Thursday, May 25, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 87: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 72
October 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Astonishing 35
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Jessica!” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Dinner Guest” (a: Don Perlin) 1/2

“Collins Is In His Coffin!” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

“The Man Who Followed!” (a: Mannie Banks)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #26)

“Brother Vampire!” (a: Al Eadah) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #8)

Painfully shy college student Philip attempts to fit in with the other guys in class by fabricating a beautiful girlfriend named “Jessica!” The fantasy becomes eerily real when his new friends happen upon Philip on a bridge and discover a woman’s corpse fitting Jessica’s profile to a tee. Philip is convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. As he awaits the drop of the switch, Jessica comes to him and Philip dies happily.

A quiet but intensely unnerving little yarn that avoids any supernatural histrionics and, instead, relies on psychological horror. Or does it? Could Jessica have been some kind of malevolent spirit on a recruiting spree? And who was the dead girl under the bridge? “Jessica!” excels at raising the hair while simultaneously keeping things calm.

A Russian Commissar is told by an old man that his son is a zombie and so his charity must be increased. The Commissar scoffs at the man’s story until he’s shackled to a bench and presented as lunch to the zombie son. “The Dinner Guest!” is padded at four pages but does present some nice early Don Perlin work.

A newspaper reporter interviews Bob Lane and his wife about the “Collins affair.” Years before, Bob stood by while a mad mob lynched his neighbor, Josh Collins, for a crime they knew he didn’t commit. Since Collins’s land was so rich and valuable, there was plenty to be gained if the farmer was out of the way. With his dying breath, he curses his killers to die a thousand deaths. The drought that arrives soon thereafter brings just such a death. “Collins is in His Coffin!” begins as a quasi-EC Shock SuspenStories nod but then descends into a formulaic revenge yarn. The final panel, where Lane and his wife disintegrate into skeletons before the reporter, makes no sense whatsoever. Nor does Lane offering up his take on an incident that would surely have landed him in jail years before.

Convoluted and complicated, “The Man Who Followed!” is very hard to follow. Something about a futuristic hunter who tires of easy game and so creates his own prey based on the terrifying apes to be found on Mars. But the red planet monkeys are smarter than they look. The closer this issue, “Brother Vampire!,” is an inane bit of hogwash about a vampire who comes upon an amnesia victim and has the brilliant idea of masquerading the pair as Siamese twins (who would suspect one-half of being a vampire?). He joins them together with a gob of plastic (no, seriously!) and explains away his vampirism to his “brother” as “just something that happened!” To save a pretty girl from becoming the latest victim, the good half stakes the bad half and is then overcome with a moment of clarity. Some fun vampire graphics by Al Eadah but otherwise disposable.

Journey into Mystery 18
Cover by Carl Burgos

“The Man Who Went Back!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★

(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #3)

“The Hidden Man!” (a: Ed Moline)

“He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” (a: Bill Walton)

(r: Tales of the Zombie #3)

“The Swami!” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★★

“The Worst Thirst” (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★

(r: Dead of Night #5)

Every time Jeff Martin dives off the pier into the Hudson, he becomes ten years younger. “The Man Who Went Back” doesn’t understand why he’s reaping the rewards but he’s not going to complain. That is, until two men begin following him around. Jeff panics and jumps into the river, traveling back another 25 years. Since he’s an expert at the stock market, Jeff makes another ton of money but notices the men hanging around outside his home. He grabs a gun and heads for the pier again, but when he throws a few shots their way, the men gun Jeff down. Turns out they were IRS agents traveling back in time, pursuing him for unpaid taxes. The climax is simultaneously inane and pretty on-the-nose. The idea that the IRS would find a way to track anyone who owed dough to the government (even through time) makes a lot of sense but the rest of it doesn’t. Why is Jeff blessed/cursed with this liquid time machine?

In “The Hidden Man!,” a series of shootings befuddles the police. No motive, no robbery, no trace of the gunman, nothing that can help the cops nab the perp. If only they looked in the nearby zoo, where a monkey has managed to get hold of a pistol and several boxes of ammo. Never mind the fact that the monkey would probably chew the boxes of bullets rather than load them into the cylinder… never mind where the monkey got the gun… what about the fact that these shootings take place over a period of two days… doesn’t anyone feed that monkey? 

