Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Hitchcock Project-Stirling Silliphant Part Four: The Perfect Crime [3.3]

by Jack Seabrook

The sixth episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air with a teleplay by Stirling Silliphant was "The Perfect Crime." Directed by Hitchcock himself, who had not made a feature film since The Wrong Man (1956) but who was about to start filming Vertigo, this episode was rehearsed and filmed from July 17, 1957, through July 19, 1957, and broadcast on CBS on Sunday, October 20, 1957. The teleplay was based on a short story of the same name by Ben Ray Redman that was first published in the August 1928 issue of Harper's.

The story begins as Dr. Harrison Trevor, "the world's greatest detective," chats with his old acquaintance, defense lawyer Gregory Hare, about the concept of the perfect crime. Hare brings up the case of Harrington, who was recently executed for murder. Trevor imagines committing the perfect crime himself, forgetting every detail, and then solving it. He reasons that the perfect crime would have to be murder, carefully premeditated and "'performed in absolutely cold blood.'" It would work best if the motive were known to no one but the murderer, who could focus on getting rid of the body.

"The Perfect Crime" was
first published here
Hare once again brings up the Harrington case, which Trevor solved, and listens carefully as the detective explains his solution in detail. The attorney reveals that Trevor "'helped to execute the wrong man'" and explains that Harrington's lover, Alice West, murdered her husband and Harrington went to his death to protect her. Hare explains how Trevor erred in his deduction, but Trevor insists that his "'reputation does not permit of mistakes.'" Hare promises to tell no one but Trevor comes up behind him and knocks him out with a chloroform pad over his mouth and nose. Trevor murders Hare and disposes of the body so that he is never suspected and Hare is thought to have disappeared mysteriously.

Redman's story builds Trevor up as a colossal egotist who compares detection to art criticism and who has no friends, only acquaintances. He lives alone, a wealthy bachelor in a large house in midtown Manhattan, and his only thought when confronted with the fact that he was instrumental in the execution of an innocent man is to conceal the truth to protect his reputation. He imagines the perfect crime and then carries it out, though his insistence that it must be planned in advance and done in cold blood turns out not to be the case, since his murder of Hare must be considered a crime of passion.

Vincent Price as Courtney
"The Perfect Crime" was quickly recognized as a classic. It was reprinted in a ten-volume set of The World's Best 100 Detective Stories in 1929, in 101 Years' Entertainment; The Great Detective Stories, 1841-1941, edited by Ellery Queen, in 1946, and again in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in July 1951. When Stirling Silliphant adapted it for television, however, he decided to make a significant change to the story's conclusion, much as he had done with his adaptation of "A Bottle of Wine."

The TV version opens with a closeup of a trophy cabinet that displays various items and labels with names and dates. The earliest is from 1901 and the most recent is from 1912; we see Charles Courtney (as Trevor has been renamed) placing a small gun on the trophy shelf with the label, "Harrington 1912." This establishes the date of the events as 1912, though the short story on which it was based seems to take place around the time of its publication in 1928. Hitchcock sets his camera low, looking up at the characters, as John Gregory (Hare's new name) arrives unannounced shortly after 11 PM. Unlike the story, where the two men were acquainted, Courtney and Gregory do not know each other, although they know of each other.

James Gregory as Gregory
At first, the camera looks up at Courtney and down at Gregory, suggesting that Courtney is the dominant man in the relationship. When Courtney sits, the camera looks up at both men, who now converse on an equal level. In the trophy case is an empty space with a blank label; Courtney tells Gregory the space is reserved for a souvenir of the perfect crime. The scene is beautifully lit, with shadows playing around the characters as they chat.

As Courtney explains how he solved the Harrington case, there is a dissolve to a flashback, and Hitchcock has Courtney narrate the events as we watch them play out on screen in silent movie fashion; we see a housekeeper find a body and then Courtney examining the scene of the crime. Back in the present, Courtney continues to explain to Gregory how he solved the case. The camera follows Courtney as he paces around the room, occasionally cutting back to Gregory, who remains seated in a chair. Act one ends with Gregory telling Courtney that he helped send the wrong man to the electric chair; Courtney rises up from his own chair and his face fills the screen as it fades to black.

Mark Dana and Marianne Stewart
as Harrington and Alice West
Act two begins with Gregory explaining what really happened; now he stands up and the two men are once again on equal footing. There is a dissolve to a second flashback, this time narrated by Gregory and again played like a silent film, with his narration matching the words he and Alice West pantomime saying on screen. As the story returns to the present, Gregory provides Courtney with the proof of his argument, insults his host, and there is a third flashback. Once again a silent film with narration, this time we see Alice West shoot her husband and Harrington cover up the evidence of her crime.

Back in the present again, Hitchcock uses a two-shot to show Gregory as he completes his explanation and Courtney glares at him. As Gregory moves closer to Courtney, the camera moves in until the two men fill the screen. There is a closeup of Gregory;s face and, suddenly, Courtney's arm closes around his neck and chokes him as the screen fades to black.

