Monday, June 17, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 10: January/February 1967


The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
1964-1983
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter


Frazetta
Eerie #7 (January)

"Witches' Tide"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"It That Lurks!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Dan Adkins

"Hitchhike Horror"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Hector Castellon

"The Defense Rests!"
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Fly!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"The Quest!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Norman Nodel

"Cry Fear, Cry Phantom"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti


As the citizens of Grey Cove watch a woman's body burn, they recall recent events that led up to the fire. Miles Curtis thinks back to when he found three fisherman torn to pieces and then saw Sarah Magnus standing nearby, observing. Newspaper editor Avery Summers recalls making a connection with similar events that happened twenty years before; at that time, Sarah's mother was found to be a witch and killed, but villagers stopped short of burning her corpse. Viola Whitby, in whose home Sarah now lives and for whom the young woman acts as housekeeper, recalls hearing strange sounds coming from Sarah's room and sending her husband Clem to investigate. She then found Clem being attacked by fishlike monsters!

"Witches' Tide"
Doc Hasbrook recalls running into Sarah on the edge of town, where her words and a look had him frozen in place as she ran toward the sea. Deputy Lew Hoad recalls leading a pack of torch-carrying villagers to the edge of the sea, where they witnessed Sarah seemingly summoning demonic fish-monsters from the water. A trigger-happy villager shot and killed Sarah, and the villagers then made sure to burn her body, presuming that they had made a mistake two decades ago in failing to burn that of her mother. When the fish monsters approach and eat them up anyway, the villagers realize that Sarah, instead of being a witch summoning them, was the only thing keeping them at bay.

"Witches' Tide" is a fairly evocative tale with art by Colan that is a bit more loose in the line work than we're used to. The fine use of blacks and the inventive panel designs are here, as usual, but the whole thing seems a bit washed out and, as a result, some of the panels that are supposed to shock don't quite do the trick.

I have no complaints about Frazetta's stunning cover, though, which looks like nothing that had come before, as if he's ushering in a new style of cover design.

"It That Lurks!"
Dr. Sernas has discovered a giant dinosaur in a jungle pool and he is determined to capture the monster and gain fame for his discovery. He brings a hunter, Ramsey, along to shoot the beast with a tranquilizer, but when the shot is successfully accomplished the beast sinks into the pool, out of sight. Dr. Sernas leaps into the pool and is sucked down along with the creature. Ramsey then sees a vision of his beautiful wife and is drawn to her. At the last moment he realizes that neither dinosaur nor woman was really there; the pool is a sentient thing that shows men that which they most desire and then draws them in to their deaths.

"It That Lurks!" is even better than the story that preceded it. The art by Dan Adkins is superb, alternately reminding me of Al Williamson's work (the dinosaur closeups) and Wally Wood's (everything else). Goodwin's script is entertaining but the best part is the ending, which I did not see coming. Even Cousin Eerie gets off a good line!

Jack's third-grade scribbling
"Hitchhike Horror!"
Driving alone on a highway at night in the rain, a man picks up a hitchhiker. A radio news report says that someone named Arthur Whitlow escaped from an insane asylum that morning, stabbing two guards on his way out. The driver gets tired, so the passenger takes the wheel and steers the car to a graveyard, where the driver first tries to escape, then turns to reveal himself as the lunatic murderer. The hitchhiker turns out to be the ghost (?) of one of his victims and the nut job ends up in a grave. Or at least I think that's what happens. The art in this story is truly wretched--some of the worst I've seen in a legitimate comic. It reminds me of when I tried to draw comics as a youth. "Hitchhike Horror!" is an automatic entry in the "worst of the year" sweepstakes, and it's only January! Hector Castellon would go on to do a lot of work for Charlton, so maybe he drew this story with his toes.

In the German town of Brudenheim, a pretty singer named Lydia Albritton attracts the attention of the wealthy and powerful mayor, who invites her to a ball being thrown in her honor. The mayor is also forced to invite handsome Andrew Prescott, an old friend of the singer's. At the party, Lydia only has eyes for Andrew, but they are being watched from outside a window by Molok-the-Brute. Later that night, Molok breaks in to Lydia's room and kills her. Andrew rushes to the scene but is knocked out by the brute. When Andrew awakens, he is found by the mayor and accused of murder. A kangaroo court is held and the verdict is never in doubt: Andrew is sentenced to die.

"The Defense Rests!"
The young man escapes and returns several nights later, quickly figuring out what really happened. He kidnaps the mayor and brings him to the courtroom, where the mayor joins the members of the jury, all bound and gagged. It turns out that Molok was wronged years before by the mayor and lives for revenge; Andrew locks Molok in with the judge and jury and leaves them to be destroyed by the brute.

Now THIS is more like it! "The Defense Rests" is a lost EC classic. The first few pages look like something Craig would have drawn for the Picto-Fiction line, but the last several pages are done in the classic Craig style and lead to a conclusion based on the sort of revenge narrative we haven't seen since the '50s. Too bad we don't get a panel of carnage to wrap it all up.

Two decades after the end of WWII, the
Unknown Soldier has fallen on hard times. ("Fly!")
After murdering a key witness, a killer hides out in a ratty apartment, his face wrapped in bandages, an annoying "Fly!" buzzing around his head. A doctor comes to check his face but, after the doc leaves, the buzzing of the fly grows so bad that the man leaps out a window to his death. Someone peels back the bandages and finds that the fly was trapped inside his ear.

Ditko's talents are wasted on this paper-thin story, where six pages fly by and next to nothing happens. At one point, the killer seems to hallucinate that he is the size of a fly and that he is being chased by a giant hand that tries to swat him. It all comes to naught, though.

Things were tough in 15th century Europe, where Baron von Strom was determined to find the secret to eternal life. "The Quest!" for this end consumed him to the point that he ignored the suffering of his people, who fell victim to famine and disease. A witch brews a potion for him, but the baron makes her taste it first and she falls dead. Years pass, and an old man named Fredor begs the baron to help the villagers. The baron promises to do so if Fredor can find a way to grant him eternal life. When Fredor's daughter dies, the old man has had enough. He exacts a promise from the baron to help his people in exchange for the secret he craves. That night, Fredor leads the baron to the graveyard, where he is beset by vampires, thus achieving his goal in a way he never expected.

"The Quest!"
Vampires again? Come on Archie, how many times are you going to use this "surprise" ending? And how is the baron going to help fix the villagers' ails if he's a vampire? Norman Nodel's art is not bad and the story is enjoyable enough till it all comes crashing down at the end.

