Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Hitchcock Project-Roald Dahl Part Five: "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" [6.1]

by Jack Seabrook

The sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents began on NBC, a new network, and on Tuesday, a new night, with "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," broadcast on September 27, 1960, and based on the story of the same name by Roald Dahl. The story had been published first in the December 1959 issue of Nugget, a men's magazine competing with Playboy. Dahl's tale begins with an extended lecture by the author about how American divorce laws make slaves of men and how, to comfort themselves, they tell stories such as this one.

Dr. Bixby, a dentist, and his wife live in New York City. Once a month, she claims to take the train to Baltimore to visit her Aunt Maude while actually visiting the wealthy Colonel, with whom she has been having an affair for eight years. One year, just before Christmas, the Colonel's groom presents her with a gift from the Colonel as she boards the train for home. She opens the gift on the train and sees that it is a beautiful mink coat; with it is a brief note from the Colonel telling her that he can't see her anymore. Her disappointment over the end of their relationship is minimal: "What a dreadful shock," she thinks. "She would miss him enormously."

Mrs. Bixby's delight on first trying on the coat
With that out of the way, she goes back to admiring her new coat until she realizes that it will be hard to explain to her husband. On arriving in New York, she asks a taxi driver to take her to a pawn shop, where she pawns the coat for a loan of $50 until Monday. She insists that the pawn ticket be left blank as to the identification of the item and its owner. Returning home to her husband, she thinks about all of his characteristics that she would like to see changed. She perceives him as "subsexual," his fancy clothes designed to hide a lack of masculinity. She shows him the pawn ticket and claims that she found it in the taxi.

Les Tremayne as Bixby
The Bixbys speculate about the item it will redeem and he says that he will pick it up on Monday. If it is something nice, he promises to give it to her for Christmas. On Monday morning, he calls her to say that he picked up the item and she tries to guess what it is. At lunchtime, she visits him at the office and is shocked when he presents her with a "ridiculous fur neckpiece." She pretends to like it and he tells her that "I'm afraid you mustn't expect anything else for Christmas. Fifty dollars was rather more than I was going to spend anyway." He adds that he will be late getting home that evening.

Mrs. Bixby stars to leave, planning to confront the pawnbroker, when Dr. Bixby's young assistant returns from lunch, wearing "the beautiful black mink coat that the Colonel had given to Mrs. Bixby."

Stephen Chase as the Colonel
Dahl's story has a very British feeling even though it is set in America and deals with American characters. The irony is subtle but the revenge that Dr. Bixby takes on his unfaithful wife is devastating. Husband and wife clearly dislike each other and, at the end of the story, each is aware of the other's deception yet they keep the knowledge to themselves in order to maintain the status quo. The story gets off to a poor start with Dahl's misogynistic introduction, but the strength of the plot and the surprise of the twist ending are undeniable.

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" was collected in Dahl's collection entitled Kiss Kiss that was published in 1960. The story was purchased for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and adapted for television by Halsted Welles. Alfred Hitchcock directed the episode, which was produced from August 17, 1960, to August 19, 1960. Psycho had been released in June and the director had not yet started working on Marnie.

From the opening sequence
The televised version of "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" is more successful than the short story version, due to crisp direction by Hitchcock and strong performances by the cast, led by Audrey Meadows as Mrs. Bixby and Les Tremayne as her husband. Hitchcock is in playful mode with the opening sequence, where a patient in a dental chair has a tooth drilled in unflinching closeup. The lovingly photographed though unpleasant procedure is classic Hitchcock.

The show is characterized by a light, humorous tone from start to finish. When Mrs. Bixby comes to her husband's office to bid him farewell before going to Baltimore, she is welcomed in by his pretty nurse, much to the chagrin of a male patient who has been sitting in the waiting room. "I believe I'm next," he tells the nurse, thinking Mrs. Bixby is a patient who skipped ahead of him in line.

Hardly the kiss of two who dislike
each other, or so it seems . . .
Dr. and Mrs. Bixby discuss mundane matters of their family's finances; this exchange shows that money is tight and they appear to be a middle-aged, married couple in love with each other. Dr. Bixby laments that his wife will be gone for a single night and she passionately kisses him goodbye. Mrs. Bixby then takes the train to Baltimore, where she is met by a Black chauffeur and taken to a genteel Southern mansion. On its porch, she embraces the Colonel and gives him an equally passionate kiss! The sudden discovery that she is cheating on her husband is a surprise after the seemingly loving farewell they shared.

Mrs. Bixby arrives at the Colonel's house
As she speaks with the Colonel, he reveals that they first met when he was a hospital patient and she was a nurse. She compares his house and grounds to her home in New York City, and it is clear that she prefers the genteel, expansive residence of her lover to the cramped quarters she shares with her spouse. All is not well, however, as the Colonel announces that he must visit a neighbor to view horses that will be auctioned off the next day. The next morning, at breakfast, he again talks of horses, and when he later leaves to go to the auction he instructs his maid to give Mrs. Bixby the gift and goodbye letter, both of which she opens while still at his house rather than in the bathroom on the train, as she does in the story.

Audrey Meadows as Mrs. Bixby
Mrs. Bixby is known to the maid, whom she calls Eloise, and to the chauffeur, who she calls Johnson; they both call her Mrs. Bixby. The relations between the races are a subtle and wry way that Welles and Hitchcock show the contrast between North and South, between New York and Baltimore--perhaps Hitchcock believed that Baltimore was closer to the Deep South than it really was.

The plot follows that of the story closely after that, as Mrs. Bixby returns to New York and pawns her coat. Back at home that evening, she and her husband again discuss mundane details of his work, adding to the contrast between the life she lives openly and the one she has been living in secret, her day to day life in reality and her once a month excursion into near-fantasy.

