Thursday, December 12, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 49

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 34
January 1953 Part I

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #14

"Horror on Haunted Hill!" (a: Carmine Infantino) 
(r: Beware #4)
"Forever is a Long Time!" (a: Larry Woromay) 
(r: Beware #4)
"A Shriek in the Night" (a: John Tartaglione) 
(r: Beware #4)
"The Man Who Walked on Water!" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
(r: Beware #4)
"The Man Who Steals Gravestones!" (a: Sol Brodsky) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #5)

Gravedigger Wilbur Collins witnesses a spaceship landing and the frightening creature that disembarks. The ship blasts off and the creature tells Wilbur it was convicted of murder on Saturn and has been exiled on Earth. Wilbur must die so that no one will know the alien is here. Not quite dead, Wilbur crawls to a nearby road, where he's found by the sheriff. When prompted, the lawman is told that Wilbur's attacker was an alien. After Wilbur dies, the sheriff searches the area but finally decides the old man was delirious after his attack.

Some time later, gangster "Trigger" Grezno is on the lam from the law and looking for a place to hide. Since Wilbur's murder, no one wants to visit the area where he was attacked (now rechristened "Haunted Hill") and "Trigger" decides that's the best place to hole up. Bad decision. Though the script is a bit rambling (the "Trigger" portion of the plot takes up a total of eight panels), the reveal in "Horror on Haunted Hill" is solid and Carmine continues to get better and better every outing. Several stand-out panels here.

"Forever is a Long Time" is a genie-in-a-bottle story with a humorous bent and decent art by Larry Woromay. John Tartaglione's work, however, continues to be low-rent Dick Briefer, and "A Shriek in the Night" is ultra-silly but mercifully only three pages in length. Jay Scott Pike's art continues to do nothing for me (it's way too close to Dick Ayers's stuff for my tastes) but "The Man Who Walked on Water" has a funny twist in its tail so it's not a complete waste. That would be "The Man Who Steals Gravestones," a gawdawful mess starring a greedy tombstone salesman who recycles his goods and resells them for lots of dough. One of his old customers comes back from the grave to reclaim his property; a reveal we've seen way too many times. Sol Brodsky's art is effective but raw; the main protagonist (shown left) actually looks worse than the vengeful corpse, with his hollow eyes and gaunt features. That cover has to be one of the lamest and tamest we've seen.

 Astonishing #21

"The Different Vampire" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
"The Worm That Turned" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Manhunter!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"The Man Who Went Too Far!" 
(a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel)

The only ray of sunshine in an otherwise remarkably dull issue of Astonishing is "The Manhunter," a quickie about a man accused of murdering his wife and then hounded by a zealous ex-cop named Harry Kelly. The guy's innocent but that won't stop the detective, who's convinced a confession from the would-be killer will earn him a place back on the force, so Kelly berates and harasses the poor man until he finally does commit murder. Carrabotta's visuals are a bit weak but I thought it a refreshing change to spotlight a character that actually might be innocent. Although... we never do see who pulled that trigger.

The rest of the issue is a mess and I won't spend much time breaking it down or I might actually break down. "The Different Vampire" is a would-be cute face about a young vampire who can't stand the taste of human blood. His family and the rest of the colony ostracize him, he moves out on his own, and we finally discover that he's developed a taste for the blood that courses through a vampire's veins. The Ayers/Bache art reflects the attempted humor. "The Worm That Turned" spotlights yet another disgruntled employee who swears revenge on his ex-boss by breeding giant man-eating worms. The dope gets his in the end. The "highpoint" of "The Worm..." is Ed Winiarski's creative vision of giant worms, complete with gaping fanged maws, nostrils, and eyes. The laughs far outweigh the chills.

