Thursday, July 6, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 90: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 75
December 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Astonishing 36

Cover by Carl Burgos

“Greed!”  (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #5)

“The Snowman!” (a: Dave Berg) ★★★

(r: Dead of Night #6)

“Let’s Face It!” (a: Ed Winiarski)

(r: Giant-Size Chillers #2)

“The Man Who Melted!” (a: Al Eadah)

(r: Chamber of Chills #10)

“No Feelings!” (a: Paul Reinman)

Scientist Bardo is sick and tired of slaving for the human race and having nothing to show for it. He dreams of a warehouse filled with gold and promises himself he’ll achieve that goal someday. Then, one day, while Bardo is working on a top secret “mission to Mars” project, he is telepathically contacted by Martians, who tell him that Mars is pretty much made of gold and if he builds the aliens a gateway so that they can leave their dying planet and conquer Earth, they’ll reward him with tons of gold. The dope agrees but doesn’t remember the golden rule of science: “telepathy is thought waves and like light waves, they would take thousands of years to cross the void of space from Mars to Earth!” The Martians are already dead and the mountain of gold comes through the teleport as molten lava and… that’s about where I lost track of what the hell was going on. 

“Greed!” is very nicely presented by Mr. Tumlinson, but its script is equal parts inane and overly complicated. By far, the most joyous moment is when one of Bardo’s colleagues discovers him missing and rummages through his shack, finding a diary in which Bardo has detailed the entire Martian affair! Just in case he wanted to write his memoir later as he sat on his throne.

Nels and Kurt are climbing the treacherous Karatom Peak, when they happen upon the footprints of “The Snowman!” Their sherpas refuse to go any further but the grinning explorers know they are on to something no other explorer has provided proof of. To find the Yeti would mean worldwide fame. And that’s when the trouble begins. Bickering over top billing in headlines yet to come, Nels bashes Kurt in the head with a pickaxe and heads up the peak alone. But the conk to the noggin didn’t put Kurt out for the count and he tracks his comrade down, tossing him over the side of the mountain to his death. But in the scuffle, Kurt has lost his boots and goggles and, very soon, he’s stumbling blindly, leaving oversized footprints in the snow. A very clever reveal which avoids clunky exposition or “spell-it-out” captions, and Dave Berg has a sweet style that’s immediately recognizable and comfortable.

In “Let’s Face It!,” Carl is sure that Ed is attempting to break up their business, talking to strangers on the street and other underhanded tactics. Carl has to go to Africa on business and while he’s away, a stranger approaches Ed with a business proposition: he’ll buy into the business and he and Ed can force Carl out. Ed jumps at the chance but receives a big shock when the stranger reveals that he is, in fact, Carl returned from Africa with a new face. Absolute bottom of the barrel drivel with truly dreadful art by Ed Winiarski. Ed and Carl’s relationship could almost be construed as homosexual (not that there’s anything wrong with that!); there’s a lot of back and forth between the two about trust issues and not one woman in sight. It’s Astonishing that Freddie Wertham didn’t devote a whole chapter to what was going on between these two dopes.

Equally bad and simplistic is “The Man Who Melted!,” about a group of scientists who discover a frozen Neanderthal Man and then debate whether to thaw him out or not. The question becomes moot when a fire melts the ice imprisoning the loin-clothed brute and he escapes into the snow-filled park nearby. When one of the scientists catches up to him, the beast swings a club and the scientist falls through the ice above a lake and is frozen. In the finale, we discover that the caveman was really a disguised Jupiterian who then whisks his prize away for research. So… this alien was frozen in ice for how long before he was discovered, just so they could capture a human? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just capture a specimen on the street? Give the Jupiter critters credit for researching what a Neanderthal looked like! Carl Burgos’s rendition of Melty Man on the cover is far superior to that of Al Eadah and was reprinted as one of the turning points of my early teen years, Chamber of Chills #10 (May 1974).

Finally, “No Feelings!” is the ridiculously contrived story of a scientist who locks himself into a time capsule to escape his family. The nut job is resurrected thousands of years later by scientists who belong to an advanced form of man which has discarded emotion. In seventh heaven, the scientist has millions of questions for the large-headed humans but his euphoria is short-lived when he discovers he’s to be part of an experiment involving interactions with family. The story’s mean edge (at one point, the egghead slaps his wife and tell her he never wants to see her or the children ever again) quickly devolves into silly science fiction claptrap.