The scene between Mrs. Bixby and her husband, where she produces the pawn ticket and feigns ignorance of what it is, is beautifully payed by Audrey Meadows and Les Tremayne. Earlier in the show, before her duplicity had been revealed, they appeared to be a loving couple. Now, their interactions seem to be those of two people who are pretending; it is evident that the marriage is a sham and that each one realizes it without being aware that the other knows it as well.

"It's not every woman who has a mink!"
The final scene, at Bixby's office, is equally well played. Mrs. Bixby pretends not to know what's coming while Dr. Bixby pretends to have an exciting surprise for her. He dangles the pitiful mink stole over his head like he is waving a sausage in front of a hungry dog, and the look of disappointment on her face is perfect. He asks, "What's the matter--don't you like it?" and remarks that "It isn't every woman who has a mink!" Mrs. Bixby's facial expressions telegraph her emotions as she goes from disappointment, to angry determination, to shock as the pretty nurse walks by wearing the mink coat.

At the end, the cheater is cheated. Mrs. Bixby thought that her ruse was unknown but she has been outsmarted by her husband. Did he know that she took the coat to the pawnbroker, or did he think that she really just found the ticket in a taxi? Did he give the coat to his nurse knowing he was taking something that his wife had received from her lover? Has he been having an affair with his nurse all along, or is the gift of the mink coat the beginning of a beautiful relationship? After the final shot, will Mrs. Bixby confront her husband? Will he confront her? Dahl, Welles and Hitchcock, along with the cast of the TV show, combine to create characters who have believable pasts and futures, who exist beyond the confines of the half hour window through which we observe their lives. All we know is that the Bixby marriage has changed irrevocably and that Mrs. Bixby got what she deserved.

Halsted Welles (1906-1990), who wrote the teleplay for "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat," wrote for movies and TV starting in 1949. He wrote six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and another six of Night Gallery. He is best known for writing the screenplay for 3:10 to Yuma (1957).

Mrs. Bixby sees the nurse wearing her coat
As Mrs. Bixby, Audrey Meadows (1922-1996) plays a character very different than Alice Kramden socio-economically, yet her face and voice are so associated with her role on The Honeymooners that it is impossible to watch this episode and not think of her saying "Ralph!" She won an Emmy in 1954 for her work with Jackie Gleason and worked almost exclusively in television from 1951 to 1995, reprising the Alice role into the 1970s. This was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. A website devoted to her career is here.

Playing her husband is Les Tremayne (1913-2003), who was born in England and who acted for decades on radio, in movies, and on TV. He was on the Hitchcock series four times, including "Isabel." He had a small part in Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959).

Sally Hughes
Stephen Chase (1902-1982) plays the Colonel; this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show. He played character parts in movies from the early 1930s and later on TV. Sally Hughes plays the nurse; she had few credits other than two appearances on the Hitchcock show.

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" was remade twice for television. The first time was for a BBC series called Thirty-Minute Theatre; Hugh Whitemore wrote the teleplay. This episode was broadcast on November 2, 1965, and has been lost.

The second adaptation was for Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. The teleplay was by Ronald Harwood and the show was broadcast on March 31, 1979. It may be viewed for free online here. Roald Dahl introduces this episode and remarks that the short story took him about five months to write (it was completed in January 1957) because he took so many wrong turns while trying to work out the plot. Julie Harris plays Mrs. Bixby in this version, in which the setting is moved from America to England and Ireland. The episode is dull, marred by inept camerawork and bad music.

The 1960 version of "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" is not available online but is available on DVD.

Dahl, Roald. "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat." 1959. Roald Dahl: Collected Stories. Ed. Jeremy Treglown. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 536-52. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. <>.
Mamber, Steve. "The Television Films of Alfred Hitchcock." Cinema 7.1 (1971): 2-7. Web. 12 Apr. 2015. <>.
McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: Regan, 2003. 608. Print.
"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 27 Sept. 1960. Television.
"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat." Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. 31 Mar. 1979. Television.
Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius. London: Collins, 1983. 580. Print.
Treglown, Jeremy. "Appendix." Roald Dahl: Collected Stories. New York: Everyman's Library, 2006. 849-50. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015. <>.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Do You Dare Enter? Part Fifty-One: September 1974

The DC Mystery Anthologies 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino and
Jack Seabrook

Luis Dominguez
House of Mystery 226

"Garden of Evil"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Teddy Doesn't Seem to Smile Anymore!"
Story by Martin Pasko
Art by Frank Robbins

"The Devil's Chessboard"
Story Uncredited
Art by Leonard Starr
(reprinted from House of Mystery 12, March 1953)

"The Living Nightmare!"
Story by John Broome
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bernard Sachs
(reprinted from The Phantom Stranger 5, May 1953)

"Monster in the House"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

"Scared to Life"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Berni Wrightson
(reprinted from House of Mystery 180, June 1969)

"The School for Sorcerers"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Mystery 74, May 1958)

"The Perfect Mate"
Story by Robert Kanigher and Michael J. Pellowski
Art by Jess Jodloman

"The Wishes of Doom!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Curt Swan and George Klein
(reprinted from House of Mystery 10, January 1953)

"The Haunted Melody"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Ely
(reprinted from House of Mystery 58, January 1957)

"Do You Dare Enter the House of Mystery?"
Story by Paul Levitz
Art by Pat Broderick and Sergio Aragones

"Out of This World"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Gerry Talaoc

"Garden of Evil"
Peter: Mace spots a beautiful painting in a curio shop but when he draws his wife's attention to it, the painting becomes merely a mirror. He convinces Myra to buy the mirror anyway and takes it home. Soon, Mace is drawn into a parallel universe within the mirror populated by a gorgeous girl named Althea, a babe who's having trouble keeping the local demons at bay. Mace chases the creatures away and, after spending time with the girl, falls madly in love with her. Althea explains that she was cursed to remain in this land until someone from our world would willingly take her place. When Mace comes back to his own world, he explains the situation to his wife and she rather surprisingly agrees to switch places with Althea so that her husband will be happy. Mace returns to Althea with the good news but the girl quickly turns on him after something goes wrong. She becomes a hideous old hag and sics the demons on him. In the end, we discover that the entire scenario had played out within Mace's mind and, on advice from a psychiatrist, Myra has destroyed the mirror. Now, Mace lies in a coma-like state, completely insane. Though "Garden of Evil"is not among Alfredo's best work (way too many small panels for Alcala to work his magic), the Oleck script is smart and witty and, even though Mace was ready to trade up on his wife, I felt a big gob of sympathy for what was left of our protagonist in the end. As Jack notes below, the ending leaves a major question unanswered: was this really all in Mace's mind or did the mirror have supernatural qualities? If it did, wouldn't the shopkeeper have been aware of those qualities?

