Thursday, December 22, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 76: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 61
March 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror 29

“The Vampire Man” ★★

(r: Dracula Lives #3)

“From Out of the… Grave” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

(r: Tales of the Zombie #2)

“The Man Who Walked the Plank” (a: Werner Roth) ★★

“The Faceless Ones” (a: Myron Fass)

(r: Fear #25)

“The Horrible House” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

(r: Beware #5)

Hunchback Tom Malverne has had just enough of the human race and their daily torture. Especially the women! So, when Tom witnesses a vampire murdering a young woman, Tom decides that’s the way to live (or die) and he follows the bloodsucker back to his cemetery hideout. There, Tom discovers there is a whole family of vampires living beneath the crypts. Initially, the den of vampires want the hunchback dead but their leader takes pity and makes Tom a proposition: if he can kill and drink the blood of his victim by New Year’s Eve, then he’ll be given the title of “The Vampire Man.” If, however, Tom changes his mind and does not meet the requirement, the vampires will hunt and kill him.

Tom agrees and heads out onto the street the next night, where he stalks and stabs to death his first victim. Unfortunately, our hapless protagonist discovers he can’t stand the sight of blood. Though he murders eight more times, Malverne just can’t down that precious fluid and New Year’s Eve arrives quickly. Months later, Scotland Yard wonders what the heck ever happened to that Jack the Ripper fella who knifed nine women and then disappeared. Some really substandard graphics (comic book historian Michael J. Vassallo puts forth that the culprit might be Larry Woromay and, based on a cursory glance at some of Woromay’s work, I’d say that’s a good guess) mute what is actually a very clever script. Based on a reading of the Atlas pre-code Universe, Europe must have been swarming with hunchbacks.

Body snatcher Grimm brings fresh corpses to Uni professors, five pounds a shot, until the bodies team up to beat Grimm at his own game. “From Out of the… Grave” features some great Colan work but the climactic surprise is anything but. In “The Man Who Walked the Plank,” a sadistic pirate captain, who gets off on feeding hostages to the sharks, gets his when a ship’s crew rises from the murky waters and turns the plank on the scurvy dog. As with the previous tale, there’s some pretty sharp visuals but not much more than a cliched script for reading material. “The Faceless Ones” is a dreadfully dumb sci-fi tale about a deep space exploration team that makes a wrong turn somewhere (“…thrown off our course when we hit the haze and smoke!”) and somehow end up in Hell. That is one incorrect left at the big barn on the corner!

Mr. Belding believes the human race will A-Bomb themselves out of existence and that’s just fine as far as he’s concerned. Just as long as he can have his peace and quiet. To that end, Belding buys a big plot of land out in the countryside and hires a contractor to build him a huge house. The contractor warns Belding that the land is unstable and dangerous to build on but the nasty old scrooge is not one to be told no. “The Horrible House” is built and, one night not too long after, Belding is visited by spirits from the grave. Yep, a la Poltergeist, the house was built on top of a graveyard and these walking corpses are not a welcome wagon. The house sinks into the ground and Belding has all the peace and quiet he needs. Despite Al Eadah’s loopy pencils, I had a good time with “Mr. Belding Builds His Dream House”…. er, “The Horrible House.” The promised atomic attack never materializes but there’s a really funny final panel that shows the grass has already grown over Belding’s sunken house!

Adventures into Weird Worlds 27

“The Man Who Wasn’t” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★1/2

“The Dwarf of Horrormoor” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★

“The Thieves” (a: Matt Fox) ★★★

“The Invaders! (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★

“Half-Human!” (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★★1/2

Professor Paul Brainard is working on the most important experiment in the history of mankind: the secret of life. Yes, the would-be Frankenstein is cooking something in a beaker and Brainard is convinced that, in four hours, a living form will emerge from the glass womb. But first, a nap! The nutty professor heads home, kisses his wife and kid, and settles down for a few well-deserved hours of sleep. But when the egghead awakens, everything is changed: his academy lab is now a pub, his wife is married to another man, and his kids run in fear from the perv who is eyeing them. As Paul realizes it’s all because he has “come too close to the unknown, beyond which no man must step,” the man disappears as if he was never there. “The Man Who Wasn’t” is a bit of a variation on It’s a Wonderful Life, without the happy ending. There’s some very evocative penciling here by Mort Lawrence; in particular, the eerie splash depicting Brainard and his bubbling baby.