Journey into Mystery 20

Cover by Carl Burgos

“Quick-Change!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★

“After Man… What?” (a: Bob Powell) ★★★

“Hector!” (a: John Tartaglione) ★★★

“The Messenger!” (a: Jack Abel) ★★

“The Crazy Car!” (a: Bill Everett) ★★★

Percy, the dish-washer, is madly in love with Marie, the waitress, but the gorgeous blonde won’t give our hapless hero the time of day. One day, while pouting, Percy grabs the amulet that belonged to his great-grandmother (you know, the one who was burned at the stake for being a witch?) and discovers that if, while holding the trinket, he says out loud the name of a mythological beast, he will transform into said beast. Percy takes the amulet over to Marie’s pad and gives her a demonstration. 

Marie is so impressed that she talks Percy into joining a circus to make some serious money. But a woman who wants diamonds bought from circus wages must be very patient and Marie is the furthest from patient. She tries to talk Percy into robbing jewelry stores but he’s not going for it, so Marie steals the amulet and goes on a shopping spree. Unfortunately, Marie’s knowledge of mythological creatures is very limited. “Quick-Change!” is a funny, light-hearted romp, something that would have fit comfortably in one of Atlas’s humor comics (unfortunately, the company’s trio of funny funny books Crazy, Riot, and Wild had all been axed in the Summer of 1954), with its cartoony Tumlinson art and Percy’s hilarious one-balloon history of his great-grandmother, the witch. 

“Research expert” Nelson Rowe becomes obsessed with starlings, convinced they may have come from outer space to conquer Earth. But can he get his half-baked theory out of his cottage before the birds peck the door down? Though obviously influenced by Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 story, “The Birds,” “After Man…What?” is a strong tale of paranoia (written by Paul S. Newman) with a bleak outcome. The panel of Rowe being pecked to death by thousands of beaks is genuinely disturbing.

All the women on Pine Street admire Mrs. Bonner, who seems to keep her husband on a very short leash. “Hector” does all the dishes, laundry, cooking, and never backsasses. The perfect husband. When Mrs. Bonner throws a tea party for the neighbors, the husbands all get a closer look at Hector and hate what they see. They’ll never be like Hector. Which is true, because Hector is, literally, a wind-up doll. Some striking Tartaglione pencil work here and a humorous wink and nod at women’s lib. “The Messenger” is a silly one-note joke about a supervisor who discovers his warehouse assistant is from the future. 

A hood stumbles onto a car that doesn’t run on gas and can outrun any cop car. The dope robs a bank and then hits the highway but, eventually, discovers that the auto does run on fuel: human energy. “The Crazy Car” welcomes back the great Bill Everett after an absence of nearly one year (last appearance: “Fangs of the World in Menace #9). As usual, Everett’s art is the selling point, but the script is also sharp and the reveal is unexpected. All-in-all, a very good issue and an eye-catching cover that would not have seemed out of place during the forthcoming Kirby/Giant Monster years.

Journey into Unknown Worlds 32

Cover by Harry Anderson

“The Monstrous Marriage” (a: George Oleson) ★★1/2

“Don’t Touch!” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“Dream Girl!” (a: Al Eadah)

“Hunger Pains!” (a: Myron Fass)

“The Miracle Man!” (a: Mort Meskin & George Roussos) 1/2

With her “magic tricks,” Fraulein Eva Brin keeps her fellow villagers terrified and paying a hefty sum for “protection” from the demons she conjures. Then one day in the forest, Eva hears a man inside a cave and demands her payment. A hand reaches out, bearing gold pieces and Eva’s heart is captured. After quite a bit of prodding, the man exits the cave and confesses he’s in love with Eva, promising to provide as much gold as her heart desires as long as she loves him. 

Of course, being the woman that Eva is, she’s got a boyfriend on the side and when her mystery man finds out, he leaves her in the dust. As he’s leaving town, the man strips, revealing that he’s half-man, half-goat. I like Goerge Oleson’s simple visuals here; the script is a bit here and there and leaves at least one major plot point unexplained: how does Eva conjure up her horrific demons? But the out-of-nowhere reveal of the mystery man’s true identity is guaranteed to raise a smile.

Ross Franklin has created a serum that will speed up man’s evolution (for what purpose is never really discussed) but he’s nervous about the consequences. As he ponders what changes will occur in mankind, he suddenly wonders what life in the prehistoric times was like so he hops into the time machine he’s also invented (no, seriously!) and visits the Mesozoic Era, constantly reminding himself (and his readers) that to damage just one blade of grass might change everything in the modern era. So, naturally Ross brings an elephant gun with him for security reasons. Sure enough, the dopey egghead manages to kill one of the cavemen he happens upon and, when he gets back to present day, is dismayed to discover it has had a major chain reaction. “Don’t Touch!” is dumb with a capital “D,” randomly changing gears every page or so but still climaxing with the predictable twist.

