Thursday, March 2, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 81 Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 66
May 1954 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Mystery Tales 19

“The Room with No Door!” 

(a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) 1/2

“The Man in the Graveyard!” ★★

“The Bitter Pill” (a: Al Luster) ★★

“Gone!” (a: Bill Walton) 1/2

“Oh, Brother” (a: John Rosenberger) ★★★

A bum answers a mysterious and vague ad in a newspaper and finds himself locked in “The Room with No Door!” Mysterious and vague could be adjectives applied to the story itself. George Masterson is not an attractive guy and this leads to loneliness. All his attempts to keep a steady job end in disaster until someone recommends a job at Chesley Cemetery. At last, George is away from the jeering and sneering, at peace with himself. But solitude soon grates at George and he desires the company of someone, anyone he can talk to. One night, while patrolling the graveyard, he witnesses spirits ascending from their graves and partying all night long. Realizing this may be the group he belongs to, George kills himself but then discovers that even the dead can be stuck-up jerks. There’s a certain melancholia to “The Man in the Graveyard!” that’s even more heartbreaking than the usual put-upon dope; George just wants to be accepted and can’t get no satisfaction through no fault of his own. 

Mob boss Nick Faber is told by his doc that if he doesn’t take a pill every three hours with liquid, he’s going to die of a heart attack. Lucky Nick has his trusted right hand man, Weepy, to dole out the pills so everything looks peachy. That is, until the IRS comes calling and Nick and Weepy have to hoof it fast with their ill-gotten green. Halfway through Death Valley, Weepy shows his cards, dumping Big Nick out in the heat with no water. But Nick is resilient and makes it to a local abandoned gas station, calling the cops and putting them on Weepy’s tail. Alas, the call takes up all of Nick’s change and, as his heart screams “Finis!,” Nick realizes he has no change for the soda machine. “The Bitter Pill” has a familiar framework but a funny climax. Hard to believe there’s no tools in a gas station Nick can use to crack open the vending machine.

Hans Enoch has always wanted to be alone and one morning he wakes up to find all his neighbors are “Gone!,” enabling him to do the looting and pillaging he’s always dreamed of. But then Enoch’s skin begins to itch and he feels like he’s on fire. That’s because he’s been living in a town evacuated for atomic bomb testing. Obviously not well-evacuated. Mindless rubbish with awful art.

Myron is a slave to his blind brother, Albert; it’s not love that keeps Myron close but the fact that Albert controls their parents’ estate. But Albert’s bossiness and the fact that he keeps his brother on a strict allowance have combined to push Myron to murder. After the deed is done, Myron feels a twinge in his weak heart but chalks it up to nerves. He discovers the horrible truth when he gets home and the ghost of his brother informs him that he died and that Myron will spend eternity looking after Albert. The plot is an old one and the reveal, that Myron is dead, is eye-rolling, but John Rosenberger’s art is gorgeously noir-ish and detailed. The final sequence, of the ghostly Albert spilling the beans, is genuinely creepy.

Mystic 30

“Wilson’s Woman” (a: Doug Wildey) ★★★

(r: Journey Into Mystery #9)

“Superstition” (a: Syd Shores) ★★★

(r: Uncanny Tales #2)

“Beyond Death!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★★

(r: Crypt of Shadows #9)

“Double Feature” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

(r: Beware #7)

“The Monster Men” (a: Jack Abel) ★★1/2

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #3)

The ignorant townsfolk can’t stand the new scientist, Paul Wilson, who’s moved into the old Kimberley place, and tongues wag over what the egghead is doing at night in his lab. Then, when Wilson shows up in town with a gorgeous blonde wife, the ignorance turns to jealousy. How could an ugly guy like Professor Wilson get a Monroe-knockoff like that babe? 

One night, while all the men are hanging out at the general store, Hubert (the town drunk) stumbles in and relates the horrifying event that just took place before his bloodshot eyes: Wilson stabbing his wife to death. That’s all it takes. The angry mob head over to Wilson’s, drag him out to the big tree on his property, and hang him. Inside, the robotic Mrs. Wilson, lies in pieces on the dining room table. The outcome of “Wilson’s Woman” is 100% predictable but the ride is a lot of fun. Right from the get-go, the story is one of the better EC Shock Suspenstories rip-offs Atlas ever published in both script and art department. Doug Wildey perfectly apes that Jack Davis/ Wally Wood “violent mob” atmosphere. All that’s missing is the final “choke.”

A trio of hardened criminals escape their cells on Devil’s Island, evading the guards and making it deep into the jungle. There, they “borrow” a boat from the superstitious natives, who refuse to sail out to sea, and literally fall off the end of the world! Yep, that’s how “Superstition” hilariously reaches its climax, by providing proof that the Earth is flat. No explanation given, none needed.

