Thursday, November 14, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 47

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 32
December 1952 Part I

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #13

"The Vampire Maker!" (a: Carmine Infantino) 
(r: Uncanny Tales #4)
"You Devil, You!" (a: Don Rico) 
"I Died Tomorrow" (a: Don Perlin & Abe Simon) ★1/2
"Where Dead Men Walk!" (a: Jerry Robinson) ★1/2

In a creaky old Hungarian castle, Dr. Gottfried awaits the lightning to give life to his greatest creation: the Vampire-Monster! But down in the village, a mob has gathered and is heading up the hill to destroy the mad doctor and his ghoulish creation. Luckily, the Doc has friends that can come to his aid; an army of vampire batmen delay the advance of the torch-bearing peasants long enough for the scientist to finish his work. The mob is more resourceful than expected and they defeat the batmen, smashing down the lab door just as Gottfried is about to throw the switch. A score of bullets riddle his body but the Doc manages to activate the machinery and the Vampire-Monster comes to life just as his creator dies at his feet. The frightened crowd flees as Gottfried's assistant holds the dead scientist's body and sighs that the peasants had no idea what they were doing. Gottfried had created a new species of creature, one who seeks out and destroys vampires!

"The Vampire Maker" is deliriously goofy fun but, if you stop and think about it, doesn't make much sense. Why would the vampire batmen safeguard the Doctor's castle ("...allies who want to see that his experiment is successfully completed...") if the nutty professor was creating a creature that would hunt them down and eradicate their kind? Infantino's vampires are hideous, creepy creatures with big tusks and bulging eyes; perfect for the atmosphere of this nutty little fable.

Satan tires of his overbearing wife and decides, with the help of a mask maker, to hunt for a gentler wife up-top. Things go well quickly and Lucifer falls for the gorgeous Wilma but when he pops the question she admits she's already married. Yep, she's Mrs. Satan, in disguise, on Earth to drag her simpering wimp of a hubby right back to Hell. "You Devil, You!" is an amusing change of pace with some really nice art from Don Rico. After contributing dynamite graphics for the Atlas titles, Rico became a novelist in the 1960s and created the three-book spy series, The Man From Pansy. As the title might indicate, Rico's hook was that Buzz Cardigan, his Pansy spy, was gay. Rico also penned several gothic and soft-porn novels for Lancer, including The Prisoner and The Girls of Sunset.

Jerry Robinson
"I Died Tomorrow" is another stale time-travel rip from EC, starring a greedy scientist who wants to rule the world with his recently-created time machine, but manages to visit the wrong era and ends up dinner for some Wolverton-esque monsters. In the finale, Stan Lee's "Where Dead Men Walk!," a college professor discovers a map to the lost city of Mu and, in the great tradition of all Atlas professors, decides the discovery will lead to great wealth and fame. The Professor enters the fabled city, located in a tunnel miles below the sea, and discovers that Mu is just another word for Hell! Stan's script is no great shakes (it's evident where this guy is going as soon as his true colors are revealed) but Jerry Robinson's detailed art is fantastic and some of Stan's dialogue is pretty funny:

Professor (at the door to Mu, facing the guardian of the city): Let me in or I'll blow your brains out!

Guardian: Well, you seem rather desperate about visiting our land!

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #14

"The Lighthouse Guest" (a: George Tuska) 
"One of Our Graveyards is Missing!" 
(a: Basil Wolverton) 
"One Little Mistake"
"The Scarecrow" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
"The Spy" (a: Louis Zansky) ★1/2

A bank robber rows out to a secluded lighthouse, murders the keeper, and settles down to wait out the heat. Unfortunately, the killer gets a visit from the keeper's ghost, who informs him that he'll never leave the lighthouse alive. A nice splash, but the rest of the Tuska art is confined to talking heads and Stan Lee's "twist" at the climax (after spending years in the lighthouse, the killer is visited by a man who looks suspiciously like a younger version of himself) is murky. Still, "The Lighthouse Guest" is not a bad way to waste a few minutes.

Grave-digger Jeb goes off to have a beer and comes back to discover the entire graveyard has disappeared, leaving only a huge hole in the ground! The only clue is that there was a strange man with a scar on his face standing near the graveyard when Jeb went off for his liquid lunch. The stranger is found and brought to the police department, where he confesses he's a scout from Saturn and his scientists back home have stolen the graveyard to experiment on human bodies. The authorities demand the return of the resting place of their departed and promise anything in return. The Saturnian brings the entire cemetery back to Earth but at a price. "One of Our Graveyard is Missing!" is totally wonk and devoid of anything resembling reality but how can you not love something so out there? Incredibly enough, the daft script was written by none other than Daniel Keyes, who would write several "Confessions" stories for EC a few years later, and then go on to fame and fortune as the author of Flowers for Algernon (1959). This was the first of two Wolverton/Keyes team-ups for JIUW (the second arrives in the following issue and is equally goofy).

Franz is up to his eyes in gambling debt and the loan sharks are about to take their pay out of his flesh if he can't scrape together the 20Gs. Luckily, Franz's millionaire pop is on his death bead but, unluckily, brother Emil is in line for the inheritance. Franz suggests a nice hiking trip up a steep mountain and Emil happily agrees. When they get to the top, Franz shoves his brother over the side but, too late, remembers that they're tied together with a climbing rope! It's another variation on one of those overused warhorses but the uncredited writer puts a nice twist in the tale.

Elderly farmers, the Wilkens, are about to be foreclosed on by the heartless Mr. Droone but they've got a guardian angel in "The Scarecrow" which has magically sprung up in their cornfield. Many people will argue that clowns are the creepiest figures in horror literature but I'm firmly on the side of those who avow to the chilling powers of the scarecrow. We never even see the face of the titular bodyguard (Bill Everett wisely keeps him in shadow), but those panels that show him on his post in the field work their wonder just as well. "The Spy" is more red-baiting nonsense designed to show us American toddlers just how stupid and brutal the Soviets are.

 Adventures Into Terror #13

"Don't Try to Outsmart the Devil!" 
(a: Carmine Infantino)
(r: Vampire Tales #3)
"The Visitor" (a: George Roussos) 
(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)
"The Hands of Death" (a: Don Perlin & Abe Simon) 
(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)
"The Man Who Talked to Rats" (a: Manny Stallman) 
(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)

Four sub-par tales this issue, with the opener being the only one with anything to recommend it. Carmine Infantino continues to impress me with his fabulous art (it's time to welcome Infantino into the "favored-artist" club, whose members include Heath, Sinnott, Wolverton, and Everett); it's atmospheric and noir-ish when it needs be and quiet and detailed at other times. The (rare 8-page) script is the same ol'-same ol' about a greedy old miser who loves gold so much he wants to live forever just to enjoy his riches. The devil grants the wicked old man's request that "his heart never stop beating" and you can guess the rest from there. Moral: "Don't Try to Outsmart the Devil!"

"The Visitor" is a meandering snoozer about a mist that or may not be a supernatural entity trying to keep its presence known to Earthlings. Only one man knows what's really going on but he's about to crack from the strain and no one will believe his crazy stories. Well, actually no one will have time to hear his stories anyway since the poor slob isn't introduced until the penultimate page. The mist just drifts around terrifying civilians for the first three pages. I like the work the Perlin/Simon team was pumping out and "The Hands of Death" is no exception. Couldn't stand Perlin's solo work in the 1970s but Abe Simon seems to have muted Perlin's bad habits when he was around. The splash, for instance, is quite effective (and looks quite different from most of the Atlas intros), maybe due to a lack of captions and a grim, violent scene. But the story is deadly dumb; a female reporter breaks down on a remote country lane and must take shelter in a creepy manor owned by a man disguised as a woman. Is this the infamous strangler the reporter was sent to do a piece on? No, but the real identity of the man and his inane expository will leave you cackling. Finally, and worst of all, is "The Man Who Talked to Rats," about a man who can control a horde of man-eating rats. The only interesting aspect of this tale (which meanders in the same way as "The Visitor") is that it predates the similarly-themed Ratman's Notebooks by more than a decade.

Adventures Into Terror #14 (Winter 1952)

"The Little People" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Beware #6)
"The Hands" (a: Gene Colan) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #4)
"Hex" (a: George Tuska) ★1/2
(r: Beware #6)
"They're Driving Me Crazy!" 
(a: Dick Ayers and Ernie Bache)
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #28)

The Little family, the #1 act at the Bushman Brothers Circus, live in constant fear of their boss, the circus barker, a sadistic tyrant who beats and mistreats the family at the slightest provocation. But it was the barker that saved "The Little People" from prosecution when the cops broke in on Lon while he was attempting to operate on the Growth Glands of one of his siblings. But the barker goes too far one night when he cancels movie night and forces the Littles to rehearse their act. Tim Little heads off after the barker with his slingshot but, after a nasty altercation, ends dead from a broken neck. That's the camel that broke the straw's back as far as Lon Little is concerned; he dopes the barker and does a little circus surgery while he's out. The next day, the barker is... a real barker!