Jack: Any story that reminds me of "The Hungry Glass" is okay by me! Oleck does a nice job by slowly exposing Carl's true nature and the revelation that Althea was a witch surprised me. The ending is still a little fuzzy in my mind, but I thought this story was excellent in both writing and art.

Peter: Barbara's about to get married so it's time to put the stuffed animals (even Teddy) away and grow up. Wedding night comes and, just as the big moment is going to happen, who should pop out of Barbara's suitcase but... Teddy! Obviously, Marty Pasko wanted to slip one in (so to speak) about sexual innocence without alerting the Code. For a three-pager, this one's not too annoying. But then there's our old whipping boy, Frank Robbins who, based on the first panel, believes that bare breasts have buttons.

Jack: I think I must have stepped into the mirror world because I liked this story! It's a quickie, sure, but the portrait of a young woman having a mental breakdown on her honeymoon is frightening and Frank Robbins proves that he can draw a beautiful girl in a negligee!

Peter: Cora Willis gives birth to twins, one a cute little whippersnapper, the other not so. Young Philip inherits his parents' genes and will do well in the world but Adam, the new black sheep of the family, with his one eye and hunched back, would seem out of place everywhere but at Notre Dame. The parents do the only sensible thing: they lock Adam into a dungeon for the rest of his life while spoiling Philip with their love and attention. Reaching his 21st birthday, Adam discovers he's got a few paranormal tricks up his sleeve and he uses them to convince his parents to release him. They tell him they'll think about it and then plan his murder. One night they drug Adam's dinner, slip into his cell, and stab him to death. They drag his body out back but, while they're burying their son, Philip approaches. His parents try to explain themselves away but Philip shrugs and lets them in on his secret: Adam was able to project his mind into Philip's body so the Willises actually murdered their favored son. Aarghs are shared all around.

A familiar and predictable fable but one executed with a lot of flair. Cora and George are so irredeemably evil that, at times, the reader's credibility is stretched very thin. Still, Redondo's art is a thing of beauty and, overall, "Monster in the House" is a tad above average. Because he wrote so many scripts, many of them just so-so, there's an argument to be made that Jack Oleck was the best overall DC horror writer.

Enfantino's secret origin

Jack: Nine-tenths of a great story, with gorgeous art. Redondo is so good that he can even draw a hideous baby! The Quasimodo parallels are obvious and the parents are as evil as we've ever seen. If the twist ending weren't a letdown this would be a great story!

"The Perfect Mate"
Peter: Countess Irina Von Hohlberg only wants a man who'll love her for herself, not for her wealth or power. Finding that man is a tough road and the bodies pile up very quickly. Oh, I forgot to reveal that Irina is a vampire and she can compel her suitors to tell the truth (bad news for the guys!). The ones that lie end up stuffed in her museum. Eventually, Irina finds "The Perfect Mate," one who craves neither power nor wealth but only wants her "for herself." Trouble is, the guy's a werewolf. Double groan! This one's been done a bazillion times interchanging vampires with werewolves, ghouls, and demons. Michael Pellowski was a newbie (and would only contribute a bit more to the DC Horror Universe) but Bob Kanigher continues his unbroken streak of horror turkeys by subjecting us to one of the oldest cliches in comics. The saving grace is Jodlomon's incredible art. Kudos to the colorist as well (an artist that, perhaps, we don't give enough applause to on our journey) for making the whole doggone thing seem almost three-dimensional.

Jack: Wondering about the identity of Michael J. Pellowski, who provided the idea for this story, I did a little online sleuthing and discovered that he and I both went to Rutgers and we both live in Central NJ. He came from a broken home and managed to get on his feet, writing for comic books and eventually writing scads of books for children and young adults. It's interesting to see how often comics were an escape from an unhappy childhood and a doorway to a lifetime of writing.

"Do You Dare Enter..."

Jack: A likable two-page spread by Aragones makes "Do You Dare Enter the House of Mystery?" worth noting, especially since we meet the monster versions of several writers and artists whose names we often see in the DC horror comics.

Peter: Chip Barrow is one jealous guy. He used to have a bit of success on the circuit with his partner, Bobby Vance, but now Bobby's gone the solo route and is the hottest act in show business with his levitating gimmick. Now, Chip wants what Bobby's got so he visits Bobby's manager, the ominous Mr. Beals. The devilish Beals draws up a contract and tells Chip he can have Bobby's act but how he gets it is up to him. Chip takes charge and befriends Bobby, earning his trust, before lowering the boom on the rock star, torturing him until he gives up the secret. Seems that all Bobby has to do is hit a certain chord sequence during the act and he levitates. Chip murders Bobby and takes his place in the next concert, hitting the chords and setting off into the sky. Unfortunately, Chip never got the chord sequence that returns him safely to earth and he goes "Out of This World." Didn't we just get a demonic rocker tale not too long ago? Are the DC bull penners so desperate for material that they're recycling plots every few issues? I must say I was quite surprised when it was revealed that Mr. Beals (Beelzebub... get it?), the guy that can make contracts appear out of thin air and lights his cigars with a flaming finger, was the devil! No way! And can you remember the days when rock audiences were so vacuous that a gimmick like levitating would be seen as more Gosh! Wow! than the actual music? No, KISS doesn't count. Jack Oleck proves he can steal from the best as that climax, where we see Chip re-enter earth's gravity and a hippy in the park remarks on "the shooting star," borrows an effective twist from a controversial Wally Wood EC sci-fi tale by the title of "Home to Stay" (from Weird Fantasy #13, May 1952).

