Thursday, April 13, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 84: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 69
July 1954 
by Peter Enfantino

Journey into Unknown Worlds 29

“The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk!” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

“Werewolf Tale to End All Werewolf Tales!” (a: Paul Hodge) ★★1/2

(r: Monsters Unleashed #5)

“Of Royal Blood!” (a: Tony Mortellaro) ★★

(r: Dracula Lives #4)

“Third Grave on the Right…” (a: Al Eadah) 1/2

“The Heritage!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

In “The Man Who Wouldn’t Talk!,” Professor Drexel, who works for the government on high-level, top-secret weaponry, turns out to be working for the 3rd Planet of the Dogstar Sirius. An alien in our midst! What Drexel was up to is anyone’s guess as he won’t talk to the Feds, even when he’s thrown into a solitary confinement cell. His replacement, the arrogant and self-serving Professor Collins, finds a sheaf of papers in a drawer and immediately calls the President. Seems Drexel was set to secretly build a robot with a brilliant super-calculator brain, before his cover was blown.

Collins talks the President into allowing him to build this gizmo, which he nicknames “Servo” and, months later, the leaders of all the world’s countries are called to the construction site to witness the unveiling. But, alas, Collins has played right into Drexel’s hands; the giant robot is actually the vehicle the 3rd Planetians use to gain control of Earth!

"Werewolf Tale to End All Werewolf Tales" is a charming bit of nonsense about a couple who spend their honeymoon in a cabin set in what their French servant calls "Loup Garou country." Our uncredited documenter tries to throw suspicion on Henri the servant but I knew better. The "reveal" isn't all that startling but it will bring a smile to even the most jaded of horror fans.

Two con-men discover the perfect goldmine when they prey on the loved ones of the dead at a local cemetery. One of the goons is adept at ventriloquism and projects his voice as if it was coming from the grave, telling the visitors that heaven doesn’t come cheap and even the dead need an allowance now and then. The gullible bury their cash and jewelry in front of the tombstone and promise to return with more. This ploy works pretty well for the dastardly duo until they attempt to rob the “Third Grave on the Right…” Laughable and not very easy on the eyes, the highlight of “Third Grave…” is the fact that the crook who can throw his voice somehow knows what each dead relative sounds like! “That voice (gasp)…just like my George!”

Herr Kroner only wants the best for his daughter and the mutts she keeps bringing ‘round frustrate him to no end, so he has to find new ways of dispatching them. Finally, a suitor "Of Royal Blood" comes calling and Kroner is convinced that his new son-in-law will be the one. However the new suitor turns out to be…. Count Dracula! Nice twist climax, but marred by average Tony Mortellaro art.

Two space explorers manage to blast off from their world just before it ignites into a “burning ball” and land on a new world that parallels their own. Though the two men are dying of radiation poisoning, they hope to live long enough to explore this new planet. When cavemen and dinosaurs appear, the travelers excitedly get to work, laying down a document of “what went wrong” on their planet, what led their civilization to destroy itself with war. They bury the document in a time capsule and die peacefully, knowing they’ve done their part to warn Earth of the mistakes their own world made. Yep, they landed on Earth at the dawn of time! We’ve seen something like "The Heritage" countless times before (and probably with the same climatic reveal) but perhaps not with such a nice polish of paint, courtesy of Gentleman Gene.

Marvel Tales 125

“Where Monsters Prowl” (a: William Wellman & Jack Abel)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #28)

“The Dictator!” (a: John Forte) ★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #9)

“The Unwanted!” (a: Bill Walton) ★★

(a: Weird Wonder Tales #2)

“The Horror House” (a: Bob Correa) ★★

(r: Dead of Night #2)

“Murder!” (a: Doug Wildey) ★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #9)

A man, found half dead and dumped in a ditch, is taken to a hospital where he tells his tale of terror to a band of salivating reporters. Seems the guy stumbled upon a monster from Mars and followed it back to its headquarters. There, the man overheard the aliens’ plan for world domination by taking over the body of… a reporter. “Where Monsters Prowl” has a great title and little else. The script is unfocused and the art is weak. 

Zinyov, “The Dictator!,” worries that his people don’t believe in his cause and secretly plot against him. To weed out the traitors, Zinyov commands scientist Panef, the “great brain expert,” to concoct a formula that will kill anyone not fully invested in Zinyov’s philosophies. The serum perfected, all of Panef’s subjects are ordered to the town square and told that all traitors and non-believers will now die. The gas is released and no one dies… except Panef himself. Some very good art here by John Forte, the subject being perfect for his style, and a clever twist. “The Dictator!,” thankfully, contains very little preachiness.

