Thursday, October 31, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 46

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 31
November 1952 
Special Halloween Issue!

 Astonishing #19

"Back from the Grave" (a: Fred Kida) 
"A Thousand Years" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"Top Billing" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Roll Call" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2

Professor Gottlieb and his son, Carl, have been on the run from the Soviet government since the professor refused to work on the country's atomic bomb project. Now, the soldiers have found them and they gun down the elderly scientist. Carl manages to get away and hoofs it to the home of Ivan, a dabbler in the Black Arts and a man Carl thought he could trust. Bad judgement call. Carl forces Ivan to cast a spell and bring the Professor "Back from the Grave." While Carl is en route to the cemetery for the reunion with pop, Ivan rats out his fellow Russkie for a handful of rubles. Soldiers gun down young Gottlieb moments before the elder Gottlieb breaks free from his dirt prison. The walking corpse eliminates the soldiers then heads for Moscow, where he assassinates Stalin. You say that's not the way it happened? Stalin died of a hemorrhage in 1953? Prove it! The editors of Astonishing dare you!

By late 1952, it was quite clear who the real boogiemen were, at least to Stan Lee. Casting aside the vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and Misters Hyde that permeated the pages of Atlas horror titles (and those belonging to all the other publishers as well), Stan very slyly took advantage of the hatred and fear (the majority of) Americans had for all things Red. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about Lee's characterizations of the Russkies; they were bloodthirsty, they would stop at nothing to rule the world, they had no loyalty, and they smelled really bad. "Back from the Grave" is neither better nor worse than the dozens of other "vengeful corpse" stories we'll be subjected to on this journey, but its revelation, that Stalin was killed by a zombie, is good for at least a smile.

Timothy Wurnel, eccentric scientist extraordinaire, becomes increasingly paranoid that the world will end and to insure he'll outlive the apocalyose, he creates a machine that throws him into suspended animation for "A Thousand Years." Unfortunately, for Amateur Big Brain Timothy, he awakens to find that cats have taken over the world and, in an ironic (for Timothy, at least) twist, he discovers that it was his machine that granted felines increased intelligence. Really bad. Ed Robbins is a generic Atlas artist but, now and then, he can actually create some moody art. There are two or three panels here that fit that bill but, overall, this is a clunker.

The comedy duo of Sprinkle and Smith is all laughs and smiles on stage but backstage it's a different story. Smith, tired of being second banana (and feeling as though he's the funniest of the pair) continually nags his partner to give the title a bit of a reboot. But Sprinkle isn't buying it, so Smith has only one avenue open and that's murder. One night, after their latest performance, Smith conks Sprinkle on the noggin and lights fire to the dressing room. Alas, the door jams and Smith joins his partner in death. At the funeral, his fans mourn the dead duo but take a shine to the headstone: "Here lie the remains of Sprinkle and Smith!" A very funny short-short with a wry final panel, "Top Billing" tears away the facade of the happy comedy duo (think, oh I don't know, Abbott and Costello and Martin and Lewis) and reveals just how much ego it takes to run a successful act. Again, I love Maneely's stuff but why couldn't Stan put him on something lengthier?

John Masters is enjoying a fight on TV when the electricity goes out. When it comes back on, the TV calls out three names, including his own and two people who live up the street. Intrigued, he wanders down to the houses of the first two people called and finds them both dead. Startled, he heads home where he finds his wife discussing her dead husband with the family doctor. John realizes the list he of names he heard was a "Roll Call" for Death! Deadline Doom Alert! This could be one of the oldest plots in horror fiction and the back of our uncredited writer was obviously up against a wall. Even Bernie Krigstein's work is weak here, filled with talking heads and sketchy profiles.