Jack: The weakest of the new stories in this issue, "Out of This World" combines two DC horror cliches--selling your soul to the Devil and rock and roll that seems a few years out of date. Still, Gerry Talaoc's art is always worth a look and I love that we were treated to new tales by Alcala, Redondo and Talaoc all in the same issue!

Drat the luck!
Peter: In the trusty "Reprint Department" this issue, a decidedly mixed bag. We get the unintentional  laughs and fanciful hi jinx of "The Devil's Chessboard" (wherein a foolish chess player insists on defying bad luck and playing on a cursed board) and "School for Sorcerers" (which has one of the most unbelievable sequences ever written for four colors (reprinted below)) as well as the hum-drum Phantom Stranger mystery, "The Living Nightmare" (a surprise since I've enjoyed all the Stranger adventures reprinted in the past). The tall tale that tickled my fancy the most this issue was Curt Swan's "The Wishes of Doom!", which follows a mysterious and deadly idol as it changes hands and lives. A murderer finds the ornate bust in a curio and, suffering from guilt, wishes his victim back to life. But with every wish comes a curse and the dead man rises to enact revenge on his murderer. We then watch as the curio falls into the hands of a vain woman (who wishes for beauty and then loses her boyfriend when he accuses her of being a witch) and a spoiled millionaire whose only wish is to land on the moon (he gets there but then, in an odd twist of bad planning, realizes that the inventor of the rocket never planned for a return trip!) before finally breaking the evil curse by coming into the possession of a man who only wants to build playgrounds for poor children. Ah, a happy ending in the House of Mystery? Well, sorta. Once our unselfish hero gets his wish he discards the idol so that no one will have to pay the penalty again but then, in the last panel, we see a garbage man taking a shine to the curio at the dumps! If I had one wish, it would be that all the stories in The House of Mystery 100-pagers would be as fun and innocent as "The Wishes of Doom."

Uh... could you run that by us one more time?

Jack: My favorite reprint this time was "The Haunted Melody," in which an organ grinder steals a music box that, when played, hypnotizes everyone within earshot into giving the monkey all of their money. At the end, the organ grinder is on the run from the cops but when he stops at a toll bridge, the monkey starts playing the music and his master has to give the toll change to the monkey! Fantastic. In a rare turn of events, the new stories outshone the reprints this month.

More Jess Jodlomon from "The Perfect Mate"

Frank Robbins
House of Secrets 123

"A Fugitive Apparition"
Story by John Albano
Art by Leandro Sesarego

"A Connecticut Ice Cream Man in King Arthur's Court"
Story by Michael Fleisher and Russell Carley
Art by Alex Toth

Peter: Pre-teen Harold Hansen stumbles upon "A Fugitive Apparition" in an abandoned house and escapes death by fooling the ghost with the old "look out behind you" trick. A few days later, the ghost is surprised to see little Harold descending the ladder into his dungeon again, this time warning the spectre that the house above will be torn down and that he should exit, stage left. The boy tells the spirit that there's an abandoned shack by the graveyard and the ghost hightails it. Several days later, as the apparition is reading Ghosts, he senses the boy is in danger and teleports to a cave where the boy has gotten lost and is threatened by a giant snake. The spirit zaps the snake and the two finally become friends. The spectre explains his origin to Harold: years before, our ghostly hero was put on trial by "the world spiritual court" and found guilty. He was tortured but managed to escape to our dimension but the "spiritual security chief," Mr. Santana, has been looking for him ever since. The boy leaves but promises he'll return. When a week goes by and Harold doesn't show, the spirit becomes worried and ventures out, catching the boy out with a young girl. Harold tells the ghost he's got better things to do and he won't be visiting anymore. The forlorn spirit returns to his shack, where he's confronted by Mr. Santana. He pulls a "look out behind you" trick and grabs a hunk of the highway.

The DC horror bullpen has tried to replicate the feel of the old sci-fi/horror stories of the 1950s (most recently with Dave Wood's inane "Captive of the Ant Kingdom" in Unexpected #158) but, until now, they've failed miserably. "A Fugitive Apparition" is lightning in a bottle, a retro-tale that actually works. It's guaranteed to put an ear-to-ear smile on even the most curmudgeonly of critics (that would be me) and its finale is one of the funniest we've encountered.  As Jack notes below, Leandro Seasarego won't join the top-tier ranking of Alcala, Jodloman, Nino, or Talaoc, but his simplistic drawings seem appropriate for the subject matter. Definitely a jewel in the rough.

Jack: Talk about a story that comes out of left field! The art isn't great but I enjoyed the sheer goofiness of Albano's script. The trick that the boy plays on the spook is akin to telling someone that he has something on his tie and then smacking him when he looks down.  Not the least bit frightening, but it brought a smile to my face several times and the ending was a delight.

Peter: Ice cream delivery man Ernie Baxter finds himself magically transported to the 6th Century and delighting the taste buds of King Arthur with his 31 creamy flavors. Unfortunately, greed gets the best of Ernie when Arthur gives him the run of the Court and he decides to poison the entire round table to become king. Wizard Merlin gets wind of the planned duplicity and informs Arthur. Merlin transforms Ernie into flavor #32 and the entire round table enjoys dessert. "A Connecticut Ice Cream Man..." completes a one-two punch to the funny bone begun with "A Fugitive Apparition" but leaves us on a very Fleisher-esque sick note. I liked it, though I must say that Toth's art is somewhat diluted (perhaps by a different inker) and not the usual home run. The time travel fog that Ernie drives through to get to King Arthur's Court is never explained. Why a seemingly innocent ice cream man?