Here's a real nasty, sick gem with a Tod Browning's Freaks-inspired climax and some truly creepy DiPreat graphics. We've seen violent and twisted strips in the Atlas titles but "The Little People" has a genuine mean streak to it that I absolutely loved. And who'da thunk it was penned by Stan, who clearly has his tongue firmly in cheek with scenes like the Little family bust and ensuing courtroom panels.

Gary is born with claws instead of hands. Obviously, he feels as if he stands out in a crowd and all the poor guy wants is to be normal. All his friends at the "Men with Claws" club he frequents tell him to use be patient, change will come on his 25th birthday but Gary just can't wait. He sees a plastic surgeon who tells him that, for two grand, Gary can have normal hands. Not having the dough, the brash young man does what any brash young Atlas man would do: robbery and murder. New hands sewn on, Gary shows up at the "Men with Claws" function on the night of his 25th birthday to show off his fancy appendages. Unfortunately, at the stroke of midnight, Gary learns that his friends were right and he should have just waited a couple days longer. Now he's the only man-sized cockroach with human hands.

Gene Colan does his best not to spray coffee on his drawing board as the punch line is delivered but it must have been very hard for "gentleman" Gene to swallow his pride and pump out that final panel after delivering an otherwise flawlessly-noir art masterpiece. It's hard not to giggle though. And what kind of friends does Gary have? Can't these dopes just spit out what's going to happen to him on his birthday rather than hint around with mysterious "You'll be sorry, Gary" or "Just wait a little longer and your prayers will be answered" lines? I'd be interested in finding out how Gary ran across the "Men with Claws" club in the first place. Ad in the New York Times: "Got claws?" Unfortunately, the scan of AIT #14 I have is a patchwork of the reprinting and "The Claws" was reprinted in black and white in Monsters Unleashed. Fortunately, I think this might have been the ideal way to view this Colan art, without the distraction of color.

"Hex!" falls back on the "sadistic plantation foreman" plot but George Tuska does a nice job of spicing it up (something I'm not used to saying) and there's an effective twist in the tail. Alas, the same cannot be said of the final tale, "They're Driving Me Crazy!," about a scientist who makes a breakthrough in creating synthetic life. The egghead leaves his lab and discovers no one knows who he is as if his very existence has been erased. In the end, the professor discovers that man is ruled by beings in a shadow dimension who decide what will be and what will not be. Our poor schlub big brain has overstepped his boundaries and now will walk the Earth as "Anonymous." There's the germ of a very interesting hook in there somewhere but you can't help but wonder why the "rulers" don't just kill the scientist and avoid all the confusion and hassle. The full-page expository at the finale doesn't help either.

Marvel Tales #110

"The Empty Bus!" (a: Syd Shores)  ★1/2
(r: Dead of Night #9)
"Harry's Hobby!"  
"Foolproof!" (a: Russ Heath)  
(r: Strange Tales #174)
"Peter and the Puppet!" (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel)  
(r: Uncanny Tales #9)
"A Coffin for Carlos!" (a: Don Perlin & Abe Simon)  ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #18)

On his way to rub out a runaway wise guy, mobster Big Nick sits on an otherwise empty bus next to an old man who warns Nick to change his plans. The old man tells of a man he met on a previous journey who exited the bus to kill someone and was shot himself. Nick tells the old goat to shuddup and gets out at his station as planned.Of course, the twist is that the old man was foretelling Big Nick's future. At least, I think that's what was going on.

"The Empty Bus"
The plot is not entirely original (and variations would continue on down through the years), but it's not really the story that draws us into "The Empty Bus!" It's Syd Shores atmospheric art. You can almost feel the rain at the bus station. Shores might not have been the most stylish of artists but he was dependable (and would become an even more dependable inker for Marvel in the 1960s). The colorist looks like he/she was having a ball as well, with some wild choices for shading and color.