Behind the scenes hijinks
There is a fade-in on Courtney being photographed in front of his trophy case. He has been gone almost two years and he shows two reporters and the photographer an adjoining room where he does ceramics. We see through the doorway into the room, which is dominated by a large oven, and Courtney is called back to the trophy case by a reporter who asks about a vase that now fills the formerly empty space reserved for a souvenir of the perfect crime. Courtney calls the vase an experiment and says he "'used a rather special kind of clay.'" There are three quick cuts showing three different angles of the vase and the episode ends with the implication that Courtney killed Gregory and used his corpse to make the piece of pottery.

The ending seems bizarre and tacked on, coming without warning and not fitting the rest of the show. Why Silliphant felt the need to add this conclusion to a well-known and well-respected short story is unknown; perhaps by season three of Alfred Hitchcock Presents there was thought to be a need for a surprising twist ending; in this case, it seems unnecessary, though Hitchcock's decision to increase the shock of Courtney's implication with three quick cuts is interesting.

Ben Ray Redman (1896-1961) was a journalist who also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, and comedy, as well as translating French classics. He worked on the production staff at Universal Pictures for a time and had two mystery novels published under the pseudonym, Jeremy Lord. Though he wrote short stories for over 30 years, from 1920 to 1955, "The Perfect Crime" was the only one adapted for TV or film, and the version on Alfred Hitchcock Presents was its only appearance on screen. Redman committed suicide in 1961 after growing despondent over world affairs.

Starring as Charles Courtney, the great detective, is Vincent Price (1911-1993), who surely needs no introduction. He started on stage in 1934 and began appearing in film in 1938. His many great films included Laura (1944), House of Wax (1953), a series of films directed by Roger Corman in the 1960s, two Dr. Phibes films in the 1970s, and Edward Scissorhands (1990). He began to appear on TV in 1951 after many great roles on Old Time Radio in the 1930s and 1940s, and his television roles included parts on Batman (as Egghead), Night Gallery, and Michael Jackson's video for "Thriller." "The Perfect Crime" was his sole appearance on the Hitchcock show. Price later recalled that Hitchcock's only direction to his actors was to go "'faster'" and he commented that Hitchcock appeared to be asleep in his chair during the filming.

James Gregory (1911-2002) co-stars as John Gregory, the defense attorney. He started on Broadway in 1939 and served in the Navy during WWII. He appeared in films from 1948 to 1979, including Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), and was very busy on television from 1950 to 1986, including roles on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Star Trek, Night Gallery, The Night Stalker, and Barney Miller, where he was a semi-regular from 1975 to 1982. He was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents three times, including "The Cream of the Jest."

The rest of the actors in this episode all have very small parts:
  • Gavin Gordon (1901-1983) as Ernest West, who is murdered by his wife in a silent flashback; he was on screen from 1929 to 1968 and appeared in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Hitchcock's Notorious (1946). He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Crack of Doom."
Gavin Gordon
  • Marianne Stewart (1922-1992) as Alice West, the murderer; she was onscreen from 1940 to 1965 and this was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • Mark Dana (1920-2015) as Harrington, whom we see covering up Alice West's footprints after the murder; he was on screen from 1953 to 1993 and he was also seen on Alfred Hitchcock Presents in "The Big Switch."
  • Charles Webster (1906-1983) as the older reporter at the end; he was on screen from 1949 to 1966 and this was his only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
  • John Zaremba (1908-1986) as the photographer at the end; a reporter-turned-actor, he was on screen from 1944 to 1986. He was a regular on I Led Three Lives (1955-1956) and appeared on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and Batman. This was the first of his 11 appearances on the Hitchcock show; he was also in "The Kind Waitress."
John Zaremba
  • Nick Nicholson (1918-1993) as the younger reporter at the end; he was on TV from 1957 to 1965 and this was his only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He played Corny Cob and Clarabelle the Clown on The Howdy Doody Show and later created The Newlywed Game.
Nick Nicholson
  • Therese Lyon (1887-1975) as the housekeeper who discovers West's body; she was on screen from 1945 to 1962 and appeared on The Twilight Zone. This was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Therese Lyon

Read "The Perfect Crime" for free online here. Order the DVD here or watch it for free online here. Read the Genre Snaps review of this episode here.

"Biographical Notes." The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, p. 810.
The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: a Life in Darkness and Light. Regan Books, 2003.
"The Perfect Crime (1957): Alfred Hitchcock Presents... Vincent Price!" The Sound of Vincent Price, 20 Oct. 2017,
"The Perfect Crime." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 3, CBS, 20 Oct. 1957.
Redman, Ben Ray. "The Perfect Crime." The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, Houghton Mifflin, 2000, pp. 162–177.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: The Return of the Hero starring Jacques Bergerac!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 172: May 1976

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 190

"The Tiger and the Terrier"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Gentleman G.I."
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by E.R. Cruz

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are sent out to find a hidden radar tower that's been playing havoc with our flyboys. Only problem is that Commander Jeb is ordered not to engage in battle with  enemy tanks. Search and destroy the tower only! Of course, that rankles the hotheads who sit in the bowels of the Haunted Tank and they take their shots anyway when the time comes. Turns out for the best since the C.O. who gave the "No Engage" orders is sitting under the wreckage of his own tin can and could use some extra help. Tiger blasted to hell, the boys find the radar station and radio coordinates to the Allied aces. One super secret Nazi radar tower less to worry about.