Atomic engineer Perry Maxwell is one ugly egghead. No woman will look at him until his mysterious “Dream Girl!,” Lara, enters his life. But no one can see her but Perry and he's soon carted off to the looney bin where he encounters one of his old buddies, a fellow scientist who’s also been committed. Turns out Lara is a Martian who can render herself invisible and… yep, that one again. Hilarious that Perry has a nose longer than his arm but Lara successfully maneuvers around the appendage to plant some wet ones.

In “Hunger Pains!,” Grimsby travels the world looking for good food but finds only “slop” in every port he docks. That is until he hits Alexandria and is guaranteed that, once he climbs a steep hill, he’ll find a “feast for the Gods.” Unfortunately, Grimsby discovers he’s the food of the Gods. 

Once a renowned surgeon, Luther Brisbane has been twelve years a stinking bum on a coastal Mexican beach, the victim of his own addiction to alcohol. But when Brisbane is attacked by a giant clam and his surgical hand crushed, the islanders take him to a local witch doctor and Luther is cured. With a new lease on life, he heads to California to build his reputation once again. Along the way, he meets gorgeous Linda and falls in love but forgets his hippocratic oath and, instead, chases the green. 

    Luther’s heavy night of celebrating his upcoming marriage coincides with Linda’s nasty fall on a horse; the reinvigorated but intoxicated Dr. Brisbane wrecks his car and has to have his surgical arm amputated. Linda survives but Luther’s mental state does not. Another wildly random script (the clam attack is priceless), one that perfectly embodies the softening of horror elements at Atlas in anticipation of the incoming Code. There’s no danger here and the climax falls flat. The art, like the majority of work done in the final issues of JIUW, is shaky at best.

Marvel Tales 129

Cover by Joe Maneely

“You Can’t Touch Bottom” (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) ★★1/2

(r: Crypt of Shadows #10)

”The Assassin!” (a: Vince Coletta) ★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #17)

“Dog-Gone!” (a: Howie Post)

(r: Vault of Evil #23)

“The Helping Hand!” (a: Ed Winiarski) 1/2

(r: Beware #8)

“Just Suppose…” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #30)

A hobo is picked up for shoplifting but none of the objects he stole can be found in his coat pocket. One of the detectives puts his entire arm in the pocket and declares there is no bottom! Doctor Morton, prominent physicist, is called in to give his opinion. The egghead is baffled and, when the cops aren’t looking, takes the coat home with him to study. Morton’s theory is that the bottom of the pocket is another dimension and whoever (or whatever) is at the other end wants something special. Morton becomes annoyed after a while and puts his head in the pocket. The space sucks him in and he goes tumbling into the other dimension. The cops show up at Morton’s apartment and find the coat, which no longer accepts “donations.” 

Though I think the Andru/Esposito art is annoying (these are the younger, less experienced artists who would have a rightly-celebrated run on The Amazing Spider-Man in the early 70s) and amateurish, I like the imaginative story. Morton’s clue, that the occupants of the other dimension were looking for something special, is cleverly realized when the physicist falls into the pocket. Kudos to the uncredited writer for not hammering that home in the final panel caption. If only the rest of the issue were this competent.

“The Assassin!” is a muddled and confusing anti-commie tale about a Russian who is talked into becoming an assassin for the Kremlin. Somehow, his orders get botched and he kills his own boss. Some crude but effective Colletta work. Even worse is “Dog-Gone!,” about a writer who loses faith in his craft, but gets some good advice from a colleague: get a muse. So the writer gets a dog and that leads to riches. Turns out the mutt is doing the writing. Supremely silly nonsense with what looks an awful lot like unfinished art by Howie Post.

In “The Helping Hand!,” George and Jean, a couple on the lam, move into a remote farm house and then are startled to discover that their neighbors almost anticipate their every need, be it sugar, flour, or where the newspaper has gotten to. George is convinced that the townsfolk are aliens and he calls the cops. As he’s slapping the cuffs on the couple, the cop bursts George’s bubble by pointing out the woman next door with binoculars. “You just weren’t used to living near friendly people!,” scolds the officer. The finale, “Just Suppose…” is a sophomoric stab at the frustrated writer cliche. This one, a science fiction author, suffers from writer’s block until an alien is dropped off in his back yard and the two become good friends. When the alien’s ship comes to pick him up, the creature takes the writer with him. Cheesy graphics from Tony Mortellaro and a script written for pre-toddlers. 

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1 comment:

Grant said...

In spite of a monster story cliche like a giant clam, "The Miracle Man" sounds pretty depressing instead of campy!