Thursday, November 10, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 73: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 58
January 1954 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Men’s Adventures 25

“The Shrunken Head (a: Mac Pakula & Sol Brodsky)

“The Roof of the World” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“The Shark!” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“The 3rd Corpse” (a: Bill Everett) ★★1/2

“The Shrunken Head” is a dismal adventure about a sadistic jungle hunter who discovers the Chucta Country is filled with diamonds and murderous cannibals. As always, the nasty explorer loses his head in the end. Adventurer Keller is determined to climb “The Hump” (aka “The Roof of the World”), the tallest mountain in the world, but Keller has competition. Another party has their sites on the peak as well, which sends Keller into a murderous rage. In the end, the Roof gets the better of them all. An exciting, brutal read marred only by a first act padded by so much expository that you could be led to believe this is actually a sequel. Nice Reinman art.

A gorgeous brunette hires a shark-hunter named McKay to put a harpoon in the infamous “Devil Shark” that patrols the waters of nearby Baynapa Lagoon. McKay goes into the drink and locates the monster but his spear-gun jams and he’s left at the mercy of the devil. Just then, McKay sees in the distance a limp form fall into the water, the corpse of Laura, the woman who hired him. The blood attracts the shark and McKay is able to escape. 

Armed with a new spear-gun and the local police, McKay enters the water again to find the fish and some answers. McKay gets a spear off but the shark takes one of the man’s legs in return. When he awakens, McKay is ashore and listening to a hood explain how he and Laura stole a fortune in diamonds in South America and, when the heat was on, they fed the ice to the “Devil Shark!” With rocks in hand, the hood makes good his escape until a spear, fired by a half-conscious McKay, cuts him down. A rollicking good adventure, “The Shark” is a hardboiled tale reminiscent of something John D. MacDonald might have written in the early 1950s. Sure, the concept of hiding your stolen goods in a man-eater is, um, a bit far-fetched but I can excuse the little things now and then if the story keeps me involved. This one did.

The fourth, and final, story this issue is “The 3rd Corpse,” an adequate adventure about three escaped convicts who make it through the jungle, only to turn on each other while on their raft to freedom. Some dynamite art by Bill Everett but the drama is overcooked and very familiar.

Mystery Tales 17

“The Movie House Horror!” (a: Syd Shores & Norman Steinberg) ★★

“The Man Without Eyes!” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“What Happened Up There?” (a: Dave Berg) ★★

“You Can’t Twin” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“The Black Crows!” (a: Al Luster) ★★1/2

Theater owner Bill Burton is on the brink of bankruptcy, what with movie theaters playing second fiddle to TV sets. Bill needs a gimmick, so he decides he’ll go one better than 3-D with his own version… reality theater. Bill rigs a huge pulley over his audience which whisks one terrifying cardboard figure after another, seemingly from right out of the screen. Then disaster strikes when the pulley malfunctions and several are killed by falling debris. 

Undeterred, Bill looks for another way to pull the folks in and he stumbles upon a scientist who has created a revolutionary film projector which allows its filmed subjects to actually walk out of the screen. Burton steals the projector and takes it to his theater, where he gives it a test. The professor bursts in, warning that the equipment is dangerous if not used properly and Burton ventilates him. As the egghead gasps his last, Bill Burton realizes he’s made a big mistake. A very cloudy climactic reveal that doesn’t make much sense no matter how you read it but “The Movie House Horror!” is nifty if for no other reason than the fact that it predicts the upcoming success of film director and showman extraordinaire, William Castle.

Parisian artist Pierre Rochet considers himself the finest sculptor in the world but he loses the famed Grand Prix award to a blind man! But, as his friends reassure him, the blind man’s sculpture (a man staring off in terror) is a work of genius. Pierre bursts into the blind man’s apartment and demands to know the secret. Sheepishly, the man admits that his wife is responsible for the sculpture and introduces Pierre to the gorgeous gal. Well, she’s gorgeous until she doffs the wrap on her head and reveals the snakes that lie beneath. Medusa has been used time and time again but the build-up is subtle and the reveal anything but predictable. “The Man Without Eyes!” also features some atmospheric Reinman visuals and a good sense of humor (Pierre assaults an art critic who demeans his work: “Dog! Son of a pig! Parrot of the academicians!”).

Just after the tragic deaths of the Luis Foix expedition near the top of Mt. Kimberley, Emile Coret accepts the challenge to go that one step further and be the first to conquer Kimberley. He reaches the top, but returns as a madman and is put away in an asylum. When the film of the summit is developed, Coret’s doctors have their explanation. Dave Berg, who would begin a lengthy and storied career at Mad Magazine in just three years hence, contributes the art to "What Happened Up There?," a black comedy with a very funny final panel. That finale will be “borrowed” for “Up There,” a similar tale found a few months later over at Harvey’s Witches Tales #26.

