Thursday, August 31, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 94: Atlas/ Marvel Horror (Last Gasp of the Pre-Code!)


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 79
February 1955 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Marvel Tales 131
Cover by Carl Burgos

“The Man Who Bought a Dingbat” (a: Bill Everett) ★★★

“Five Fingers” (a: Paul Hodge) ★★1/2

(r: Tomb of Darkness #21)

“The Rookie” (a: Werner Roth) 1/2

“Farewell-Moon” (a: Howie Post) ★★1/2

“While Death Waits” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★1/2

Used car dealer Honest Ernest is anything but honest. He’ll take an old couple for every dollar they have and talk them into buying a worthless piece of junk. Then one day, Ernest has a strange little man visit the car lot; the man needs a used car but only has a hundred bucks to spend. Ernest asks about a trade-in and the man shows him what he’s got. Ernest has never seen anything like it so he immediately gives a thumbs-up to the deal.

Turns out the auto travels to other worlds and the planet Honest Ernest visits is made of solid gold. One trip isn’t enough for the world’s greediest man and so he makes a return visit. Bad idea; Honest Ernest runs out of gas. “The Man Who Bought a Dingbat” is an amusing farce, with some slapstick choreography compliments of the great Bill Everett. This was Everett’s 48th and final pre-code appearance.

Pickpocket Ned Field has a unique way of plying his trade. Ned has a fake hand he keeps tucked in his coat pocket, while his real right hand lifts wallets. The thing looks so real, it even creeps out his conmen buddies. Ned grooms and polishes the hand and, in turn, it takes care of him. Then, one day, a mark catches Ned in the act and busts his fake hand. Ned laughs it off and heads home but, on the subway, the third hand reaches for a policeman’s gun and Ned gets blown away. The hand gets its revenge. The set-up for “Five Fingers” is very unsettling; Ned’s obsession with his third limb is well-written and unnerving. The story seems to be centering on Ned’s grip on reality (which would have been more interesting, I think), but then takes that unexpected turn in the end. 

Young Jed Broome can throw a 100-mile an hour fastball but country life keeps him down on the farm. Jed finally achieves his dream of trying out in front of scouts but, at the last second, decides to keep his skills to himself. It’s inexplicable that “The Rookie” landed up in Marvel Tales; there’s not one aspect of the story that qualifies as fantasy, sf, or horror unless one considers a life in the majors as a fantasy. I assume Marvel Baseball Tales was cancelled at the last moment and Stan had inventory to use.

“Farewell-Moon” concerns the race of werewolves that live on the moon, yearning for a warmer climate and looking longingly at Earth. When their leader finds “secret papers” that detail the sending of werewolves to Earth in spaceships centuries before, new ships are built and an emissary is sent on recon. When the lycanthrope (who resembles a dog) is injured in the touchdown and cared for by a small girl, the alien decides this is paradise and sends word back to the moon that Earth is uninhabitable. A charming little fable with some equally charming sketches by Howie Post.

When the mine they’re working caves in, five workers concede that they’re going to die and confess about their shortcomings and the lives they might have led. When the round-robin gets to Grogan, he allows that he’s led exactly the life he wanted to the fullest and then details robberies and murders he been involved in. Since they will never live to see the light of day again, he seems confident that his confessions will remain in that tight dark area. Then a shaft of light reaches the miners and they’re elated to hear the voices of their rescuers. A taut, gripping narrative, “While Death Waits” offers up hope that strong writing can overcome the stifling hands of the Code around the neck of funny book writers. The art is prime Colan, using its setting to intensify Colan’s masterful use of shadows and half-lit profiles. This is, finally, the master who would help revolutionize the Marvel superheroes a decade later.

Though this was the final pre-code issue of Marvel Tales, the title would limp along a further 18 issues before receiving its pink slip. Though the scripts would become tame, at least the quality of artists contributing remained high. Among those visiting include Matt Fox, Bernie Krigstein, Joe Orlando, and Gray Morrow. The title would be resurrected in 1964, spotlighting reprints of Marvel superhero strips.

Mystery Tales 26
Cover by Carl Burgos & Sol Brodsky

“The Tunnel to Nowhere” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache)

“Eyes of the Cat!” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

“I Married Cleopatra” (a: Jay Scott Pike) ★★

“The Census Taker” (a: Mort Lawrence) 1/2

“The Other Face!” (a: John Tartaglione) ★★

Jason finds a huge hole in the back of his closet, one he’s sure wasn’t there minutes before. Berating his wife for being “sloppy” (as if a big hole in the closet is a result of not dusting), Jason enters the hole and exits into another dimension. The aliens there are less than friendly and he is captured. After their leader tells the astonished dope that he’ll have to be disposed of, Jason escapes and heads back to the hole in his closet, only to discover his wife has upped her repair work and sealed the hole. I’m not sure better art would have salvaged the disaster that is “The Tunnel to Nowhere,” but I wouldn’t mind if Stan had given it a shot. The Ayers/Bache work looks like the doodling of a first year art student; no dynamic, no life, nothing remotely original or engaging.