On a dark and stormy night, Jim brings his girlfriend Edith back to creepy Holloway House, where he lives with his old Uncle Ben. Ben warns Edith to make like a tree and leave, but Jim convinces her to stay. At evening's end, Edith heads up the stairs but is frightened to see the phantom of a blonde woman, horribly mutilated, holding an ax.

Jim tells her to calm down and she goes to bed, but later that night she has to "Cry Fear, Cry Phantom" when the apparition appears again. Edith looks out the window and sees that Ben has dug up the grave of a corpse that looks suspiciously like the phantom Edith has seen twice. Edith races to find her boyfriend, but Jim suddenly appears holding an ax himself! Ben shows up in the nick of time to shoot and kill Jim who, it turns out, had murdered his blonde former girlfriend and was on the verge of repeating the crime.

Jerry Grandenetti lets his hair down in this tepid tale, and I guess you either love or hate his very stylized approach to the art. It's not bad, but I prefer more realistic styles.-Jack

"Cry Fear, Cry Phantom"
Peter-"Witches' Tide" is a nicely atmospheric, superbly-illustrated little chiller despite the obligatory cheats (why doesn't Sarah simply tell someone that she's using her magic to keep the monsters at bay?) and last page explanation that seems to come right out of the blue to all four characters at the same time. "It That Lurks!" could have been pulled whole from an issue of Weird Tales; the twist is original and the set-up flawless. The reveal is nicely handled, subtly rather than the sledgehammer we get sometimes with these short horror tales. Not one aspect of "Hitchhike Horror!" is handled nicely; not its inane plot, nor its utterly baffling reveal, but especially not its crude, amateurish art. This is just gawdawful.  "The Defense Rests!," with its historical setting and fabulous Craig pencils, brings to mind the dialogue-free panels of the EC Picto-Fiction line. "Fly!" comes off as silly but at least it gives Ditko a chance to do a story that doesn't involve wizards or fifth-dimensional lizards.

It would seem, if you'd read most of my past comments regarding his art, that I'm standing firmly in the Grandenetti-detractors' camp. You'd be absolutely correct. It's an obvious observation to say that JG's art is a lot like that of Frank Robbins: exaggerated, squiggly and, for the most part, ugly as hell. And yet I'm softening a bit lately when it comes to Jerry's stuff, especially his work on "Cry Fear, Cry Phantom." The script isn't much, an ode to Poe and Gothic horror, but it allows Grandenetti to really open his (admittedly limited) bag of tricks and unleash some wonders here and there. The Eisner-influenced splash, the weird angles of Holloway House (above), the gorgeous shadows, even the melty-faced characters (an aspect I've found negatively distracting in JG's other work). Perhaps it's just that JG found the perfect home for his eccentric visions or maybe I'm just seeing something in his art I've never taken the time to appreciate. Probably the former (see below).

Morrow

Creepy #13 

"The Squaw!"  ★1/2
Story by Bram Stoker
Adaptation by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Early Warning!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"Scream Test!" 
Story by John Benson and Bhob Stewart
Art by Angelo Torres

"Madness in the Method!" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Fear in Stone" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

"Adam Link, Gangbuster!" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"Second Chance!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"The Squaw!"
While vacationing in Nurnberg, a young British couple meet up with the "exuberant" American, Elias P. Hutcheson, at an ancient castle. The trio spark up a quick friendship and decide to tour the torture chambers together. While strolling outside the dungeon walls, they happen upon a cat and its kitten playing in the grass below them. Hutcheson, thinking it would be a fun bit of silliness to startle the felines, drops a rock but misses his mark. The stone crushes the kitten and its mother looks up at the American with hateful eyes. The trio brush off the incident and head into the castle tower housing the torture chamber. The cat follows them in. The chamber is filled with several diabolical weapons of torture but none so enticing to Hutcheson as the Iron Maiden. The arrogant American bullies the tour guide into allowing him to try the evil casket on for size and, as he lies helpless within the Maiden, the avenging cat hurls itself at the guide and the lid slams shut on Hutcheson.

Not a bad adaptation as these things go (for some reason or another, Archie seems to have had a yen for selecting tame "classics" for the Warrens--possibly because these were public domain stories?); the final panel, of the fearful feline lapping up Hutcheson's blood, is pretty grim. Reed Crandall's line work, as usual, is exquisite; every brick and stone at the tower looks as though Crandall spent hours getting them just right. If there's a complaint, it's that Reed's characters suffer an almost Kamen-esque fate in that they all pretty much look alike. The title of "The Squaw!" refers to a story Hutcheson tells of a war-time experience he had involving a half-breed Indian and the fate that befell him.

"Early Warning!"
A businessman stops overnight in a desolate European town and finds himself without a place to stay. Working his way through the alleyways, he stumbles over the dead body of a woman, blood drained and two suspicious marks on her neck. Just then, a mad crowd assembles behind the man, with the leader pulling out a wooden stake and accusing the astounded traveler of vampirism. As the stake is pounded into his chest, the man awakens on the bus just as it gets to the same town he dreamed of. Sure enough, once he disembarks, his reality follows the dream right up until he finds the dead woman and then the crazed mob assembles. But this time they're the vampires, looking for food. "Early Warning!" is another really dopey, cliched horror story. Even Uncle Creepy, at story's end, wonders why this entire horde of vampires would remain in a deserted town. I heaped cautious praise on Jerry Grandenetti's art above, but here he's in full-JG mode, with lots of grotesque, exaggerated faces and indiscernible lines that prevent you from figuring out just what the hell is happening on these pages. Yeccccccch!

"Scream Test!"
Journalist Susan Street smells a great story in the reports of ghostly organ music rising from the depths of the old Alhambra Theater, once renowned for its beauty but now closed for decades and rotting away. Street nabs an audience with the Alhambra's owner and organist, Ivan Kire, who pooh-poohs the idea of a ghost and explains it's only his nighttime meanderings to blame. Kire paints a picture of the Alhambra as the place to view a silent movie and his musicianship as the finest in the country until the advent of talkies doomed the format. Kire offers to open the Alhambra and play for Street and the reporter quickly agrees. Once there, Kire pops Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera into the projector and leans in to deliver an eerie soundtrack. Just then, Street remembers there had been a fire in the Alhambra and, as the unmasking scene spills onto the screen behind her, she reaches out and pulls the mask from Tire's face.

