Monday, May 6, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 111: Atlas/ Marvel Science Fiction and Horror Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 96
February 1956 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #46
Cover by John Severin & Carl Burgos (?)

"Forbidden Forest!" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #33)
"Was He Just Seeing Things?" (a: Manny Stallman) ★★1/2
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #6)
"Contents: One Human!" (a: Bob McCarthy) 
(r: Vault of Evil #13)
"What Lurks Beneath?" (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) ★★
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #36)
"I Hear the Thump!" (a: Al Hartley) ★★

While out hunting for big game, Gil and Leo become trapped in a wicked lightning storm and must take refuge in a small cabin. There, they meet the owner, Hubert, who is gracious enough to offer the hunters food and shelter until the storm breaks. When the two mention they'll be heading deep into the woods the next day, Hubert warns that they will be venturing into the "Forbidden Forest!" and that's not a good thing.

Undeterred, the next day the two dopes head into the forest and become uneasy about their surroundings. A giant boar rushes out of the woods, but bullets won't stop him. Suddenly, Hubert appears and strikes the beast down with a saber. He tells the men they should leave immediately and they exit stage left. When they get back to town and spill their story to the locals, they mock the tourists until Leo presents the dagger that Hubert slew the monster with. It's the dagger of Hubert, Patron Saint of Belgian Hunters, lost since the 16th Century! The plot is the same safe and sanitary old thing, but DiPreta looks better than he has in months. His style is still basic, but with an air of creepiness to it.

In "Was He Just Seeing Things," a group of space explorers land on a remote planet to see if there's anything worth pillaging. They're quickly attacked by a T. Rex and change their vacation plans. "Nothing here worth exploring!" sighs the captain as they lift off. Once they're gone, the mist rises, the protective visual screen disappears, and we see that the planet is actually a futuristic wonderland. Its occupants wisely camouflage it from invaders. Good sci-fi romp with great Manny Stallman art; about as close to Heath as you'll get without the Real McCoy.

Postman Sam Shores stumbles onto an insane racket when he picks up a parcel labeled "Contents: One Human!" Sam immediately takes the package to his postmaster, who opens it and watches in awe as a six-inch man exits the box and grows six feet tall. What's up? The man storms out of the office without an explanation, so Sam's boss tasks him with following the next package so labeled all the way to San Francisco. Still no dice. When Sam investigates where the parcels are mailed from, he locates the sender, a Martian who's trying to make a buck with his Reducto-Gas. Absolutely inane, this could be the silliest strip we've seen so far in the post-code age (and that's saying something). I did appreciate the laughs elicited from the scene where ordinary mailman Sam is sent to San Fran on a secret mission and travels in his postal uniform.

While diving for buried treasure (or whatever these comic dopes dive for), Brad Benson stumbles onto a bevy of mermaids just hanging out at the bottom of the sea. Knowing he can make millions selling them off to zoos, circuses, museums, and rich Hollywood execs, Brad makes a return visit, armed with a harpoon gun. As he's making his treacherous way toward the gorgeous, bikini-clad fish girls, he's kidnapped by mermen and taken to a cage, where he's exhibited for all of the ocean's high society to gaze at. "What Lurks Beneath?" has a creepier premise than what's delivered, but the tale is an enjoyable variation on an old war horse (how many times did we see this plot unfurl on Mars?) and the Andru/Esposito art is almost restrained compared to the goofiness they'd unleash in the DC war comics a couple years later. 

The finale, "I Hear the Thump," deals with a Civil War deserter who continues to hear the thump of a drum all through his life. As an old man, he finally gives up and walks.... off somewhere... I don't know, to Heaven? Before we're forced to drink the saccharine at the climax, "I Hear the Thump!" delivers a solid message about what might have been 19th-Century PTSD long before it became part of our lexicon.-Peter

Journey Into Mystery #31
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Man Who Had No Fear" (a: Bill Benulis) ★★
"Timetable" (a: Dave Berg) 
"When Dave Opened the Door" 
(a: Joe Sinnott & Bob Brown) ★★
"Dark Room!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Monsters on the Moon" (a: Al Hartley) ★★

Captain David Waters seems to live a charmed life on the sea. He avoids cracking up on jagged rocks, misses whirlpools, and generally stays dry. But his crew are getting antsy and, frankly, a bit freaked out, by all the close calls. What is the secret of "The Man Who Had No Fear?"

