Thursday, May 26, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 61


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 46
July 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #21

“Don’t Double-Cross a Witch” (a: Harry Anderson) ★★★

“Doctor Molnar’s Corpse” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★1/2

“Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★1/2

“Possessed!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Hair I Go Again!” (a: Gil Kane) ★1/2

Anton Luvac is run out of his village by angry neighbors (we’re not told just what he did but it must be bad as the villagers are carrying torches) and the only refuge left to him is at the cabin of an old witch. The crone is smitten with Anton’s looks and promises he’ll get his revenge on the village if he’ll marry her. Once he agrees, the witch gives Anton the power to turn humans into animals and he transforms the town’s men into pigs, demanding bags of gold to turn them back. He plays the same game several times and his wealth increases. Meanwhile, Anton falls in love with a simple but gorgeous blonde barmaid named Marta, who also seems to find Luvac ravishing even though he’s put her vocation at risk (“I will take your order, sir! Especially since my employer is now a pig!”).

"Don't Double-Cross a Witch"
Anton talks Marta into leaving the Balkans with him and, as they are heading out of town, putting torch to the old witch’s cabin. They burn the woman’s house to the ground and ride their carriage away from the inferno. Luvac turns to give his honey a squeeze, only to discover the old witch sitting in her spot. Marta played Luvac at his own game! "Don't Double-Cross a Witch" is a deliriously fun little ride, one that would look very comfortable in an EC comic book, especially with the very Ghastly-esque visuals courtesy of Harry Anderson. 

“Doctor Molnar’s Corpse” is yet another riff on the Frankenstein story, this time the scientist inadvertently uses a dead demon for his experiments. The art, by Ayers and Bache, is quite odd.  The first three pages are bland and lifeless but the final round of panels is quite good, very atmospheric. The contrast really is like night and day. In “Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones” (a really dumb title), Chinese emperor She Hwang-Ti demands a great wall be built to stop the onrush of Mongols. He tasks the duty to his right hand man, Ho-Wing, who uses sadistic measures to get the Great Wall built in record time. One of the men objects to Ho-Wing’s vicious tactics and uses him to fill a hole in the wall. Great twist and some very nice Maneely art help to anchor one of Stan Lee’s “History of Communism” lectures.

"Doctor Molnar's Corpse"
After her lover is brutally murdered before her very own eyes by the evil Don Andrea, the gorgeous but willowy Lise falls into a “Devil’s Trance.” While in the coma, any free-floating spirit may take possession of her body and, so, one does. The transformation is swift and apparent as the woman rises, thrashes about, and speaks in tongues. Don Andrea and Lise’s father approach an old witch to help exorcise the girl but, ironically, when the spirit is banished, Lise thrusts a dagger into Don Andrea’s heart. The spirit was holding her back! “Possessed” has a bit of a complicated plot (especially at the climax) but I shouldn’t complain about layered stories, I know. The Colan art is good in spots, not so good in others.

In the finale, a creepy (though nattily dressed) dweeb enters a wig shop and announces to the owner that he can supply as much human hair as she needs. After the man makes a few return visits, arms full of human hair, the woman decides to follow him to discover the source. Turns out the guy is a ghoul, stealing the tresses from graves he desecrates. “Hair I Go Again!” has some nice Kane art but the ending could be just about the dumbest “out of left field” twist ever attempted in an Atlas funny book.

Adventures into Weird Worlds #20

“Where Man-Eaters Walk” (a: Joe Maneely)  ★★

“Kermit the Hermit” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Death of an Army” (a: Myron Fass) ★★

“Never Again” (a: Vic Dowling) ★★

“The Doubting Thomas” (a: Robert McCarty) ★★1/2

When we left big-brained little Jesse, he was stomping out of the family residence, after shrinking his folks into nothingness, on a quest for world domination. To that end, he isolates himself in a rural shack and works on perfecting his shrinking gas (and an antidote just in case). The years roll by and Jesse’s head gets bigger, the outside world continually meddling with his peace and quiet. After moving dozens of times, he finally settles in the African jungle. When a tribe of cannibals attacks, he sprays them with Shrink-O and they become doll-size. Jesse uses them to do his bidding and catch him food. The natives become restless and, one day, they knock over a bottle of Shrink-O and Jesse reduces to a size even smaller than the headhunters. Without hesitation, they squish him.