Jack: Mike Fleisher + Alex Toth should equal a great story, and this is fun for most of its length, but the ending fell flat for me. I would have preferred a shocker finish more like the great cover by Frank Robbins. Hold on, did I just type that sentence?

Peter: Wasn't the finale exactly like the Frank Robbins cover, Jack? Though I disagree with you on "Ice Cream" 's twist ending, I must completely agree with you on the cover, which could be the single best piece of art Frank Robbins ever created. It is, in fact, almost anti-Robbins in its glory.

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 46

"The Killer Came Slithering"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Lee Elias

"A Ghastly Revenge"
Story by uncredited
Art by uncredited

"Burial Insurance"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by uncredited

Jack: Colonel Calhoun is a powerful man in the ante bellum south, but the Grim Reaper is more powerful. When death threatens to claim the colonel's son, only the timely intervention of old Zebulah can save the boy. Zebulah is the high priestess of the local snake handling cult and she makes the colonel promise to tear up the mortgage on her church before she'll save his son. But when the colonel double-crosses her and refuses to honor his end of the bargain, he learns that "The Killer Came Slithering." A beautiful young woman named Eva Beauregard happens on the scene and the colonel hires her as governess and soon asks her to be his wife. She turns into a boa constructor and strangles him to death. I guess it was the Old South setting and some sweet drawin' by Mr. Elias that made this story a tad more enjoyable than the usual Kashdan fare. And Cynthia never looked lovelier.

Peter: If the point of the DC horror stories is to shock and surprise, then these tales that just... end... are a bit tiresome and tough to slog through. Unfortunately, it seems we're hitting a point in the era where that type of story dominates. It's a double-edged sword though, I realize, in that the alternative is a shock finale that was set up and telecast in the first few panels.

Story? What story?

Jack: Constance may be a rich heiress, but her younger sister Nan really has what it takes to land a man. Unfortunately, the man she falls for is Baron Johann Von Macklund, who is engaged to Constance. Johann falls for Nan and the two marry, but Constance gets "A Ghastly Revenge" by sending her sister a pittance each month and having her chauffeur drive by her apartment daily to rub in the fact that Constance is still wealthy. To make it even worse, Constance wears her wedding dress and sits in the back of the open car to remind the young lovers of how she was jilted. After ten years of this, a few days pass without a drive-by, so Johann and Nan visit Constance's mansion to see why she stopped torturing them. Inside, they find the chauffeur lying dead on the floor and the rotting corpse of Constance, who died a few months after their wedding. Her loyal driver kept taking her dead body by their window every day for ten years in accordance with her wishes. The revelation drives Nan crazy. I had to read this one twice to figure out what the heck was going on. I assume Kashdan wrote it, though there's no credit, and the art looks a bit like watered-down Alex Nino to me.

"A Ghastly Revenge"
Peter: I actually liked this one quite a bit. Its soap opera aspects drew me in and I never saw that sick finale coming. I kept waiting for Johann to be a gigolo after Nanette's money but... hey, wait a minute! If Johann is a Baron, why is he penniless and scrounging for jobs? I've got to read this one again. I'll be back.

Jack: Rich old man Archer keeps his valuables down in the basement vault. When Radley, his driver, and Dell, his nurse, are burgling the loot and hear the old man and his watchman coming along, they have the brilliant idea of hiding Radley in the vault. Dell swears that no one else is there, so Archer has his watchman build a brick wall in front of the vault to make sure she's not lying. "Burial Insurance" is four pages long but really goes nowhere. There's no surprise ending--Radley is trapped in the vault and that's that. No big deal.

Peter: I wonder why there are no credits listed for artists on these last two stories. "Burial Insurance" looks like the work of Gerry Talaoc to me, but I could be wrong. How would you like to have a girlfriend like Dell, ready and willing to allow her beau to be walled up just to escape discovery?

"Burial Insurance"

Luis Dominguez
Weird Mystery Tales 13

"Come Share My Coffin"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"His Master's Voice"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Search for a Werewolf"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Alex Nino

Peter: Peter Ward mourns his dead brother, John, and swears he'll take care of his widow, Myra, on the little farm the trio owned. Things are not what they seem, though, as we soon discover that John has only faked his death with the help of his "widow" in order to drive his slightly feeble-minded brother insane and take complete control of the farm. John makes his face up and pretends to be a vampire, "attacking" Myra in front of Peter. This drives Peter to distraction and Myra calls the sheriff, who calms Peter down and takes him out to the family crypt. There, trying to convince the big oaf that John is dead, he opens the coffin and they view John's body. Knowing they're well on their way to commitment to an asylum, the couple continue to pick at Peter until he snaps and accidentally kills Myra. When the sheriff shows up again, he listens to Peter's theory that Myra is also a vampire and takes the man back out to the crypt. This time though, when the coffin is opened, they find John, very dead, with bloodied hands and a ghastly death mask. Peter 'fesses up to the sheriff that that very day he'd nailed the coffin lid closed to prevent any more attacks from his vampiric brother.

Hey, if we gotta look at this, so do you!!

Wow! "Come Share My Coffin!" is a stinker in so many different ways. Jack Oleck piles cliche upon cliche but still finds room to heap in plot devices so stupid as to be almost criminal. John tells Myra that it took him "years to learn how to go into a coma." Some trick that, not only willing yourself into a death-like state but also using mind control on the simpleton doctors and coroners who pronounced him dead. And, usually, corpses are embalmed. No explanation on that one either.  Jess Jodloman's art is just as bad (if not worse), which is strange because just the same month he delivers a gorgeous job on "The Perfect Mate" in House of Mystery. There's no rhythm to his lines, characters look completely different from panel to panel (especially egregious is the sheriff who looks like your typical Carol O'Connor-type sheriff in one panel and a demonic ghoul in the next). Check out Myra's teeth below! The last page (reprinted above), in particular, is awful. To me, it looks like someone whispered in Jodloman's ear, "Be more like Ghastly Graham!"Bad mistake.

