Monday, March 18, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 151: August 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 28

"Isle of Forgotten Warriors"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Peter: Sadistic Colonel Deermont rules the Black Cat Battalion with an iron fist and its mascot, a cute little feline, with an electric collar. The Battalion comes to an island in the Pacific and wipes out the Japanese soldiers in no time. Then weird stuff starts happening: soldiers and equipment disappear. When the men are ambushed by more Japanese soldiers, the Colonel flees and comes face to face with the secret of the disappearances when he falls down a hole and awakens the size of a pea. The natives have discovered a rite that shrinks the military men down; they place them in a miniature POW camp in the middle of a moat and keep them prisoners for entertainment. Deermont discovers soldiers of different wars in the camp and quickly takes charge. When he discovers there are Japanese on another part of the miniature camp, he focuses his attention on wiping them out. When the ragtag team comes up against numbers too great to vanquish, the Colonel's men mutiny and he mows them down with a machine gun. Using a subterranean tunnel (dug by ants, which he encounters along the way), Colonel Deermont escapes but then encounters his black cat, who toys with him before putting the Colonel out of his misery.

Start to finish, "Isle of Forgotten Warriors" is one huge pile of rubbish, save the usual heroics of Alfredo Alcala. As usual with these stories, the chief antagonist, Deermont, is so sadistic it's hard to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the dopey adventure. The saga is all over the map and stocked with funny book cliches. According to the GCD, this story was originally intended to be published as an installment in the short-lived "Adventurers Club" series in Adventure Comics. It was rewritten to fit in Weird War Tales but it wouldn't have had to be altered much, since the "Adventurers Club" series was simply a narrator (Nelson Strong) relating weird tales that had happened to the members of the club. Strong would appear in bookended panels (a la Cain in House of Mystery), but would not star in the stories themselves. I haven't read the other tales in the "Adventurers Club" series but, after reading "Isle of Forgotten Warriors," I'm not sure I've missed anything.

Jack: I remember those few offbeat issues of Adventure from 1973. I think you give Alcala too much credit here, since his art isn't particularly impressive. We know early on that Lt. Deermont is a bad dude because he tortures his pet cat. Later, he shoots and kills his own men! Part three of the story veers into Incredible Shrinking Man territory, as Lt. Deermont battles giant ants. The end is a nice turnabout, as the black cat gets revenge on the soldier, but this is not much of a story.

G.I. Combat 172

"At the Mercy of My Foes!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

Story by John David Warner
Art by Dan Green

Peter: While on patrol, the Haunted Tank is damaged by a Nazi tank and the men must forage for parts before they can get back on the road. Meanwhile, over the next ridge, their old adversary, the vicious but honorable General Preiss (see issues #168 and 170), has had equal problems with the jeep he was riding in. The driver has been mortally wounded and the General is stranded. Luckily for him, a German tank rolls up to his rescue and it just happens to be commanded by his pupil, the vicious and dishonorable Helmut Kuhl. Preiss spots the Jeb Stuart on the other side of the hill and lays down a trap to catch the men. Kuhl would just as soon slaughter them but that's not the way of the honorable General. When Kuhl tries to run Gus and Jeb over with his tank and then toys with them as they dangle off a cliff, Preiss puts a bullet in his student and swears, as God is his witness, he'll kill the crew of the Haunted Tank... but in an honorable way.

"At the Mercy of My Foes!"
I'm too lazy to go through my notes to see just how honorable the good General was in his previous appearances but Archie seems to be setting him up as a quasi-good guy for future cameos. The script for "At the Mercy of My Foes!" is a mish-mosh of good and bad. I liked the little throw-away touches here and there, not designed to make a splash but to resonate: Preiss inquires as to the whereabouts of Kuhl's academy buddy, Steinmetz, to which Kuhl chillingly replies:

"Can you believe it? He actually confided to me his mother was a Jew. I had no choice but to report him. After that, it was the Gestapo's business."

But wrapped around Archie's gems is another plot that finds the Tank crippled and vulnerable but still somehow able to weather any storm. Sam Glanzman's art is horrendous; other than Gus (for obvious reasons), you can't tell one crewman from the other. You have to pay very close attention to the word balloons to decipher identities as they all look like shriveled-up corpses. Still, there are enough positives here to give it a thumb-sideways.

In the back-up, Voltag the "Conqueror" sails the English coast in search of defenseless castles to rape and pillage. Voltag gets wind of a huge castle on a cliff, and he and his men arrive to find no defenses whatsoever. When a holy man meets them at the gate to convince them to turn back, Voltag cleaves him in two and continues over the drawbridge. But when the Vikings break down the inner door, they discover piles of corpses: the castle has been struck with the plague! I'm not a fan of these war stories from ancient times but I have to admit that "Conqueror!" is a cut above the rest. The reveal is predictable but the dialogue is readable and the art is gorgeous. Dan Green renders these Vikings as strong, vicious men and the castle as a great structure; these are not cartoony doodlings, a la Ric Estrada. Green went on to be second banana to Romita and the Buscema brothers, which is a shame since he could probably have had a successful career penciling one of the Conan books, based on his work here.

Jack: I'm not sure I'd call Green's art here "gorgeous" but it is good and a heck of a step up from Sam Glanzman or Ric Estrada. The Haunted Tank story's not bad, despite the dreadful pictures; it's good to see an enemy soldier with ethics who realizes that the rabid youth he's paired with must be sacrificed for the greater good. "Conqueror!" is somewhat predictable but I like the Viking characters and the setting in the Dark Ages.

Our Army at War 271

"Brittle Harvest"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Gun"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Privates Krull and Rankin have joined Easy Co. as Sgt. Rock and his men march toward the Kroder Dam, a key spot that the Nazis plan to blow up in order to flood the valley roads around it and make the movement of heavy equipment impossible. Krull is a farmer from Maine who talks about crops, and when three unknown members of Easy Co. are killed in a land mine explosion, Krull compares the guns sticking up from the ground and marking their graves to sticks marking the sports where spinach or carrots have been planted on a farm.