After ninety years in space, Earth’s first band of Mars colonists land on the Red Planet, only to be given a cold shoulder by the residents, who warn the Earthlings to leave Mars or face total molecular blaster-ray annihilation. “The Unwanted” astronauts gas up and blast off, landing back on Earth four panels later. But, there’s no welcoming party for our intrepid crew on Earth either, since a nuclear war has left the world radiation-soaked and populated by cave men, who toss spears at the travelers and chase them back to their ship. So, the plan is to “spurt onto an orbital course around the Earth,” speed through time and, literally wait until the civilization below evolves into what was “man” before the crew left Earth. Oh, my head hurts. So, why did it take ninety years to reach Mars and virtually no time at all to return? And could our heroes have returned to Mars and tried the same “evolving evolution” trick there? I get the feeling scripter Paul S. Newman was reading a lot of Weird Science funny books and thought “Hey, I can do this too!” No. He couldn’t.

The Deckers are surprised to see a house pop up, seemingly overnight, in the vacant lot across the street. With no sign of neighbors, Mary and John get curious and investigate. The doors open and they discover the house is a trap set by aliens who want to find the Earthlings’ weakness before they invade. The weakness is curiosity. It’s an old plot but “The Horror House” is furnished nicely by Bob Correa. The art is also the star of “Murder!,” wherein Rodney murders his rich uncle and then discovers the old man left him out of his will and, instead, had the dough buried with him. Rodney and his partner in crime, Eric, dig up the old man’s grave and the green literally pops out of the coffin! From there, its only a hop, skip, and jump to betrayal and the ironic double murder. That “Ha ha ha! I’ve poisoned him! Now the money is all mine! Arggghhh! Why does my stomach burn” climax had been done to death already by 1954 but, as mentioned, at least the pedestrian nature of the plot was helped along by the noirish pencils of Doug Wildey, who can be at times calm and cool and, at other times, dark and stormy. Both sides work here.

Mystery Tales 20

“The Snake!” ★★

“The Stone Men!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★

“Too Many Corpses!” (a: Hy Rosen) ★★

“Crime Wave” (a: Martin Rosenthall) ★★★

“The Man on the Moon” (a: John Forte) ★★

Roger Brent wants his wife Laura’s millions but her sister, Thelma, the one who keeps cobras in her house, stands in his way. So brilliant schemer Roger grabs one of the cobras, puts it in his wife’s bed, and tells the police his sister-in-law murdered Laura. The jury sees it another way though and Roger (unwisely) threatens to get even with Thelma in front of a courtroom full of witnesses. To add insult to injury, when the will is read, Laura has left only one-half of her money to Roger. 

The next night, Roger receives a call from Thelma, informing him that she found the box he used to transport “The Snake” to Laura’s room and if he doesn’t hand over his part of the estate, she’ll flap her gums to the cops. Roger heads over to Thelma’s, but finds her dying on her living room rug, claiming she was attacked by a burglar. She begs Roger to call an ambulance but he smiles and waits for her to die. To his shock and surprise, the police arrive and arrest Roger for the murder of his sister-in-law. He goes to the chair for the wrong murder. There’s not much story here and the snake itself is not much of a factor (other than being utilized as the murder weapon), but the art is a hoot. The GCD guesses it might be Larry Woromay but, to these untrained eyes, it looks more like the work of Howard Nostrand.

Diver Al Maguire locates a hidden underwater grotto filled with gold and jewels but he’s not the only one who wants the jewels. And what about “The Stone Men” who supposedly guard the treasure? Tony DiPreta’s goofy art is the highlight of a plodding fish story. In “Too Many Corpses,” a mining crew digs into an ancient graveyard and the men refuse to dig any further. All that is, except macho foreman Mike Lund, who grabs his drill and starts moving the earth aside. Bad idea.