 Strange Tales #12

"Love Story" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Corpse" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Warning!" ★1/2
"The Dumb Slob" (a: George Tuska) 
"Graveyard at Midnight!" (a: Bill Everett) 

Rejected all his life for his homely face, Professor Phil Kassel labors over a hot beaker, perfecting his love potion, hoping he'll become the richest and most loved man in the world. Things take an unexpected turn when his guinea pigs drink up all the formula. "Love Story" is weighed down by a really, really dumb script (starring yet another independently wealthy schmuck/scientist), and below-average DiPreta graphics. "The Corpse" just might be worse! Ape is a no-good down-and-dirty murderer but the cops are after him for a jewelry heist he didn't commit so he needs to get back to Dolly's place pronto so she can tell the cops they were together during the robbery. On the way, Ape runs over a shadowy figure but doesn't have time to check on the victim. When he gets to Dolly's, the cops are waiting for him. Ape's dame won't be alibiing him anytime soon. She's the one the big Ape ran over! Ugh.

 Poor slow-witted Rufus signs on as a hand on the "Emmy Lou." It's fast apparent to his deckmates that Rufus is not all there and they aim to have a little fun with him. They tell Rufus the world is flat and to go up to the crow's nest to keep a lookout for where the sea falls off the earth. Without a word of protest, the man climbs the pole and keeps watch. After a couple days at the top of the ship, Rufus yells down that he sees the end of the earth and that they should turn the ship around. Not done with their joke, the men put Rufus into a boat and send him off to warn other ships. As Rufus steers his rowboat away, he watches as the "Emmy Lou" does indeed fall off the earth! There's not much to "The Dumb Slob," but it made me chuckle and it's got a great final panel. No explanation for what's going on and that makes this little 4-pager that much more fun. In fact, "The Dumb Slob," with its "aw, shucks!" George Tuska art, would have fit well in one of those myriad MAD comic books rip-offs.

"The Warning" is a rare two-pager, not really worth spending much time on. Carl is about to pull a job when his brother, Rocky, interrupts to tell his little bro that he promised their ma he'd look out for the youngster and that the gun has to go. Carl decides to bow to his sibling's wisdom, chucks the weapon down the sewer, and visits Rocky's grave. He was dead the whole time! Character actor Charles Carew loves ot get out his make-up kit, disguise himself, and rob banks. Why does he do this? For kicks. Unfortunately, a couple of witnesses put Carew in the sights of the cops and he has to think fast. He might be a good actor but he's not a good thinker. And this is not a very good story. IT's got plot holes you could drive a hearse through and a five panel expository that will put you to sleep. Not even the great Bill Everett can help this one.

 Adventures into Weird Worlds #12

"Find the Pin and Pick It Up" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
"The Monster!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #1)
"Lost in the Graveyard" 
"Throw Another Coal on the Fire" (a: George Tuska) 
"Missing... One Head" (a: Bill Benulis) 

Professor Smoggs, expert on "Haitian folklore," is a lonely man. One night, a scratching at his door beckons and, upon opening the door, he finds a starving dog. Smoggs takes in the cur, feds him, adopts him, and names him "Haiti." While walking with his new master, Haiti strays into the private property of neighbor, Mr. Briggs, a big-game hunter and man of obviously short temper. Briggs give Haiti both barrels and Smoggs carries the near-dead animal home, swearing vengeance. As Haiti heals, Smoggs takes down his volumes on Voodoo and the Black Arts and gets to work. He calls his neighbor to let him know of the Voodoo doll created in his likeness. Though the big-game hunter cries poppycock, the pain begins immediately.

Briggs questions his East Indian servant, Kali, and discovers that the curse cannot be lifted until the hunter is dead but that the final vengeance may be in the hands of Briggs himself. Kali teaches his master the "art of reincarnation" and, once the final prick comes, Briggs is reincarnated... as Haiti! Not a lot of sense to this one (yes, I know it's a tale of voodoo and reincarnation but...); how could Briggs be reincarnated as a dog that's not dead? And I love how these professors and scientists never seem to have a way of paying for all their research in their big fancy houses. The one saving grace is Tony DiPreta, who continually wins me over with his art of simplicity.