Well, the reveal, when it comes, is not earth-shattering, but that's secondary to the creepy atmosphere generated by the great Bill Benulis's artwork. This is artwork, make no bones about it, not a batch of squiggles in front of a blank background like we get with so many of the other Atlas artists. The inking provides a solemn mood that stays with the reader long after the fifth page is turned.

"Timetable" is a charming fantasy about a bored signalman who becomes the recipient of an "Around the World in One Weekend" trip with a mysterious man. It's capped off by the usual reveal of "it was that other-worldy passenger from the beyond!" Sharp art. The signalman's name is Ben Parker, so now we know what Peter's uncle did before he got famous.

Detective Dave Marlin is assigned the case of the missing socialites by his father-in-law, the Chief of Police. Dave is married to the ever-nagging Madge (while wishing he'd married his old sweetheart, Jean). Anyway, back to the main plot... Several rich folk have mysteriously disappeared and the only clue the police have is that each was involved in a cult of "Transitionists," led by a Professor Cawl. Dave goes undercover to infiltrate the Transitionists and ends up arresting Professor Cawl on suspicion of foul play. While Dave is driving the bearded weirdie back to the station, Cawl explains his theory that our world is "one world of parallel time" and, if we choose, we can alter our fates.

Dave becomes convinced the Prof. is a smart cookie, wishing he was Dave's boss instead of the old man, but he brings him back to the Chief's office. "When Dave Opened the Door," the Chief is now Cawl and vice versa. Behind the new Chief stands his daughter, Jean. None of this means a thing to Dave because he's altered his... oh never mind, it's too confusing. It is complicated but it's also fascinating and some extra care was taken with this script. I'm duty-bound to be impressed when one of these Atlas writers actually gives a damn. Also, I think it's hilarious that Dave's parting words are that he wished he'd married Madge instead of the nagging Jean!

In the deadly dumb "Dark Room," Andy is told by his girlfriend that he's a loser while they're dining at the House of Wong but, after they drink a special tea prepared by the owner, they both see things differently. All through this confusing mess, it almost seems as though there are panels missing. 

Though scientists vow there are no "Monsters on the Moon," the fourth Atlas Moon expedition of 1956 is planned and executed, led by the world-famous Captain Drummond, with eyes on the rich metal deposits the moon is sure to hold. The explorers are fully armed, though the men are (again) told to relax, there are no "Monsters on the Moon." The troop land and begin exploring the surface, quickly discovering uranium (hopefully, those suits will protect our heroes!) and lodes of gold. Suddenly, the Earth crew is attacked by forces unknown (could it be there are...). 

The battle wages for hours before the Captain orders a cease-fire and retreat. When he gets back to Earth, Drummond reports to his C.O., explaining that the moon is off limits due to the fierce warriors who live there. Millions of miles away, on Uranus (giggle!), Captain Aahi is telling his C.O. the same story. In between the two worlds, the moon breathes a sigh of relief. Another clever tale, with some really good art by Al Hartley, who didn't contribute enough to the Atlas h/sf titles (23 stories total). Three three-star fantasy/science fiction stories in one issue constitutes some kind of breakthrough. Usually, I have to drink to excess before I read the strips. Now I'll have to celebrate.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #42
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Village That Cried!" (a: Syd Shores) ★1/2
"Mental Block" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2
"What Lurks Out There!" (a: Bob Powell) 
"The Man-Hunters" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"Life or Death" (a: Bob Brown) 

As a rocketship approaches the unexplored planet named Afra II, the crew argue about whether they'll find life and, if so, what form that life might take. The Spaceman's Field Book cautions explorers not to expect alien life forms to be humanoid, but crewmen discount this theory, scoffing at the idea of dancing trees or talking rocks.

