Monday, December 4, 2023

Batman in the 1960s Issue 11: September/October 1961


The Caped Crusader in the 1960s
by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman #142

"Batman's Robot-Guardian"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Crimes of the Ancient Mariner"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"Ruler of the Bewitched Valley"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman's friend from outer space, Tal-Dar (last seen in Detective 282), sends him a gift: a robot programmed to save his life whenever he's in danger. Realizing that this might put a crimp in his crime-fighting, Batman orders the robot to go home, but when the Dynamic Duo confront crooks stealing a shipment of gold at the Gotham Airport and one bad guy takes a shot at the not-so-Dark Knight, "Batman's Robot-Guardian" swoops in from above and blocks the bullet from reaching its target.

The next day, the robot gets in Batman's way when he and Robin are battling crooks who are trying to steal the company payroll from a steel mill. Even worse is the following morning, when the robot won't even let Batman try to stop a group of thieves from stealing a shipment of art from a warehouse because it might put his life in danger. Back at the Batcave, Batman wonders out loud if this "will eventually mean the end of our crime-fighting careers!" The following night, Batman finds a box of explosives hidden in a shed by the TNT Gang, but when the robot tries to grab the box, it explodes, and Batman appears to be dead. The robot short-circuits and falls over, only to have the real Batman emerge from the shed. He used the Batman-Robot to trick Tal-Dar's robot, thinking it would return to its home planet; instead, when it was no longer needed, it malfunctioned and no longer poses a threat.

This story presents an interesting problem, in that it demonstrates that Batman has to take risks in order to be effective in fighting crime. Having a robot nanny, which eventually would not let him cross the street for fear of being hit by a speeding car, prevents the Caped Crusader from doing the job he loves. It's good to see Tal-Dar return, since a lack of continuing characters can make these early '60s stories seem like they're not part of an ongoing narrative. The story has its silly aspects, but there's a hint of danger and thoughtfulness beneath them.

Old Mr. Stubbs has been pensioned off by Dutton Shipyards and hangs around the waterfront, bitter that he's lost his job. Tom Travis, who runs the boarding house where Stubbs lives, gives him a pet albatross named Davy Jones and tells Batman that Stubbs is known as the Ancient Mariner. The next evening, a wave of events that will come to be known as "The Crimes of the Ancient Mariner" get underway, as Batman witnesses Stubbs running off with the shipyard payroll.

The next day, Stubbs sets sail on a stolen model of an ancient Phoenician War Galley, from which the Ancient Mariner launches a giant spear with an explosive attached that damages a nearby freighter. Later that night, the Dynamic Duo locate Stubbs in his hideout and neutralize his pet albatross with a bagful of fish. Batman pulls off Stubbs's mask to reveal Tom Travis, who was impersonating the old man and committing crimes; Stubbs was tied up in a back room the whole time. Batman sets him free and leaves a smile on the old seaman's face when he tells him that he's the new ferry captain.

A terrible story with below-average art from Moldoff, this one smells like rotting fish. The ending, where Batman pulls the mask off of Travis, is the sort of twist that elicits groans and thoughts of Scooby-Doo.

Batman and Robin fly the Bat-Plane to Central America, landing near a Mayan temple in a remote valley. They are there to search for Detective Regan, who disappeared a month ago while trailing a wanted criminal. Suddenly, Tezcatlipoca, god of the Mayans, appears atop the temple, warning Bat-Hombre (as a local farmer calls him) and Robin to get lost. A giant jaguar leaps out of the tall grass and is only repelled by a powerful blast of exhaust from the Bat-Plane. When Batman and Robin approach the temple, a huge, flying serpent emerges, and they have to retreat.

Next morning, Batman and Robin sneak into the temple and discover that the jaguar and the serpent are really robots. It seems that the phony Mayan god is using the temple as a hideout for wanted crooks, several of whom tie Batman, Robin, and Detective Regan to posts atop the temple. Tezcatlipoca announces to the peasants gathered below that the trio will be sacrificed, but when the jaguar and the serpent emerge, they blow a gasket. Batman frees himself and the others and quickly mops up the criminals and the phony god. He later explains that he short-circuited the wires on the robots before he was captured, and a friendly peasant thanks him for ending the reign of terror.

It's always nice to see Batman and Robin in a new setting, and I liked that the local farmer referred to him as Bat-Hombre. The ability of crooks to build giant robots that look just like the real thing never ceases to amaze me.-Jack

Peter-Neither "Robot-Guardian" nor "Ancient Mariner" are anything above silly fluff. I love how Bats immediately figures out what the robot is up to when it issues a few beeps and snorts. "Something I said caused the robot's electronic 'memory' to record some new information." Just once, I'd like for the Boy Blunder to look over his shoulder and tell the boss he's full of crap.

I liked "Ruler of the Bewitched Valley" much more (even if it climaxes with the obligatory "the monsters were just robots that were probably more expensive than the booty the villain had hoped to gain."). Renting out an ancient Mayan temple as a BnB seems like an idea whose time has come. I'll eat my cowl if Tezcatlipoca wasn't heavily influenced by the then-recent Reptilicus movie and funny book (which I covered to the extreme in the 4th issue of the print version of this here blog).

Detective Comics #295

"The Secret of the Beast Paintings"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Martian Show-Off"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Certa

"The Curse of the Sea Hermit"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Nick Cardy

Batman receives an excited phone call from old friend (well, to be clear, he's an old friend to Bats, but we've never heard of the guy and probably will never see him again), Professor Nichols, who has stumbled across some insanely excellent find in the 'burbs of Egypt. Jumping into the Bat-plane (which is always cleared by the FAA, no matter where our heroes go), Batman and Robin jet to the "faraway rendezvous" and meet up with the excitable egghead. But this find proves to be more than just King Am-A-Toot's cigar holder or Princess Namamoka's brassiere; Nichols has found evidence that Batman lived in pre-BC Egypt!
Well, that's what we would surmise from the paintings found deep in an ancient structure, graphics depicting Bats fighting two gigantic Kaijus. One, a giant green guinea pig with a third eye on a stalk atop its head, suddenly materializes in the desert and attacks the explorers with a sizzling "disintegrating beam" emanating from its giant orb. Bats makes quick work of the thing by tying up the eye-stalk but, oddly, the creature disappears. Very soon, the other beast depicted in the comics on the wall takes its monster-brother's place, this one an orange beetle with deadly pincers. Quickly noticing that the monster has no eyes and must detect its enemies via its super-powered nostrils, Batman tosses a handy bucket of gasoline on the thing and it, too, disappears.

While this has been going on, Professor Nichols evidently thought it wiser to investigate the inner chambers of the temple and finds a third Sheldon Moldoff original on one of its moldy walls. This panel shows a scarlet-hued Batman and Robin standing before a pharaoh. Suddenly remembering an unimportant conversation our hero had with the uber-brainy Prof, Bats asks if the archaeologist happened to pack his time machine on this voyage. "Why yes! I did!" blurts out the absent-minded professor. The Dark Knight explains that the only way to get to the bottom of "The Secret of the Beast Paintings" is to go to the source, the Pharaoh himself! Disregarding the old standard that messing with the past screws up the present, the boys hop into Nichols's machine (which could double as a ride car at Disneyland) and buzz back to... whenever!

Entering the temple (which is now sparklingly new), our heroes are immediately assaulted and captured by a band of (what else?) aliens. Picture J'Onn J'Onzz with a yellow head and beak. The captain of the creatures identifies himself as Torg, from the world of Nakor, a planet far beyond our solar system, and further proclaims that he intends to invade and conquer Earth as a summer home for Nakorians. The creatures that attacked Batman in the present time were sent there to see if earthlings were easy pickings (or something like that--please don't stop to think about it) for the marauding band of space conquerors. Watching Batman battle his pets, Torg decides that humans are more clever than he suspected, so he heads back to his ship to discuss plans with his war council. (No, I don't follow the logic, either.)

