous child, is far from a surprise since the kid's face is kept in shadows throughout the story's five pages. This type of story would probably have worked better as a prose feature but it's really not that bad, and Ogden Whitney delivers some stirring visuals (though the grotesque tusks sticking out of the boy's mouth make you wonder how he couldn't notice he was different from his guardian) and a creepy atmosphere. How this tyke became so malformed is just one of those questions we best not ask.

A traveling salesman kisses his wife and hits the road in a terrible storm, promising her he'll be safe. He stops for a hitchhiker but is shocked when he sees the man is wearing a skull mask. "Going My Way?" is all the spectre says. The traveler speeds off but can't escape the ghostly apparition at every stop he makes. Running low on gas, he finds a farm house and tries to steal some petrol from a vehicle, but the farmer catches him and almost gives him both barrels until his wife talks him out of it. Explaining he's just a traveling salesman who's almost out of gas, our hero phones his wife on the farmer's telephone but receives quite the shock when a nurse answers the phone and explains that his wife is in a state of shock after receiving the news that her husband died in a road wreck. The salesman heads back out on the road, resigned to the fact that, the next time he sees his new friend, he'll give him a ride since he's going that way. A few head-scratchers here (why does the farm couple see our traveler if he's a ghost? Are they ghosts too?), but for a variation on a well-traveled road, "Going My Way" is an entertaining yarn and Bernie Krigstein's art here is about as close as we're going to come (so far, at least) to the quality he brought to EC.

Two bumbling museum guards decide think that the rubies in a priceless statue's eye sockets will be their ticket to a big payday but the idol has other ideas. Even at a mere four pages, "The Glass Eye" feels padded and its clumsy climax will leave the reader unsatisfied. Much, much better is the grand finale this issue, "Trapped By the Dead!" Fred Konry makes a cross-country trek to murder his look-alike cousin, the very rich Hollis Konry, and assume his identity and exorbitant lifestyle. The murder goes off without a hitch (Fred chops Hollis up into little pieces and buries him in several different makeshift graves alongside the highway. The plan works even better when Fred gets home to Hollis' gorgeous wife and the dame is none the wiser. He makes grand plans to tear down the old estate and build a new mansion, but those plans go awry when the builders discover the skeleton of Hollis' old partner in the walls and the cops converge on the new millionaire. Though the "assumed identity" riff has been played a gazillion times, "Trapped By the Dead!" manages to pull it off by averting your eye from the plot long enough to throw in a surprise at the climax. I'm sure it occurred to me before but it strikes me how much Gene Colan's early, noir-ish art resembles Bernie Krigstein's work at the time. Both had that similar knack of turning the cartoon into the atmospheric.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #7

"The Cat's Whiskers" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"In the Still of the Night" (a: Marty Elkin) ★1/2
"The Strange Road" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"The Ghost" (a: Myron Fass) ★1/2
"The Bad Boy" (a: Jim Mooney) 

We find ourselves back on the low end of the Carrabotta seesaw with the opener, "The Cat's Whiskers," about Amos White, a nightwatchman framed and executed for a murder he didn't commit. Turns out Amos rode the lightning for mob boss Rocc, and the framer is none other than renowned lawyer, George Henly. But, after the execution, the counselor can't shake the stalking Blackie, Amos' faithful feline, a creepy little vixen who manages to steal his way into George's bedroom one night and leave the terrified lawyer speechless. As noted, this is not one of Vic's better jobs but, as noted above in the review of "Haunted," even at his worst, Carrabotta could still evoke the chills now and then. Here, it comes with the final frames of the story, where Blackie gets his revenge and George is left holding his tongue... or where his tongue used to be.

"In the Still of the Night," a stranger comes into town, looking for companionship, and finds himself attracted to a beautiful girl in a restaurant. She finds him attractive too, and they arrange a meeting in the park. As the sun goes down, the man turns into a werewolf and tells the girl he's in town looking for his next victim... and then the woman bares her fangs and tells the dope the same thing. How many times can these guys trot this one out? They don't even try variations anymore; just pass the same script over to another artist every six months and the reader won't remember the last time. A shame too, since the first half of the story build legitimate suspense.