Ingoor, "The Monster" from the Earth's bowels rises with a few of his pals to see how easy it would be to conquer the surface people. After a series of misunderstandings, Ingoor races back to the core of the Earth with his tail between his legs. Invasion averted! A cute little short-short with amusing Winiarski art. "Lost in the Graveyard" is equally silly but not as charming and suffers at the hands of its uncredited artist. Grave-digger Lester Brown is always losing things and his shrew of a wife lets him know how she feels about that with the back of her hand. His spirit buddies urge him to kill her by teaching Lester the art of taking his head off. So he doffs his noggin in order to scare the old bag to death but then he loses his head... literally.

"The Monster"
Comrade Vladimir has as much coal as he needs to keep his room blazing hot but the rest of his tenants, including the Yorskys, are freezing. When the tenants band together to complain, Vladimir threatens to report them as enemies of the State but the poor shivering people remind Vladimir that he's the janitor and it's his job to heat the furnace. And he does. You don't need to see the "Stan Lee" signature to know this Commie-loathing tale is by The Man; his Russkie-baiting bled over from his Captain America scripting. It's not a bad little stoiry though, and it's got a hilarious punchline. Those trademark Tuska "tusks" are out in the open long before he ruined Iron Man and Planet of the Apes.

"Missing... One Head" wraps up a dismal issue of Adventures Into Weird Worlds. A fake swami and his assistant trick a backwoods woman into giving them her money. They throw the old woman down a well but then the swami has to deal with the woman's husband later. The gimmick (the swami cuts the heads of chickens and watches them run around his seance room, "contacting spirits") is clever but the pay-off is a bit confusing and rushed.

 Spellbound #9

"The Vampire and the Lady!" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2
"The Morgue!" 
"The Death of Agatha Slurl!" 
(a: Edward Goldfarb & Bob Baer) ★1/2
"The Millionaire!" 
"At Your Service!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

Rising from his coffin (strangely situated above ground in the middle of the local cemetery!), a vampire flies off into the night to seek sustenance but his attempts are foiled until he sees a ravishing young woman through closed curtains in an apartment building. The vampire bat crashes through the window and feeds but, too late, discovers the woman is merely a store mannikin. Russ Heath's strong art makes "The Vampire and the Lady!" gorgeous to look at but don't read the print as it doesn't make a lot of sense. In addition to the blood-sucker's odd sleeping arrangements, there's the matter of a well-lit dummy in what clearly appears to be a residential home. I do like the fact that Stan tells the entire story in first-person (but, oddly, shifts to third in the final panel) and that Heath's vampire remains a (very large) bat throughout. At this p[oint in his career, Russ was also contributing heavily to the Atlas war and western comics (two particular genres I intent to delve into at some time), which forced the artist to cut back a bit on his horror contributions. Bummer.

The latest in above-ground living
for today's with-it vampire

"The Morgue!" is a forgettable bit of nonsense about an elderly couple who have scrimped and saved all their lives in order to afford their first telephone. The wife has constantly promised her husband that, once they get their phone, she'll be the first to call the house. Oh, and I almost forgot, the only other building in town that has a phone is "The Morgue!" Yep, you guessed it! Martha dies and calls hubby, somehow, while she's lying on a slab. Both script and art (GCD questions whether Mike Sekowsky is responsible and it sure looks like his work to me) are yawn-inducing.

Any suspense as to the real identity of the narrator of "The Death of Agatha Slurl!" (kept hidden in shadows) is given away in the first caption. Agatha Slurl has been treating our narrator "like a dog!" for far too long now and it's got to stop. Four pages that could have been given over to some nice house-ads or something more useful. Next up is "The Millionaire!," the story of Spencer Van Lucre (oh, how punny... my sides are hurting!), a man who doesn't trust banks and hires Cogwheel Collins, the world's "most famous engineer," to build an uncrackable safe. Job done, Lucre stashes all his valuables in the massive fort and then realizes he's locked his keys in the safe.

