Monday, July 25, 2016

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part Eleven: June 1951

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
11: June 1951

Two-Fisted Tales #21

Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Pigs of the Roman Empire" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"The Murmansk Run!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

During the Korean War, two jeep loads of U.N. soldiers drive right into an "Ambush!" A soldier nicknamed Lucky credits his good fortune and survival to a Kewpie doll he keeps tied inside his helmet. One by one, every other soldier in both jeeps is killed by North Korean gunfire or grenades, but Lucky manages to wipe out the last of the enemy soldiers. When other U.N. troops arrive and ask him what happened, he takes off his helmet to show them his good luck charm, only to discover that he had unknowingly switched helmets with one of the dead men. I don't usually associate Jack Davis with war stories, but this one's a doozy. It's violent and realistic and I really enjoyed it.


"Pigs of the Roman Empire"
Commander Decius, one of the "Pigs of the Roman Empire" who is stationed in Carthage, loves wine and treats his fellow men with cruelty. After sentencing a gladiator to death, he hears that the Vandals are approaching and assembles his army in an open field. His first line of attack seems to vanquish the vandals, but they outsmart him and rout the Roman Army. Decius retreats into the desert to head for Alexandria, unaware that the skinful of wine he takes will cause him to die of thirst on the barren sands and end up food for the buzzards. I love to read about Ancient Rome and I gobbled up this little history lesson where Kurtzman posits that the Roman Empire fell due to the cruelty and debauchery of its leaders.

It's December 1940 and the S.S. Bunker Hill is making "The Murmansk Run!" across the Arctic Circle to bring supplies to the Russian Front. A sailor named Bragg is chastised for smoking on deck since German U-Boats are in the area and blackout regulations are in force. After getting some rest below deck, he heads back up for another shift and secretly carries a sterno can to light and keep himself warm. His little light leads to a torpedo blowing up the ship, and Bragg gets all the heat he can take as he dies in a blazing inferno. Not Wally Wood's best work, but another fascinating slice of wartime history.

"The Murmansk Run!"
During the Italian campaign of 1943, a young soldier notices the foot of a dead soldier sticking out of some rubble. A veteran soldier named Joe tells him to pay no attention to it and relates the story of how he's advancing through Italy looking for his brother Mario. The two fight their way forward and the kid is killed, but Joe keeps moving on, looking for his brother, never knowing that the foot buried in the rubble belonged to the object of his quest. Kurtzman's usual War is Hell irony is on full display here, though some of his panels are very short on detail. -Jack

Peter: "Ambush," "Murmansk" and "Search" are all dark and violent war stories, the likes of which we haven't encountered in our bi-weekly overview of DC's post-code war comics. Davis's art in "Ambush" looks a bit murky; though I've seen no mention in any of the EC reference books I own, could Kurtzman have had a hand in inking this one? Some of the panels have that unmistakable Kurtzman style. The dialogue in all three is exemplary, especially the exchanges in "Search" between Joe and the Kid. The conversations just flow, with nary a false note. The oddball in an otherwise military-themed issue, "Pigs of the Roman Empire," is an interesting and involving history lesson; Max Brand used the same climactic twist in his excellent short story, "Wine on the Desert." Harvey will script every single TFT story until relief, in the form of writer Jerry DeFuccio, arrives in mid-1952. This is a good thing. Two-Fisted Tales just gets better and better.

Jose: Even when compared to some of the weaker (and nearly infirm) stories that cropped up in this batch of issues, Two-Fisted Tales #21 has to be counted as one of the most all-around solid left hooks that we’ve seen yet. This isn’t to say that #21 is fit to bursting with masterpieces but that, perhaps more than any other title in EC’s stable of “New Trend” magazines at this point in time, Two-Fisted Tales feels as if it is fully within its element, most likely due to Kurtzman’s deft editorial control. “Ambush” channels the tension of battle and inevitability of death before delivering a cold smack of reality with Lucky’s discovery that the fortune of his namesake is completely arbitrary. “Pigs of the Roman Empire” may be leaner on character, but the grim righteousness of the finale that finds Emperor Decius boiling with thirst from the vinum that he so treasures gives the tale the touch of Biblical parable. Both “The Murmansk Run” and “Search” are anchored by the weary machismo of their protagonists, two men who have been beaten down by ceaseless journeys tagged with the constant fear of enemy attack. The climaxes to both stories bear the weight of unseen tragedy. Bragg’s fiery demise in “Murmansk” may be a typical EC comeuppance for him, but what of all his innocent crewmates? The finale to Joe’s tireless “Search” for his brother is left to the reader’s imagination, but the options aren’t bright. Which will our soldier hero die by first: gunfire, exposure, or disappointment?

John: "Ambush!" sure seemed to me to have that Kurtzman artistic touch that I've found so hard to swallow. "Pigs of the Roman Empire," on the other hand, was not only nice to look at, but an interesting diversion from the standard war stories within the pages of TFT.


Weird Fantasy #7

"7 Year Old Genius!" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"Come Into My Parlor" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Across the Sun!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Roussos

Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

The top brass in Washington, DC, are shocked when a jalopy from Oak Ridge, TN, pulls up at the White House. In the back seat is Rufus Tatum, a "7 Year Old Genius," who quickly demonstrates that he knows more than all of the grownups combined. Naturally, the big wigs beg him for the secret to the H-bomb, but he holds off, especially once he discovers that it will cause a chain reaction that will destroy the earth. Why is Rufus so brilliant, you may ask? It seems his hayseed father was the janitor at the Oak Ridge Atomic Laboratories and he was exposed to radiation, causing his son to be an atomic mutant. When war comes, Rufus gives incorrect instructions on how to build an H-bomb, but scientists figure out the right way to do it. Rufus happens upon an issue of Weird Fantasy and decides to tell his story to the editors, who print it and hope that Rufus is wrong about the H-bomb, which is set to go off next week.