Here's a case of the set-up being very intriguing with the reveal a complete letdown. That final panel makes no sense whatsoever and seems to come right out of the blue, leaving me with a sense of having been cheated. All the atmosphere is simply an excuse for a shock ending. It only occurs to Street right at that moment that Kire is wearing a mask? And what kind of journalist forgets the most important hook of the story? Angelo Torres's mash-up of art and movie stills works very well here (as opposed to the times when Angelo swipes images for his doodles). Benson and Stewart are names familiar to those who followed our EC coverage, as the two were fans who later became leading historians of the company.

"Madness in the Method!"
Henry Belmond murders his wife and then pleads insanity. He's committed to the Hanneford Asylum but then finds he can't adjust to his surroundings as everyone around him seems to be loony. Belmond complains to the sanitarium officials and is placed in different cells but each one is progressively worse. Finally, at wit's end, Belmond admits he's not really insane but the doctors are skeptical until they remove his brain and find Henry was telling the truth. Huh? Obviously, Archie must have forgotten to send that all-important penultimate page to Rocco; y'know, the one that explains why a group of doctors would crack open Belmond's head. "Madness in the Method!" is just the latest in a long series of Wessler scripts I've had my problems with (scripts written for Warren, as well as for EC and Atlas); Wessler seems to have come from the school of writers who threw everything at the wall to see what stuck and then used the plots and hooks that didn't stick regardless. I had a feeling the reveal would be that the inmates were running the asylum (and perhaps that was what Wessler had in mind), but the published twist is befuddling.

"Fear in Stone"
Sculptor Frederick Holbert has had it up to here with critics who claim his work is secondary to the genius of Stavros Dimitrios, another artist who excels at visions of horror. So Holbert goes to see Dimitrios at his studio, hoping the artists will let him in on the secret behind his mastery. Dimitrios claims only that the blood of Greece flows through him and then shuts the door on his competitor's dream. But the frustrated Holbert follows Dimitrios to a deserted warehouse, where the truth comes out at last: Stavros has the head of Medusa in a box! But didn't the Gorgon lose its power when beheaded? I guess not, but I must say the reveal was no surprise the second Dimitrios mentioned Greece. "Fear in Stone" has a lackluster script  and, truth be told, below-par artwork from Colan; it sure looks rushed to me.

That bumbling bag of bolts, Adam Link, is still trying to get the goods on bad guy Harvey Brigg, a really nasty chap who's pinned two violent murders on Adam's gleaming gal-pal, Eve, who's rotting away in a Federal pen, on a steady diet of three squirts of oil a day, but Adam can't seem to find the smoking gun to save his silvery bum. But, ho-ho, salvation arrives in the form of Adam's latest invention, a bugging device that will transmit messages from Briggs's den to a recorder in Jack's apartment. But... the best laid plans of mice and robots and all... the messages are received with tons of static and deemed unplayable for the D.A. More importantly, Adam is tipped off to the fact that Briggs's hoods will be murdering a woman at five PM sharp. He puts the kibosh on the murder and traps Briggs in his study, forcing the evil genius to pen a confession. Just as Briggs is about to sign the document, one of his hoods interrupts and chops Adam into a zillion pieces (well, actually only five or six) and commences to burning his chrome dome to melted tin. Adam sends one more "radio-telepathy call" to Eve but resigns himself to an afterlife spent as the roof of a shed. To Be Continued...

"Adam Link, Gangbuster!"
If you're expecting me to tell you that this installment of Adam Link is enjoyable and well-illustrated, you've come to the wrong guy. Optimism is more Jack's forte. "Adam Link, Gangbuster!" is like a really bad episode of a really bad 1960s TV show (in fact, Adam Link was the star of a really bad episode of Outer Limits!), perhaps starring Sheldon Leonard as Briggs. By this time, Joe Orlando was blessed to be able to sell what are essentially ink blots as art to Warren, who must have been looking the other way while, at the same time, touting his artists as the best in the business. The most amazing thing, to me, is that Binder was able to stretch one lousy pulp story ("Adam Link, Robot Detective" from Amazing, May 1940) into an equally lousy three-part funny book story.

Edward Nugent (call him Ted for short) makes a deal with the devil for life after death but, as usual, Beelzebub gets a hand up on us mere mortals. After Eddie dies, he pleads with Satan to send him back to Earth and the devil obliges, sending Nugent back into his grave. Fortunately, for our protagonist, a grave robber just happens to be pilfering Nugent's grave but, unfortunately, the grave robber is quickly scared out of his wits and beats Nugent to death in his own grave.

"Second Chance!"
I would love to have been in the Warren cafeteria while Archie and Steve were sharing the same grass and cooking up "Fly!" and this wacky, wild, incoherent, interesting jumble. While not entirely successful, "Second Chance" is a perfect marriage of script with its art or vice versa. Just exactly how much detail Archie gave to the nightmare landscapes of hell and its occupants in the pages he handed over to Ditko is known only to those who have seen the actual script. The prelude, of two cops coming across the white-haired grave digger post-grave opening, segues into a scene of Nugent in hell and, for several pages to come, the reader is excused for not having the foggiest notion what the two scenes have in common. But, eventually, it all makes sense. It's not hyperbole when I state that only Steve Ditko could successfully map out these twisted images (and on page two the images are literally twisted) without the scene coming off as laughable.-Peter

Jack-I think this is a fair to middling issue of Creepy. I like Crandall's work on "The Squaw!," a story I enjoyed when I read it in an anthology, but Goodwin overdoes it with one character's American speech patterns. "Scream Test!" is also fun, mainly due to the felicitous mix of sharp art by Torres and beloved stills from silent films. I thought Colan's work on "Fear in Stone" was nicely shadowy and Ditko goes full "Dr. Strange" in the wacked-out pages of "Second Chance!," despite a so-so story by Goodwin. Grandenetti is back to his usual poor work in "Early Warning!" and the team of Wessler and Mastroserio don't do much to elevate "Madness in the Method!" Worst of all, of course, is "Adam Link, Gangbuster!" I can't tell any more what is and what is not real art by Joe Orlando, though he did sign the first page--I'd swear Grandenetti was ghosting here and trying to tone down his more surreal impulses.

Next Week...
George Evans
Whether we like it or not!