While the beaked bastard is orating, Batman notices Robin hiding behind a pillar, but "the flaring end of his red jerkin is sticking out..." Torg doesn't seem to notice as he exits the chamber and Robin emerges to free his mentor. The two escape the temple and round up a group of friendly Egyptians to head back and defeat the aliens. Batman deduces that the reason Torg missed Robin is that the Nakorians don't see the color red, so he has Khau-Re, leader of the local Egyptian rumble gang, round up as much red dye as he can find. The Caped Crusaders paint themselves red and head back to the temple, where they cause quite a ruckus amongst Torg's henchmen. Realizing there's no way the Nakor Nabobs can defeat an invisible enemy, Torg packs his beaked bozos into his ship and blasts off into space. Our heroes zip back into the present and explain their crazy adventure to Professor Nichols, who admits that maybe this whole Butterfly Effect is a lot of hogwash. 

Yeah, there's the usual eye-rolling to be had in "The Secret of the Beast Paintings!" but I really enjoyed its ditzy logic and frenetic pacing. This time machine that Prof. Nichols brought along as an after-thought intrigues me. Why would any archaeologist bother digging when he has a time machine? Couldn't Nichols simply set the way-back machine for 23 B.C. and find out where all the good stuff was buried? In fact, wouldn't the gizmo fly in the face of whatever standards and practices the digger has upheld all these years? A time machine would effectively render an archaeologist unnecessary. Speaking of which, how does Nichols know what year to set his contraption to? Did the artist sign his name and date it? That Robin. Entrusted as number two to Gotham's savior, and yet the kid can't even hide behind a pillar. 

As enjoyable as the script may be, we really have to talk about Shelly's seeming inability to craft new alien designs that don't look suspiciously like the twenty that passed before them. Or perhaps the poor guy shouldn't be handed script after script of alien invasions (of course, his Gotham bad guys all look alike, too).

Patrolman Danny Jensen needs only one more arrest to nab him that coveted trip to Paris, where he'll study with the great French detective, Jacques Clouseau, but damn that Martian Manhunter for constantly butting in and nabbing the bad guys before Danny. Of course, J'Onn explains that the bad guys he's been apprehending are armed to the teeth with semi-automatics and dynamite, but the chief ain't buying it. He's had enough of "The Martian Show-Off"! Either the hero stands to the side and lets Danny get his man, or the chief will out J'Onn as a glory-hunter. J'Onn suspects something's up, so he follows Danny to a rural shack and discovers a gang of baddies holding the real Danny Jensen hostage. You see, one of the villains, Biff Stearns (!), needed a way out of the country and, with the help of some minor plastic surgery, became Danny Jensen. The free prize was the perfect escape, fingerprints be damned! The Martian Manhunter forgives the chief for his blackmailing tactics and allows Danny to collar Biff, thus winning the prize. Everybody wins... except for Biff!

Another simply dreadful chapter of DC's worst back-up feature (to be fair, I haven't read any of the other titles, so I'm just guessing but, I assure you, I will not put my theory to the test), with awful story and amateurish art. Imagine a police chief admonishing a superhero for bringing in a dangerous felon because his star beat cop can't get to one thousand arrests. Surely, there were hundreds of jaywalkers and candy store shoplifters to pad those stats.

Aquaman and Aquasquirt encounter a sea hermit who claims to have been cursed by an ancient Aztec sorcerer for daring to seek out a treasure chest. Now no one can approach the miser's ship without perishing in boiling water or octopus tentacles or being chained to a chair and forced to listen to Taylor Swift's entire oeuvre. Of course, in the end, it turns out the old hermit is actually Biff Stearns, a survivor from a recent Aquaman bust, disguised as a crusty old codger to keep the authorities off his tail. Below his ship lies an insanely elaborate set of gizmos designed to churn up the ocean. Aquaboys put the kibosh on the villain's plans and return him to jail. Broken record time... good art, lousy writing. It's amazing these tenth-rate hoods can figure out elaborate mechanisms but forget that a quiet shack in the back woods would probably attract less attention than churning boiling waters. I do love that this bad guy has set up this plot so that he and his sea pirates can wait out "the statute of limitations" on his crimes. At least he was trying to travel the straight and narrow path, eh?-Peter

Jack-My problem with Aquaman stories is that various fish escapades always have to be shoehorned in, not to mention the fact that the stories all take place in or around a body of water. It gets predictable. Unfortunately, also predictable is the mediocre quality of the J'Onn J'Onzz tales. They're at least readable, and the art meets minimum standards, something one can't always say about Atlas Comics, but the Martian Manhunter's adventures have a sameness to them that quickly gets tiresome.

That's not the case with the lead story, which I enjoyed a great deal, despite the aliens. I love stories about Ancient Egypt, so I was happy to see hieroglyphics portraying the Dynamic Duo. It only got better when they traveled back in time as if it were something we all do on a daily basis, and I liked the business with the aliens' not being able to see red.

Batman #143

"The Twice-Told Tale of Batman and Robin"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Blind Batman"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Sheldon Moldoff

"Bat-Hound and the Creature"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

After Batman and Robin succeed in capturing Nitro Joe at his mountain hideout, Dick wonders how the story might be told far in the future. A story-teller would have the Dynamic Duo flying on Batwings, rather than using Whirly-Bats, and the stool pigeon they shake down for the location of the hideout would be a small genie with the power to transform into a giant serpent.

Instead of a shack, Nitro Joe (renamed Nidor) would live in a fortress atop a glass mountain, and the big lug outside would become a giant holding a massive club. Nidor is a wicked sorcerer who conjures up the symbols of the Zodiac in living form to battle Batman and Robin. However the story is told, the result is the same, and good triumphs over evil.

It's not quite Rashomon, but "The Twice-Told Tale of Batman and Robin" does a fair job of showing how mundane events can be reinterpreted as great heroics when viewed through the lens of history. Dick is reading a book at home in the evening after Nitro Joe's capture and remarks to Bruce that "the real facts about heroes like King Arthur have been exaggerated through the ages;" this level of thoughtfulness is often absent from Batman and Robin tales.

Dr. Pneumo blows the door off the Burke Street Bank vault by pumping the vault full of compressed air. Batman and Robin arrive before the doc can escape in his pneumatic car (hovercraft), but the doc knocks Batman off his feet with a blast of compressed air. Batman hits his head in the fall and is struck blind due to an optic nerve injury! The Dynamic Duo keep this development a secret from the public, as Batman uses radar earplugs to increase his hearing to compensate for his loss of sight.

The next day, Batman and Robin confront Dr. Pneumo as he attempts to rob a factory safe. All is going well until the doc dumps a box of tinfoil; when the pieces of metal float through the air, they interfere with Batman's radar, and he is unable to get over his blindness. That night, Dr. Pneumo deduces that Batman has lost his sight so, when the doc and his gang burgle the Yang Sung Curio Shop, the Dynamic Duo respond and plunge the space into darkness to even the playing field. Once again, Dr. Pneumo knocks Batman over with a blast of compressed air. Batman and Robin follow Dr. Pneumo to his hideout, where Batman easily captures the villain; his sight returned with his second fall!

Bill Finger takes a break this time out and Arnold Drake provides a fun script for "The Blind Batman." Dr. Pneumo is yet another one-time villain whose use of compressed air leads to fun developments. The cliche about going blind with one knock to the head and regaining sight with another allows Drake to show Batman figuring out some amazing ways to hide and get around his blindness; for once, this is a story that could have gone on longer and remained enjoyable.

Batman, Robin, and Bat-Hound trail the Yates Gang to a paper mill and capture most of them, but Bat-Hound disappears after the fighting ends. The Dynamic Duo find him near an astonishing scene: state troopers are shooting at a huge, alien creature that resembles a big red and green insect. Surprisingly, Bat-Hound jumps at a trooper who is about to fire on the alien! Why is Bat-Hound protecting the creature? Batman and Robin discover a space capsule and deduce that the creature emerged small but grew gigantic when exposed to the Earth's atmosphere. It was launched as an experiment from another planet and is confused and frightened, something Bat-Hound instinctively sensed.