"The Tiger and the Terrier"
"The Tiger and the Terrier" is not a bad Haunted Tank episode (especially considering how rotten the last batch have been) if you can squint and ignore Glanzman's doodling. And, yes, there are some real eye-rollers as in all of Big Bob's series scripts (yet again, we see the Haunted Tank "jump" onto another tank from a mountain top and survive), but I chose to turn my head a bit and ignore the howlers. Early in the story, Attila the Hun's ghost is introduced (battling the General in the sky), but nothing comes of it and Attila is dumped without fanfare. Another Kanigher trope that's flirted with is the "split screen" effect where the same occurrence is happening on both sides of the war. Luckily, that's dropped quickly as well and we can settle into a decent action thriller.

"The Gentleman G.I." is a funny change of pace about a soldier who insists on having his tailor send him a spiffy suit. His comrades make light of the sparkly duds but, in the end, it saves lives. Who would have thought Murray Boltinoff (under his pen name of Wesley Marsh) had such a genuinely delightful script stored up inside him? After reading way too many bad Boltinoff stories, I sure didn't.  E.R. Cruz's art is gorgeous, by the way.

"The Gentleman G.I."

Jack: "The Tiger and the Terrier" starts off with Kanigher's parallel structure but soon abandons the German point of view for an interesting look at Jeb obeying orders while resisting the temptation to engage the enemy. In the end, another outlandish battle somewhat spoils a promising story. Glanzman's art would be acceptable in a late '30s/early '40s primitive DC book but by 1976 it was well below average. "The Gentleman G.I.," on the other hand, features smooth art by E.R. Cruz and an unexpected and satisfying climax.

Our Army at War 292

"A Lesson in Blood"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Redondo

"Final Performance"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: In the southern Italian town of Reggio, a courageous young teacher stands up to the Nazis and refuses to tell her students that the invaders are their friends. For her trouble, she is marched out of town and shot dead in front of the children. Rock and the men of Easy Co. happen upon the aftermath of this scene and take a detour from their patrol to visit Reggio and give the Nazis "A Lesson in Blood."

"A Lesson in Blood"
Once in the town, most of Rock's men are wounded by shots from hidden Nazi snipers. It's up to Wild Man and 4-Eyes to keep the Nazis occupied with little acts of sabotage until reinforcements arrive. They manage to create such mayhem that the Nazis are driven from Reggio and Easy Co. can walk out of town unmolested, their mission of vengeance complete.

I quite liked this story, which has echoes of earlier and better Sgt. Rock stories but which chooses to focus on two underused characters for much of its length. I don't recall 4-Eyes being featured in a very long time, while Wild Man always seems to be hanging around the panels due to his distinctive red hair and mustache. I like that Rock and his men seem to be working their way up through Italy in recent issues; it gives the stories some continuity. Kubert's cover is great but it illustrates a scene not found in the story.

"Final Performance"
Jewish musicians at a Nazi concentration camp must play as new arrivals are marched to the gas chambers. When word of the Allied landing makes its way to the camp, the Jews are hopeful but that hope soon dims as they are slaughtered wholesale in a Nazi attempt to cover up crimes. Last to survive are the musicians, who are ordered to give a "Final Performance" as the Nazis vacate the camp. Knowing they will be killed at the end, the musicians rush at the Nazis and are shot dead, but their efforts keep the enemy on site long enough for Allied tanks to begin shelling and wipe out the monsters.

It must be the influence of Blitzkrieg, but Kanigher's stories are taking a very dark and powerful turn of late. This one is so strong and so horrible that Ric Estrada's art can't diminish the power of the storytelling. There is no last minute rescue and no letup in the darkness here; the situation is presented in a straightforward manner that is more adult than we're used to seeing. I think it's outstanding.

Peter: After a stirring opening, "A Lesson in Blood" descends into the usual Rock fare. A handful of guys against half the Nazi army but we know the good guys always come out on top. "Final Performance" is much better, which pleases me to no end since Kanigher's "Gallery of War" stories of late had been weak. I'm warming to Ric Estrada's art as well. He's not my cup of tea (see E.R. Cruz or Gerry Talaoc for my brand), but I'm getting used to his cartoony style.