From Creepy 13

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 36






The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 21
June 1952 Part I




Heath
 Journey Into Mystery #1

"One Foot in the Grave" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #1)
"The Clutching Hands" (a: Cal Massey) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #21)
"Haunted!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #21)
"It Can't Miss" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #5)
"Iron-Head" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
(r: Tales of the Zombie #1)

Journey Into Mystery is most famous, of course, for being the birthplace of the Mighty Thor (who will arrive from Asgard in exactly 82 issues), but before that it was also one of the only survivors of the "Atlas Implosion" of 1957 (well, if you want to get technical, the title did go on a 15-month hiatus before being relaunched in 1958) and one of Marvel's longest-running horror/sf titles. Take a look to your right and see if you can spot the difference between the cover for JIM #1 and those on any of the other Atlas titles. (I'll give you a few seconds) Yep, good spot. For some reason, Stan decided to forego the mountains of text and "Also in This Issue" banners he loved to stream across otherwise-gorgeous covers and let Russ Heath's illustration sell the zine on its own merits.

In "One Foot in the Grave," a heartless florist pays hoboes to steal floral arrangements from graves and then sells them at a premium. One night, the dead come back for their flowers. A very elementary story idea, the plot of which has been used before, but the art by DiPreta (again, very Colan-esque) is nicely done. Much better is "The Clutching Hands," about Ted Wayne, a hack novelist, who murders a rival writer and steals his unfinished manuscript, hoping to land a best-seller. That night, he awakens to find the dead man's hands at the typewriter, finishing the novel. Not one to look a gift hand in the palm, Wayne takes the now-finished book to his editor but is low-balled on the advance money. Just then, the hands appear and strangle the editor and his secretary enters in time to see Wayne flee. The writer is arrested and sentenced to death by hanging, but is granted a last-second stay while he stands on the gallows, noose around his neck. As the Governor's message is read, the clutching hands pull the lever and Wayne falls to his death. Russ Heath's brilliant artwork on "The Clutching Hands" is about as close as you're going to get to the look of EC Comics. The splash is brutal, but gorgeous.

"Haunted"
The next two tales are pretty bad. "Haunted" is about a ghost who tries his best to dissuade buyers from purchasing his haunted house. Some of Carrabotta's work here is nice (his spectre is pretty creepy) but the story has almost as much dust on it as the haunted house. Worse is "It Can't Miss," which can't even work up much enthusiasm for its art (Jay Scott Pike almost seems to be going for an Eisner vibe with his doodlings). Murderer and general tough guy Frankie Arno is on the lam and is mistaken for a respectable businessman who looks just like him. Unfortunately, the guy’s been committed to an asylum. Why? Who knows?

The last story of the issue is very definitely the best. Bronson, a really really bad guy steals an undersea treasure while in a diver’s suit and blows up the ship and its crew to prevent any witnesses. He surfaces on a nearby island of natives who worship him as the god "Iron-Head." As long as he doesn’t remove his helmet, he’s okay. Obviously he can’t eat, so he starves. The final panel, of a native saying “Him no God! Axe make-em Iron-Head come off... just like chicken head!” and hefting a bloody hatchet, is a gem of dark humor! Dick Ayers comes through with a fabulous set of visuals, very reminiscent of fellow Atlas artist, Bill Everett.

"Iron-Head"



Everett & Burgos
 Adventures Into Terror #10

"When the Vampire Calls!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Dracula Lives #4)
"The Dark Passage" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #5)
"What Walter Saw" (a: Ed Goldfarb) 
"The Snake!" (a: George Roussos) 
"The Old Hag" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 

The superstitious villagers believe the beautiful Lyra is a vampire, draining all the locals of their life blood, but Pierce is so in love with Lyra that he can't believe the stories. He follows the girl to her castle and discovers that she lures the young men to her home so that her vampire brother can sup. The finale sees the villagers, in grand old Universal style, burning the castle and its occupants to ashes. Not terribly original, but something about the whole package ticked al the right boxes for me. Joe Maneely's art here is the best we've seen in the Atlas horror titles so far (and the closest to the detailed magic he performed on The Black Knight). "When the Vampire Calls" could have fit into the Universal chronology somewhere between Dracula's Daughter and Ghost of Frankenstein (brother vamp actually looks more like "the Monster" and Lyra is the prototypical Gale Sondergaard eerie beauty).


"The Dark Passage"
Nick Raftis waits on death row but his nights are filled with torturous nightmares of hooded demons. Convinced he'll be rid of the night spirits if he breaks out, Nick steals an ambulance and smashes through the gate but doesn't get far before he runs out of gas. Fearful he'll be caught, he enters a house filled with hooded figures. Too late, he learns he's already dead and the figures lead him into "The Dark Passage." Nice ghoulies courtesy of Ogden Whitney, but the finish is a bit too cloudy (did Nick die in the chair or in his cell during the escape?) and reeks of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." "What Walter Saw" is a really silly short-short about a boardwalk telescope operator who can't make money with his weak lenses, so he steals a batch of powerful glasses and ends up seeing an invasion of aliens. Worse is "The Snake!," about a sailor who boasts of having a snakeskin in his knapsack and then has to sneak off to a deserted island in the night to search for one in order to save face.

"The Old Hag"
The issue ends on a high note with "The Old Hag." Tired of being homely and poor, a man asks an old hag to make him different. She does, by making his entire body elastic. TV shows and personal appearances make him rich and he pays the old witch every month, but he forgets to visit her one month and she dies of starvation. His powers of "normalcy" wear off and his body becomes a rubbery mess. He's forced to get a carnival job. Creepy art and a nasty bite in the tail elevate this one to "keeper" status. That final panel, of the hopelessly rubberized dope, is pretty freaky.




Everett
 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #11

"Frankie Was Afraid!" (a: Bil Everett) 
"Kiss of Death" (a: Bernie Krigstein)  
"Once Upon a Corpse" (a: Marty Elkin & Gil Kane) 
"I Can't Stop Screaming" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"The Neat Trick" (a: Harry Lazarus & George Klein) ★1/2

Dr. Le Doux specializes in treating patients of their fears -- doesn't matter what kind of fears, he's your man at fifty dollars a session. So when Frankie shows up to the Doc's office and claims he's afraid of midnight, Le Dous sees dollar signs and tells the poor schmoe it will take thirty sessions to cure midnightaphobia. After the 29th visit, Frankie approaches the head-shrinker and reminds him he only has one session left, and he's still terrifies of the witching hour. Le Doux grabs his patient and drags him out to a graveyard, thinking that will do the trick. Unfortunately for the dim-witted therapist, Frankie reveals why he's afraid of midnight... by sprouting fangs and wings. Any surprise in the climax of "Frankie Was Afraid!" is muted by the fact that the exact scene plays itself out on the cover! Bill Everett's LeDoux is a dead ringer for the joker and his winged vampire is a delight but there are way too many crowded panels for my tastes.