When the crime-fighters are captured by Lippy Yates and his gang, the alien helps to free them, and the huge creature saves their lives by holding up a trestle bridge after Yates throws a bomb and blows it up. Yates is apprehended but the bridge collapses, killing the alien creature. As the sun sets, Batman and Robin bury the creature and erect a memorial to it; Bat-Hound lies next to the pile of stones, missing his alien friend.

"Bat-Hound and the Creature" takes a surprising turn halfway through when it's revealed that the alien creature is not a threat. The ending is surprisingly downbeat, with the creature dying and being honored with a memorial. Batman 143 is an unusually good issue!-Jack

Peter-What occurs to me after reading "The Blind Batman" is that the Caped Crusader's body took quite a pounding in the 1960s. The guy was super-sized, elemental, turned into an alien, baked in a giant cake, and now rendered blind. The other thing that occurs to me while reading two of the three stories in this issue is that Bill Finger was running out of ideas. Oh, Bill could still come up with some entertaining twists now and then, but most of these scripts (especially the shorter ones in the Batman title) are drivel. The best of the three is the imaginative "Bat-Hound and the Creature," simply because it made me laugh the loudest (well, except for the ending, which was sad and not at all maudlin). My favorite part of these space operas is when either Bats or the Boy Wonder steps out on a ledge and gives a perfectly reasonable explanation for what's going on ("People on another planet must've launched the small animal on a space experiment, just as we do--and the capsule drifted through space until it landed here" says Robin, as a very patient Batman nods his head, possibly in boredom), and that theory usually holds up. Oh, and I can't get enough of Bat-Hound with a mask on. Could you imagine Frank Miller doing Batman: Year Two with the masked mongrel at our hero's side?

Detective Comics #296

"The Menace of the Planet-Master"
Story by Bill Finger (?)
Art by Jim Mooney & Charles Paris

"The Alien Bodyguard"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

"The Mystery of Demon Island!"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Nick Cardy

Holy solar system! The Dynamic Duo encounter their most dangerous and powerful foe since last issue's alien Egyptians! The Planet-Master! A villain who has designed his weapons and planned his heists around the (then) nine planets in our universe. The metal-melting fires of Mercury shoot from his wrists; he can summon the mists of Venus; make ordinary items grow to the size of Jupiter; and then there's the trick with Uranus. The guy even has multiple costumes!

Batman, using his skills as the World's Greatest Detective (and the fact that one of Planet-Master's discarded weapons actually has a manufacturer's label!), tracks the Planet-Master to the home of well-regarded genius, Professor Norbet. Waking Norbet, the Caped Crusaders climb through his bedroom window to interrogate the old timer. Norbet suggests that the Planet-Master has snuck into his lab and stolen some of the Prof's contraptions. Later, after Batman and Robin leave, the egghead opens his secret lab door and discovers the uniforms of the Planet-Master hanging right next to the Liberace outfit he wears to parties on Friday nights.

Norbet immediately calls Batman who, for some reason, happens to be hanging around a Gotham police precinct, and theorizes that the Planet-Master must be... Norbet's estranged assistant, Edward Burke, who stole some platinum from the Prof some time before. Batman tells the Prof to stay put and they'll be right there, but when the boys get there, the scientist is nowhere to be found. The Duo head to Burke's place and the ex-lab asst. admits he's been doing nothing since he was fired but reading the newspaper and listening to the radio; Bats works him over, demanding that the lazy bum hand over Professor Norbet. Burke pleads his innocence just as a bulletin screams out over the airwaves: "The Planet-Master, wearing a costume suggesting Saturn, has been seen at the Gotham Gold Refinery." Bats unhands Burke, admonishes him about the dishes in the sink and the dustballs in the living room, and hightails it, leaving Burke to scratch his chin and ponder a trip to his old boss's lab.

Batman and Robin arrive at the Gold Refinery and, sure enough, there's P-M dressed to the nines in a natty outfit resembling the sixth planet from the sun. The boys barely miss being sawed in half when P-M hurls his deadly rings. Realizing he's in a pickle, P-M nullifies gravity and propels himself through the air. Batman suggests to Robin that they head back to Norbet's to head off the master criminal. Meanwhile, at said laboratory, Burke finds the hidden closet just as Professor Norbet arrives, dressed as the Planet-Master! Burke hides and overhears Burke's expository: while opening up a meteorite, Norbet was exposed to an evil gas from another world, which overpowers his senses and makes him do bad things. Even though he has the wherewithal and time to design and manufacture nine different costumes and elaborate weapons, he also is granted full amnesia, so he doesn't even know he's a criminal by night.

Batman and Robin arrive and are, to say the least, nonplussed at the sight of the septuagenarian wearing tights. Burke takes advantage of the situation and explains to Norbet that together they can become the greatest crime force in the universe. Norbet agrees and then hurls a Saturn ring at Burke, directing Batman to take the man (who was, to be honest, a lousy lab assistant) to prison and claiming he knew nothing about his own evil deeds. Batman, becoming judge and jury on the spot, assures Norbet that he'll serve no time if he has anything to say about it. Everyone wins... except Burke!

"The Menace of the Planet-Master" is another masterpiece of excitement and lunacy, packed full of wild ideas and puzzling science facts. I love the twists and turns behind the true identity of the Planet-Master and it gives me some hope for my future that a 70+-year-old amnesiac can craft intricate toys and plots while juggling a full lab schedule. At least Bill Finger (?) addresses the age-old question, "Where does he get those fabulous toys?" when the Dark Knight discovers the Acme Criminal Weapon Plant stamp inside the P-M's "Growth-Dome." I only wish we had more pages to show us what Pluto could do.

Let's bring up a subject I usually avoid: the art. This is the first we've seen of Jim Mooney and it might just be the fact that it's an artist other than the bland and rote Sheldon Moldoff, but I really like our first look. The choreography is dynamic, the suits (as goofy as they may be) actually show a little originality, and the backgrounds are filled in with something other than a solid blue or yellow. There are things going on in these panels. I will say that the inking looks denser on pages 2, 3, 10, and 11; I'm not expert enough to say what's going on there, but it's a bold, refreshing look, and I hope we see more of it. For the sake of my sanity, if nothing else.

Once again, J'Onn J'Onnz must hide in the shadows and act as bodyguard for some poor sod, this time the gorgeous Diane Meade, who has been struck with temporary amnesia while investigating underworld boss, Biff Stearns Rocky Dawson. For some inexplicable reason, Diane's doctor thinks she should return to duty and that will jog her memory. This despite the fact, as J'Onn notes, Diane has forgotten everything she's learned about the judicial system and its practices. No red flags here! 

So now the Martian Manhunter must follow the beautiful blonde around the city and save her as she wanders from one calamity to another. Eventually, Diane finds herself wandering by the van where Rocky Dawson bases his multi-million-dollar crime empire and, just as J'Onn is about to save her, a huge fire engulfs a nearby building and drains the Martian Manhunter of his powers. The alien hero must dig his way underground, setting off still more gas fires and destroying a vast number of water pipes before emerging through the flooring of Dawson's crime wagon and saving the day. Suddenly, Diane's memory comes back, just as John Jones walks the bad guys to prison. Diane is justifiably furious that she missed the collar. Jack brought up in our last visit how the Martian Manhunter does very little besides spin and hide. I agree. In fact, how did this dope get his reputation as a hero when he gives all the credit to everyone else? There's being a nice guy and then there's being a wallflower. You only hope that when the Martian Mutilator starts to dig, he's not under a hospital that just might need electricity and running water.