Al, Al, Al! Haven't we had enough of the ironic, self-referential atomic bomb stories by now? This is a tired and obvious retelling of the sort of tale that got old very quickly.

Just what is the gal in red up to, and why is the guy smiling?
Just as Stephen Lamb finishes typing his treatise on spiders, POW! Out of nowhere comes a gorgeous gal named Wanta. "Come Into My Parlor," she says--well, no, not really. Actually, she asks him to come back with her to the future, where a world of women live to serve man (you know where this is going). He jumps at the chance but soon finds himself tied to a spit over a fire, being prepared as the main dish for the feast. But wait! It was all a dream! Suddenly, Wanta appears from the future, and blah blah blah. Good Lord (choke!), has Al Feldstein run out of ideas this soon? This does not bode well.

The second attempt to send a rocket to Mars is aborted when the ship from the first attempt suddenly returns. In a valiant effort to put the reader and his commanding officer to death by means of boredom, the captain of the first ship explains that he and his crew reached the planet of Bamuno, which is always directly "Across the Sun!" from Earth. The little chief of Bamuno told the Earth ship captain that Earth's space travel program will lead to interplanetary war, so the captain tells the C.O. that they'd better lay off the planned launch. If "Come Into My Parlor" was bad, this is worse. It's confusing and boring and the art by George Roussos would be barely adequate in a non-EC comic.

Just stop talking and we promise never to explore space again!
("Across the Sun")

An alien spaceship lands near a farm and the pilot shows up at the farmhouse, using mind control to make himself look human to the folks who live there. When one of the men accidentally sees the alien in his real form, he goes mad and has a "Breakdown!" His wife takes him to the FBI, only to learn that the aliens have already taken over and have to drive her insane to protect their secret. This issue of Weird Fantasy is so weak that even the Wally Wood story features below average art. Hopefully, future science fiction comics in this line will be better than this! The best thing about this issue is the cheesecake on the cover. -Jack

Wally Wood comes through in a pinch!
Peter: With "Come Into My Parlor!," Al proved he could not only steal plot lines from established work, but also punch lines! Space queen Wanta tells new Romeo, entomologist Stephen Lang, just before she roasts him on a spit, that she will "serve man," a line "borrowed" from Damon Knight's "To Serve Man" (Galaxy, November 1950), a short story that would become famous when it was dramatized by Rod Serling for The Twilight Zone. I do have to give credit to Feldstein for not going down the predictable road at the climax; I was convinced Wanta would be revealed to be a black widow spider with a beautiful brunette-topped head. Similarly, the finale of "Breakdown" may be a tad familiar but surely that chestnut had never been so stylishly rendered as it was here by Wally Wood. I love the disclaimer when the aliens' true appearance is revealed: An accurate illustration of the monsters in this story is, naturally, impossible . . . as we feel it is preferable to preserve the sanity of both the artist and of you, our readers! 

Talk about Stranger Danger!
("7 Year Old Genius")
Jose: If our humble editors really did give a fig for the readers’ sanity, then they likely would have tried to serve us something better than the coagulated oatmeal that is Weird Fantasy #7. When you feel your eyes start to roll and your stomach groan in sympathetic pain by page 2 of each story, you know you’re in trouble. There is precious little here that we haven’t seen before in tales that were already pushing their expiration dates the first time around. The cutesy snob of “7 Year Old Genius” can barely hold our attention for the length of a lead story before things turn decidedly meta (again). “Come Into My Parlor” is a walking tour through the male gaze jungle that seeks to redeem itself by roasting its chauvinist pig on a spit and then reneging on that tract by claiming that it was all a dream. (Except that it really wasn’t?) “Across the Sun” proves that no one has mourned the absence of George Roussos, and Feldstein honors the artist's return with an insipid script that tries to pass six panels of mindless dialogue off as an ending. The first four pages of “Breakdown” had me silently praying that this story would prove the much-needed death of the “monsters from outer space are posing as humans” trope for EC, but things took a grateful upswing with the introduction of the aliens’ mind-shattering physique. Barring the second-to-last panel, Wally Wood just manages to squeak by here with acceptable art, though perhaps we can give him a pass for rescuing so many derivative SF tales in the past.

John: Based on the title alone, I had pretty much given up on "7 Year Old Genius!" before even starting it. While I was really hoping to see some spider creatures turn up in "Come Into My Parlor," Jack Kamen does a fine job with the bevy of beauties from the future. And for what it's worth, at least they threw a twist in the Damon Knight knock-off by having it all be a dream. Kinda. Still, a high point this issue. "Across the Sun!" commits one of the cardinal sins of a bad EC tale by putting more words into each panel, so that by the final page the words basically squeeze the pictures right out of the panel. Last but not least, kudos to Wally Wood for saving "Breakdown!" with a single panel. The only thing missing was some good old SQUA TRONT or SPA FON dialog from our too crazy to be realized in a comic space creatures...

The Haunt of Fear #7

"Room For One More!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Basket!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Horror in the School Room" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Howling Banshee!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Life is anything but rosy for young Rodney Whitman, a boy who loses both parents to an automobile accident and then must contend growing up with his stern uncle and two selfish cousins. So obsessed is Rodney for the peace of the grave that his one and only wish in life is to occupy the sole space left in the Whitman family crypt so that he can lie right alongside Mom and Pop for eternity! But as he becomes a young man a horrible realization dawns on him: the space is more than likely to be taken by his old, ailing uncle before Rodney ever kicks the bucket. What’s a moribund neurotic to do? If you answered “Kill his way to the grave,” come on up and get your prize. It’s a simple matter for dear Rodney to bludgeon and smother uncle and cousins and an even simpler matter to abandon their remains at the bottom of lakes and mires so that their thieving corpses need ever rob him of his rightful resting place. But what Rodney doesn’t realize is that it’s also a simple matter for the slimy cadavers of his dead relations to rise up and enact vengeance upon their killer. With various parts of Rodney dispatched to the three makeshift graves, the corpse trio clambers into Rodney’s newly-purchased casket and reposes at last in the family crypt.