Ignatz Kossar works for grumpy sculptor Louis Bonnard but tensions develop between the two men when Ignatz falls in love with Bonnard’s daughter, Flora. Swearing this “scum” will never marry his beautiful little girl, Bonnard attempts to kill his employee with a syringe filled with a mystery liquid. Ignatz manages to wrest the needle away from his boss and get the hell out of the studio but the incident weighs heavily on his mind. 

That night, he steals into Bonnard’s bedroom and injects him with the potion. The next day, he discovers that Flora had switched rooms with her Papa and had been the recipient of the injection. She has turned to stone; Bonnard is so overcome with grief he dies of a heart attack. Unbowed, Ignatz takes the Flora statue to the justice of the peace and marries the girl. ”Beyond Death!” features some wonderful Chuck Winter graphics and a looney toons finish. Those paying attention might want to know whether that “Gorgon Juice” implies that Bonnard really wasn’t that great of a sculptor after all.

Warren Koster really wants to be chief executive of the museum but there’s already another man in that position. So, Warren decides to murder his boss and makes sure to do his homework. To set up an alibi, Koster takes in the “Double Feature” at the Bijou (Marked for Murder and Trapped!), and studies the films very carefully. The next night, he attends the same show but leaves during the first film, saving his stub as proof he was there. Warren heads down to the museum, runs his boss through with a medieval sword, and races home for a good night’s sleep. The next day, the cops arrive to ask Warren where he was the previous evening. When he tells them he was at the double feature, they arrest him for murder. The Bijou burned down during the show. A clever finale and some witty dialogue (Warren answers back questions put to him by the caption narrator) help overcome some weak artwork. 

In “The Monster Men,” Norton spends too much time down at the lab, working on his “time room,” adamant he can send the entire laboratory 500 years into the future. HIs buddies just want Norton to come out and bowl with them on Friday night but this nut won’t put down his test tubes and pliers. So, the boys decide to play a really mean trick on their buddy come lift-off night. Norton sets the dial on his way-forward room to 2454 and holds on tight. 

That’s when Moe, Curly, and Larry come out of the shadows and do their thing. Norton falls for the schtick for a while but then recognizes one of the voices and calls a halt to the proceedings. Dismayed that his invention is a bust, Norton takes an axe to the controls just as a robot hand bursts through the door. Too late, the four men discover that the damn thing works! I’m not a huge fan of Jack Abel's art but I must say the man pulls off some good work here on “The Monster Men,” a competent SF yarn with a great last panel.

Spellbound 22

“The Thing in the Mud!” ★★

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #3)

“The Mark of the Vampire!” (a: Mac Pakula) 1/2

(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)

“13 Years!” (a: Bill Savage) ★★★

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #30)

“Worse Than Death!” (a: Jack Abel)

(r: Dead of Night #4)

“The Wedding Present” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★1/2

(r: Giant-Size Dracula #3)

A woman stumbles upon a creature in the swamp and takes it home. After it begins leaving her gifts (pearl necklaces, diamonds, etc.), the woman realizes she’s fallen in love with “The Thing in the Mud!” A goofy concept delivered in matter-of-fact fashion (no one in the story seems shocked that there’s a monster among them), with elementary visuals. After a string of brutal murders rocks his village, Frank becomes convinced his older brother is a vampire. Deciding he owes a debt to his neighbors, Frank stakes his brother but finds out, too late, that vampirism runs in the family and, with his brother’s death, the curse has been handed down to Frank. “The Mark of the Vampire” has an engaging set-up (what exactly would you do if you found out your brother was a bloodsucker?) but sputters towards the climax.

Driving home from work one day, our unnamed protagonist is accosted by two jewelry store robbers on the run from the police. With bullets flying all around him, our hero manages to fight off the two thugs and get away with their booty, a case full of diamonds and jewels. Deciding to throw away the life he was living (including his wife and kids), the man dumps the car in a river and begins moving from town to town, buying time until he can sell the hot ice. Finally, after “13 Years!,” he heads into a jeweler with the case and is told that the contents are nice looking imitations. The man gets a whopping ten bucks for the entire haul and then stops in to a hock shop and buys a revolver and one bullet. “13 Years!” stars another one of those “innocent bystanders” who meets with a bad end, this time courtesy of his own hand. The final panel is a downer but if you’re reading a magazine filled with horror stories, you don’t really want a happy ending, do you?

     “Worse Than Death” is a five-page inventory sheet of cliches starring the number one violator of them all, the heartless, greedy landlord who charges a fortune for his rat-traps and cares not one bit when his tenants die in a tenement blaze. Of course, the error of his ways is mirrored in the climactic “just desserts.” Dreadful stuff with some of Jack Abel’s worst art.