Aquaman and AquaKid come to the aid of some dim-witted coastal residents who are being forced to donate their valuables to a sea demon who lounges atop a huge sea horse and holds a trident that shoots bolts of electricity. In the end, Aquaman unmasks the demon as a con man, taking advantage of the village idiots. I'm not sure why, but every time the boys encounter a semi-sorta-supernatural force, Aquatoddler swallows the mirage hook, line, and sinker, despite the fact that in 97.5% of all their adventures (based on exhaustive research conducted by yours truly, the hardest-working comics scholar in the industry), the demons are unmasked as crafty hoods with a lot of extra money lying around to pay for elaborate special effects. If I were Aquaman, the next time Aquakid says something along the lines of "Hey boss, it's all true, this really is the ghost of Davey Jones!" I'd backhand the twerp. Shelly could learn something from Jack Miller (?)'s creature design.-Peter

Jack-The Aquaman story was a bit better than the one in the last issue, though not by much. I like Cardy's art, but these stories suffer from the problem of everyone being fooled by masks and "underwater cycles" (whatever they are) that look remarkably like demons and seahorses. The Martian Manhunter story is silly; here, the patrolwoman gets amnesia after a blow to the head, unlike Batman, who suffered blindness. Lucky for her, her memory returns without a second blow.

I agree about the promise of the Batman story, due to the arrival of Jim Mooney. The cover is penciled by Dick Dillin, who will eventually draw Justice League of America for years and years, and it looks more exciting than any of the many Moldoff covers we've seen.

Next Week...
Mort Drucker invites you into...
The Locked Room!

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

by Jack Seabrook

I have a long ago memory of being taken by my father to a grindhouse in Downtown Newark to see a double feature of It! with Roddy McDowall and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. It must have been 1969 or 1970, which means I was six or seven years old, and I vaguely recall a few scenes from both movies. I also recall being so frightened that I had nightmares for a month.

It! recently showed up on TV one evening and I was able to catch bits and pieces of it. It was more silly than scary, so when the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon IV came along, it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the other film from that double bill of over 50 years ago to see how it holds up. Fortunately, my local library had a Blu-ray of the Dracula film, so watching it again after all this time was easy.

The opening credits certainly set things up well, with blood dripping down the screen and a loud, orchestral score setting the mood. A dead woman is discovered hanging upside down inside a bell in a church tower in the opening scene; of course, she has two puncture wounds in her neck and there's a trail of blood, so you-know-who has been at it again.

A year later, a Catholic priest, depressed because no one comes to mass anymore (shades of 2023!), receives a visit from a monsignor, who questions the local pubgoers as to why they've stopped showing up. Learning that it's due to their fear of nearby Castle Dracula, the plucky monsignor grabs a large, metal cross and drags the parish priest along with him on a journey up a rocky mountain to the castle. The priest bails halfway up and, while the monsignor is attaching the cross to the castle's front door, the dopey priest manages to fall, tumble down among some rocks, and sustain a cut on his head. Dracula happens to be frozen in ice right nearby, having ended up there at the end of his last flick (Dracula: Price of Darkness) and, not surprisingly, blood from the priest's head trickles through a crack in the ice and reaches the vampire's lips. Voila! In the blink of a bloodshot eye, he's up and out of the ice, all warmed up and pointing at the priest with a hypnotic stare. Uh oh.

The movie then alternates domestic scenes with darkened scenes of Dracula and the hypnotized priest getting Dracula all settled in a comfy, second-hand coffin in the basement of a pub/bakery, where Paul--a Roger Daltrey lookalike--works. His girlfriend, Maria, is a knockout blonde who is so virginal that she sleeps with a doll. She is contrasted with the earthy, busty barmaid, Zena, who wears the standard issue Hammer low-cut blouse and bends over at every opportunity. Paul is a 1960s Swinging London guy in a movie set in 1906--he proudly tells the monsignor, who happens to be Maria's uncle, that he's an atheist, which is not the best way to ingratiate himself with her family.

Zena the busty barmaid ends up being chased through the woods one night by the priest, who drives a horse and carriage; she ends up panting and heaving her bosom in front of Dracula, who quickly puts the bite on her. Unfortunately for Zena, the vampire prefers blondes to brunettes and orders her to bring Maria to him. The gorgeous Maria barely avoids being bitten in the basement, and Zena is quickly disposed of by the priest at Dracula's request, tossed unceremoniously into a fireplace in the basement bakery.

That night, Dracula pays a visit to Maria and her dolly in her room, where he bites her neck. He's back the next night for more, but this time the monsignor pops into her room, holding a cross, and it's out the window for Dracula. The monsignor gives chase but receives a fatal head wound from the priest. On his death bed sofa, the monsignor charges young Paul with protecting Maria but, since Paul is an atheist, that presents a challenge. Paul must have one of the hardest noggins in England? Germany? Transylvania?, because he recovers quickly after being bashed in the noodle with a candlestick by the priest.

Paul orders the priest to take him to Dracula, which isn't hard, since the vampire is resting in his coffin in the basement of the pub/bakery. Paul plunges a stake into the vampire's chest but, because he won't pray (he's an atheist, remember), Dracula hops up, pulls the stake out of his own chest, and throws it at Paul! This is the scene I remember from over 50 years ago--it was frightening and baffling, since Dracula usually vaporizes the moment a stake enters his thorax.

Dracula escapes to the rooftops, where Maria approaches him. Things turn baffling from here on in, as Dracula drives pell-mell through the forest in his horse and carriage, with Maria at his side, while Paul rides equally hard on a horse, looking for him. Paul rushes into the pub (a different pub?) that had been seen at the start of the film, asking if there's a castle anywhere nearby where a vampire might hang out. I had thought the pub was atop Paul's bakery and that he lived upstairs, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Anyway, Dracula makes it to his castle and has Maria remove the cross from the door and toss it over a parapet; it falls to the rocks below and lands right side up, which is key. Paul appears and struggles with Dracula, causing both to fall over the parapet. Paul is fine, but Dracula is impaled on the cross! The priest shows up and must no longer be hypnotized, since he starts praying, which finishes off the vampire. Paul and Maria live happily ever after, with Paul crossing himself at the end, and Dracula disintegrates, though the budget must not have allowed for a shot of the process, since we see Dracula impaled, there is a cut away, and then we see just his cape and the cross, implying that he has turned to dust and scattered in the breeze.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave benefits from the usual Hammer colors and supporting players, but the script is a bit weak. Christopher Lee does the staring thing that he does so well, and the action scenes are fine, though the ending is a bit rushed and rather confusing, seeming like the writer didn't know how to get all of the characters into place for the conclusion he had in mind. Still, Veronica Carlson is stunning as Maria, there are some good, bloody shots, and the 92-minute running time passes quickly. It's far from the best of the Hammer Draculas, but it's worth a look. And it's not nearly as scary as it was when I was seven years old!

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Hitchcock Project-Andrew Solt, Part Two-The Legacy [1.35]

Leora Dana as Irene Cole
by Jack Seabrook

"The Legacy" is based on a short story by Gina Kaus called "Sonderbares Liebesdrama" (roughly translated as "Strange Love Drama") that was first published in the German Vogue on November 7, 1928. It was later translated into English and collected in Return to Reality and Other Stories, a 1935 book of short fiction by Kaus, where the title was changed to "The Legacy."

The story is narrated in the first person by someone who is never given a name or a gender, though I think it is a woman. She tells of meeting the Tilgners at a summer hotel; he is young and handsome, while she seems older, more like a mother figure than a wife. He seems to be unfaithful to her and she seems to tolerate it, admitting to the narrator that his behavior is hurtful but insisting that he will always come back to her after an affair. When handsome Conte Albin Rossi arrives at the hotel and begins to pay attention to Frau Tilgner, her husband ignores it. Everyone notices as the Conte's attentions become increasingly more passionate, and Frau Tilgner is agitated by his attention.