Jack: John remarks that "It took me years to learn how to go into a coma." He could've saved a lot of time if he just bought an issue of Ghosts. The art in this story is very uneven. Some panels look great while others are a mess. I did not understand how John got back into the coffin the first time around and sealed it, since they have to use a pry bar to open it. This means that the last time, when it's nailed shut and they use a pry bar again, it doesn't make much sense that they tell us that it was a snap to open the first time.

Peter: A loving dog watches as his young master's life slips away but then meets up with him again in the afterlife. Maudlin. Maudlin. Maudlin. What's meant to tug at your heartstrings only makes you roll your eyes to the heavens. The finale, when the boy's parents witness their dead son's ghost and his dog dancing at the graveyard, is bad enough but it's topped by a final panel where the husband pleads for his wife to be rational ("We saw what we wanted to see. But there was no one there. There couldn't have been.") just before they watch the dead boy's wind-up toy soldier walk past them in the road. Alcala is once again wasted in this claustrophobic six-panels-per-page format.

Jack: In trying for a touching tale, Oleck misses the mark. The twist ending is unnecessary. Alcala is not at his best, either--the size of the dog varies from panel to panel and in one he's the size of a large door. The panel where the dog sits alone by the boy's grave in the rain is impressive, though.

"Go ahead and hate your neighbor/
go ahead and cheat a friend..."

Peter: Famous horror film director Max Von Milstein demands realism in his flicks and, to that end, he travels to Transylvania to "Search for a Werewolf." What he finds is Count Wroclaw, a strange man who lives in a castle high in the hills with his servant, Orczy. Wroclaw is only too happy to provide data on the London Werewolf, a legend that Max is intent on recreating on the silver screen, until he finds out that Max is going to make a movie and that doesn't sit well with him. He warns the director not to tamper with things he doesn't understand. Max pays little attention to the old fool and, once he's back in America, he gets right to work. The actor chosen to play the werewolf isn't going well and von Milstein tells him to go off and rehearse somewhere. Before you can say "Larry Talbot," there's what seems to be a real werewolf in camp. The beast gets tangled up in cans of silver nitrate and that's his undoing. Once dead, the werewolf reverts back to... Max von Milstein! More lackadaisical scripting by hack Kashdan. It makes not a whit of sense that Wroclaw would help Max with his research and then cast him out (cursed as a werewolf yet) when he finds out von Milstein's next pic is A London Werewolf in America. The guy's a movie director and Wroclaw admits to said knowledge. What else is a director going to do with the information? As usual, the saving grace is the art by Alex Nino, whose werewolf is muscular and ferocious.

Jack: Was there ever a worse match of writer and artist than Kashdan and Nino? Kashdan's story is run of the mill with a dopey ending, but Nino's art just soars. I wait each month, hoping for something good by Nino, and this does not disappoint.

Nick Cardy
Ghosts 30

"The Dead of the Night"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by E.R. Cruz

"The Phantom in Our Family"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by Lee Elias

"The Fangs of the Phantoms"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Ernie Chan

Jack: A ghostly train comprised of seven black cars passes through a run down New York town on the anniversary of the date that the train carrying Abraham Lincoln's corpse passed through the same town a century before. That night, young Doug Carter runs away from home, hoping to spare his struggling father from having to feed another child. He boards an old, empty train and, once it is in motion, a shadowy (and very tall) figure lectures him about courage and tells him to never give up. In the morning, he returns home and all realize he rode the Lincoln ghost train in "The Dead of the Night" and got advice from Honest Abe himself. The identity of the ghostly advisor was obvious from the get-go, but at least Cruz drew a nice, spooky train.

Peter: I never get the point of these stories. If it's a "ghost train," how is Doug able to board? And for what purpose? To tell others that Honest Abe's spirit still rides the rails? Odd that Abe's face is never shown; as if it was a big secret who the ghost was. The art's okay but it doesn't touch Nick Cardy's vision of the haunted train on the cover.

"Gee, you look just like the back of this penny!"

Jack: It's March 1972, and the soldiers are coming home from Vietnam. Mama's family knows her son Joey is dead, but she doesn't believe it. When his coffin is delivered she runs from the room. In the next room, she sees Joey's spirit in the curtains blowing at the window and she holds his bronze star, which she claims he finally brought home to her. "The Phantom in Our Family" is fairly clunky in its exposition but the timeliness of its tale makes it unusually powerful for a story in Ghosts.

No laughing matter!

Peter: This one has an ending just like "The Dead of Night," an exposition built around an item delivered by a dead person. Did they really deliver the coffins to the houses of the relatives like that? If so, it was very cold and ghoulish. The more of Lee Elias' work I see, the more I come to think of him as a "competent" artist. He's neither horrible nor very good; nothing stylish but it gets the job done.

Jack: Back in 1923, the Congo was not the place to be, especially for District Officer Pierre Fontaine, charged with bringing two native murderers to justice. The men call themselves spirit sorcerers and conjure up a series of dangerous animals to attack their captor, though each animal dissipates into mist when fired upon. Finally, the natives escape by turning themselves into crocodiles and swimming away. "The Fangs of the Phantoms" sounds stupid, I know, but it's actually pretty good. At one point, one of the natives accidentally has one of his fingers shot off. You don't see that every day in a DC comic!

"The Fangs of the Phantoms"

Peter: Ernie Chan, our friend from Batman in the 1970s days, makes the jungle ride tolerable and the script, by process of elimination, wins Best of the Issue. An accolade like this, mind you, is like voting "We're an American Band" the best hit of Grand Funk's career. It's all relative.

After yet another awful issue of Ghosts!,
Jack wants to throw in the trowel.

