Thursday, December 26, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 50

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 35
January 1953 Part II

 Strange Tales #14

"Horrible Herman" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"The Grinning Skulls!" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Experiment!" (a: George Tuska) ★1/2
"The Golden Coffin" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"The Man who Talked to Ghosts!" (a: Carl Burgos) 

Horrible Herman has one of those problems only Strange Tales characters can have: even in a nice, tailored suit, Herman looks like a monkey. People stop in the street to gawk at his primitivity and relationships are out of the question. What woman would have him? One day a waitress talks nicely to Herman and he mistakenly takes that for affection. When he shows up after her shift and sees her with another man he goes ape and kills them both. Now pushed beyond insanity, Herman decides the human race must be extinguished so he uses his vast scientific knowledge (did I neglect to mention that, chimpanzee appearance notwithstanding, Herman is a very smart guy?) to build a rocket to fly into space. Once safely out of earth's atmosphere, he releases a bomb he's created designed to "start a chain reaction of the atoms" that will split the words in two. Unfortunately, Herman wasn't smart enough to remember that "far beyond the pull of gravity" there's no... gravity. His explosive doesn't fall to earth but rather floats right back up to the ship. Below, two men remark on how lovely the sudden light in the sky looks. A wacky, wild, and very funny little insanity that takes everything to the extreme. Herman isn't just unattractive, he's an orangutan. His isolation complex doesn't just push him into murder but attempted genocide. He's not just smart but able to do something no astronaut had ever done at the time: break through earth's atmosphere. There's just the oversight of gravity that prevents his master plan from seeing fruition. Ain't that the way with 1950s scientists?

Dr. Henrik Vandeever is on the verge of an amazing archaeological find: the fabled Melanesian Totems. Built skull upon skull, they're hideous to everyone but the Professor and his jungle guide, Morgan, the latter of whom sees dollar signs rather than skulls as far as the eye can see. At first eager to study the totems, Vandeever soon suspects there is something malevolent in the ancient idols and urges Morgan to pull up stakes. Not one to pass on a possible buck, Morgan sets up a deal with a shyster in the jungle village and returns to chop down the skulls. The next morning, Vandeever awakes to find one of the totems has a new addition. Under the pseudonym Jay Gavin (and later, under his own name), artist Roth would pencil The X-Men for quite some time beginning in late 1965. A couple of things jump out at me while reading "The Grinning Skulls": the art looks strikingly like that of the underground comics artists of the late 1960s like Robert Crumb, and that Michael Fleisher wrote a wonderful variation of this old standby, "They Shoot Butterflies, Don't They," for House of Mystery #220 (December 1973) wherein the money hungry tour guide ended up chow for carnivorous butterflies (don't take my word for it, go read it!).

"The Experiment" is a three page throwaway about a scientist who claims he can turn a gorilla into a man in only seconds. It doesn't work. "The Golden Coffin" is about a bonehead who resurrects Midas from the Beyond and forces the King to bestow him with the power of gold at the touch of (just) one hand. Though Midas pleads with the man to reconsider, the dunderhead won't listen and he gets his wish. On the way back home, he's hit by a truck and his (non-gold wielding) hand has to be amputated. Isn't the solution to our moron's plight (and that of Midas himself) to simply eat without your hands? The Sekowsky work here is not horrible. Finally, "The Man who Talked to Ghosts" wants a wife who will clean up the mansion and not interfere with his hobby. He gets the girl but then she gets ideas about what to do with all the money. Pretty soon, our titular character is "The Man who Was a Ghost." It doesn't end well for his wife, either. Carl Burgos adds quite a bit of visual punch to Stan's lazy script.

 Spellbound #11

"Never Trust a Woman" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"The Madman" (a: Arthur Peddy) 
"Watch the Birdie" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2
"The Empty Coffin" (a: Ed Goldfarb) 
"The Hypnotist" (a: Bill Benulis) 

Eric treats his wife, Clara, with disdain even though she does everything he orders her to do. Maybe that's the problem. Eric is a magician and his wife his assistant on stage. Their most popular act is the guillotine, a trick that has Clara swap out a real blade with a rubber blade just before Eric's head is severed from his body. Eric never thinks to treat his wife with respect but, one night during the act, he learns that you can "Never Trust a Woman." Simple yet clever, with a sharp (pun intended) Stan Lee script and really nice DiPreta art, "Never Trust a Woman" leads to a predictable, yet satisfying exit for the surly Eric. That might be due to the fact that Stan wisely avoids the cliche and Clara maintains her "wide-eyed doe" look from start to finish, never giving away what her intentions might be. I've said it before and I'll say it probably a dozen timeshare, Tony DiPreta is emerging as the biggest surprise (for me) while dissecting these funny books. His style is so un-flashy and perhaps that's why he's flown under the radar for the last sixty years. I've never seen the name come up in discussions of the great Atlas horror artists. Let's rectify that now.