"The Legacy" was
first published here
The narrator suggests to Frau Tilgner that she tell Conte Rossi to prove his sincerity by leaving and not endangering her marriage. When the woman tells the young Conte this, he threatens to commit suicide. That night, he shoots and kills himself. After the funeral, the narrator receives a visit from Rossi's sister, who reveals that he was an unlucky gambler who had ruined himself financially. He planned to commit suicide and staged an affair with Frau Tilgner so that his children would not know the real reason for his death.

The next day, the narrator travels by train to tell Frau Tilgner the truth and relieve her conscience, yet when she arrives at the hotel where the Tilgners are staying, she sees them walking, arm in arm. Herr Tilgner is now paying attention to his wife as never before. The narrator observes that Frau Tilgner has changed and is now "a woman who had been loved;" the experience with Rossi has made her more desirable to her husband. The narrator leaves without telling Frau Tilgner the truth and wonders if Rossi had "intended to make his inevitable death a gift to this good woman," asking, "Could I have offended against his legacy?"

Jacques Bergerac as Prince Burhan
"The Legacy" is not a crime story, but rather a love story with a twist: the narrator observes that the tragedy of Rossi's suicide has resulted in a positive change in Frau Tilgner's relationship with her husband, so she decides to leave the couple to think what she knows is untrue.

Gina Kaus (1893-1985) was born Regina Wiener in Vienna, Austria. Her first novel was published in the 1920s and she was active in literary circles in Vienna and Berlin. She moved to Paris in 1938 and began writing screenplays; in September 1939, she moved to New York, and soon to Hollywood. She began writing screenplays there in 1942 and various TV show episodes and films were also adapted from her works. This was the only Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode in which she was involved.

The screen credit for the TV version of "The Legacy" credits the teleplay to Gina Kaus and Andrew Solt and says that it is based on a story by Kaus, so perhaps Kaus wrote an initial draft of the teleplay and Solt revised it. The TV show is faithful to the short story for the most part, with some notable changes. It begins with voiceover narration by a man who is soon identified as Randy Burnside, "'the famous English author.'" The setting has been moved to Palm Beach, Florida, and a pair of characters named Cecilia Smithson and Colonel Blair have been added. They are aging gossips, and their function is to provide dialogue to replace some of the short story's narration.

Ralph Clanton as Randy Burnside
The Tilgners are now Howard and Irene Cole; Howard is a Texas oil man, who flirts openly with a beautiful, blonde film actress named Donna Dew, while Irene is heir to the Ruggles bottle cap empire, said to be wealthier than her husband. Burnside, the narrator, is at the hotel to gather material for a book about Prince Burhan, as Rossi has been renamed; the prince is said to be from India, where he was deposed in riots two years ago (there were riots in Pakistan in 1953, but none in India). Burhan drives race cars and is going to drive at Sebring Raceway, which is a couple of hours from Palm Beach, and which opened in 1950. Burhan is played by French actor Jacques Bergerac, whose accent sounds anything but Indian and who is made up with heavy, bronze makeup that fails to make his Gallic features look like those of an Indian prince.

Enid Markey as Cecilia Smithson
The TV show proceeds along the same lines as the short story, with dialogue mostly replacing narration. Instead of shooting himself at the hotel, Burhan is killed in a "mysterious car crash" that is reported in a banner headline on the front page of a newspaper. He is said to have driven his race car on a highway in the middle of the night, and when Burnside relates that the prince had threatened to kill himself the day before, everyone assumes that this is what happened.

Unlike the story, where Rossi's sister arrives at the hotel and tells the narrator the truth, in the TV show, three months pass between Burhan's death and Burnside's discovery. The writer returns to the Palm Beach resort and chats with Henri, who appeared in earlier scenes as a waiter. Henri tells Burnside that Burhan killed himself because he was broke; he lost all his money gambling and was after Irene's fortune. In the TV version, Burhan did not commit suicide after all--Henri explains that the mechanic had disconnected the brakes on his race car, not anticipating that the prince would take it out for a drive at night. In the final scene, Burnside goes to New York City to tell Irene, but chooses not to when he sees the change in her. There is even a suggestion that Irene is now the one to flirt with young men, since she mentions a young actor and asks someone to give him a break.

Alan Hewitt as
Howard Cole
The episode ends with Burnside explaining, in voiceover narration, that Burhan had given the Coles "'a precious legacy--who was I to rob them of it?'" He then looks at the camera, addresses the viewer, and asks, "'Would you have?'" The final address to the viewer by a character in the story is rare on the Hitchcock TV show.

"The Legacy" is a successful adaptation that adds new characters and uses dialogue in place of the short story's narration. The conte's suicide becomes an accident in the TV show, perhaps to placate the censors, and Burhan's motive is money, not a desire to cover up the real motive for killing himself: since he doesn't commit suicide, and never planned to, it could not be his motive for wooing Irene.

This episode is directed by James Neilson (1909-1979), who had directed thirty-three episodes of Janet Dean, Registered Nurse in the 1954-1955 television season; that show's producer was Joan Harrison, who was the associate producer of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and who probably brought Neilson along with her to her new assignment. This was the first of twelve episodes he would direct for the Hitchcock series, including Henry Slesar's "On the Nose." Neilsen worked mostly in television from 1953 to 1973 and also made movies in the late 1950s and the 1960s, often for Disney.

Walter Kingsford as
Colonel Blair
Leora Dana (1923-1983) plays Irene Cole. Her career on stage and screen lasted from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s. She won a Tony Award in 1973, appeared three times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body," and was in the 1957 film, 3:10 to Yuma.

Prince Burhan is played by the French actor Jacques Bergerac (1927-2014), who was recruited by M-G-M when he was a 25-year-old law student in Paris. He was on screen from 1954 to 1969 and appeared in Gigi (1958) as well as three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (all written by Andrew Solt) and episodes of Batman. After retiring from acting, he became an executive at Revlon.

Ralph Clanton (1914-2002) plays Randy Burnside; his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1983 and included seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "Dip in the Pool") and three episodes of Thriller.

In smaller roles:
  • Enid Markey (1894-1981) as Cecilia Smithson; she was on stage and vaudeville before embarking on a film career in 1911. She played Jane in the first film version of Tarzan of the Apes (1918) and stopped making movies in 1920, choosing instead to become a Broadway actress. She returned to the screen in 1945 and continued to act on stage and screen until 1967.
  • Alan Hewitt (1915-1986) as Howard Cole; he was on Broadway from 1935 to 1957 and on screen from 1954 to 1978. He was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Invitation to an Accident." He also played Detective Bill Brennan on 28 episodes of My Favorite Martian.
  • Walter Kingsford (1881-1958) as Colonel Blair; born Walter Pearce in England, he appeared on the London stage and then on Broadway from 1912 to 1946. His screen career lasted from 1922 to 1958, and he was in five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "John Brown's Body."
  • Roxanne Arlen (1931-1989) as Donna Dew; she was born in Detroit and later was crowned "Miss Detroit." Arlen was on screen for about fifteen years from the early 1950s until the late 1960s. There is an entertaining overview of her life and career here.
Roxanne Arlen as
Donna Dew
  • Rudolph Anders (1895-1987) as Henri, the waiter; he was born in Germany, and he emigrated to the U.S. in 1934. He was on screen from 1930 to 1976 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
Rudolph Anders

"The Legacy" aired on CBS on Sunday, May 27, 1956. Watch it online here. Order the DVD here. Thanks to Al Sjoerdsma for a copy of the short story!

*   *   *   *   *

Andrew Solt Overview:

Andrew Solt is credited as teleplay writer on three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The first was "Safe Conduct," which he wrote as an original teleplay. It is set in Europe and co-stars Jacques Bergerac. The episode is an exciting drama that deals with topical, political themes. The second was "The Legacy," which is set in a U.S. resort. Solt receives co-credit for the teleplay with Gina Kaus, who also wrote the 1928 short story that served as the basis for the TV show. Once again, Jacques Bergerac co-stars, this time as an Indian prince. The only topical, political reference is that he is said to have been deposed in riots two years ago. Finally, Solt is credited with the original story idea for "The Return of the Hero," which stars Jacques Bergerac as an injured war veteran. This episode is set in France and also concerns topical, political issues.