"Brittle Harvest"
On their way to the dam, the men of Easy Co. happen on a Nazi patrol down in a valley, shooting at an American patrol higher up. Rock gets his men to make giant snowballs, which they roll down the hill and which then land on the Nazis, burying them. An American plane then drops bombs on the snowbound Nazis to finish them off. On the way to Kroder Dam, Easy Co. is the target of bullets from a Nazi plane, but Krull shoots it down with what looks like a grenade-launcher; he remarks that it's "easy as shootin' crows in a cornfield." Rock and his men finally reach the dam and see that the plane Krull shot down crashed into the top of the structure, creating a breach that allowed water to flow over the top and drown the Nazis below, who had been planning to blow it up. The cold winter temperatures made the water quickly freeze, leaving the Nazis planted in the ice like "some kind of weird garden," according to Rankin, and Krull calls it a "Bitter Harvest."

Well, thank goodness for Russ Heath! Now that Joe Kubert just does the covers, Heath is the best artist we've got illustrating Sgt. Rock stories. I really like this one, perhaps because Rankin and Krull don't get killed at the end, as I was certain they would. Now, that doesn't mean we'll ever see them again, but for once the new recruits are not just there to provide cannon fodder. Heath's art, of course, is superb.

Like Sam Glanzman, Ric Estrada seems best when
his panels omit human faces ("The Gun")
In North Africa, a young Nazi soldier named Hans is quite fond of his machine gun and thinks it is "invincible...and will last forever!" When American soldiers attack and battle begins, Hans is busy shooting away until his dog tags, hanging off his neck, jam "The Gun" and he is stabbed to death by one of the soldiers he shot. The only winners in this fight are the vultures that feast on the corpses in the desert sun.

There's not much to this five-pager; we know Hans will get his just desserts and Ric Estrada's art is never inspiring.

Peter: It's nice to have Heath back after a two-issue furlough but it would have been nice to drop a decent story in his lap. From eye-rolling crop-growing analogies to snow that folds like turf, this is one goofy script, bulging with such lame dialogue as: "Did y'ever think of bullets as seeds? Seeds we plant into men... that harvest nothing but death?" Sheesh. "The Gun" is better, but it doesn't elevate to the lofty heights of previous Big Bob Gallery classics such as "White Devil... Yellow Devil." Estrada's art bugs the hell out of me; it almost looks as though it was crafted on a computer. I would rather the artists had been flipped on these two stories. Give Heath the superior script and let Estrada handle the pap.

Star Spangled War Stories 181

"One Guy in the Right Place..."
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"Hell's Angels! Part One: The Hammer of Hell"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: In a direct sequel to last issue's adventure, The Unknown Soldier continues his journey to find his brother's grave. What he finds is an eerily-quiet jungle about to be invaded by Allied forces. The quiet is disturbed, though, when the soldiers hit the beach and are massacred by hidden Japanese forces. Burdened with his oversight and with the blood of dozens on his hands, US wanders through the jungle until he is discovered by a group of rebels commanded by a gorgeous little gal by the name of Maria (think pig-tailed Mme. Marie, Jack!), who tells the US that a shadow soldier is slipping through the jungle and wiping out the Japanese, leaving the calling card, "Harry Pays Back!" Since our bandaged hero's brother's name was Harry, naturally we are to assume that Harry didn't bite the dust after all but, in a nice twist after the freedom fighters have laid waste to the scummy Japanese, we discover that Maria herself left the notes to provide confidence to her rebels. Maria leads the Soldier to his brother's grave and, at last, he can make peace with himself.

Not a bad story; "One Guy in the Right Place..." is, in fact, the best US story since the Robbins/Sparling crew took office. Just as I was rolling my eyes at the suggestion of the long-dead Harry somehow surviving the blast and wandering through the jungle, never letting on to his brother of his survival, Robbins throws in a tidy twist we all should have seen coming. I do question why the brass back in Washington have no problem with their #1 secret agent taking lots of time off to soul search but if there was no path to reawakening there would be no story.

Sure looks like Kubert
to these untrained eyes!

In the match-up we knew would come some day, Rittmeister Hans von Hammer collides with "Balloon Buster," Steve Savage in part 1 of "Hell's Angels!" After a brief tussle in the sky, Savage runs out of ammo and von Hammer safely escorts him to a German airfield, where Savage is taken prisoner. But for how long? The first Enemy Ace adventure in four years is certainly not on a par with "Killer of the Skies" or the Ace's debut saga (my picks for the two best stories of 1965), but not a bad re-intro to von Hammer and the less long awaited return of Steve Savage (to be fair, Steve's short run was enjoyable as well, just not on the mythic scale of Enemy Ace), Balloon Boy (with nary a balloon in sight!). There's a major twist coming up at the climax of this three-parter, but we'll get to that in a few months. Frank Thorne's art is uncannily close to Kubert's and that's a good thing. Someone upstairs told Archie not to screw up and assign Sparling or Glanzman to this one.

Jack: The Unknown Soldier story gets off to a shaky start as US seems unable to comprehend that Japanese gunners would be guarding the beach where Allied forces were about to land, but as I read it I found myself (yet again) wanting to read a good book about WWII so that I knew more of the historical perspective. By the end, it's a good story; I like US removing his mask at his brother's grave and I like the twist with Maria turning out to be the person leaving notes in the name of the deceased brother.

The Enemy Ace story is good but, at seven pages, too short to get any real air speed going. I agree that Frank Thorne apes Kubert in a few spots (or maybe Joe was helping out?) but Frank is no Joe and his art, for the most part, strikes me as too loose and '70s-groovy for this series (see Steve Savage's tight pants). The old magic is not back yet, but there are two more stories to read.

For some reason, I feel compelled to rank the art in the four comics this month from best to worst:

Inside stories: Heath, Green, Thorne, Alcala, Sparling, Estrada, Glanzman

Covers: Kubert, Heath, Dominguez

Peter? Care to weigh in?