The rest of the far this issue is dismal stuff. "Harry's Hobby" sees henpecked Henry finding solace in crafting ships in bottles. Obese wife Stella can't abide by Harry having a good time so she destroys his collection and then becomes part of the collection when Harry snaps in an all too predictable (and impossibly stupid) finale. A landlord has a "Foolproof" way of making a profit off one of his buildings: by burning it to the ground. His "Fooolproof" plan (start the fire on the ground floor, race upstairs as an alibi, and call the fire department) runs into a bit of a problem after the blaze chases him up the stairs and he relaizes he has no change for the pay phone. A cute punch line and some nice (if undemanding) graphics by the Master.

"Peter and the Puppet" is the wooden (pardon the pun!) tale of a ventriloquist and his real-live talking dummy, Oscar. The two dopes fall in love with the same girl, but Peter decides she's for him and burns the puppet to cinders. Turns out the girl was a puppet too and had the hots for Oscar. Groooooan. Last up is "A Coffin for Carlos!," about a death-row inmate who's given a pill (by a grotesque one-eyed hunchback in a Fedora!) that will make him appear dead before his execution. The idea is he'll be dug up at the cemetery by his co-conspirator. As usual the plan goes wrong and the comatose Carlos ends up on the dissection table. Smells like some stale EC leftovers to me.

Journey Into Mystery #4

"The Bewitched Bike!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #8)
"Death Waits Within!" (a: Carl Hubbell) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #8)
"The Locked Door! (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"I'm Drowning!" (a: George Roussos) 
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #25)
"Hiding Place" (a: John Romita) 

Bookie Spider kills bike shop owner and steals the loot and the titular bike, which turns out was made in 1992. Turns out the shop owner was traveling to the future, where he made his fortune. Spider tries it after a bank robbery and lands in the future only to find the bike guy is wanted for bank robbery. Nice twist climax and some snazzy DiPreta graphics.

In "Death Waits Within!," the Kumels seem such a nice old couple but they’re actually murdering the tenants of their BnB and sending the money to their son (who left home twenty years before) in America. Unfortunately for the murderous old birds, their latest victim turns out to be that long-gone son, who had popped 'round to surprise his folks!  Next up is "The Locked Door!," wherein a wanted murderer stops at an inn to rent a room. He gets his room but there’s a mysterious locked door that’s driving him nuts. The cops arrive and send the landlord up to get his new tenant. The guy strangles the old man and grabs the key to the door, opens it and reveals a brick wall behind it.

In the poorly-illustrated "I’m Drowning," a really dumb prisoner takes advantage of a nearing flood to dig his way out of his cell only to find the flooding worse underground. He decides to stick his finger in the leak a la a dyke and discovers too late that it’s a light socket! They didn’t make prison cells very good in those days. The final story in this very weak issue of Journey Into Mystery is "Hiding Place."  George really hates his brother, Harold, for always bringing snakes and spiders into the house. He vows he’ll find the place Harold hides his critters but doesn’t find it until he murders his brother. The hiding place was his own bed. Hmmm… quick funeral that, and the guy didn’t sleep in his own bed between the time he murdered his brother and the time he discovered his bed was the hiding place? Looks like John Romita was given only a couple hours to rush this one out. Uncharacteristic weak visuals from the master.

In just two weeks...
You'll learn the secret of
Men With Fangs!


Grant said...

Even though I agree about those countless Cold War stories, for that same reason I can't help being curious about the plot of "The Spy."

I can't help disagreeing about "They're Driving Me Crazy," partly because it has such a "conspiracy story" feeling to it in general, but especially when the scientist is told who's REALLY behind things like all the wars. Maybe I'm wrong, but an idea like that seems really out of left field in one of these stories.

Peter Enfantino said...


Sometimes it's hard to remember that these things came out on a monthly basis and I'm cramming them all into a 12-month reading-period. For that reason, the endless jabs at the bloodthirsty Soviets by Stan has me exasperated by the second page of each tale. For that reason, sometimes my synopsis come up a bit short (or in the case of "The Spy," non-existent) but if I'm bored, I feel my overview will put the three of you to sleep! As for "They're Driving...," I can claim the same dislike for the expository, a lame trap that the Atlas writers managed to avoid most of the time. Holy cow, you should read some of the Ace titles (Baffling Mysteries, in particular), where the final panel has the main character explaining all the stuff that just happened off-panel! I should have more patience, I know.

Jeremy Roby said...

Every page of "The Vampire Maker" is solid gold! It's short on plot but heavy on atmosphere and one of he most visually memorable stories I've read. I found that the sequel, while it rehashs the same basic plot, doesn't have the same frenetic energy.