"Room For One More!"
For me, “Room for One More” represents Graham Ingels’s official ascension to the throne. Here we have him yet again illustrating the lead story for The Haunt of Fear, a slot that was to become his own for the majority of the remaining issues, but “Room,” moreso than previous efforts like “A Strange Undertaking” (HoF #6) and “A Biting Finish” (HoF #5), feels like the genuine Entertaining Comics product that we’ve come to love. As Peter says, Rodney’s motivation is deliciously deranged (a murderer who kills to secure his own funeral arrangements!), but Ingels’s art bestows the story with a Gothic earnestness that leavens the humor without extinguishing any of the fun. And those corpses! Those wonderful, ragged, dripping, wobbling, clawed corpses that Ingels did so well. It’s a testament that although we never see the revenants in close detail, Ingels still manages to make them look disgusting. Can I also say how much I love his splash panels? Such warped imagination: humanized bats with pitchforks, shrunken people imprisoned in shrunken heads, grinning goblins, that marvelously pop-eyed Old Witch. Okay; I’ll stop gushing now.

"The Basket!"
Vincent Cabez causes more than a few eyebrows to rise every time he trundles into the Southern village he calls home to carry out his errands. After all, everywhere he goes he carries “The Basket” upon his shoulder, come rain or shine! Gossip inevitably brews in his wake, the old-timers of the general store claiming Cabez to be “loco,” while the barefooted tykes who greet Cabez on his way into town joke with him about the basket’s contents. After Cabez becomes ill and is recommended to see Doc Hawkins, his next errand run turns sour when he strikes a boy who tries asking him if he’s improved. A series of gruesome grave robbings convince the villagers that Cabez has become a mad ghoul and they make for his place to start a lynching. One coot who notifies the Doc of the events gets the full story: Vincent actually has a second, living, conjoined head upon his shoulders that he keeps from the public eye by hiding it in the basket, but after his recent illness the “evil head” took over to satisfy its lust for violence. Back at the cabin, the sight of two-headed Vincent stupefies the gathered crowd but, the good head winning out, Vincent grabs a shotgun from one of the assembled and ends his life. The plot twist of “The Hunchback” (HoF #4) is given the slightest of turns to create “The Basket,” and although Davis’s piece has a bit more regional flavor and conflict than Ingels’s earlier story, there’s not much here that will startle the reader with its originality. Davis, for his part, shows some areas of improvement with his white-bearded granpappys and scruffy tykes but has yet to really take off like he would when assumed the helm at Tales from the Crypt.

Kamen's evocatively chilling splash.
Jack Kamen gives us one of his “wittle kid” stories in the form of “Horror in the Schoolroom.” Little Andy Field is constantly late to school, but as he tries to explain to prim, prune-faced Mister Witherspoon, he can’t help it if his friend Magog takes up all his time whisking him off to far-flung countries like Afghanistan and Italy. Witherspoon refuses to listen to such claptrap and commands the boy to stand in the corner and write out his penance upon the blackboard after school. Witherspoon makes a house call to the Fields residence, but all of Mrs. Fields’s explanations of Andy’s lonely home life fall on deaf ears, with the teacher threatening to whip the boy if he transgresses again. Andy tries to warn his teacher that Magog, his friend of the “long teeth and big eyes,” promised to punish anyone who would harm him, but Witherspoon ignores the protests and, when incited by the boy’s lateness again, takes Andy into the closet for a whipping. Answering the screams that follow, the other children look in and discover an unharmed Andy and the lone, gnawed-off hand of Witherspoon still gripping the rod. While Kamen’s tameness has been derided before, his style is perfectly suited to a story like this, and though we may never see the frightening entity that is Magog, the autumnal feel to his art and PG-rated violence give “Horror in the Schoolroom” some nice, family-friendly chills.

"The Howling Banshee!"
Pat Brady arrives in Ireland fresh from the States and takes up lodgings with old family friend Tim O’Shea, apparently on holiday. What O’Shea doesn’t hear about is Pat’s recent occupation as a bookie that landed him in some hot water with a local syndicate. But even these concerns vanish from Pat’s mind when he lays eyes on Tim’s daughter, Noreen, and the two are soon in love and planning their future. The past comes back to Brady with a vengeance when two hoods accost Brady in the street to tell him that their boss hasn’t taken the bookie’s recent flight very well, with promises to return the indignity . . . eventually. As if this wasn’t enough to spook Brady, Noreen begins to claim that she can hear “The Howling Banshee,” a local omen that prophesies the death of someone in the family. Though Brady is deaf to these calls, the coincidental timing of the two events is enough to make him sweat, not to mention the near-fatal close-calls he starts experiencing every time he goes out. Driven to the breaking point, Brady rushes out into the foggy night when Noreen says she hears the banshee out and about. Firing into the dark, Brady is horrified to see that he’s killed his own wife. Now able to hear the banshee’s cries, Brady wonders if the hoods or the hangman’s rope will claim him first. More noir-flavored than one might suspect from a tale in one of EC’s horror rags, “The Howling Banshee” put me in mind of a slightly grittier take on Val Lewton’s cinematic work for RKO. The banshee is heard and never seen, gently obscuring the definite possibility of the supernatural but working it into the story just enough that one can never be sure what’s what. As always, Craig provides exemplary character work with Brady who, like Shirley from “Sink-Hole” (VoH #18), can never be seen as wholly good or bad, mostly imperfect but always doomed. -Jose

