Thursday, August 18, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 67


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 52
October 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #24

“The Wax Men” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #29)

“The Body Snatchers” (a: Al Luster) ★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #12)

“Juggernaut” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #9)

“Tennis Anyone?” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #29)

“The Last Man” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

(r: Haunt of Horror #1)

Jonathan Welch lives on the outskirts of town in a huge mansion all alone, save his “family.” The townsfolk all think he’s a loon since Jonathan’s “family” is made of wax! But an enterprising girl like Helen Jones always sees the “beauty” beneath the beast (and make no mistake, with his malformed face, J. is a beast), never mind the wealth. Helen quickly wins Jon’s favor and the man giddily takes her home to meet the folks. Helen can’t help but question the sanity of a man who holds conversations with wax figures but she wants a sugar daddy so, very soon after, she and Jon are married. It doesn’t take long for the bloom to come off the rose and Helen, sick and tired of living with giant candles, torches the living room and all its occupants. The fire rages out of control and Helen is caught in the middle but Jon can’t lend a hand… he’s wax too!

“The Wax Men” is a fairly predictable thriller, with elevated ludicrosity, but I liked it anyway. That’s probably due to Joe Sinnott’s sizzling graphics but I have a soft spot for stories that jettison sense and aim for the heart of dopiness with no fear of retribution. Explain to me the logistics of a wax man. What does he eat? How does he make little wax kids? Why would he have a fireplace? Who crafted him? If he’s made of wax, can’t he re-sculpt the deformed features? And if Jonathan can walk about like a normal guy, why can’t the rest of his family? See what I mean? This is just too much fun.

“The Body Snatchers” takes the basic plot of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic (“The Body Snatcher”) and gleefully pulls away from that at mid-point. Doctor Knopf needs corpses fresh from the grave so he hires Hugo, a grave-robber, to keep his pantry fill. Then, the doctor’s students start disappearing and he suspects Hugo has tired of digging up bodies and is taking the easy route. Turns out that the corpses have all gotten together, somehow rigged up an underground lab, and they’re conducting experiments as well. The latest will be on… Herr Doktor Knopf!

Like “The Wax Men,” “The Body Snatchers” is bereft of anything resembling a sense of reality. It’s not explained why the corpses are taking out their anger on Knopf’s students or how all that fabulous medical equipment got into the underground dungeon. Was it paid for on credit? The Al Luster art is perfectly garish and the story’s uncredited colorist should be applauded for bringing that eccentricity out in gorgeous technicolor.

In the 17th Century, an Indian priest convinces his townsfolk to give all their world possessions to his temple and sacrifice themselves under the “wheel of Vishnu,” a rolling wagon that crushes all in its path. Several men and women commit suicide under the “Juggernaut” and the priest becomes a wealthy man. Later that evening, the priest is awakened and the wagon comes for him, pushed by the spirits of his victims. “Juggernaut” has an intelligent script (written by Paul S. Newman), but this is Gene Colan’s baby all the way, a tour de force of subtlety and noir choreography. Sans the ghostly finale, “Juggernaut” would have fit in just fine in an issue of Shock SuspenStories.

“Tennis, Anyone?” sees an arrogant tennis champion beaten by a new guy in town. When he steals into the guy’s locker to investigate his racket, the champ is knocked out and comes to on an operating table. The rookie explains that his rackets aren’t made with “catgut!” I’m not sure why a tennis racket made with human guts would win you more sets but I’ll just keep turning the pages and forget this one. Joe has robbed a bank and one of the clerks saw his face when Joe’s mask slipped so, that night, Joe waits patiently in an alley for the teller to get off work. When the man leaves the bank, Joe ventilates him, but a cop slugs the murderer a good one to the back of the head with a nightstick, and Joe sees stars. He awakens to find the city deserted and his only companion is the man he’s shot. A newspaper in the gutter explains that Earth had been invaded by Mars while Joe was taking a catnap and its inhabitants marched into a spaceship and taken to Saturn to become slaves. But, we find out, Joe’s just a little shaken from his clubbing and imagining the whole thing. As he’s taken away on a stretcher to the loony bin, we remember that this issue actually had a couple very good stories to balance out the final two turkeys.

Adventures into Weird Worlds #23

“I  Am Death!” (a: Joe Maneely)  ★★★

“Call of the Wild Goose” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“An Old Man’s Fancy!” (a: Dan Loprino) ★

“Bok-Tok Makes a Boo-Boo” (a: George Oleson) ★★

“The Kiss of Death!” (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2

Professor Martin believes that Death makes an appearance before claiming a life and Martin also believes his new ray beam machine can destroy the Grim Reaper and grant eternal life on Earth. Just after pushing the on/off button on his ray machine and testing it on a lab rat, the Professor is stricken with a heart attack and watches as Death materializes before him. The genius blasts Death with his laser beam and the robed figure cannot move. Before he disappears, Death begs Martin to change his mind and, after he sees the egghead won’t budge, hands him a ring he says will grant death to those who have it coming.