Chilean mafioso Cucci holds the town of El Vano in his massive violent fist. Tired of small con jobs, Cucci plans the biggest heist of all time. He goes to El Vano’s weather man, pays him to broadcast a tsunami report, and then kicks back and waits for the town to empty. After silencing the weather man, Cucci and his thugs begin their looting but are halted by a strange sound, a sound like “a hundred gales!” Sure enough, a real tsunami hits and the  resulting flood kills Cucci and his men. This was the fifth and final contribution to the Atlas horror titles by Martin Rosenthall (who signed his work “Martin Thall”), whose rough and sometimes cartoony style might not be to everyone’s taste. On “Crime Wave,” I think Rosenthall’s unique vision is in tune with the dark tone of the script.

In “The Man on the Moon,” we view a future where robots have human hearts and no one can tell the difference between android and human. Our hero, a space pilot, must navigate a passenger ship through a deadly meteor storm without his robot co-pilot, which is sucked out of the damaged ship. The spacecraft lands safely on the moon, the passengers congratulating the pilot and telling him no robot could have pulled off a feat so spectacular, never knowing that the pilot himself is a robot. This might have been a more intriguing tale had not the “twist” been evident from the start.


“Bennett’s Bride” (a: Al Hartley) ★★★

“Terror Below!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

“The Survivor!” (a: Ed Moline) ★★

“Death to the Witch!” (a: Mort Meskin & George Roussos) ★★★

“A Werewolf There Was” (a: Robert McCarty) 1/2

The crash should have killed Roger Bennett but, suddenly, out of the mist comes Myra to cradle his head. Much to the surprise of the medics on the scene (who had pronounced Roger dead), the corpse pops up and walks away, seemingly unscathed. Roger falls in love with the mystery woman and, very soon, he and Myra are married. His hum-drum life takes a turn for the better, his job status improves; everything seems to be coming up roses. And then Roger comes home early to find Myra in the basement conjuring spells; his wife admits to him that she’s a witch. Roger demands she stop this foolishness (“From now on you’re going to be just an ordinary but beautiful woman… and my wife!”) and begins tossing Myra’s occult knickknacks in the furnace. As he grabs for a bloody handkerchief, Myra explains that the cloth is from the night of the accident and begs him to stop, but Roger’s on a mission and the towel burns along with all the other paraphernalia. 

Suddenly, Roger finds himself back at the crash site, dying. An old hag walks away from the wreckage, sobbing. A very creepy witchcraft story but also a genuine love story. Myra seems to be in love with the big galoot; there’s no hidden agenda, no witch’s pot to toss Roger into. I found myself almost misty-eyed by the climax of “Bennett’s Bride,” a sad denouement capped off by a startling “This man is dead!” Mention must be made of Al Hartley’s art. Though I’m not the biggest Hartley fan, I must admit that he knew his way around a woman in black.

In “Terror Below!,” Tom Evans is hoping to find some exotic form of sea creature at the bottom of the ocean. His diving partner, Jim Daland, couldn’t care less about the fish, as he’s got his eye on Tom’s fiancé, who’s let Jim know that if he comes into some money, he’s her man. Since Jim is in line to inherit Tom’s dough, he decides to kill his partner at the bottom of the sea and make it look like an accident. The job goes off without a hitch until Jim gets lost in the current and ends up in what he thinks is a big cave but is actually the belly of a giant sea monster. 

Professor Carr is convinced that his Thermo-Bomb will make the H-Bomb look like a “pebble dropped into a pond.” Only one question remains: can a pilot drop the bomb and escape the 500-mile blast radius? Only one way to find out. Without any red tape or government questions, Carr pilots a plane over the “Arctic ice fields” and drops his payload. He shoots off at full speed but the plane begins to rock from the percussion. Carr’s only hope is to point the jet upwards and try to escape the shock waves. Unfortunately, the jet continues its upward trajectory and Carr soon leaves Earth’s gravity, doomed to circle the world like a satellite. “The Survivor!” suffers from questionable scientific logic. Never mind the fact that Carr seems to think dropping a device 100 times more powerful than an H-Bomb requires no planning or safety checks. The sight of Carr rocketing into space without bursting into flames is head-scratching. Ed Moline’s art is a throwback to the pre-pre-code era; one panel shows Carr as a well-dressed thinking man and the next has him in his lab as a wild-eyed, stiff-haired goober.

The puritans of Burnham have no place for spiritualists, so when the county fair opens and a fortune teller plies her trade, the town turns up to verbally abuse the woman. Members of the town council give the old woman until sundown to get out of Burnham, after that they “can’t be responsible for what happens.” Ironically, after the crowd subsidies, a couple of the council members come in to have their fortune told. Both are told that the woman’s crystal ball (which she calls “the symbol of the world”) tells her they will die in an earthquake and the men leave angry. 