Jack Kamen responds to criticism.
("Horror in the Schoolroom")
Peter: Totally offbeat and goofy, “Room for One More” is another yarn from the seemingly bottomless EC Revenge Well, but this one has that extra zaniness to push it to another level. Then there’s the “Ghastly” Graham Ingels art. Ingels could make the worst tale readable, but when he was given something with substance, no one could touch him. He was the 1950s version of Bernie Wrightson. I love Johnny Craig’s art as well (though I think his stuff got better, as witnessed by his work for Warren in the 1960s), but just compare the results of Craig’s take on the story (on the cover) with the full story as drawn by Ingels. Craig’s art almost has a calm to it (despite depicting a corpse bursting through a basement floor) while Ingels oozes darkness and doom. Though the biggest influence on "Horror in the School Room" has to be John Collier's "Thus I Refute Beelzy" (right down to the mirror-image final scene), there's no denying the Ray Bradbury vibe in both "School Room" and "The Basket," the latter of which reminds me, in atmosphere, of Bradbury's "The Jar." It's eerie how close to Ingels Jack Davis comes on his splash for "The Basket." Though "The Howling Banshee" might have felt a little more comfortable over in Crime SuspenStories, it is, nonetheless, a solid thriller and closes out a very strong issue of HoF.

Jack: "Room for One More!" is one of the best horror stories I've read so far in the EC line, though Ingels has some strange ideas about the size of the main character's hands in relation to his head. Is this the first time we've seen resurrected, knock-kneed corpses? I knew right from the start what the secret in "The Basket" was but the story was disappointing. I wanted to see Ray Milland and Rosey Grier's heads in the final panel! Peter is on target with "Horror in the School Room" having a Ray Bradbury feeling to it; I was happy to see Feldstein reach back to the Bible for his monster's name but I was unhappy that Kamen chose not to try to depict the creature. All we get is a severed hand! I love Johnny Craig's work but "The Howling Banshee!" is not his strongest tale. Poor Noreen sounds like an Irish Yoda when she spouts remarks like: "Sure, and 'tis willing I am te listen" or "'Tis frightened I am!"

John: Despite a somewhat weak premise (I want the last spot in the family crypt), "Room For One More!" plays right to my weak spot and wins me over with a parade of shambling corpses. (Oversize) hands down my favorite story in this issue. If anyone doubted what was in "The Basket!" you need look no further than the character's name. Surely I'm not the only one who knew Mr. Cabez had a cabeza (Spanish for head) in his basket? "Horror in the School Room" was an interesting premise, but falls short in the realm of 'less is more' stories. I was really looking forward to seeing Magog meet the schoolmaster. "The Howling Banshee!" was the low point for me in this otherwise horror filled issue of HoF.  

Mighty big hands!
("Room for One More!")

Weird Science #7

"It Was the Monster from the Fourth Dimension" 
Story and Art by Al Feldstein

"Something Missing"  
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

". . . Gregory Had a Model-T" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"The Aliens!" ★1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

One day, while tending to his farm, Hank Underhill comes across a peculiar sight: a giant, floating blob. The shape descends upon one of Hank's cows and absorbs it. In a panic, the farmer hops into his jalopy and heads for the home of his brother, noted scientist, William "Willy" Underhill. Hank excitedly describes the eerie events and convinces his brother to accompany him back to the farm for an assessment. Once there, the brothers are chased into Hank's storm cellar by the pulsating blob but at least this gives the scientist a chance to explain just what the phenomenon is. Luckily, Willy has been working on a machine that will bust through the fourth dimension; he's convinced this thing has somehow entered our dimension and is stuck. His solution is to use his own machine to enter the blob's world and destroy it with a "charge of dynamite!" The trip goes as planned but hits a snag when Willy obviously stands a little too close to the explosion; his body re-enters our world along with pieces of his machine. Good news is that the blob is dead. Bad news is that Hank has to sell the farm because the odor becomes too much for him.

"You see, Timmy, when the world cooled . . ."
("It Was the Monster from the Fourth Dimension")
"It Was the Monster from the Fourth Dimension" could very well turn out to be the worst piece of drivel EC ever runs but at least it's entertaining . . . in the same way a really bad monster movie entertains. So much to love and roll your eyes simultaneously. Hank's brother, Willy, just happens to be a scientist perfecting a fourth-dimension taxi but Al doesn't think to maybe tie that in with the monster's appearance; it would certainly explain the coincidence if Willy had been responsible for providing the monster a doorway. A la Stephen King's "The Mist," there's a mention of a "freak storm which had ravaged the countryside the previous night," but nothing more is made of that. But never mind. Willy takes advantage of their down time in the storm cellar to explain in minute detail what's going on; the two-page break reads like fourth period Science with Mr. McKinney and is capped with the perfect explanatory: "If a fourth-dimensional creature came along and stuck its finger or its arm into our three-dimensional world, what would we see? A three-dimensional cross-section of this fourth-dimensional animal's extremity!" Makes perfect sense to me. Willy's such a smart guy that he blows the creature up but obviously didn't take the necessary precautions to assure a safe flight home for himself. And this guy is a scientist? My loudest laugh (amidst plenty of guffaws) is when Willy tells Hank he's going to his place to grab his Fourth-Dimensional Doodad and Hank needs to keep an eye on the ectoplasm from beyond until he gets back. The next panel's caption begins: "Willy was back with his machine in two days!" Two days? With a world-threatening monster tethered to his brother's favorite elm? Did Bill have a lecture already scheduled? Traffic? Absent-minded? And, finally, what's with the babe who puts an appearance in on the splash and then takes a powder? Drink several alcoholic beverages before consuming.

