Thursday, July 11, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 38

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 23
July 1952 Part I

 Amazing Detective #13

"Honeymoon of Horror!" (a: Hy Rosen) ★1/2
"Close Shave" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Clinging Vine" (a: Fred Kida) 
"Cave-In" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Ghost Story" (a: Bill Everett) 

Gordon is another in the vast sea of Atlas gigolos, with an eye on wealthy dame, Clara Vaughn, and her untold millions. Gordon weasels his way into Clara's heart and then marries her, assuring himself of an inheritance when he offs her. The big night comes and Gordon ties Clara up and explains his sadistic and elaborate plan, involving celluloid and a slow-burning candle, but a shocking turn of events interrupts Gordon's plot. Clara's ghost arrives and informs Gordon that her hostess has been dead for six months (by suicide), but so lonely her spirit was out looking for love in all the wrong places. Further, Clara has decided to get even with all the conniving men in the world by "framing" Gordon for her "murder." Gordon explains the situation to the police and he's committed to a mental institution, which is fine with Clara, who becomes his cellmate 'til death do them part.

Though the murderous cad angle has been played to death, "Honeymoon of Horror" has enough bright spots to entertain. There's a real nasty, almost S&M atmosphere to the scene in which Gordon explains his plan to the bound-and-gagged Clara and Hy Rosen's jittery art is perfect for the sleazy vibe. The twist, delivered by Clara's ghost, is right out of left field so, yep, it's a surprise. "Close Shave," however, is anything but a surprise. A sailor muscles his way into a barber chair and proceeds to tell a story of murder on the high seas. You'll never guess... the bartender is the victim's father! What are the odds this tar would find his way into just the right chair? Don't ask. Judging by Werner Roth's art on "Close Shave," I'd say that, right about this time, Stan told his bullpen he needed more Heaths and Everetts.

"The Clinging Vine" is a very silly tale of a woman who plots her husband's death by poisoning his treasured vines. By killing the foliage, she reasons to her beau on the side, you kill the gardener. We al know better though. Fred Kida, at times, can conjure up a perfectly adequate Will Eisner swipe. "Cave-In" has some swell art from Joe Sinnott but the story, of a miner who robs his office and then hides out below in the mine, seemed overly familiar and then when I got to the punchline (he's trapped in a cave-in and faces two weeks with nothing but a lunch pail filled with cash), I knew I'd read this before but my old brain can't make the connection. Was it an EC story? I distinctly remember seeing a final panel of the dope with greenbacks in his mouth. Help an old man out.

The best story this issue is Bill Everett's "Ghost Story." Rocky Nixon, a death-row inmate goes to the chair, tossing curses at the judge and cop who brought him to justice. The next night, Judge Brown is found murdered in his locked-and-barred apartment. The Chief of Police is leaning towards the "avenging ghost" theory until his ace detective (and next on the murder list), Red Collins, reminds his boss that Nixon used to run the streets with famous magician, "Grey the Great!" Surely, the locked-room murder was the work of a famous prestidigitator. The APB goes out on "Grey" and Red holes up in the Chief's office but, minutes later, the jig is up and Rocky Nixon's gruesome ghost arrives to claim the life of Red Collins. A fabulous and fun throwback to the 1940s funny book stories, "Ghost Story" is a simple, straightforward revenge from the grave tale highlighted by little flourishes like Bill Everett's diagram of the apartment where Judge Brown was murdered (almost like an old Dell Map Back) and Red Collins' macho cockiness as well as a great pay-off. Bill Everett could do no wrong.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #8

"Somewhere Death Awaits" 
(a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
"30 Seconds" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Lost!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"Death in the Shadows" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
"Sticks and Stones" (a: Hy Rosen) 

"Somewhere Death Awaits" is the maddeningly disjointed "tale" of a curious red stone that brings bad luck every ten years to whosoever holds it. If the Ripley's Believe It Or Not!-esque narrative doesn't turn you off, then surely the scratchy doodling of Brown and Gantz will do the trick.

"30 Seconds" isn't much better, but at least it's readable and the art is definitely a step up. Miles Drummond is a weapons manufacturer who will stop at nothing to load his coffers with dough and that includes selling out his own country to the stinkin' commie bastards who come a'callin', hoping to purchase tons of Drummond's special ammo. For the promise of five million bucks on delivery, Drummond agrees to churn out an endless supply of his secret weapon, a shell that looks like a dud for "30 Seconds" and then blows everything around it to kingdom come. Drummond keeps his end of the bargain but (wouldn't you know it?) the commie bastards renege and tell the backstabbing turncoat he'll have to journey behind enemy lines to North Korea if he wants to collect his ill-gotten gains. Drummond manages to impersonate a soldier and make it to the front but then is blown to atoms by... you guessed it!... one of his own baby bombs. GCD identifies Carl Wessler as the story-teller but this is the kind of red-baiting thriller Stan would pump out on lunch breaks.

