Thursday, July 25, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 39

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 24
July 1952 Part II

 Strange Tales #8

"The Old Mill" (a: Gene Colan) 
(r: Vault of Evil #4)
"Fame!" (a:Manny Stallman) ★1/2
(r: Journey Into Mystery #10)
"The Storm" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #3)
"Something in the Fog!" 
(a: Ed Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #10)
"If the Shoe Fits" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #12)

"The Old Mill" is another of the seminal stories that could be tagged as "The Beginning of the EC era at Atlas," as it has a wallop in its climax worthy of a Tale from the Crypt. Our narrator goes to work for the sadistic mill owner, Kurt Braun, who believes in taking a slice of hide for every dollar he pays. Initially willing to put up with the abuse to earn a wage, our man soon finds working for Herr Braun to be more than taxing... it could cost him his life. After Braun catches his worker mislabeling a bag of wheat, a fight ensues and the mill owner is killed. The next day, village men come to pick up sacks of flour and discover one labeled Kurt and one Braun. Our story teller has disappeared. Two milestones here: a gruesome death (albeit one handled off-screen and left to our imagination) and a killer who gets away. No swift justice doled out to the murderer. The mill owner's corpse doesn't rise from the sacks and reassemble to meet his killer on the moors as he escapes. Well, maybe that did happen after our climax. Who knows?

Vance Roamer will do anything to hit it big in show business. The problem is, Vance has no talent and he's constantly reminded of that fact by casting agents and directors. The would-be thespian hits on a grand idea to make people notice: he rents a nice tuxedo, top hat and cane, and performs before the biggest audience he's ever had. Everyone wants him. He's in the spotlight. People reaching out for him. Vance Roamer knows there's only one way to achieve a greater "Fame!" in the end... so he steps off the rooftop. Wow! A Day of the Locust-esque look at the desire for fame and how it can destroy you. A unique Strange Tale, for me, in that the art (not credited but attributed to Manny Stallman) takes a back seat to the searing script. Vance Roamer isn't the usual bad guy that terrible things happen to, he just wants to be an actor. Roamer's final step off into his adoring fans is a lasting image. Not bad for a 4 page comic story.

"The Storm" and "Something in the Fog" are similar in both theme and quality. Miko "The Killer" Arley, the protagonist of "The Storm," is on the lam and desperate for a plane ticket, desperate enough to murder an innocent man for the passage. He regrets the flight, in the end, when it turns out to be piloted by Satan and heading for Hell. In "Something in the Fog," a crew of smugglers is ratted out by an undercover agent and elude capture only after a dangerous chase. Adrift in a soupy fog, they run across an old schooner, board it, and notice the crew are dressed in old-time gear. When they tell the Captain to head out to deep waters and stay away from the mainland, the Captain tells them no problem and shows them the name of the ship: The Flying Dutchman! Finally, in "If The Shoe Fits," a murderer breaks into a cobbler's shop and forces the old proprietor to fashion him a set of shoes to make him appear taller. The old man finishes the shoes and then gets a knife in his side for his trouble. As he lay dying, the cobbler curses the shoes and the sadistic killer comes to rue the day he ever walked into the shop. A skimpy hook to hang a plot on, but Joe Maneely drums up a perfect crime noir look that saves "If the Shoe Fits" from being a complete disaster. The uncredited writer adds a strange angle by having the cobbler narrate the story even after he's been murdered.

Brodsky & Rule
 Spellbound #5

"Blackout at Midnight!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"In the Bag!" (a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
"I Have to Kill!" 
"He Waved to Me" (a: Jack Keller) 
"Room of Shadows" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2

A dabbler in the occult finds he's blacking out between midnight and dawn and waking with evidence of foul deeds. "Blackout at Midnight" is an odd one, a story that makes not one bit of sense but wallows in that fact. The face of our narrator, Michael, is not shown until the fourth page when he awakens from one of his spells and sees his unshaven, haggard face in a mirror. Then the subterfuge resumes until the final page, when we see Michael has, for some reason transformed into a hairy, fanged demon and commits suicide via wooden stake. But why has Michael become this monster? Is it because of his interest in the black arts? Bill Everett does his best to keep us from questioning too many of the plot holes and delivers more fine chills.

Claire marries George for his wealth but, after several months elapse, she's still no closer to the booty. The poor girl decides hubby must keep it in the black bag he carries everywhere he goes so she talks her brother-in-law into stealing the bag. As soon as the bag is in reach, Claire murders her accomplice and opens the bag, only to discover it contains the tools of George's trade. She becomes the next to die under the axe of her husband, Paris's public executioner. "In the Bag" contains a good twist and very nice visuals from Jim Mooney. "I Have to Kill" is a three-page bit of rubbish with sketchy art and a cliched climax; something about a slaughterhouse worker who has bad dreams and wakes to find they might not be dreams after all.