"The Madman" is proof that Stan could hit the highest of highs and lowest of lows in one issue. A goofball wanders the streets, muttering "I've got to find it!" The police chase him into the graveyard where at last he finds his plot. How did he get out of the grave in the first place? I have no idea. In "Watch the Birdie," world-renowned photographer Andrew Breen is actually a con artist; he's doled out his assignments to true photographers and then stiffs them on payment. His latest "find" is Leonard Calvin, an old man who owns a magical camera that delivers the finest photos Breen has ever seen. Breen manages to get his hands on the picture box and, despite warnings from Calvin, snaps his own photo and discovers that the Indians were right about the camera stealing the soul. Andrew Breen is one of those laughably corrupt Atlas individuals who loses my interest and tests my patience mere panels into the five pages of story.

Claude Raymond is living with a bunch of loony-tunes, his wife's family, in the heart of a swamp. They all claim they can see and speak to the dead! What keeps him there? Of course, it's the five million that's rumored to be stashed away in the rotting old mansion they live in. Claude bides his time but patience is not his virtue and he begins killing his in-laws one at a time until only wife, Harriet, is left standing. It's at that point that Claude realizes his in-laws don't merely speak to the dead... they are the dead! But were they dead before he "killed" them? Good question, and one you won't find the answer to in this Carl Wessler-penned maddeningly slow and incoherent waste of time.

Francois tires of his daily grind as master hypnotist of the stage and widens his interests to include robbery. To put a cherry on top of each of his heists, he commands the victim to commit suicide. But ego gets the best of Francois after so many easy thefts and he seeks a new challenge so he allows himself to be arrested in an attempt to walk away from the guillotine at the last second. To accomplish this would make him world famous. Problem is, the man assigned to behead Francois is Paris's first blind executioner. Oops! A silly four-pager, yes, but Stan's script is witty and funny and Bill Benoit delivers some wacky cartoonish art that elevates the dark humor. Why would a master criminal want to be "the most famous man in all of France?" So, Stan has a few plot holes.

 Suspense #26

"Worse Than Death!" (a: George Roussos) 
"Beauty and the Beast!" (a: Al Eadeh) 
"Alone with a Ghost" (a: Vic Dowling & Bob Stuart) ★1/2
"Vampire Killer!" (a: Fred Kida) 

Karl Tooker steals jewels from a corpse and parlays the dough he earns into a fortune but being one of the richest men alive isn't good enough. Tooker is getting old and he wants more years to spend that hard-earned cash; in fact, he wants to live forever. So Tooker travels to Tibet, where he looks up a medicine man who has an immortality potion. When the swami warns against drinking the "accursed" potion, Tooker ventilates the old man and downs the formula. Too late, the hood realizes that the potion grants eternal life but also paralyzes the partaker. Ugly, scratchy art and a meandering, over-long script make this one almost "Worse Than Death!"

Sculptor Tony has found the perfect model for his "Beauty and the Beast" painting but can't seem to find a man ugly enough to stand in for the "Beast" half of the portrait. To confound things, Tony has fallen in love with model Carla but she's in love with a football player and it's become distracting. Finally, Tony can take it no longer; If he can't have Carla, no one will! He follows Carla and her beau up a steep mountain road with the intention of running them off the road but, instead, finds himself plunging off the cliff to the rocks below. Tony stays in a hospital bed for months, but the good news is, once he's released and back at his easel, he's found his "Beast!" Like George Roussos, Al Eadah can pump out some pretty ugly art but, in this case, it kinda works in the story's favor. Tony spends time wandering through the Bowery looking for his perfect "ugly man" and the seediness of the borough comes through perfectly thanks to Eadah. The twist is a nice one even though events escalate a bit too quickly.

When a ghost begins murdering tourists at the Tower of London, Parliament orders the landmark closed to the public but an enterprising crook figures a way of breaking into the Tower in order to haul off the Crown Jewels. He nabs the jewels but then has to deal with the ghosts of Anne Boleyn and her jealous hubby. "Vampire Killer" is just as silly but it has some nice art by Fred Kida. Famed vampire killer Malcolm Crowley is onboard a cruise ship when talk of sea monsters drifts about and the passengers demand a return to port. Crowley poo-poohs that idea, relating his story of how he liberated a French town of vampires and drove them all into the sea. Story told, the crowd disperses and Crowley wanders the deck. Suddenly, tentacled arms reach out for him and "Crowley discovers what has really become of the vampires..." Well I, for one, would love to know what Malcolm knows cuz it's not apparent to me from the last panel, which shows a vampire/octopus. All through the story, it's hammered home that the bloodsuckers can't survive water so, I assume, they mutate. I assume.

