Thursday, September 29, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales: Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 70


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 55
December 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror 26

“The Shrunken Head” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★

“Once a Horse Thief…” ★★★

“Before the Dawn of Time” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★

“The Hanging Man” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“The Bear Facts of Life!” (a: Mac Pakula) ★★1/2

Professor Ramson is obsessed with learning the Jivaro techniques of head shrinking and, once he makes the trip, he learns the hard way. If the splash wasn’t signed, you’d mistake the Benulis/Abel art for that of Gene Colan. There’s a lot of very atmospheric shading going on in “The Shrunken Head,” and that’s a plus since the script comes up quite a bit short, especially in its ludicrous climax.

Husein the horse thief is stealing away with one of the most beautiful steeds in Arabia when a young watchman happens upon the theft. Husein buries a dagger in the boy’s heart and hops aboard the thoroughbred, making his escape. But, later that night, the horse goes lame and Husein ties it to a tree to starve. While making his way through the desert on foot, Husein is startled by a spirit who claims he’s there to grant the man his deepest desire. Safe passage into the palace of wealthy Ibn Abdul has always been Husein’s wish and… that wish is granted. But when he’s discovered, the thief must hide out in the hay of Abdul’s stable. Not a wise move. An entertaining bit of fantasy, with a beautifully ironic finale, but “Once a Horse Thief…” desperately needed the talents of a Colan or Benulis (the GCD posits that it might be the work of Sid Greene) to lift it even higher.

A construction crew discovers a strange, ancient metal cylinder buried beneath a road project. When scientists open the relic, they discover notebooks and a video left by the last living members of the civilization that ruled Earth before man. The narrator explains that a mold from space destroyed all life and the video is left as a warning for anyone who finds it. The scientists breathe a sigh of relief that the fungus did not survive the ages but do not notice the green substance growing around the excavation site. Running only four pages, “Before the Dawn of Time” has a necessarily text-heavy script but is balanced out by solid Heath work and a fabulously downbeat climax. The deadly fungus angle reminds one of the Quatermass series.

Little Tad Burrows finds out from his street buddies that his sadistic uncle is “The Hanging Man!” Tad is mortified that Uncle Ben might be an executioner but when he sneaks into the prison yard for a look he’s surprised to discover his uncle is the hanged man! Not much to this other than Chuck Winters’ stark, almost underground, style of art that gives each panel a dark and eerie vibe. 

Carlotta has always been jealous of Bruno, her husband Tito’s trained bear. Even though it’s Bruno who earns the lion’s share of the money, Carlotta hates that her husband fawns over the brute. When Bruno comes down with a case of the sicks, Carlotta devises a way to rid herself of the beast by setting up an arena match with Count Francisco’s ferocious lions without consulting Tito first. All Tito knows is that there’s going to be a special show. When the big day arrives, Carlotta sits in the stands wondering where her husband is, but snickers as the bear enters the arena. Just then, family friend Marco sits down beside Carlotta and explains that Bruno had died the night before but Tito, knowing how much the show meant to Carlotta, gutted his prize possession and entered the arena wearing the pelt. Carlotta’s smile turns to a frown as the lions circle Tito. The build-up is needlessly complicated but the pay-off is a beaut; poor Bruno joins the select few of innocent Atlas victims who paid for the sins of their significant others. 

Adventures into Weird Worlds #24

“The One Who Was Dead” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

“He Kidnapped a Rocket” 1/2

“The Hunter” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★

“Halfway Home!” (a: Chuck Winter) 1/2

“Look Out for the Martians” (a: John Forte) ★★1/2

Dr. Karl Veblen bursts into the home of his good friend, Alec Jones, with an astonishing proclamation. Karl has discovered a formula for bringing the dead back to life. He demonstrates on a deceased alley cat he’s brought in a brown paper bag and, sure enough, seconds later, the maggot-eaten carcass is meowing and demanding a saucer of milk. Karl begs his oldest and dearest friend to inject him with the remainder of the serum (the only batch left on Earth) should he die. Alec agrees but, when Karl dies, he allows his friend to be interred. 

Soon after, while working on his latest historical novel, Alec sighs and muses out loud how wonderful it would be if he could talk to Cleopatra herself, if only she wasn’t… The next day, Alec is on a plane to Cairo, where the mummy of Cleopatra can be had for a price. Alec pays the price, injects the mummy with Karl’s potion, and watches in awe as the queen of the Nile rises again. But it’s a very short resurrection as the potion also brings to life the asp that Cleo used for her suicide! Though this is not one of Paul Reinman’s best, I thought the script for “The One Who Was Dead” was darkly humorous. One panel after Alec vows “compliance with Karl’s request,” he’s walking away from the grave and, ostensibly, forgetting all about that sacred vow.