Peter: Oh, Jack, you know I can never ignore a challenge! Therefore:

Heath, Green, Alcala, Thorne, Sparling, Glanzman, Estrada

Next Week...
Uncle Creepy gets a companion!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock Presents-The Opportunity-J.W. Aaron Mystery Solved!

by Jack Seabrook

When I wrote about "The Opportunity" back in 2014 (see here), I was unable to find anything out about J.W. Aaron, the author who wrote the story on which the TV show was based. The FictionMags Index lists ten stories by Aaron, all published in the mystery magazines in the late 1950s:

"Pat Hand," Manhunt (April 1956)
"Death of a Tramp," Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (December 1956)
"You Can’t Beat Routine," Verdict (January 1957)
"Golden Opportunity," Manhunt (March 1957)
"Kidnap Case," Trapped Detective Story Magazine (June 1957)
"Cut-Throat World," Manhunt (October 1957)
"The Snatchers," Guilty Detective Story Magazine (November 1957)
"Blonde in the Bathtub," Trapped Detective Story Magazine (December 1957)
"To Crack a Safe," Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, (February 1958)
"Mad Dog Beware!," Manhunt (October 1959)

"Golden Opportunity" was published here
I recently heard from Bob Bjorkman, who writes:

Regarding your blog, bare-bones e-zine, Thursday, September 4, 2014.

The blog topic that day was "Golden Opportunity," written by J.W. Aaron and made into a 30-minute Alfred Hitchcock television segment. There was some discussion about who the author was. I can tell you that J.W. Aaron was a pseudonym for my father, John D. Bjorkman, who wrote several short stories during the 1950s.

I attach correspondence between H.S.D. publications and my father for "Death of a Tramp," which was published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The document identifies J.W. Aaron as John D. Bjorkman.

I queried further and received more information:

Dad was born and raised in Minneapolis. After high school, he enlisted in the army. He was in the 3rd Infantry division in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Coincidentally, James Arness, also from Minneapolis, and Audie Murphy were in the same division. After WWII he attended South Dakota State for a couple of years, then married my mother. He became an agent/ telegrapher on the Milwaukee Railroad and spent his career in small South Dakota towns along the railroad from Sioux Falls to Rapid City, while raising a family, finally retiring in 1984. He was about 35 in the picture I attach, which would have been about 1960. Which is about when he wrote the last of his short stories for the crime magazines.

Following are excerpts from his obituary:

John D. Bjorkman
Sioux Falls--John D. Bjorkman, 80, died at his home on Wednesday, October 13, 2004. John D. Bjorkman was born on May 14, 1924 in Minneapolis, to Alfred and Grace Bjorkman. After high school, in 1942, he enlisted in the United States Army, where he served as a combat infantryman and later as a military policeman. He participated in the North African campaign, the Sicilian campaign, and four amphibious landings on the Italian coast, including Anzio Beach, serving with a valor he never acknowledged in life, but for which he was awarded numerous medals, including the Bronze Star. Upon his return from the War, John attended South Dakota State College in Brookings. John was an agent and telegrapher for the Milwaukee Road in various towns in South Dakota from 1950 until his retirement in 1984. He was an ardent sports enthusiast. He coached his sons for many years in youth baseball and developed a passion for golf, which he continued to play several times each week, until two months before his death. He also authored several short stories, published under his pen name, J.W. Aaron, in magazines such as Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock and in hardcover in a compilation of best short stories. He was a member of the American Legion, VFW, and Elks.

I am grateful to Mr. Bjorkman for kindly sending along information about his father and for solving the mystery of the identity of author J.W. Aaron!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Five: One More Mile to Go [2.28]

by Jack Seabrook

F. J. Smith's short story, "One More Mile to Go," begins as an "elderly, small-town storekeeper" named Jacoby strangles his nagging wife, Edna, as she sleeps. Having planned the murder in advance, he loads his wife's body in the trunk with "a box of iron weights" and drives from his home in Edgetown toward New Orleans. He plans to sink the weighted corpse in a "deep bayou" off a "seldom used dirt road."

As he gets close to the place where he plans to turn off the highway, his reverie about having committed the perfect crime is shattered by the siren of a police car behind him. The policeman tells Jacoby that his car's taillight is out. Nervously, Jacoby chats with the highway patrolman, who suggests that he stop at Fischer's Service Station, "up the road," to have the taillight replaced. Jacoby does as instructed, giving the gas station attendant a five-dollar bill and asking him to install a new bulb. The bulb fails to work, however, and the trooper pulls into the station to buy a Coke. The policeman deduces that Jacoby's car has a "bad connection" and notices that its trunk looks "pretty loaded down." Jacoby, who owns a feed store, explains that heavy bags of fertilizer are in the trunk. The trooper suggests opening the trunk to fix the loose wire, but Jacoby, feeling "as though he were about to fall or faint," claims that he left the key to the trunk at home. The policeman tries to yank the trunk lid open but the lock holds; finally, the trooper bangs on the fender and the light goes on.

David Wayne as Jacoby
Jacoby drives off, relieved at his "remarkable deliverance from near calamity" and convinced that it was "the result of his own ingenuity." As he approaches the turnoff to the dirt road that leads to the bayou, the trooper's car approaches from behind and Jacoby again has to pull over. This time, the policeman gives him the change he neglected to take from the five-dollar bill he gave the gas station attendant. Unfortunately, the trooper notices that Jacoby's taillight is out again and suggests that Jacoby follow him "a half mile up the road" to police headquarters, where the mechanic can fix the light at no charge. Jacoby has no choice but to follow the policeman to certain discovery of his own crime.

Smith's suspenseful story is built around a situation with which any reader can identify: the feeling of fear and powerlessness that overcomes a driver when he or she is pulled over by a policeman. Usually, the infraction is minor, but here, where the driver in question harbors a terrible secret, the stakes are immeasurably higher. The reader is forced to identify with the driver, a cold-blooded murderer, and the transference of guilt is complete as the reader cannot help but root for the killer and hope he makes his escape. Ironically, despite all of Jacoby's planning, his scheme is unraveled by something as simple as a malfunctioning taillight. It is as if the universe will not allow him to succeed in committing the perfect crime.