At sundown, an angry mob enters the fair and approaches the seer’s tent. As she meets the crowd at her door, a rock thrown by a member of the crowd finds its mark, killing the old woman and cracking open her crystal ball. That night, a series of earthquakes destroys the world. “Death to the Witch!” takes a standard plot line (the fortune teller) and adds a twist or two, ending on a deliciously downbeat note. 

In the finale, “A Werewolf There Was,” a psychiatrist discovers that the lycanthropy that has plagued his small village has been caused by aliens poisoning the well water. The plot is simple and takes a very odd turn halfway through, but Robert McCarty’s art (as primitive as it might be) is quite striking in spots. McCarty’s werewolf, however, would not frighten a child.

Strange Tales 30

“Science Fiction” (a: Bill Benulis) ★★★

“Look Ma… a Vampire” (a: Mort Drucker) 1/2

“Kill Him!” (a: Bill Walton) 1/2

“The Slimy Things!” (a: Seymour Moskowitz)

“The Thing in the Box!” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache)

Bruce Baron, editor of Many Worlds magazine, has seen more than his fair share of science fiction stories but this new one, by an unknown known only as “Mr. Charles” is the best he’s ever read. Unfortunately, once the man has dropped off his manuscript, he disappears and Bruce has no way of contacting him. The story appears and is an immediate success. Everyone loves it… even the U.S. Government, which sends two Feds to Baron’s office for the intel on “Mr. Charles.” Seems as though the story had some particularly interesting bits on an “atomic convector” that come way too close to the truth. Bruce explains he knows nothing about the man and the Feds leave, with a caution to Bruce to call them if Charles makes a return visit.

After the G-Men leave, Bruce is told by his wife/secretary, Carol, that Charles had visited the office while the editor was having his powwow with the FBI. Bruce races out of the building in time to see Charles enter a cab and he follows the mystery man to his house. When Charles answers the knock, Bruce is astonished to see the man has scaly feet. Charles grabs his editor by the lapels and hauls him inside, where he explains that he is an emissary from Saturn, and when Saturnians relax, they tend to revert to their bestial forms. Charles is here to pave the way for an invasion, and Bruce Baron must die! Just then, one of the Feds fires through the window and Mr. Charles disintegrates into a puddle of ooze. Bruce is cautioned not to tell anyone what happened and heads home to his gorgeous wife, Carol, who’s just getting out of bed. Unfortunately for Bruce, it turns out Carol is from Saturn too.

The script is microwaved and reheated and has some rather sizable holes (it’s never explained why this super-secret agent from Saturn decided it would be a good idea to tip the enemy’s hand through a sci-fi story), but Bill Benulis’s photo-realistic art is stunning, giving the strip an otherworldly effect. For comparison sake, I’d point to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg. Carol is obviously inspired by Marilyn Monroe and the G-Men are suitably shaded. 

Not so successful is the dreadful “Look Ma… a Vampire” about a poor schmuck who’s looked like a bloodsucker all his life and just can’t get no respect. To have an operation to remove all his vampire features would cost him two grand, so he goes on a robbery spree to raise the dough. When the operation is complete, he’s shocked to discover the surgeon is a vampire and only performs the operations in order to line up victims. Quite a bit of trouble to go to, no?

When rumors spread (and grow more fantastical with each telling) through Centertown that the sheriff has a prisoner in his jail, a mob breaks into the man’s jail cell and hauls him out to be hanged. With the man swinging from a rope, the town doctor and sheriff arrive to notify the satisfied lynchers that the dead man was being quarantined at the jail and was carrying a highly-contagious fatal disease. “Kill Him!” is an example of Atlas wanting to emulate EC’s Shock SuspenStories but not having the tools to come close. The rival company excelled in creating tension and melodrama in their “mob mentality” yarns but no other company seemed to be able to understand those stories were more than just a set-up for a twist ending. Only a simple sentence from the sheriff’s mouth might have halted the proceedings but then we wouldn’t have that “tragic” climax. It all comes off as very faux-EC.

