Thursday, April 30, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 59

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 44
June 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

 Adventures Into Terror #20

"The Dead Duke" (a: Harry Anderson) ★★1/2
"Tommy Has a Teddy Bear" (a: John Forte & George Klein) 
"Proof Positive" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"We Can Hardly Wait" (a: Sid Greene) 
"Look Out for Lakoonda" (a: Cal Massey) 

The Duke De Frontigny is dying and all his wealth will go to his sons, Edmund and Gerald but Gerald has never been one to share his toys with his brother so he hires an assassin to kill him. The assassin, instead, puts Gerald on a slow boat to China and collects his money. The Duke dies shortly thereafter but, alas, it's on the eve of a revolt by the peasants. Along with most of the elite, the new Duke is put to death.

More "Ghastly" Harry
"The Dead Duke" reads like a Classics Illustrated with a little bit of violence thrown in. I read approximately 2,000 funny book horror stories a week so I can't remember where (and I'm counting on our faithful readers to enlighten me) but I just reviewed a very similar story in the last few months either on the Warren or Atlas blog. The art is top-notch; Harry Anderson is really bowling me over and I'm surprised we don't hear more about him when the pre-code Atlas artists are discussed. The script is (just) passable but it's odd that the situation with Gerald was pretty much forgotten about.

Two thugs kidnap Tommy with an eye to ransom the squirt but Tommy's teddy bear has other ideas. "Tommy Has a Teddy Bear" is a very predictable bit of nonsense with some sketchy Forte/Klein art. A tad better is "Proof Positive," about a doctor who has his license revoked due to some boastful lectures. One colleague in particular wishes the man bad luck and, in the end, the shamed doc dies and comes back from the grave for revenge. A very pedestrian script gets a lift from Tony DiPreta's graphics. The twist finale isn't all that shocking because most of what leads up to the reveal happens off-panel.

In "We Can Hardly Wait," our narrators bemoan the fact that funerals take so long; that everything is, essentially, done in slow motion. It's only in the final panel that we discover the complainers are the worms who just want to "get to work." Though the Sid Greene artwork is bland and uninspired, the darkly humorous finale elevates this to a "thumb sideways." A sadistic explorer leads an expedition into the Guatemalan jungles in search of a cave full of jewels and gold. Legend has it the treasure is guarded by a monster but silly nonsense ain't going to keep this guy from his riches. Once he gets in the cave and finds the treasure, he's confronted by the mythological beast and shoots it dead. He then becomes the new guardian of Lakoonda's treasure. Yep, "Look Out For Lakoonda" is about as cliched as a story can be, filled to the brim with all the requisite ingredients: sadistic treasure hunter (though he never kills anyone, which is a new element), spineless partners, abused tribesmen, and the curse that comes true. But for some reason this goofy yarn works for me; perhaps it's Cal Massey's simple but exciting Romita-esque art. This issue's cover is very similar to that of last month's Men's Adventures but I find both to be striking.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #19

"The Empty Room" (a: John Forte) 
"It Happened to One Knight" 
"The Doomed" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Exterminator" (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2
"The Shriek of Araby" (a: Sy Barry) 

Jesse is not your average boy. He's the world's most intelligent person but his adopted parents, Aunt Claire and Uncle Curt, have nothing but disdain for the (admittedly rather large foreheaded) boy. When Jesse's teachers come knocking and tell his parents that the kid is probably "two centuries ahead of his time," Aunt and Uncle both see dollar signs. Seems Jesse has been working on a formula for a spray that reduces its subject to nothingness. Jesse demonstrates on the family cat and it disappears. Before the feline is a matter of molecules, Uncle Curt is spending the millions he intends to make off the potion.

Jesse is smarter than his folks though, and he knows his new invention will be used for evil so he refuses to hand over the spray bottle. When his uncle tries to bash his huge head in with a hammer, Jesse calmly informs Claire and Curt that he sprayed them with the vanishing juice same time as the cat! As the two dwindle into ant-size, Jesse adds an exclamation point by stepping on them. Suddenly an orphan once again, the moptop decides this world isn't ready for his ingenuity and so decides to wipe out the rest of the world!

