Thursday, September 19, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 43

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 28
September 1952 Part II

 Strange Tales #10

"The Boy Who Was Afraid" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Monster's Son" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Frightful Feet!" (a: Bill Benulis) ★1/2
"The Hidden Head" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"Keep Out" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★1/2

Terry just wants to stay in all day and read but his "All-American football player" father has other ideas. When dad tries to drag Terry out the door, the pre-teen explains that he can't go outside because something terrible will happen if he steps on the sidewalk cracks. Pop thinks his son is a loon so he carts him off to a psychiatrist. An intense session gets the doc nowhere and, very soon, he's agreeing with the overbearing father that "shock therapy" might be in order, so they drag Terry out the door and onto the sidewalk. Evidently, Terry was right because the second his foot hits a crack, the three of them fall into an abyss and are never seen again. "The Boy Who Was Afraid" is a weird little shocker with great Krigstein art and a climax that punishes the innocent as well as the guilty. Sometimes ambiguity can really wreck these fifties horror stories but at times, as here, it can add to the enjoyment.

"The Monster's Son" lets us in on the heretofore-unknown secret that the Frankenstein Monster was a brilliant scientist as well and created himself a son. Why he did this is anyone's guess. The first wife was a nag and he decided not to give it another shot? So the Monster creates a life-like mask for his son and then releases him into the world. Our narrator travels to Castle Frankenstein to investigate this strange tale, stumbles on the monster who's still alive, and falls to his death while trying to escape. Of course, in the climax, the monster unmasks the man to show us our narrator was his son the whole time. Yep, it's an outlandish outcome (so this poor dope never recognized the fact that he was wearing a mask?), but the premise is outlandish as well, so I give the uncredited writer some extra points for trying something different.

In "The Frightful Feet!," Carl hunts rabbits to separate them from their feet until the rabbits begin to recognize the yellow shoes the hunter wears and they hide. Carl goes chasing a stray rabbit one day and falls in a huge rabbit hole. The rabbits gather round the fallen man and somehow separate Carl from his feet and make his feet lucky charms (complete with key chain!).  Again, Bill Benulis comes through with a fabulously funky art job. I can see some poor kid being ruined by the cutey pie bunnies turned carnivore.

As  Germany is burning all around him and his beloved Fuehrer blows his own brains out before his eyes, General Hans Klauber scurries about Berlin, searching for a way to elude capture. Salvation arrives in the form of plastic surgeon Ludwig Fritsch and, after a bit of strong-arming, the doctor agrees to change Klauber's face. After the surgery is complete, the General kills his savior, doffs the bandaging, and heads out into the street, assured he'll make a getaway.

But Ludwig Fritsch has had the last laugh when Klauber is surrounded by Russian troops and his new face is revealed to be that of his former boss, the Wolf. Perhaps that final panel can be seen coming from afar but I liked the violent, almost vicious tone to "The Hidden Head," and its scratchy, almost sleazy artwork by Ed Winiarski (which I'd probably bemoan in other cases) is perfect for that tone. Winiarski's splash, depicting Hitler's suicide (albeit off-panel), is pretty graphic for its day as is Klauber's gunning-down of the plastic surgeon.

Of course, the near-perfect score is blemished with the final story, "Keep Out," a tedious and predictable crime story about mobster Buggsy Kane and his unusual demise. The Ayers/Bache "art" only adds to this amateur-night entry. Forget this one and enjoy the first four-fifths of this strong issue.

Brodsky & Rule
 Spellbound #7

"The Last Body" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Vampire's Bride" 
(a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
"The Dope Eloped!" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
"Don't Close the Door!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Crank!" (a: Joe Maneely) 

Craig, the simple-minded aide of a mad scientist, helps out by digging up fresh bodies for his boss but the big idiot might not be as stupid as the egg-head thinks. Nope, Craig is just biding his time until the boss perfects his formula for eternal life and then he's going to kill him, leaving Craig the only man in the world who will never die. Things go awry when Craig is ordered to find a fresh body for experimenting. While I still have affection for DiPreta's art (think Krigstein-lite), the plot of "The Last Body" is overworked and the final panel surprises no one.