Star Spangled War Stories 199

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"
Story by David Michelinie
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Killing Machine"
Story by David Michelinie and Steve Skeates
Art by Tenny Henson

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is trying to clear his good name after the incidents last issue have Washington convinced he's gone rogue and now fights for Germany. But who can the Army brass send after their number one spy and assassin? None other than the gorgeous Mademoiselle Marie and her French freedom fighters! Marie uses her ultra-cute nose to sniff our hero out of a crowd and tries to gun him down. The Soldier talks Marie into accompanying him to the residence of Sgt. Schepke, the only man on Earth who can prove US is an innocent man. Unfortunately, the crew get to Schepke's precisely ten seconds too late. After hearing he's to be given a dishonorable discharge for his part in the Soldier's deception (again, last issue), Schepke put a bullet in his own brain.

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"

There's no denying that "The Crime of Sgt. Schepke" is wall-to-wall action and excitement but I have to say that, like last issue's opening chapter, the script is simply too contrived to be believable. You get used to this silliness in the Kanigher strips starring Johnny Cloud and Gunner and Sarge but David Michelinie's Unknown Soldier has been blissfully free, for the most part, of manufactured suspense up to now. How could the brass be convinced US has turned on a dime when he's risked his life so many times? Never mind that; you'd think the Army would at least want him captured alive to prove he's a traitor. They've got a hell of a lot of time and money invested in this weapon. Let's see if David can rescue this arc next issue. I'll give him a chance to clear his name.

"The Crime of Sgt. Schepke"

"Killing Machine"
Bernson and Mitchell have created the TDM, the perfect "Killing Machine," but the craft needs a human brain to run it. The Army asks the two men to sacrifice their bodies and become the machines. Bernson and Mitchell agree and the X-11 (Bernson) and X-12 (Mitchell) are launched. The weapons do a great job until the "other side" devises something akin to the TDM and the enemies wipe each other out, leaving Bernson's machine alone in the world. As he moves across the scorched earth, another machine rolls into view and fires on Bernson. Defending himself, X-11 blasts the other machine to bits, not knowing it was the X-12.

Rarely is the back-up story better than the lead (especially when you're talking about the Unknown Soldier), but "Killing Machine" is a nice short with an ironic twist and not much in the way of preaching. I would have preferred if editor Joe Orlando had assigned a professional artist rather than a guy who's probably used to drawing Hostess Twinkie ads.

"Killing Machine"

Jack: And just like that, Mlle. Marie is back, just as if she never left, well aware of the Unknown Soldier and his mission. She does manage to identify the Unknown Soldier in his mask right away, whereas Nazi after Nazi never noticed that he was the only guy on the scene not breaking a sweat. A quick look at the GCD suggests that we have not seen our favorite French cupcake since 1968, so I say: Welcome Back! Not so welcome is the tedious science fiction of "Killing Machine."


Here's how our favorite war titles did in 1975 We're suckers for lots of trivial data, so we've included the sales reports for the three previous years as well. Based on the figures, Jack Kirby's stint on Our Fighting Forces could be labeled a disaster and the Haunted Tank clearly is not winning over new fans. In fact, the only title holding its own is Star Spangled, perhaps because it's such a well-written book. At least we like to assume that.

                                                        1975        1974        1973         1972                     
G.I. Combat                                    135,000   168,042   161,702    170,557       
Our Army at War                            152,000   178,134   163,221    165,021 
Our Fighting Forces                       112,000    161,417    147,968    156,524   
Star Spangled War Stories             145,000    144,765    144,292    154,716 
Weird War Tales                             136,000       -                 -                -

Amazing Spider-Man                     273,773    288,232   273,204     288,379 
Batman                                           154,000    193,223   200,574     185,283   
Superman                                       296,000    285,634    240,558     252,317     

Next Week...
We'll find out if
three witches are
better than one!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 51

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 36
February 1953 Part I

 Adventures Into Terror #16

"The Man with the Net" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Tales of the Zombie #3)
"My Name is Death!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Kull the Destroyer #14)
"One Must Die!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
(r: Dead of Night #5)
"The Executioner" (a: Vic Dowling & Bob Stuart) ★1/2
(r: Monster of Frankenstein #7)
"It Can't Be Done (a: Sam Kweskin) ★1/2

Toddler Tommy Worth loves butterflies but his father, Roger,  gets off on mounting the poor little buggers and what dad says goes in this household. When Roger invites the local lepidopterists over for tea and to admire his collection, the other enthusiasts deliver a bombshell: Roger is missing the giant butterfly of Argentina so his collection remains impressive rather than awe-inducing. Roger delivers a couple of frustrating blows to the side of his son's head and hops a freighter to Argentina to net himself a mint-condition realmente grande polilla! But, since this is the Atlas universe, Roger finds himself on the receiving end of the stick pin when he stumbles across the fabled butterfly. Some genuinely effective art by DiPreta is lost on this five-page cliche; from the prototypical abusive father to the laughable and predictable finish (how do butterflies stick pins into a board if they have no fingers?), "The Man with the Net" is one dumb story.

