Monday, February 26, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 106: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 91
November 1955 Part II
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystery Tales #35
Cover by Carl Burgos

"It Walks By Night!" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"A Stranger in Our Midst!" (a: Tom Scheuer) ★1/2
"The Old Man!" (a: Gene Colan) 
"The Wrong Face!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"Something in the Sky!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

Poor old Dan Foresby. He loves his house, but the city has condemned the property so it can build a new super highway. Dan mopes until he gets a great idea: he'll hire a company to move his house to another piece of property. It won't be ideal but, hey, it's better than living in a trailer, right? 

So Dan pays to have 609 Hollow Grove moved to a nice piece of land and settles in. The next morning, Dan awakens to find his house on the edge of a river. But there was no river the day before! In fact, the whole landscape is different. But what's a poor old man to do? The next day, the exact same thing happens again; Dan finds his home has moved to a new locale. In fact, every day, Dan rises to a new view out his bedroom window. 

But when 609 Hollow Grove settles itself down on private property one day, that's when the proverbial poop hits the fan. The police are called in and, despite evidence before their very eyes, the cops don't believe the house has legs and a brain. When the police bring Dan back to the site, the house is gone! It's not long before the authorities track down the wandering abode; it's sitting right smack dab where it started. But now it's surrounded by the new freeway!

The cover illo for "It Walks By Night!" sure is a cheat, showing a mysterious hand reaching around a door. A year before and those fingers would have ended in long, menacing nails. In any event, the story itself is not bad; it's charming in its own naivete. I'm not sure why 609 Hollow Grove decided to move around so much; why not just stay on the new (legal) property until the freeway was built and then do your trekkin'? I love Manny Stallman's work, even after it's been neutered by the CCA.

In "A Stranger in Our Midst," a partygoer entering a masquerade ball is stopped for having the same costume as one of the other revelers. The house's butler stops the man and insists he leave and come back in another costume. This repeats several times before the butler gives up and allows the man access. But when a diamond necklace goes missing, suspicion falls upon the newcomer. He makes a quick exit and heads back to his flying saucer. Yep, he was an alien shapeshifter. 

When he discovers that he only has months to live, Professor Norton fears he'll die as a simple history teacher unless he can commandeer a time machine and go back to 15th Century Portugal and change history. Luckily, the loony scientist in the office next door to his has just put the finishing touches on the vehicle Horton needs. So he breaks into the lab one night and hijacks the machine, setting the wayback to 1490, with an eye to captaining one of those famed ships that discovered America. 

But who could believe someone who claims the world is round (certainly not Kyrie Irving)? Horton's promises of adventure fall on deaf ears and he dies without changing the world. Luckily, one man in the crowd listened to Horton's ramblings and thought there might be something to the story. That man was... Christopher Columbus! And the rest is history. "The Old Man" is worth a read mainly for Gene Colan's moody graphics; the story is old hat. It seems there was a scientist inventing a time machine in every town in the mid-1950s.  I laughed out loud when the time machine inventor said he's finished up but he's waiting for the Nutty Professor's Convention to unveil this earth-shattering and game-changing vehicle! 

A con man changes his face to look like that of the son of a dying millionaire in hopes he can reap the benefits of the estate when the man kicks off. Unfortunately for this dummy, the plans go awry when the dummy steals "The Wrong Face!" Like "The Old Man," the only positive is the art, this time by the dazzling Bill Benulis (who remains one of my three or four favorite "finds" during this journey).

In the finale, "Something in the Sky," Lewis begins his new job as traffic controller but is immediately thrown off guard by a phantom plane, which circles the air field in the heavy fog. No one can come up with a logical explanation, so Lewis and his comrades just monitor the thing in amazement.