Stan Lee's "The Vampire's Bride," is a funny three-pager about a diva actress whose latest role, that of a vampire's squeeze, makes her the target of affection from a real-life vampire! I'm not a big fan of Dick Ayers or Ernie Bache, but their work here is very Everett-esque and perfect for the material. Joe Hoskins is right taken by the bee-ootiful Emmy Lou, despite the nasty looks and attitude he gets from the girl's aunts. One night, Joe gets it in his fool head that he's gonna steal Emmy Lou from her guardians and they'll run off to a justice of the Peace and get hitched. The simple farmer gets hisself a ladder and creeps up to Emmy Lou's bedroom, stealing the girl through the window and out to his jalopy below. Joe tells the girl to be quiet and they drive away. Emmy Lou's aunts see Joe's taillights disappear from their property and allow how Joe must have come to see Emmy Lou but lost his nerve. Just as well since their niece died in bed the night afore! It's a completely inane finale (the aunts seem pretty calm, one remarking about how much she'd like a cup of tea, all while their kinfolk rots in a bed upstairs and, yeah, don't they usually take dead bodies away, even in backwoods towns?) but the premise is at least interesting and begs answers to just what happens when Joe finds out his love is dead as ten-day-old roadkill. Might not make a difference.

Henri Arnaud, aka "The Fox," is France's most notorious thief and he's got his sights set on an eccentric Count who lives in a hill-top castle with a rumored fortune hidden somewhere in the castle walls. Arnaud ignores the superstitious locals, who warn of thieves who never returned from the fortress of Count de Valois, and makes his way to the top of the hill. When he enters, he discovers a welcoming Count who tells him of a treasure that awaits behind a door that can only be opened with one key. As the Count holds the key aloft, Arnaud caves in his skull and heads for the treasure. When he enters the room, the door shuts and he's locked inside a room with a second door. When he opens that door, it leads into another room with a second door. As "The Fox" discovers he's trapped in a giant maze, the undead Count de Valois watches on approvingly.

"Don't Close the Door" is one of those Atlas horror stories that lulls you to sleep with what appears to be a contrived, formulaic plot, only to throw a couple of nice surprises in the blender and turn it on full speed. It's also adorned with killer Bill Everett handiwork; his de Valois is a leering, bulbous-nosed, sharp-toothed creep in the glorious Everett tradition. The finale is "The Crank!," the humorous tale of grumpy Mr. Grumpett, who constantly berates the janitor in his fancy apartment building. Grumpett gets his comeuppance in the end as most of these rich curmudgeons do. Having Bill Everett and Joe Maneely in one issue is always an excuse for celebration.

 Suspense #22

"The Blood Brothers!" (a: George Roussos) ★1/2
"The Gabby Ghost" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"Hate!" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"Too Late!" (a: Stern) ★1/2
"Each Night I Drown" (a: Vernon Henkel) 
"The Bomb!" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2

Professor Trask has failed nineteen times in the last two years to perfect his serum capable of stimulating the half of the human brain never used (though some might point out to Trask that funny book readers only use a quarter of their brain!) and, thus, increasing the intelligence of the human race. Alas, the experiment is a failure and the formula is fed to Trask's pet razorback, Rufus (!). What Trask doesn't know is that his formula (hereafter dubbed Formula Nineteen) does actually work on the brain of a pig and, while Trask and his aide, Jim, are out getting a ham sandwich, Rufus rises from his pit, dons a lab smock, and begins replicating the formula for mass consumption by his brother and sister swine. Trask and Jim return to the lab and are somewhat amazed by the sight of Rufus, standing erect, in full three piece suit, beaker in hoof, but very soon grow used to the idea of a talking pig lecturing them on subjects such as science, world peace, and survival of the fittest.

One of the benefits of Formula Nineteen is that its host can read the minds of those around him and Rufus takes advantage of his new skill to second-guess the human race. When Trask introduces his former pet to his colleagues in the academic world, Rufus becomes Big Pig on Campus and is soon advising the military, while secretly planning the demise of the human race. Jim is onto the dirty swine and poisons Rufus's wine at a big-brain get-together, but not before King Porky has transmitted his message to the pigs of the world: "This is the day, brothers!" The Hog rises and mankind is slaughtered in meat factories or confined to stys. Can Professor Trask find a way to save mankind?