Comedian Eddie Johnson hits the big time, signed by a superstar agent, and goes out for a bit too much celebrating. He doesn’t quite make the curve on the cliff and his convertible takes a dive. Eddie is thrown clear of the wreckage but when the police and ambulance arrive, Eddie is pronounced dead. This, despite the fact that he’s protesting the findings. Eddie is taken into custody and told he has to be cut open for an autopsy. No one will listen to the poor undead guy and he’s put on trial and found guilty of being dead. His accusers bury him alive. But don’t worry… the whole thing was a dream! “He Wouldn’t Stay Dead!” is bottom of the barrel drivel with by-the-numbers Bill Walton art.

An evil stepfather forces Timmy to break into the home of “The Swami!” and steal something valuable. However, when Timmy is inside he comes face to face with the seer himself. Once Timmy explains the situation, the swami gives the boy a box and tells him to give it to his stepfather. Back at home, the evil step-pop locks himself into his room, opens the box, and screams. The swami appears at Timmy’s house, explaining that he needs the box back. They open the father’s room to discover he’s disappeared and a strange mist emanates from the box. The story itself is a bit creepy (though it has a very silly, maudlin climax where Timmy’s mother suddenly wakes up to the evils of her husband and promises her son that happiness is just around the corner) but Mort Lawrence gives it a detailed, otherworldly sheen.

In “The Worst Thirst,” the Jessup Brothers are duking it out with the new folks up the hill for water supplies. The Jessups are convinced the newcomers tapped into their well and are siphoning off their drinking water. Joe Jessup gets a bright idea and talks brother Pete into sneaking up the hill that night and laying pipe from the neighbors’ well down to their own property. Unfortunately, the neighbor hears the brothers digging and comes out with a shotgun. Pete kills the man and the brothers bury his body near the well. The next day, cool, fresh water flows out of the Jessup well. Just then, Jeb, the man who’s been delivering the Jessups their drinking water, pulls up and gives them the skinny on why the neighbors haven’t been using their well. Seems one of the town drunks dumped a barrel of crop poison down the well and one drink will kill a man within two hours.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 31
Cover by Carl Burgos

“Who’s Dead?” (a: Paul Reinman)

“The Strange Man!” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

“The Captive!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

“The Worm Men!” (a: Dan Loprino) 1/2

“No Place to Hide!” (a: Ed Robbins)

Doc and O’Brian enter into a deal: O’Brian will play dead in a coffin with 200 grand sewn into his death suit and Doc will dig him up right after the funeral. But then Doc decides to give it a couple weeks since… what’s the hurry, right? Problem is, there’s an unidentified stiff in O’Brian’s coffin! So “Who’s Dead?” Abysmal, with a climactic “twist” so complicated that the writer felt the need to include an expository.

Equally lame-brained is “The Strange Man!,” wherein the police haul in famous sculptor Alberto Grappiosa for covering the park statues with raincoats and galoshes, claiming that even stone figures can catch cold. After the cops are forced to release the artist, they catch him doing his schtick again and there’s a tussle, after which Alberto falls and shatters into a million pieces. He knew the figures were subject to inclement weather because he was a statue too! Except, I guess, a mobile statue.Sheesh.

The Skas visited Earth millions of years ago and planted the seed that became man. Now, they’ve come back to inspect what they created by kidnapping one man and studying his brain functions. After much testing, the Skas come to the conclusion that mankind must be destroyed, unaware that the man they abducted was an escaped mental patient. "The Captive!" has a fun and clever wrap-up that almost makes up for the slow build and the ho-hum Perlin graphics.

After a massive explosion in a mine shaft, one of the survivors is rescued and swears he saw Tony Rye down there. That’s utterly impossible since Rye was presumed dead in a cave-in a year before. Nevertheless, a search party heads down into the dangerous mine shaft to investigate. They do, indeed, find Tony Rye, his head jutting out of a hole in the wall and warning his friends to leave before “The Worm Men!” capture them. Tony explains that the titular creatures have kept him alive the last year by teaching him how to absorb coal dust through his skin. The lights go out, another cave-in occurs, and the men know they’re trapped. When they finally get a lantern lit, they see the full story behind Tony Rye: he’s got a long worm-like body trailing behind his human head. A creepy final panel can’t save what is essentially a one-page story padded out to four, and some truly wretched art by Dan Loprino.