After a quick trip to the washroom, a passenger on a New York-to-California flight discovers everyone on the plane has vanished but the plane keeps right on flying. The man overhears two aliens discussing their plan to steal America’s most dangerous bomb in order to rule the galaxy. For some reason, the passenger is invisible to “The Slimy Things” so he grabs a parachute and jumps off the plane (yes, it’s just that easy!). Landing, he immediately hoofs it to the Atomic Energy Building to warn the top scientists of the aliens’ plan but no one can see the poor dope. Is he dead? Has he entered into another dimension? I don’t know. You won’t know. And it’s for certain our uncredited writer didn’t know. “The Slimy Things” is a perfect example of lazy storytelling and exists only to fill four pages.

Resentful that the company he works for has made millions off his research, Charlie Cobb decides to kill his boss in a very elaborate way. He injects a poisonous frog with growth hormones, which will allow the small amphibian to grow to epic proportions, and leaves the creature in his boss’s office in a lunchpail. But the plan is quashed when the boss finds the pail in his office and thoughtfully has one of his subordinates deliver it to Charlie’s lab. Charlie gets eaten by the giant frog. “The Thing in the Box!” has one of those elaborate murder schemes that hinges on lots of events coming in to play; the story is almost laughable but it’s bogged down by way too much expository.

Uncanny Tales 22

“The Unctuous Undertaker” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel)

(r: Journey Into Mystery #9)

“Half-Man!” (a: John Tartaglione) ★★

(r: Crypt of Shadows #9)

“The Locked House!” (a: Doug Wildey) 1/2

“Seeing Eye” (a: Chuck Winter)

(r: The Frankenstein Monster #9)

“The Horror of Sleepy Hollow!” (a: Dick Ayers)

(r: Crypt of Shadows #9)

A spy known as X-8-8 is giving the Soviets fits, stealing government secrets and leaving Russkie agents dead and stacked like cords of wood. One of the higher-ups suspects an undertaker who seems to be near each scene of the crime and, when they follow the mortician back to his base, sure enough they discover his secret. The secret of “The Unctuous Undertaker” is ludicrous and out of the blue and the reveal explains nothing.

In the near future, scientists have perfected cloning, creating the “Half-Man!” Humans being what they are, prejudice rears its ugly head and the clone race is treated like ugly step-sisters. But then, suddenly, an invasion from space forces the military to expedite the cloning and the resulting army of half-men are sent into battle deep in outer space. The human race develops a new respect for the clones but, for some strange reason, that respect evaporates when the winning soldiers land their ships and are marched into concentration camps. 

There’s no reason given for the sudden one-eighty turn so the climax makes little sense. The hatred for the half-men almost seems to be a subtle analogy to the anti-communist witch-hunts that were going on in Washington, ironic given the fact that Stan drops a “Better Dead Than Red!” message in just about every Atlas comic published in the 1950s. John Tartlaglione seems to be channeling Bill Everett here.

One night, George and Lisa discover their windows and doors are shut tight and can’t be open. Chalking it up to the frost, they hit the sack and wake to find “The Locked House!” open once again. But the paperboy hasn’t come, nor has the milkman, and George’s ride to work is late. What’s going on? They walk across the street to the Joyce’s place and discover the family dead from some kind of poisoning. Suddenly, a spaceship lands and an alien approaches the terrified couple, explaining that every human in the world is dead except for George and Lisa; they will be kept safe in their homes for examination. Silly script and weak Wildey art.

An extremely stupid con-man decides he’s going to steal a blind millionaire’s “Seeing Eye” dog but when the deed goes down he discovers the man is not what he seems. Contains one of the most inane reveals in the Atlas era and the Chuck Winters art ain’t up to snuff. But, compared to Dick Ayers’s work in “The Horror of Sleepy Hollow!,” Winters’ pencils stand up to Frazetta and Ingels. A businessman attempts to drive his partner mad by impersonating the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame. You guessed it… the real McCoy shows up! The character dialogue is interchangeable and the twist climax is a surprise only to those who might never have read a horror comic before. This issue is the pits, easily the worst in the Uncanny run.

In Two Weeks...
A simple... yet oh-so
effective yarn from 
Bill Benulis!


Jeremy Roby said...

“Seeing Eye” is without a doubt one of the dumbest tale I've ever read but I love it anyways. I would love to see an entire series relaying the wacky adventures of a blind werewolf and his erstwhile human handler!

Jeremy Roby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Enfantino said...

Hey Jeremy!

Thanks for reading and for commenting. If you think a blind werewolf is a bit loopy, just wait til we hit the post-code when things get really interesting!