Thursday, September 15, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 69


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 54
November 1953 
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #25

“The Terrible Trophy” (a: Matt Fox)  ★★1/2

“The Corpses Come Back!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

“A Very Grave Matter” (a: Bill Benulis) ★★

“The Speed-Up” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

“Snakes Alive”

No one down at the club wants to hear Rocky Martin brag about his complete mounted head collection but every time there’s a meeting, there’s Rock at the dais telling the story of how he fought a gorilla with one hand tied behind his back. The natives were so impressed they tattooed a gorilla’s head on Rocky’s chest. If the other club members so much as complain about the man’s endless stories of bravado, he’ll knock them upside the head. Then the new recruit, a puny little guy, takes an interest in Rocky’s tattoo. An average Atlas horror story with a Matt Fox upgrade, “The Terrible Trophy” has a very funny and unexpected twist.

Three brothers stare aghast at the condition of their parents’ gravesite. Poor drainage has led to the coffins being exposed to the public. The men confront the owner of the cemetery who pulls a gun and tells the men they should have read the fine print. Heartbroken, the brothers head for home but “The Corpses Come Back!” from the grave to take matters in their own skeletal hands. Pure pulp fun with artist Colan obviously enjoying the hell out of himself; Gene’s splash, of the decrepit cemetery, complete with perching vulture, is poster-worthy material.

Coffin-maker Ignatius Zekel has been fleecing his customers for years, making his products out of cheap orange crates but when a “customer” falls out of the bottom of his resting place while being lowered, Zekel has to hoof it out of town. Using better (but still cheap and stolen) materials, Zekel makes a fortune in another city and decides it’s time for him to have a nice home built. Now, the tables are turned on the miser when his builder uses stolen tombstones for material and the angry spirits come a-calling to reclaim their property. The silly plot of “A Very Grave Matter” is slightly evened out by flashes of Benulis brilliance (the splash detailing the collapse of the coffin is a particularly jarring image).

What is the secret of the comic artist nicknamed Whiz? He can pump out page upon page of material when his peers can do only a fraction of that. Three co-workers decide to get to the bottom of the mystery by forcing Whiz (with a hot poker!) to divulge his secret. The answer is not to their liking! “The Speed-Up!” is an enjoyable look behind the scenes of the funny book business with the usual DiPreta visual flair. I’m sure the artist had fun biting the hand that feeds him. The finale this issue, “Snakes Alive,” is a ludicrous tale about a family dying off one by one from snake bites. Turns out the killer is Uncle Markov who, for a reason not explained, has snakes for fingers! How this oddity was never noticed by any of the other family members (nor the police, for that matter) is swept right under the rug.

Men’s Adventures #24

“The Screaming Beasts!” (a: George Tuska)

“The Torture Master” (a: Russ Heath) ★★1/2

“No Guts!” (a: Joe Maneely) 1/2

“Buried Alive!” (a: John Romita) ★★

Big game hunter Braun is mauled by a leopard, completely changing the way he looks at animals. He accepts the offer of a zoo to capture apes and baboons but, after the big hunt nets Braun lots of “The Screaming Beasts!,” a huge storm leaves his boat afloat with no food. The baboons make do with Braun. The heartless hunter is given yet another glossing over, with the results just as bad as most of the previous efforts. Tuska’s art is bland and his characters look so much alike that confusion soon takes over.

Though he was only a simple butcher before the SS recruited him, Heinrich von Brenner, in his new capacity as Commandant of Kesselwald Prison Camp, convinces his underlings that he was once a famous surgeon. Very soon, von Brenner earns the nickname, “The Torture Master,” in honor of his devilish experiments on POWs. Unbeknownst to the Commandant, one of his prisoners is actually an “electronics genius” and plays a part in bringing the Torture Master down. Truly gruesome Heath art elevates the pedestrian script.

“No Guts!” is the maudlin story of Johnny Hoyt, boxing champ of 1935, who catches a few unlucky breaks and is tagged with a “gutless” label after his manager throws in the towel during a big match. Determined to shrug the moniker, Johnny goes into the ring against Torpedo Tate and gives it his all, dying in the process. Not all the Men’s Adventures stories were horror, as witnessed by “No Guts!” That’s not a bad thing, but this script is so moldy and sappy that the reader can easily guess what the next panel will bring.

Titus Warwick is the stingiest man on the planet and his miners are paying for his penny-pinching. Titus’s son, Clyde, continually berates the old man for cutting corners and turning his head away as his employees die horrible deaths. Clyde finally walks out on his father in disgust but the two are reunited after “one of the greatest mining disasters in history” leaves them both dead. “Buried Alive!” is an engaging non-horror story (well, not horror in any kind of conventional way) that reads more like an expose, as if Titus Warwick was an historical figure rather than the creation of a funny book scribe.