Mystic #16

"Ghosts in the Night" (a: Carmine Infantino) 
"Birth of a Vampire!" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
"The Most Miserable Man in the World" 
(a: Carl Hubbell) ★1/2
"A Scream in the Dark!" (a: Sam Citron) 
"The Wooden Box" (a: George Roussos) 

Supreme Russian General Ivan Zaroff is a masochistic monster, who delights in the torture of "traitors" on his rack. One such "traitor" is Petrov, whose family Zaroff has already tortured and murdered. Petrov goes to his grave without revealing the whereabouts of headquarters for the underground but, with his last breath, he vows vengeance from beyond the grave.

Zaroff laughs it off but, soon, odd things happen: a painting of George Washington is discovered in Zaroff's house by his comrades; a flag stick pin appears on the General's lapel during an important meeting and, most important of all, atomic submarine blueprints go missing and are discovered, falling from Zaroff's coat pocket. Laid out on the rack and facing torture, Zaroff muses that at least death will come quickly. The spirit of Petrov pops up to inform his old adversary that the General is already dead and now he's in the hands of the vengeful dead! Ah, Stan and his thinly-veiled warnings of the evils of communism! Difference here is that Stan actually tells an interesting story, with a nice reveal, and it's all laid out for us visually by Carmine Infantino, who is fast perfecting his own style and breaking away from "the pack."

A group of villagers in the Hungarian town of Arad drink away the evening in the White Horse Inn, telling stories about vampires while the blood-suckers prowl the night. This evening, the tall tale told is of the creation, by Satan, of the first vampire. "Birth of a Vampire!" has an intriguing premise and an interesting middle but a criminally bad (and downright dopey) twist in its tail. The art by Larry Woromay (according to the atlastales website) is very sharp, foregoing the usual svelte vampire for a giant bat-creature.

Ahab is not only clumsy, he's "The Most Miserable Man in the World." His camel, laden with hand-sewn rugs, has abandoned him; he can't get his villager friends to donate food; and now, his wife has left him for a muscleman. With all hope fading, Ahab does what every man in the 1950s Atlas world did: he calls upon the devil to lift him from this hell. The nattily-dressed Satan chuckles and informs him he's already there. Both "A Scream in the Dark!" and "The Wooden Box" suffer from ill-conceived plots and silly twists. "Scream" concerns an adulterous couple who take a boat into a tunnel of love and emerge aged for no apparent reason. Equally head-scratching is "The Wooden Box," wherein Death (or a faux-Death) sells a small black box to a pawnbroker but warns him not to open the lid or he will perish. Not one to believe in superstition (and why would one believe when the customer is a talking skeleton?), the dope opens the lid and becomes a talking skeleton himself. I'm sure the deadline loomed when Stan and the boys worked on these last three tales this issue.

In Two Weeks...
Genius or Lunatic?


Glowworm said...

The tale from Mystic #16 "A Scream in the Dark" was written by Carl Wessler for certain. I had seen a nigh identical version of this story in the one-shot, black and white comic magazine "Weird Mysteries #1" titled "" A Shriek in the Night" (Geez, you'd think this was a parody of the first one, even the title is similar.) I knew there was a similar Atlas story to this one the moment I read it, but couldn't quite recall the title nor the name of the comic series. Then I saw this one listed on this blog, and bingo! Also, one more thing to make this even more obvious--"A Shriek in the Night" was written by none other than Carl Wessler. Not really a surprise--there are a few other stories I've seen him rehash in his later works time and time again. Here's a link to the almost identical story:
And much like the ride the couple takes twice--no, it's not any better the second time around.

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for that fascinating tidbit. Wessler was indeed a writer who loved to write!

Grant said...

When it comes to foolishness (though not actual genocide), "Horrible Herman" is definitely no match for the character in "The Midnight Monster" (reprinted in Fear # 6). He's rich with a "handsome playboy" image, but being rejected by one particular woman makes him go on a SF type rampage too. In all fairness to Herman, at least he didn't have all those other things to console him after the rejection.

Peter Enfantino said...

I see that "The Midnight Monster" doesn't come around until JIM #79 (April 1962),a few blog-years from now. Hopefully, we'll still be here!