The greedy foster family has been a staple of horror comics since day one (EC thrived on that particular plot thread) but "The Empty Room" amps up the nastiness and general unease about all three protagonists. Claire and Curt are obviously soulless but young Jesse has a bit of a mean streak going too. No problem with vaporizing the cat and, in a supremely vicious move, crushing his fosters under his Keds. Further adding to my reading pleasure is the ambiguity behind the kid's big brains. We are told he's the child of Curt's sister but nothing else. Did she travel on a boat through a mysterious mist or accidentally stray onto a gamma bomb testing range or make love to a Venusian? I'm not a fan of John Forte's minimalist graphics but here it works. Interestingly enough, a sequel to "The Empty Room" pops up in the next issue. Odds are that a second part will either explain away Jesse's unorthodox behavior or defeat his menace. I'd rather leave it the way it is, thanks!

In "It Happened to One Knight," a dastardly "Red Knight" is roaming the countryside, murdering a stealing gold. Sir Ronald swears to his lady fair, Marian, that he will hunt the cur down and bring peace to the valley. He gets the drop on the Knight and puts an arrow through his chest. When Sir Ronnie unmasks the dead villain, he is shocked to discover that inside the armor is his love, Marian. Well-illustrated (GCD posits the artist is Bob Forgione), but the script makes no sense whatsoever. Why would Marian traipse around the kingdom killing innocents and, more importantly, if she knows her beau is going hunting, why is she suiting up? I feel there's a final word balloon missing here.

"The Doomed" is a three-pager about an 18th-Century freighter that is cursed to bring death upon anyone who sails aboard. The Roth art is great but there's just not enough story here and the "twist" is pretty lame. Stefan Kojeck guarantees the people of Hazjla that he can defeat the vampire killer terrorizing their village and all they have to do is bring Stefan all their silver so that he can melt it down to bullets. How can this man be sure he can wipe out a vampire? Because he's been masquerading as the winged creature and slaying the villagers in order to fleece them of their valuables. After the town of Hazjla is "cleansed," "The Exterminator" heads into the neighboring 'burb of Domishav. Unfortunately for Kojeck, this village doesn't fool as easily. A decent twist and some really nice Chuck Winter art, who had a gritty Everett-esque style.

Poor Millicent is dragged along on her husband's Arabian expedition; she married him for the money, of course. But, out in the desert, she's swept off her feet by the hunky Ali Ben Haadam, a caravan leader who's got a way with the girls and is eyeing Millicent as an addition to his harem. Millicent asks the guy to murder her husband and he agrees on the condition that Millicent promise to call him "master" afterwards. She laughs but agrees and the deed is done. Afterwards, as she's washing Ali's clothes and cooking his food and calling him "master," she might be regretting her evil act. A tale calculated to pull on your funny bone, "The Shriek of Araby" benefits greatly (as do the other four stories this issue) by its artist's work. This was Sy Barry's final Atlas pre-code horror work; very soon he'd be contributing to the legendary DC science fiction titles of the 1950s such as Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.

 Astonishing #25

"I'll Only Die a Little Bit!" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2
"I Married a Zombie" (a: Maurice del Bourgo) 
"Don't Open the Door!" (a: Bill Savage) 
"Tommy's Timid Wife" (a: John Forte) 
"Midnight Massacre" (a: Ed Winiarski) 

"Doc" Bradley, serving a life sentence, has figured a way out. His buddy, "Shorty," is due for release so he smuggles in a drug that renders a body paralyzed, closely resembling death. He'll take the drug, have his body kidnapped, and "Shorty" will be on the outside to pick him up. Everything goes swell until the prison doctor, knowing "Doc" was a very healthy guy, decides to conduct an autopsy.

"I'll Only Die a Little Bit!" borrows key elements and threads from several different sources (Louis Pollock's "Breakdown" seems to have been lifted from on a monthly basis around the Atlas bullpen) and offers nothing new. As intelligent a guy as "Doc" Bradley is, you'd think he would have run through all the different scenarios before trying his trick. Sam Kweskin's art (which seems photo-based in spots) is jarring and effective.