"Where Man-Eaters Walk"
A meandering sequel to “The Empty Room” from AIWW #19, “Where Man-Eaters Walk” suggests that the uncredited writer thought it might be a good idea to continue Jesse’s story but then grew bored of it half-way through. The creep factor reduces greatly once the kid grows up. The narrative is so inconsequential and very little happens; it’s odd that Stan had Joe Maneely take over chores from the first installment’s artist, John Forte, especially since the sequel was a foregone conclusion.

Fresh off a bank heist and hiding in the hills, Pete Allis gets wind of a crazy old coot named “Kermit the Hermit” who has a fortune stashed in his remote shack. Only problem is, the shack is guarded by a pack of vicious dogs. Pete concocts a plan involving a live goat and heads up to the shack. Unfortunately for Pete, it turns out that Kermit may just be more vicious than his curs. Awful Fujitani art (looks like a throw-back to the 1940s, with an awkward photo-shop vibe) and a dopey plot (this bank robber is risking being nabbed by the cops for the “fortune” of a crazy hill loon?) send this one to the bottom of the barrel.

"The Doubting Thomas"
“Death of an Army” is a three-page quickie about the battle between bacteria and corpuscles taking place in the body of an ailing man. The “script” is pretty weak (right from the get-go we know exactly what these “creatures” are but then the presiding doctor has to sum it all up in the final panel) but Myron Fass does some interesting things with his art (as does the colorist who limits the palette to just a few colors on the second page while the battle is in full swing) and, best of all, it’s only three pages. “Never Again” is one of those “the past is actually the future” upside down sci-fi tales, this one about a band of prehistoric hunters who kill a caveman for conducting experiments. It’s in the final panel we discover that we are actually 200 years in the future after nuclear weapons have destroyed most of mankind. Yep, one of those.

A series of bloody and vicious murders rocks a remote European village and the five local University professors congregate around a table to discuss the town’s options. One, Professor Zmuda, insists that the killings are the work of a werewolf but the other four scoff. Zmuda resigns from the faculty in a huff but swears he’ll prove he’s not a looney tune. A few weeks later, Zmuda kidnaps one of his colleagues, Professor Mollar, and takes him out into the woods. Explaining that this is the spot were the werewolf feeds, he ties Mollar to a tree to be fed on. Mollar has other ideas though so he transforms into the pesky lycanthrope and kills Zmuda. Very much like an EC horror story, though much tamer in its depiction of violence, “The Doubting Thomas” succeeds mostly due to its art, which also begs comparison to EC and Ghastly. Bob McCarty would only contribute nine times to the Atlas pre-codes (his first job was “The Man From Another World” in Journey Into Unknown Worlds #19), which is a shame as he’s a very competent storyteller.

Journey into Mystery #10

“The Wrong World” (a: Jerry Robinson) ★1/2

“Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” (a: Larry Woromay) ★★

“Now You See It…” (a: Sam Kweskin)  ★

“The Assassin of Paris” (a: Charles A. Winter) ★★

“Vacation for Vincent” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★1/2

In a sequel to last issue’s “The Only Man in the World,” Professor Wilbur Thompson attempts to overthrow the rule of Zadixx, the brilliant scientist/monster from Dimension X by rebuilding his Cyclotron machine. Somehow getting away from the prying eyes of Zadixx, Wilbur manages to complete the project, send the creature back to Dimension X, and restore mankind, but the victory comes with a cruel price. Definitely a step below last issue’s imaginative first part, “The Wrong World” is overly complicated and simple at the same time. Jerry Robinson’s visuals are still a plus but this is a story that should have been left alone after a gripping climax to part one.

"The Wrong World"
“Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill” is a reimagining of the classic nursery rhyme, this time casting J&J as feuding siblings who stand to inherit a fortune but (for some weird reason) decide to go mountain climbing in the Himalayas. Both are planning the other’s downfall. Throw logic right out the window with this one and just enjoy Larry Woromay’s EC-esque artwork. “Now You See It…” hammers home the old idiom that you should never confess your adultery to your magician husband just before he’s about to saw you in half. This one is just too obvious and silly.