Solt's episodes are unusual in that they do not focus on crime or murder, but rather on relationships between people from various countries, set against the backdrop of political upheaval. It's unusual that Jacques Bergerac appeared in all three episodes, since they were the only episodes of the series in which he was featured. He played a soccer player from the Soviet bloc, a deposed Indian prince, and an injured French soldier. Not surprisingly, he is most believable as the latter.


Collection, G. V. (n.d.). German Vogue Collection: Cover, William Bolin II: Limited edition. LUMAS.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.

Hofeneder, Veronika. Der produktive Kosmos de Gina Kaus: Schriftstellerin-Padagogin-Revolutionarin. Hildesheim: Olms, 2013. 36.

Kaus, Gina. "The Legacy." Return to Reality and Other Stories. London: Cassell and Co., 1935. 100-112.

"The Legacy."  Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 1, episode 35, CBS, 27 May 1956.




Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Legacy" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "The Legacy" here!

In two weeks: Our series on Thomas Grant begins with a look at "I Can Take Care of Myself," starring Myron McCormick and Linda Lawson!

Monday, November 27, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales: Our 100th Issue! Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 85
August 1955 
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #40
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Deep Freeze" (a: Mac L. Pakula) ★★
"The Merry-Go-Round" (a: Art Peddy) ★
"Anything Can Happen!" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★★
"Xplam for Sale!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★
"Fair Exchange" (a: Bob Powell) ★★1/2

The 40th issue of Astonishing opens with the silly comedy, "The Deep Freeze," wherein meek Chauncey Little stumbles upon a business specializing in suspended animation. When he raises a ruckus with the manager and destroys the refrigeration unit, the manager reverts back to his true self, a Neanderthal Man. Yep, exactly what I was thinking. Huh? Though the humor did nothing for me, I did like the striking Mac Pakula visuals.

Jerry and Marjorie have been saving every penny for the past three years in order to get married and rent a nice apartment, and the day finally arrives when the goal has been reached. Unfortunately, that night, the store belonging to Jerry's dad is damaged in a terrible fire and the lovebirds' savings will just about pay for the repairs. Marjorie sighs and hands over the dough, but she's not a happy camper. A couple of weeks later, the couple are at the fair, and Marjorie begs Jerry for a spin on "The Merry-Go-Round." While on the ride, Jerry reaches for a brass ring and hands it to Marjorie, proclaiming it the diamond ring he can't afford. Magically, it becomes just that as one of the attraction's cherubs above smiles.

Two scientists debate the existence of parallel universes; one holds that, somewhere millions of light years away, two scientists, maybe slightly different in appearance, are debating just the same topic. The other scientist scoffs at his friend's beliefs that, on these other worlds, dinosaurs walk the same ground as man. "Millions of light years away," two dinosaurs in a laboratory debate the exact same theory. "Anything Can Happen!" is cute, soft sci-fi with a predictable but satisfying conclusion. Is it my imagination, or is the Ayers/Bache art pretty good?

Jason Fassett, local TV reporter, tries to give away five dollar bills on a street corner for a story he's working on, but he gets no takers. Astonished, he goes into a local cafe for a cup of coffee, and he's approached by a vagrant. The old man explains to Jason that "people don’t want something for nothing, they want nothing for something." To demonstrate, the old man takes his empty boxes to the same corner Jason struck out on and cries out "Xplam for Sale!" When the first customer exclaims that the box is empty, the vagrant agrees and tells the man that the box will obey its owner's command.

The old man sells out of merchandise quickly, and Jason is astounded. The old man explains that he saved the last box of Xplam for Jason, and then walks away. Jason laughs and wishes for a seven-course meal. One appears! You can almost see the gears turning behind the scenes, trying to come up with a way to fill all these funny books with scary stories that aren’t allowed to… you know, scare you. I have to say that, so far, the majority of the fantasy stories in the post-code era fall into the "charming" category and "Xplam for Sale!" certainly wears that label proudly.

As is the norm, Stan leaves the best for last. Spacemen from Earth land on an alien world in another galaxy and are immediately greeted by ape-like beings, who land nearby in a rocket ship. The friendly creatures insist on showing the trio of earthlings around their craft, and the boys from Earth notice a plethora of uranium within the ship's walls. Light bulbs shine over the heads of the spacemen when they simultaneously realize what this world might be worth if it's full of the essential element. When they reciprocate with a tour of their own ship, the boys notice that the chimps are very much taken with the hydroponic tomato garden. A quick deal is made: tomatoes for mining rights to the planet. The astronauts blast off, happy with the bargain they've stumbled into, and the apes fly away to their own planet, wondering why their new friends want to mine a barren rock.

That final panel of "Fair Exchange" rated a big smile from this hardened horror comic reader, as did Bob Powell’s striking art. Had this been six months prior, I have no doubt these astronauts would be mocking (if not murdering) their future business partners, but both parties leave the table satisfied (for now).-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #36
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Giants" (a: Paul Reinman) ★★
"Calculated Risk" (a: Mac Pakula) ★★
"Down to the Sea!" (a: Jack Katz) ★★
"Flying Saucer!" (a: Manny Stallman) ★★
"The Wonder Maker!" (a: Sid Greene) ★★

Two scientists stumble onto evidence that a giant race of men existed eons ago but was wiped out by a landslide. One of the scientists wishes he could jump in a time machine and go back to the moment the catastrophe occurred. Moments later, the egghead's brain magically zips him back to the dawn of man and he sees a group of "The Giants" approaching.

Fearful for his life, the dopey genius fires off a gun, setting off (yep!) a landslide that buries the gargantuan cavemen. "Oops," exclaims the professor, as his mind zips back into the present, "I don't think I'll be telling my colleagues about my magical experience!" A bit of a cross-pollination of two sub-genres, time traveling and prehistoric ancestors, "The Giants" is harmless but inane. The scientists simply discuss the idea of brain-wave time-travel and it happens, just like that! At least we have the reliable Paul Reinman around to visualize the hilarious results.

Mac Pakula's art is the only thing to recommend "Calculated Risk," about a government problem-solver held in a room under MP guard, who just wants to go out in the garden to get some air. It's clear, from the beginning, that our protagonist is actually a robot.

Ever since he was a child, John Bryce has found himself drawn to the sea. Throughout his life, John finds himself drifting from job to job, first as cabin boy and, eventually, as captain of his own ship. In all that time, Bryce finds himself at the mercy of the sea's anger but continually emerges from the waves unharmed. What's his secret? Well, we never do find out but "Down to the Sea!" succeeds, thanks to some gritty but effective art and a story that never becomes maudlin. This guy just really likes the water for some reason!

"Flying Saucer!" is an odd but effective short-short about UFOs landing all around the world and the panic that ensues. The narrator is an alien who's trying to calm Earth's population so that the upcoming visit from his world's emissaries won't escalate the terror. The climax is vague, and we never know whether this alien is calming our world for a friendly visit or... Seeing as how the CCA strictly forbade anything but a happy ending, I'm thrilled with the murkiness.