"The Strange Road" is an illogical and just plain dumb story about a bus driver on a new route who picks up very pale and lifeless riders and then gets stuck behind a funeral procession. Impatient, he jumps the line and when he pulls alongside the hearse, he notices the driver is a skeleton. Losing control, the bus tumbles down the side of the mountain and the last thing the driver sees is himself... a skeleton... in the rear-view mirror. So what deep meaning does this hold? Is the driver death? Is he the bus driver to hell? You tell me.

A bit better is the other quickie this issue, "The Ghost," about a woman who's getting tired of her husband's supernatural obsession with his dead wife. He sees seers in hopes of resurrecting his old flame, but the current Mrs. is carrying on an affair with her hubby's business partner and the two of them have something planned. The crafty adulterer gives the old boy a wrench to the skull and runs his car off a cliff but, once she gets home, she realizes there might just be something to this "other world" nonsense after all. A nicely atmospheric little chiller with great art from Myron Fass, who could pull an ace from his hat now and then. Fass is better known for the Eerie Publications line of horror comics of the 1960s and 1970s; Fass would grab strips from the 1950s and have them gussied up with blood and guts and garish covers. Fass' rags would rot the minds of thousands of impressionable youngsters (this old fan included) and are widely collected and revered to this day (don't be surprised to see a blog dedicated to Tales from the Tomb and its sisters some day, right here in this space).

Stan saves the best for last this issue, with the creepy "The Bad Boy." Young Peter Hemsley is bored of living in the country without any friends to play with, so mom suggests to her son conjuring up an imaginary pal. So Peter whips up an invisible body, names him "Bad Peter," and seemingly becomes enchanted with his new BFF. But when tobacco is spilled and rugs ripped up, dad finds his patience wearing thin. When a dart goes sailing past his face one night, Mr. Hemsley decides something has to be done so he tells Peter that he's going to strangle "Bad Peter" and they'll be done-and-dusted of imaginary playmates. To Pop's surprise, Peter agrees that his evil counterpart must be done away with and gives his dad the thumbs-up sign. After a good imaginary throttling of air, Dad declares "Bad Peter" dead but his little tyke, now sporting fangs and green skin, turns and reveals that he "killed the wrong one!"

The "invisible friend who's really there" plot has been used several times before (and, of course, the king of them all would have to be Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour," which was adapted by Al Feldstein for Weird Fantasy #18) but "The Bad Boy" gives the tired horse a kick in the ribs and a neat twist in the tail. I love Joe Sinnott's art, which is equally stylish and garish (his panel of little Peter warning his dad that "Bad Peter gets awfully mad when he's scolded" is even creepier than the final panel reveal!

Astonishing #14

"Under Glass" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Man Who Jumped!" (a: Cal Massey) 
"The Man Who Changed Bodies!" (a: E.J. Smalls) 
"Silence!" (a: Don Rico & Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"The Clean-Up!" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Pa can't seem to keep his two sons from fighting; his aunt complains every time he tells her to make lunch; and his wife is getting some on the side from the new boarder. What's a slob to do? Well, Pa grabs a blade and sticks it to the new guy and everyone just stands around and stares... including the giant bugs who "overran Earth after the atomic war of 1993," and captured the lot of them to put on display in their human being zoo!

The first four-and-a-half pages of "Under Glass" is like some deranged variation of Streetcar Named Desire; a cringe-worthy peek into the lower depths of humanity. It's a hellish vision, and Bernie Krigstein's art is the perfect art to carry this narrative over the line of decency and good taste. And then there's the climax, one I didn't see coming and, now that I've seen it, wish I could un-see it. It smacks of going for the easy wrap-up rather than building on the events we've witnessed previously and it's also a twist been done to death. This might have been a full four-star gem had the writer (I think this is way too nasty for Stan "The Man," but what do I know?) conjured up a more grueling finish.

