Monday, January 1, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 102: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 87
September 1955 Part II
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystery Tales # 33
Cover by Carl Burgos

"They Melt at Night!" (a: John Forte) ★★
(r: Dead of Night #9)
"The Unseen!" (a: Sid Greene) 
"The Time-Saver!" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #9)
"The Locked Door" (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★1/2
"The Voices!" (a: Bill Everett) ★★
(r: Crypt of Shadows #14)

All around the city, automobiles begin to melt and the authorities are at a loss. What is happening to all of our sports cars? Only one man, Dr. Jeremy Miller, can answer that question. Spurned by the scientific community at large for his eccentric beliefs, the dopey scientist has dropped a formula into the city's main gasoline pipeline, a corrosive that affects every car that takes a drink. It's only when the egghead has a crisis of faith and realizes what the formula could do were it to fall into the wrong hands (read that as the Reds) that he decides to reverse the process. "They Melt at Night!" is another example of how much the Atlas way of life was disrupted by the CCA; Miller does a 180 on his warped views in a matter of seconds it seems, eschewing a life of luxury for being a Good Sam. 

Flame, the acting wonder dog, is the only being on Earth who can sense the approach of "The Unseen!" Turns out Flame was an alien sent to Earth to pave the way for an invasion (that's how canines came to be) but then fell in love with Man and changed his mind about the whole conquest bit. Now, his bosses are on their way and he has to think fast or our world will go to the dogs. It's hard not to laugh at "The Unseen," with its deadly serious tone and awful artwork (though Flame's canine commander topped with a space helmet is... unique).

Phineas Purdy has worked hard his entire life, never wasting a moment's time, and now that toil has paid off: he's been named district supervisor of the bank he works for. He owes it all to his Uncle Jasper, who taught him at a young age that every second counts. Speaking of ol' Jasper, Phineas's favorite uncle pays a visit to the Purdy household that very day and his nephew remarks upon the fact that he hasn't aged a day! Jasper confides in Phineas that he saves his time and deposits it at the Time Bank. Though he's incredulous, Phineas buys into the old man's story when he sees the Depository himself and the concept is explained to him.

From then on, Phineas cuts every corner: sleeping only three hours a night and banking six; working through his lunches; never using the bathroom. After twenty years, "The Time-Saver!" looks just as fit as the day he began his regime, but he's somewhat annoyed when the Bank invites him to an exclusive party for depositors. He arrives but the festivities are somewhat dampened when everyone there begins to age. Seems there was a heist down at the Time Bank and thieves made away with all the paperwork! A clever concept and entertaining execution with some decent DiPreta graphics. Jack will wonder how many hours he could have banked if I hadn't talked him into this journey.

David doesn't want Mildred to open "The Locked Door," for behind it lies something sinister and evil. Or so we would like to think. In actuality, as David tells Mildred (after forty years of marriage), he broke his mother's vase when he was a teenager but didn't have the courage to tell her the truth. When she questioned the boy and he answered in the negative, mom told him that his conscience would bother him until he told the truth and the truth would set him free. So, David has carried the sack of broken pottery around with him for fifty-plus years. Mildred reaches into the closet and opens the sack, revealing a vase meticulously put back together and showing no sign of breakage. 

Well, at least that's what the text says. To me, it sure looks like a quilt. "The Locked Door" is three and a half pages of promised dread that never happens. David carts his sack to work one day and his boss has a look inside. We get a look of horror on the old guy's face and he fires David on the spot. All for some pottery shards? Artist Robert Sale does his best with a nothing script.

Old Man Carlson (evidently, his birth name) has been receiving messages on his Ham radio from the people of planet Floranus (obviously, the CCA was asleep the week this one went across their desk), telling him of a paradise millions of miles away. What OM Carlson doesn't know is that the transmissions are from some practical jokers in town, who think it's fun to make fun of old timers. 

One night, the three jerks send a message to OM, telling him it's top secret, but before they can get out their BS, the line crackles and the jokers hear a loud thud from Carlson's end of the radio. They rush over, only to find the shack empty. On a table is a handwritten goodbye from a space-bound Carlson. This hook had been used before, but it's still slightly effective; the obvious draw here is Bill Everett's stylish art. I never get tired of seeing Bill's detail-Peter

Mystic #39
Cover by Carl Burgos (?)