Sigmund Graasp is the king's number one... well, we don't know what he is, but he works for the king creating really deadly... well, somethings. Our narrator lets us know early on that Graasp is her father and she was created for evil purposes but we're kept in the dark for three pages because if we weren't, this story would be one page long. Turns out our narrator is Graasp's latest invention, the Iron Maiden. The build-up in "My Name is Death!" is pure cheat, but at least Stan handed his script over to Joe Maneely for our viewing pleasure.

The brilliant, but unattractive, Doctor Zorg, is convinced a human being will do anything, including killing its mate, to survive and his beautiful, but not very bright, wife, Millie is about to provide Zorg with the proof. The nutty professor witnesses Millie stepping out with his zoo-keeper, Jim (who crafts bombs in his spare time!), and the lovers will be fodder for Zorg's studies. That night, Millie places Jim's time-bomb under her husband's bed but the couple are surprised on their way out the door by Zorg, who tells Millie and Jim he forgives their treachery and only wants to have a final drink with them. With what can only be deemed bad judgement, Millie and her terrorist boyfriend agree to the cocktail but regret it when they awaken from a drugged state to discover Zorg has grafted the two together at the shoulder and locked them in a cell located up the mountain from Zorg's estate. A note nearby informs them that a door will soon raise and admit several hungry lions unless the newly-formed Siamese twins use a handy axe on each other in order to fit through the small hole Zorg has left for them in the cave wall. At that moment, up the hill, Jim's time bomb explodes, leaving Millie an admittedly solemn widow but she has no time for that. She's eying that axe.

The only real gem this issue, "One Must Die!" is admittedly a far-fetched loonfest (complete with privately owned gorillas and lions, and zookeepers with a penchant for bomb-building), but it's got a sleazy, delightfully repugnant aroma I just love. Ed Winiarski's scratchy graphics are perfect for the tone. I would swear I've seen that whopper of a climax before (the two lovers, shoulder to shoulder, racing for that axe) but I've read so many of these things that they all seem to blend together in my diseased (or is that deceased?) brain; is it a rip of an EC or am I reliving a childhood read in the pages of Dead of Night? Doubtless, our absorbing readers will remind me. Anyway, the plot is an ingenuous balance of timing and cheat; that bomb goes off long after our writer has dismissed Dr. Zorg from the proceedings and I was surprised he didn't make a finale appearance.

The final two stories this issue, "The Executioner" and "It Can't Be Done," are unremarkable and predictable but at least "The Executioner" offers up some nifty visuals from Dowling and Stuart (nicely detailed a la Maneely). "The Executioner" is the story of Dr. Guillotine and his famous invention and comes off like an encyclopedia entry, while "It Can't Be Done" suffers from truly awful Kweskin art and a deadly dumb twist climax.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #15

"Terror in Town" (a: George Tuska) 
"He Who Laughs Last" (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2
"Back from the Dead!" ★1/2
"The Man Who Jumped!" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 

Five years after the events transcribed in "The Vampire Maker" (AIWW #13), the townsfolk of Sobota continue to mourn the genius they murdered, Dr. Gottfried. The scientist's assistant, Kurt, is now town mayor and bodyguard for Gottfried's great accomplishment, the vampire-monster, a fanged and winged monstrosity that hunts down and kills bloodsuckers. Though the villagers are grateful for the protection the monster provides, they're not ready to throw caution to the wind and so Kurt is forced to keep the creature chained at night. When a huge lightning storm hits Sobota and several bodies are discovered, the villagers return to their bad habits and head for the barn the monster is held, torches in hand. As they near the building, the vampire-monster escapes and heads for Kurt's house. The mob bursts in and finds the creature standing over Kurt's dead body. Enraged, they ignite the small shack and watch as their protector burns. With his dying breath, the creature informs the mob that Kurt was actually a robot, created by Gottlieb, and his wiring went whacko when the storm hit, transforming him into a killing machine. A collective "Whoops!"  is sounded as a flock of vampires heads into Sobota.

Though it's just as goofy as its predecessor, "Terror in Town" isn't as fresh or entertaining. The "Kurt is really a robot" reveal is forced as is the immediate regression of the villagers to angry mob; the whole thing comes off more as a badly-executed remake than a sequel. I do like the idea of sequels in the Atlas Universe ("The Brain" and "Return of the Brain" were both fabulously goofy) and the saga of the vampire-monster surely warranted a second chapter but this ain't the chapter we wanted to see. George Tuska does a pretty good Sinnott impersonation (aside from a good script, we're also missing those dynamite Infantino graphics); there aren't too many of those annoying Tuska-isms present. Let's call this a near-miss.

Don Stewart is a practical joker and not one person around him gets the joke. That only prods Don on to bigger and better gags, like putting a spider down a friend's back. How was Don to know it was a black widow? The Jokester's life comes to an end and no one sheds a tear but Don gets the last laugh as his soul ascends to Heaven and the pearly gates. But it turns out the afterlife has a sense of humor as well. "He Who Laughs Last" takes a plot that had already been done to death (and would get several more variations in years to come), but adds an original twist, one the reader won't guess until a few panels before the climax.