Steve Brodie as the cop
Smith's story was published in the June 1956 issue of Manhunt and it was collected by David C. Cooke in the 12th Annual Collection of the Best Detective Stories of the Year, published in 1957. The tale was purchased for adaptation on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock chose it as one of the three episodes he would direct for the second season of the series. He was in between finishing The Wrong Man and starting Vertigo when "One More Mile to Go" was rehearsed and filmed in three days, from January 9, 1957, to January 11, 1957; the show aired on CBS on Sunday, April 7, 1957. The telefilm is a brilliant piece of work that shows the master enjoying a technical challenge and exploring themes that he would return to in Psycho.

James P. Cavanagh's script features minimal dialogue for long stretches and one wonders how many of the wordless sequences were invented by the director. The show opens with a fade-in on a view of a house in the distance, with bare trees in the foreground suggesting a winter scene that will soon be reflected in the cold relationship between the main character and his wife. A picture window on the house is the only source of light, and its placement at the center of the shot makes it resemble a movie screen at a drive-in movie. There is a dissolve and we get a closer look as the screen is filled by the multi-paned window, whose central pane is cracked--again, this suggests a fracture in the relationship behind the glass. The camera moves forward a bit but cannot penetrate the window glass, so it remains outside as the scene plays out in a room beyond the window and inside the house.

Louise Larabee as Jacoby's wife
We hear muffled voices but cannot make out words clearly, and ominous music playing on the soundtrack foreshadows dark deeds to come. A man (Jacoby) sits, reading the paper by the fireplace (the cold temperature outside hardly matches the chilly marriage portrayed inside), while a woman, presumably his wife, stands before him, berating him. She snatches the newspaper from his hands and throws it in the fire (I think I could make out her yelling, "Now you're listening!") and he stands and uses the fireplace poker to push the burning newspaper further into the hearth. The argument intensifies and the woman slaps her husband; he begins to threaten her with the poker, she steps out of the view of the camera, and he violently hits her over the head with the poker.

For the first time, the camera enters the house, as there is a cut to a close-up of Jacoby's face. What was the argument about? It does not matter--a typical battle between husband and wife has ended in sudden, angry murder. Contrast this to the short story, where Jacoby planned out the murder and strangled his wife while she slept. In Cavanagh's teleplay, Jacoby's actions seem to constitute a crime of passion, and this makes his subsequent behavior easier to identify with. The initial scene that portrays the events leading up to the murder is added to the story to establish motivation.

Norman Leavitt as Red
Jacoby confirms that his wife is dead and looks around the empty house to see if anyone witnessed his act. Seeing no one, he picks up the telephone but sees blood on his sleeve and puts the phone down. The sight of the blood on his clothing tells him that he cannot hide his own guilt and makes him change his plan. But what was his plan? Who was he going to call--the police? Did he think he could get away with murder and then change his mind when he saw the blood? We have no idea and we must try to read the thoughts and emotions on Jacoby's face because, to this point, there has been no dialogue other than what was muffled behind the window when we could not hear clearly.

Deciding to cover up his act, Jacoby uses a handkerchief to clean the blood off the poker. He also wipes off his own fingerprints, putting the poker back in its stand and throwing the handkerchief in the fire. He enters the garage (we see that his car has California license plates, so the location of the story has been moved from Louisiana), picks up a shovel, and puts it down--perhaps he thought about burying the body and then changed his mind. Unlike the Jacoby in the story, this Jacoby planned nothing in advance and is making it up as he goes along. It is a credit to Hitchcock's direction and the acting of David Wayne (as Jacoby) that we are able to understand his thoughts as he processes his options without a word of speech or even voiceover narration. There is a quick shot of his wife's dead body on the floor, and then we see Jacoby take a large sack from the garage and put her body into it. We see him pulling the sack slowly over her clothes and, with the closing of the bag, she ceases to be a person and becomes a thing to be disposed of.

The opening shot resembles a drive-in movie
Jacoby struggles to put the heavy burden in the car's trunk and throws in some heavy, metal objects to weigh it down, along with a rope and a chain. He opens the garage, gets into his car, and drives off into the night. There is a dissolve to the car driving on a lonely road (a highway sign identifies it as Route 99, a north-south highway later replaced by an interstate) and many critics have commented that the shots of Jacoby driving are similar to those of Janet Leigh driving to the Bates Motel in Psycho; both characters fear discovery of their crimes and have something with them in the car that they must keep hidden. Jacoby is pulled over by a motorcycle cop and finally the first words are spoken, approximately ten minutes into the episode. There is a nice shot where the cop examines Jacoby's license and Jacoby notices the blood on the cuff of his sleeve and rolls it up to conceal it. He is from Edgetown, though there is no such place in California and this is surely carried over from the short story.

At the gas station, Jacoby once again does something while no one else is looking, this time surreptitiously checking that the trunk is still securely locked. Rather than drinking a Coke, the cop drinks from a water fountain, perhaps because Coca-Cola was not one of the show's sponsors. There are several tight close ups of the characters' faces that allow us to get a good look at their emotions, and a look of terror comes over Jacoby's face when the cop asks the gas station attendant for a crowbar to pry open the car's trunk. As so often happens in Hitchcock's films, the viewer is fully engaged with the killer and is afraid he will be caught; the transference of guilt is strong in this scene, as we quietly pray that the cop will not find the body in the trunk. Fortunately for Jacoby, the act of trying to pry open the trunk causes the taillight to go back on, and Jacoby's face shows delight in his deliverance.

Cracked glass as metaphor for broken marriage
There are more shots of Jacoby behind the wheel as he lights and smokes a cigarette; these shots alternate with point of view shots of the road and the lake as he approaches it with the intention of submerging his wife's corpse. The cop pulls him over, the taillight fails, and the show ends with Jacoby's car pulling out to follow the cop's motorcycle to his doom, but there is one final shot--that of the car's taillight flickering on and off, evidence of the cruel fate that the killer was unable to escape.