The final two stories this issue are similarly far-fetched (or should I word that farthest-fetched?) and both written by comic hack Carl Wessler (who, to be fair, has written far better than these twin titans of tedium. Matt Hawks, "The Man Who Went Too Far!," is the cliched foreman at a rocket manufacturer (no, seriously!) who lords over a crew of hard-working grunts. Hawks's masochistic supervision finally pushes the men to tie the boss to a rocket and launch it. Trapeze artist Lester Dunn has a seething hatred for circus "Gorilla," Titano, and Dunn tortures the ape any chance he can. In a finale rivaling "The Man Who Went Too Far" for inanity, Titano manages to escape his cage and, in front of a sell-out crowd,  replaces Dunn's partner, who's supposed to catch him after a long drop. Why bother listing the reasons why this scene is so silly?

 Adventures Into Terror #15

"The Woman Who Wasn't" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Vault of Evil #3)
"The Lion's Mouth" ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #3)
"He Kept Him in Stitches" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #23)
"Jaws of Death" (a: Cal Massey) 
(r: Vault of Evil #3)
"The Tarantula!" (a: Hy Rosen) 
(r: Vault of Evil #3)

Professor Lansing has a foolproof scheme to reap billions for him and his investors, a group of the top mobsters in America. Lansing has found secret documents detailing a hidden world ruled by the daughter of Medusa. Once he's convinced the goons to finance his trip, Lansing heads into the underworld (dubbed by the locals, "MedusaLand!") but finds out, very quickly, that Medusa's daughter has been one lonely girl for a long long time. A really dumb script and a head-scratcher of a climax (Lansing incurs the beautiful queen's wrath so she turns him into a snake and adds him to the nest in her hair), but DiPreta's on the money as usual. The Uncredited writer doesn't both explaining why Medusa II's snakes don't turn Lansing into stone. The biggest laugh comes when the Prof. tells the backstory to the mobsters and they lay down the bread, no questions asked, as if Gorgons are as common as Fedoras on Main Street.

Brazo only married his wife for her money but after the wedding he discovers she hasn't got any! This leaves Brazo, a lion tamer with the circus, with such a chip on his shoulder that he trains his giant cat, Suba, to hate her. After trying several times to win his love, the poor woman gives up and sews a picture of herself onto Brazo's skull-cap and when hubby sticks his head in "The Lion's Mouth"...  A delightfully sick little four-pager with a pretty graphic reveal panel. Lion tamers must have been huge in the 1950s as they seem to make up a good percentage of the Atlas population.

"He Kept Him in Stitches" is a three-page Red-baiter about a surgeon forced to operate on a commissar in Russia; if he fails, he and his wife both die. If he succeeds, the tyrant could bring the world to its knees. Our long-suffering hero finds a (pretty silly) alternative. Stan contributes a typical "Stan Hates the Commies" script but I do like Larry Woromay's  cartoony, gritty art; it resembles a blending of Jack Davis and Joe Sinnott.  In "Jaws of Death," Bart and Spence get tired of working on an alligator farm and decide robbing banks is the way to go. During the robbery, the alarm sounds and the two hoof it. Bart turns his ankle and Spence wastes no time helping his pal. The next night, Bart gets his (predictable) revenge.

The small Romanian village of Marud finds itself at the mercy of a horde of "vampire tarantulas," huge blood-sucking arachnids that are bleeding the town dry. The population dwindles as the people either die or flee their homes for safer hamlets but millionaire Josiah Creech remains in his vast estate, refusing to leave his priceless collection of paintings. As the town empties, only scavengers remain and, once they've stolen everything of value, they set their eyes on Creech's treasures. They bust in and empty their guns in Josiah but he simply smiles and welcomes the men to his house, commenting that they're just in time for supper... or to be supper since Josiah and his kids are the giant tarantulas terrorizing Marud!