About to jump off a bridge, Edward is talked back down by the gorgeous Miriam and falls madly in love with the mysterious beauty. Miriam agrees to marry Edward on the condition that they go to her parents to ask for permission. Edward finds the older couple odd and somehow "musty," but gets the nod he was looking for. Miriam and Edward are married and the couple move in with Miriam's folks. As they sit down to dinner, Miriam's pop explains that the entire family is dead and they don't eat... food. Edward exclaims "I Married a Zombie!" This is one goofy yarn, all right, but sometimes goofy doesn't carry the day. "I Married a Zombie" is overlong and suffers from the requisite Carl Wessler-penned pulpy dialogue and lifeless graphics (this was Maurice del Bourgo's only work for Atlas); the "shocking" climax is pretty dumb as well.

Four couples travel to a hilltop ski lodge for a vacation and the first thing the proprietor tells them is "Don't Open the Door!" to the spare room. Of course, one by one, the dopes open that door. Well, curiosity killed the tourists. "Don't Open the Door!" is a funny one-note joke but what I found to be the most interesting aspect of the story is that we never find out the identity of the mysterious whatsit in the spare room. "Tommy's Timid Wife" chronicles the abuse the titular woman has to put up with from her sadistic husband, locked in a basement by day and let loose at night only to cook Tommy's meals and clean the house. I always find myself losing interest in this type of story as the lead protagonist seems to be hysterically evil and torturous. Everything is amped to 11 with these characters.

Mobster Al Garris mows down the Harrell gang when they're not expecting it but a death-bed confession lands Garris in the pokey. Garris is cocky though, sure that his old gang will break him out somehow. Then, sure enough, Garris is busted out of the stir by a masked gang who take the to their hideout. It's there that they unmask and Garris discovers it's the Harrell gang, back from the grave! Not much of a surprise there. In fact, the only thing that saves "Midnight Massacre" from the one-star dumpster is Ed Winiarski, whose gleefully ghoulish un-dead mobsters are a delight to behold. Overall though, this is another dismal issue of Astonishing.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #19

"The Man With a Knife" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
"Beelzebub!" (a: Larry Woromay & Matt Fox) 
"The Rivals" (a: Al Luster) 1/2
"The Man from Another World!" (a: Bob McCarty) 
"The Long Wait" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2

A Parisian sharpens the knives for noblemen and each one goes off his rocker and commits murder. Is it coincidence or black magic? The answer is not as fascinating as the graphics "Gentleman" Gene delivers for "The Man With a Knife." Using his trademarked shadows and exciting choreography, Colan delivers pictorially what the prose can only hint at.

All his life, Charles Haggarth has been searching for the legendary Book of Satan, a tome that grants its owner the services of "Beelzebub!" Now, finally, after twenty years of endless dead-ends, Haggarth has found the tomb wherein lies the mummy of Assadmaian. In its clutches, it has been written, lie the Book of Satan. Unfortunately, for Haggarth, his man-servant, Jean, has found the book first and flees from the underground temple. A well-placed bullet stops his flight and Haggarth holds the book in his hands. After reading the incantation found in its pages, Haggarth watches in wonder as the devil appears before him. Awe turns to terror as he realizes Satan and Jean are one and the same.


Like "The Man With the Knife," "Beelzebub!" is a wonder to behold but not much to read. Woromay and Fox are, by this time, working in tandem and seem to be a perfect fit, drawing the best from each other. Woromay was a competent penciler but Fox's inks transformed what might have been average into something stylish and unique. The script accentuates Haggarth's sadistic bent when mere greed would have sufficed but the 1950s funny book writers always took their characters to extremes.

Death-defying Amazo and tightrope walker Torino are the circus's greatest acts but they also have a deep-seated hatred for each other that's about to reach a peak. One night, just before the circus opens its doors, Amazo sabotages the tightrope and Torino falls ninety feet and breaks every bone in his body. Just before dying, the man smiles and swears vengeance on his rival. The final twist to "The Rivals," that the small wading pool Amazo will dive into from the top of the tent is empty, makes no sense to those who stop and think about it, but like the two stories that precede it, sense matters little when the coat of paint is so fine. A story penciled by Al Luster and inked by Matt Fox would be an interesting experiment though the styles might be so similar they'd drown each other out.