"One More Mile to Go" is  a triumph. In his seminal article on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Steve Mamber notes the "superbly executed opening scene" and comments on the show as a whole that the "incident is suspenseful because the audience knows the hero to be in even greater danger than the law officers themselves suspect." The fact that Mamber refers to Jacoby as a "hero," even inadvertently, demonstrates how successful Hitchcock is at making the viewer identify with the criminal. Patrick McGilligan calls this episode the "season highlight" and comments that it represents a "tour de force of macabre humor and suspense..."

The author of the short story, F.J. Smith, had one other story adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("Reward to Finder," broadcast later in 1957) and the FictionMags Index lists 15 short stories that he wrote, but I have not found any biographical details about the author. The fifteen stories appeared mostly in mystery magazines between 1956 to 1960, with two more in 1966 and 1967; "One More Mile to Go" is the earliest one listed. In Patrick McGilligan's Hitchcock bio, he lists Smith as "George F.J. Smith," and this is also reflected in The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion, but I have found no other source for this added first name--both the short story in Manhunt and the onscreen credit for the television adaptation simply list the author as "F.J. Smith."

David Wayne (1914-1995) was born Wayne James McMeekan and began acting on stage in the 1930s. He started appearing in films in 1940, with a bit part in Stranger on the Third Floor, then spent time fighting in WWII before joining the Actors Studio. He first appeared on TV in 1948 and his screen career lasted until 1987. He won two Tony Awards for his stage work and was seen on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. Wayne memorably played the Mad Hatter on the Batman TV series and co-starred with Jim Hutton as Inspector Queen on the Ellery Queen TV show that ran from 1975 to 1976. He also starred in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "The Thirty-First of February."

The motorcycle cop is played by Steve Brodie (1919-1992), who played the husband in Cavanagh's "The Creeper." Born John Stevenson, Brodie was on screens big and small from 1944 to 1988 and was seen in four episodes in all of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as on Thriller and in such films as Out of the Past (1947) and Winchester '73 (1950).

Poor Louise Larabee (1916-2002) once again plays a nagging wife who is murdered by her husband; her other appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents is in a similar role as a wife who is murdered by her husband in "The Orderly World of Mr. Applebee." Born Alberta Louise Lowe, she worked briefly in film from 1935 to 1936, then pursued a stage career beginning in 1937, supplemented by roles on TV from 1951 to 1966.

Finally, Red, the gas station attendant, is played by Norman Leavitt (1913-2005), a busy character actor whose screen career stretched from 1946 to 1978 and included roles in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, such as "John Brown's Body." He was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

Watch "One More Mile to Go" for free online here or buy the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the story!

The FictionMags Index,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Mamber, Steve. The Television Films of Alfred Hitchcock.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: a Life in Darkness and Light. Regan Books, 2003.
“One More Mile to Go.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 28, CBS, 7 Apr. 1957.
Smith, F.J. “One More Mile to Go.” Manhunt, June 1956, pp. 19–26.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Nov. 2018,

In two weeks: Father and Son, starring Edmund Gwenn!

  • The podcast "Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents" continues on a monthly basis. Al Sjoerdsma from the Ann Arbor District Library dissects one episode per installment; the latest is "Breakdown." This podcast is extremely detailed and very well done.
  • Another podcast worth a listen is "Good Evening: An Alfred Hitchcock Podcast." Sisters Annie and Kathryn examine an episode every other week. This podcast is less serious and less detailed but the commentary is entertaining. The most recent episode discussed was "Murder Me Twice."

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 3: Blazing Combat! Creepy! October-December 1965

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

Creepy #5 (October 1965)

"Family Reunion!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

"Untimely Tomb!" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Sand Doom" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"The Judge's House!" 
Story by Bram Stoker
Adapted by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Grave Undertaking" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Revenge of the Beast!" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"Family Reunion!"
When Pa passes, the three Cartwright boys (not Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam... the other Cartwright boys) find themselves with a heapin' helpin' of farm land to take care of. Aaron and Horace want to continue in the footsteps of their father, who made the land pay off for him, but third brother Jack wants to dump the dump as quick as possible. When Old Man Fisk makes the three brothers an offer, a seed is planted in Jack's diseased brain and Jack murders his brother via wheat thresher. Aaron and Horace are so mangled that their remains are buried together in one casket and Jack wastes no time selling the farm to Fisk. On the night Fisk is to drive out to the farm, Jack is visited by the two-headed remains of his brothers, both understandably upset by their brother's betrayal. When Fisk arrives at the farm, he finds what remains of Jack (the brothers are a trio once again!) in the well. "Family Reunion!" is a run-of-the-mill revenge tale, the gist of which we've seen countless times before in EC, Harvey, and Atlas horror funny books. Joe Orlando does the rote script no favors, though; this is just about the weakest Orlando we've seen yet (the only exception being Joe's spooky two-headed man intro). The whole thing smacks of the Myron Fass Eerie Publications rags that were introduced (and would multiply half a decade later, thanks to the success of Warren) not too long after this issue went on sale. Cliched plots and ugly art.

"Untimely Tomb!"
Dr. Beamish has a trigger-finger when it comes to pronouncing Stanford's sister dead. When Stanford hears moaning from the family crypt, he calls Beamish and the two enter the mausoleum, only to find the girl risen from her casket and dead on the floor... this time really dead. Stanford wigs out and swears he'll ruin the good Doctor's name and, after a heated discussion, Beamish conks Stanford on the noggin, killing him. But Stanford must have been prescient since his last wishes are that he be buried in the graveyard next to the Doctor's home. Now it's time for Beamish to wig out. When he imagines hearing noises from Stanford's crypt, he investigates. Bad idea.