A piece of cheese that dreamed of becoming
a mouse someday, apparently.
("Something Missing")
Al must have been on a roll this month as he follows one inane script with another. "Something Missing" chronicles the misadventures of professor Roger Lawrence, inventor of the "physio-chemical decomposer and re-aligner," a machine that will "break down any living thing placed within its force field into its chemical component parts" and then "realign these chemical components into new chemical components, thereby creating another object different in structure..." (just what benefits this machine holds for mankind isn't explored). Roger's shrewish wife would prefer a new dress but the young student he's just hired as his assistant thinks the big gizmo is "Beautiful." Lawrence tries the machine out on a mouse and the little creature is transformed into a slice of cheese. Why? Well, aide Sally has a theory about that. She thinks the restructuring is based on what the subject has on its mind at the moment. Roger is too blinded by Sally's headlights to shoot her theory down. When the professor's wife comes to call (and Sally and Roger have taken their working relationship to another level), Sally thinks fast and hides in the closet . . . well, no, actually she turns the machine on and is zapped into particles. For some reason, the gorgeous gal is realigned into a porcelain statue, which nasty wife Hannah bashes into a million pieces. After the old nag leaves, Roger quickly tosses the pieces back into the Re-Aligner but, as the naked babe is taking shape, he notices he forgot a sizable part of the porcelain on the lab floor. Uh-oh. There's a fantastic final panel that (out of necessity or not) leaves up to the reader's imagination the location of the missing piece on Sally's body but, otherwise, this is a 7-page turkey that doesn't even have the knuckleheaded joy the previous Feldstein script employed. And then there's the Jack Kamen art. I'd say the "Something Missing" here is a coherent script.

"Something Missing"

"Gregory Had a Model-T"
"Gregory Had a Model-T" is another bit of Harvey Kurtzman fluff, this time about a man who treats his automobile as though it was alive and that may be because it is. Kurtzman's art, as always, is a delight, but the "oddball characters doing oddball things" schtick may have worn thin already. We'll have to monitor the situation. By this time, Wally Wood was the go-to guy when EC needed illustrations for  an Outer Space saga and Wally does not disappoint with "The Aliens." The script, about an interstellar quest for another world like Earth, is a bit predictable. -Peter

Jose: Yikes. This was not one of EC’s brightest hours.“It Was the Monster from the Fourth Dimension” will probably draw more wisecracks from the peanut gallery than Feldstein might have intended; all I can tell you is that the 7th grader in me could not help but draw the ribald conclusion that the dimensional rift was the SF equivalent of a glory hole and that the creature’s probing, swelling “extremity” was . . . well, there’s a scientist named Willy here to explain it to us, after all. “Something Missing” is just as bad but with hardly any of the perverse thrills. I say “hardly” because the notion of a human being reassembled from shattered materials with one piece left behind is fairly neat (likely the seed from which this turgid melodrama sprung), but the delivery is fumbled by Kamen who turns in some of his driest work to date.

"The Aliens"
Kurtzman’s goofball yarns have been steadily declining in quality, and one can only hope that “Gregory Had a Model-T,” a corncob tale that leans more heavily towards fantasy than SF, will prove to be the final, wearying pit stop before we pull back onto the road to recovery. By the issue’s end, the reader will be so weary and desperate for succor that Wally Wood’s “The Aliens” will be viewed as a possible beacon of hope, but while the artist’s compositions are as assured and able as ever, the story never seems to reach full boil, and draws the whole show closed with a feeble simmer.

Jack: I think that Peter and Jose have said about all that needs to be said about "It was the Monster . . ." I thought it looked like floating Silly Putty. In "Something Missing," I was very curious as to what piece of Sally was missing and why it elicited such a reaction from Roger. What's the big deal? Just toss in the extra piece, melt her down again and then bring her back whole. Sometimes these brilliant scientists just don't think! I enjoyed Kurtzman's story and it made me realize, yet again, that Mad did not come from nowhere--it was the logical destination for the zany side of comics that creators like Kurtzman had been exploring. "The Aliens!" dazzled me with its art and surprised me with its conclusion. It was obvious that the spaceship landed on Earth but less obvious that the hostile people encountered were also space travelers!

John: Right from the start, I thought "It Was the Monster from the Fourth Dimension" was going to be a hoot that Ed Wood would have been proud to have written. Unfortunately, once the brother shows up on the scene and points out what's really going on, that it's clearly an inter-dimensional being from the fourth dimension (which I literally laughed out loud at), it was all downhill from there. "Something Missing" has a classic twist ending, but takes far too long in getting there, as we've seen many times before in EC's lesser efforts. While "The Aliens!" has nice Wally Wood art to look at, it's another case of been here (to this Earth-like planet), done that.

Next Week!
More DC Monkey Business!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Caroline Munro Archive: Hamilton & Munro - Come Softly To Me

by John Scoleri


I'm back with another artifact from my Caroline Munro archive; a continuing series on bare•bones. You can check out the previous installments here.

This time out, I wanted to showcase another piece of Caroline related vinyl, and this time she's not just gracing the cover.

This 45rpm single on the King Kong label is a collaboration between Caroline and her then husband Judd Hamilton from 1975 (with a great picture of the pair on the picture sleeve). The featured single is "Come Softly To Me" b/w "Sad Old Song."

For those who are curious, Caroline has a breathy, Olivia Newton John-like voice on both tracks.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Hitchcock Project-Bryce Walton Part One: Touché [4.35]

by Jack Seabrook

Bryce Walton wrote about
Iwo Jima for Leatherneck

The last episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by frequent contributor Robert C. Dennis was "Invitation to an Accident," which aired on June 21, 1959, as the final show of the series's fourth season. The week before that, on June 14, 1959, the first episode of the series to be based on a story by Bryce Walton aired. That episode was titled "Touché." Over the next three years, Walton would contribute to six episodes, either as author of the original story, as writer of the teleplay, or as both.