Then, one night, a doctor drives up to the office and explains he's meeting a small plane on the airfield. Lewis insists it's too dangerous to land while the pea soup is so thick but the doctor explains that the cargo is a shipment of rare blood, needed to save a child back in town. The plane eventually lands and, in the distance, the pilot and Lewis witness an explosion. When they investigate, they discover an exact replica of the plane that just landed. Yeah, I was quite confused by the climax as well; imagine how the 8-year-olds felt. But the "Wild" Bill Everett art is aces, a throwback to 1940s comic strips. So, a very good issue for art but another step down the ladder as far as original, clever scripts go.-Peter

Mystic #41
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Test!" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache (?)) 
(Reprinted in Chamber of Chills #9)
"They Pass By Night!" (a: Bob McCarty (?)) 
"I Can Hear You Think!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
(Reprinted in Journey Into Mystery #9)
"The Man Who Took a Walk!" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"One Who Dared" (a: Mort Lawrence) 
(Reprinted in Chamber of Chills #9)

Professor Marshek has been training hamsters to respond to electrical impulses. When they want food, they approach a door. If they receive a shock, they search for another door. Eventually, they learn which door is safe. Marshek believes that the survivor instinct will be passed down to the hamsters' descendants.

Unfortunately for this nutty professor, he's achieved success and then some; the rodents are just as intelligent as their tormentor and escape their cage. Working at night while Marshek slumbers, the super-hamsters rewire the entire house so that when the scientist awakens, he'll be literally shocked when he learns what his test subjects have been up to. Luckily, it's all a dream! But, to be safe, Marshek gives all of his hamsters away to good homes. The real twist to "The Test" is that, after the Prof. wakes up, the entire story doesn't start over again as in so many of these silly yarns. So, with a whimper, I guess.

As a married couple speed along Highway 13, a bus seems destined to crash into them. It doesn't help that Bea, the female of the couple, keeps harping on her husband to slow down, to stop at every way station, to avoid anything that suggests bad luck; this guy has the patience of Ricky Ricardo. What does help is that the aforementioned bus is actually cruising down Highway 13 on the planet Mercury! So, no vehicular dust-up. "They Pass By Night!" is an inane bit of fluff, written by our favorite pulp writer, Carl Wessler. Here, Carl doesn't seem to know what to do with the two vehicles, so he does the most outlandish thing. These Mercurians look pretty comfortable, considering the temperature on their planet.

For some reason, several children in the United States have developed mind-reading abilities. One of those is little Johnny, who amazes his dad by bringing the newspaper to him without the older man asking. Johnny does the same for his mom with some grocery shopping needs. Though Mr. and Mrs. Downes are astounded by their boy's new gift, they're also worried about what it will lead to, so they consult child psychiatrist, Dr. Wright.

Wright informs the couple that the same miracle is happening to several other families. At that moment, Wright's waiting room is filled with telepathic brats. A month later, Johnny confides to his father that he's just "overheard" a man thinking about launching a missile attack on America. Mr. D. contacts Dr. Wright, who informs the man that all the other children have heard the exact same thing! Wright contacts the defense department, which launches its own missile to destroy the incoming warhead. Ka-Bloooooey! 

Unbeknownst to the families involved, the entire event was staged by the military to test their new weapons, the telepathic toddlers! Paul S. Newman crafts a clever anti-war comic strip that doesn't end in a cutesy style, thank goodness. Stan must have been vacationing while this one was being put to bed; there are no evil Reds involved. Paul S. Newman also write the anti-war plea, "The Man Who Took a Walk," about a stranger who gains access to high security weapons facilities and leaves a formula for world peace and the solution to starvation amid the ticker tapes of death for any brilliant scientist to find. Turns out the wanderer is from Atlantis and he doesn't want the surface world to destroy his undersea kingdom. Hey, that sounds familiar!

In the gorgeously-rendered "One Who Dared," earth's population has gone underground after some cataclysmic event. Now, it is taboo to mention the "old times," but young Junar has an inquiring mind. He wants to know what kind of world exists on the other side of the emergency hatch. One day, Junar decides to give it a go. There's really not much to the story here but, as noted, the Mort Lawrence graphics are pretty darn sharp. Again, I can't help but imagine how different the stories would be had they been delivered a year before. Doubtless, little Junar would have encountered killer dinosaurs or walking corpses.-Peter

Strange Tales #40
Cover by Joe Maneely

"This Dark Cave" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"A Stranger on Earth" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Man Who Caught a Mermaid!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"The End of Time!" (a: John Forte) 
"No Place to Hide" (a: Paul Reinman) 

A man emerges from "This Dark Cave," where he has hidden, all alone, for three years. Certain that nuclear war was coming, he prepared a safe place for himself, in spite of mockery by others in town. When he comes out, he finds the town empty, covered with dust, assumes the nuclear holocaust has happened, and rushes back to his cave, fearing dangerous radiation. He seals himself back in, planning to stay for another twenty years, having missed the sign that identified the town as a nuclear testing site that has been evacuated.

