Thursday, July 7, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 64


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 49
August 1953 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Menace #6

“The Graymoor Ghost” (a: Bill Everett) ★★

“Checkmate!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

“The Corpse” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

“Flying Saucer!” (a: John Romita) ★★1/2

Hans Stueben has spent his life ripping off the customers of his antique store. Why, just the other day a boy came in Hans’s store looking to buy an antique for his sick mother and Hans sold him a ten-cent ashtray as a 16th Century antiquity for nine bucks! When Hans hears tell of an auction in Scotland of the contents of the infamous Graymoor Castle, he believes he can make a fortune. 

Steuben is the only one who shows for the sale; the auctioneer explains that no one dares bid on the furniture as there’s a curse that goes along with it, but the miser is unfazed and wins the entire lot for a buck. As he’s gloating, “The Graymoor Ghost” materializes and Hans has a heart attack. As Steuben’s spirit rises from his corpse, the original ghost explains that anyone who buys one bit of furniture from Graymoor Castle becomes the new ghost!

Though Stan’s script is nothing new, mixing together elements used an infinite number of times before, Bill Everett’s art is a hoot. Hans Steuben appears lifted from some version of A Christmas Carol, while the Graymoor Ghost himself is nothing more than a melting ice cream cone dressed in a kilt. 

After defeating the great Corzebetti, Stefan Krag is hailed as the world’s greatest chess player. He has everything: fame, money, and the most beautiful wife in the world. But when he comes home early one night and finds Carla in the arms of another man, Stefan snaps and blows lots of holes in the lovers. To avoid the hangman, Krag shaves off his hair and moves to Austria to become a new man. Only a couple months later, with a full beard and bald head, Stefan moves back to his village in France and takes a job teaching local children how to play chess. He finds he just can’t live without hearing the word, “Checkmate!” His reputation grows and before long, Stefan is back to playing big matches. 

One day, Stefan is sitting at his table when a Russian mobster approaches him and informs him that he “likes Stefan’s style” and he has bet a boatload of money on Stefan to win his very next match. Flattered, Krag tells the man he will take on any comers but, unfortunately, the next man in the door to challenge him is the great Corzebetti. The onlookers cry out that only the mighty Stefan Krag could beat Corzebetti. The Russian shrugs and admits that he knows nothing of Corzebetti but if Stefan backs out of the game, he’ll be playing chess with St. Peter. Knowing that if he beats Corzebetti, he’ll be revealed for who he really is, and if he doesn’t he’ll be swimming with the fish, Krag chooses door number 3, pulls his revolver out, and shoots himself in the head.

If Stan wanted to set a more adult tone with his scripts for Menace, he succeeded and then some with “Checkmate!” The denouement is certainly more mature material than ghosts in the furniture and Gene Colan’s muddy but noirish art only darkens the mood. The pace of “Checkmate!” is simmer, and some might lose interest by the halfway point, but those who stick it out will be rewarded with a kick in the groin.

John watches as his wife, Diane, has a seizure and dies before his eyes. Rather than call the police and have her body taken away, John lets it rot on their bed where Diane fell. After months, the police break in and find what’s left of Diane and take her to the morgue. Now, John is left alone in the house but that’s okay since he’s a ghost. "The Corpse" is completely predictable but, as I’ve stated far too many times already, script is secondary when you’re dealing with Russ Heath artwork. 

184 spaceships from Mars land on Earth and then just sit and wait. When all of Earth’s biggest brains surround the vessels, the doors open and the curious scientists enter. Now that Mars has Earth’s intellect in its back pocket, the real war ships launch and Earth is colonized. “Flying Saucers” begins like any other Stan Lee UFO tale but Stan manages to conjure up a clever twist to stand this one apart from most of the others.

Mystery Tales #14

“Today I Am a Man!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★★

(r: Beware #3)

“Don’t Ever Gyp a Gypsy!” (a: Al Luster) ★1/2

(r: Beware #3)

“Listen, You Fool!” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★

(r: Fear #14)

“The Twin!” ★★

(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)

“Marion’s Murderer!” (a: George Tuska) ★★★1/2

(r: Beware #3)

In the future, mankind has gotten lazy and violent. To stave off assassinations, those in power have created android replicas. Problem is, the androids have become smarter than their human counterparts. Now, they’re creating robots to kill humans. Jim Carter, head of S.S. Security (yep, the S.S.!), attempts to get to the bottom of just who is the real deal and who’s the android. Scripter Paul S. Newman taps into the “tough guy” fad that had been sweeping the country; his Jim Carter is a thinly-veiled Mike Hammer. The story’s a good one (and so’s the art), but I could have done with one less twist at the climax. There’s a whole lot of none-too-subtle Nazi imagery going on in this strip.