“The Dwarf of Horrormoor” offers up a pure pulp plot: “Legend has firmly decreed that there shall always be a dwarf at Horrormoor, or evil will befall it…” How can you go wrong with that set-up? Seems the dwarf at said Horrormoor castle has gotten to be a real pain in the ass, enjoying his role as jester a bit too much. Knowing none dare kill him, he’s taken to pranking his master, the Duke, and the various guests who come to stay. You know, the typical funny jokes like a bed of nails or a human arm under the bed? Well, the lord and master of Horrormoor has had enough. Sure, he can’t kill the little bastard but two can play the prank game. 

The Duke and his buddy, the Baron drug the dwarf and, while he’s sleeping, switch out all the furniture. When the little joker awakens, he becomes convinced a miracle has occurred and he is now normal-sized. When he exits the room and the two pranksters guffaw at the dwarf’s insistence that he has magically grown, it’s apparent the trick has snapped his little brain. The Duke realizes he has to find a new dwarf and heads off to bed. When he awakens, the bed and all the furniture are much larger than before. Chuckling and admitting the little guy pulled a good one on him, the Duke exits his room only to find the dwarf, hung from the rafters. It’s then that the Duke realizes that Horrormoor has a new jester. A very entertaining (if mean-spirited and obviously un-PC) little gem, one featuring a cast of characters devoid of good; they’re all rotten to the core and reveling in that glory. Where does one find a severed arm that late at night? Sid Greene’s art is suitably sleazy.

Earth receives word that the aliens of Polaris are heading our way. “The friendly planets” inform us that Polaris is a world of thieves; the creatures will arrive, steal something from under our noses, and then leave peacefully. The President of the United States decides the best plan of action is to avoid mass hysteria and tell the Polarians up front that they can have anything they desire. Bad idea. A clever riff on the Red Scare (the Polarians are obviously thinly-veiled commies), “The Thieves” won me over right from the first Matt Fox-penciled panel. If you can’t have Wolverton, then Matt Fox was your man for weird, reptilian aliens.

“The Invaders” has been done to death: an army general awaits the opening of a space ship that has landed, fearing the worst. When the ship doors open, we see that the crew are from Earth and they have landed on Mars. Equally predictable is our final story, “Half-Human!” Keller has made a fortune manufacturing androids but he’s gotten word that someone has violated his patent and is producing the robots in another factory. When he confronts the competitor, he is dismayed to discover the man is actually one of Keller’s own androids (the “Acme Android Company” stamp is right across the robot’s chest!) who’s decided to pump fake humans out for the inevitable conquest of mankind. 

Realizing he has to do something, Keller creates a gas that reduces all androids to ashes and he has jet planes gas the entire world (!), thus destroying the plague he had visited upon his fellow man. The only problem is: he didn’t know his beloved wife was an android as well! Even the naive kids of 1954 must have realized there was no way Mrs. Keller could have hidden that big bold statement across her lovely torso. The concept however is a good one, doubtless stolen from a science fiction novel of the day, and the Robert Q. Sale art is creepy as hell. The final panel, of Keller rummaging through a smoldering pile of ashes in the bed where his wife slept, is genuinely disturbing.

Astonishing 31

“Fangs of the Vampire” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“The Room That Vanished” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“The Man at the Grave” (a: Vic Carrabotta)

“The Dummy!” (a: Bill Savage) ★★★

“The Atomic Man” (a: Bob Forgione) ★★1/2

Poor Clyde is convinced he’s becoming a vampire and the only man that can help him is famed lecturer on the vampire myths, Dr. Anton Klaus. Though Klaus tells Clyde the affliction is in his mind, the doctor agrees to see him professionally at the weekend. Alas, bloodlust overcomes Clyde that night and Dr. Klaus is his victim. “Fangs of the Vampire” is an odd, almost psychological study of vampirism, with Clyde not really knowing whether he’s a bloodsucker or not. We’re not given much information (such as “how did this man become a vampire?) other than a visit to the home of Clyde’s girlfriend, but the reader becomes very sympathetic to this poor man’s plight. Joe Sinnott avoids the typical giant wings and fangs until the climax, which leaves us wondering if this character is just a nut or really a blood-drinking beast.

Frank Kelly thinks he’s going mad. First his cellar disappears, then his bedroom. When he exits the house to find the police to tell them about “The Room That Vanished,” he discovers his family and the whole house have vanished as well. Turns out there’s a nutty scientist living in town who’s been messing with 4th-dimensional travel and he picked Frank’s house to experiment on. When Frank threatens to wring the professor’s neck, the egghead promises to reunite Frank with family and home. And he does, but in an Atlas science-fictional way. 