Chauffeur Conrad has his eyes on the boss's daughter but the old crow gets wise and fires him. Before the will can be changed, Conrad stages an accident and moneybags ends up at the bottom of a cliff. Conrad becomes Mr. Inherited Moneybags but has constant nightmares of the boss coming back for him. Unable to take the terror anymore, Conrad steps out onto a ledge and prepares to jump but gets cold feet and breathes a sigh of relief as hands reach out to pull him back in the window. But as the would-be suicide opens his eyes, he realizes the hands belong to his late father-in-law and they're pulling him downward! "The Man Who Jumped!" is no great shakes in the script department but Cal Massey's art is energetic (almost like a cross-breeding of Everett and Heath!) and keeps the attention even when the words don't.

With a title like "The Man Who Changed Bodies!," there's no real need for synopsis, is there? I'll just say that the only smile that crossed my face during this snoozer, about a millionaire who discovers a way to switch bodies with his handsome gardener, is the "eerie chant" the old guy must repeat:

"I command your mind and ego to leave your body and enter mine! And my mind and ego will inhabit your body!"

That took some thinking on the part of our intrepid funny book writer.

Depending on how you look at it, "Silence" is either an interesting experiment in (for the most part) wordless panels or the easiest assignment of the day for the Atlas horror comic writer. A man wakes up and runs through his deserted city, looking for signs of life. The subway is deserted, the streets are filled with empty cars, and all the buildings stand quiet. He finally finds a lone figure sitting behind a desk, writing in a ledger, and when the stranger raises his head, we see it is death. Not a bad little chiller and the final panels, with Mr. Death holding his reaper, provide the desired effect. We are left wondering what happened here that there aren't even bodies in the streets. All trace of humankind vanished but for this one poor soul.

The final story, "The Clean-Up!," is some nasty business about Lucy,  a little girl adopted from an orphanage and put to work cleaning the house of a chemist who manufactures disinfectants. He's got this poor little kid sponging the toilets and scraping the food off plates 24/7, while he lords over her with his whip. When the little moppet accidentally spills garbage on the tyrant, he orders her to fix him a bath and she "mistakenly" fills the tub with acid! There's a (delightfully) mean streak running through "The Clean-Up!" that you (as a horror story reader, that is) can't help but enjoy. The chemist boasts that he makes the strongest disinfectants in the land, but seemingly has nothing better to do with his day than supervise Little Orphan Lucy while she goes about her chores. The art by Tony DiPreta is primitive and rushed (Lucy's face seems to have the exact same look and the exact same angle in every panel) but then the scratchiness of the visuals seems perfectly matched with the grimy narrative.

In Two Weeks...
It's Uncanny how the Atlas horror line
continues to grow!


Glowworm said...

"Going My Way?" from Marvel Tales 107 is very similar to the famous Twilight Zone episode "The Hitchhiker" in which a young woman with a flat tire who got into a horrific car accident yet somehow "survived" (spoiler, she really didn't) keeps seeing a strange man who wants to hitch a ride from her. Only she can see him, and he keeps following her. The episode ends very similarly to this one, with the woman trying to call her mother only to find out that she's in a mental institute because she couldn't get over the death of her daughter--which of course is her. She then realizes that she was dead all along and lets the hitchhiker into her car.

Todd Mason said...

The TZ episode was based on a story that had been repeated without ultimate credit so often that it might be folklore...though I suppose looking it up could turn up a single literary source.

Grant said...

I've read "The Clutching Hands" in the Where Monsters Dwell reprint, and I wonder if many readers were disappointed that the picture on the cover isn't in the story. The victim in that picture is dressed in a "prim" way (including the hairstyle), but the tightness of her dress also makes it almost a "cheesecake" picture.

Anonymous said...

The idea of the "Iron Head" story sounds like a fairly close swipe of an H.G. Wells short story, "Jimmy Goggles the God."

Denny Lien