"30 Seconds"
"Lost!" is a three-pager, about a wandering little boy whose touch means death, with gawd-awful visuals by Vic Carrabotta. These mini-stories usually don't amount up to much anyway but some them (count "Lost!" in that pile) are sheer torture. Ben Chambers, the protagonist of "Death in the Shadows" is beside himself when he discovers his wife is having an affair, but he lacks the courage to kill them so he hires out. The deed is to be done at the Black Cat night club so, to make sure his wife and her lover will be there, he accompanies his cheating mate to the club but then gets a chest full of bullet courtesy of his wife's lover, the hired gun! This one ends on just one coincidence too many, and why would Ben sit at the table he's been told the hit will take place?  All the women in the world love lothario and Broadway heartthrob Paul Medford, a man who uses and then disposes of his women as soon as he tires of them. Paul's motto is "Sticks and Stones" can break my bones... and all that, but his bones are put to the test when an angry mob turns on him after one of Paul's conquests jumps from a high-rise ledge. His comeuppance is both ironic and lame.

 Astonishing #15

"The Hole in the Wall" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"The Skeleton" (a: Sy Grudko) 
"Grounds for Death!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
"The Face in the Glass" (a: Jack Abel & Bill Benulis) 
"The Man Who Died Twice" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Eric has had enough of his wife cheating on him while he's out on the road selling refrigerators, so he digs a hole in the cellar, stocks the shelter with enough food to last two years, and locks her in. Then comes an important trip to South America (ostensibly to sell some more refrigerators?) and, wouldn't ya know it, the plane goes down in the Amazon. Eric  attempts to hack his way through the dense jungle but it takes him two years (!) to make it out and get a flight back home. Nervously, he opens the cellar, hoping his gorgeous wife is still alive, and gets a big surprise!

Well, I've said it before and I'll doubtless continue to say it throughout this long journey: sometimes the most enjoyable Atlas tales are the ones that make no sense whatsoever. Certainly, "The Hole in the Wall" falls into that category, with its loony plot line of hubby keeping cheating wifey captive in a cellar. I'm not sure what's funnier, the fact that Eric stocks his prison with enough food for two years or the fact that he hasn't been declared dead and can book passage on a plane back home. No, it's probably the final panel, which shows wife Polly transformed (physically) into a mole as a result of her hibernation. Whatever the case, all the little inanities add up to an enjoyable read.

Professor Timmins is looking for a good skeleton for his work at the University and the one in Tomas' window is perfect. But Tomas explains that this particular set of bones belongs to a (or the) devil and exposure to rain water will bring about flesh growth. Timmins is persuasive and he gets "The Skeleton," bringing it back to his lab to experiment on. Very quickly, he comes to realize that Tomas was not a foolhardy old peddler of wives' tales when he pours a little rain water on a finger of the skeleton. He very quickly isolates the finger (which has somehow become separated from the hand without an explanatory panel) from the rest of the skeleton and then heads out for a smoke and some deep thinking. While the egghead is pondering, his lab is ransacked and a group of young hoods steal the skeleton and head out to make mischief. A thunderstorm spells trouble and the youths hightail it, leaving the fast-forming demon to fend for himself. Prof. Timmins takes a taxi back to his lab and discovers, too late, that the hack is the devil, back for his finger.

A very imaginative piece of horror fiction if you don't stop to ask questions. I'll ask them for you. If Tomas didn't want this accursed demon to be free upon the world, why would he display its skeleton in his showroom? What exactly is the experiment that Timmins is conducting on a bare set of bones? Why would a group of JDs destroy a lab and steal only a skeleton? If this skeleton belongs to the one and only devil, does that mean evil has taken a vacation since his flesh rotted away? Is there any doubt that screenwriters Peter Spencely and Jonathon Rumbold read "The Skeleton" when they wee toddlers and wrote the Cushing/Lee vehicle The Creeping Flesh as an homage (right down to the scene where the demon comes back to claim his missing digit)? This is one fun, energetic read.

The boys down at the Cowley Meat Packing Plant are pretty darn happy with their jobs; they're paid fairly, they're treated with respect and, in return, they pack more meat than any of the other work shifts. That all changes when Old Man Cowley hires an "efficiency expert," who comes in and changes everything, treating the boys like dogs. When one of the men is caught with dirty hands, the new boss fires him as an example, but a fight breaks out and the supervisor topples into the meat grinder. "Grounds for Death!" is a fun read but it's got one of those characters who's so villainous it's hard to believe. Both title and story are very EC-inspired but for one difference -- "Grounds" ends with the three friends agreeing they better go tell the boss to throw out the latest batch of meat, whereas the same characters written by Al Feldstein would hide the accident and shrug. Jim Mooney has a lot to do with the success of "Grounds"; when the "expert" lectures the men, each succeeding panel shows his face growing more devilish!