"Frankie Was Afraid!"

Dede, the heroine of "Kiss of Death" falls in love with a statue in the park, much to the dismay of her boyfriend. The legend goes that, two thousand years before, Hemus and Xanthia were lovers in Greece but Hemus had a wandering eye, and when he stepped out one too many time, Xanthia buried a blade in his back and then killed herself as well. Now, Dede can't seem to take her mind off the stone Adonis and heads out to the park late at night for another look. Hemus, having bottled up two thousand years of libido, drops a line or two on the bewildered young lady and then follows it up with a smooch. Xanthia, still the jealous woman, dispatches Dede with her blade and the two statues return to their perch, none the wiser. A decent enough fantasy, but the Krigstein art is low-grade Bernie, one of his sketchier jobs. There's also a bit of 1950s risqué cheesecake, when Dede hops out of bed in lingerie to go on her midnight walk.

In "Once Upon a Corpse," Monk Bennett tries to kidnap a little boy outside a cemetery but it turns out the kid is from the other side, looking for some fun. The climax is murky (we're not really sure what the kid's motives and powers are), but not nearly as murky as the truly awful art (Gil Kane inked over Marty Elkin but there's not a trace of Kane to these untrained eyes). Mr. Green, importer of rare silks and cloth has a meeting with a strange hunchbacked chap who shows Green the most beautiful material he's ever seen. The two strike a bargain and Green promises to pay the oddball upon delivery. When Green opts to stiff his new partner, the hunchback pays a visit to Green's office and spins a web around the shyster. You guessed it! The fabulous material is silk spun from the man's bulbous abdomen. He's a giant spider! And one who can hide that enormous thorax and eight legs nicely under a trench coat! Dick Ayers' art for "I Can't Stop Screaming"... ouch!


The best, again, is saved for last with "The Neat Trick," a humorous yarn about big-mouthed heckler, Harry Bogan, and the night he decided to accuse Lokar, the Magician of being a phony. The public spectacle tarnishes the good name of Lokar and he finds himself with out a job but that's neither here nor there to Brogan, who laughs the whole thing off. Later, that night, the two men stumble into each other in the woods and Bogan is anything but apologetic. Regardless, Lokar is kind enough to show Bogan his most famous trick: making his own head disappear. Astonished, but calling it a parlor trick, Brogan asks Lokar to teach him how the stunt is performed and the magician is only too happy to oblige.






Everett
 Marvel Tales #107

"The Thing in the Sewer" (a: Fred Kida) 
"The Man With the Whip" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"Going My Way?" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
"The Glass Eye" (a: Allen Bellman) ★1/2
"Trapped By the Dead!" (a: Gene Colan) 

In a dark cemetery, a robber/murderer has set his sights on his latest victim, a graveside mourner, but from nowhere his mark is set upon by another man. After forcing both men to accompany him into his subterranean lair (which comes complete with picked-clean skulls), the murderer is about to dispatch the interloper, the man sprouts wings and fangs. Didn't we just read this story in another title?

A child is kept locked in a basement, the only exposure to the outside world is his guardian, "The Man With the Whip." One day, the man forgets to lock the door and the child ascends the stairs and kills his torturer. As he heads out the front door, he wonders why the man kept him hidden from others. The final panel, of the monstrous child, is far from a surprise since the kid's face is kept in shadows throughout the story's five pages. This type of story would probably have worked better as a prose feature but it's really not that bad, and Ogden Whitney delivers some stirring visuals (though the grotesque tusks sticking out of the boy's mouth make you wonder how he couldn't notice he was different from his guardian) and a creepy atmosphere. How this tyke became so malformed is just one of those questions we best not ask.

A traveling salesman kisses his wife and hits the road in a terrible storm, promising her he'll be safe. He stops for a hitchhiker but is shocked when he sees the man is wearing a skull mask. "Going My Way?" is all the spectre says. The traveler speeds off but can't escape the ghostly apparition at every stop he makes. Running low on gas, he finds a farm house and tries to steal some petrol from a vehicle, but the farmer catches him and almost gives him both barrels until his wife talks him out of it. Explaining he's just a traveling salesman who's almost out of gas, our hero phones his wife on the farmer's telephone but receives quite the shock when a nurse answers the phone and explains that his wife is in a state of shock after receiving the news that her husband died in a road wreck. The salesman heads back out on the road, resigned to the fact that, the next time he sees his new friend, he'll give him a ride since he's going that way. A few head-scratchers here (why does the farm couple see our traveler if he's a ghost? Are they ghosts too?), but for a variation on a well-traveled road, "Going My Way" is an entertaining yarn and Bernie Krigstein's art here is about as close as we're going to come (so far, at least) to the quality he brought to EC.

Two bumbling museum guards decide think that the rubies in a priceless statue's eye sockets will be their ticket to a big payday but the idol has other ideas. Even at a mere four pages, "The Glass Eye" feels padded and its clumsy climax will leave the reader unsatisfied. Much, much better is the grand finale this issue, "Trapped By the Dead!" Fred Konry makes a cross-country trek to murder his look-alike cousin, the very rich Hollis Konry, and assume his identity and exorbitant lifestyle. The murder goes off without a hitch (Fred chops Hollis up into little pieces and buries him in several different makeshift graves alongside the highway. The plan works even better when Fred gets home to Hollis' gorgeous wife and the dame is none the wiser. He makes grand plans to tear down the old estate and build a new mansion, but those plans go awry when the builders discover the skeleton of Hollis' old partner in the walls and the cops converge on the new millionaire. Though the "assumed identity" riff has been played a gazillion times, "Trapped By the Dead!" manages to pull it off by averting your eye from the plot long enough to throw in a surprise at the climax. I'm sure it occurred to me before but it strikes me how much Gene Colan's early, noir-ish art resembles Bernie Krigstein's work at the time. Both had that similar knack of turning the cartoon into the atmospheric.