Bryce Walton was born in Missouri in 1918. He worked as a sailor, migrant farmer, gold miner, and railroad section hand from 1938 to 1941, spent some time at Los Angeles Junior College from 1939 to 1941, then served in the Navy and Marines from 1942 to 1945, earning a special citation from Admiral Nimitz for his coverage of action at Iwo Jima. He started writing freelance in 1945 and spent time at California State College in 1946 and 1947.

Walton is said to have written over 1000 short stories in his career and he also wrote six novels between 1952 and 1974. His work was mostly in the genres of science fiction and mystery; a blog post here features many good illustrations. Though some sources say that he won an award in 1961 for best short story of the year from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, this appears to be incorrect. He did have a story published in that year's volume of Best Detective Stories of the Year.

"Touche" was first
published here

His television credits include a stint as a writer for Captain Video in 1949, but very little else. In 1991, a TV movie called "Into the Badlands" was adapted from Walton's story called "The Last Pelt." Other than that, three of his stories were adapted by other writers for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Walton then wrote teleplays for two episodes of the series and co-wrote a third with Henry Slesar. Only one of his three teleplays was an adaptation of his own story.

"Touché" was first published under the pen name of Kenneth O'Hara in the November 1958 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. A pseudonym was used presumably because Walton also had another story, "The Mind Reader," published in the same issue under his own name.

"Touché" concerns Big Bill Fleming, a rich man with a problem. His young, second wife is having an open affair with a man named Phil Baxter. Fleming wants to kill Baxter but does not want to go to jail for murder. While at a hunting lodge, he discusses his problem with a bright young man who is studying to be a lawyer. The young man considers the problem from all angles and suggests that Fleming challenge Baxter to a duel with swords, where Baxter would be forced to defend himself. The young man guarantees that Fleming would be acquitted under California law if he killed Baxter in these circumstances.

Paul Douglas as Fleming
Fleming drives home and finds his wife Lara in bed with Baxter. Telling Baxter that he intends to kill him, Fleming begins to slash and poke at his rival with a saber until Baxter picks up a sword and attempts to fight back. Fleming swiftly kills him and Lara begins to laugh.

Big Bill goes to the police station and turns himself in. The trial that follows results in a not guilty verdict, as predicted, but the judge tells Fleming that state law requires him to support Baxter's son. The judge orders him to pay the young man $100,000 now and then $1000 per month for life.

Not wanting to see his wife anymore, Fleming returns home to collect some personal items. He finds Lara with Phil Baxter, Jr., who turns out to be none other than the bright young man who had suggested the duel.

The title of the story has a double meaning: it refers both to the swordplay between Fleming and Baxter and to the clever way young Baxter tricks Fleming into killing the elder Baxter and, at the same time, providing financially for the younger Baxter.

Robert Morse as Phil Baxter Jr.
"Touché" was adapted for television by William Fay (1918-1981), who wrote teleplays for sixteen episodes of the Hitchcock series. Fay was a short story writer who had been an editor at Popular Publications in the late 1930s and who, by the late 1940s, was the sports editor for Collier's magazine. He had been a Golden Gloves star and a sportswriter there and in Chicago, and the FictionMags Index lists short stories by him that were published from 1938 to 1962. Most of his stories appeared in slick magazines such as Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and Argosy, and he was "generally acclaimed" as the "standout story teller of the ring." It may be the case that his background in telling stories having to do with sports is why he was given the assignment of adapting "Touché," which has at its center a sword fight. Many of his stories are available for free online here.

Hugh Marlowe as Baxter
The TV show follows the story closely and is broken down into six scenes. The first scene, by far the longest, takes place at the hunting lodge, where Fleming, played by Paul Douglas, and the young man, played by Robert Morse, discuss Fleming's problem and its possible solution. William Fay turns pages of narrative into dialogue and both actors give fine portrayals of two very different men. At one point, Morse grabs a foil off of the wall and begins to practice some fencing maneuvers; Douglas, as Fleming, is charmingly self-deprecating for someone so successful. Morse speaks as if he is a lawyer presenting a case to a jury and trying to win them over. In retrospect, that is exactly what he is doing, since he has planned out his pitch to Fleming and convinces him to go through with it.

The menacing shot of Douglas
In the second scene, Bill arrives home and enters his house, where a shot shows him looming large and menacing above the sunken living room, his body bathed in high contrast lighting, his shadow large and ominous on the door behind him. In the story, he finds Lara in bed with Baxter. In the show, she lounges on a circular sofa, Baxter sitting languidly on the floor beside her. Hugh Marlowe plays Baxter as a decadent playboy, reclining calmly with a drink in his hand. Dody Heath, as Lara, is given little to do in the show but look sexy, though her sudden laughter after her husband kills her lover provides a chilling moment. The swordplay is awkward, as it should be between two inexperienced fencers, and takes place in Fleming's expansive living room rather than in the bedroom. At one point, Baxter throws a vase and hits Fleming in the head; Fleming trips and falls, then runs Baxter through the stomach with an upward sword thrust.

James Flavin as Dan
This is followed by a scene at the police station, where Baxter's confession to Dan, the desk sergeant, is expanded from the brief mention of the event in Walton's story. Also longer is the courtroom scene that follows, though it looks like it was done on a tight budget, since all we see is the judge's bench and the witness box. The scene is played out in closeups and medium shots, with no sign of a jury or any onlookers in the courtroom. We only see Bill testify, not Lara (she does so in the story and fully supports her husband), yet when Fleming emerges from the courtroom there is a crowd of spectators gathered around the door!