Inventor Alfred Jones keeps hitting on the perfect invention, but he needs capital to keep his workshop running. First, he invents a chip that will allow a car to run without fuel, but his next brainstorm will require a whole lot of cash, so he sells out to the first car company that knocks on his door. Then there's the light bulb that runs without electricity, and then the business suit that never wears out... the hits just keep on coming, and so do the checks. At long last, Alfred is set to build his dream gadget, a rocket to Mars, but the debt he incurs is astounding. So, naturally, he accepts a check from a Martian who wants the vehicle demolished, but how is Alfred supposed to get to the Bank of Mars to cash it? "The Wonder Maker!" is gloriously silly and clever but could have used better art. Alfred whines about his inability to cash the check, but never comments on the fact that Mars has the same monetary system as Earth.-Peter

Marvel Tales #137
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"Lost... One Robot" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★★1/2
"The Door That Wouldn't Stay Shut!" (a: Bob Powell) 
"King of the World" (a: Mort Drucker) ★★
"He Came from Nowhere" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"A Jinn Named Joe!" (a: John Tartaglione) ★★

Roger Farnol is the world's most brilliant man, but with knowledge comes loneliness. He has no friends, since there's no one who can talk to Roger on his level and... hey, forget about females, right? Tired of living a solitary existence, Roger builds himself a companion and, for a brief while, finds happiness.

But then, as is an egghead's wont, Roger begins to fret. His robot needs no sleep and spends the time studying his maker's vast library of big-brain material. Roger becomes jealous of the fact that he will no longer be the world's smartest guy. He plans to destroy the robot, but Roger's tinker-toy has already graduated to the level of mind-reader! What's a brilliant scientist to do? Well, the answer is a bit schmaltzy, but up until that point "Lost... One Robot" is a clever think-piece; Roger, like everyone else in his species, just can't be happy. There's always another solution just around the next test tube. The Forgione/Abel work is very good; in spots it brings to mind early Ditko.

Joe Burke's been bitching to his landlord to replace his front door for four months now, and he finally gets his wish when the apartment building's caretaker installs the new portal. But, minutes after the old man leaves, Burke discovers he's the owner of "The Door That Wouldn't Stay Shut!" Four pages about a door that loves to stay ajar, and a twist climax that'll have you groaning out loud. Yeccch. That sentiment goes for the Powell artwork, as well. As the decade wore on, Powell's graphics looked more and more plain, and drifted away from the artist's unique, early style due, I'm sure, mostly to the code's declawing of the horror artists.

Mort Drucker's art perfectly balances a very good strip in "King of the World." Ben and Lynn Marks are two orphans who grow up to be brilliant young men, pledging to do great things for mankind. Lynn treks down a different road, however, when he becomes obsessed with becoming "King of the World" and spends his entire life perfecting a formula that can derive "atomic energy from any common element. " Problem is, Lynn has run out of years. Luckily, Ben is working on a formula to reverse the aging process, and Lynn heads down to his brother's lab. When he gets there and explains his conundrum to Ben, Lynn doesn't like what the fellow scientist has to say and grabs the beaker of liquid, downing it in one shot.

Lynn begins de-aging immediately and, when he reaches early adulthood, he tells Ben to hit the brakes. Ben sadly tells his brother that the formula wasn't exactly ready to test yet, and sighs as his brother becomes a toddler. As mentioned, the art is very nice, with a kind of detail that has been missing lately in the Atlas comics. The script is a good one as well, despite being yet another rip-off of Benjamin Button, and avoids the maudlin nonsense that ruined the climax of "Lost... One Robot!"

Destitute, Jonathan Lea comes across a hungry stray dog in a snowstorm and feeds the mongrel. Afterwards, luck befalls the man and we're left wondering if the guy who wrote drivel like "He Came From Nowhere" went on to do all those Hallmark Movies of the Week. Stan again saves the best for last, though...

Rupert Daley finds himself just getting by in the world; his job's a dead end and his girl's pressuring him to make something of himself and marry her. One morning, Rupert unwittingly unleashes "A Jinn Named Joe!" from inside his shaving cream, and his whole life changes. Joe takes it upon himself to improve every aspect of Rupert's life, beginning with his job. Suddenly, Rupert's boss is commending his employee for brilliant new breakthroughs in office management and promotes him.
Unfortunately, with great success comes little spare time for Rupert's fiance, Claire, and it's not long before she dumps him. Even worse, Rupert's friends at work consider him a rat for the changes he's wrought. This Jinn thing might not be so great after all! A thoroughly charming fantasy that provides neither a happy nor a sad ending (not that downbeat climaxes were allowed in late 1955 comics), and a protagonist who only wants what we all want. The Tartaglione graphics are the best of the issue, a comedic gold mine.-Peter

Mystery Tales #32
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Bridge to Nowhere" (a: Sid Greene) 
"The Strange Seeds" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
"The Unhappy Lions!" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"The Stranger!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Factory in the Sky!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2

Two cops are surprised when a man in a sedan speeds past the toll booth on a bridge that is encased in dense fog. Less than a minute later, a detective pulls up and tells them that the driver is a wanted man! A roadblock is set up at the other end, but the car and its driver, Lefty Salter, never arrive. It seems that Lefty was known for always getting away, and this time he's driving forever on "The Bridge to Nowhere," unable to reach the other end.

Have I mentioned before how Atlas stories often have an intriguing premise but can't stick the finish? This one is no exception. Sid Greene's art is pleasantly pulpy and it's too bad the story, like the bridge, goes nowhere.

"The Strange Seeds" travel through outer space and land on a farm on Earth, but they find the planet too hostile to remain, and they head back into space. A young farm boy named Kim is unknowingly responsible for the destruction of the alien visitors, but he's just doing his daily chores. This is the same plot as "To Touch the Stars" in Mystic 38 (July 1955), except that this time it's a boy instead of a dog saving us all from invaders.

The man who washes two stone lions in front of the municipal hall every morning notices that they've changed their positions overnight. His boss, Mr. Evans, doesn't believe him. In the days that follow, the lions turn around, leave their pedestals, and finally turn up in the lions cage at the zoo. When they growl at approaching policeman, the decision is made to leave them there. "The Unhappy Lions" did not like being planted by a sidewalk and prefer to be with real lions. End of story. Hardly "A Mystery Tale to Hold You Breathless!"

Everyone in town rushes to Hank's farm just outside of town when a giant spaceship crash lands. A giant man emerges and expresses surprise at all of the tiny humans he finds. They tell the visitor that he'll have to remain a prisoner in a valley where he can't do any harm, since his ship is too big and complicated for them to fix. "The Stranger" gazes off into space and announces that he comes from a planet called--wait for it--Earth!

All of the bad writing and mediocre art in these post-code Atlas comics is teaching me something! I am learning that many of the plots of episodes of The Twilight Zone were not original, since they had been previously presented as comic book stories. Now, I don't think for a minute that the Atlas tales were original; they must have been borrowed from science fiction stories published years before. But at least it's interesting to me, who is not terribly familiar with all of the sci fi tropes of the first half of the 20th century, that those Serling shows were probably already quite familiar to fans of the genre by the time they aired.

Joe Nelson went to work for Crenshaw Manufacturing at age 12, straight out of the orphanage, and was a devoted employee for the next 48 years. He never took a vacation, and he became Harry Crenshaw's right-hand man. When Harry died of a heart attack, Joe stayed on, but the new owner, Harry's son, did not appreciate Joe's contributions. Joe agrees to leave and boards the train to go home, but the factory building uproots itself and follows its most devoted employee. Young Crenshaw begs Joe to come back, and he does; the "Factory in the Sky!" follows him back to its original location.

My favorite Atlas post-code stories seem to be the most tender ones, and this one, where Joe's devotion to his job reminds me of my decade-plus devotion to this blog, struck a chord with me. The art is fair at best, with some panels looking as if Mort Lawrence didn't bother to tighten up his pencils, yet the moderate pace of the storytelling and the way Joe's kindness is rewarded seemed like a satisfying way to end a disappointing issue.-Jack

Strange Tales #37
Cover by Sol Brodsky & Carl Burgos (?)