Heath
 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #7

"The Cat's Whiskers" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"In the Still of the Night" (a: Marty Elkin) ★1/2
"The Strange Road" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"The Ghost" (a: Myron Fass) ★1/2
"The Bad Boy" (a: Jim Mooney) 

We find ourselves back on the low end of the Carrabotta seesaw with the opener, "The Cat's Whiskers," about Amos White, a nightwatchman framed and executed for a murder he didn't commit. Turns out Amos rode the lightning for mob boss Rocc, and the framer is none other than renowned lawyer, George Henly. But, after the execution, the counselor can't shake the stalking Blackie, Amos' faithful feline, a creepy little vixen who manages to steal his way into George's bedroom one night and leave the terrified lawyer speechless. As noted, this is not one of Vic's better jobs but, as noted above in the review of "Haunted," even at his worst, Carrabotta could still evoke the chills now and then. Here, it comes with the final frames of the story, where Blackie gets his revenge and George is left holding his tongue... or where his tongue used to be.

"In the Still of the Night," a stranger comes into town, looking for companionship, and finds himself attracted to a beautiful girl in a restaurant. She finds him attractive too, and they arrange a meeting in the park. As the sun goes down, the man turns into a werewolf and tells the girl he's in town looking for his next victim... and then the woman bares her fangs and tells the dope the same thing. How many times can these guys trot this one out? They don't even try variations anymore; just pass the same script over to another artist every six months and the reader won't remember the last time. A shame too, since the first half of the story build legitimate suspense.

"The Strange Road" is an illogical and just plain dumb story about a bus driver on a new route who picks up very pale and lifeless riders and then gets stuck behind a funeral procession. Impatient, he jumps the line and when he pulls alongside the hearse, he notices the driver is a skeleton. Losing control, the bus tumbles down the side of the mountain and the last thing the driver sees is himself... a skeleton... in the rear-view mirror. So what deep meaning does this hold? Is the driver death? Is he the bus driver to hell? You tell me.

A bit better is the other quickie this issue, "The Ghost," about a woman who's getting tired of her husband's supernatural obsession with his dead wife. He sees seers in hopes of resurrecting his old flame, but the current Mrs. is carrying on an affair with her hubby's business partner and the two of them have something planned. The crafty adulterer gives the old boy a wrench to the skull and runs his car off a cliff but, once she gets home, she realizes there might just be something to this "other world" nonsense after all. A nicely atmospheric little chiller with great art from Myron Fass, who could pull an ace from his hat now and then. Fass is better known for the Eerie Publications line of horror comics of the 1960s and 1970s; Fass would grab strips from the 1950s and have them gussied up with blood and guts and garish covers. Fass' rags would rot the minds of thousands of impressionable youngsters (this old fan included) and are widely collected and revered to this day (don't be surprised to see a blog dedicated to Tales from the Tomb and its sisters some day, right here in this space).

Stan saves the best for last this issue, with the creepy "The Bad Boy." Young Peter Hemsley is bored of living in the country without any friends to play with, so mom suggests to her son conjuring up an imaginary pal. So Peter whips up an invisible body, names him "Bad Peter," and seemingly becomes enchanted with his new BFF. But when tobacco is spilled and rugs ripped up, dad finds his patience wearing thin. When a dart goes sailing past his face one night, Mr. Hemsley decides something has to be done so he tells Peter that he's going to strangle "Bad Peter" and they'll be done-and-dusted of imaginary playmates. To Pop's surprise, Peter agrees that his evil counterpart must be done away with and gives his dad the thumbs-up sign. After a good imaginary throttling of air, Dad declares "Bad Peter" dead but his little tyke, now sporting fangs and green skin, turns and reveals that he "killed the wrong one!"

The "invisible friend who's really there" plot has been used several times before (and, of course, the king of them all would have to be Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour," which was adapted by Al Feldstein for Weird Fantasy #18) but "The Bad Boy" gives the tired horse a kick in the ribs and a neat twist in the tail. I love Joe Sinnott's art, which is equally stylish and garish (his panel of little Peter warning his dad that "Bad Peter gets awfully mad when he's scolded" is even creepier than the final panel reveal!





Astonishing #14

"Under Glass" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Man Who Jumped!" (a: Cal Massey) 
"The Man Who Changed Bodies!" (a: E.J. Smalls) 
"Silence!" (a: Don Rico & Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"The Clean-Up!" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Pa can't seem to keep his two sons from fighting; his aunt complains every time he tells her to make lunch; and his wife is getting some on the side from the new boarder. What's a slob to do? Well, Pa grabs a blade and sticks it to the new guy and everyone just stands around and stares... including the giant bugs who "overran Earth after the atomic war of 1993," and captured the lot of them to put on display in their human being zoo!

The first four-and-a-half pages of "Under Glass" is like some deranged variation of Streetcar Named Desire; a cringe-worthy peek into the lower depths of humanity. It's a hellish vision, and Bernie Krigstein's art is the perfect art to carry this narrative over the line of decency and good taste. And then there's the climax, one I didn't see coming and, now that I've seen it, wish I could un-see it. It smacks of going for the easy wrap-up rather than building on the events we've witnessed previously and it's also a twist been done to death. This might have been a full four-star gem had the writer (I think this is way too nasty for Stan "The Man," but what do I know?) conjured up a more grueling finish.



Chauffeur Conrad has his eyes on the boss's daughter but the old crow gets wise and fires him. Before the will can be changed, Conrad stages an accident and moneybags ends up at the bottom of a cliff. Conrad becomes Mr. Inherited Moneybags but has constant nightmares of the boss coming back for him. Unable to take the terror anymore, Conrad steps out onto a ledge and prepares to jump but gets cold feet and breathes a sigh of relief as hands reach out to pull him back in the window. But as the would-be suicide opens his eyes, he realizes the hands belong to his late father-in-law and they're pulling him downward! "The Man Who Jumped!" is no great shakes in the script department but Cal Massey's art is energetic (almost like a cross-breeding of Everett and Heath!) and keeps the attention even when the words don't.

With a title like "The Man Who Changed Bodies!," there's no real need for synopsis, is there? I'll just say that the only smile that crossed my face during this snoozer, about a millionaire who discovers a way to switch bodies with his handsome gardener, is the "eerie chant" the old guy must repeat:

"I command your mind and ego to leave your body and enter mine! And my mind and ego will inhabit your body!"

That took some thinking on the part of our intrepid funny book writer.