In the year 2137, thief Spider Jordan, who’s just made off with “fifty thousand,” hides in a rocket ship bound for unexplored worlds. Deep into space, Spider shows himself and demands a pardon on Earth or he’ll blast the rocket crew to smithereens. The Captain agrees and explains that they have to land on Planet 27 before they head back. Once they touch ground, Spider is arrested by armed guards who surround the ship. The captain explains they’ve landed on a prison colony planet. “He Kidnapped a Rocket” is overlong at four pages, which is not a good sign. The art (possibly by Benulis and Abel) is spotty; sharp in places (like the splash), but ragged in others.

Much better is the similarly outer space-set “The Hunter,” about a poacher named Bruno who provides exotic animals for a future zoo. He uses his two mongrels to corral the animals and load them into his “caravan of space rafts.” After one particularly gruesome beast he caught on a “Jungle Star” nabs Bruno a cool million, he’s looking to fatten his wallet even more. An anonymous tip on the phone sends him to an as-yet-unvisited planet but, once he gets out of his ship, he realizes he’s been conned. The animals here use humans as their playthings, riding them like horses, leashed like dogs, and penned up in cages. As Bruno smiles and exclaims that this planet is about to be liberated, his dogs hold blasters on him and march him down to meet their friends. 

“The Hunter” is a hilarious send-up of all those “heartless explorer” tales we’ve had to endure the past several Atlas-years and predicts Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet/Planet of the Apes (okay, I’m stretching that last bit). Bruno’s ship is a clever space train that holds creatures in each one of its “cars,” and there’s some wink-wink dialogue as well (Bruno is told by the voice on the phone to “Turn right at Saturn…”). The Greene/Stuart art is fabulously fit for a sci-fi parody. 

The X-33 uses up most of its fuel attempting to leave the tremendous gravity of Saturn so the crew must land the rocket ship on one of Saturn’s moons and devise a way to get back to Earth. Luckily, they have one of the biggest brains of science on board and Dr. Huron whips up a gizmo that will reduce the crew members to a fraction of their size, thus eliminating quite a bit of weight. Dr. Huron tries the machine on himself, insisting to the captain that he will emerge half the man he was when he entered. The “Reductor” works… kinda. “Halfway Home” is an extremely silly three-pager with a fine Chuck Winter gloss.

A hardware salesman blows off a little steam by attending a science fiction fan meeting. There, internationally famous SF writer, August Dart, proclaims that the Martians have infiltrated Earth and are living amongst us, masquerading as humans. The only thing that will save us, Dart claims, is the Scanners, a group of government agents who can see through the faux-human disguise. Dart is hauled away to the funny farm but our salesman heads to a cafe across the street and there bumps into a fellow SF “fan” who claims he’s a Scanner. Later that evening, the salesman is grabbed by his cafe acquaintance and two other thugs and forced into an abandoned building. It’s there that they reveal their plan… “Look Out For the Martians” has, perhaps, one too many twists in its tall but the final twist is a good one, one that I didn’t see coming. Forte’s art is serviceable but he’s not given much to work with, outside of groups of men in hats. When we finally see it, Forte’s Martian is a cool concoction.

Astonishing #28

“Age Before Beauty” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★

“No Evidence!” (a: Louis Ravelli) ★★1/2

“The End of the World!” (a: Al Eadah)

“Death Where Is Thy Sting” (a: Don Perlin)

“The Hidden Planet!” (a: Robert Q. Sale)

Obsessed with his muscle-building regime and keeping handsome for his age, pilot Roger Dean ignores the control panel, puts the spaceship on autopilot, and gets back to his push-ups. Unfortunately, space throws a monkey wrench into Dean’s plans when the ship crashes into “a major chunk of space debris” and hurtles towards the planet Roxx. Dean wakes to find his entire crew is dead and a gorgeous blonde is nursing him. The body-builder makes the best of things by proposing to his caregiver and settling down in a three-bedroom in the ‘burbs.

But Roger Dean begins to suspect something is up with his beautiful bride when Zara begins looking younger every day. Turns out this planet ages backwards and Zara is slowly, but surely, becoming a young child. She’ll need an “age transfusion” to reverse the process. Roger consents but his after-effects are grim. Though the set-up of “Age Before Beauty” is a bit exaggerated (the idea that a spaceman would rather do sit-ups than steer the ship through a life-threatening meteor attack is a bit far-fetched, no?) the underlying message, that age is in the eye of the beholder, is a heady one for a 1950s SF strip. Vanity can kill. I love Mort Lawrence’s graphics, very much in the style of Krenkel and Williamson, which are perfect for this type of Atlas SF.