"Back From the Dead" is silly nonsense about Carlton Sears, a director who tires of having Wanda Sears, his famous leading lady, "riding his coattails" so he dumps her for a younger actress. Wanda commits suicide but a call from Carlton's producer, telling the director he won't work in Hollywood again if he's not attached to Wanda, forces Carlton to beg Wanda to come "Back from the Dead." Things don't go well for Carlton's next big-budget epic. The writer is a bit vague as to the whys and wherefores of Wanda's resurrection and that only leaves us wanting when the disappointing final panel arrives. "Back From the Dead" is a winner compared to the laughable "The Man who Jumped!," about a poor dope who breaks a mirror and receives seven years of really, really bad luck. Jay Scott Pike contributes some really, really bad art.

 Astonishing #22

"The Iron Head" (a: Sid Greene) 
"The Brain" (a: Sam Kweskin) 
"The Man Who Dug Deep" (a: Sol Brodsky) ★1/2
"The Strange Power" (a: Louis Zansky) ★1/2
"Man Against Werewolf" (a: Howie Post) ★1/2

The sadistic Black Baron owns castles throughout the kingdom and reigns over them with an iron fist but now a "White Knight,"who seems to hold supernatural powers is storming the castles one by one. The Baron takes out his frustrations on his knights, who then torment their squires, and on and on down the line to the slaves, who finally break free of their bonds and revolt. When the White Knight finally reaches the castle of the Black Baron, he discovers what's left of the Baron and his knights. A meandering and disjointed mess, "The Iron Head" is, nonetheless, entertaining and winds down to a grisly climax; that final panel is about the closest an aping of Harvey horror Atlas has attempted. Much is made of the White Knight's "strange magic," but in the end he's no more than a very good warrior.

The Great Mnemo dazzles everyone with his amazing abilities. Nicknamed "The Brain," Mnemo can multiply huge numbers, memorize whole novels, and read and write about issues of Astonishing in mere seconds. But The Brain has one drawback: he loves to spend money he doesn't have. Oh, it's not done in greed or maliciously; it's just that the man cannot seem to get his bills paid. When Mnemo gets the news we all dread, that he has mere months to live, he does what any Atlas genius would do: he sells the rights to his grey matter after death in order to pay his debts. Mnemo proves just how smart he is when he sells his brain to several interested parties at the same time!

Every once in a while, a story pops up in these funny books that confounds my expectations and "The Brain" is one of those. Eschewing the usual path to tyranny and world domination, the Great Mnemo just wants to be known for his brilliance and nothing more. No political aspirations, no bank robberies, no slain wife, just a decent fella who doesn't know how to balance a checkbook. It's hard to  find fault with Sam Kweskin's art as well; it's Heath-esque (which is fitting, since Heath illustrated an earlier tale called "The Brain," a story starring a much more devious chap) and works well with the fanciful script. A light-hearted and fun deviation from the usual nastiness.

Bart Hammer is a very bitter man, but then you would be to if you were once partners with Cal Beech in an oil company. It seems as though any piece of land Cal touches turns into a oil rig and poor Bart can only watch from the sidelines with hatred in his eyes. Then Bart decides he's going to get his riches by forcing Cal into signing the oil wells over to Bart. Then Bart will kill him. Doesn't go as planned and Bart ends up accidentally killing himself. In one last act of kindness, Cal attempts to bury his one-time friend on the man's pitiful piece of property... and strikes oil! The humorous and ironic finale of "The Man Who Dug Deep" works fabulously, as does the ambiguity of the business dealings between Cal and Bart. Was Bart cheated or just a bitter old guy who opted out of the partnership too early?

Russian scientist Igor Nicoli survives a deadly dose of radiation and feels almost a sense of immortality. He can now work on perfecting the weapon that will make the USSR the most powerful nation on Earth. His doctors find Igor's new-found vigor disturbing and warn him that something will give eventually. While walking across the street, Igor is struck by a car and explodes, wiping Moscow off the map.

Surprising we don't get a "By Stan Lee" credit on this one, since "The Man" seemed to spend most of his waking hours conjuring up anti-Soviet scripts for the masses. Perhaps I'm being unfair to Mr. Lee since so many of the funny book writers were catering to the masses at the time but Stan seemed to take glee in conjuring up ironic defeats for the Evil Empire. At any rate, "The Strange Power" does contain a very ironic (and darkly humorous) denouement for the unfortunate egghead. The only dog this issue is the finale, "Man Against Werewolf," a silly quickie about a 15th Czech village that celebrates hunting werewolves. The reveal, that a werewolf family lives amongst the humans, is completely predictable and lame.