The judge explains his ruling to Bill and his lawyer in a short scene in the judge's chambers, then we see the lawyer and Bill drive up to Bill's house. The final scene occurs back in the living room, where the duel had taken place. The camera is focused on the back of the long couch and Lara pops up, having been lying in the arms of an unseen man. We soon see him sling his leg over the back of the couch, and his shoe is similar to that worn by Baxter in the duel scene. Bill comes in, glowering at his unfaithful wife, who tells him that they have company. Bill responds, "You expect me to be surprised?" and she says, unexpectedly, "Yes, dear!" Baxter Jr. then leaps over the back of the couch to face Bill, who registers shock. Unlike in the story, there is no mention of an estranged relationship between Baxter Jr. and his father, but the episode ends ironically, as the young man asks Fleming, "Would you mind if I called you Dad?" This is followed by a closeup of Bill's scowling face and a musical sting as the screen fades to black.

The living room set where the duel takes place
William Fay and director John Brahm do a fine job of translating Walton's short story to the small screen, aided greatly by strong performances by Paul Douglas and Robert Morse. There are few significant changes to the plot, other than toning down the sexual nature of the situation by moving the confrontation out of the bedroom and into the living room.

John Brahm (1893-1982) was born and raised in Germany but left in the early 1930s when Hitler came to power. He started out as an actor but gained fame as a director, making movies from 1936 to 1967 and directing many episodes of TV shows, starting in 1952. Two of his best films were The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945), and his work is notable for its shadows and sense of menace. He directed 15 episodes of the Hitchcock series, as well as many episodes of other genre series such as The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. The last episode directed by Brahm that I examined was "The Throwback," which also featured a duel.

Dody Heath as Lara
Portraying Big Bill Fleming is Paul Douglas (1907-1959), who made his Broadway debut in 1936 and who also worked as a radio announcer during that decade. He started in movies in 1933 and became a feature film star in 1949 with his role in A Letter to Three Wives. He worked on film and TV throughout the 1950s before dying suddenly in 1959. "Touché" was his only appearance on the Hitchcock series and it was one of his last roles.

Hugh Marlowe (1911-1982) gets second billing as Phil Baxter. Born Hugh Herbert Hipple, be started onstage in the 1930s and also appeared on radio. He played Ellery Queen on radio and television and also appeared in movies beginning in 1936. He had a role in All About Eve (1950) and began appearing in TV shows that year. He was seen in six episodes of the Hitchcock series; the last discussed here was "John Brown's Body." Later in his life he was a regular on the soap opera Another World, from 1969 to 1982.

King Calder as the lawyer
Giving an energetic performance as Baxter's son is Robert Morse (1931- ), who started out on stage, film and TV in the mid-1950s. He is best known for his starring role on Broadway and on film in How to Succeed I Business (1967) and he had an important role as Bert Cooper on Mad Men from 2007 to 2015. He was seen twice on the Hitchcock series and his career is still going strong today.

In smaller roles, Dody Heath (1928- ) plays Lara Fleming. Her career on screen lasted from 1954 to 1974, and this was one of her three appearances on the Hitchcock series. King Calder (1897-1964) plays the lawyer who examines Fleming at trial; he was on screen from 1949 to 1964 and appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock series. James Flavin (1906-1976) plays Dan, the desk sergeant at the police station. He had character parts in nearly 400 movies and 100 TV episodes from 1932 to 1971 and was in four episodes of the Hitchcock series. Finally, Robert Carson (1909-1979) plays the judge; he was in eleven episodes of the Hitchcock series and had many credits as a character actor in a career that ran from 1939 to 1974.

Robert Carson as the judge
"Touché" does not appear to have been reprinted after its initial publication in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and I thank Peter Enfantino for providing a scan of the story and for looking through a couple of years' worth of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine to see if there was an award for Best Short Story of 1961 given to Bruce Walton. The TV show is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here.

"Bryce Walton." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Contemporary Authors [Gale]. Web. 5 July 2016.
"Find Items in Libraries near You." The World's Largest Library Catalog. Web. 05 July 2016.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 05 July 2016.
"Touché." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 14 June 1959. Television.
Walton, Bryce. "Touché." Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Nov. 1958: 24-36.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 09 July 2016.

"William Cullen Fay, Writer - on" Web. 05 July 2016.

In two weeks: Brian Keith and James Best in "Cell 227"!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 83: April 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 All American Men of War 114

"The Ace Who Died Twice!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Diary of a Fighter Pilot!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick
(reprinted from Our Army at War #45, April 1956)

Peter: Lt Steve Savage, the Balloon Buster, must face the notorious Undertaker, a German ace who shoots down his opposition, then dumps miniature coffins over the enemy airfields. When Steve steals a motorcycle for a little r 'n' r, he heads into a nearby village just as it's bombed by the Undertaker. He rescues a gorgeous French maiden named Denise, who bemoans the "shelleeng" but takes comfort in the fact that her two brothers, both Neuport pilots, are far from the fighting. Ze lass recommends that she and Steve dance while waiting out the bombing but their budding romance is interrupted by the entrance of one of Denise's brothers, who explains that he and sibling Henri were shot down "over zis town" by a stinkin' zeppelin. Henri was killed and now Raoul desires vengeance. Steve tells the Frenchman he can help and, together, they travel back to the base where they steal a plane and head for the skies. Raoul, mortally wounded, makes Steve promise him that they will not land until the Undertaker is blasted out of the sky. Raoul expires but Steve lives up to his promise.

Speaking of living up to promise, this is a series that is sorely lacking in that department. From a very strong first chapter to a so-so sophomore effort to "The Ace Who Died Twice," a very weak, by-the-numbers snoozer. When the pair of aces steal the plane, Steve is forced to sit on the wing for the entire sky battle. A little far-fetched, I'll admit, but it's been done before (in fact, some would say it's been done to death); here it's delivered in such an outlandish manner that the reader has no recourse but to laugh out loud rather than gasp. The two main characters, Steve and Denise, are the victims of Bob Kanigher's pidgin English style of writing: Steve peppers his dialogue with "thuh"s and "yuh"s and Denise is laden with gobbledygook sentences like "Eet ees like ze fair lady's scarf ze knight of old wore when he went into battle." Eet's tough enough gettin' through thuh story without having tuh pause every sentence to try to figger out just what it ees they're sayin'! Two thumbs up as usual for Joe's illos, though. Time and time again, this guy would deliver and elevate a time waster into maybe something just a little bit more.