The ship lands and Donner emerges in a spacesuit to scout the planet. Mists close around him and he feels like he's being watched. He comes upon a village but finds no inhabitants, not noticing that all of his unexpressed desires--for water, food, a breeze--come true right after he thinks of them. Returning to his ship, he plans to report finding no intelligent life. The rocketship takes off and the alien life forms in the village--houses, trees, and so forth--lament his lack of imagination.

"The Village That Cried!" is an interesting story where the concept and the writing are more interesting than the pedestrian art. It almost has a Bradbury-esque feel to it and reminds me that this comic is called Journey Into Unknown Worlds, so I should expect more science fiction than watered-down horror.

A man with an unusually bad fear of birds finds himself on a psychiatrist's couch trying to uncover the source of his phobia. He takes truth serum to get around his "Mental Block" and announces that he is a bird and fears being around birds because one might reveal his true identity. The skeptical doctor thinks that asking him to fly will convince him that he's not a bird, but the man climbs up on a desk, starts flapping his wings, and flies around the room! In outer space, a pair of alien birds agree that it's about time to recall Xyli from Earth.

Some fairly interesting art by Jack Abel and Bob Forgione can't save this dud, which resorts to the tried and true Atlas ending where aliens suddenly appear in the final panels to provide an explanation for a seemingly inexplicable event.

A scientist named Jim Pearson has designed and built the first ship capable of going into space. He warns others that intelligent aliens might see it take off and realize that humans can now reach the stars; he cautions them to beware "What Lurks Out There!" The ship takes off, orbits Earth for twenty-four hours, and returns, with the sole occupant bearing a message from aliens. Once it's decoded, a general reads it aloud and discovers that it's a warning to other aliens to beware of humans.

Bob Powell is one of my favorite Atlas artists, but this four-pager is not his best work. The story doesn't get far and the ending is no different from similar ones we've seen many times before. As Pogo put it, we have met the enemy and he is us.

In the future, man has learned how to manufacture humanoids to do all the work while man relaxes. A law is passed requiring humanoids to be tattooed in order to distinguish them from humans. Eventually, humans rebel and insist that no more humanoids be made. Captain Clark Buchan leads the charge to restore humans to dominance; he recalls his loving parents and has no sympathy for parentless humanoids.

The vats used to manufacture humanoids are destroyed and Buchan seeks data to identify every humanoid ever made, even the early ones that were unmarked. The humanoids flee into the subway tunnels, where they resume making more of their kind. Captain Buchan leads a team underground and recovers the records of all the humanoids, but when he reads them he discovers that his parents were humanoids and he was adopted. He becomes sympathetic to the plight of the humanoids and descends below ground to join them, not knowing that the records he read were actually those of real humans who adapted humanoid babies.

There's a lot to digest in "The Man-Hunters," which is a fairly sophisticated science fiction tale that runs only five pages. The twist is interesting but the writer doesn't do much with it. Jim Mooney's art is serviceable but not as eye-catching as that of Bob Powell.

The future Earth is blanketed with heavy snow to such an extent that mankind has moved underground to survive. The snow was caused by radiation that enveloped the planet after Earth ships had been aggressive toward other planets and those planets had joined forces to fight back. One man suggests escaping Earth and colonizing the planet Zebra, whose inhabitants would have to be destroyed. An ethical debate develops regarding this "Life of Death" decision; one man asks if such a heinous deed would be followed by a catastrophe similar to the Biblical flood that wiped the planet clean after a series of great misdeeds. The matter is put to a vote and the invasion is not approved; just then, the sun breaks through the clouds.

There's a religious undercurrent to this story that works well; the supernatural in Atlas stories doesn't always have to be science fiction or horror. Bob Brown's art is sufficient to tell the tale, but no panels stand out. The entire issue is average, but the fact that it's not awful is a good sign.-Jack

Marvel Tales #143
Cover by Bill Everett

"The House on the Hill!" (a: Al Hartley) ★1/2
"The Greed of Silas Plunkett!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Louie's Leprechaun!" (a: Art Peddy & Jack Abel) 
"It Tolls By Night!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Where Dinosaurs Dwell!" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2

A man drives down a road at night and thinks it's strangely familiar. He falls asleep behind the wheel and the car crashes, but he emerges unharmed and walks through the woods until he sees "The House on the Hill!" He is welcomed in by a creepy old man who tells him that they are all aliens in disguise, the house is really a spaceship, and they're going to use him as a specimen to study. Oh, and he's "'caught in a circle of time.'" The man escapes as the house begins to take off and he finds himself emerging from the wreck, walking through the woods, seeing the house, and being welcomed in once again.

There's a reason this setup was spoofed in the Rocky Horror Picture Show--it was tired even in 1956. I figured the driver would discover he had died in the car crash, but it was worse than that. He's trapped in a loop, kind of like the loop Peter and I are trapped in when reading some of these comics.

Many years ago, there was a cruel lender who loaned money out on usurious terms. "The Greed of Silas Plunkett!" was extreme. When a man named Orville Hartly applied for a loan with no security, Plunkett offered a contract by which the man and his family would become servants for ten years if Hartly defaulted on the loan. Hartly signed and headed off to start a business.

Those kids sure do
resemble their parents!

That night, Plunkett answered the door to meet an old man picking junk; he walked with the man through town and discovered that the man was his future self, after his greed had led to his ruin. In the morning, Silas discovered that Hartly had opened a competing loan business and was thriving. Plunkett vowed to change his ways to ensure that the future he saw would not come true.

If there's one thing worse than a motorist visiting a creepy house at night, it's a story about a greedy old man seeing his own sad future. Charles Dickens was surely rolling over in his grave when this one saw print, and Manny Stallman's art belongs right next to his corpse.

Louie Larkin sees a crowd bullying a wee man with pointy ears and a green hat who appeared when a big rock was lifted. Louie defends the man, who rewards him by granting his wish for gold. Louie tells him wife what happened and she gladly helps supply food that Louie takes to the leprechaun. Every morning, Louie finds another bag of gold on his living room table. The arrangement with "Louie's Leprechaun!" comes to an end when Louie's wife admits that she wrote to her father for help paying off their debts. Louie rushes out, angry that the gold was not coming from the leprechaun; he gathers a crowd and knocks away a pole that had been holding up the big rock above the leprechaun's hole. Louie returns home to find his wife in tears! She shows him a picture of her father...the leprechaun!

They got me with that ending, which I thought was clever. I admit that I never made the connection between her father and the leprechaun. Peddy and Abel's art is fine but nothing special.

"It Tolls By Night!" tells the incredibly dull story of a bell that was built in a town square long ago. It was a cherished object until it was replaced by a skyscraper. Yet when alien ships approached, the bell rang out a warning and saved the planet. Who rang it? Apparently, it rang itself, since "only the bell knew of the love it held for the heart of mankind." I'm glad that Ed Winiarski was chosen to draw four pages of pictures of a bell. It would be a shame to waste the talents of Bernie Krigstein on a story this bad.

Compare this panel to the one
above from this month's issue of
 Journey Into Unknown Worlds.
Bob reluctantly attends a charity bazaar at the urging of his boss, Mr. Chaucer, whose wife insists that Bob visit a fortune teller. The gypsy tells him that he'll take a long trip, be offered a new job, and should beware of animals. Bob emerges from her tent a bit woozy and is met by a fat man who take him in a time machine back to the age "Where Dinosaurs Dwell!" Escaping from a pursuing T Rex, Bob returns to present day. His boss offers him a new job and a cat scratches his hand. Bob goes back to the fortune teller, who admits it was all a setup, something his boss confirms. Bob takes the crystal ball as a souvenir of "the strangest adventure a man ever had."

What, no aliens? In most Atlas stories, the fortune teller would turn out to be from Mars. Here, the twist is that there is no twist. The story just ends without any real explanation of Bob's trip to the Jurassic Age other than to have him think that it must have been a dream. The art by Forgione and Abel is the best in this weak issue.-Jack

Next Week...
The Eagerly-Awaited 
(well, okay, not that eager...)
Return of The Cat-Man!

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