Depending on how you look at it, "Silence" is either an interesting experiment in (for the most part) wordless panels or the easiest assignment of the day for the Atlas horror comic writer. A man wakes up and runs through his deserted city, looking for signs of life. The subway is deserted, the streets are filled with empty cars, and all the buildings stand quiet. He finally finds a lone figure sitting behind a desk, writing in a ledger, and when the stranger raises his head, we see it is death. Not a bad little chiller and the final panels, with Mr. Death holding his reaper, provide the desired effect. We are left wondering what happened here that there aren't even bodies in the streets. All trace of humankind vanished but for this one poor soul.

The final story, "The Clean-Up!," is some nasty business about Lucy,  a little girl adopted from an orphanage and put to work cleaning the house of a chemist who manufactures disinfectants. He's got this poor little kid sponging the toilets and scraping the food off plates 24/7, while he lords over her with his whip. When the little moppet accidentally spills garbage on the tyrant, he orders her to fix him a bath and she "mistakenly" fills the tub with acid! There's a (delightfully) mean streak running through "The Clean-Up!" that you (as a horror story reader, that is) can't help but enjoy. The chemist boasts that he makes the strongest disinfectants in the land, but seemingly has nothing better to do with his day than supervise Little Orphan Lucy while she goes about her chores. The art by Tony DiPreta is primitive and rushed (Lucy's face seems to have the exact same look and the exact same angle in every panel) but then the scratchiness of the visuals seems perfectly matched with the grimy narrative.




In Two Weeks...
It's Uncanny how the Atlas horror line
continues to grow!













Monday, June 10, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 157: February 1975


The DC War Comics
1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook



Dominguez
Weird War Tales 34

"The Common Enemy!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Flying Coffins!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ruben Yandoc

"To His Rescue Came a Maiden!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Ricardo Villamonte

Peter: An American soldier ends up stranded on a deserted island in the Pacific during WWII, alone save a giant Easter Island-esque totem half-buried in the jungle. Then, after two years of solitude, the GI gets a visitor: a Japanese soldier, who immediately lets his enemy know he's not there to make friends. The two begin a never-ending war and during one of their mini-battles, the statue is hit by a potato masher and, amazingly, digs itself out. The two soldiers forget their private war for the moment and team up to fight this new menace. Then it seems the totem has become bored of the game; it calls forth its spaceship, parked at the bottom of the ocean "maybe a million years," and flies off. The two earthlings resume their battle for decades!

"The Common Enemy!"
I would proclaim this one of the stupidest DC war stories I've ever read, but then I'm sure I've said that before (and, doubtless, will again), but... seriously, this is the stupidest DC war story I've ever read. Writer Drake dusts off one of the oldest cliches in the book, the "Arena" rip-off, and then throws in some von Daniken just for the hell of it. But the rising totem is not the dopiest element... that would be the never-ending supply of ammo these two soldiers use on each other. The final panel lets us know that, 29 years after the war has ended, these two jamokes are still firing at each other! Did they figure out a way to make bullets out of coconuts?

In World War I, French ace Guy Genet and his German counterpart, Hauptmann Kleber, commit to a solo duel but both are killed before the match-up can occur. Death won't slow these two down, though, so decades later, during WWII, the aces finally get their duel. Well, actually, I guess death did slow them down since it took them decades to finally empty their machine guns into each other! Big Bob's weird script for "The Flying Coffins!" is as dusty as the rest of his contributions, but at least the art chores were handed over to Ruben Yandoc (Rubeny), and the visuals are pretty nice. The ending sputters out as badly as Kleber's Fokker DR-1, with no clear outcome of the ghostly duel.

What? Did you think I was lying?!
("The Common Enemy!")

Sadistic Nazi Colonel von Hoffman, fleeing from American soldiers, ducks into a castle and meets up with the caretaker, who promises the colonel he will lead him to safety. After the servant takes von Hoffman to an underground passageway, the colonel murders him and ducks through a doorway, unaware that he's walking into an Iron Maiden. Bloodthirsty Nazis have become the go-to monsters in WWT and von Hoffman is only the latest. As with "The Flying Coffins!," "To His Rescue Came a Maiden!" holds no surprises but is easy on the eye. Clever title, too.

"The Flying Coffins!"

Jack: It's hard to say which of these three stories is the worst, but I'll give the edge to "The Common Enemy!," which features dreadful Sparling art amidst a hodgepodge of cliches from war comics and the 1970s. It's like a racist space odyssey. "The Flying Coffins!" is similar to the story before it in that two enemies keep fighting after they should have stopped. Still, Yandoc is better than Sparling. "To His Rescue Came a Maiden!" is best because it's only four pages long. The end comes out of nowhere and Villamonte's art looks like he's still got a lot to learn.


Kubert
G.I. Combat 175

"The Captive Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Ace Without Pity"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: On the way to defend Hill 217, the Jeb engages and destroys a German tank. The Nazi commander survives the ordeal but he's a little frazzled and believes the Jeb to be another German tank. Commander Jeb plays along with his German counterpart and obeys the orders given him, realizing that the directions to Hill 217 the Nazi is giving are taking the Jeb through mine-free territory. Once the Jeb Stuart makes it to the Hill, the Nazi regains his senses and tries to sabotage the mission, but our heroes survive to fight another day.

It's inexplicable to me that Jeb would have let the Nazi take command of the Haunted Tank from the get-go (after it's apparent the tank is heading through a safe zone, I get it, but Jeb sure didn't know that, did he?) and it's at that point in "The Captive Tank" his crew should have been questioning their commander's losing his marbles rather than earlier, when he's having his usual beginning-of-the-adventure powwow with the great General in the Sky (and, Big Bob, can't we refrain at least one issue from the obligatory discussion amongst the crew about the mental state of their commander?).

"The Captive Tank"

World War I pilot Bruno Krieg has one goal as he takes to the skies and that's to become a German ace no matter what the cost. He engages a British pilot but the Brit soon runs out of ammo. That won't stop Krieg from attaining his glory, so he opens up on his defenseless enemy and awaits ace-dom. His euphoria is short-lived, however, when the Brit sends his plane crashing into Krieg's Focke-Wulf and the German takes a nose-dive. Krieg survives the crash and swims to shore but, later, while attempting to reach his airfield by sea, he is attacked by a Great White... an enemy as cut-throat and unforgiving as he. Much better than the lead-in thanks to its ironic climax, "Ace Without Pity" sure feels like a "Gallery of War" entry. It's got the heavier and more violent script by Kanigher and roller coaster visuals by Estrada. It's the best Ric/Big Bob entry in quite some time but still more evidence that, aside from the Enemy Ace, Kanigher's Nazis were glory-hungry, bloodthirsty androids.