“Never Gyp a Gypsy” is a silly little bit of nonsense about a thief who discovers a gypsy can grant him immortality. I’m not giving too much away when I say the hood’s plan doesn’t go the way it should. Much better is “Listen, You Fool,” wherein Albert Rudely discovers his wife, Lorna, is having an affair with the chauffeur and the two adulterers are plotting his murder (Al uses a hearing aid and Lorna is sure the device is off while she and her beau are making their plans). After five botched attempts, Albert is ready to head his wife off at the pass when she suggests they go out for a nice boat ride on the lake. Albert has no idea what Lorna is planning but he drugs her coffee and suggest she take a swim while they’re on the lake. Lorna dives in and immediately realizes something’s wrong. Al takes out his hearing aid to provide a perfect alibi and rows away but, sans listening device, doesn’t hear the rush of the waterfall he’s heading towards. Fabulously fun and intricately plotted (well, for a 4-page 1950s funny book strip, that is), “Listen, You Fool!” is a comedy of errors from start to finish and one guaranteed to leave the reader with a smile. If there’s one drawback, it’s the usually-dependable Reinman’s rushed art. 

18th Century royalty Armand is always upstaged by his twin brother, Pierre, who manages to land the most beautiful women and the best jobs before Armand can raise a finger. It’s almost as if Pierre can read Armand’s mind. So Armand plots Pierre’s death but, when the moment of truth arrives, Armand discovers that Pierre has, once again, stolen his brother’s thunder. “The Twin” has some nice (uncredited) Joe Maneely-esque visuals.

Edward Erraut has become sick of his wife, who’s perfect in every way. Marion remembers every birthday, anniversary, and dinner date, while Edward seems to have a sieve for a brain. Marion is the best cook in town, the best seamstress, best homemaker. It’s all too much for Edward, who finally decides he has to become “Marion’s Murderer” in order to save his sanity. For once, the bland penciling of George Tuska actually pays off; the visuals perfectly embody the state of Edward’s mind. The set-up and gradual erosion of the man’s mind are chilling; there’s no real reason behind his hatred other than boredom and resentment. The final twist, where Edward brings his wife’s corpse into the basement to bury, only to realize he’s forgotten today is his wedding anniversary and his friends are all down there waiting to surprise him, is a tad predictable and disappointing given the build-up, but the tale is still a powerful one.

Mystic #22

“Doom in the Tomb!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“Boy Meets Ghoul!” (a: John Forte) ★

“Man-Eater!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

“Nothing Else to Write” (a: Vern Henkel) ★★1/2

“The Maiden in the Iron Mask” (a: Art Peddy) ★1/2

What if you could find the perfect way to preserve your body after death, much like the mummies of Egypt? Edmund Kleig, who has always been “fascinated with death,” smells money and heads to Cairo to try to unearth the secret from the pyramids of the pharaohs. He finds the secret but he won’t live long enough to capitalize. There’s some great Maneely work in “Doom in the Tomb!” (especially in the final panels revealing Kleig’s fate, but the Carl Wessler-concocted plot is older than the papyrus it was written on.

A lonely man and a lonely woman have a discussion in a bar. The woman lets on she’s lonely because her beau just died in the electric chair a few hours before. The man finally lets on that he’s lonely because he’s Death and the only people he gets to talk to are his targets. His last one was at the State Pen. “Boy Meets Ghoul!” is about as original as its title.

On a vacation in the Caribbean, Gordon Jackson takes a glass-bottomed-boat ride promising a view of “The Monsters of the Deep!” Shortly after the tour gets underway, a variety of creatures appear below, to the delight of the tourists. The attraction becomes a bit hairier when a man is eaten alive by a giant shark. The Captain sighs, admitting that these things happen now and then, and reminds his customers that he did come through on his promise of a look at the monsters of the deep. 

Though shocked, Jackson takes the same boat ride the next day and the exact same thing happens. He confronts the Captain, pressuring the man to admit to some kind of illusionary tactics. The Captain tells Jackson to come back the next day and he’ll learn the secret. The next morning, Jackson shows up, is shuffled into a room inside the boat and, shortly after the ride begins, is dropped through a door into the sea and fed to the “Man-Eater!” I’m not sure what’s more gruesome: Al Eadah’s elementary doodling or the darkly comedic script.