"The Man Who Couldn't Die!" (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★
"The Fury!" (a: Werner Roth) ★★
"Twenty-One Footsteps" (a: John Forte) ★★1/2
"The Old Man!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Return to Nowhere!" (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★1/2

Professor Ivy Brutus is perhaps the greatest lecturer the Society of Historical Researchers has ever had, but he's also a mystery. Where did he come from? How could know so much about ancient Rome in such minute detail? Well, it's because he's actually Brutus, one of the guys that slipped it to Caesar back in the day. Before the emperor died from his wounds, he cursed Brutus to walk the Earth until forgiven for his sin.

One night, a man named Julie attends the lecture and Ivy immediately recognizes the face as that of his old boss. Brutus follows the man into a bar and engages him in  conversation, further convincing him this 20th Century bar owner is the real deal. Julie shrugs off Ivy's tale of ancient Rome and slaughter but jokingly forgives the crackpot anyway just to get rid of him. Ivy Brutus disappears.

I really liked "The Man Who Couldn't Die," which replaces the nasty edge of pre-'55 with a gentleness not often found in the Atlas horror comics. That's out of necessity, of course, but good scripts as a rule were not born after 1955. I think most writers felt handcuffed to a set of regulations that stifled imagination, especially when faced with penning a story of horror or fantasy. The art by Sam Kweskin takes turns being atmospheric and amateurish.

When murderer Gerard Kram is acquitted due to a technicality, Zeus sends a Fury down to haunt Kram until he repents his sins. Unfortunately for Zeus, he's picked one of the daffier Furies on Olympus and the stunning beauty begins haunting composer Gerald Kramm (!). Fury won't listen to Kramm's protests even after the real Kram overhears her conversation and surrenders to the police. Luckily for Gerald Kramm, innocent composer, the energetic babe not only has a bad memory but bad eyes as well and he makes his exit while she's droning on to pile of clothes in an easy chair.

"The Fury!" is hilarious, tantamount to one of those charming Hollywood fantasies of the 1940s, complete with a daffy broad and a misunderstood but handsome man. I laughed out loud when the Fury listened to Zeus's orders and then did a double take: "I go, O Zeus! But... what was that name again?" And in the end, justice is served but the innocent also pays. Those CCA guys were at lunch again!

Bond... Harold Bond and the Mrs. are looking for a bit of land in England to build on, but Mrs. Bond has grown rawtha impatient with the real estate agent's constant chronicling of the histories of various properties. At the final viewing of the day, Harold decides the parcel is perfect, but Fleming insists it's all wrong and shows Bond the footprints imbedded in the grass, explaining that, during a war, two brothers fought and killed each other on that spot. Ergo, the everlasting imprints. Bond isn't buying the mythology and buys the land anyway but, once the house is built, he comes to regret his rash decision.

Though it's nothing more than a Ripley's Believe It or Not wannabe, "Twenty-One Footsteps" succeeds in tickling the funny bone, especially in the panels where uppity Mrs. Bond proclaims her lack of excitement for British history. The rich really are in a class of their own. John Forte continues our luck with artists this issue with some really good depictions of people talking to each other. Well, if you have to have three and a half pages of exposition, at least make it graphically pleasing. Hard to believe that Forte would become one of the most prolific artists of the Atlas/Marvel horror/fantasy titles (162 appearances in all) and yet today is remembered predominantly by scholars.

"The Old Man" is a silly bit of nonsense about a 155-year-old man who visits his insurance company to claim his fifty million dollars in benefits. Seems he signed a policy one hundred years before that guaranteed him the hefty sum should he live to be 155. After collecting the award in gold bullion, the old timer gets in his spaceship and heads back home... to Saturn. What would a Saturnian want with Earth gold? Is Stan (or whoever) claiming that gold is interstellar currency? Saturn fuel must be cheap.

Archaeologists on another planet unearth a journal documenting how the human race came to be. Eons before, a party of explorers searching for a planet to colonize in case Earth became uninhabitable become stranded on this planet and begin a new civilization. Now, scientists want to blast off into space to find the mother planet to see what the original population is up to. Unfortunately, they land and discover the world is a jungle, ruled by prehistoric beasts, with no 7-11s or Macy's (sorta like present day, right?) in sight. They head back to Earth-II without catching sight of the newspaper in the dirt's headline screaming, "All Out Atomic War!!"

