Monday, January 2, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 22: May 1952

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
22: May 1952

 Tales from the Crypt #29

"Grounds . . . for Horror!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Rottin' Trick!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Board to Death!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"A Sucker for a Spider!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Poor little Artie sure has "Grounds . . . for Horror!" His cruel stepfather, Sam the butcher, likes to lock him in the closet to punish him for any minor infraction. Artie cries in the dark, alone and afraid, until his mother Lily hears him starting to laugh. It seems Artie has made friends with an invisible creature named Hozir that lives in the closet and Hozir does not like the way Sam is treating Artie. The boy protects his stepfather and convinces Hozir just to give Sam a little shove, but soon the constant punishments result in Hozir making Sam cut off the tip of a finger while using the slicing machine. A week later, Sam makes the mistake of beating Artie. When Lily comes home, Artie shows her that Hozir finally lost his temper and put Sam through the meat grinder.

And what am I? Chopped liver?
("Grounds . . . for Horror!")

What a satisfyingly meaty start to this issue! Jack Davis is in fine form, and for once we get a real payoff in the last panel, as Davis shows us a big pile of ground Sam. Yum!

"A Rottin' Trick!"
Clint Ashton is running away from someone who is chasing him through Greece. Hiding in a small boat, he thinks back to a time two years before when he met and courted a beautiful singer named Essie in the same seacoast town where he now hides. Essie was engaged to Nick, but that didn't stop Clint from playing "A Rottin' Trick!" He drove Essie out to the country and had his way with her, but when she was disfigured in a car accident he dropped her like a hot potato, telling Nick to go ahead and marry her. Now, two years later, he tracks Nick down and asks for his help. Nick takes Clint out on his boat and to safety, dropping him off near an island and telling him to wade ashore. Clint asks Nick if he ever married Essie and learns that she committed suicide. Unfortunately for Clint, Nick let him off at a leper colony, where he will quickly contract the dreaded disease and never be able to leave.

Ouch--Clint really got what was coming to him. Joe Orlando turns in a decent job on the art in this story and, as in the first story in this issue, the final panel doesn't shy away from showing us the gruesome truth of Clint's fate.

How to handle a woman.
("Board to Death!")
Myrna has been afraid of being buried alive since she was in a mining accident as a child, so when she marries Herb he likes to tease her with threats that he'll bury her alive. They move to a dingy mining town and she has an affair with a hunk named Andy. Herb comes home early one day and catches his wife with her lover, so he hits her over the head with a poker. She awakens in a pine box, thinking he's buried her alive, not realizing that this is how she's being transported to a distant hospital--locked inside a pine box that's fastened to the outside of a plane. When they arrive and open the box, she's gone crazy.

Yes, you read that right. "Board to Death!" features a woman being airlifted to a hospital in a coffin-like pine box hooked to the outside of a plane. And this is a woman who has told everyone over and over that she is petrified of being buried alive. Thank goodness Kamen gets the chance to draw some light bondage panels showing the rather attractive gal tied up inside the coffin. Otherwise, this story would be a total waste.

Bank president Maxwell Stoneman is "A Sucker for a Spider!" He loves the little guys and shows off his collection to his chief teller, Randolph Spurd. Spurd tells Stoneman that he knows the boss has been embezzling from his own bank and offers to keep quiet for $5000. Stoneman convinces Spurd to stay the night and lets a black widow spider kill him in his bed. The cops investigate and find nothing, but Stoneman decides to get out of town for awhile just to be safe. He flies his own plane south but crashes in the Okefenokee swamp, where a giant spider traps him in its web and eats him.

Gosh! Don't you hate when that happens? Ghastly is in good form with this revenge tale, where all of the humans look a little weird and the spiders look normal. If I were blackmailing my boss and he had a collection of spiders, I sure wouldn't accept an offer for a slumber party! --Jack

"A Sucker for a Spider!"
Peter: "Grounds . . . for Horror!" is nothing more than a reworking of "Horror in the Schoolroom" (from Haunt #7), which was, itself, a rip-off of John Collier's "Thus I Refute Beelzy," but it does have a humdinger of a final panel. This was Al and Bill testing the waters to see what they could get away with and, as history shows, they were able to get away with it for a couple of years before anyone (aside from the Fan-Addicts) took notice. Some of the worst Davis art yet, with several of the panels looking sketchy and unfinished (panel 6 on page 7 ostensibly shows Sam Bricker with a giant earthworm boring into his cheek), this is one best forgotten. "A Rottin' Trick!" gives its twist away in the title (a cardinal sin) but it's a good'n all the same. No, you're right, it makes no sense that Clint would head back for help from the one man on Earth who hates him the most but why do you always have to be so nit picky? "Bored Board to Death!" has some of the dopiest dialogue ("I'll buy you a new dress . . . when I bury you alive!") and character personality switches in any EC this month. What kind of Romeo would court a girl by continually telling her he'll bury her alive? Romance in the 1950s. Ghastly beckons us into "A Sucker for a Spider!" with a fabulous splash of the Grim Reaper and then helps Al along with his questionable narrative and preposterous climax. Of course, there's no such spider as the Vermula, so Al can pretty much make up his own rules, but his problem has become that most of his twists are telegraphed. I give "Spider" a passing grade for presentation.