Harry Krebs is in love with the gorgeous torch singer Lila, but the beauty will have nothing to do with this beast. Lila falls for Harry’s handsome buddy, Dan, and very soon the couple announce their engagement. Rubbing salt in the wound, Lila invites Harry and tells him to bring an expensive gift. Willing to try anything to win Lila’s love, Harry agrees to meet with a voodoo medicine man in Haiti. The witch doctor guarantees his potion will work but demands five grand in cash; Harry disagrees with the financial settlement and kills the medicine man. Stealing the potion, he arrives at Lila’s wedding just before it’s to start and offers the potion up to the woman as an “eternal beauty” drink. With a laugh, Lila downs the grog and then falls immediately in love with Harry. Lightning flashes! Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the undead witch doctor is decorating the wedding cake, miniature Lila and Harry on the top layer. 

There’s a real sense of dread pervading “The Wedding Present,” thanks primarily to Paul Reinman’s fabulous pencil work, which runs the gamut from truly beautiful (Lila on stage) to truly creepy (the witch doctor filling his pot with ingredients). But our uncredited scripter also puts yet another hoary cliche, the witch doctor, to good use.

Strange Tales 28

“Come Share My Coffin” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★1/2

“With Knife in Hand!” (a: Jack Katz) ★★★

“The Coward!” (a: Bob Forgione) ★★

“Voices” (a: Don Perlin) ★★1/2

“The Slums” (a: Tony DiPreta*) ★★★1/2

An informant in a Soviet prisoner camp stumbles onto the details of an elaborate prison smuggling, utilizing coffins populated by corpses of the executed. The rat plans to hide out in one of the boxes and then pop out, exposing the perpetrators. Only the commandant knows about the informant’s identity so, of course, when our protagonist is buried he discovers, too late, that his boss has died and his body is keeping him company. The climax is 100% predictable but I found Pete Tumlinson’s art for “Come Share My Coffin” (in particular the reveal, which is genuinely terrifying) to be suitably gritty.

A respected surgeon turns to extracting bullets from gangsters when his wife complains about their middle-class lifestyle. Though disgusted with himself, the medic perseveres until a hood shows up at his door with a wounded girlfriend. The moll turns out to be the MD’s wife. As with “Come Share My Coffin,” the outcome of “With Knife in Hand!” is preordained but the art (by Jack Katz) is both dazzling and unrelentingly bleak. The climax, where the surgeon fatally stabs himself and allows his cheating wife to die, is Atlas at its darkest.

Getaway driver Benny chickens out while his boss, “The Strangler,” is pulling a job and “The Coward” speeds off, hoping the bossman gets ventilated. But “The Strangler” gets away and swears vengeance on Benny, who then decides he’s going to off himself before the big man gets his mitts on him. That doesn’t go as planned. Padded at four pages, “The Coward” has a clever twist at the climax but takes too long to get there.

In “Voices,” ham radio enthusiast Johnny Scott has a theory that all the sound waves created through history still exist in the atmosphere and, therefore, all sounds yet to be devised could also be extracted from the atmosphere. Yeah, I know, but stay with me here. One night, while monkeying with his set he hears a radio show broadcast from the following day. His theory is right! 

But when he shares his discovery with his pals at the Ham Radio night out, they all laugh at him and tell Johnny he needs some psychiatric help. The next night, Johnny tunes in on the same frequency, hoping to hear some stock market reports to cash in on and show those phony friends of his. But Johnny hears a news item devoted to his own death and becomes despondent. Deciding he can’t wait, he grabs a gun and kills himself. Meanwhile, at the Ham gathering, his friends wonder if Johnny will find amusing the phony broadcast of his death they sent out to him. A crackerjack finish (similar to that of “The Monster Men” in Mystic #30) saves this otherwise slow and dull sci-fi yarn.

Returning to the ghetto he grew up in and escaped from a few years before, Mike is startled by just how little the town has changed. He's approached by two derelicts (one male, one not), asking for a handout. He gives them each a counterfeit fin, alerting us to the type of guy Mike has grown up to be. He left the slums to look for a well-paying job but, after months of frustration, settled into a life of pickpocketing until two "professionals" advise him that there's a huge world out there for Mike to conquer if he plays his cards right. The con man goes to work for the mob and, after several years, works up a good pot of dough which will enable him to retire. When he tries to give his two-weeks notice, his mob boss lets him know there's no retirement plan in this job and so Mike is forced to ventilate the old man. He heads back to the slums to find his girl, Gertie, but is told she was booted out of her apartment years before and has been spotted on the street panhandling. 

