Monday, July 1, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 115: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 100
March 1956 Part II
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystery Tales #39
Cover by Bill Everett

"The House That Lived" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Unseen Ones!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"They Walk Among Us!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"Man Alive!" (a: Bob Brown) 
"Once Upon a Time" (a: Vince Colletta) 
"The Luck of Harry Hathaway" (a: John Tartaglione) ★1/2

Jonathan and Elvira have owned their huge house since the kids were little but now, with the children grown up and moved out, the home has become too much to keep up with and they're forced to sell it. A real estate speculator buys the property with an eye to converting it into a hotel, but the house seems to fight off any such plan. In the end, the businessman sells the home to a young couple who promise to treat the building with the utmost care and love.

"The House That Lived" is a charming fantasy with style and a message that is easy to swallow. Nothing maudlin here. I have no inside knowledge to support my thought that when an Atlas bullpen writer found out Bernie Krigstein was illustrating his script, the creative juices began to flow, but there is evidence that Bernie worked magic with even the scarcest of a concept. Carl Wessler, author of "The House That Lived," surely must have had some clue he'd be paired with Krigstein, as those dozens of little Eisner-esque panels must have taken some mapping out. "The House That Lived" might just be the best post-code Atlas I've yet read.

A Navy ship sights an unmanned sailboat near a small island and attempts to tow it in to safety. Once in port, they discover the island is completely deserted as well. What's the story? Well, "The Unseen Ones!" certainly builds up an atmosphere of genuine suspense, but the payoff is cliched and, as with a lot of these post-code strips, delivered with no explanation whatsoever. In "They Walk Among Us," Jerry Fulton suddenly develops telepathic powers and uses them to get closer to his dream girl, only to discover aliens are out to get him. Read my mind.

Peter Pawling is a sickly, weak little man with a glamorous, gorgeous girlfriend, but his constant whining and need to run to a pharmacy have babe-a-licious Kay heading for the exit. Desperate to get his woman back, Peter buys a heating cabinet to strengthen his body and discovers it's a portal to the prehistoric past. Not all of it is bad news, however; Peter is forced to endure healthy food and a strict exercise regimen thanks to his tribe leader, Og, and becomes a strongman. Hopping back into his time travel machine, Pawling rejoins 1950s culture, shows Kay he is a he-man now, and lives happily ever after. "Man Alive," this is a dumb story! 

"Once Upon a Time" there lived a fair maiden named Princess Melissa, whose father, the king, insists she marry into wealth and power. But Melissa would rather be alone with her fairy tale books. Then an evil knight attempts a coup, demanding that Melissa be handed over or the kingdom will fall, and the brave Sir Percival steps forward and conquers the black knight. He wins the hand of Melissa and the princess finally gives up her fantasy tomes. This nicely-Illustrated three-pager is capped off with a completely unnecessary final line that informs us that Melissa's kingdom is actually on another planet. 

If Harry Hathaway didn't have bad luck, he'd have no luck at all. Harry runs across a horseshoe in the middle of the street and believes it should bring him good luck, but nothing seems to be going the schlub's way. Unbeknownst to our dopey protagonist, he's actually weaving his way through an obstacle course of life-ending events, narrowly missing death time after time. With a shrug, Harry tosses the horseshoe in the street and another schlub comes along to pick it up. "The Luck of Harry Hathaway" is not groundbreaking, but it is entertaining in an It's a Wonderful Life kinda way.-Peter

Mystic #45
Cover by Carl Burgos

"When the Ocean Vanished" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"A Trip to the Moon" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"The Darkness Outside!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Suggestion Box!" (a: Ed Moore) ★1/2
"The Angry Pharaoh!" (a: Bill Benulis) 

Scorned by his colleagues, Professor Alex Torgoff invents a gravity-pulling accelerator that sucks up "the entire ocean" and sends it to the moon. No one seems to see this, but the evidence is right there on display the next morning. Torgoff snickers and vows to become "head of the academy" (which academy is not specified) and "ruler of the world," or else every last drop of water on Earth will make the same outer space trip.

While calibrating his accelerator, Torgoff gets a little thirsty and heads out to his pond (he lives in the desert), only to discover he inadvertently sent his little pond packing, necessitating a drive into town. His car breaks down and he’s forced to walk the rest of the way. Torgoff suffers heat stroke and spends the rest of his days in a wheelchair, brain dead. The world never finds out where the oceans went but, after time, little rivers and dales fill them back up. The end. 
"When the Ocean Vanished" is more safe, post-code nonsense (evidently, the CCA required that all dried up bodies of water be replaced by tale’s-end) that might bring one or two smiles to a reader’s face while not requiring one iota of brain stress. I’m not sure evil "genius" Torgoff really thought his whole plan through. I love the splash where the four gigantic fish of the ocean are pictured next to the stranded vessels.