Yep, the climax of "Return to Nowhere!" was a cliche already by 1955 (and it's been used at least 1000 times since), and the setup is also an oft told tale, but the atmosphere and solemnity really worked for me this time out. This set of explorers doesn't want to plunder; they're simply intrigued by their race's origin. It's really no surprise that the new people are descended from Earth travelers and the author (could it be Paul S. Newman, who also wrote the two previous stories?) wastes no time trying to make that the awesome reveal. The big surprise is that dinosaurs would rule the Earth again. Well, them and Keith Richards. Again, I have to give a shout out to the artist, this time the ever-reliable Paul Reinman, who manages to draw even spaceships uniquely.-Peter

Strange Tales #38
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Man in the Sky" (a: Al Hartley) ★1/2
"The Shaggy Creature!" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) 
"No Escape!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"Time Crime" (a: Art Peddy) 
"The Boy Who Saw!" (a: Dick Ayers) 

A man plants new asparagus seeds in his garden and one suddenly sprouts and grows to enormous height. The man grabs hold of the stalk and is whisked up among the clouds, where he discovers seven piles of jewels and gold. Taking as much as he can carry, he climbs down the beanstalk, but greed makes him soon climb back up for more loot. This time he's stuck in the clouds with no sign of a stalk to climb back down. "The Man in the Sky" meets five other people with stories similar to his own; a wise old man informs him that only when someone who is not greedy climbs up will they all be freed.

This warmed-over take on Jack and the Beanstalk left me not wanting to eat my vegetables.

Ever since he was a little boy, Bradley Benton has treasured his teddy bear. Now that he's a successful businessman, he brings it to board meetings and sleeps with it. Why such devotion to "The Shaggy Creature"? No one else knows that, behind closed doors, the teddy bear dons a pair of glasses and advises Bradley on world issues and business concerns.

I thought this was going to be another dumb Atlas story until the next to last panel, which cracked me up. There's Bradley, leaning back in a chair with a martini and a cigarette, getting advice from his teddy bear! Nuts!

Harry and Gloria have been together for eleven months, ever since they met on a blind date, and they're already sick of each other. A new show comes on TV called Supposing, and the couple watch with fascination as they see variations of their own meeting; each variation concludes with them ending up together and getting married. Realizing that there's "No Escape" from each other, they accept that destiny brought them together and resolve to appreciate each other. Suddenly, they notice that the TV was not plugged in!

Not that one again! I know we just had a story recently with a similar ending, where someone was getting phone calls but it turned out the phone had not been hooked up yet. I scanned the last few posts but didn't see it, so I can't identify it, but it's a cliched conclusion that is supposed to justify calling this a "strange tale." Believe me, there's nothing strange about it, other than that the couple suddenly starts cuddling after discovering they were going to be stuck together no matter what. It doesn't figure.

Ed Evans is a con man who invents a time machine and uses it to travel to 2055, where police immediately accost him and remind him of the time traveler's oath not to violate events in the past or the future. They add that the time adjusters will fix anything he does wrong. Ed returns to 1955 and figures he'll outsmart the future cops by just traveling to the next day, where he empties a bank vault of its cash and puts it in the wall safe of his own home.

He then turns in a torch and crowbar to the police, so he won't have them in his possession when the bank is robbed and, the next morning, he reports to the police station to say his wallet was stolen, hanging around chatting while the bank is being robbed in order to craft an alibi. Certain that he has outsmarted the time cops, he opens his wall safe to find a calling card from the time adjuster service, which has set things right again and put the money back in the bank vault.

Like so many Atlas stories, there is an intriguing premise to "Time Crime" that is quickly forgotten when the narrative wraps up at the end of page five with a sudden letdown. I've reproduced a panel from page three in which Art Peddy's work looks quite a bit like that of Mike Sekowsky.

Young Tad Wilson has a better idea for a way to make money than the traditional lemonade stand. He offers to tell a client's future for one penny! Three men pay a penny and scoff at his predictions, only to find that they come true. When the trio rush back to Tad's stand to learn more about their futures, he says he's closing up shop because his mother told him it was dishonest to charge people for false information. He tears up his sign and walks up into the sky, saying he has to head upstairs to bed.

Once again, the author gives the story an unwarranted and unnecessary twist in the last panel that doesn't really gibe with the rest of a story. The pattern of unlikely predictions coming true generates reader interest, only to have it dashed at the end. Is the kid an alien? Where is he going? Who knows? It just ends with a thud.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #35
Cover by Carl Burgos & Joe Maneely

"The Last Two on Earth!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
"They Appear at Night!" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2
"He Stands in the Shadows!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2
"The Magic Coin!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"The Man Who Lived Again!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2

In a future where the world has been destroyed, a man and his wife are the only survivors. Fortunately, he built a time machine, and they climb aboard. He sets the dial for 1965, but for some reason they travel back to 20,000 B.C. They exit the time machine and it melts into a heap of metal. Realizing they are the only people alive, Adam and Eve get a bright idea...