“The Assassin of Paris” is terrorizing young women and stealing their valuables but the vile fiend picks the wrong mark at last: a mind reader! Though the twist is a good one (and one I never saw coming), the fact that this woman would put herself out there as a target is pretty far-fetched. 

In the finale, hitman Vincent Ferrick has one more job to pull off for his mob boss before a well-earned vacation down in Miami. Vince puts wise guy Ed Hammond in the drink with cement shoes and hops a plane. The sun is roasting, the sand is a delight, the booze is flowing, and the chicks are everywhere. One babe, in particular, catches his fancy. A Marilyn-lookalike named Grace, who melts the heretofore steel heart of Vince in no time. 

"Vacation for Vincent"
The dope proposes and promises Grace she’ll have anything in the world she desires. To celebrate, Grace gives Vince a great big kiss and… that’s when the lights go out. Vince awakens to find himself buried to the neck in sand, with the high tide on its way, and Grace standing above. She finally gets around to mentioning that Ed Hammond was her hubby and that they were very much in love. As the water rises over Vince’s head, the last thing he sees is the billboard announcing “Come to Florida… Everybody’s Playground!” 

Though the art is not great (which is odd because I’ve become a fan of Benulis but I assume it’s the heavy inking of Abel that gives it its gritty, amateurish look), I loved that “Vacation for Vincent” is just about the most noir-ish short story Atlas has ever run. You could imagine a prose version of this in Manhunt magazine, perhaps written by John D. MacDonald. No, it’s not perfect (for a professional assassin, our guy takes a lot of chances) but it hits the sweet spot.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #20

"Bwana Brown!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

“The Son of Rasputin” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★1/2

“The Secret of Asteroid #85!” (a: Gil Evans) ★★

“A Monument to Mortimer!” (a: Hy Fleischman) ★

“The Race That Vanished” (a: Don Perlin) ★1/2

“Bwana Brown!” tells the members of the Manhattan Explorers Club how it is he came into a fortune’s worth of gold and jewels: he convinced the Kato-Kato tribe of Africa he was immortal and they handed over the treasure. Though the rest of the members beg him to reveal the whereabouts of the tribe, Bwana refuses but leaves them a treasure chest filled with jewels for them to grovel over.

One member, Alex Steele, isn’t satisfied with a handful of jewels; he wants it all. He breaks into Bwana’s apartment and murders him, stealing away with the map to the Kato-Kato village. Steele parachutes in and explains to the tribe’s chief that he is immortal. The chief tells him he has to pass a test and Steele agrees. Later, the chief brings Steele’s head on a platter to Bwana Brown, who’s back with the Kato-Katos and explains that Steele couldn’t kill him because he really is immortal. “Bwana Brown” makes little sense; there’s no explanation whatsoever for Brown’s immortality or why he’d let the Explorers Society know about the tribe in the first place. Did the Katos behead Brown as well?

"Son of Rasputin"
Russian stage director Boris Lachova is madly in love with young and gorgeous actress Natasha but her heart belongs to handsome stud, Petrov. Boris calls Natasha to his castle on the pretense of rehearsing a new play but his plan is to brainwash her into murdering her beloved Petrov. Boris trains Natasha to shoot a gun once she hears the ringing of the bell; she practices so many times it becomes ingrained in her. 

The evil genius then summons Petrov to the castle; the man arrives, sensing something wrong and rings the doorbell. Natasha whirls and shoots, killing Petrov. Boris knows, to keep Natasha to himself, he has to keep her in a hypnotized state forever. They marry and Natasha becomes a dutiful servant but, one night, a roaring fire breaks out and the couple must flee to the top of the castle. Firemen arrive to rescue them but when Natasha hears the ringing of the “fire-bells,” she grabs a rifle and starts picking off her rescuers. The firemen flee and Boris and Natasha are consumed in the fire.

Well, a last-panel epilogue claims that the girl escaped the tower by leaping into a nearby tree but let’s dismiss that nonsense. She burned to death, the poor innocent waif. “The Son of Rasputin” is just about the deepest script we’ve gotten in the Atlas titles for many a moon. The hypnosis/brainwashing is handled very seriously, no sight gags or one-liners, and Natasha’s descent from promising new talent to zombie in six pages is startling. Almost as startling as Russ Heath’s brilliant graphics. That final panel, of Rasputin burning to a crisp, is a stunner. In “The Son of Rasputin,” there are a lot of innocents sacrificed for art.