In the nonsensical "A Trip to the Moon," poor unattractive schlub Charlie Milton only wants the chicks to dig him so he does what any homely guy would do... step into a planetarium for a seminar on the moon. But Charlie gets more than he bargained for when his "subconscious being in parallel harmony with certain cosmic attractions of the universe" transport him... bang, right to the moon. There, Charlie discovers good-looking women are a dime a dozen and there is plenty of ocean water to go sailing. Pulp hack Carl Wessler once again outdoes himself with his goofy finale expository, but I'm still a little befuddled by Charlie's trip.

Eric follows Fran and Bob onto a speeding train in hopes of reclaiming her love. Henry boards with his dominating wife, Lillian, only hoping she'll not give him a right upper cross at some point in the journey. Boss Franco, one of the world's best-dressed mobsters, runs from indictments and spineless weasels everywhere. These "lost souls" gather on a train ride to destiny, one that will change their lives and help launch dozens of sub-plots on One Life to Live

Ladies and germs, I present you "The Darkness Outside!" Pause and enjoy that whiff of pure inanity and mediocrity. The story is, admittedly, five pages of fluff and 1950s stereotypes (my biggest guffaw was when Lillian tells her mousy husband to "straighten up and don't order anything fried!"), but it's a side-splitter as well. The Ayers art is almost as stiff as the dialogue and the script's climax, with all the "happy ending" pieces of the puzzle fitting just right, is a hoot. 

The "Suggestion Box!" at Carlson's Modern Metals Company is being stuffed with incredible formulas and ideas for world-changing devices, but Carlson can't track the origin of the memos... until he does and discovers one of his employees is an alien who just wants to help mankind, for some reason. In the final head-scratcher of the issue, Hotenpah begs his father, "The Angry Pharaoh," to allow him to marry the sweet and pure commoner, Sira. Amen-Tok refuses and promises to banish Sira from the kingdom if his son doesn't wise up. The Pharaoh comes to own a magical scarab that allows him to wish for anything he desires. That proves to be his undoing in the befuddling climax. Truly, that final series of panels makes no sense whatsoever. but the unique skills of Bill Benulis at least make the strip worth a look. Just turn down the sound.-Peter

Strange Tales #44
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Man Who Ran Away!" (a: Bob Forgione) 
"One World at a Time!" (a: Joe Orlando) 
"The Mysterious Boarder" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"Look Out Below!" (a: Bob Powell) ★1/2
"Safari in the Sky!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Take a Giant Step" (a: Paul Reinman) 

A poor old man named Dan Pierce is brought to a charity hospital and is found to be near death. His blood type is so rare that there is none in stock. Dr. Kenard to the rescue! He locates some of the blood and the man has an astonishingly quick recovery. He even starts to look younger! After being discharged from the hospital, he notices that he keeps growing younger and stronger, so he resolves to find the person who donated the blood.

His search reveals that it was none other than Dr. Kenard, who explains that he's been alive for thousands of years but has always been unhappy. Pierce is his son and Kenard deserted Pierce when he was a boy, which led to his ending up on skid row. Now that they are reunited, Kenard promises to raise the boy properly and "impart the knowledge of the ages." By the way, at the end of the story, Pierce has reverted to being a toddler.

I like Bob Forgione's art, even without inks by Jack Abel, and there are some interesting aspects to "The Man Who Ran Away," but it suffers from the Atlas curse of brevity (four pages) and confusion. I had to read it twice to begin to understand the ending. I still don't get why Dr. Kenard had to run away every time he failed to age like those around him. Also, in the last scene, Pierce de-ages from an adult to a toddler in the course of the doctor's windy speech, though his de-aging up to that point was much slower.

Fred Cole has lived an uneventful life so, when he reads an ad in the paper looking for someone like him who longs for adventure, he responds. Professor Galton runs a series of tests and decides that Fred is qualified to accompany pretty Alice Towne, a librarian whose life has been equally dull, on a trip into another time sphere. Fred and Alice are transported to a parallel world, where they are told they will be banished to "an outer world of emptiness from which there is no return." The dull duo hotfoot it back to the transporter, return to their own world, and race off to get married, planning to enjoy "One World at a Time!"

Joe Orlando's art veers back and forth between looking like the work of John Forte and looking like something out of a Golden Age comic. It all works reasonably well, though the end, as so often happens, is a bit abrupt.

Felix Donald is "The Mysterious Boarder" at Amy Jones's establishment. By October, he begins to grow ill, and by the end of December he has a long, white beard and is bidding everyone goodbye and promising that a new boarder will arrive soon. Surprise! Felix was "1955" and Baby New Year "1956" marches in the front door. Yawn. How many times will they drag out this old chestnut? Sales's art is from hunger.

Professor Thornton leads his students down into a cave and through a tunnel that leads to an underground city whose inhabitants are green and scaly. The green folk lock the prof and his class in a cage, calling them spies, but the humans escape and return to the world above. When the dean hears about Thornton's lectures concerning the green men in the cave, he marches into the class, only to find it peopled by green exchange students!