A grave-digger becomes curious about the strange man who always seems to be present at funerals. “The Man at the Grave” turns out to be a corpse who had no one present at his funeral and wants the newly-dead to know someone cares. Department store owner Clem Hardy is a penny-pincher but, worse, he’s not a nice guy. After a particularly brutal meeting with a window dummy salesman wherein he fires the man, Clem argues with his partner and conks him over the head. Elated that now the business is 100% his, Clem dumps the body at a nearby landfill and exits stage left, unaware that the body is whisked away by a creepy guy who lives in a shack at the dump. This guy is not only scary, he’s obviously a genius, as he’s taking dead bodies and making them into window dummy zombies!

The guy calls Clem and tells him he can sell him dummies for a quarter of the going rate, plus he’ll throw in “an extra one for nothing as a bonus!” As expected, the cheapskate murderer jumps at the chance to save a few extra dollars but when he gets to the store after the dummies are delivered, he gets one hell of a rude awakening. If you have to stock your horror story with one of the biggest cliches in comics, the murdering partner, at least do it with your tongue firmly in your cheek. As with the best of these goofy, imaginative fantasy/horror tales, nothing is explained. We have no idea who this brilliant guy living at the dump is (and why isn’t he using his incredible resuscitating formula to get himself a pile of diamonds like all the other Atlas Academics?), or how he invented his serum, or why he goes to all this trouble for a few bucks (which he then doesn’t collect on in the inevitable climax). But the beauty of “The Dummy” is that it’s so entertaining (and well-visualized, with a rare appearance by artist Bill Savage) and so WTF? that we don’t give a rat’s ass that it makes no sense. Just give us more!

Carl Hurtz, handy man in Frenchman Flats, gets caught in the desert during an A-Bomb blast but, despite soaking up enough radiation to destroy a city, Carl survives the explosion and walks away as “The Atomic Man!” If Carl concentrates hard enough on something, he can melt it, no matter how dense the object. Ignoring the high road taken by the similarly blasted Glenn Manning (of The Amazing Colossal Man fame) and Robert Bruce Banner, Carl turns to robbing banks for fun and profit. Now the most powerful man in the world, Carl decides he wants something else and that would be pretty Helen, who’s promised to GI Joe Allen. Carl challenges the soldier to a duel and Joe accepts. The next day, the two stand alone in a city street. They approach each other and there’s a terrific explosion, leaving a huge crater in the middle of the street. It’s up to the local Army colonel to explain what happened:

“Joe came to us last night and begged us to girdle his body with atomic charges more powerful than the Atomic Man’s force… so that when the Atomic Man exploded him… Joe in turn would explode him! Joe gave his life so that the world would be free of the evil of the Atomic Man!”

Imagine that! Talking your colonel into making you into an atomic bomb in the name of chivalry. The story has a wonderfully featherbrained set-up and makes its own rules as it goes (for some reason, Carl’s radioactive energy is only unleashed when he wills it so he can approach others without turning them into a puddle of goo), but its climax is rushed and Carl’s fixation on Helen comes from out of the blue. An interesting, but flawed, science fiction yarn.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 25

“The Castle of Shadows!” (a: Doug Wildey) ★★

“When Death Comes A-Calling” (a: Al Luster)

“The World Within” (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★★

“One Extra Head” (a: Dan Loprino) ★★★

“From Under the Earth!” (a: Chuck Winter) 1/2

Count von Buhslein returns to the castle where he was born, only to be told by the locals to leave. Should he stick around, the curse of the werewolf will fall upon the young Count as it did his mother. Unable to leave without knowing the truth, he walks up to the castle on the mountain and is greeted by Gustaf, the caretaker, who informs the Count that his dead mother is interred in her room upstairs. When questioned about the werewolf curse, Gustaf informs him that if the corpse is a wolf, then the woman was a werewolf. They head upstairs and discover… a really dumb twist! Which is too bad, as the atmosphere in “Castle of Shadows!,” enriched mostly by Doug Wildey’s pencils, is nicely gothic and the script seems to be heading to an interesting denouement. Alas…

“When Death Comes A-Calling” for little Jerry, the precocious kid has a way with words and the Grim Reaper gives him a reprieve. Al Luster’s art is too cartoony to generate any suspense and the script is pure sentimental saccharine. 