 Journey Into Mystery #5

"Fright" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Dracula Lives #1)
"Zombie!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Dracula Lives #1)
"Condemned!" (a: Carl Hubbell) 
"Innocent Bystander" (a: Dick Briefer) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #2)

Drake is a very sadistic man and, before you ask, no, he's not a plantation owner or a real estate agent or a butcher; he's just the owner and manager of Drake's Asylum, home to lots of loonies. It's not enough fun that these unfortunates are behind bars, cold and underfed, no, Drake has his inmates whipped when they've been "bad." At the same time, the funny farm director has been cruel to his wife, taking advantage of her and verbally abusing the poor thing. Well, Drake's reign doesn't last forever and as soon as the Mrs. makes a deal with Kurt, Drake's assistant, our hapless sadist finds himself drugged and behind the same bars he use to leer into. The other inmates are very happy to see him visit but Drake is filled with "Fright."

I was going to cry foul and level accusations of "homage" at writer Stan Lee but then I realized "Blind Alleys" was still two full years away from publication. Still, these poor hard-working men always seem to get short shrift in the pre-codes. Most mind-boggling is that Emma Drake would marry a dirigible like Drake and then fall in love with Kurt who, in the best Heath tradition, looks like a zombie with nothing in his eye sockets! Clearly, this is a woman who has a self-esteem problem.

Small-time hood Black Nolan is on the lam in Haiti; he pinned a burglary on Larsen back in the States and Larsen has finally tracked him down. But no average death has been planned; Larsen employed a real-life zombie to help him get revenge! But Black seems to think he brighter than his fellow shyster and he heads to the graveyard to summon up his own zombie. Things don't go well. The best that can be said about "Zombie" is that hard-working Tony DiPreta seems to make low-budget magic every time out despite his grueling schedule (only Gene Colan had pumped out more graphics for the Atlas titles by February 1953). Still, it's no wonder that this "Zombie" will be over-shadowed by another "Zombie" before the end of 1953 since this one has only bare threads of a plot.

Escaped con Lee Danton looks for a place in the city to hide oil the heat dies down and busts into the shop of an eccentric TV repairman who claims he's invented a TV that can send Danton anywhere in the world he likes. Danton shrugs and figures he might as well give it a try and finds himself teleported to the diamond caves of Africa. The perfect scene for a career hoodlum, right? Well, except that the poor dope can't find the way out. He calls the old man on a device he's been given and asks to be sent to Brazil. That works great until the headhunters spot Danton and chase him into the jungle. Hoping third time will be the charm, the con once more calls his savior and asks to be sent back home. He lands right in the electric chair he was heading for when he escaped. There's no use arguing with the lapses in logic in "Condemned!" (were there two Dantons existing at the same time as I'm sketchy  how this guy found himself back in the chair three seconds before the switch is thrown?), and the art is really cartoony (picture an Atlas tale penciled by E.C. Segar!), but the overall story is mildly humorous and entertaining enough.

In the finale, Emily Weston loves antiques and she craves the rage it brings to her rich husband when she spends every last dime he earns on those old baubles. Pushed past the brink, Eric Watson comes after his wife with a hatchet but is undone by a blow to the head from one of his servants. Later, the evening, Emily is strangled in bed by a bizarre little statue she had bought and Eric is charged with her murder. A quirky, but satisfying short-short that boasts a weak art job by the usually efficient Dick Briefer. "Innocent Bystander" was Briefer's return to Atlas horror after a two year absence (his only previous credit, "The Painted Scarf," appeared in Suspense #5 back in November 1950 -- though the GCD rumors that Briefer worked on "Terror in the Tent" in Suspense #7), but the artist's contributions will be limited to only five more Atlas pre-codes due to his work on the classic "Frankenstein" strip over at Prize.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #15

"Wanted... One Werewolf!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"Swampland" (a: Jack Keller) ★1/2
"The Unknown" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"The Big Man!" (a: Louis Zansky) 
"They Crawl By Night!" (a: Basil Wolverton) 

"Wanted... One Werewolf!" is an utterly predictable, yet charming despite (or maybe because of) its simplicity. A werewolf is stalking a rural village and the town council has put a price on its head of five grand. That brings out every bounty hunter from there to Timbuktu, all hoping to bring a werewolf pelt back in for the big bucks. Local coward, Seth, really needs the payday but he shivers in his boots at the thought of running across a lycanthrope, so he heads out into the woods with the sheriff, who turns out to be... how did you guess? DiPreta contributes his usual easy-going style of art; there's nothing ground-breaking nor, comes down to it, memorable about his style but it's got such a "comfortable" feel to it and, now and then, he could surprise.

Two toughs head out into the "Swampland" with a pirate's map plotting a course to a treasure trove of jewels and gold. When a glitch in the map forces the men to separate, they spend a grueling week fighting alligators, mosquitoes and bottomless bogs only to stumble across a worse enemy: each other. With bits of humor (these guys must have majored in cartography as the treasure map says simply "swamp" and "big tree!") and amiable graphics by Jack Keller, "Swampland" is a bit of a surprise. Though I'd question whether one week (even in dense swamp brush) would leave these guys looking like Bigfoot and The Heap.