After five bestsellers, Lester Ellsworth fears there’s “Nothing Else to Write!” A serious case of writer’s block has Lester staring at his typewriter until his wife announces she’s leaving him to find another Sugar Daddy. Lester explains that all his books have been inspired by his wife (“The Wooing of a Wife,” “A Wife Fights Illness,” etc.) and without her, he’s nothing. Suddenly, Lester has a brainstorm and, soon after, his sixth bestseller, “Death of a Wife,” is published. 

    “The Maiden in the Iron Mask” is a silly medieval tale of homely Sir Thromp, and his gorgeous wife, Lady Carr. When Thromp goes off to war, he places an iron mask over his wife’s face so that she might not stray in her affections. Unfortunately, the war goes on for 14 months and by the time Thromp gets back, Lady Carr is a skeleton. One that still speaks. 

Spellbound #16

“When You Believe” (a: Bill Everett) ★★★

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #3)

“Too Human to Live!” (a: Vic Carrabotta & Jack Abel) ★1/2

(r: Beware #1)

“Only a Rose!” (a: John Forte & Matt Fox) ★★★1/2

(r: Dead of Night #3)

“A Very Grave Matter” (a: Russ Heath) ★

“Behind the Door” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

(r: Beware #1)

Holy cow, it’s Christmas, and little Billy Herrick gets the Disintegrator Ray-Gun he’s always wanted. Dad sure is swell. But, unknown to Billy, who goes outside to play space wars with the other boys, Dad’s job as public defender has left an extremely angry Big Jim Emmett rotting in jail and swearing he’ll get the PD who didn’t do enough for him. Sure enough, Big Jim jumps the wall of the Big House and shows up on the Herricks’ doorstep, promising to ventilate the whole family, little Billy first. When Billy promises to disintegrate Big Jim, the con laughs and tells the kid to have at it. He’s not laughing seconds later when he’s reduced to a smoking puddle of bodily fluids. Allowing that the family was saved by Billy’s belief, Pop takes the gun and dumps it in the river, promising Billy a less-lethal replacement. “When You Believe” is the kind of wondrous fantasy tale associated with Marvel Tales or Journey Into Unknown Worlds rather than a horror title but, regardless, the story is fabulously imaginative and Everett perfectly visualizes the events. Big Jim looks like the requisite Everett bearded Bluto.

In “Too Human to Live!,” Sam Brinker is fed up with working at the Vorlen Android Factory but his boss won’t let him out of his contract. When Sam meets a pretty girl one night on the street, he decides then and there he will quit and get himself a proper job. Unfortunately, his boss then gives Sam the night shift. In a childish rage, Sam throws himself out a window and splats gears and pistons all over the street. Yep, poor Sam was an android too! 

When her husband’s interest in her begins to wane (“How about them Yankees?”), Helen Barrows suspects Chester might be stepping out on her. She follows him one night, only to find Chester stopping in at a flower shop and delivering the beauties to a gorgeous woman on the other side of town. Furious, Helen sends poisoned chocolates to the woman and, the next day at the breakfast table, is astonished to see Chester ignoring the front page news. The next night, Helen once again tails her hubby and witnesses the exact same sight: Chester handing over flowers to a strange woman’s door. Poisoned candy once again finds its target the next day. 

This scenario plays out a few more times until, one night, Chester shows up with flowers, a box of candy, and a nice watch, explaining he’s been delivering flowers for the local flower shop in order to make a little extra money to buy presents for Helen’s birthday. Overcome with love (and yes, a bit sorry for her murderous behavior of late), Helen chows down on the candy and admires her flowers while Chester explains that the flowers and chocolate were returned that morning by the woman he delivered to last night. “Ulp!” blurts Helen. One of Carl Wessler’s best Atlas scripts, a cleverly plotted little masterpiece, with a chocolate-covered irony delivered in its final panels. Fox/Forte team up on “Only a Rose” to give Helen a delightfully evil sheen.

The three-page “A Very Grave Matter,” is barely worth a mention. The story (two brutish thugs hold a town in terror until a creepy encounter in the graveyard leaves them at the mercy of a living corpse) is dumb and I really hate that Stan would waste Russ on such inconsequential fluff. Much, much better is the finale, “Behind the Door,” which showcases Joe Sinnott’s outstanding visuals. Cyrus Clapper is one of America’s richest men thanks to his various inventions but his latest, the “Atom Beam,” will make him world famous. The contraption can “show everything,” dreams, nightmares, even thoughts. What Cyrus didn’t count on was capturing Death within its beams. Knowing the Grim Reaper is coming for him, Clapper traps the skeletal visitor in a fire-proof vault and settles back into life, knowing he can’t die. 