I'll give our uncredited scripter a couple points for the funny twist but points definitely have to be deducted for the perfunctory art, doodles that tried my inexhaustible patience. Since the perpetrator is not credited, I refer to the GCD (as always), which suggests it might be George Roussos. My second favorite part of writing this blog is research (the first is finding diamonds amongst the doo-doo) and my quick internet search on Roussos reveals that he and Mike Sekowsky actually teamed up to pump out (and, trust me, it looks like it was pumped out... nudge, nudge) art on DC's The Atom #38 (September 1968), with scripting by... wait for it... Frank Robbins! Sounds like a night in, with a six-pack, and Atom #38 to me!

Last up in this very average issue of Spellbound is "At Your Service!" Mrs. Cotsworth is not easy to work for, replacing servants like some people replace air filters. She warns the temp agency that if they don't deliver this time, she'll find a company that can. Delivered quite quickly is a matronly woman who is all business and not much in the way of personality. At first, the woman's cleaning skills, her way around a one-minute egg, and her hair-care talents bedazzle, but the continual "Yes, ma'am... yes, ma'am" begin to fray Mrs. Cotsworth's nerves. When her overbearing mistress confesses she misses her husband (lost in a divorce) and wishes she were dead, the new servant takes that as yet another command. The last panels, where the maid strangles Cotworth and admits to being a zombie, ruin the tension built up previously in order to deliver a lame "shock" ending. The admission, out of the blue, is accompanied by the sudden ashen look of her face, even though her skin looked just fine before. The Sinnott art, however, is just fine (it sure looks like Russ Heath had a hand in this as well), so it's really not that bad of a tale.

 Suspense #24

"Horror Story" (a: George Tuska) ★1/2
"Back from the Dead!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"The Striped Suit!" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"Boiling Point" (a: Carmine Infantino) 

The best story this issue, "Boiling Point," is a slow-burn with a dynamite pay-off, but you have to wade through three fairly wretched terror tales before you get to it. Egotistical Broadway has-been Roland Lester has been taking advantage of the kindness and pocket book of his lovely co-star, May Jones (who we first meet dressed as a wicked witch). May believes that Roland's star will shine brightly again some day and she's merely funding the comeback. Quite by accident, May discovers that Roland is not only sapping her funds but he's also stepping out with another dame! The next day, back on the set, May decides to change the script a bit and drops her beau into a bubbling cauldron. Well, yes, sure there shouldn't be a real bubbling cauldron on the stage but please don't interrupt.

I found "Boiling Point" to be a sheer delight despite its cliched main character; I guess maybe because Stan's climax is just so grim.  May seems to have slipped off the edge of sanity as she's pretty darn calm, talking to her director about lunch after boiling her boyfriend alive. I continue to love love love Carmine Infantino's work; it's so unique from the other artists in the Atlas bullpen (I've probably already likened Carmine's penciling to that of Bernie Krigstein) that I find it a shame his contributions to the horror titles were few and far between.

Pulp writer Myron Morgan is sick and tired of rejection slips so, realizing his work needs more "realism," he murders his best friend, Harry, and then writes about it. His editor at Horror Happenings magazine goes crazy over it and so does the public. A paperback house publishes a version of the story and that leads to Hollywood. Morgan is a certified star but now his editor says the rage is ghost stories so he hits the streets for inspiration. His trek leads him to Madame Tania, a medium who raises a spirit from the beyond who's more than willing to tutor Morgan on the pros and cons of "the other side." Unfortunately for the not-so-bright scribe, the ghost he's brought back is his old pal, Harry, who's still (justifiably) angry at Morgan for putting him in the ground. Ghosts with buck teeth! The mind boggles! It's not one of the most imaginative ghost stories and the reveal is pretty lame but at least we're still in manageable Tuska territory and the visuals are not half-bad.