The sole supernatural element of
"He Waved At Me"
Confidence man Andre Masson boards the USS Britannica to travel to America to pay off his partner but a bet aboard the ship is just too good to pass by, so Andre bets his partner's one thousand bucks that the ship will average no more than 9 knots speed during the journey. An initial storm slows the progress to Andrews delight but, soon after, the Britannica is speeding along at 17 knots. Andre must come up with a Plan B very quickly so he has a pretty young lady witness him falling overboard in order to stop the ship. Unfortunately for Andres, the girl is a mental patient and her nurse doesn't believe her story. "He Waved at Me" is an extremely busy little story but none of the elements merge to create something worth reading. The bet aboard the ship, created by the Britannica's Captain (!) is an oddball choice (would a confidence man involve himself in a wager where the Captain himself could alter the results?), but even more head-scratching is the splash, which promises black arts and demons, two elements that are never even hinted at in the story. The art by Jack Keller is a giant step down from that of Everett and Mooney.

What's a girl to do when she's married to John,  a fat, unromantic beast who demands she do the cleaning, the cooking, and the other stuff, but gives nothing in return? Well, if you're Rita, you crave the night and your dreams, which take you to the "Room of Shadows," a place where life is wonderful and filled with roses. Tired of living half a life, Rita talks her neighbor into murdering John and burying him in the basement. Unfortunately, after the dope splits John's heading two with a metal pipe, he gets cold feet and runs from the house. The police arrive and gun down Rita, who goes to a permanent "Room of Shadows." The climax is extremely vague (as Rita is bolting from the house, a newsboy is calling out headlines of the crime she's just committed!) and the art, by Mike Sekowsky, is ugly and amateurish but there are kernels of something imaginative lying in slumber in those first few pages.

 Mystic #10

"Bluebeard" (a: Tony Di Preta) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)
"Death Notice!" (a: Werner Roth) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #7)
"They Called Her a Witch!" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #25)
"The Man Who Saw Tomorrow" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)
"Detour!" (a: Myron Fass) 
(r: Vault of Evil #7)

Murdering stranded travelers has become old hat for "Bluebeard" Bates but it's a very lucrative business. Bates dumps the bodies in his cellar and the local sheriff (obviously a lawman who'll look under every rock for a clue) can't seem to pin the disappearances on old man Bates. There is one drawback to his hobby and that's the ghosts of Bates's victims haunting his shabby shack. But Bluebeard has gotten used to the haunts and that irritates the spirits to no end. They finally get their revenge when Bluebeard kills the wrong traveller and he joins the haunting crew.

"They Called Her a Witch!"
Obit writer Mack Maxon discovers his typewriter has the power of life and death when he writes up a phony "Death Notice" and the event occurs! He puts his new power to to good use when he approaches mafia big-wig Chiller Quade with a deal to off Quade's enemies. Mack soon discovers, like Bluebeard Bates, that the dead can get really pissed off when they're taken advantage of. There's some fabulous Werner Roth here despite the fact it adorns a so-so plot (like most of these Atlas dummies, Mack never seems to see the big picture of his power, settling for chump change instead).

Russ Heath's "They Called Her a Witch!" is only three pages long but it manages to steal the "Best-of-Issue" prize from its big brothers. A young man visits the Hungarian town of Liepzwig and is startled to seethe local children hurtling insults and stones at a gnarled old woman. When prompting a nearby villager, the man is told the old lady is a witch. Attempting to get to the bottom of the superstitious nonsense, he visits the cottage of the old woman to get her side. Bad move. No, there's not enough room for things such as character development (but then you don't usually get that in the longer tales, do you?), but there's a creepy feel to the proceedings and a great whammy in the final panel.

Photographer Philbert Hooten has made a boatload of dough selling his offbeat pictures of graveyards but he desires to branch out into another field of photojournalism: the future. To that end, Philbert creates a camera (by "studying calendars for hours at a time!") and snaps a pic of the world one week hence. Things go pear-shaped when the snap is developed and shows the future as a blank. Joe Sinnott is fast ascending to the ranks of Heath, Colan, and Maneely as Atlas artists who make stories that much better just with their presence. The package ends on a downer with "Detour!," yet another variation on the "traveler who meets up with the personification of death and then takes its place at the climax" story. Yawn.

Suspense #20

"The Beast-Man" (a: Werner Roth) ★1/2
"Stranger in the House!" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
"The Pain in the Neck" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"Furnished Room With Corpse" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
"Fairy Tale!" (a: Edward Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
"The Brute!" 
"The Oath!" (a: Jim Mooney & Bernard Sachs) 
"The Man With No Face" (a: Dick Ayers) 

William Frankenstein, grandson of the infamous monster-maker, has returned to the castle on the hill to follow in his grandpa's footsteps and create life from the dead. Billy is determined not to repeat the mistakes the elder Frankenstein made so, this time, the head of the monster is filled with sane gray matter. The nearby villagers, however, are not taking the latest experiment sitting down and fire up their torches for a march up the hill. Unbeknownst to the angry mob, a little tyke has followed, hoping to get a glimpse of the new monster.