Jose: “Grounds . . . for Horror!” moves along at a smooth pace in spite of some rather staid artwork and panel layouts, but it all feels worth it when we get to that last shot of the machine turning out finely-ground hash of step-dad. (Maybe it would’ve been too-on-the-nose, but why not have named the wicked stepfather Chuck?) For me, “A Rottin’ Trick!” represents some of Orlando’s best work yet; this story has always stayed in my mind as being the ultimate Orlando horror tale. He’s beginning to reach gorgeous levels of detail. Check out those panels in the nightclub: the haze of smoke, the glinting jewelry, the weeping violinist. You can feel the room, it’s so palpable. And while Clint’s calling on Nick to help him might seem like a narrative misstep, it makes a certain kind of sense if you consider Clint’s character: brash, arrogant, thinking that he can talk his way out of any situation and bend others to his will. A fatal flaw, but one I think of character rather than writer. I remember being confused a lot the first time I read “Board to Death!” back in high school, and I admit that not much has changed. This is a pretty durn flimsy yarn, and “the twist” that had seemed so random to me and made me think that I was the dumb one now only comes across as a dumb plot development. And I, for one, really dig “A Sucker for a Spider!” Overall, I think this particular issue shows all of the contributing artists really stepping into their form. As Russ Cochran says in his notes from the hardcover EC Library edition, the slight wrinkles that had cropped up in everyone’s earlier work are effectively steamrolled by the time Tales #26 rolls around. “… Spider” represents a significant turning point in Ingels’s illustrations, his characters more clearly defined and delineated and the action flowing more naturalistically without the cramped, tortured, and claustrophobic feeling that permeated his previous stories. To be honest, I don’t really give a fig that giant Okefenokee spiders don’t exist, or even if Stoneman’s withered fate is given to us from the start. To me that’s part of the charm in the EC stories, especially when we know the payoff is going to be disgusting.

 Crime SuspenStories #10

". . . Rocks in His Head!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Lady Killer" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Missed by Two Heirs!" ★ 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Friend to 'Our Boys'!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

He went to Jared's!
(". . . Rocks in His Head!")
Doctor Charles Andrews has the Number One irritant of an EC husband: a money-hungry shrew of a wife. Cynthia Andrews rings up purchases faster than her surgeon hubby can earn the dough and something has to give. Rather than murder his wife (Option A in this universe), Chuck takes advantage of an ailing woman in the ER by robbing her of her diamond ring ("worth $10,000 at least!") but the biddy wakes up and cries "Robbery!" Within minutes, the police swoop in (as if there was a precinct within the hospital!) and shut the medical center down for a person-by-person search for the missing trinket. Luckily for Doc Andrews, he has brain surgery to perform in OR #2 and hightails it. A suspicious cop keeps guard, though, and there's only one place to hide the ring . . . in his patient's skull. Though the patient would normally pull through the operation, the Doc deems the poor guy's days are numbered (so that he can rush a post-mortem and dig up the corpse once it's been buried). The post-op and patient's death go without a hitch but when Andrews visits the widow to find out when the stiff will be interred, he gets a big surprise . . . the dead man has been cremated! Helpful of Al to let us know, at story's end, that diamonds burn at 850 degrees and a cremation reaches 2000. I liked the twist of ". . . Rocks in the Head!" even if it is a bit far-fetched. Again, you have to love the 1950s, when a murderer could get away with all sorts of outlandish capers; no forensics to worry about or autopsies to botch a fiend's plan. I do find it fascinating that Al lets the Doc off the hook (ostensibly) since he walks away from both the robbery and "murder" in the end.

"Lady Killer"
Ralph and Jeanne have fallen in love, now only one thing stands in their matrimonial way: Jeanne's best friend, Mildred, who happens to be Ralph's wife. Ralph goes to his wife and asks for a divorce but Milly refuses, claiming it's only a passing fancy and her hubby will come to his senses in no time. The two lovebirds decide the only way to happiness is murder and a plan is devised. Ralph establishes an alibi and heads back to his flat, where he guns down Milly in cold blood. When he returns to Jeanne's place and knocks on the door, there's no answer, but he finds the door unlocked and the apartment dark. Just then, he hears a commotion from downstairs; the landlady telling a cop she's heard a shot from upstairs. The cop enters the apartment to find Ralph sobbing over the lifeless form of Jeanne. Evidently, Milly had been by for a cup of tea. The final panel of "Lady Killer" finds Ralph on Death Row, musing on the irony of being arrested for Jeanne's death rather than his wife's! Boy, these cops in these comic books are amateurs. Are you telling me they couldn't put two and two together and come out with two murders to hang on this dope? Jack Kamen's jilted wives always look like old spinsters and his men always look . . . oh, sorry, I've gone into this a few times already, haven't I? Never mind.