Not a bad little story, but the art doesn't do the writer any favors. It's a bit of a stretch to accept that the man doesn't notice the big sign; the caption explains this by telling us that it was dark and his vision was blurred.

Lok, of Tarsus III, an alien from outer space, veers off course when his ship is damaged. He lands on Earth, hoping to get help repairing the ship and looking for food. He is thrown clear of the ship in a rough landing and a bull runs at him, but a dog intervenes and chases off the bull. Lok communicates telepathically with the dog and learns that man is the dominant species, but when he approaches a farmhouse, he is shot at by the fellow who lives there. The dog helps him escape and Lok returns to space in his ship. He is about to shoot a ray that will destroy Earth, following a law in his galaxy that requires the extermination of planets whose dominant race has not reached space, when he hesitates, thinking of the friendly dog. Perhaps dogs will help lift mankind from savagery, Lok thinks, and the planet is spared.

I know Peter loves Bill Everett's art, and it's not awful, but it's nothing special in this story, either. The ending is telegraphed and the five pages pass without much of interest happening.

A pair of fisherman spot several mermaids frolicking in the water and try to catch one in a net, to no avail. Wealthy Jeremy Torgan relates the story to Joe Blair, who thinks it was cooked up for the tourists. Later, Jeremy arranges for a girl to be made up as a mermaid and dropped in the sea the next day. In the morning, Torgan's yacht is out on the water when a net is cast over the side. A mermaid is pulled in and Blair insists she's real, but Torgan orders her to be tossed back in the water. He tells Blair it was all a joke, but when they get back to shore--wait for it--Torgan is informed that the girl who was going to play the mermaid got sick and couldn't make it!

"The Man Who Caught a Mermaid!" follows the old "Banquo's Chair" formula from start to finish, though I wasn't clear on why Torgan plays the joke on Blair only to have the mermaid thrown back in the sea before the truth is revealed.

In the future, all of the clocks in the world stop keeping time. Everyone starts to relax, much to the chagrin of those whose business it is to drum up war. One bright fellow finds a reference to the last sundial on Earth and all of the computers are quickly programmed to take a reading from it and apply variances, but when everyone arrives at the sundial, a big, black cloud hangs overhead, preventing it from showing the time.

It's funny--John Forte's art looks much better on the mermaid story than it does on "The End of Time!" Could it be different inkers? The story itself is a throwaway and, fatally, the end is completely predictable. Once again, I'm puzzled--are we supposed to think that the cloud will stay over the sundial indefinitely? It's not there seconds before the men arrive to read it. Why not just hang out for a while and wait for the sun to return?

Judge David Reynolds is a tough barrister! Joshua Swift appears before him, charged with vagrancy and insisting that he lost his wallet. The judge sentences him to 90 days in the workhouse and Swift tells the judge that, someday, he may be judged unfairly. That night, the judge heads out of his house to buy a box of cigars and finds himself in the 17th century, where he is arrested by colonial guards and hauled before Judge Joshua Swift on charges of working black magic. He doesn't help his case when he hands the judge a photograph of his family and then lights a cigar with a lighter. Reynolds is sentenced to 90 years in prison and makes a run for it. He reaches home and is safely back in 1955. The next day he frees Joshua Swift, who hands him the photograph that the judge turned over 300 years before!

By default, "No Place to Hide" is the best story in this issue, even though the art by Reinman is routine and the story follows a pattern we've seen many times before. In these weak issues of Atlas comics, we have to take enjoyment where we can.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #37
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Rescue" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2
(Reprinted in Vault of Evil #21)
"Something Strange About Sarah!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Never Double Cross a Martian!" (a: Mort Drucker) 
(Reprinted in Weird Wonder Tales #12) 
"The Flying Horse!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"The Master of Men" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2

In 1917, Sidney Collins is full of enthusiasm when he signs up to fight in Europe, but once he reaches the front, he finds himself lost and alone in No Man's Land. He comes upon a futuristic plane, whose silent pilot leads him to safety. Thirty-eight years later, he watches his son become an Air Force pilot and recognizes him as his 1917 savior.