Joe Maneely's art (left) is the only aspect of "Back From the Dead" worth mentioning; certainly its slim plot (mean-hearted DA dies and goes to hell, but is given a Get Out of Jail Free card from Satan if he can locate one person on Earth who misses him) stretched out over six pages is best forgotten. We finally get that lengthier Maneely contribution I've been whining about and, aside form a handful of panels, it's stock full of talking heads. Arrrgh! "The Striped Suit" is no better. A padded melodrama about a murderer whose wife sells the suit he was wearing when he committed the sin and he has exactly six pages to get it back before the curtain falls on him. And on this issue.

 Mystery Tales #5

"Blackout at Midnight!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Hand is Quicker" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"The Mind Reader!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Enemies" (a: Sy Barry) 
"Beware of the Beggar!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 

There's not a heck of a lot to talk about when it comes to Mystery Tales #5, which holds the distinction of being the worst single issue of the 159 Atlas comic books I've read so far. Usually, when the scripts are bad, at least the art department will come through, but in this case everyone was asleep at their respective desks. Be it vengeful corpses ("Blackout at Midnight"), heartless con-men ("The Hand is Quicker"), dopey gangsters ("The Enemies"), social prigs ("Beware of the Beggar"), or the "he was dead the entire story" reveal ("The Mind Reader!"), no cliche is left unturned and, seemingly, no professional artist was paid. What accounts for the general laziness this time out? Who knows, but let's hope Stan spreads the wealth and doesn't make Mystery Tales the dumping grounds for sub-par thrills and chills.

A Fred Wertham prototype sharpens his tools.

Mystic #14

"Hiding Place" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Marvel Feature #10)
"They Can't Catch Charlie!"(a: Mannie Banks) ★1/2
"The Corpse and I" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"The Reluctant Ghost!"
 (a: Edwin Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
"Guillotine!" (a: Larry Woromay) 

In the opener, "Hiding Place," Joe’s been in prison for twenty years but, as soon as he gets out, he’s looking up old partner Mike to interest him in robbing a fancy apartment. They get in the joint but then the security guard hears them and enters the apartment. Joe ducks into what he thinks is a closet, not knowing about one of the new conveniences of home… the furnace! Wickedly funny climax to Joe's life of crime.

“They Can’t Catch Charlie!” is a weak SF tale about a crazed inventor who plans to use his time machine to get away with murder but doesn’t count on all the intricacies of time travel. The twist is not that bad but Mannie Banks' visuals definitely make for dismal viewing. In “The Corpse and I," yet another perfect murder goes awry when professional killer, Joe Nelson, impersonates a cop to lure his target out of the house. He handcuffs the stooge to himself and then ventilates the sucker but loses the cuffs key! Talk about giving away the twist in the title! Slightly better, at least in the script department, is “The Reluctant Ghost!” A sly businessman hits on the perfect moneymaking scheme: he’s going to buy a haunted house and then rent the rooms out to students from the nearby college. After a few months, the kids will be so scared out of their wits, they’ll break the lease and pay the penalty. But what happens when the ghost won’t cooperate? Pretty silly stuff here but entertaining.

French Mobster Henri Blanchard is being black-mailed by a man who seems to know everything about his criminal activities. The man wants five million francs or he’ll go to the local gendarmes. Knowing the next destination will be the guillotine if the cops get the info, Henri agrees but then double-crosses his extorter by planting an explosive in the hush money bag. Since the only person alive to know Henri’s secret is his lady friend, Kiki, the remorseless killer heads to her apartment, where he beats her to death. Fleeing the murder scene, Blanchard opens the elevator to find an empty shaft. Pushed behind by Kiki’s ghost, Henri watches in horror as the elevator fall from the top floor, beheading him. No escape from the guillotine for this bad guy! While we’ve seen that climax a few times before (or, to be fair, maybe we saw it after), there are enough nice little twists and artistic touches (the splash, for one) to elevate this above just about anything we’ve seen in Mystic so far.

Next Issue...
The triumphant return of
Basil Wolverton!

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