Uncanny Tales #14

“The Victims of Vonntor!” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

(r: Vault of Evil #21)

“The Hidden Martians” (a: Dick Ayers) ★★1/2

(r: Crypt of Shadows #19)

“For the Birds!” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★

(r: Vault of Evil #22)

“The Horselaugh” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★

“Find a Pin and Pick It Up!” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #17)

Patrolman Mike catches the evil Vonntor right in the act of strangling an innocent man in a dank, dark alleyway. Mike hauls the perp into the precinct and tells his Captain the whole story but Vonntor feigns innocence. When the fingerprint analysis is received, sure enough, the prints on the dead man and those from Vonntor’s fingers don’t match up. The cops are forced to release the murderer. The murder spree continues until, one night, Mike snaps a pic of Vonntor in the act.

Sure that this time he’ll be able to deliver the goods, Mike hands Vonntor and the developed photo over to the Captain. No dice, says the boss. Yep, the pic clearly shows Vonntor in the act but, again, the prints don’t match. In a rage, Mike pulls his service revolver and nearly ventilates Vonntor! The chief has no alternative but to put Mike on leave. That same night, Vonntor goes hunting in the fog and descends on his latest victim; the prey swirls around to reveal Mike with a revolver. The cop plugs Vonntor and finally learns the killer’s secret: he had four sets of arms! Though “The Victims of Vonntor!” is hopelessly and hilariously stupid (the crown jewel in this treasure of inanity is a scene wherein Mike snaps a photo while Vonntor strangles his victim!), the reveal and the Heath art make the story at least bearable. But how is it that Vonntor could be taken to police headquarters and not frisked or ordered to take off his overcoat? Would have answered a lot of questions a heck of a lot sooner!

Seven hundred years in the future, Earth has enslaved the people of Mars and we are extricating every mineral we can use from their world. The Martians finally find a way to fight back by going undercover, but our best agent, Bill Hamilton, is assigned to root out “The Hidden Martians.” Bill soon finds he can trust no one, as all his friends are revealed to be dirty stinkin’ Martians. But the biggest surprise of them all for Bill awaits him in the twist climax. “The Hidden Martians” is nothing original and a good portion of the dialogue borders on illegible (“[The Martian spaceships] will hover over Earth beyond radarscope and spray radiation into this planet’s atmosphere that will kill every human being on Earth!”), but the yarn is undeniably goofy fun and contains some of Dick Ayers’s best 1950s art.

In “For the Birds!,” embryologist Professor Gorey discovers there’s a boatload of money to made in stealing bird eggs from other planets. But Gorey’s greed gets the best of him when he lands on a planet populated by gigantic birds. One of the locals decides that Gorey’s ship looks just like an egg. Silly, but cute, sci-fi fluff.

In "The Horselaugh," Johnny Arrato is a nasty punk but he’s also one of the nation’s best jockeys. To keep lovely Ruby happy and in the green, Johnny strikes a deal with the mob to throw his next race but when he discovers that his nag has opened at 15-1, the mope decides it’s time for a little double cross. Arrato wins the race, Ruby gets her green, but the mob goons take Johnny for a ride and cave his head in. Very soon after, Johnny is riding a carousel horse for the benefit of his fellow inmates. A really nasty, delicious slice of pre-code bleak, served up with equally dark graphics by Mort Lawrence. The final panels, of Johnny astride his faux nag, are genuinely chilling.

Miles Keston, a decrepit old bookshop owner buys a copy of the rare The Black Craft of Bast, an ancient tome filled with incantations and spells. Naturally, Miles uses it to summon the demon, Bast, in order to kill his hated partner but, in the grand tradition of murder plots in the Atlas comics, something goes very wrong. Though we’ve been up to our ears in demonic tomes and deadly partnerships, “Find a Pin and Pick It Up!” benefits greatly from a picture perfect realization by Joe Sinnott, who certainly gets what a Lovecraftian book dealer should look like (I think only Ghastly Graham Ingels drew uglier old men). There’s also something supremely charming in Sinnott’s presentation of Bast as a simple red-robed figure with a crocodile head. Nothing fancy, but it does the trick. 

In only fourteen midnights...


Todd Mason said...

That UNCANNY TALES cover has stuck with me for years...I did love TOMB OF DARKNESS in the mid '70s, and its weird old Atlas/Timely reprints

Grant said...

Are there many early space stories where the whole Earth (instead of some individuals) go around plundering other planets? I can't even think of all that many later ones for that matter (I guess AVATAR is one).
Anyway, that story sounds like a far cry from those Atlas stories where the Commies are the only big group of Earth people doing that.

Peter Enfantino said...


If I recall correctly, there are a couple more of this type coming down the road. You're right, it's rare that the Reds weren't at the forefront of this galactic purging but, believe you me, Stan will make up for it.

Grant said...

Thank you.

Jeremy Roby said...

At least "The Victims of Vonntor" had a mystery (and reveal) that I hadn't seen a million times before. And I've been reading the Atlas titles along with you for a several years now!