Art once again rules over prose as Bob McCarty debuts in the Atlas Universe with "The Man From Another World!" An alien race seeks to integrate with earthlings to figure out if we're weak and susceptible to invasion. Their reconnaissance does not go as planned and they u-turn back to space, their tails between their legs. This is a story done countless times and it's not done much better than ever before but McCarty's lizard creatures are a lot of fun and the running time is a blessedly short four pages. While McCarty would contribute infrequently to the Atlas SF/horror titles (only nine stories), he would also moonlight at several of the other publishers, seeing print in pre-code horror titles like This Magazine is Haunted (Fawcett/Charlton), Web of Evil (Quality), and Black Magic (Prize).

Vassily Dovchenko is a rebel against tyranny, an expert in explosives, and about to hit the road to leave a time bomb at the palace of the Archduke. HIs sister, Natasha, mother and grandmother look on in pride but caution Vassily to be careful he doesn't accidentally explode the bomb on the way to the palace. He scoffs and leaves. A year later, his family still awaits his return but are resigned to the fact that he was probably killed by the secret police. Then, out of the blue, one day Vassily returns to his home and wanders through the garden. His family try to engage him in conversation but he ignores them; they finally decide that Vassily is a ghost and cannot see them. Sadly they turn away and head back to their house. Vassily leaves the grounds with a friend, sadly recounting the day he accidentally took the wrong bag to the Archduke's palace.

We've had a lot of really good to great art around this neighborhood lately but the one thing we haven't had much of is a good story. "The Long Wait" (an apt title if there ever was one) is a sad little tale that doesn't once veer into maudlin territory. It's not obvious; in fact, I thought the shock ending (where we discover it's the family rather than Vassily that has been killed) was handled well and took me completely by surprise. IN the art department, Sam Kweskin continues his ascent from a penciler I would ignore to an artist whose work is genuinely unique and upsetting at times.

 Journey Into Mystery #9

"The Only Man in the World" 
(Part 1) (a: Jerry Robinson) 
"I Made a Monster" (a: John Forte) 
"The Hungry Animal!" (a: Ed Goldfarb) 
"The Black Box!" (a: Mac Pakula) 
"My Brother's Killer!" (a: Paul Reinman) 

Professor Wilbur Thompson is wandering the streets of New York, musing about how the crowds around him skitter to and fro, not enjoying the day when, coincidentally, every human freezes. Wilbur becomes "The Only Man in the World" who can still move about. The answers to the questions in his mind approach him from the other side of the city; a band of aliens, fronted by their leader, Zadixx. The BEM explains that he and his crew are from Dimension X and represent a race of bored critters who have decides Earth may be a bit more exciting.

When Wilbur asks his host how he managed to pull off the freezing of an entire world, Zadixx takes him below ground and shows him the Cyclotron, a gizmo that Z himself created and the origin of the day the earth stood still. Z explains that very soon all human life will be vaporized. Realizing that the only way to bring back his fellow humans is to destroy the Cyclotron, Wilbur rigs the contraption with dynamite and heads back to the surface. While making small talk, Z reveals that the only way to vaporize the humans is to destroy the Cyclotron. As an explosion rocks the town, Wilbur Thompson realizes that he is the man responsible for the human race being reduced to atoms.

With a fanciful and entertaining script and some great art by Jerry Robinson (creator of the greatest villain in all of funny books), "The Only Man in the World" is an exciting adventure with some silly plot machinations (at one point, Wilbur accuses Z of exaggerating the power of the Cyclotron in order to get a look at it and the dopey alien bites) and a downright downbeat ending. But that should probably be remedied next issue, with the sequel.

Swearing he won't make the same mistakes as "Count" Frankenstein, brilliant scientist Alfred Barr creates a synthetic man who will be able to blend in with the man on the street. Meanwhile, the woman he's in love with, Lise, won't give him the time of day so he hatches a plan:he's installed a "kill switch" inside his new monster that will launch the creature on a murder rampage and it's activated by the color of Lise's favorite lipstick, Fatal Scarlet. (Got all that?)