When his beloved niece, Wanda, is fatally injured in a car wreck and hangs on painfully between life and death, Cyrus makes the ultimate sacrifice and allows Death to escape and claim his suffering Wanda. For good measure, the Reaper swings his scythe at Cyrus as well. I’m not sure why a creature that can walk through walls and is actually an ethereal mass could be held in a vault but, for the most part, “Behind the Door” is a thought-provoking little melodrama. Rather than a Scrooge-like miser, Cyrus buys lots of expensive gifts for Wanda in what he thinks is a show of affection and Wanda sends the gifts back, scolding her uncle for believing love can be bought. There are no evil intentions buried beneath the surface and, in the end, we applaud Cyrus Clapper for making the right choice.

Strange Tales #21

“The Man Who Cried Vampire!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★★

“Ball of Fire!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★

“The Last Flying Saucer” (a: Bill Everett) ★★★1/2

“The Man from Tomorrow” (a: John Forte) ★1/2

“The Monkey Glands” (Paul Reinman) ★★

Cattle rancher Ricky Stone has tried time and time again to off his wife, Lucy, through "natural means," all without any luck. If she dies, Ricky inherits the vast acreage and lots of dough but the woman just won't die. His latest brainstorm is to scare her to death by convincing the poor woman (an occult enthusiast) that their ranch is infested with vampires and the damn things are draining the cattle dry. One night Ricky heads out on the range to slaughter one of his neighbor's calves (to bring back to Lucy as proof of vampirism on the prairie), when he's startled by a shadowy figure. It's Lucy, bearing fangs, and ready to let Ricky in on her big secret: there are vampires on the ranch but not of the human kind. She then sicks her bloodthirsty bulls on Ricky! I'd be daft to claim that “The Man Who Cried Vampire!” is literate storytelling at its finest, but it's a load of fun and that final panel of winged bulls is an eyeball-rolling classic of large proportions. Though Lucy bares some fangs, she never actually identifies herself as one of the undead. 

A giant meteorite crashes near an observatory and three professors gather the fragments together in their lab, not knowing that the larger piece wants its “babies” back. “Ball of Fire!” is a harmless little cautionary tale with an incomprehensible climax but some nice doodles by Tony DiPreta. Franz Kukoff has hated his brother, the Baron Serge Lukoff, since Serge inherited the family fortune and put his brother on a stipend. Knowing he’ll inherit the estate should his brother die before him, Franz injects himself with monkey glands (known far and wide to add years to one’s life) and sees an immediate change. The very next night, the Baron drops dead and the estate goes to Franz. Unfortunately, at the reading of the will, Franz turns into a monkey. “The Monkey Glands” is a supremely silly “brother vs. brother” tale, anchored by some superb graphics by Paul Reinman. Some would say it’s putting a mink stole on a pig.

In 1955, we're told that the earth is still "on the brink of war... floods, sickness, and fears still plague the earth... and only one mysterious flying saucer remains in the sky above! The others have all returned from whence they came..."  The opening panel of “The Last Flying Saucer” shows an apocalyptic wasteland of raised buildings and pummeled autos. An eerie, unsettling set-up, I must admit, but the story never tells us who we were at war with and why there were other UFOs in the sky before this one came! The UFO lands and is immediately surrounded by an army equipped with an atomic cannon (we are to assume that each town has its own such weapon). The crowd pleads with the soldiers to blast the ship to atoms but before this can be done, a door opens and a one-eyed, six-armed red bovine creature emerges (one obviously intelligent woman remarks "it must come from another planet!") to offer a gizmo to the crowd. 

That's enough provocation for this general and he orders the ship and unsightly occupant vaporized. The next panel shows what seems to be a mushroom cloud, with the caption "Just as the atomic shell strikes the creature from another world, he hurls the object out of range!! So, although the creature and the ship are destroyed, the small black thing remains unharmed!" Hilariously, we indeed see the gizmo clearing the blast range and, even funnier, the crowd and army (which was standing a good twenty yards from the ship when it was A-bombed) are intact. The gizmo (a translating machine, we find out) that set off the deadly chain of events begins airing a recording from the now-defunct space traveler, telling all of earth that within the ship they'll find the secret of eternal life and the formula for ending war forever! Our last panel shows just what a blow this is to mankind as one soldier gasps "B-but we... we destroyed the ship!" while another slaps his forehead and exclaims "Oh No!" I'm sure Stan Lee (who is credited with writing this alterna-classic) was consciously trying to write about the frivolities of war while subconsciously ripping off The Day The Earth Stood Still!