Ceremony complete, the creature rises from the slab just as the mob busts down the door. They shoot Frankenstein dead and thrust their fire sticks into the frightened monster's mug. Heading for the exit, the creature is in the right place at the right time as the snoopy little moppet takes a tumble right into his arms. The villagers, mistaking the creature's intent, rescue the boy and fill the monster full of lead. As the little boy cries that the giant saved his life, the crowd lets out a collective sigh, realizing they've judged a book by its cover. "The Beast-Man," Stan Lee's unauthorized and unimaginative retelling of Universal's Son of Frankenstein (complete with one-armed burgomeister) is as bland as pablum; almost an omen of the innocent shock tales that will befall the industry in just a couple years time. Roth's illustrations are neither exciting nor tedious; they're just there. All that's missing is the hunchback.

Seeing as how it's getting closer to dusk, Alma is anxiously awaiting the arrival of husband, Harry, at their remote cabin. The quiet is interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the porch and a stranger enters the cabin, asking about Harry and warning about the coming full moon. "Werewolves," the man exclaims, and then pulls a knife on the terrified woman. Alma exits the house and hides in the barn but the stranger finds her. Harry comes home and discovers Alma, transformed into a werewolf, standing over the body of the stranger, apologizing to her husband for not waiting before supper. Other than the nice Romita art, "Stranger in the House" is a two-pager stretched out to seven, with multiple panels of Alma wondering where Harry is and the stranger commenting on the approaching dusk, and we know the punchline from the get-go.

Three short-shorts follow and not one of them is worth much comment. "The Pain in the Neck" is a really dopey tale about a man who lives with constant neck pain and visits a doctor who performs an operation to relieve the pain. The operation is successful but when he gets back home, the stress begins again and he hangs himself. At the funeral, his wife tells the funeral director her husband wears aside 15 shirt and the man informs her that hubby had a size 16 neck. Wearing a shirt too small would cause incredible pain. (sound of a very loud groan) Equally bad is "Furnished Room With Corpse," wherein George Greely sets out to commit the "perfect murder" by killing himself and leaving no clues. The finale ball is fumbled but at least we get a second helping of Romita's dazzling visuals. At this point in his career, Romita's style was more akin to Colan than the more polished approach he would drape all over The Amazing Spider-Man in the late 1960s. The farmer of "Fairy Tale" sees his goose lay a golden egg and fills his head with dreams of wealth... until his wife cooks the goose for her husband's birthday.

"Furnished Room with Corpse"
A tad bit of Everett?
Carnival act, Bruto the Beast-Man is, in reality, a Shakespeare-loving softie but his job forces him to act the animal. Then, one day at the circus, a gorgeous redhead approaches the cage and Bruto falls in love. With the help of the circus hypnotist, Bruto casts a spell on the woman (he appears as a very handsome gent in her vision) and a great romance begins but it's not long before she realizes she's actually in love with another man: that freak in the cage back at the circus! GCD doesn't attribute art for "The Brute," but it shows traces of a very sketchy, amateurish Bill Everett (no, I'm not saying it is Everett, but it resembles the style). The twist is amusing and, other than the finale, wherein Bruto loses his cool and strangles his new girl, it's a sensitive little romancer. It's also, sadly, the best story this issue by default.

A murderer knocks on Carl Waugh's door, seeking asylum and asking for a sympathetic ear. Carl hides the man in his air-tight vault, vows to keep him safe from harm, and waits for the approaching mob. "The Oath" is a wordy and predictable slog (when Carl discovers the murdered man was his own brother, he keeps his vow and locks the killer in the vault forever) with some low-grade Jim Mooney art (I suspect inker Bernard Sachs had something to do with the weak visuals since Mooney is usually spot-on).

Surprise! Not!
Lewis Terrence (aka Comrade D-93) joins the Commie movement and works for a mysterious leader nicknamed "The Man," doing little errands and observations but the game escalates when he's asked to commit... murder! "The Man with No Face" is typical 1950s Atlas red-baiting nonsense, with mustachioed, sneering commie bad guys and innocent (but confused) American lemmings and an escalated word count, designed to get its message through loud and clear: the Red Menace is real!
It's also got the cartoony Dick Ayers doodling and a surprise reveal that surprises no one. I didn't live through the 50s and its scary times, so I can only view these paranoid scenarios as a Monday-morning-quarterback but, I gotta say, the familiar plots are a pain to wade through.

In Two Weeks...
More Everett Magic!


Nequam said...

"He Waved At Me" looks to be a rather rough and unauthorized adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Dip in the Pool", which had been published 6 months earlier (and got a much better adaptation a few years later as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents).

Jack Seabrook said...

You're right, and that's a very quick turnaround for plagiarism!