Lise has already told the egghead she won't tolerate any funny business but he invites her over to the house on the pretense that there's a Hollywood agent waiting to meet her. When Lise shows up, Alfred is sleeping on his couch and she feels so bad about shutting down his testosterone that she gives him a light kiss on the forehead. When Barr later switches on his monster, it sees the lipstick shade on its maker's forehead and strangles him.

"I Made a Monster" is not quite wacky enough to warrant a "so-bad-it's-wonderful" nod; there's too much dead space in its center. My question would be: if you want to create a creature that won't suffer the same drawbacks as the Frankenstein monster, why install a "kill switch?" The lipstick trigger, though, is laugh out loud funny and the climax leaves the fate of the monster (who simply vanishes after he murders Barr) up in the air. John Forte's art is weak and just lies there on the paper with no energy or imagination.

"The Hungry Animal" is an inane short-short about a retired sailor who keeps a giant octopus as a pet in his garage. No explanation is given as to how the creature survives sans water. In the equally nonsensical "The Black Box," a thief makes off with a wrapped package from a department store, gets home and unwraps it and finds a winged demon inside. The thing strangles him. Of course, there was a monster in the box. This is an Atlas tale; it only makes sense, right?

"My Brother's Killer" wraps up a fairly weak issue of Journey Into Mystery. MacDonald Kane is expecting that his dead uncle has written him out of his will and left his entire fortune to brother David. That sticks in his craw so, when the train they're traveling on to the will reading crashes, Mac lets his brother burn in the wreckage. When the will is read the next day, Mac is astonished to hear that the old man split the estate in half, with 50% going to each brother. Only catch is, eccentric Uncle George hid the fortune somewhere underground on his estate and David is the only one who knows its whereabouts! Clever twist and some nice Reinman art salvage what could have been just another "murderous relative" snoozer.

Marvel Tales #115

"The Man with No Face" (a: Ed Robbins) 
"A Thousand Years Later" (a: Don Perlin) ★1/2
"The Two Dollar Bill" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"In the Bag" ★1/2
"The Hunter of Men" (a: George Roussos) 

After chauffeuring countless corpses across town for a mysterious plastic surgeon, a nosey ambulance driver uncovers the secret of "The Man with No Face." It's all quite tedious and remarkably ugly to look at. Ed Robbins's art is near-amateurish and every one of his characters looks like a child-molesting uncle.

Otto Kempner has but one dream... to lie in his new suspended animation chamber for centuries and discover a world free of war. When his sleep ends, Otto exits the chamber into a 24th Century landscape that seems peaceful and quiet. He approaches a man in a field who tells Otto that war no longer exists but that over the centuries, Earth expanded its war to space and conquered many planets.

The Man With No Face is actually the best
drawn character in this insipid drama
When Otto asks how Earth was never defeated, the man laughs and says, "What makes you think we weren't?" Just then, the men are ordered back to work in the uranium mines by their alien masters. "A Thousand Years Later" is a bit text-heavy but there's a lot to be explained and the twist is a great one. Don Perlin's art isn't extraordinary but it's serviceable, certainly better than his 1970s work at Marvel.

"The Two Dollar Bill" is the mind-numbingly inane tale of a bum who can't get rid of the titular currency due to its bad luck. Dick Ayers makes Ed Robbins look like Frank Frazetta. The art for "In the Bag" is equally odiferous but the punch line is a hoot. The Great Sabru has his bag stolen in a hotel and the thief races back to his house, eager to crack it open to see what treasure awaits inside. Meanwhile, Sabru explains to the hotel manager that he's a snake charmer by trade and the case was full of cobras! In the finale, "The Hunter of Men," a sadistic prison guard tracks a convicted axe murderer back to the nut's home, only to discover that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. A distressing trait that four out of five of the stories this issue share is the awful art; usually we can at least count on some eye-catching visuals to go with the questionable scripts. Not so here.

Next Issue...
Classic Everett!

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