"A Stroke of the Pen" (a: Jack Katz & Mort Lawrence (?)) ★1/2
"The Richest Man in the World!" (a: Mort Lawrence) 
"Too Many Robots" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"Out of the Storm!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Don't Think So Loud!" (a: Art Peddy) 

Everett Corliss is a miser who spends plenty of money collecting old American relics, but who throws requests from charities in the trash. Imagine his surprise when he wakes up one morning to find a horde of reporters on his doorstep, asking him about the $1,000,000 donation he made to the Society for Liberty and Freedom for the Oppressed! Only Corliss knows that he didn't write the check--the quill pen that had belonged to a signer of the Declaration of Independence did it for him after he had gone to bed!

Jack Katz does a nice job of depicting Corliss, with an elongated head and a receding hairline, surrounded by stacks of papers and Americana. There's no character development in a four-page story, but "A Stroke of the Pen" does manage to depict a greedy man and how he sweats when confronted with unexpected generosity.

Jim Holden's plane conks out at 10,000 feet, forcing him to parachute to safety. He lands in the middle of Times Square, but everything is different. People walk on air, wear hat brims with no hats, and stuff money into his pockets. Jim soon learns that people in this parallel dimension become rich by giving money away! The pilot decides that he'll collect all the cash he can, load it on a plane, and fly back to his dimension, where he'll be "The Richest Man in the World!" Everything goes according to plan, but when he gets back and the money is inspected, everything on it is printed backwards and it's worthless!

I knew that there would be some sort of glitch, but I did not predict that one! That doesn't mean it's particularly meaningful, but at least I read the story in suspense, wondering what would go wrong for Jim. That's slightly better than many Atlas post-code stories.

Robots have taken the place of humans in tedious and dangerous jobs, and humans have reaped the benefits. When a populist revolt begins to build against the robots, a wise man named Charley Brown reminds everyone how beneficial robots are to humans. Everyone calms down and Charley walks off; no one realizes that he is a robot. In a random final panel, a man and woman walk out of a movie theater after having seen "Too Many Robots," the film that was just depicted in the prior four pages.

That ending came out of nowhere and was completely superfluous. I doubt anyone reading this story did not pick up on the fact that Charley was a robot. The art by Vic Carrabotta is not bad and, save for one panel where a character looks off, it's above average for mid-1955 Atlas.

After forty years, an Eskimo named John Oogluma is told that his services are no longer needed. He has been delivering supplies to people at a remote trading post, using his sled and dog team, but now a plane is taking their place. He moves in with his close friend Chester Martin, who runs the trading post, and both men look forward to letters from Tommy, who is the son of Chester but whom John essentially adopted and taught.

As time passes, John grows depressed. He sells off his dog team and later hears that they were killed in a fire at the kennel. A light shines when Tommy writes that he plans to visit, but darkness falls when the plane he is on crashes in a bad winter storm. Chester hears on the radio that Tommy survived but is lost in the driving snow, so he dresses to head out and look for his son, but Chester hears the sound of dogs barking and, "Out of the Storm," Tommy arrives, explaining that he was rescued by a sled and dog team that came from nowhere. John is convinced that his old team rescued the young man.

That's a lot of story to pack into five pages, but Dick Ayers does a good job with the illustrations, and the busy captions and word balloons succeed in conveying real emotions and relief when Tommy is saved. The only "strange" aspect of this tale is the miracle of the young man's rescue by the dogs that the reader knows are dead; however, the love shown by the two men for the son they share is enough to make the story meaningful and enjoyable.

Mark Dawes is a successful businessman and a cheapskate who bullies everyone he meets, yet thinks they all secretly admire him. To his surprise, he suddenly develops the ability to read minds, and wishes "Don't Think So Loud" when he discovers what others really think of him. Chastened by the experience, Mark begins to be nice and generous. He loses the ability to read minds but gains the respect of those around him. In a spaceship hovering above the Earth, purple aliens compliment themselves on the way they were able to effect a change in Mark Dawes and think that the same process might work with other humans--after all, it worked on their planet!

Another half-decent story takes a right-turn at the end! The last three panels on page five bring in the aliens to explain why Mark got and lost his mind-reading ability. Presumably, this is an effort to make this more of a "strange tale," but all it did for me was to weaken the effect of a morality play.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #34
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Look to the Sky!" (a: Jack Katz) 
"The Man Who Can Do Anything!" (a: Bob Powell) ★1/2
"The Seven Years!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Thing in the Box" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"He Saved the World!" (a: John Forte) 

Across the globe, loudspeakers carry a message from outer space: visitors are coming and will soon land at Yankee Stadium in New York City! Representatives of the government and the military wait breathlessly in the House That Ruth Built and "Look to the Sky," but when the aliens report that their ship has been struck by a meteor that caused them to crash land, no one can find them. Sadly, their breathing chamber is shattered, and the Earth's atmosphere is fatal to the tiny visitors, whose ship is so small that  it nestles in a man's footprint on the ground.

Big humans, tiny aliens? Check out "The Stranger," from this month's issue of Mystery Tales. Maybe the editors at Atlas thought no one would buy both comics and notice that the same story was being told again?

Marvin Robbins is an ordinary guy who looks a bit worn out, so his druggist gives him some pep pills. After taking two of them, Marvin becomes "The Man Who Can Do Anything!" He stops a speeding car with his bare hands, runs super-fast, and catches a falling steel girder before it harms anybody. A theatrical agent named Gordon wants to sign Marvin to a contract and make him famous, but Marvin wants no part of it. He goes home and washes the rest of the pills down the drain. The next day, he's back to his old self, a man no one notices--and Marvin likes it that way.

The highlight of this story is the art by Bob Powell, who draws dull Marvin much differently than super-Marvin. Why, Marvin becomes like Superman! Powell knows how to draw super heroes, and it shows.

Gus Moran and his pretty wife Maggie live on love with their two little boys until Gus accidentally drops and breaks a mirror. Instead of "The Seven Years!" of bad luck that this should bring, Gus hits it big with an invention he calls the Handi-Dandi All-Purpose Household Friend. The years pass and Gus grows fat and wealthy, but his happy little home is happy no more. Thinking that the broken mirror set his family on a path to unhappiness, Gus breaks another mirror and is on the road to joy once again after his broker calls to say his biggest investments are failing.

Money can't buy happiness! How original. The Winiarski art is as tired as the script. Oddly enough, Maggie remains a smokin' young blonde over the years, while Gus turns into a fat slob.

In a jungle, Dr. Arnt finds traces of an ancient civilization that was as advanced as the civilization of today! He is shocked to discover that the people were all monkeys, who used primitive humans to build cities. Dr. Arnt finds a box that contains the secret to the end of the advanced monkey race. He takes the box to a lab, where a scientist runs tests and tells Dr. Arnt that "The Thing in the Box" is uranium, which humans will be much more careful with.

Robert Q. Sale and Ed Winiarksi can fight it out for worst art in this issue. The prize for worst story probably goes to this one, though it made me wonder how far back the idea of an advanced monkey civilization went in the years prior to Planet of the Apes.

One morning, John Foster is outside, chopping wood, while his small son plays in the sandbox, nearby. John notices several large cocoons hanging from a tree and sees one split open. From inside the cocoon, a thick, gray, formless ooze emerges and begins to transform itself into various things: a tree limb, a toy shovel, a squirrel. John concludes that the ooze is an alien life form bent on destruction, so when it forms itself into a tree, he chops it down. He burns the tree in a fire, along with many of the cocoons; the rest float away into space.

On their space ship, the cocoons lament the fact that humans are so hostile and untrusting that they could not join the rest of the races in the galaxy in peace and harmony. On Earth, John tells his son that "He Saved the World!"

Despite the wooden art by John Forte, this last story in the issue contains some welcome irony at the end. The cocoons telepathically announcing that they meant well and humans blew it is something we've seen before, but the final panel, where John tells his son that he (John) is a hero, takes the story one step further and doesn't hammer the point home with the reader, who has to draw their own conclusions.-Jack

Next Week...
The Dynamic Duo vs.
Reptilicus (?)