"The Ace Who Died Twice"
Jack: Did German pilots in WWI really drop little, individual calling cards from their planes? The Undertaker's "messages in a coffin" are cool, but did this kind of thing really happen? Two things that really bug me about Steve Savage are 1) the constant repetition of "Yore th' gun!" or "I'm the gun!" as he recalls his late father's advice about how to shoot; and 2) the dreadful country accent he's forced to use in every single word balloon. It's more distracting than evocative of a certain type of American fighter. Kubert's art is particularly strong in this story, and it's a shame Kanigher's writing is particularly weak.

Peter: "Diary of a Fighter Pilot" is an average war tale built around the hook of a pilot who starts a journal as a means of keeping track of all the "excitement" he encounters. Beginning this month (and lasting for quite some time) vintage reprints will dot the landscape. I'm assuming this was put into place to buy Kanigher time between deadlines. How this guy was editing and writing the war titles as well as a handful of the DC superhero books is beyond my understanding. Anyway, the policy around here is that we'll cover (or at least mention in passing) any of the reprints that appeared before our time period (pre-June 1959) but, despite excellence, these reprints won't appear on our Best Of lists.

Jack: I liked the simple, straightforward backup story and was disappointed to learn it was a reprint. If anything, it was nice to see someone other than Jack Abel draw the second story for a change. In this issue's letter column, a reader points out some inconsistencies in Sgt. Rock's various activities in the war and Kanigher admits that he's more interested in telling a good story than in being consistent.

Our Army at War 166

"Half a Sergeant!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Joker is Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Knowing that it's a suicide mission, Rock sends his men up Bloody Hill, following an order to take it by dawn. The shelling is so bad that he calls the men back and secretly rips up the order, but this makes him feel like "Half a Sergeant!" Rock decides to head up the hill alone and, after taking out a few Nazis on patrol, he finds a frightened dog (Pooch was busy in the Pacific Theater) that leads him straight to the Nazi machine gun nest on the hilltop. When the pup is killed, Rock loses his temper and takes out the gunners; he then uses their gun to continue his upward advance. Just when all looks bleakest, along comes Easy Co. from below to save the day.

Kubert's "floating eyes" panels really impressed me, as did the tenacity of the sergeant who is willing to do a job he would not send his men to do. It's a good thing the mutt got shot, though, since the chocolate bar Rock fed to it could have made it very ill.

Peter: I thought "Half a Sergeant" had a very strong first third (with its firing squad images and Rock's first real wavering when it comes to orders), but it was all downhill from there. Who thought the emaciated Pooch was really dead? "Half a Story" is more like it.

Jack: Jinx Jordan is a soldier who is bad luck for everyone around him. Whenever there's an attack, everyone but Jinx gets clobbered. He uses this to his advantage and gets close to the enemy, demonstrating that the jinx works regardless of which side is near him. A dud from any angle, "The Joker is Death!" should have stayed in the foxhole.

Peter: If I didn't know better, I'd say Howard Liss (who showed a lot of promise with "No Dream--No Death" in last month's G.I. Combat) was actually a pseudonym for Hank Chapman. "The Joker is Death" is one of those stories about the likable schlub who has no luck or friends but manages to find both in the end. And the Joker never even shows up!

Our Fighting Forces 99

"No Mercy in Vietnam!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Odds on Death!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Major Nick Hunter is captured by the Viet Cong and his identical twin brother Phil comes looking for him. He saves a local waitress from a terrorist's bomb in a Saigon bar, so she offers to lead him into enemy territory to look for his brother. Phil knows that there is "No Mercy in Vietnam!" but decides to trust her, and he finds and rescues a raft full of wounded American soldiers. Nick is not among them, so Phil vows to keep looking.

Kanigher again relies on the twin brother angle to set up this series, but the novelty of the Vietnam setting intrigues me. Robin Moore's best-seller, The Green Berets, came out in 1965, so it's no surprise that Capt. Hunter sports a green beret once he heads into the jungle. The story ends with him promising to keep looking, so--despite some lazy writing by Kanigher and middling art by Novick--I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

Peter: Capt. Hunter became DC's first regular Vietnam War character but his fame was fleeting, lasting only eight chapters, and the writing is pretty slapdash. It's all very "one man army fights insurmountable odds but comes out the winner in the end," but for that climax. Bob Kanigher couldn't have known how on the money he was when he wrote this bit of dialogue for Hunter:

"How're we going to finish off characters who think nothing of turning themselves into human boobytraps . . . this is going to be a long war!"

Jack: In WWII, Private Harry Clay likes to bet money that his brothers in arms will get killed. He always wins because it's "Odds on Death!" where war is concerned. Finally, Harry bets on himself and is killed in action; his fellow soldiers dump his cash winnings in his empty helmet and move on. This is a grim, nasty little story that repeats the catch phrase "sucker's bet" over and over but ends on a grim note. Jack Abel's art is passable but the script is above average.

Peter: "Odds on Death" is one of the oddest ducks we've read yet on this long, long journey. It's got a protagonist so unlikable, the reader wishes for his death (until it's revealed that Clay was "motivating" his partners with his disgusting actions). I don't buy that climax for a second; I believe Clay was really a nasty individual, who couldn't hide his smirk when fellow G.I.s were being blown to bits for his paydays. Howard Liss is back on track though; this is a solid, if very offbeat, read.

Next Week...