Martin soon finds he’s made a really big mistake when nothing on Earth will die… humans, rats, malaria-carrying insects, nothing, and he voluntarily becomes the new Grim Reaper. Sure, this one’s got some really big logic problems (why does this professor insist Death will appear before his next “victim” when he has no proof?), but it’s also wildly imaginative and has a terrific outcome. 

The Goose is Wild
Hillbilly Clem runs afoul of a goose that can transform into a witch in the swamp-set horror story, “Call of the Wild Goose.” Al Eadah’s art is a seesaw, ugly as hell in some spots and perfectly lurid in others. In “An Old Man’s Fancy!,” Mr. Knoll confides in a pretty young woman who lives down the hall in his boarding house that he’s convinced there are monsters on Earth disguised as normal human beings. Of course, in the cliched climax, we find out the girl is one of the monsters. This particularly dreadful story line seems to have been trotted out every three or four months. Loprino’s art is barely above amateurish.

Bok-Tok from Jupiter is worried about the evil ways of Earthlings. Everything we do, Bok-Tok learns, is based on lies. So the little green egg-headed alien sprays the entire world with a dose of truth spray (Russia gets a double dose because it’s “a place that needs it…”) and kicks back to watch a whole new world sprout before his very eyes. Unfortunately, we can’t handle the truth and murder and war escalate into total annihilation. As a mushroom cloud rises in front of his view-screen, Bok-Tok realizes he’s made a boo-boo. A cute but overly preachy science fiction/fantasy tale. It’s always ironic to me when the (uncredited) Atlas writers sermonize that we must trust our brothers or face armageddon and yet the USSR always comes in for a hammering (and sickling as well!).

Gigolo Marvin gets his hands on wealthy Wilma and pops the question mighty fast. Wilma tells him she has to take him to see “an old friend” first and, after the visit, if Marv still wants her elderly hand in marriage… so be it. The friend turns out to be Wilma’s physician, who drops a bomb on Marvin… Wilma has six weeks to live. Barely suppressing his laughter, Marv reiterates his proposal and the two are married. Wilma changes her will, leaving her husband everything and then promptly dies. Marvin is at home one evening, shortly after the funeral, when the doc drops by to marvel at the man’s courage. When Marv sighs and lets on that he really needs to get away to deal with his sorrow, the doc informs him that will be impossible. “Good heavens, didn’t she tell you? Her illness… it was a rare and incurable disease — and highly contagious! I don’t give you more than six weeks to live!” An effectual, if ridiculous, jolt. This doctor doesn’t think to mention to Marv on his first visit that he’s come in contact with a human time bomb? Maybe he’s the backup in the will?

Astonishing #27

“The Great Migration” (a: Ross Andru) ★★★

“The Deaf Ear” (a: George Roussos) ★1/2

“The Biggest Car” (a: Cal Massey) ★1/2

“The Macabre Museum” (a: George Tuska) ★

“The Corpse Vanishes” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★★

Continuing the saga of “The Perfect Planet” (from Mystic #23), “The Great Migration” finds our doomed castaways trying to adjust to life on a Venusian satellite three months after they landed. Just as they’re pondering what the great BBQ back home must be like, the radio screeches (y’know, the one that wasn’t supposed to work in space?) and the trio learn that Earth had to give up hope on their saviors and, as the sun began cooking the human population, several thousand boarded a rocket and blasted somewhere near “the asteroid belt,” searching for a place to stay. The voice explains that the inhabitants of Earth that had not yet been fried have mutated and can withstand greater heat. That bit of the populace is now heading to the Venusian satellite our heroes are relaxing on.

At first the men argue over how things will be handled once the new neighbors arrive but then some kind of space fever overcomes them and all three agree the best tactic is to divvy up the world into three parts and each will rule his own kingdom of “slaves.” They can bed and mate and toss away as many of the gorgeous young Earthlings as they want. Then the ship lands and the new mutants disembark. The mutation has not been kind to the ladies, who hold crates of their own incubating eggs in their reptilian claws. One of the men looks to the other two, shrugs, and says “We’ve still got our guns to use on ourselves!”

If not quite the powerhouse that was “The Perfect Planet,” “The Great Migration” is still a lot of fun and may even contain a more downbeat climax than the first chapter. The first two pages are a recap so there’s really not much room to deliver anything more than a punchline but that punchline is a good one. 

In “The Deaf Ear,” Mr. Shepard threatens to fire his morgue attendant, Charley, if he catches the old-timer talking to the stiff customers again. Charley swears he can hear the dead with this new-fangled hearing aid of his but he promises Mr. Shepard there will be no more incidents. Later that day, while walking home from work, Shepard is crushed by a falling piano and appears to be dead. Wheeled into his own morgue, he tries to speak to Charley but the old man, having learned his lesson, has taken his hearing aid out and wheels his “dead” boss to the refrigerator. 

Since he was young, Gerry Grimes has sworn some day he’d drive “The Biggest Car” in the city and, when he grows of age, he takes up thievery to continually upgrade his ride. When Gerry gets wind of a brand-new auto with a 22k price tag and guaranteed to be the biggest in the world, he sticks up a bank. Shot and killed while making his withdrawal, Gerry takes his last ride in the biggest car of his life, a hearse.

Surely the most boring Atlas tale of 1953, “The Macabre Museum” is an unending snooze fest about a statue of Pan that arises every night to lure museum workers to their deaths. Complete with a mailed-in art job by George Tuska. Dreadful. Finally, “The Corpse Vanishes” is a ludicrous but, admittedly enjoyable little farce about an out-of-work actor who takes out a life insurance policy on himself for ten grand and then impersonates the wife he doesn’t have. He fakes his own death so that his “wife” cashes out but then gets nabbed for murder when he disposes of his alter ego’s clothing. Bob Fujitani’s art is almost as bland and lifeless as Tuska’s but at least the script is clever.

Menace #8

“The Lizard-Man” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“The Werewolf Was Afraid” (a: John Romita) ★★★

(r: Beware #1)

“The Face of Horror” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

(r: Fear #12)

“3-Dimensions” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

“The Wooden Woman” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

A giant lizard named Zraa Zromm emerges from a hole in the ground and asks for an audience with world leaders. Explaining that his race has outgrown the small space at the core of the Earth and would like to retire to a nice patch of surface ground, Zraa is astonished at the hostile reception he is given. He explains that if humankind does not allow the giant lizards to rise from their prison, they will have no choice but to unleash the Munntosso. Scoffing, Earth’s leaders rain down fire from bomber planes and Zraa heads back to the center of the Earth with bad news. The lizards activate their “Munntosso Machine” and the surface of the Earth is boiled alive by volcanoes. “The Lizard Man” (a misleading title) has a somewhat silly premise even for a fantasy-horror title and this is certainly not Joe Maneely’s finest hour; his graphics look rushed and unfinished.

Having bagged every species on Earth, an Englishman heads out to find a werewolf but what he finds is a polite, well-mannered lycanthrope reading poetry. Unable to goad the creature to attack, the hunter burns with rage. Which is just what the werewolf wanted: a hot meal. Though a genuinely funny little short-short with a great twist ending, “The Werewolf Was Afraid” contains a fearsome rendering of the titular character by John Romita.

“The Face of Horror” is the ludicrous tale of ugly man Derok Winters, who discovers only one plastic surgeon in the world can help him but the price is ten grand. Crossing the street one night, Derok is hit by an oncoming car. The driver offers to pay Derok for his troubles but the man with the face of horror sees this as his money ticket. He tells the driver he wants ten grand but the man scoffs. In a rage, Derok strangles the man only to find, when the police arrive, he’s killed that one plastic surgeon who could help him. At least we have the art of Russ Heath to gaze at while trying to ignore the words. A second dose of Heath arrives with “3-Dimensions,” a short-short about a gang of thieves who plan the most elaborate theft of all time and the only ones to be bilked are the patrons of a movie theater. I’m not sure the planning commission was involved.

The final story this issue, “The Wooden Woman,” is easily the worst story to appear in the first eight issues of Menace (only time will tell if the ranking stands) in both script and art. Gustav, the wood-worker, carves ship heads for pirates until Napoleon shows up at his door one day to demand the master craftsman create a beautiful woman for his own ship. Gustav gets to work but soon finds himself falling in love with the wooden dame, especially when she begins to speak. A bad end comes to Gustav when he sees a witch about a spell to transform him into a wooden man. For no apparent reason whatsoever, Bob Fujitani has gifted Gustav with a set of fangs Dracula would kill for. The rest of Fujitani’s work is a dribbling of doodles, with no style or dynamic.

This issue was the first inkling we have that Stan had thrown his hands up and decided to treat Menace as just another horror book. Instead of the usual four stories, we get five shorter tales. This is a policy that will stand until the final issue. But the length of the stories isn’t the only change; the chance Stan took with subject matter falls by the way side and a familiar, safe path is the new road taken. The highs of “Zombie” and “Rocket Ship” descend to the lows of “The Face of Horror” and “The Wooden Woman.”

In Two Weeks...
4-star Sinnott!


Grant said...

Till a few months ago, I was reading these comics and others on "Read Comic Online," but now that's become almost literally impossible to use, because it constantly directs you to other things (it was always a little tricky that way, but nothing like this year). So that's another reason I'm very glad that this version of barebones e-zine is still here.

Peter Enfantino said...


There's a site that has 99.9% of the comics I cover in this project for free download. I've never had any problems with viruses or anything but, of course, your mileage may vary.

Peter Enfantino said...

Ironically, the one comic the site did not have was Adventures Into Weird Worlds #23. That I had to buy for a pretty penny off eBay!

Grant said...

Thank you.