A trio of cons escapes prison and hops in a rocket ship for space. Destination: Asteroid #85, where, so the story goes, men land but never leave. The rocket crashes but the cons survive, but for how long without food or water (thank goodness there’s air!). They spot an abandoned spaceship and climb aboard, hoping it still has the power to take off. Turns out it’s one of the inhabitants of Asteroid #85, having lunch! The punchline would have been so much sweeter if it wasn’t given away at the last second by one of the thugs as they board. Still, it’s fun, harmless, and only three pages.

No pearls from Perlin
In “A Monument to Mortimer!,” Earth has been off-limits for a century since other planets became tired of our warring ways. Earth has been opened to a delegate who comes down to survey the situation now that Earth is “war-free.” During his tour, at every stop he sees monuments to Mortimer Snapely. His tour guide tells him that Snapely was indirectly responsible for peace on Earth. It’s not really worth going into much more than that. It’s a stretch to call “A Monument…” a story since it caroms right and left, making very little sense. 

That complaint could also be leveled at the finale this issue, “The Race That Vanished!” An expedition for the “museum of mankind” visits a newly-discovered island, where they stumble onto a race of mutations. Barely escaping, they explore the rest of the island and their “atomic detector” points them to a big metal cylinder buried underground. Unearthing the object, they discover it was a time capsule buried in 1939 and not to be dug up until 2439. “To be opened in 2439, eh?,” shrugs one of the men, “well, we’re just a few years overdue!” Yep, this is the future and (ostensibly) those freaky critters were us. Well, at least I think that’s what’s going on since our uncredited writer didn’t bother filing in the gaps. How many times was this nugget dusted off and used as a foundation? Don Perlin’s art looks like a throwback to the 1940s (and, when it comes to Perlin, that’s a compliment).

Marvel Tales #116

“Won’t You Step Into My Parlor?” (a: Joe Sinnott)  ★★1/2

“Werewolf By Night” ★

“Not Wanted” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★

“The Final Payment!” (a: Al Eadah) ★

“When Billy Says Bang!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★

The Count Scarpia, to his friend Count Roggiero’s amazement, has built an exact copy of his parlor room in “mammoth proportions!” The furniture, the rug, even the rat hole in the wall are all forty times their regular size. What an achievement! But why would this otherwise-non-eccentric man of royalty go to such an expense for a “parlor” trick? Well, for a very good reason. Scarpia is tired of the thieving and poaching gypsies that have overrun the countryside. To give the room its first testing, the Counts head out into the forest and, sure enough, find a poacher and take him back to the castle. Scarpia hands the gypsy a glass of liquid and orders him to down it. When the man awakens, he goes stark raving mad and collapses after seeing the huge furniture.

Having had their fun, Roggiero and Scarpia bring the man back to the normal room but, once he comes to, the gypsy goes insane again, grabbing a sword and running Roggiero through. The madman chokes Scarpia into unconsciousness, telling him that now it’s his turn for some good old gypsy payback. Scarpia awakens to find a giant rat pouncing on him. “Won’t You Step Into My Parlor?” is six pages of total lunacy, enlivened by Joe Sinnott’s crazed gypsy and a reckless disregard for reality. What 19th-Century royalty would go to such extremes to teach the peasants a lesson? Atlas nobles usually just feed them to the dogs or the crocodiles. 

Johan Bauer is in love with beautiful Bettina Lascher, but he’s pretty much a pauper and she wants the finer things in life. So, Johan does what any man in his position would do: he dresses like a werewolf (actually more like a gorilla) and commits robbery by night. One night, while rolling a dandy man, Johan is startled to find a real werewolf taking a bite out of Johan’s victim. He runs, screaming, and locks himself inside his apartment but, only a few minutes pass and there’s a knock on the door. It’s the werewolf, telling Johan that he likes his style and they should be a team; the lycanthrope is moving into Johan’s pad immediately. This doesn’t sit well with Johan’s plans at all; how is he supposed to impress Bettina when there’s a werewolf in the parlor? Luckily, he’s only a “Werewolf By Night” and reverts back to an older but dashing man during the day.