When the Nazis break into his house and rough up his grandmother, a Polish man kills one of her murderers but is captured and taken away to a camp where he is tortured and disfigured. The man escapes and is shunned by everyone he meets. With the storm troopers hot on his trail, he hides in a cave. Exploring, he discovers “The World Within,” a community of blind people who accept him with open arms. “The World Within” is like two different stories soldered together. The first part is a grueling and violent action-thriller but the second is a silly fantasy that doesn’t mesh well with its build-up. Robert Sale’s art is gruesome and unattractive, much like the Nazi monsters who torture our protagonist.

Harry, the two-headed man at the carnival sideshow, has had enough of the smirking faces and the nasty remarks; he’s a man deep down inside despite having “One Extra Head.” Then one day, Harry sees a pretty girl smiling at him and his heart lights up; could there be someone out there for him? After the show, Harry approaches the blonde but is beaten by her brothers, who inform the two-headed man that their sister is blind. This pushes Harry over the edge and he gets his gun, with an eye to ending his troubles right then and there. Suddenly, the tent flap opens and Harry’s boss tells him that he’s got someone for Harry to meet. A two-headed woman! Harry is so overcome with disgust, finally seeing why people hate him so much, he puts the gun to his ear and hopes the bullet will travel through both heads.

“One Extra Head” is a really creepy, almost sickening four pages, filled with despair and hopelessness. No happy ending for Harry, who’s done no wrong in the world aside from being born different. Dan Loprino’s art is rudimentary and yet, at the same time, perfect for its subject matter. A nice Russ Heath sheen might have taken away some of the despondency.

The finale this issue, “From Under the Earth!,” is a ridiculous science fiction tale about Clem Martin, who has dug miles under the ground looking for gold. One day, the wall he’s working on begins to crumble and a group of “mole men” burst forth and overpower Clem, informing him that they’re heading for the surface world to forage for valuables and he’s in the way. Thinking quick. Clem tells the monsters he’ll show them to the most valuable place on Earth: Fort Knox! The creatures dig a hole down to the vault and burst in, but are disappointed with the “yellow stuff.” They were looking for grass and weeds to take back to their underworld city for food. As punishment, they seal Clem up in the vault with his “yellow stuff.” 

Marvel Tales 121

“The Voice from the Grave” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★★

“The Cannibals” (a: Mac Pakula) ★★★1/2

“The Gamble!” (a: Chuck Winter) 1/2

“Appointment with Death” (a: Bill Savage) ★★

“Down Down Down” ★★★

Ruby’s a beauty but she’s also rotten to the core. She’s murdered her first six husbands for their dough and the latest, “Old Man” Clifton, is about to be buried alive. Ruby and her henchmen throw the last shovel of dirt on the screaming man and hightail it. Luckily for Clifton, a man has been watching from the shadows and, once the coast is clear, he digs down into the freshly dug grave to unearth Clifton. The old man is naturally grateful to the stranger and welcomes him into his plan for revenge. 

The duo nab Ruby and bury her in the same plot of Earth Clifton was to spend eternity. Clifton can’t handle the scream so he fires his revolver into the ground and then asks the stranger if what they’ve done is murder. “She was a real bad one,” says the man, and then he tells Clifton that he was Ruby’s first husband and she did the same to him. Clifton laughs the statement off and invites his new friend to have a drink with him.

“The Voice From the Grave” might not have one of the best horror comic titles ever but its mood and ambience are thick enough to be cut with a dull blade. Though she’s not in the strip for more than a cameo, Ruby proves herself to be one of the most chilling of the Atlas bad girls with her almost gleeful demeanor at graveside. What is the stranger’s secret? If he’s Ruby’s first husband, is the man implying that he’s a ghost? We never find out, thanks to a gloriously ambiguous climax where Clifton shrugs off the man’s confession and turns his attention to enjoying life. A marvelous story!

Cabot, the African guide and hunter, is hired by Mark Day, who’s looking for his father who went missing in the jungle years before. Stephan Day was a doctor who entered the jungle to help the Jivaro head-hunting tribe become a part of 20th-Century civilization. Whether Day accomplished that feat is anyone’s guess, and the only way Mark will be able to recognize his father is that the man is missing three fingers on his right hand. As they’re drifting down the river, the two men are attacked by and taken hostage by the Jivaros, who lug them back to their village for dinner.

Mark and Cabot are staked and the tribe’s medicine man comes out with a machete. Cabot tells Day that they are sunk and that they should both go out like men. As the medicine man raises his gleaming blade, Mark Day loses it, screaming until he’s sliced open and vivisected. Cabot soon learns why Mark went out with a scream: the medicine man is missing three fingers on his right hand! A deliciously gruesome yarn, “The Cannibals” leaves you thinking about that grisly climax for several minutes after you’ve finished. Has the senior Day gone crazy, living with cannibals? Does he even recognize his own son? Chilling to think that maybe he does. Pakula’s art is perfectly gritty and an added attraction is that the entire affair is being narrated by Cabot’s decapitated skull, staked to a tree like a trophy. 