The editors promise that "The Face in the Glass," a short-short about a tough guy who murders a fortune teller and then becomes trapped in a hall of mirrors, is "one of the most Astonishing stories you've ever read" but they lie. Jack Seabrook and I have spent a whole lot of time dealing with the art of Jack Abel while sifting through the DC war titles and his art is no worse nor better at Atlas than it was at the rival company. The finale this issue, "The Man Who Died Twice" suffers from a time-paradox twist that doesn't make much sense and a rushed art job that only adds to the head-scratching.

Mystery Tales #3

"The Vampire Strikes" (a: Russ Heath) 
"...And Puppy Dogs' Tails!" (a: Gene Colan) 
"When Murderers Meet!" 
"Alone With Death" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2

Because his father grew up in Austria and told him of the legends, Herman is the only one in the neighborhood not to scoff at the rumors that a vampire is responsible for a strange series of murders. Herman only wants to be left alone but the gorgeous Wilma has designs on the young butcher and makes no bones about it. When the police begin narrowing their search for the killer, Herman finds his butcher shop within the cordoned-off zone and Wilma at his door, pleading for a safe place to stay. He lets her in and promises they'll be safe in his freezer but, at the last second, Herman turns cad and locks the girl out and laughs at his deception. A rustling behind him in the hanging meat makes him turn to see the approaching vampires, who find Herman's freezer to the perfect place to call home.

Yep, there's a few logic problems here (how could Herman have missed the snoozing blood-suckers on previous visits to his meat locker?) but, overall, I liked "The Vampire Strikes" a whole lot, especially since it avoids the cliched climax where we discover the main protagonist (or his would-be girlfriend) is actually the killer and ends, instead, with an effective Heath vampire attack. One aspect of the story not explored that would have been intriguing is how the vampires came to America in the first place. Was it somehow through Herman's father (who was bitten as a young man)? Russ Heath gives the whole affair a cinematic, very noir-ish look that keeps you turning those pages.

Wendell Brazer speeds to his Uncle Martin's funeral, hoping his name is in the will, only to find the announcement was a trick at the behest, according to his Uncle, of Martin's dog, Fate. Martin insists that Fate has more cunning and intelligence in his tail than his nephew has in his "empty skull," but Wendell is out to prove his loving uncle wrong. Even though a series of murder attempts comes up fruitless, Wendell finally gets his way when Martin dies of a stroke. But the dreams of untold wealth go down the drain when Wendell hears the will calls for him to be taken care of financially only if he cares for Fate until his dying day. Mocked by the townsfolk for this turn of events, Brazer rigs an elaborate scheme to rid himself of the scurvy dog and, at the same time, get what's rightfully coming to him.

"...And Puppy Dogs' Tails" is a very humorous black comedy, highlighted by a howlingly funny climax and the typically atmospheric work of Gene Colan. It's obvious from the get-go that the (unattributed) writer is going for exaggeration when Uncle Martin dishes the 411 on his soul-mate, Fate, and Wendell is more irritated than shocked. Another giggle comes when the local papers and TV news get in on the act of deriding Wendell for his new duties as Fate's butler.

In "When Murderers Meet!," Leon talks his simple-minded roommate into planting a bomb and stealing his boss's money but, unfortunately for Leon, the roommate gets things a bit mixed up. Our final tale this issue, "Alone With Death!," concerns housewife Mary and daughter Anne stuck in their countryside home as a nasty storm rages outside. Husband Frank calls to inform his wife that the roads are out and it'll be a while before he can get home, but Mary flies into a panic when she hears a radio broadcast informing the public that a homicidal maniac has escaped a local asylum. Frank promises he'll get home to protect his wife and daughter but, just then, a crazed lunatic breaks through the living room window and terrorizes Mary and Anne. The frightened pair make their way upstairs and out onto the roof where the loony corners them. Just as he's about to do some damage, the madman is tossed off the roof by the virile Frank, who's just arrived to save the day. Mary faints and when she awakens, she's told by the police that she's a very brave woman, having survived the attack. When she tells them it was Frank that saved the day, they lower their heads and inform Mary that her husband was killed shortly after leaving work! Despite the hokey twist in the climax, "Alone With Death!" is an entertaining change of pace, a thriller rather than a chiller, which reminded me (obviously) of EC's "...And All Through the House!" Jim Mooney's work here is very simple (it's not much more than a few characters in different poses) but it works well enough.

In Two Weeks...
Let's visit The Old Mill!

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