Though Archie may have dipped a little too much into the Poe bag for "Untimely Tomb!," it does have its share of creeps (the final panel is a keeper). It also has its share of head-scratchers. When Beamish and Stanford enter the tomb, the Doctor remarks that he certified the girl was dead so breaking the lock on the casket will do them no good. Stanford then points at the casket and remarks, "Look at the lock, doctor! It's already broken!" How the heck did little Sis manage to pick a lock that was on the outside of her coffin? Good trick, that! Angelo Torres's art is atmospheric and typifies how good the old EC artists can look, even in black and white, a decade later.

"Sand Doom"
"Sand Doom" has some incredible art by Al Williamson, but the script (about a double-crossing arms dealer who stumbles into a sand storm and the treasures of the Goddess Nepthy) is hum-drum and meandering. The same can be said about Archie's adaptation of Bram Stoker's "The Judge's House!," a quaint chiller about a man who moves into the estate of a long-dead hanging judge. The story will never be accused of being Stoker's best (there's no reasoning given for the resurrection of the Judge--it just happens), but at least Reed Crandall was assigned the job of distracting us while we turn pages. Crandall might be the one EC artist who actually got better as the decades passed.

Peach and Thwackum, two very English undertakers, are experiencing a bit of a lull in business. People have stopped dying. Enter Dr. Ryder, a surgeon who needs fresh corpses to dissect and study, with a rich proposition for the two morticians: ten pounds for each body delivered, the fresher the better. With no one coming in the door, Thwackum and Peach must visit the local graveyard for stiffs and, when a grave-digger interrupts their work, they find that murder can fill a coach just as well.

"Grave Undertaking"
When the boys get wind of a village nearby where folks are dropping like flies, they sneak into town only to discover all the residents hidden behind boarded-up windows. The graveyard is theirs to pilfer. That night, they bring their booty to Dr. Ryder, who enthusiastically gives thumbs-up until he discovers the origin of the bodies, and only has time to squeak out the word "Vampires!" before he and the two grave-robbers are surrounded. Of all the stories presented so far, "Grave Undertaking" has the closest feel to an EC story, with its grave-robbing premise, its clever twist and, most of all, its exquisite art. Toth's design, shading, and angles are all top-notch, giving the story the kind of flair found in noir films.

If "Grave Undertaking" reminds one of EC, then the silly Native-American-revenge/monster-thriller, "Revenge of the Beast!," brings to mind the softer, code-approved pablum found in the Charlton horror titles. I appreciated the wild west setting but Gray Morrow's work almost seems lost in too much whites (though his final panel of battling werewolves is a stunner). On the letters page, a 17-year-old Bernie Wrightson begs for more full-length Frazetta just a few years before he'd start down a path that would see him become just as respected and imitated as Frazetta himself. And, for the first time, readers could join the Uncle Creepy Fan Club for the princely sum of a buck. That pittance would grant you a lifetime membership and you would receive a pin, membership card, and a portrait of Uncle Creepy, painted by Frank Frazetta. Sign me up! -Peter

Jack: I'm a bit worried that Creepy is already this bad after only five issues. "The Judge's House!" is the only story that was even close to interesting, and it was an adaptation from Stoker. Poor Archie Goodwin was overworked and underpaid and the repetitive tales bear that out. One question: with all this great art, why put the Joe Orlando story first in the issue? It's easily the worst drawn. I'm with Peter on loving the pages by Toth, but the surrounding stories feature some pretty fine art as well. If only the writing held up.

Blazing Combat #1 (October 1965)

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"Flying Tigers!"★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by George Evans

"Long View!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Mad Anthony!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Tex Blaisdell, Russ Jones, & Maurice Whitman

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Severin

"Viet Cong!"
First Lieutenant Dave Crew is in Vietnam as a U.S. Army advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion. They retaliate for a "Viet-Cong!" attack by raiding a village controlled by the enemy; though they find two men hiding and the South Vietnamese torture them, nothing is learned. It's hot and smelly in the jungle and Dave is not happy about having to stand by and witness torture, but all he can do is advise. He avoids mortars, bamboo spikes, a mine, and a charge by enemy soldiers and realizes that this is a new kid of war, unlike any the U.S. has fought before. He hopes we learn from our mistakes before it's too late.

In October 1965, the U.S. was getting bogged down in Vietnam but it was still early days, and the population as a whole had not yet started to engage in mass resistance and protests. DC War Comics were focused on WWII and, while the comics that month were very good (see our review here), they were not taking the same anti-war perspective that this first story in Blazing Combat asserts. Goodwin is no Harvey Kurtzman, and Joe Orlando is still not my first choice for anything, but the story is ahead of its time.

During the Civil War, a rebel sharpshooter picks off a Union soldier and then helps the dead man's comrade bury the body so wild pigs don't feast on it. The two enemies become friends temporarily in the "Aftermath!" of violence, but it's not long before an argument breaks out and they end up killing each other, providing plenty of food for the marauding animals.

Torres is just right for this very EC-like story of the foolishness of war. At first, it seems to be going down one path, with the soldiers getting along, but I liked how the disagreement between them sprang almost from nothing and escalated quickly to a fatal finish. So far, Goodwin's war stories are impressing me more than his horror stories.

"Flying Tigers!"
The "Flying Tigers!" were a group of star American pilots recruited to defend the Chinese against the invading Japanese on the eve of WWII. The brainchild of General Claire Chennault, the Tigers engage the enemy successfully in air battle, but a pilot named Dallas complains that the people in charge are more concerned with shipping supplies than with sending spare parts to fix damaged aircraft. When Dallas is killed in a battle whose goal is to protect a supply plane, his friend Rick complains about the futility of war, but it turns out the supply plane that was saved carried none other than General Chennault!

I do like when a comic book story inspires me to go online and learn a little bit more about history, as this one did. George Evans's art is flawless, and he is the go-to guy for stories involving air battle, whether they are in the 1950s at EC, the 1960s at Warren, or the 1970s at DC. I'm happy to report that the decline in his work we are seeing in the '70s is not apparent as of 1965.