While tracking Gertie down, Mike passes a newsboy hawking papers with a familiar face under the headline "SUICIDE." Identifying her corpse, Mike discovers from a cop that Gertie had been begging on the street that morning when someone gave her a fiver. She tried to buy food but was told the bill was counterfeit. Despondent, she jumped off a bridge. The timeline doesn't work (the newspaper appears hours after the girl jumps) and I doubt if a penniless beggar would make the headlines in the first place but, despite a few bits of silliness (Gertie's corpse is still clutching the counterfeit bill!), "The Slums" is a solid 1950s morality play. This issue, incidentally, featured what I consider to be ST's finest cover.

Uncanny Tales 20

“Somewhere Lurks a Thing!” (a: Dick Briefer) 1/2

“The Only One” (a: Bill Walton) 1/2

“Who Shall Judge” (a: Jack Katz) ★★★

“Proof Positive” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★★★

“Ted’s Head!”

Mr. Tavers is having nightmares about a hairy monster but he puts it down to the hair tonic he’s rubbing into his bald scalp each night. When the nightmares persist, Tavers sees a psychiatrist who sits the man on his couch, holds his hand, and talks him through the visions. Cured, Tavers leaves the office a happy man but the psychiatrist has now transformed into the hairy nightmare creature. Not an especially memorable yarn other than the fact that the psychiatrist absorbs the “demon” much like the priest in The Exorcist. This was Dick Briefer’s 7th and final job for Atlas; this sure doesn’t look like the same Briefer who created the spectacularly offbeat Frankenstein for Prize in 1945. The art for “Somewhere Lurks a Thing!” is pedestrian and boring.

At the end of the Korean War, the commies try to talk Red prisoners into returning to North Korea. Despite all the fanciful talk of gorgeous women and food on every table, no one seems to want to go back. That is, until Kim Su agrees and then mows down as many commies as he can with the machine gun he’s somehow managed to wrestle off a communist guard. As the moral reads, only a madman would live under commie regime. “The Only One” might be a true story (the communists certainly were a nasty bunch) but it comes off as just so much Stan propaganda, you have to snicker rather than gasp.

There are five pages of dazzling Jack Katz work waiting for the reader of “Who Shall Judge,” wherein Honest Judge Lacy faces some of the innocent folk he’s sentenced to hard time. We’ve seen the plot before but Katz is a master storyteller who seemingly spends as much time detailing one panel as some of the other Atlas artists (I’m looking at you, Dick Ayers and Al Eadah) spend on an entire strip.

Astronomer Nels Ostron warns the scientific community that our moon is being pulled towards us due to the fact that a “Planet X” lurks just on the other side of the sun. That other planet must be destroyed or else the moon will collide with Earth and the aftermath of that fender bender is too cataclysmic to fathom. Though his peers scoff, they bid Ostron a fond farewell as the scientist blasts off (dressed in a suit and tie!) in his rocket ship to attempt a landing on Planet X. The journey goes splendidly and Ostron lands on the phantom planet, quickly discovering that it’s a mirror image of our own world. 

Our hero happens to stumble into an astronomers’ convention in a local hall and listens as a lecturer hypothesizes the very theory Ostron had put forth to his comrades. Ostron pipes up that he’s from Earth-1 and that the two planets should join to save each other. His outburst is met with the typical derision but a group of scientists decides to humor him by setting out on a trip in Ostron’s rocket. “When we go around the sun, you’ll see my planet,” the astronomer gleefully promises. But once the arc is made, the audience sees nothing but a blank space. 

Every now and then, even this old timer can smile ear to ear at a yarn so well told and visualized, even one as naive as “Proof Positive,” which is science fiction joy from first panel to last. Ostron’s terrified face as he looks out the window of his rocket ship and sees nothing but “space dust” is awe-inspiring. Luckily, the poor sap still has another world to fall back on.

A professor working on a book on the French Revolution has nightmares about an executioner coming closer and closer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the kindly egghead, his assistant Ted intends to steal his mentor’s notes and publish the book under his own name. But the nightmarish executioner finds “Ted’s Head” before the professor’s. Convoluted and confusing.

Next time out...
In the final issue of Weird Worlds...
Joltin Joe Sinnott


Grant said...

It's funny that the small town in "Wilson's Woman" has a sort of stereotyped ' 50s delinquent, at least judging by his clothes and hairstyle. Or at least a very trendy character of some kind. If that's the point of it, what's funnier is that he's just pictured as one of the group.

Peter Enfantino said...

Which points to Stan's desire to reach every single demographic. That's his job, of course, but sometimes it was more glaring than others.