Johan tries to stall Bettina’s visit but the girl just can’t be stopped. When Johan tells his shaggy roommate, the wolf man promises he’ll be good and go out for a snack. Bettina shows up, is impressed by the flat but you know who comes knocking on the door, hoping to catch a peek. But that’s okay because… surprise surprise surprise… the werewolf is Bettina’s dad and she’s a werewolf too! “Werewolf By Night” is completely and utterly inane and I almost thought this was intentional but I can’t give the unnamed writer that much credit. Johan, seemingly a good, thoughtful young man decides, on a whim, he has to turn to mugging passersby for dough to take Bettina out. This is a werewolf with manners! Instead of holding Johan against his will, this lycanthrope pays for each victim lined up for him!  The werewolf, who parts his hair to the side, dresses smartly as a human, but then puts on the same ripped-up trousers when he’s getting ready to hunt. I want to see the panels of human-wolfman doing his laundry and ironing, and then laying out his pants for the evening. Not that Marvel’s Werewolf By Night title in the 1970s was that much better.

“Not Wanted!” is a lame two-pager about a talent agent who wants something new but doesn’t pay attention to the guy who comes in to give his resume. Discouraged, the guy leaves and we discover that he’s a dog (or a bear — I really can’t tell). Even sillier is “The Final Payment!,” wherein we meet skinflint landlord Jed Scrag,  who can’t wait to lower the boom on his tenants and toss them on the street. Driving into town, he has a blow-out and crashes. Jed stumbles from door to door but the occupants scream and slam the door. Heading back to the crash site, he discovers his head is still in the wreckage. The most hilarious aspect (amongst a whole lot of silliness) is that Jed obviously can’t speak but the uncredited writer and artist Al Eadah have seen fit to reward the poor guy with thought balloons! Good trick that.

Last up in this dismal collection of horror stories is “When Billy Says Bang!” about a boy named Billy who points his finger, says “Bang!” and watches people die. Sadistic Dr. Zinborg discovers Billy’s secret and sees the imp as his way up the doctoral ladder. Every time Billy offs another colleague, Zinborg gives him peppermint sticks but, in the twist ending, Billy has enough and “Bang!”s the doc for giving him a tummy ache. Not some of DiPreta’s best work; the art looks hurried and amateurish. The story is just dumb.

In Two Weeks...


Anonymous said...

Great write-up. What made you guys decide to go back to reviewing the Atlas Pre-Code stuff? Is this gonna be an Every Other Week thing?


Grant said...

I expected at least one comment about a serious story with a Boris and a Natasha.

Or in a smaller way, one with a Kermit.

(I wonder how many suspense stories have names that became tricky later on due to comedies?)

Peter Enfantino said...

I suspended the series as I had decided I wanted the whole shebang to be between covers but that project fell through due to laziness on my part (too old to figure out how to use inDesign). It'll be up every two weeks, no delay since all the writing on every pre-code Atlas is done. That should take up the next couple years and, in the meantime, I'm dissecting the post-code Atlas/Marvel to keep the series going. I should be in my 90s by the time I'm through. By the way, if you could, please e-mail me at, I have a proposal for you.

And Quiddity, if you're reading, please e-mail me as well. Thanks!

Peter Enfantino said...


Stick around. Because Stan loved his commie sermons, I'm sure Boris, Natasha, Kermit, and Snidely Whiplash will make return appearances.

Quiddity99 said...

Didn't read this until today but will send you over an email Peter.

I've never had a chance to read these old Atlas horror stories, beyond EC the only 50s horror I'm familiar with is some Jack Kirby stuff from Black Magic, owning a book that compiles a lot of his stuff (and even then I've only read part of it). Will be fun to follow along and see if its worth checking out for myself. Are there reprint collections that compile all of this?

Peter Enfantino said...

Looking forward to it.
There was once a major plan to reprint all this stuff through the Masterworks series but only Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery and Menace made it into print (that I know of). There are lots of places around the net where you can find (obviously shady) files of these things and several of the stories have been reprinted in the 70s Marvel reprint books (I'll note those when they show up).