Odd that an Atlas comic would start with a four-page story, since they usually follow a formula and start with a five-pager, but "The Rescue" is slightly above average due to the art by Forgione and Abel. The story is nothing new.

Fred Royce is a fortune hunter who sets his sights on Sarah Silvan, the only child of "the richest landowner in all Scotland." Fred doesn't know it yet, but there's "Something Strange About Sarah!" He takes her out for dinner and dancing, then follows her to London, Paris, and Venice until she finally agrees to marry him. After the wedding, Sarah's father presents Fred with the deed to a million acres of land, but Fred is surprised when the castle suddenly blasts off for Mars! It turns out the castle was a rocket ship and the million acres are on Mars!

The end of this story should win a special Atlas award for sheer stupidity. As I read it, the Silvans are not Martians and none of them live or have lived on Mars. Instead, Papa Silvan just happened to give Fred a million acres on Mars, so Sarah and he flew off in their castle/rocket ship to settle there. It makes no sense whatsoever. The GCD credits the first four stories in this issue to Carl Wessler, so that kind of explains it.

Bruce Dawson is so certain that Earth is headed for war, he resolves to leave the planet and head for Mars. He contacts Emperor Szh of Mars by radio and invites him to visit Earth, promising that his flying saucer won't be attacked. Bruce also asks Szh to bring a Martian gal along for Bruce to marry. Soon, the emperor and his daughter Aiila arrive and Bruce agrees to make her his bride. The emperor plans the ceremony for the next day, so that night Bruce and his friend Don steal the flying saucer and fly to Mars, leaving Szh and Aiila stuck on Earth, a fate they welcome. When Bruce and Don reach Mars, they discover that there is a war on with Jupiter and they are expected to fight!

Mort Drucker must have taken extra time with this one, because the pages on "Never Double-Cross a Martian!" look great. Aiila has short, curly, white hair, which is unusual, but then she's a Martian. The surprise ending is no big surprise, but then again, it's not a complete dud like so many Atlas twists. The writing, by Wessler again, is unusually good--witness Bruce's final lament:

"I've been a fool...I realize that now! I should have stayed on Earth and faced my problems, as the         others did! I shouldn't have run away like a weak coward! Why was I such a blind fool? Why?"

It's unusual to see something this good in an Atlas comic of this era, based on what I've seen so far.

When dimwitted Jerry Williams's horse, Peg, follows some birds off the edge of a cliff, she starts flying and lands safely. After some initial hesitation, Jerry realizes that Peg is his ticket to wealth, so he signs a contract with a fair and begins flying for crowds of onlookers. Everything is great with "The Flying Horse!" until Peg spots some racehorses and tries her hoof at that, only to be disappointed when she loses. Now that Peg won't fly anymore, Jerry sells her to a milkman for $26, says goodbye to the fair owner, and promises to let the man know if he comes across anything else unusual. Then Jerry nonchalantly flaps his arms and flies away.

Another nonsensical ending mars this silly, pointless story, which features mediocre art by Ed Winiarski. Why did Peg fly? Who knows? Why did she stop? Who knows? Why does Jerry fly? Who knows? And if Jerry could fly all along, why do we only see him do it in the last panel? Ask Carl Wessler.

Henry! Don't overthink it.
Henry Fritter is a government accountant whose humdrum life is upended when he discovers plans for an experimental spaceship that will be launched soon. He manages to sneak aboard the ship and it carries him to a planet where his every wish comes true. Eventually, he wishes for the comforts of home, including his annoying wife, but after a while they grow bored and wish their way back to Earth. The planet is lonely and wonders why they left.

The title, "The Master of Men," refers to Henry's final wish, in which he wants his wife to think of him as a master of men when they are back on Earth. I was expecting some sort of twist where they return to a planet wiped out by nukes, but instead we get these weird final panels with the planet missing them. The GCD doesn't credit a writer, but this sure has all the hallmarks of another Wessler dud. At least Sinnott can draw.-Jack

Reworked cover for Mystic #41
Chamber of Chills #9 (March 1974)

Next Week...
The Boy Wonder
Gets Super Powers!


Grant said...

"The Rescue" definitely sounds like a Weird War story from much later. I'm pretty sure soldiers were meeting their ancestors or descendants right and left in that comic.

Jack Seabrook said...

We blogged about those a few years ago. I thought they were mediocre, but I hadn't yet read Atlas comics...