Please do not write on your computer screen

Peter and his bestest pal, Superman

All we ask is that you meet us here again next week for our next genre-busting issue!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 51: August 1963

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

Joe Kubert
Our Army at War 133

"Yesterday's Hero!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The 'Candy' Spad!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

Jack: A Medal of Honor winner named Corporal David is the newest addition to Easy Co., joining his kid brother, whom Sgt. Rock calls Bright Eyes. Corp. David won his medal by holding off a breakthrough of Panzer tanks by himself with just a bazooka after the rest of his company had been wiped out. The experience left him shell-shocked, though, and he gives the cold shoulder to his new comrades-in-arms, including his brother. Rock has to save him when Easy encounters shelling on a road.

Kubert uses black and white to show
a soldier apart from the rest
Rock begins to suspect that something is wrong with Corp. David, a suspicion that is borne out when Corp. David tells Rock that he doesn't have what it takes anymore and is "Yesterday's Hero!" Rock is concerned that his men will be discouraged by the depressing behavior of the medal winner. Rock and his men fight off Nazi planes and David tells Rock that the sergeant can't understand what he's feeling because Rock is like a fighting machine. Easy Co. has to face oncoming tanks that seem to be traveling across quicksand and the sergeant is injured in the fight. When Rock loses his cool, Corp. David finally sees that his commanding officer is human, too. David grabs a bazooka and single handedly blasts away at the tanks, saving Easy Co. and losing his life in the process. As he dies, he tells his brother to keep the medal of honor in the family.

Kanigher's usual sure hand is a bit shaky in this Sgt. Rock episode. Though Kubert uses some neat techniques to tell us that Corp. David is suffering from shell-shock, the story drags and has trouble finding its footing. The panel where Rock has to freak out in order to get David going again does not ring true.

Peter: I found the same problems you did, Jack, but I still think it's a strong story, strong enough to probably be in my Top Ten of '63 (the quicksand sequence alone is worth the dime). There's a great line Rock uses about halfway through the story: "From fightin' together--awake or asleep--Easy was tied to me by nerve ends..." That summarizes, for me, the strengths of the Easy Co. stories. Corp. David describes Rock, on more than ten occasions, as "a well-oiled machine" throughout the story,  The same could be said for the Company. Is the intention, in those panels where Corp. David is the color of stone, to imply Corp. David had become hard and soulless as a result of his trauma? Yep, the story is a bit too long (a problem I found with the Showcase story below as well) but, aside from that and David's constant "well-oiled" drone, this is one solid read.

Lt. Shaw lights up the sky
Jack: Lt. Shaw volunteers to fly biplanes in WWI but when he's found to be underaged, he is grounded. He sees his idol, Captain Clark, shot down by the Iron Baron, but all he can do is fly a weak, gunless plane that he calls "The 'Candy' Spad" around on errands. When he is sent off with a planeload of fireworks to deliver for a July Fourth celebration, he manages to happen upon an air attack and use the fireworks to help the real pilots defeat the enemy. A weak entry with better than usual art by Jerry G., this WWI tale caps a disappointing issue of a usually reliable comic.

Peter: What a dopey story. Fighter planes that can't handle Roman candles and sparklers? What a fighting fleet the Germans had in WWI! Well, I'll give it one star for cracking me up with the immortal line: "The Iron Baron's guns--are licking my candy spad!" Where the heck was Wertham when this comic hit the stands?

Jerry Grandenetti

Our Fighting Forces 78

"The Last Medal!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The 14-Day Target!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Jack: Why is Sarge being awarded "The Last Medal!" on the island, and why did the recommendation come from the Imperial Practical Joker, Col. Hakawa? Gunner tells the tale. He, Sarge and Pooch were out on patrol when they were ambushed by a tank driven by Col. Hakawa. Sarge is thought dead but Gunner is tied to the front of the tank to deter attacks by U.S. forces. The scheme works flawlessly until Sarge comes to the rescue, disguised as a Japanese soldier. Hakawa is tricked and our heroes escape, leading Hakawa to send a message recommending Sarge for a medal.

"The Last Medal!"
When the American marines are gathered for the medal ceremony, Hakawa's planes attack! To get their revenge, Gunner and Sarge take Pooch and head across the island, where they surprise Hakawa in the middle of his own medal ceremony. The marines commandeer his tank and start shooting, escaping with the tank and Hakawa's medal, which is finally pinned on Sarge. This series keeps chugging on, not terrible but not very good either. It's almost like Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side of . . . WWII."

Peter: Oh, I say it's terrible, Jack, mucho terribles! I can't find one positive aspect to this bilge. Why would the ultra-important Colonel Hakawa be flying solo in a tank? The hype on the splash informs me that " 'The Last Medal' will twist (my) heart into knots!" Say what? Hard to believe we've read 34 Gunner and Sarge installments and we haven't hoisted the white flag yet. Oh and, as if it needed to be repeated, Grandenetti is simply awful here, muddy as hell, as if he decided he didn't need his pencils anymore and went straight to the inkwell.

"The 14-Day Target!"
Jack: Phil Dwyer joins a new squadron flying WWI spads against the Germans and their ace, Von Klugg. He hears that no pilot has ever survived more than 14 days, so he starts checking off days on a calendar to see if he'll make it. He goes up against Von Klugg one day and realizes it's day 15--he has made it! After shooting down the ace, he returns to base and learns that the C.O. tricked him by crossing off the last day in advance. The story is strictly by the numbers, but Andru and Esposito dial their usual art up a notch with some very nice plane work.

Peter: I agree on the art, Jack. This is one of the better Andru/Espositos we've seen. The script is another matter. Aside from the usual "hammer that catch phrase home" dilemma we get a C.O. who bolsters his new man's courage just before his shift by telling him all the pilots in the squadron are fated to die before their fourteenth day. That's bound to work wonders with confidence, isn't it? I want to see the sequel, "The 15th-Day Target" where Phil is shot down the very next day (you know, now that he's convinced himself he's immortal) and the C.O. tells Phil's replacement about the squadron's 15-day jinx!