"The Last Two on Earth!" was a fairly enjoyable Ray Bradbury knockoff for the first 4 and 3/4 pages, with Pete Tumlinson trying his best to draw like Alex Raymond, but I groaned out loud when I reached the last panel and saw that the protagonists were Adam and Eve. Not that one again! This is not the first time I realized that a twist that seemed new on The Twilight Zone when I was a young teen was actually not new at all to sci-fi fans.

A real estate broker named Crowe appears unexpectedly one evening at the Goodbody house to ask about some property that Mrs. Goodbody owns out West. He is told to wait and meets Phoebe Goodbody, the eight-year-old daughter of the homeowner. Phoebe begins to chat with Crowe, telling him a story about her father and brothers who were killed in an accident during a sailboat race. According to the child, "They Appear at Night!" She tells Crowe that the dead trio return to the house each night through a door that she insists on leaving open.

Crowe witnesses a boat sail up to the nearby dock and a man and two boys disembark and walk toward the house. Afraid, the broker leaves immediately, before Phoebe's father and brothers enter and happily greet her. Mrs. Goodbody asks where Crowe disappeared to and the child reports that he "'just left,'" as her mother prepares dinner for the family, Phoebe gazes out at the cove, "a hint of pleasure creeping into the solemnity of her face, so filled with the wisdom and secrets of an imaginative eight-year old!'"

Not a bad little story! I like Jack Abel's art, for the most part, and recall that he was one of the artists featured in the earliest DC horror comics when the line returned in 1968. The little girl in this story manages to be both cute and creepy, and I like that the end required a bit of thought to understand--not something that is usually the case with Atlas tales. Now if only I could figure out why she decided to scare away the real estate man!

As visitors to a museum pass by the statue of a beautiful woman with disinterest, a nearby male statue gazes at her longingly, knowing his love for her is hopeless. Atlas stories are usually four or five pages in length, but this one seemed long at three pages. Even the talented Mort Lawrence can't do much with "He Stands in the Shadows!"

Some things never change.
Terrible golfer Ted Rogers is certain that he'll come in last in tomorrow's tournament, so he buys "The Magic Coin!" from a strange little man who assures him that it will guarantee a win. The next day, Ted wows everyone at the golf club with his incredible shots and easily prevails. At the clubhouse, he is shocked to discover that all of the other players also bought magic coins, but his was the only one that worked! Or did it?

I am no fan of the game of golf, but I enjoyed this effort from Carl Wessler and John Forte for some reason, perhaps because I did not predict the ending. Forte's art continues to have a bit of a Golden Age feel to it.

A reporter named Whit Clark makes his name by reporting on the dangers posed by flying saucers. Needing a break, he takes a vacation in the Maine woods, rifle in hand and pipe in mouth, and comes upon a flying saucer that has landed near a brook. Gun at the ready, he rushes toward the craft and trips over a rock wall; his head strikes a rock as he falls and he is killed.

Whit awakens inside the flying saucer, where an alien voice informs him that he has been restored to life. The aliens are the last of their race and want to help the people of Earth, but they fear that their strange appearance will cause fear and distrust. Whit promises to use his influence to prepare Earth people for their coming and says to come back in a month, but as soon as the spaceship takes off, it is shot down and destroyed by a fighter plane. "The Man Who Lived Again!" realizes to his horror that it was his own campaign of fearmongering that deprived the Earth of the help the aliens offered.

Joe Maneely turns in a workmanlike job on this thoughtful story, which extends to an unusual (for Atlas) length of six pages. I like the conclusion, which eschews any kind of dumb twist and instead shows Whit, head in his hands, lamenting his own actions. A nice way to wrap up an issue.-Jack

Next Week...
Jack and Peter celebrate the craziness that
was the Batman of the 1950s in Batman Annual 2
and then ponder the question...
"Why weren't the Annuals annual?"


John said...

HAPPY NEW YEAR, GUYS! Great posts again all year. Keep up the fantastic work!

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, John, and a Happy New Year to you, too!

Grant said...

Speaking of that "invention falling into the wrong hands" idea, I'm a little surprised "They Melt By Night" didn't go a step farther and have him use the invention to melt all those godless Russian vehicles instead. I know that's a pretty big cliche in these stories too.

Jack Seabrook said...

Knowing Atlas, they'll reuse the idea in a month or two and maybe then direct it at the Commies!