"Long View!"
It's hard to take the "Long View!" of war when you're on the front lines of battle. During WWII, the battle for the Marianas comes down to Hill 208, which a tired company of Marines is ordered to take on its own, despite heavy Japanese resistance. This hill is the key to breaking through enemy lines and, when battle comes, all of the Marines in the company are killed except for one, who sits alone on the hill, mumbling the names of his dead comrades, unable to see how this senseless slaughter helped advance the Allied cause.

More so than "Viet-Cong!," this story reminds me of something Kurtzman might have written at EC during the Korean War. Gray Morrow's art doesn't feel exactly right for a war story, but the narrative is strong and the message is clear. The fighting is depicted more violently than it was at DC in the fall of 1965.

American soldiers like George and Kansas arrived in France in June 1917 but didn't see combat for almost a year. While digging trenches outside "Cantigny!" they are summoned to attack Germans in the village. They make their way through fog and smoke, following a French tank into Cantigny, but all they find is a town that has been destroyed by shelling. Looking for a quiet spot to write a letter home, Kansas wanders into a gutted building and comes face to face with an injured German soldier. The two trade fatal gunshots and, later, George takes Kansas's letter book in order to complete the letter his dead friend never got to write.


Every story Reed Crandall draws is a treat, and this is no exception. There is a wonderful sequence where Kansas is nearly buried under a pile of dirt after an explosion that foreshadows his death a few pages later. Once again, Goodwin successfully conveys the futility of war and the way it never seems to go as planned.

"Mad Anthony!"
A 1771 battle between the Colonists and the British at Paoli, Pennsylvania, turns into a rout when the British massacre the Colonists. The young general in charge of the losing side was none other than "Mad Anthony!" Wayne who, two years later, is summoned to New York by General Washington to attack the British at Stony Point. One of the soldiers on patrol comments that a British soldier attacked him after the Colonists had surrendered and cost him his right eye. The Colonists attack the British and this time are successful. The soldier who lost his eye at Paoli happens to come face to face with the British soldier who took out his eye; General Wayne insists that prisoners be taken alive, and is lauded for that, but no one said anything about foregoing an eye for an eye!

The art by the trio of Blaisdell, Jones, and Whitman looks out of place in this issue next to the work of Torres, Evans, Morrow, and Crandall, but somehow by the end of the story it works, perhaps because we've grown used to tales of the American Revolution being told in an old-fashioned way. The story is entertaining and the revenge carefully measured out. At five pages, it's the shortest story in the magazine ("Viet-Cong!" and "Enemy!" are seven pages and the others all run six), and the length seems just right for the content.

It's 1943, and the American Army is working its way up through Italy as the Nazis retreat. In one village, G.I.s find that Germans massacred an American patrol by herding them into a ditch and shooting them where they stood. As the G.I.s search the village, sniper fire opens up and soldiers are shot. A sergeant and another soldier locate the German sniper and the sergeant beats him to death, thinking the German was involved in the earlier massacre of American soldiers. The other soldier tells the sergeant he's as guilty as the Germans, but the sergeant is unrepentant and says that no one cares what happens to the "Enemy!" The Americans leave the German's corpse behind, and atop its chest is a wallet, open to a photo of the man's wife and baby.

That last panel really got me in the gut! John Severin is certainly among the best artists at drawing war stories--he can draw battle action and pathos equally well. I thought this gritty tale was the best of the bunch in an excellent issue and I'm looking forward to reading more Blazing Combat!-Jack

Peter: In the Jon Cooke/David Roach-edited The Warren Companion (TwoMorrows, 2001, page 40), Jim Warren declares that he was prouder of Blazing Combat than anything else he had ever published. It was ground-breaking; the first comics title to tackle the Vietnam war when it was a big no-no to do so. Warren also reveals that the short run of the title had to do with distributors cutting the title out due to its controversial view that our involvement in the war was wrong. Given that it's the pride of the publisher and under the watchful eye of super-editor Archie Goodwin, I'm surprised at how cold it left me. Archie does his best to get the "War is Hell" message across in each and every one of the seven tales but, to me, it comes off as preachy, something that Harvey avoided most of the time in Frontline and Two-Fisted. Only "Aftermath!" and, to a lesser extent, "Enemy!" come across as well-told tales that just happen to be about the horror and futility of war. It's nice to see that Archie was able to round up several of the Two-Fisted/Frontline gang, but perhaps what's needed is a bit of a helping hand in the script department. Don't get me wrong; my disappointment comes in comparing Blazing to the earlier EC titles. It's still miles above most of the pablum that was being presented by DC and the other code-approved publishers. Let's see how things shape up next issue.

Creepy #6 (December 1965)

"The Thing in the Pit!" ★1/2
Story by Larry Ivie
Art by Gray Morrow

"Thumbs Down!" 
Story by Anne T. Murphy
Art by Al Williamson

"Adam Link in Business!" 
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Cask of Amontillado!" 
Story by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"The Stalkers" 
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Abominable Snowman!" 
Story by Bill Pearson
Art by John Severin

"Gargoyle" ★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin & Roy Krenkel
Art by Angelo Torres

"The Thing in the Pit!"
Ted White is on the run; he's just stolen a bag of cash from the boss's safe and he's speeding down a Tennessee backwoods road when he loses control of his car and crashes. Someone (or something) lifts him out of the car and carries Ted back to its lair. There, Ted is introduced to his saviors, a grotesquely mutated woman and her equally-skewed son, who invite the frazzled man to stay the night. Once he gets settled into his room, Ted hears a piercing scream emanating from the basement and is told by the woman that the sound came from her daughter, a girl so frighteningly ugly she's been kept in a pit in the cellar. Obsessed with viewing this unspeakable sight, Ted follows the woman's son down into the basement and is startled to see that "The Thing in the Pit" is a gorgeous (though obviously insane) dame. With visions of romance in his mind, Ted overpowers the son but is pushed into the pit by "Maw." Luckily, Ted is not hurt in the fall and he quickly locates a rope in the dark hole. Unluckily, Ted discovers the rope is actually a tentacle attached to his dream girl. We've seen dozens of variations on this plot and Larry Ivie's take is certainly nothing special. He takes the set-up from Psycho and then adds a dash of The Munsters for flavoring but no one's fooled. We all saw the reveal coming a mile away. The tentacles are a nice touch, though. Morrow's art is supremely Creepy, with his "Maw and son" looking like they'd just risen from the grave. Our hero's name is a tip of the cap from Larry to his buddy, Ted White, a head honcho in 1950s' science fiction fandom and, later, editor of Fantastic digest.