Harry Higgs has a gambling problem and it’s cost him his job. But now Harry has a new way to bet on nags: his son loves to play with letter blocks and lately he’s been spelling out the names of horses. Harry plays the hunch and wins a bundle but then his kid refuses to pony up. A good beating and Harry gets a name. It’ll be his last. “The Gamble!” is a really uncomfortable and decidedly un-PC tale (Harry calls his “retarded” son an “idiot” amongst other niceties) with an abrupt and ambiguous finale. We never do find out what’s up with the kid’s precognitive powers.

Having been told he will die of a brain tumor should he not opt to go under the knife, a man questions the meaning of life as death stands in the shadows. “Appointment with Death” is not a bad read but it is quite sappy. Laughably, the protagonist comments that his “life is over at the age of 25, yet artist Bill Savage pencils the poor sap as a guy perhaps double that age.

Professor Gran is convinced he can capture one of the sea creatures he saw in his bathysphere far below the surface of the sea, but he needs a vehicle that can withstand the pressure of the lower depths. Once the new bathysphere is complete, the professor dives “Down Down Down” but it turns out the sea creatures are looking for specimens as well. There’s a fabulously sick sound effect in the final panel where one of the monsters pulls the lid off the little sub, and the Prof. and his aide go “PLOP!” 

Menace 10

“Half Man, Half…?” (a: Robert Q. Sale)

(r: Crypt of Shadows #5)

“The Night Crawlers” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“The Fake!” (a: Al Eadah)

(r: Monsters Unleashed #1)

“The Plotters!” (a: Sheldon Moldoff) 1/2

“In the Cardboard Box” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★1/2

The devolution of Menace from one of the best titles to one of the worst, virtually overnight, continues with “Half Man, Half…?,” a needlessly complicated and undeniably stupid thriller about a scientist, working on a Cobalt bomb, who sells his secrets to the Commies and then discovers something in the radiation is turning his colleagues into man-eating monsters. “Half Man, Half… Assed Story?” is more like it. The Sale art is simply awful; the anatomy on the lead character contorts and bends in ways no gymnast could pull off. Depressingly bad.

Goofball Dennis loves to dig up earthworms and feed them to fish. It’s not even that Dennis likes to eat fish; he just likes to torture worms. His wife gets fed up, threatens to leave him, and receives the two-handed refusal around the neck. Dennis buries her out in the swamp and, later that week, is attacked by “vengeful worms… coming out of the grave of (his wife)!” I’ve always had a problem with the protagonist whose only goal in life is to torture animals, be they dogs, cats, birds, or ex-wives, but Dennis’s passion pushes us well into the realm of sheer idiocy. 


    Once believability is gone for the reader of “The Night Crawlers,” the narrative is doomed. I’ll add that, apropos of the title’s dimming brightness, this is one of the worst DiPreta contributions I’ve yet seen. The art on “The Fake!” by Al Eadah is just as awful, amateurish in the extreme. An impossibly ugly woman makes herself up into an illusion of beauty and then heads out on the town to find herself a rich husband. She lands the dope, marries him, and then comes clean with her masquerade. He laughs and takes off his fake skin to reveal he’s a robot. Nothing about “The Fake!” makes much sense so just forget about it quickly.

“The Plotters!” is a three-page quickie about the end of mankind brought on by a new generation of ants that can withstand DDT. Wheelchair-bound and helpless, Mr. Winters begins to suspect that his new male nurse is the axe murderer terrorizing the city. “In the Cardboard Box” is a silly whodunit, filled with red herrings and a dead end climax, but it’s the best story in the issue by default thanks chiefly to Joe Sinnott’s creepy, noirish artwork. Just don’t try to work out that final reveal.

In Two Weeks...
Enter... The Machine Age!

1 comment:

Grant said...

"The Man Who Wasn't" is evidently a variation of a story called "They're Driving Me Crazy," which I know as a reprint story but was evidently first in Adventures Into Terror # 14.
I don't know about "The Man Who Wasn't," but that one becomes a weird conspiracy kind of story, where "something" is disrupting the scientist's invention not because it's bad but because it's too much of a breakthrough for the world, and needs to be held back (along with a lot of other things).