Possibly. But not by the end of this wonky, hallucinogenic camp classic. Where has this story been when all the so-called historians rave about the great pre-code horror classics?  Who, in the name of Ed Wood, conceived and wrote this "alternative classic?" "The Blood Brothers!" has a humorous tone at its core (I mean, it would have to, right?), but it's also got some deadly serious moments (the silhouette of a naked man, hung from a hook and about to be carved into sandwich meat) to remind us this is a horror story not a MAD Magazine parody of Animal Farm.

Rufus (to Trask): I was your pig! Now, I am afraid... you are my man!

The Bailey Family move onto the farmland of nasty miser Kenneth Harkins to the tune of a hundred clams a month! The place is run down but Harkins won't lift a finger or spend a penny to bring the place up to code so the Baileys must make due. On the plus side, the place is haunted by "The Gabby Ghost," a harmless old specter who's doomed to wander the estate until he can trick Harkins into signing the land over to the Baileys (yes, it's more complicated than that but really not worth explaining). The Baileys manage to figure out a secret in Harkins's past that forces him to sign the deed. "The Gabby Ghost" goes to his final resting place and the Baileys have a place to live. A pleasant, comedic little yarn tantamount to one of those 1940s ghost movies starring Hope and Crosby or Abbott & Costello, with violence kept to a minimum.

No one in Halbroek could beat bowling champion Jud Adkins and the braggart never let anyone forget that fact. Jud would brag to anyone listening (and to plenty who weren't) that he could beat anyone at a game of ten-pins. Then, one day, Jud gets two strangers calling at his dumpy apartment, identifying themselves as members of a centuries-old bowling club located in the Catskills (!) and challenging Adkins to a match with their best bowler. Jud immediately agrees and heads up into the hills for the spar. After his pale-faced adversary beats him 300-299, Jud regrets being such a boastful ass since the stakes were... Jud's head! "Strike!" is a really dumb sports/horror story (never a good combination to begin with) has howlingly-bad dialogue ("It isn't your bowling people don't like! It's you!) and equally ho-hum graphics.

A phony lecture delivered to us
by Stan and Co.
Tom Mason has been a bigot since he grew up in the projects, becoming disenchanted with "dirty foreigners" taking the jobs from "real Americans." Mason grows up delivering vicious blows to minorities (even, in one case, murdering a Swedish foreman) and eventually joins the "International Order of Bigots" (no, seriously, the international order!) to spread his hateful deeds and language acropss the country. When Mason is drafted into the Korean War, he orders a "dirty foreigner" to climb out of his foxhole, knowing the GI will be ripped to shreds by incoming fire. Once the man is killed, Mason climbs out and is also shot. A medic approaches the dying Mason and ignores him, explaining that he hates red-heads.

Atlas could just about hold their own with EC in the horror department but one genre the company should have avoided altogether was the "preachie." "Hate!" is the worst kind of "preachie," delivering its half-assed condemnation of hate groups (I'll bet dollars to donuts the decision was made to dub Mason's club "The International Order of Bigots," instead of the KKK because, well, you know, the KKK spend money on funny books too) at the same time its uncredited writer delivers his message that all men are brothers until the day they die with the same wrench Tom Mason uses on his foreman. And the final panel screams "See? Bigotry is a really dumb thing!" in such an inane way we're forced to laugh rather than ponder. One of the worst bits of crap I've read on this journey.

In "Too Late!," two meatheads kidnap a young man and plan to ransom him to his wealthy parents but the kid keeps getting the drop on the two dopes so they finally decide to put him in cement and dump him in the river. They're astonished to see the kid in town the next day until the kid explains he was dead when they kidnapped him! More interesting than the dull, insipid story is the identity of the artist on "Too Late!," who signed his work simply "Stern," and has escaped fame ever since.

Super-genius Albert Cody rows his wife far out into the ocean and then tells her how miserable she makes him and things will change from here on out. Thinking her husband is going to kill her, wifey begs for her life, insisting she'll change, but Cody has something else up his sleeve. The Professor explains that he has has created a potion that will allow him to breathe underwater and study ocean life, his one true love. The suddenly-irritated blonde tells her husband that a ship full of gold sunk to the bottom of the sea in the area years before and that Al shouldn't waste his time with plankton and abalone. Irritation turns to boiling mad when Albert refuses and his wife knocks him upside his head with an oar, killing him.

Downing the magic liquid, she dives in and quickly finds the wreck and its priceless cargo. When she returns to the surface, however, she finds it hard to breathe. Diving down to her husband's body, she reads a note he'd written to his colleagues back at the University, explaining that he had not found an antidote for the serum so he'd be spending the rest of his life swimming with dolphins. Our murderous heroine sighs (or bubbles), sits on a log, and waits for the first undersea Macy's to open. Sidestepping the usual (the protagonist who murders his wife) and delivering a bit of a surprise, "Each Night I Drown" is a fun, very brief romp that's sure to deliver a smile or two. Vern Henkel's art is as about as generic as it comes but there's no denying it's effective in spots (his first few pages have a Joe Sinnott sheen to them as if Sinnott himself steeped in and gave Henkel a hand).

Professor Jason Lucas has been principal of Meadville High for twenty years but the school is falling down around him and his pleas for renovation have fallen on deaf ears. Finally, his bosses deliver the good news: the town council has okayed a new school! But the bad news is they're forcing Jason to retire and are hiring some new snob to run the place (unbeknownst to the Prof, the new kid is trading kisses with Lucas' daughter!) but at least, they reason, Jason's beloved desk will be placed in the new Principal's office. Jason doesn't take the news very well and, instead, hatches an explosive plan of revenge. He plants a time bomb in the desk, set to go off during the commencement ceremony and then heads home to sulk. Unfortunately for the Professor, his bosses reconsider and decide that packing up and leaving Jason's desk at his house will be a nice surprise. It is. And so's the story.

Mystic #12

"The Hooded Horror!" ★1/2
(a: Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry)
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #23)
"Stop the Presses" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #13)
"The Dummy" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"The Man in the Tomb!" (a: Bob Fujitani) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #13)

In "The Hooded Horror," a man in a red hood is terrorizing the city, but he wises up and decides to go big time, so he contacts the local mafia to become their Don. The mobsters pull a double-cross and decide to unmask him but they discover the hood is not a disguise… it’s his real head! Nonsensical but entertaining nonetheless with nice Infantino art.

"Stop the Presses" is a dopey melodrama about a new reporter who's always being picked on by his editor. After a particularly embarrassing dress-down by his boss, the reporter turns in a very timely story on the untimely death of his editor. Even Gene Colan's wildly exaggerated art (the reporter's hairstyle is shifted so far to one side it almost looks as though half of his head has caved in!) can save this one from the dumpsters. Even worse is "The Dummy," about Mark, a department store salesman who uses women and discards them like empty cigarette packages. The salesman makes a big mistake when he talks Susan, a co-worker into stealing expensive jewelry and hiding it in a mannikin. During the getaway, the plastic dummy grabs hold of the heartless dummy and crashes his car. A very confusing script, with several important plot points left on the cutting-room floor (as an example, we're never shown the dialogue between Mark and Susan initiating their entrance into the criminal world -- it just happens), with truly wretched art by Vic Carrabotta.

Colan's "Stop the Presses"
The finale, "The Man in the Tomb," is a laugher. The Knights of Mystery, a super-exclusive men's club has just finished up its latest initiation when the door is kicked in by local mobster, Muggs Vinetti, who tells the boys that his dame is about to dump him if he doesn't join a club with "social prestige" (like the... Knights of Mystery!?). His gat provides all the motivation the men need to welcome in this newbie. But first, Muggs must survive the grueling initiation: surviving a night in a graveyard tomb. Muggs protests that the guys will simply lock him in and throw away the key but the Knights indicate the key on the hook just outside the hole in the door. All Muggs has to do is reach his arm through and grab the key and he's free. The Knights drive away, swearing they'll find a new initiation location just as Muggs loses his cool, reaches through the locked door and drops the key outside the door. The premise is laughable, the art is mediocre, but the twist is a good one (even if it's contrived). What moll ignores all the dough her mobster man makes and sends him out for a social uptick?

In Issue #44
Can someone help this poor soul
find the right Skull?


Jack Seabrook said...

Good work as always, Peter! My favorites this time out are the bunnies and the piggies, but then I'm an animal lover.

Grant said...

"The Dope Eloped" sounds so much like a MILLIE or CHILI comedy title.
(Who would guess it's a very dark comedy about borderline necrophilia?)