Every night, Otto Roznic transforms into a werewolf and plays a game of grab and run with the peasants in the village of Grudnia. Always making it back to his estate just in time and ahead of the angry mob, Otto lounges and guffaws at the villagers as they attempt to track the creature of the night. But one night, the weather plays havoc with Otto’s game and the wind shuts his bedroom window, leaving him at the mercy of the mob. Luckily, Otto finds a pack of wolves and runs with them but time gets away from him and he transforms back into his human shape again. The wolves tear him to pieces. Grubnia is obviously home to some of the more simpler people on Earth; every night they manage to track the lycanthrope through the snow back to the Ruznic estate but never put two and two together. It also doesn’t speak well of the villagers’ collective IQ in that the werewolf runs around in a three-piece suit and cape remarkably similar to the one their precious Otto wears! “No Place to Hide!” brings to close one of the worst ever issues of JIUW.

Marvel Tales 127
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Vampires Also Die” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Buried Alive!” (a: Bob McCarty) 1/2

“He Walks Through Walls” (a: John Forte)

“Skrak’s Secret!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“Gone is the Gargoyle” (a: Mort Drucker) ★★1/2

A sickly young vampire feels as though his younger brother, Igor, gets all the attention. Jealous, he approaches an old witch for a solution. “Vampires Also Die” is a weird hybrid of the horror and humor comics Atlas was publishing at the time, almost like a meeting of the two genres in the middle of the road. The Vampire clan most resembles the Addams Family. The chief draw of “Vampires Also Die,” of course, is the Colan art. Even when obviously drawing with tongue (or fangs) in cheek, Colan delivers a creepy, noirish atmosphere like no other artist could. 

The Great Galdoni has become the world’s number one escape artist but his assistant, the gorgeous blonde, Lila, wants to slap marriage cuffs on the magician and she wants them fast. Galdoni has a bigger plan and it involves a millionaire’s widow, so he talks Lila into doing the dangerous “safe in the lake” trick. Of course, the event goes awry, and poor Lila drowns. Galdoni and the widow announce their engagement with one last stunt: the “buried alive” trick. It’s an event no one will want to miss, not even Lila. The finale of “Buried Alive!” features a reveal that’ll elicit a smile, but makes no sense at all once you think it over.

After an electric shock allows Adolphe to walk through walls, he decides to devote his life to crime. Of course, it helps that Adolphe is manager at the bank he works at so he simply waits until late on night and walks through the bank vault. Unfortunately, his powers wear off and he becomes trapped within the bank vault door. There’s no explanation for the sudden loss of Adolphe’s power in “He Walked Through Walls,” but that didn’t bother me so much as the fact that the guy doesn’t sink into the ground when he walks. 

What Andre wants most in the world is to be a great impressionistic painter like the great Skrak. No one knows how the brilliant artist captures pain and misery so triumphantly. What is “Skrak’s Secret!?” Andre decides to follow the painter home to his studio one night and breaks in to Skrak’s cellar. There, he waits, hoping the painter will come down to work on his latest masterpiece. When Skrak finally descends and picks up his brush, Andre accidentally knocks over some crates and his presence is felt. At last, Andre will learn for himself how the master captures pain and misery so triumphantly! While the plot is old hat, I got a big kick out of Al Eadah’s artwork. Eadah creates a world where virtually everyone is ugly and dwarfish.

The final tale, “Gone is the Gargoyle,” is the best story of the issue almost by default. It’s got a wacky script and some dynamite Mort Drucker visuals. By night, one of the stone gargoyles atop the Notre Dame becomes flesh and blood and descends to take one unlucky Parisian up to his aerie for a midnight snack. And every night, a police officer watches and ignores the horrifying display of brutality. What is the connection between the officer and the gargoyle? A fairly predictable one, unfortunately, but there are still a few interesting twists and turns to keep the interest. Drucker’s visualization of the gargoyle attacks is unnerving; this is one vicious creature. It’s a downright dirty shame that Drucker only appeared twice in the Atlas horror titles (the other being “Look Ma… A Vampire!” in Strange Tales #30), but his name would appear 16 more times post-code. Two years after the publication of Marvel Tales #127, Drucker began his historic 55-year run on Mad.

In Two Weeks...
The Magical Matt Fox!

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