As I've said countless times in the past, I'm a fan of the whack. There's something unique about a 1950s horror comic book (be it Atlas or Ace or EC or...); the writers can throw convention and logic to the wind and simply tell a dopey tale designed to entertain, rather than make the reader ponder, and get away with it. After all, this was disposable material, designed to be tossed after its reading rather than dissected by some middle-aged goober sixty-six years later. So, I'm more likely to give a higher rating to something unique like "The Tarantula" than something dime-a-dozen like "Jaws of Death" but, make no mistake about it, I recognize this isn't high art. That said, I think I'd rather read a volume of wonky classics like "Iron-Head," "The Growing Terror," or "The Tarantula!" than Shakespeare any day! This story lacks any rhyme, reason, or flow but it's so dark and nasty that the lapses in logic only multiply my grins. Why does Creech become a giant spider? Why don't his children have human heads? When did this plague begin? Once the village is completely abandoned, what will the Creeches do for food? Who cares? I don't have time to think about plot logic; I'm already looking for the next "crazed classic."

Mystery Tales #7

"The Ghost Hunter" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Man Who Was a God" (a: John Romita) 
"Rudolf's Revenge!" (a: Jerry Robinson) 
"Grim Harvest" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Iron Man" 

Gorgeous Julia Wyatt has turned down countless marriage proposals from brilliant Alonzo Greer but refuses to tell him why so Alonzo does what any jilted lover would do: he builds a robot named Zero and orders it to kill Julia. Joke's on him when it turns out Julia is actually a robot as well and the new couple team up to kill Alonzo. The sheer brilliant stupidity of "The Iron Man" is, unfortunately, just about the only interesting thing I can find to say about the seventh issue of Mystery Tales, which might give Astonishing #21 a run for the Worst Title of the Month award. As with Astonishing, the final two tales this issue were both written by Carl Wessler and both are awful.

"The Man Who Was a God"
"Grim Harvest" can't seem to figure out who its villain is; could it be heartless farmer, Mr. Elkins, or his foreman, the equally see-saw Watts. Both have their soft sides but both are also capable of some nasty shenanigans. Too bad this padded turkey can't work up enough pathos for us to care about either. Not too long ago I was extolling the virtues of the scarecrow as central beastie. Ed Winiarski has managed the impossible: to make a scarecrow un-scary. Ed isn't helped by a lame plot and a twist we all saw coming a mile away (as inexplicable as that twist is!).

"The Man Who Was a God" is way too short (it's one of Stan's quickies); it's not that the script is engaging, it's just that I'd like to spend a little more time with "Jazzy" John's Heath--esque visuals. "Rudolf's Revenge" is a nicely-illustrated but predictable four-pager about a suit salesman who incurs the wrath of a kindly old tie vender. Mr. Hunt, the titular "Ghost Hunter," makes debunking his hobby rather than vocation; he never seems to take pay for his work. Hunt enters haunted abodes and then posits possible rationale for the scary shadows and creaky stairs. We finally discover, in a very cute finale, that Hunt is actually a ghost himself and he runs interference for sloppy spirits who only want to keep their anonymity.

In Two Weeks...
What the Hell?


Michael Hoskin said...

>Titano manages to escape his cage and, in front of a sell-out crowd, replaces Dunn's partner, who's supposed to catch him after a long drop. Why bother listing the reasons why this scene is so silly?

Well someone should have staged an intervention because Stan retold the story 10 years later! (JIM #92)

Peter Enfantino said...

As we'll find out, Stan recycled oodles of his own plots (as well as those of others!)but I guess you'd have to when you're pumping out this much material.

Michael Hoskin said...

As you say, that's in the yet-to-come - in the pre-code era, stories weren't retold too often. Post-code, it happens with increasing frequency.

Love your blog's features, by the by! I'd heard so much about the Warren mags from a horror artist friend of mine and it's been eye-opening to learn they weren't really that hot.

Peter Enfantino said...

Well, stick around for a bit, Michael, as your friend might just be waxing poetic about the era we're about to discuss. It definitely gets better.

Grant said...

That's definitely true of Warren.

"The Manhunter" sounds like a Hitchcock episode, in fact, a particular one. I can't think of the title, but it's one of those many Robert Emhardt episodes. In that one the character HAS committed a crime, but the detective still comes across as the sleazy one, which explains Robert Emhardt playing him.