"The Unknown" is a two-pager about an astronaut who heads into space to describe what he sees to those back on Earth but, ironically, is blinded by the sun. For a two-pager, it's good enough but I'd have appreciated more work from the Master, Joe Maneely. "The Big Man" is sadistic carny Phineas, who keeps the stars of his main act, the African pygmies, caged and hungry. When the little guys start to die out, Phineas bullies their "spokesman" to reveal the whereabouts of more pygmies in Africa. In the end, Phineas is surprised to discover he's been sold some bad intel. The ironic finale is forced and when will we see a story about a carny with a heart of gold for a change?

Poor Mike Webster is stuck in the State Insane Asylum where, every night, the crab men roam the halls. The orderlies and doctors won't pay heed to Mike's crazed illusions so it's up to our hero to find out what the crab men are up to. One night, Mike follows the giant human crustaceans down through the basement into a subterranean world where he overhears talk amongst the crabs of taking over the surface world, one asylum at a time. Mike hoofs it back to the asylum and spills his story to the staff, who promptly sedate him and put him to bed. Nearly comatose, Mike can do nothing as a monster approaches his bed, claws at the ready, and the next morning, he discovers he's become one of them. When he shuffles into the doctor's office, he discovers the entire staff are crab men!

Could you picture this story drawn by anyone other than Basil Wolverton (well, maybe Russ Heath could attempt it), whose loony landscapes and transmogrified characters were legend even in the 1950s? "They Crawl By Night" flawlessly juggles chills with chuckles GCD credits Daniel Keyes as storyteller (the same DK who would go on to work on EC and author Flowers for Algernon), which surprises me since I can't see how something like this can be written by anyone other than the guy responsible for the crazed images. Sadly, "They Crawl By Night!" would be the final nightmare contributed by Wolverton to the Atlas line (I assume the lure of Mad was just too great) but let's just be thankful the artist left us with seven gloriously goofy funny book stories that remind us just how much fun these things could be.

Marvel Tales #111

"I Can't Stop Changing!" (a: Jerry Robinson) 
"The Martian in the Kitchen!" (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★1/2
"At First Sight!" 
"Horror Under the Earth" (a: Al Eadeh) 
"The Man Who Searched for Satan!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2

In order to win the heart of Helen, the woman he loves, ugly (but brilliant) scientist Brad Torrance strives to concoct a formula that will help him change his appearance into that of one of his handsome ancestors (!). After several failed attempts, Torrance discovers the power ingredients and sees an immediate change in his looks. He phones Helen for a date and heads over to pick her up but hits a few speed bumps along the way. Every few minutes, the brilliant (but obviously flawed) egghead changes into an even older ancestor, culminating in a complete transformation into a fish. While the regression is taking place, Helen marries another man and goes fishing. She catches a really weird fish and comments to her new husband how remarkably familiar this fish looks. "Why, it reminds me of Brad!" exclaims the excited blonde.

Here's something that's been missing around these parts since, I don't know, maybe Russ Heath's "The  Brain!" and "The Return of the Brain!" double-whacko-feature: true lunacy! Brad, not a bad guy but clearly lacking manners when he shouts at his assistant, only wants what every red-blooded Atlas Universe man wants and, also like most AU characters he's got the smarts to get what he wants. It's a truly ingenious potion when you get right down to it; it not only transforms Brad into each successive step in his family's evolution, but it also provides the clothes (or loincloth, when it comes down to it). Most outrageous is when Torrance hits the King Arthur years and sports a full set of armor! No, wait, that's topped by the scientist who looks into his microscope and sees "tracks made by something that drags its belly as it crawls!" Wait, what am I thinking? What about Helen's proclamation that Brad was a sweetheart underneath, even if he was "so ugly" on the outside, while she's staring at her catch of the day? They don't write them like "I Can't Stop Changing!" anymore!

Two friends come home to find "The Martian in the Kitchen!" The ET explains that his planet is dying so he's been sent to Earth to scout for food. He's found lots of it but needs a special kind of seasoning. The two dopes deduce that the alien is talking about mustard and... they're right. The Martian then sprinkles the condiment on the duo and eats them. Pretty predictable right from the get-go but my biggest complaint would be Jack Abel's stifling inks on the usually fun and reliable Bill Benulis.

Equally short, predictable, and dismissible is "At First Sight," about a shy guy who finds true love at the beach. After some frolicking in the water, we discover that the guy is a merman and his new beau a mermaid. At least this one has some nice graphics (GCD guesses the artist may be Cal Massey and, based on Massey's previous work, that's as good a guess as any) and doesn't outstay its welcome. The final two stories aren't worth the paper they're printed on. "Horror Under the Earth" feels like a novel masquerading as a short story. It's not that the elements are any good (on the contrary...), it's just that it feels like we're missing several pages here. Al Eadah's scratchy and ugly art doesn't help. And you don't need the Stan Lee signature on the splash to know "The Man" was behind the red-bashing "The Man Who Searched for Satan!" A kindly professor roams the globe looking for the devil and finds him in... surprise, surprise, surprise... the Soviet Union.

In just two weeks...
Krigstein returns!