In “Eyes of the Cat!,” George Grubb’s hatred of felines leads to obsession when a black cat won’t stop bothering him. George takes the cat out to the wilds and dumps it numerous times but the thing just keeps coming back. On one final trip, George decides he’s going to leave the kitty in the swamp but realizes, too late, he’s become lost. He follows the cat, thinking it will lead him home, but George ends up sinking in quicksand. Shoulda treated kitty better, George!

Three archaeologists stumble onto the secret chamber where Cleopatra has been hiding for centuries. Astonished, the trio watch as Cleo rises and explains that the whole asp story was a put-on designed to throw her enemies off the track. She needs a husband now so that she can venture forth into the new world and rule her land. Only problem is, she explains, only one can marry her and the other two have to die. Garson decides he’s the most capable of fulfilling an ancient Egyptian queen’s desires so he murders his comrades and takes Cleopatra’s hand. They exit the pyramid but Garson is arrested for murder and when he points to Cleo as an explanation, she’s vanished. The climax of “I Married Cleopatra” is ambiguous and that’s a good thing. There’s a seed of doubt planted in our minds as to whether Garson had gone crazy from the heat or if that gorgeous brunette made an asp of him (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Ben Brand is startled to discover that “The Census Taker!” who comes to his door is actually from another world. Dismal SF tale with adequate Mort Lawrence art. Con-man Harry Chase takes compromising photos and blackmails the subject. While snapping a photo, Harry is run over by a car and awakens in a hospital bed some time later. The plastic surgeon explains that Harry’s face was destroyed in the accident and he had to reconstruct it using the photo in Harry’s pocket! Unfortunately for Harry, the guy whose pic he took was actually an alien from space and his fellow spacemen mistake Harry for their comrade. “The Other Face” is needlessly complicated but visually compelling. John Tartaglione (in his eighth and final appearance) had a strange style that seesawed between ugly and distinct (sometimes meeting right in the middle of those two extremes), much like a more-restrained Tony Tallarico.

Strange Tales 34
Cover by Carl Burgos

“Flesh and Blood” (a: Werner Roth) ★★★

“Moment of Glory” (a: Pete Tumlinson)

“The Last Barrier” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“The Strange Room” (a: Al Hartley)

“Family Tree” (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★

Scientist Foster Hale has created the perfect robot, a “Univec” that can do all of man’s thinking for him. A big business man offers Foster a king’s fortune if he’ll hand over the rights to make a Univec in human form but the egghead refuses, claiming that eventually humans would come to resent the androids. But public opinion changes Hale’s mind and he grants permission. Very soon, Univec-Humans are in every household and replacing humans at the workplace.  

Just as Foster had foretold, unemployment skyrockets and a mob stands in front of the Univec factory, vowing to burn it down. Foster intervenes and is beat to death for his troubles. As the mob gathers around the dead body, they realize that Foster himself was a robot. “But… if he made the robots… then who made him?” Precisely! Who indeed? A sharp reader, with hundreds of Atlas stories under his belt, might expect a reveal along these lines but the final panel, with the golden question, adds an exclamation point to “Flesh and Blood.”

Gas station attendant Sammy Glenn is tired of people telling him how he grew up to be a nothing, a genius in school but a flop at life. When a rich man brings his caddie in and asks Sammy to keep an eye on it for a while, the dumb gas hop decides to take it for a spin and impress all his boyhood chums. What he finds makes him happy for what he’s got. “Moment of Glory” is a schmaltzy variation on It’s A Wonderful Life, with an utterly average graphic display from Pete Tumlinson. Truly awful.

UFOs have suddenly been appearing above the U.S. What’s the story? “The Last Barrier” may just put you to sleep before you find the answer. Marriage has become a hell for the Howards but something in “The Strange Room” located at the Blue Cedars Hotel completely transforms them. As long as they stay in the room, they love each other but once they leave… Like the two stories preceding, “The Strange Room” contains sub-par script and art. 

With an eye to becoming royalty, Karl Schultz weaves an intricate tapestry of fraud in order to convince the powers-that-be that he is the rightful heir to the throne of Slovania. What Schulz doesn’t realize is that the family he’s inserted himself into was cursed with lycanthropy and “purged” by country officials. Kurt soon meets the same fate. It’s not great literature (and again, the art is weak) but “Family Tree” is entertaining enough and boasts a pretty good twist.

In our new Monday slot
on September 18th...
Jack joins Peter
for the Post-Code Age!

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