"Thumbs Down!"
In the ancient Roman city of Mithras, Cassius is the champion gladiator of ruler Bracchus, but Cassius has grown weary of the fight and asks his master to grant him freedom. Instead of freedom, the ruler gives his prize fighter a match in the arena with a bull. Cassius is gored and killed and Bracchus pays him no mind, already moving on to his next grand match: the Christians versus the lions. Drunken and wandering the arena one night, Bracchus hears a commotion and looks up to see the cage doors being lifted and the lions entering the pit. The doomed ruler looks up into his box and is terrified to see the decaying corpse of Cassius, who gives the classic "Thumbs Down!" sign when his former master begs his help. As with "Grave Undertaking" last issue, "Thumbs Down!" just vibrates with EC atmosphere; had Valor allowed horror stories, this one would have fit very comfortably between its covers. Yep, it's another simple revenge story, and perhaps it would not have had the requisite effect had it not been for the exquisite work of Valor vet Al Williamson, who penciled gladiators and their bloodsport better than any other artist of the era.

Reed Crandall's insanely detailed splash
for "Amontillado"
One of the easiest (and most boring) gigs in comic history, the re-re-telling of the Adam Link series by author Otto Binder and artist Joe Orlando (the same pair responsible for the EC "Link" series a decade before), continues with Chapter 3: "Adam Link in Business!," wherein the titular man of steel is saved from the electric chair and finds love in the form of the gorgeous Kay Temple. Adam thinks better before consummating his passion with Kay and, at story's end, he's a lonely robot again. The script, aside from a few minor tweaks, is the same as that of its first incarnation back in Weird Science-Fantasy #29 (June 1955). I didn't like the EC version (though at least it was presented in color) and I really don't like the Warren version. It's a downright dirty shame I'll have to read five more of these things before the editor wises up and pulls the plug. Yeccch.

The adaptations continue, but Reed Crandall's "The Cask of Amontillado!" is fine wine compared to Adam Link's Dr. Pepper. It's the classic tale of Montresor and Fortunato and the shenanigans they get up to over family pride and a fine wine. Of the handful of artists who would visualize Poe's terrors for us in the pages of Creepy and Eerie, none were as detailed and painstaking as Reed Crandall (though Bernie Wrightson may be "1B" to Reed's "1A"). Just gaze upon his splashes for evidence. The story would be dusted off and re-imagined by Martin Salvador in #70 (the second-part of a two-issue "All Edgar Allan Poe" special), but there's no comparison in quality.

Alex Colby imagines that a squad of alien beings is stalking him, showing up at the most inopportune times to ruin his social life. Alex finally decides to see a psychiatrist but it doesn't go well when the shrink transforms into one of "The Stalkers" midway through the session. Colby awakens from the madness to discover he's actually one of the aliens who's been on Earth too long and can't mentally shirk his human guise. A nice twist in the tail and some fabulous Toth art. Alex Toth was a lot like Will Eisner in that he wasn't comfortable with the typical six- to eight-panel page layout and always managed to pull off something memorable. In fact, the splash for "The Stalkers" reminds one of Eisner's classic Spirit intros, with the title almost becoming part of the scene.

John Severin joins his old company-mates at last with "Abominable Snowman!," a literally chilling adventure with a nifty twist in its finale. A group of Yeti-hunters are picked off one by one by what most perceive as "dumb apes," but the furry creatures are proving they may be more intelligent than their human stalkers. Severin still applies that strong, square chin to every character he draws, which is appropriate here since the group is made up of machismo-oozing dolts. So, what had "Jovial" John been up to in the decade since EC closed its doors? Like Joe Maneely and Russ Heath, Severin bounced back and forth between Atlas/Marvel and a heck of a lot of work for the chief MAD rip-off, Cracked (a magazine which begs a second look, if only for the quality of its contributors).

The last story this issue, "Gargoyle," is a lackluster affair, with a boring script and so-so art by Angelo Torres. Gerba, the dwarf, seems to know the power of turning stone into gold. He can also bring gargoyles to life to do his evil bidding. But the latter is not as important as the former to alchemist, Valdeux, who ingratiates himself into the dwarf's life and then betrays the little guy, only to discover the true secret of the gargoyle. A limp climax to a strong issue. On the letters page, future Warren contributor Frank Brunner weighs in on issue #5.  -Peter

More Crandall...
just because we can!
Jack: Now, that's more like it! I liked "The Thing in the Pit!" though I would have been hightailing it out of there as soon as Maw and Sonny Boy were out of sight. I always enjoy an Ancient Roman setting, so "Thumbs Down!" worked for me, especially with the fine art by Al Williamson. The Adam Link story was the best yet and Orlando's art didn't bother me as much as usual, though I think the story would've fit better in a DC Comic of the era. "The Cask of Amontillado!" is the best piece in this issue, in my opinion, with Reed Crandall at the top of his game. Goodwin's story in "The Stalkers" is weak but Alex Toth's art is amazing, as are his layouts and lettering. He may be the most unique creator working in the Warren line. "Abominable Snowman!" bored me, even though I like John Severin's work and think he was equally strong in the '50s, '60s, and '70s, unlike, say, George Evans. Finally, despite impressive art by Angelo Torres, "Gargoyle" was only so-so. Creepy #6 was a big improvement over #5.

Next Week...
The Boys are Back in Town
But can they recapture the old magic?

And in two weeks...