Leave it to Carl Wessler to write a story that takes ridiculous twists and turns in the course of only four pages and ends with something both unexpected and disappointing. I usually like Bob Powell's art, but this time out it seems rushed, as if the inks were done in a hurry.

A movie crew heads into the jungle with trigger-happy guide Luther Rousch. They encounter wild animals that fly at nighttime and the crew film them using infra-red light. Back in Hollywood, when they develop the film, the crew witness aliens that were invisible to the naked eye. The aliens were lifting the animals up into the sky so it looked like they were flying. It turns out they took the animals to a zoo on Pluto and trigger-happy Luther was abducted as well. Really awful stuff! "Safari in the Sky!" may be only four pages long, but it's so badly written that I had to read it twice to get what happened. The art is terrible.

Were Atlas artists so poorly paid at this point that they were just submitting slapdash junk and it was getting published? That's what I make of "Take a Giant Step," in which Paul Reinman's panels look like they were drawn by a not very talented 10-year-old. Bobby has a secret friend in the attic but his parents don't believe it, so his dad makes a man out of him by giving him a pony and the secret friend goes away. The story is bad enough, but the art must be seen to be believed.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #41
Cover by Bill Everett

"The Pyramid's Secret!" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"Beyond the Four Doors" (a: Syd Shores) 
"Shadows From the Past!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Unlucky Thirteen" (a: Sol Brodsky) ★1/2
"The Richest Man on Earth!" (a: Bill Benulis) ★1/2
"The First Man!" (a: John Forte) 

Archaeologists Don and Hal enter the Egyptian tomb of Ahmen-Hak and, inside the royal coffin, they find a book written by them and dated next year. They decide that the pyramid must be a time machine and they struggle to remove the stone suddenly covering the entrance. On exiting the tomb, they see that they are in Ancient Egypt and decide to learn all they can before returning to 1956.

Another confusing story with sub-par art, "The Pyramid's Secret!" makes little sense, so I suspect it was written by the Baron of Bewilderment, Carl Wessler. Not much makes sense here and the ending isn't interesting or surprising.

Amos Jordan is serving life in prison, bitter and unaware of his crime. The warden allows him to make amends for four dishonest acts and, voila!, he's no longer in prison. It turns out that the prison was his conscience and the warden was himself. The bar has been set so low for Atlas comic stories at this point that I'm giving "Beyond the Four Doors" a two-star rating, one for the reasonably competent art by Syd Shores and the other for the reasonably clear narrative by Senor Wessler. It may not be surprising, but at least I could follow it.

A reporter named Kirk Dunster invents a spray that allows him to see and photograph events from the past. When a farmer claims to have seen men from Mars, Kirk sprays his formula and sees a Martian! He races to the phone to call in his story, but the Martians zap his spray and his sprayer, so he has no proof.

At least Joe Sinnott does a decent job on these four pages. The best thing about "Shadows from the Past!" is the panel depicting the Martian.

Louie Masters is an auto racer and a gambler who avoids "Unlucky Thirteen" and loves the number seven. On his way to a big auto race, he is forced to take a cab and a plane that are associated with number thirteen. He arrives at the track, wins a race, and decides that thirteen is his new lucky number. Days later, he bets on a horse and thinks he loses. He rips up his ticket, swearing he'll never bet on thirteen again and failing to hear that seven was disqualified and thirteen was the winner.

Well, that wasn't much of a surprise ending, was it? The art by Sol Brodsky is nothing special.

Joe Bender is so generous to charities that he barely has enough money to take care of himself and his wife. He buys her an antique sugar bowl with a crack in it and suddenly finds that the bowl yields wads of cash, enough to pay off his debts and spread the wealth around. Joe truly is "The Richest Man on Earth!"

I was skeptical when Peter kept praising Bill Benulis's art, but I like what he does with this story and some of his panels remind me of Alex Toth. There are unnecessary twists and turns on page four, one involving Bill getting arrested for suspected counterfeiting and the other occurring when his wife disposes of the bowl, but all ends well.

"The First Man!" to arrive from Venus looks like any other businessman, circa 1956, but his passport raises eyebrows at the airport. He quickly becomes famous and appears on TV, where he claims the whole thing was a publicity stunt for a new movie. He's picked up by a plane and realizes he's the only passenger; it turns into a spaceship and he's rocketed to Venus, where a Venusian publicist asks him to promote a movie about the first man from Earth.

John Forte is reliable and this story made me smile, as silly and inconsequential as it is.

One interesting note about this issue is that the cover, which features three panels that are supposed to represent highlights from stories inside, is completely new--the scenes don't really correspond to anything in the stories. Bill Everett's art is more evocative than anything on the inside.-Jack

Next Week...


Grant said...

I'm sure these stories don't avoid medical things completely, but the ending of "When The Oceans Vanished" sounds awfully dark, and in a medical way, as opposed to a SF way.
(Having the character "simply" die of thirst would be less surprising.)

Jack Seabrook said...

The man's fate is kind of dark, but of course the world recovers when all of the water comes back, so I guess that makes up for it!