“You Can’t Twin” (about identical twins who can feel each other’s pain) is an abysmal failure, with a predictable script and hideous art by the usually reliable Tony DiPreta. The finale, “The Black Crows!,” thankfully, is much better. Despondent over the tepid response to his music, Eli Zorn stands on a bridge and contemplates suicide. But a man in black (who could he be?) emerges from the fog and promises one year of success if he’ll forfeit his life at the end of that period. Zorn agrees and the man tells him to go home and wait for inspiration. While waiting in his apartment, the skeptical composer observes a murder of crows landing on the wires outside his window in the pattern of a musical scale. Zorn grabs pen and paper and composes the world’s greatest concerto. In short order, he becomes respected, rich, and married to a gorgeous dame. Then his year comes to an end… 

“The Black Crows!” features an odd melange of good and bad by artist Al Luster (akin to the musical scales we encounter within); some of Luster’s characters look as though they have no facial features and others look as though they’ve been inspired by a model’s sitting. The twist is an odd one and I’m not so sure it’s satisfactory but the story, overall, is effective.

Mystic 26

“Good Morning, Mr. Smith!” (a: Vic Carrabotta) 1/2

(r: Tomb of Darkness #9)

“The Man in the Tomb!” (a: Al Luster) ★★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #9)

“The Old Witch” 1/2

(r: Dead of Night #8)

“The Living and the Dead!” ★★★1/2

(r: Tomb of Darkness #9)

“The Strange Machine” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★

Eccentric Professor Festa believes he can keep a disembodied head alive via a series of tubes that pump synthetic blood to the cranium. His first experiment is a great success until the head begins thinking on its own and he’s a very persuasive chap. The head not only learns how to think and speak but also how to conduct complicated surgical procedures! “Good Morning, Mr. Smith!” is obviously inspired by Donovan’s Brain but published far ahead of the pack of “killer head” movies that would storm the screens in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Centuries after the last great war, mankind has burrowed deep into the Earth and saved itself from the nuclear fall-out on the surface. Now, the powers-that-be are pressuring genius scientist, Dr. Torgen, to come up with a solution to their problem and allow them to return to the surface world. “The Man in the Tomb!” incorporates some of the concepts introduced in “The City!” (Spellbound #18) and takes a left at the fork rather than a right. Torgen stumbles onto another civilization, one of mutant creatures, living just below his own “world” and, while wandering, finds a chamber filled with books. He reads a history of this lower class of beings. Turns out these mutated buggers ruled the surface until a nuclear war wiped out all life in 1954. Yep, the lizard men are us! Though not quite as successful as “The City,” “The Man in the Tomb!” shows that Atlas could pump out a rip-snortin’ SF tale when the right writer was assigned (Carl Wessler, perhaps?). Its pessimistic climax is also pretty heady stuff for a kid’s comic book.

In “The Old Witch,” George is convinced that an old crone has switched bodies with his wife. There are flourishes of inspiration in the art (GCD proposes Jerry Robinson and Bob Forgione), some nice shading and atmospheric panels, but the script by Stan is pure fluff.

Try to keep up as this one gets complicated: Successful mystery writer Oscar Holmes has been reading story ideas written down by his friend, John Salem, who fancies himself a horror writer. Oscar rains on John’s parade however, telling his buddy that the ideas are ludicrous and that audience reaction would be laughter. Unbeknownst to John, however, Oscar has been turning these ideas into full stories and selling them to Atlas Comics for big money. But the pace soon exerts its toll on Oscar and he takes up friend John’s invitation to stay at his country cabin. 

When Oscar arrives, he’s met by the caretaker, who strongly advises the writer to steer clear of the moors and the ancient creepy cemetery just beyond the fog. With his interest piqued, Oscar walks out to the graveyard and enters its gates but is quickly approached by several spectral figures. The spirits explain that they were executed centuries before for practicing witchcraft and their souls cannot rest until Satan releases them to the “other side.” Oscar has crossed the “border line” between “The Living and the Dead” and can never return to his world. Would Oscar agree to serve as “advocate” before Satan? The lawyer route doesn’t go well for the poor pencil-pusher and he’s consigned to a fate worse than the rejection notice.

There’s nothing about “The Living and the Dead” that cries out “Atlas horror story” to me. Not that Atlas couldn’t devise original and clever plot twists, but the random turns and choices our uncredited writer uses to craft this story are usually like those found in the output of Harvey or Ace. Take for instance, the foundation laid down: a writer plagiarizes the ideas of his best friend (who, we come to find, is actually one of the stranded spirits). That will usually get us to the inevitable final panel where the thief is pounded to death by a giant typewriter. But, no, at this juncture, the plot veers off down a different path, one that is much more rewarding and original. The final act, Oscar’s audience with Satan, is genuinely creepy. GCD posits that Al Eadah is responsible for the art and I’d agree with that guess.