Turns out Jason, filing clerk who has access to top secret military documents, is swallowing paper and then giving it up (via stomach suction — yecccch!) to his real employers, the stinkin’ commies. His boss is so impressed with Jason’s skills, he assigns him to the most important mission of all time — the brand new, top secret, eyes only project American scientists are working on. Jason worms his way in and swallows the capsule at the lab but is caught exiting the building. Though he feigns innocence, Jason is given up by his own stomach, which begins to glow. He’s swallowed a “concentrated atomic energy pill!” Shouldn’t have done that. Though “No Evidence” is stocked with cliched bloodthirsty, inhuman Russians (and saintly Americans only working for the betterment of mankind), the climactic twist is a snorter and the look on Jason’s face, as he melts from the inside, is priceless.

A crazed man tries to force his way into the White House, screaming that “The End of the World” is only four hours away. The guards call the loonie bin and a van comes to take the crazed stranger away. A tornado whisks the van high in the sky and slams it back down, killing the guards but leaving the madman unhurt. He quickly heads back to the White House but is scooped up en route by aliens from another world. The planet Gruba has sent an army to conquer Earth and our crazed protagonist is a pacifist out to warn our people of the invasion. The aliens kill their traitor and begin the assault. With a lazy script and amateurish artwork by Al Eadah, “The End of the World” looks like something a ten-year-old would whip up in an afternoon.

Amateur hour continues with the truly awful “Death, Where Is Thy Sting?,” about a bum who hops off a train, looking for work, and finds a secluded farmer looking for help with his beehives. When he sees the old man stashing money in one of the bee boxes, the derelict goes nuts and throttles the farmer. The bees attack the killer, stinging him into unconsciousness. When he awakens, for some unexplained reason, he’s inside a honeycomb, drowning in the sticky stuff. Where this out-of-left-field reveal came from (and what it actually means) is lost to the ages. This could be Don Perlin’s nadir.

“The Hidden Planet” sees alien Zo from the planet Attalia meet up with scientist, Professor Kroft, who has a soft spot for gold. Turns out Zo comes from a planet where gold is commonplace and flows like water through the canyons. Smelling a payday, Kroft orders Zo at gunpoint to fly him to Atallia so that he can grab a few souvenirs and come back as the richest man on Earth. Unfortunately, the plan backfires when Attalia turns out to be the Sun and Kroft melts as they enter its atmosphere. Well duh, Dr. Kroft, how else would you have rivers of gold? Some scientist this guy is.

Journey into Mystery #13

“Not Normal!” (a: George Roussos) ★★★

“Keep Off the Grass” (a: John Forte)

“The Living and the Dead” (a: Myron Fass)

“What Harry Saw!” 1/2

“We Don’t Want Your Head!” (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★★

Ludwig Miskolc has spent his entire life purging Bakony, his Hungarian village, of the werewolves and vampires who live in the outlying forests. When Ludwig scores a ten and kills Loki, King of the Werewolves, all the nightmarish creatures who lived in the forest flee for greener pastures. With nothing better to do. Ludwig decides to take a wife. Unfortunately, he discovers that the evil bloodlines of the werewolf and vampire have spilled over into the pretty girls of Hungary; he can’t find a date who doesn’t want to drain him of his blood. So it’s off to Budapest to find that certain girl.

But it turns out that Budapest is filled with witches! What to do? Swearing that he’s “through with women,” Ludwig heads back to Bakony to live out his life a broken and lonely man. That’s when he stumbles onto the lovely American babe, Helen. Having been stung so many times before, Ludwig follows the girl around to see if she sprouts fangs or rides a broomstick. With Helen passing all tests, Ludwig proposes and she consents. In no time at all, the couple are having their first child. Ludwig enters the room and Helen happily introduces him to their son, who closely resembles his great-grandfather, Loki.

I’m on record as championing the stories that bounce around like a pinball, from odd twist to odd twist. “Not Normal!” certainly qualifies, with its almost gleeful tracking of Ludwig’s failed romances and its WTF? twist climax. I’m not sure why Helen exhibits none of her grandfather’s beastly behavior nor his grizzly appearance; it’s not clear whether she knows Ludwig was responsible for Loki’s death. The final panel of baby Loki, fangs bared and one wisp of blond hair atop his head, is hilarious.

Ex-mobster Al Morgan takes the spoils of a life spent in the rackets and buys a huge estate known as Greenlawns, for its huge, gorgeous green lawns. When Al buys the place, he’s warned first by the realtor, then by the groundskeeper, that he should not damage the lawn. No one tells Al “NO!” so the next morning he’s out on the gargantuan green with his nine-iron, showing who’s boss. The next day, a “Keep Off the Grass” sign appears on the lawn and Al goes nuts, threatening his gardener and digging out even more divots. The last straw comes when Al pops on his brand-new extra-long-spiked cleats and heads out to have some fun. That’s when the lawn comes to life and strangles him. 

I’ve never been a fan of the “exaggerated nasty character” syndrome; Al Morgan is an evil extreme that stretches believability and crosses more into hilarity. Obviously no explanation is given for the killer grass (why wouldn’t the lawn strike out at the gardener for “cutting” him so frequently?) but I’d have loved to see the missing panels where the green carpet is penning the warning signs. John Forte’s art is very minimal, with several panels resembling unfinished breakdowns.

The dead come back to life to haunt a cheating swami in the inane “The Living and the Dead,” made worse by Myron Fass’s stark, amateurish visuals. Harry is insanely jealous and suspicious of any man who comes within ten feet of his lovely wife, Nora, so he activates the “Futurescope” in order to have a little peek ten years into the future (even though such an act is illegal!). “What Harry Saw!” boils his blood: Nora in the arms of another man. He races home and draws his ray-gun, aiming to zap Nora from this world into the next. The dope trips and shoots himself in the process. Dying in his hospital bed, Harry realizes that the “other guy” is a man Nora meets after Harry dies so he himself is responsible for sending her into the arms of another man. Oh irony, where is thy sting?

Budding concert pianist Rudolph is told by his teacher that to become a master, Rudolph must practice ten hours a day for ten months and then the stage awaits. Knowing he won’t be able to support himself, Rudolph reaches out to an old flame, the rich and easily-manipulated Sarah. The couple are quickly married but the tedium of practicing soon wears Sarah down and Rudolph realizes he’s going to have to kill his wife. He takes Sarah to Africa for a honeymoon and plots her death with a big-game hunter. The murder goes off without a hitch and, for insurance, Rudolph shoots his partner in crime and dumps the body in the bush. With no one to guide him out of the thick and dangerous jungle, Rudolph is quickly surrounded by natives and he fears the worst. Luckily for Rudolph though, this tribe of savages doesn’t want his head. They’re “hand-hunters!” “We Don’t Want Your Head” has some humorous moments (a pretty elaborate plan just to kill the Mrs., no?) and the final twist is fun, but Vic Carrabotta’s art (like most of the work this issue) is scratchy and hard on the eyes.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #23

“The Vampire’s Fangs” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“The Men From Earth” (a: Mac Pakula) 1/2

“The World’s End!” (a: Gene Colan) 1/2

“Weather Balloons” (a: Art Peddy & Jack Abel)

“Crashing Through the Time Barrier!” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

A stowaway on a European freighter is bitten by a bat and becomes a vampire, desiring the blood of the ship’s crewmen. “The Vampire’s Fangs” is not your run-of-the-mill bloodsucker story. For one thing, our hapless hero becomes a giant bat but he also doesn’t seem to be able to control his powers nor adhere to any of the rules of the vampire lore (he can enter a coffin as a mist but for some reason is unable to exit the same way). Still, I found the tale to be unnerving and Reinman’s art to be perfectly moody.

Lepus and his men from Procyon scour the galaxy for slaves and now its Earth’s turn. The aliens arrive quietly on Earth and blast the first three men they come upon. But, once on Procyon, the aliens are unable to thaw the Earthlings out of their deep-freeze and so decide not to go back for seconds. “The Men from Earth” they brought back were statues from a park. 

As the sun approaches Earth at a rapid pace and our world catches fire, one of the last men surviving, John Eventer, is visited by two men who claim to be from the future, here to do a few tests before mankind perishes. After the tests, John asks one of the men how they could be from his future if the world is destroyed. The man explains that very soon the world will right itself but very few will survive; he is named after one of the survivors. The ship takes off and disappears into the void, with John just realizing that the man he was talking to was also named John Eventer. What a coincidence! “The World’s End” is bottom-basement sci-fi with sub-par Gene Colan graphics (Gene’s work looks uncharacteristically rushed here), with a “D’Oh! twist ending that makes John Eventer look like the dumbest last man on Earth.

Scientists discuss the strange phenomena threatening Earth; what was thought to be “Weather Balloons!” turns out to be alien spaceships readying an attack. Simply awful art, ho-hum script, and silly final panel reveal add up to a forgettable sci-fi short. 

Shortly before he is to board a rocket ship designed for “Crashing Through the Time Barrier!,” Lee catches his wife, Anne, in the arms of another man. Lee blasts the guy and storms out of the house, not listening to Anne’s sobbing appeals. The spaceman blasts off and, indeed, breaks the time barrier, landing on Venus only a short time later. But when he disembarks, he notices Venus looks an awful lot like home. In fact, he finds his house and rushes in to find Anne. Relieved, he takes her in his arms just before the younger Lee breaks in and blasts him. The dying Alternate-Lee lies on the floor, pondering the vicious circle. The expository is awfully clunky (Lee hypothesizes that Venus is a mirror image of Earth and that events happen concurrently on both worlds) and there are plot holes, even for a time travel yarn, you could fly your X-7 through. Why, for instance, do neither Lee nor Anne bother to look at the face of the dead man? That might have put a halt to any further nonsense.

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