Jack: Though the Grand Comics Database credited this cover to Joe Kubert, I'll bet my imaginary Bronze Star that it's by Grandenetti. There's no way those faces are Kubert's work, and the mask-like shading around the eyes is classic Grandenetti. The folks at the GCD changed it after a suggestion from bare*bones.

Ross Andru & Mike Esposito
All American Men of War 98

"The Time-Bomb Ace!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"The Jet and the Pilot"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

"Dogfight Dodger!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito

Peter: After the death of an innocent little girl (bless her dead little flower-holding hand), ace Johnny Cloud vows that his men, now nicknamed "Lily Flight," will destroy the Nazi terror rocket base responsible for the youngster's death. The men find and attack the base but Johnny is shot down and taken prisoner by a squad of stinking Nazi swine. Strangely, the Germans release Cloud, give him back his jet and report his whereabouts to the rest of the Lily men. To his utter horror, Johnny discovers why the Ratzis were so accommodating: they've booby-trapped Johnny's plane to explode when he rejoins his men. Some fancy aerobatics and some good dumb luck (the only way to explain Johnny commandeering an enemy's parachute while falling to earth) save the day and Johnny Cloud can lift his head to heaven and salute the fallen little angel. One of the better Johnny Cloud adventures from start to finish, "The Time-Bomb Ace" manages to ratchet up the excitement after a somber opening. Two sequences stood out for me as well as for an impressionable young George Lucas (Okay, so I'm speculating...): the Lily Flight descent between smokestacks to take out the Deathstar rockets is an amazing scene and Indy's Johnny's death-defying climb onto the tail of his crippled fighter is the stuff of nonsense but gorgeous to look at anyway. Bravo, Mr. Kanigher!

"The Time-Bomb Ace"!
Jack: I was worried when the story opened with the death of a cockney flower girl, but once Johnny and his squadron took to the air, this story took off! The run in between the smokestacks was neat, but the final sequence with the time bomb was gripping! I know Johnny's escape was far-fetched but I still enjoyed it.

Peter: A pilot doubts his new jet. A jet doubts its new pilot. With time and understanding, "The Jet and The Pilot" come to love each other and blast stinkin' commies from the sky. Thinking jets. Groan.

Jack: Little more than a vignette at only four pages, this story suffers from the parallel structure and the thinking jet.

That's our nausea

For one thing, the eyes are too small!
Peter: Poor Ed has a problem: the guys in his squadron have labeled him a "Dogfight Dodger" because every time he goes out on a radio call something happens and he's unable to contribute firepower. Now, his brother (who's also his C.O.) is about to ground him so the men don't whine about nepotism as well. One more raid for Ed then and, thank goodness, he makes amends by taking out half of Germany's fighting forces. The guys welcome him back with open arms and smiles, forgetting that a few hours before they were making chicken sounds and slapping him with towels in the shower. For some reason, I just knew that Ed would become a hero by the end of this morality play and, sure enough, I was right. Not one to settle on one cliche, Hank Chapman pulls two old templates off the DC War "Idea" Board: the fighter who can't seem to put any notches on his weapons and the siblings who happen to be in the same squadron.This reads pretty much like the last one of these we read.

Jack: Whenever a fighter isn't getting involved in the battles, you just know that by the end he's going to do something heroic. When we add a plane that can't leave the ground, you know it's going to fire and best a plane above it. The last panel is weird, almost unfinished. Very unlike Andru and Esposito in the main face.

Russ Heath
Showcase 45

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Jack: The men of Easy Co. are so impressed with Sgt. Rock's heroism that they insist he must have been born a sergeant. Rock recalls things differently. In training camp, he and other privates practiced maneuvers with wooden rifles in front of Nazi POWs who mocked them as wooden soldiers. One POW tries to escape and gets into a brutal fistfight with Rock, nearly killing him. Rock never forgets this man, whom he thinks of as Fish Face.

On D-Day, Rock was still a buck private when he made landing with the rest of the troops. He blows up a Nazi pillbox and earns a medal, but when his C.O. tells him that the only way he will make sergeant is by replacing another who dies, Rock states that he is happy to remain a private. Eventually, men die and Rock earns his stripes, but he never forgets Fish Face, thinking that the Nazi POW was the only man who saw Rock as a weak "wooden soldier." Back in the present, Rock battles a Nazi tank all by himself in the woods and who should emerge but Fish Face, no longer a prisoner! He thinks Rock is dead and leaves him, but Rock tracks him down and walks straight into gunfire to avenge the beating he took back in training camp. As Easy Co. marches off, Rock thinks to himself that "Sergeants Aren't Born--!" they're made.

"Sergeants Aren't Born--!"

At 25 pages, this is a real Rock epic and a milestone. Thrilled as I am to see an origin story for Sgt. Rock, I think the timeline is a bit off. Haven't we seen Rock as a sergeant fighting with Easy Co. in North Africa before D-Day? And didn't we see Easy Co. with Sgt. Rock participating in D-Day not too long ago? Am I imaging all of this?

Peter: Was the placement of "Sergeants Aren't Born --!" in Showcase due to the length of the story? Good question (I know because I asked it!). I think that Kanigher had decided an origin story had to be of a greater length and thus wouldn't fit in with the current format of Our Army at War's two-three shorts an issue policy. Jack thinks the appearance in Showcase was to boost sales of the war books and Showcase was certainly selling boatloads of copies (200-250,000 a month) so, just this one time, Jack may be right. In any event, it's a very good story but falls short of "great" status in my mind. There are a lot of bits from earlier stories that pop up in this one so it seems like very familiar territory and that climax, where the escaped Nazi is firing a machine gun point blank at Rock and hitting everything but our hero, is a bit much to take. Kubert's art is gorgeous though; no argument on that point.

Why we love Joe Kubert!

In our next terrifying issue-
Jack Seabrook dreams of a promotion!
On Sale April 27th at all finer netstands near you!