In the conclusion to last issue’s time travel dud, “The World I Lost!,” we left poor doltish egghead Adam Tyler trapped in 2053, fleeing from a band of hunchbacked mutants who had just destroyed his only way back to 1953. As we open with Chapter Two, we see Adam doubling back to the ruins of his time machine. Soon, the mutants return and Adam must flee into what is left of New York City. There he meets a blind mutant who listens to his story and agrees to travel back in time with Adam to testify to the horrors of the future. Will man finally give up war? Well, problem is… once Adam lands and exits his vehicle, his friends arrive and admonish him for disappearing. He explains that he knew they wouldn’t believe him unless he brought proof. And for his proof, he presents… oops, the capsule is empty. Adam didn’t take into account that the blind mutant would have been born after 1953 so, thereby, doesn’t exist yet. The poor, dispirited big brain sits in front of his TV as Moscow rallies its troops. 

Featuring even more skewed science from the whiz kids at Atlas, “The Man From Tomorrow” is not even a decent time-waster. Nothing really happens outside of Adam’s endless fleeing and his miraculous and seemingly instantaneous patch-up job on the time machine. I assume that, even though civilization has ended, Pep Boys soldiers on (I really want to see that panel of the hunchback in white overalls telling Adam, “Atomic generators are on aisle 7”). Then there’s the “huh?” moment when we’re told Mr. 2053 somehow can’t travel through time even though Adam can.

Uncanny Tales #11

“The Man Who Changed” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #9)

“If Looks Could Kill!” (a: Harry Anderson) ★★

(r: Journey Into Mystery #14)

“The Hungry Jaws” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

(r: Journey Into Mystery #15)

“Joe’s Weak Spot” (a: Bill Walton) ★★

(r: Creatures on the Loose #30)

“The Mental Case” (a: Sid Greene) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #31)

"If Looks Could Kill!"
Picked on all his life for being small and unattractive, Sidney finds fame when he’s exposed to the radiation from a direct H-bomb blast and he becomes “The Man Who Changed.” Sporting a completely different, athletic physique and a handsome face, Sidney heads back to his hometown to try to win the heart of the girl he always loved. Alas, word has gotten out that Sidney is radioactive as heck, and no one wants to be near him. Dejected, Sidney heads back to the small atoll where the blast took place to live out the rest of his days alone. A very melancholy melodrama, without the usual murders and revenge-based histrionics, “The Man Who Changed” instead introduces us to a frog who dreamed he was a prince but, in the end, realizes it takes a heck of a lot more than good looks to find happiness. Damn that radiation!

Harry Anderson donates some unnerving artwork to “If Looks Could Kill!,” about a scientist who becomes obsessed with a movie star. When the woman jilts him, he concocts a cream that will “preserve her beauty forever.” Unable to resist, the vain actress applies the cream and immediately transforms into stone, thus assuring her beauty will last forever.

A greedy plantation owner offers up his slaves to an approaching invasion of army ants only to fall prey to the little critters himself. The final panel, where the ants sprout the heads of the dead slaves, makes no sense at all but is highly effective, visually, thanks to Gene Colan’s shadowy and atmospheric art. Stan was getting all the mileage he could out of “Leinengen Vs. the Ants,” which had been a massively popular episode of the Escape radio show a few years prior to “The Hungry Jaws.” “Joe’s Weak Spot” is a two-page quickie about a boxer who can’t interest any promoters. For good reason as we discover in the final panel… the guy, literally, has a glass jaw. Very silly but good for a giggle or two.

John Franks bursts into Dr. Browning’s office, explaining that he has a demon in his head. When the doc asks for the full story, Franks tells about his hunting trip to Canada, where he met up with a friend who began complaining of a terrible headache, a “demon in his head.” The next day, the friend was cured but John now felt the pressure within his noggin, as if someone was swinging from his uvula. After a long discussion with the physician, Franks feels much better and leaves. At that moment, the doc starts feeling a bit of pressure… “The Mental Case” is oddly reminiscent of The Exorcist and fairly creepy despite mediocre visuals from Sid Greene.

In Two Weeks...
We'll pick over the
carcasses of thirty more
delightful Strange Tales!


Grant said...

Even though I don't know any of them well, that panel of "Only A Rose" has a sort of underground comic look, at least to me.

And the close-up picture of Lucy in "The Man Who Cried Vampire" looks almost like it could have inspired the infamous make-up in BLOOD OF DRACULA.

Peter Enfantino said...

Hey Grant-

I've been finding that a lot of the Atlas pre-code horror has an underground "feel" to it. It's hard to put my finger on it sometimes but the vibe is definitely there.