During the Spanish inquisition, Alfonso makes wild witchcraft accusations in order to gain his neighbors’ land but fears opposition from upstart, Don Ferrer. One day, Alfonso follows Don Ferrer to the man’s home and witnesses him building a steel contraption that Alfonso takes to be a space ship. Elated that he’s got ammunition to send Ferrer to the rack as a witch, Alfonso hops into “The Strange Machine” but soon discovers the gizmo is actually a new weapon of torture!

Uncanny Tales 16

“Zombie at Large” (a: Joe Sinnott) 1/2

“The Seekers” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

“Fish Story” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“Cry-Baby” (a: John Forte) ★★

“Things’ll Be Different” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

Count Zoro uses the diary left to him by his grandmother, the witch, to raise the dead from their graves. Of course, once the moldering corpses are standing at attention, the dope uses them to rob banks. Then, one day, Zoro casts his eyes upon a maiden fair, the gorgeous Dora, soon to be wed to Dr. Jeffrey Todd. Knowing a good thing when he sees it, Zoro orders his zombie henchmen to drag Todd to hell. Soon after the doctor’s disappearance, Dora agrees to marry Zoro and they settle down to a wedded bliss. That is, until one night when the power-mad Count watches his wife transform into a bat and fly off to find prey.

Zoro considers it an insult for his wife to be a vampire so he summons one of his zombies and orders the thing to kill Dora. To his surprise, the reanimated corpse turns out to be Jeffrey Todd, who simply refuses to kill his former beau and turns menacingly to Zoro. The little man hoofs it but runs smack into his vampire bride, who’s more than a little surprised to see the pale Dr. Todd once more. The two decide their love is eternal and, together, they transform Zoro into their zombie slave. I have to believe our uncredited scripter had tongue firmly in cheek but “Zombie At Large” doesn’t offer up many legitimate giggles; it just comes off as a very silly piece of nonsense. Joltin’ Joe puts in his usual 100% at the easel though, so it’s not bad to look at.

An entire civilization is wiped out and a world left barren when a biological steroid is used to stimulate crops and livestock. When only one scientist is left alive, he visits the lab and takes one of the test tubes with him. He dies holding the specimen and his bones become buried in the sand. Years later, a spaceship descends upon this world and its crew investigates the wasteland, discovering the scientist’s bones and the curious tube he holds in his skeletal fingers.

The spacemen take the tube back home with them and, once the seal is cracked, the particles escape and infect this new world. It’s not long before the entire planet is lifeless. Years later, a spaceship lands, take samples and returns to Earth. “The Seekers” is the sort of science fiction yarn that EC did so well. Of course, the climax is wholly predictable, but the grim atmosphere and Gene Colan’s equally dark and forbidding artwork make “The Seekers” a more mature look at doomsday than we’re usually granted.

Aliens from space take inspiration from Earth’s fishermen and use lightning bolts to reel in victims for their experiments. “Fish Story” has a clever idea but it doesn’t capitalize and wastes Joe Maneely’s talents as well. Some very nice work by John Forte is the highlight of “Cry-Baby,” the story of two brothers in the spaceship-loving future. Lance is a top tier space cadet but his brother, Harry, is a wimpy mama’s boy and an embarrassment to the he-man squad. Harry is expelled from the academy for his weaknesses and Lance goes on to blast off in a rocket ship. Little sissy Harry watches the event on TV and cries his eyes out, wishing it were he who was flying through outer space. His mother holds and comforts him while he sobs, neither one of them aware of the scene playing out a zillion miles in space. Harry is crying for his mama. There’s a message here somewhere but let’s not look too deeply.

Centuries after man has made Earth uninhabitable, thanks to nuclear weapons, reptiles and insects crawl from the wreckage and learn to speak and cohabitate. Soon, they’re building cities, wearing clothes, and devising weapons to wipe each other out. Centuries after the reptiles and insects have made the Earth uninhabitable, plants begin to talk… Though it’s almost amusing when contemplating lizards splitting the atom, “Things’ll Be Different” gets its point across without being too preachy (and at least the snake scientists aren’t wearing the Russian flag on their lab coats). “Things’ll Be Different” is almost a companion piece to Colan’s “They Cover the Earth” in this month’s issue of Astonishing; they’ve got the same kind of framework and doomsday vibe.

In Two Weeks...
Classic outer space horror
from Joltin' Joe

No comments: