Monday, June 3, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 113: Marvel/Atlas Horror and Science Fiction Comics!

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 98
February 1956 Part III
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Strange Tales #43
Cover by Russ Heath

"The Man Who Lived Twice!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"I Saved Mankind!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"Behind the Mask!" (a: Bob Brown & Joe Giella (?)) 
"The Mysterious Machine!" (a: Larry Woromay & Steve Kirkel) 
"The Unbelievable Man!" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) 

Hal Walters lies dying on the operating table, but when an odd twist of fate grants him a reprieve, he becomes "The Man Who Lived Twice!" Well, kinda. Time is suspended and Hal gets to live one year per second on the clock. But he only has five seconds till he dies. How does he know this? Don't ask me. But Hal uses his time wisely. He plants pear trees along Main Street, shuts down nuclear reactors that are about to go Defcon-4, talks John Lennon out of going to that gallery, etc. When his five years are up and Hal has made everything right in the world, he accepts his fate. The script for "The Man Who Lived Twice!" asks the reader to suspend disbelief several times over its five-page span, but so do most other Atlas post-code fantasy tales. It's the dreadful art that really sinks this strip. Hard to believe this is the same DiPreta I raved about during the pre-code era; gone are the odd angles and eerie character depictions, replaced by stiff cardboard cut-outs. 

Lester Harmon awakens one night during a violent storm and hears a strange sound emanating from the woods. He goes out to investigate and stumbles across a group of aliens dumping vats of liquid into the town's reservoir. Knowing that aliens + good intentions don't mix, Lester fires a warning shot and the aliens grab their barrels and hoof it back to their UFO. Lester calls the White House and explains that if there's one spaceship, there might be two. Without hesitation, the Air Force is scrambled and all the UFOs are sent packing. Lester shrugs and exclaims "I Saved Mankind!" on national TV while the space visitors, who were actually dumping an elixir that would eradicate disease from Earth, head back to Planet X--Third From the Right. Like "The Man Who Lived Twice," any brief interlude of wit in "I Saved Mankind!" is buried in the muck of the heavily-inked, mediocre artwork.

This issue's theme of "Awful Art" continues with "Behind the Mask," about Joe Fenton, a carnival clown who desperately wants to adopt a kid with his wife. Because of his work schedule (!), the adoption agency turns the couple down, but a miracle arrives when Joe is walking home through a field and literally stumbles over an abandoned baby. The Fentons agree to keep the kid and tell all their friends they've finally been granted that adoption. 

Joe's happiness comes to a screeching halt when he overhears the baby speaking into a strange object and informing his C.O. that the way is nearly clear for the big Earth invasion. Yes! Joe Fenton's new son is actually Ogu, emissary from another world! Joe can't decide whether to keep quiet or to call the White House, like Lester Harmon did. In the end, that unhappy option is eliminated when he overhears Ogu telling his contact that Earth is a splendid place to live and should not be invaded. And oh, by the way, can Ogu stay? I'm not sure I understand the decision not to invade a planet you were already geared up for because the inhabitants are swell people, but if the order had been to go ahead and invade, then we wouldn't have been "blessed" with the saccharine-saturated finale. Yecccccch.

Frederick Harper has been working on a machine that can "convert" things (don't ask questions), but the darn thing doesn't want to do what it's supposed to do. Fed up after years of marriage to a worm, wife Louella pushes "The Mysterious Machine!" over and the gizmo spits out a diamond. Fred explains that the gem had previously been a simple rock. Louella takes the diamond to a jeweler and the man confirms its value, handing the amazed woman a cool grand in a quick sale. Louella heads home and tells her spineless husband to get cracking. 

Fred pumps out diamond after diamond and Louella poshes up her surroundings exponentially. Then, one day, Fred tells his wife he won't do it anymore, that man was not meant to tamper with the laws of nature and all that. He's going to change all the diamonds back to rocks. Louella enters the machine to retrieve her bounty and the converter switches on. Once the cycle is complete, Louella exits the contraption a loving wife who only wants to cuddle and make sandwiches for her hubby. I found "The Mysterious Machine!" to be enjoyable, despite some red flags (why does Fred suddenly decide it's not natural to turn rocks into gems after he's crafted millions of dollars' worth?) and the Woromay/Kirkel art sure looks like Howard Nostrand in spots. [Looks like bargain-basement Jack Davis to me!--Jack]

Someone is breaking into the lab of famed electronics expert, Professor Bryce, and stealing equipment. When Bryce stays after hours one night to try to catch the culprit, a man in fancy garb materializes and explains he's from the 18th century and came to the present via time machine to borrow elaborate devices in order to invent electric lights! Bryce refuses to let the man bring back any of his equipment and, moments after the man heads back to his own time, the lights go out across the world!

"The Unbelievable Man!" is another of those really contrived, headache-inducing time travel yarns that makes no sense no matter how many times you read it. Sure, I get that the lights go out, but why would the professor have a breaker box and fuses for lights that don't exist in the first place? And this guy is such a genius that he invented a time machine, but he has to cheat in order to become father of the light bulb!-Peter

Strange Tales of the Unusual #2
Cover by Sol Brodsky & Carl Burgos

"He Waits in the Dark Alley" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Man Afraid" (a: Joe Orlando) ★1/2
"The Man Without a Heart" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"Those Who Plan" (a: John Forte) 
"Lost on the Wrong World" (a: Art Peddy & Bernard Baily(?)) 

A skid row bum sleeps in alleys and regrets his life choices, remembering that his father once told him that if he wished hard enough, his dreams would come true. Ha! Yeah, right. Suddenly, the wino stumbles over a newspaper and, picking it up, notices that it has tomorrow's date.

Thinking back to that timely quote issued by his father, the vagrant decides this is a message from Heaven, his one big chance. Skimming the headlines, he comes across an item about a millionaire being assaulted in front of his office building. Picturing the huge reward the mogul will pay out, our hero hurries over to the building in order to interrupt the violent incident. He sees the tycoon and a car slowing down with a gun barrel pointed at its target. The bum wrestles the rich man to the ground and... is summarily arrested for assault. Just then, a policeman pokes the bum with his nightstick and he realizes he's back in his alley. It was all a dream! Then he sees the same newspaper lying on the ground and decides to mind his own business.

Wow! Never saw that big twist coming! "He Waits in the Dark Alley" starts out interestingly enough, with our protagonist mulling his fate ("If only I could get a break--get lots of money! But that would take some special kind of miracle! Me, I just get lower and lower as the years go by!"), but quickly becomes the same old "peek into the future" nonsense. The story can't be completely ignored, however, since it features some atmospheric Bill Everett artwork.

"Man Afraid" is a mediocre alien espionage thriller about a guy who suddenly becomes convinced that the people around him are aliens. It's only in the end that he discovers he can pick the outer space visitors out of a crowd because he's one of them! Another cliched plot device covered. Artist Joe Orlando still seems to be developing that eerie style he perfected once he became the chief architect of the DC mystery titles.

Pulp hack Carl Wessler earns his easiest twenty bucks when he rewrites Dickens' A Christmas Carol as "The Man Without a Heart." Seriously, we've called out swipes and cliches numerous times here, but this has to be one of the most egregious examples set down on paper. Were there no copies of the Dickens holiday classic circulating in America in 1956?

The doldrums continue with "Those Who Plan," wherein a poor schmuck overhears two dogs talking about world domination and then tries to convince the authorities of the plot. He's first shown the precinct door and then, eventually, loaded into a wagon by those nice young men in their clean white coats.

And... let's add a cherry on top with the confusing "Lost on the Wrong World." Mean-spirited Harvey Watts visits his optician in order to get new eyeglasses, but when the specs are fitted, Harvey sees his face on everyone around him. After a long, convoluted, and unfunny series of events, Harvey becomes disgusted with mankind and takes a rocket ship to Mars, where he lives happily ever after. Five cliched and lazily-written tales in one issue. I believe this is why slabbed comics were invented.-Peter

Uncanny Tales #40
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Night the Sphinx Spoke!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"There Is No Escape" (a: Ross Andru) ★1/2
"A Day to Remember" (a: John Severin) ★1/2
"The Man Who Vanished!" (a: John Forte) 
"A Man's Best Friend" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Trapped in the Labyrinth!" (a: Doug Wildey) ★1/2

Archaeologists have discovered a secret chamber in the sphinx, so a crook named Vince cooks up a scheme to trick superstitious local workmen into handing over the jewels they find in the chamber. Vince wires the sphinx for sound and "The Night the Sphinx Spoke!" follows. It tells the workmen to hand over the jewels to Pharaoh, who is actually Vince's cohort, Jerry, in costume. The handoff goes as planned, but when Vince returns to Cairo to meet up with Jerry, he is arrested and thrown in the clink with Jerry, who says that he was arrested that morning for stealing a pharaoh costume from the museum. But if the sphinx wasn't Jerry, who was it?

Raise your hand if you didn't see that ending coming. You are officially banned from reading Atlas comics. You'll thank me. Dick Ayers turns in some awful art here and this issue is notable for including six stories rather than the usual five; none exceed four pages.

Chased down a dark alley by androids, a man fears that "There is No Escape"! He makes his way to a secret meeting of humans and tells them that androids are a menace. The humans are skeptical, but the man insists. He leaves and is again trailed until he succeeds in reaching a safe house, where he climbs into a tub and pushes a button to turn himself off. A small group of humans and androids enter and agree that the man, a robot, needs to be controlled so that it doesn't ruin the peace between humans and androids.

The only plus about this four-pager is that Ross Andru tried a bit harder with his panels than Dick Ayers did in the story before it. Otherwise, it makes little sense and just takes up space.

Rupert leaves for work in the morning but can't remember what the thing was that he was supposed to remember today. Neither can his wife, Thelma. On his way to work, Rupert finds a wallet on the sidewalk. Inside it is a note promising a reward to the person who brings it to 236 Elm Drive.

Rupert takes a bus to Elm Drive and approaches the house, the roof of which resembles a rocket ship. He enters and is welcomed by Martians, who reveal that the reward is a free trip to Mars! Rupert tries to decline but is told that the Martian king wants to see a real, live Earthling. Unfortunately for the Martians, a short-circuit in the ship's wiring prevents it from taking off and Rupert escapes out a window. Back at home, he and Thelma suddenly recall that today is April Fool's Day! They have a laugh about the Martians but, on Mars, the king is not laughing.

John Severin single-handedly saves the day for this issue of Uncanny Tales with three pages of delightful art. Carl Wessler's script for "A Day to Remember" is silly, but at least we get more Severin. I felt sympathy for Rupert, since I have trouble remembering things all the time.

A painter named Ogden pays a visit to his friend, a doctor named Don Keller, who is experimenting on animals by injecting a serum into them to try to make growths disappear. He's puzzled by the fact that the entire animal disappears for a short time!

Don tells Ogden that his artwork is primitive, like ancient cave paintings. When Don leaves the room to fix coffee for them both, Ogden accidentally injects himself with the serum and becomes "The Man Who Vanished!" He finds himself back in caveman times, hunting a mastodon. When he and the other cavemen return to their cave after the hunt, Og (Ogden's caveman name) begins to sketch pictures on the wall, telling the story of the hunt. He awakens back in Don's house and he and Don sit down to coffee and argue about whether his art is primitive or modern.

I'm a bit taken aback by this story, which actually has some thought behind it. I wonder how many readers in 1956 were familiar with terms like primitive or modern art. John Forte does his usual, adequate job illustrating the tale, but I gave this one a two-star rating because it made me think, at least a little bit, which is not something that often happens when I read Atlas comics.

Harvey thinks that Bruce is just a big, lazy hound, but when a spaceship from Jupiter lands in Harvey's back yard and Bruce is kidnapped as an example of an Earth creature, "A Man's Best Friend" soon proves his worth! Bruce is taken back to Jupiter, where he unwittingly helps the emperor squelch a rebellion. The grateful emperor cancels the planned invasion of Earth and sends Bruce home, where Harvey tells him that he's useless, but he loves him anyway.

We've seen versions of this story before, where a dog saves the planet from alien invaders and the humans never know it. Ed Winiarski is not my favorite Atlas artist, but I like the costumes of the folks on Jupiter--the hooded rebels look like villains from a Golden Age comic.

Wilson and Holt love puzzles so much that they try to come up with games that the other can't solve. Wilson takes Holt to see Massam Farrah, an Indian mystic, who hypnotizes Holt. Holt finds himself in a world so surreal that he can't escape; he admits defeat and Farrah tells him that he was "Trapped in the Labyrinth!" of his own mind.

For an issue that seems to be comprised of short stories from the scrap heap, Uncanny Tales #40 has two tales that are worth a look. The first was "The Man Who Vanished!" and the second is this one. I'm reproducing the last two pages here because they look like something Ditko might have drawn for Dr. Strange a decade later.-Jack

Next Week...
Two of the Rogues
in One Story!


Grant said...

I get that Louella is supposed to be a battleax, but did they have to make her literally look like a man? There's a big difference there.
I've never read it, but am I right to think that along with being "loving," the new Louella is pretty hot?

Jack Seabrook said...

Not at all. She looks just the same, but her expression is softer and gentler.

Grant said...

Thank you.