"Ace Without Pity"

Jack: "The Captive Tank" got pretty exciting despite Glanzman's art and it was nice to see Gus get some action for a change. I like how Kanigher (at least this time out) works to distinguish the members of the usually faceless tank crew from each other. As for "Ace Without Pity," I was sure this was a Jaws tie-in but then I saw that the movie did not come out till the following summer, so I guess Big Bob anticipated the feeding frenzy in advance! The letters page has Glanzman's autobiography, which is reproduced at the bottom of this post.


Kubert
Our Army at War 277

"Gashouse Gang"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Death-Watch!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Marching through snow on their way north through Italy, the men of Easy Co. suddenly find themselves under fire. Rock sustains a serious injury to his foot and instructs Bulldozer to take command and check out the area while Rock stays behind in a hillside cave. Hours pass and Bulldozer returns, distraught over having lost track of some of his men.

The next night, Bulldozer goes out again with a reduced force and comes back at dawn, having lost even more men. By the next evening, Bulldozer has gone off the deep end due to grief and thinks he's back in his boyhood haunt on Chicago's South Side, fighting the "Gashouse Gang." Rock knocks him out but later that night Bulldozer escapes. Although he is still injured, Rock sets off alone to look for his comrade. He saves Bulldozer from some Nazi gunners and then convinces the still-addled soldier that they are both kids in Chicago and the Nazis are the Gashouse Gang.

"Gashouse Gang"
Rock and Bulldozer manage to destroy a giant Nazi gun and, when they head back to base and see that the men who were thought to be lost are alive and well, Bulldozer snaps out of his funk and is back to his old self.

Russ Heath may not be capable of turning in a bad art job, and this one is pretty good, especially in some of the more violent spots. Still, Kanigher's script is corny and goes over some tired territory. It's also a bit hard to follow at times. I do like getting a bit of back-story on one of the men of Easy Co., though, something I wish they'd do more of.

Marine Sergeant Sam Huff is asked by one of his men to tell the story of war photographer Arnie Anderson, who won a prize for a picture he took during battle on Guadalcanal. Huff explains how the intrepid photographer followed his unit from island to jungle, snapping pictures but seemingly managing to avoid injury while men were dying all around him. The soldiers began to think he was bad luck, so he went to sit in his jeep, where he was promptly killed by enemy fire. Sgt. Huff's photo of Anderson, dead in the jeep, was published in Life.


"Death-Watch!"
Kanigher and Estrada team up for an impressive Gallery of War entry! The black and white panels that represent the photos Anderson took are more impressive than Estrada's color work, probably because they're grittier than what we're used to from this artist. I looked up Arnie Anderson but he seems to be a fictional character.

Peter: Another issue, another serious injury to Rock. Bulldozer remarks "You ought be on your way back to the base, Rock..." when, actually, the Sarge probably should have been laid up in a military hospital for months after all the wounds he's suffered lately. And who really thought any of the regulars had met with untimely fates? Again, Bulldozer makes a pithy comment upon seeing the return of all his missing comrades: "I feel like--I'm comin' back--from a bad dream!" Yep, feels just like one of those dream stories to me as well. The "Gallery of War" entry is a strong one, graced with a powerful final image and perhaps the best Estrada work yet. I wonder if Big Bob was basing his Arnie Anderson character on famed WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, also killed in action.


Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 184

"A Sense of Obligation"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Death on the Russian Front"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Ramona Fradon

Peter: The Unknown Soldier receives the word on his latest mission while he's perfecting his killing skills. In order to protect the "Operation: Torch" mission the Allies have sweeping through North Africa, US must infiltrate the German Commando training center located in France. Once there, our hero befriends Heinrich Staub, a German soldier not entirely sympathetic to the Nazi code of ethics; US saves the man's life during a field exercise and earns his trust. Later, during a raid on a French resistance headquarters, Staub witnesses the Soldier unmasked and says nothing to his superiors, believing US to be a disfigured German soldier seeking anonymity. Eventually, US leads a band of French freedom fighters in an assault on the commandos and US is forced to kill Staub. Again, the Unknown Soldier has excelled at his job but feels no triumph.

"A Sense of Obligation"
"A Sense of Obligation" is another really good Michelinie/Talaoc installment, with lots of standout dialogue and twists. As when Staub looks on in disgust at Nazi soldiers executing villagers:

Staub: There are other ways of punishing rebels--more humane ways! But these "elite soldiers" seem to delight in inflicting pain! Sometimes I think that's the only reason the blasted Nazis started the war!
US: The blasted--? But Heinrich--you are a Nazi!
Staub: Nein! I am a German! I will never be a Nazi! I hate what these devils are doing to the country I love!

Equally effective is the scene where Staub helps the Soldier out from under some debris and hands him his mask, mistakenly believing this is a comrade who only wants to hide his scars from fellow soldiers. It's a fabulous scene and creates a foundation for the tough choice the Soldier must make in the end. Gerry Talaoc's art for that scene is like something out of Tales From the Crypt. We are in good hands here.

"A Sense of Obligation"

The second half of this issue's double-bill is Steve Skeates's preachy "Death on the Russian Front," wherein a Nazi officer must contend with two soldiers and their disregard for the fancy officers of the Luftwaffe. War is hell and it makes good men do bad things. A new message. The art, by Golden Age artist Ramona Fradon, is not awful (it's a kind of low-rent Will Eisner if you look at it sideways), but the huge, fried-egg eyes on all three characters is a bit annoying.

"Death on the Russian Front"

Jack: This was easily the best of the four comics we read for this post. Gerry Talaoc is a great choice to draw the Unknown Soldier series, which has taken a welcome turn with the decision to eschew the bandages and instead have US look more like a living skull. Michelinie's story is very good, involving a decent German who forces US to make a difficult decision. I enjoyed the second story more than you did, Peter. I'm happy to see something set on the Russian Front for a change, since this is a big part of WWII that is neglected in the DC War Comics. When I see Ramona Fradon's art, I immediately think of her work on Metamorpho; it takes a bit of getting used to, but I really like it, and I seem to recall she did some great work in the DC Horror books later in the '70s. It's also cool that she was a female comic artist at a time when men overwhelmed the industry.

Next Week...
Praise for Grandenetti?
Peter Needs a Vacation?
Jack Weighs In!

From G.I. Combat 175