"Missed By Two Heirs!"
Nasty old Henry Bordin keeps his two step-sons, Julius and Martin, at his beck and call. Henry inherited the family fortune when his wife died and he knows this will keep the two vultures running up and down the stairs at his every whim. Sick of being lapdogs to an old man who shouldn't have lucked into all this money, Martin and Julius plot Henry's demise, but their first stab at the venture goes awry when their step-dad survives their monkeying with the banister. After that, Martin has had enough and poisons the old timer's orange juice. After a bit of time has gone by, the brothers enter their stepfather's room, expecting to find a corpse, but to their surprise Henry Bordin is gone. In a note, Bordin explains he's on to the schemers and has taken a sample of the orange juice to the police to be tested. Panicked by the prospect of life behind bars, Martin and Julius poison themselves but, before the potion can take effect, the police arrive to explain that Henry has slipped on the ice outside, cracked his skull, and died. "Missed by Two Heirs!" has a great last-panel twist but we have to slog though the same old "greedy relatives waiting on a big payday" narrative. The only difference between this variation and others before it is that these two dopes really should have gotten their mom's moolah and old Henry seems to be the actual villain.

"Friend to 'Our Boys'!"
Corporal Barry Tacker keeps his wife, Eve, and young son off-base in a rotted shack owned by the chintzy, cold-hearted Edgar Chambers. The place is a dump and falling apart but Chambers refuses to fix any part of his property, instead hoping the family will move out and allow him to reel new victims in at an escalated price. The leaking roof, marauding rats and blood-sucking mosquitoes finally become too much for the family and they move out. When Chambers arrives to inspect the now-vacant property, he falls down the rotted stairs into the basement and is devoured by rats. The End. Nothing original in "Friend to 'Our Boys'!" either, unfortunately, other than the fact that Al spared the lives of the innocents (I was expecting little Junior to be gnawed to death before Barry saw the light). Other than that, we have a landlord so vile, vicious, and evil, he becomes a parody and hardly believable. Not one of the better Crime issues. --Peter

Cheese, that is horrible!
("Friend to 'Our Boys'!")
Jack: The Johnny Craig story was the best in the issue, as usual, with a creative premise and a stellar mix of art and story. I'll admit that the Doc's plan is a little nutty, but it's not one we've seen before and the final zinger is a good one. I was pleasantly surprised by the Kamen tale, which features a strong, noir story and art to match. At one point, it reminded me of the kind of narration one would hear in an Old Time Radio crime drama. The conclusion is another variation on Cain's Postman, but that never gets old. Jack Davis's art is a little shaky in the "Two Heirs" story and Peter's right about the setup having been done to death. As for Ghastly, he sure knows how to draw a hovel! I had never heard about the early 1950s' G.I. housing shortage and was wondering what Harvey Kurtzman could have done with this theme in one of the war books. The story is straightforward and overwritten, as Feldstein sometimes does, but the finale is another one that is more explicit than we've grown used to.

I'm a nurse! I'm a janitor! I'm bleeding internally!
(". . . Rocks in His Head!")
Jose: Have I accidentally stepped into the Twilight Zone? Is it really possible that I enjoyed the Jack Kamen story more than the Johnny Craig? Heavens to Betsy! “… Rocks in His Head!” is by no means a stinker, but some of the funny contrivances like that expedited police investigation pale slightly in comparison to the uniformly strong script Feldstein contributes with “Lady Killer.” The issue’s second story cleverly starts off in medias res as Ralph is just preparing to polish off Mildred following a little smooching at Jeanne’s place, while Craig employs his comedic flair in showcasing money-burning Cynthia’s complete obliviousness to her husband’s despair. Jack Davis gets thrown a bone with the socko ending to “Missed By Two Heirs!,” but the rest of the story goes down like warmed-over scraps. “Friend to ‘Our Boys’!” may be drawn broadly, but I was totally fine with its moralistic fable vibe. It features a unique premise that Feldstein explores with genuine sympathy for the G.I.s as well as bald distaste for those who would exploit them, so the story can be reasonably viewed as the writer’s personalized revenge fantasy. I especially liked the fact that the villain here was done in by his neglect rather than any direct action on his part. In that sense it makes the story much more compatible with reality; it’s usually the things that we don’t do that lead to misfortune later on.

The Vault of Horror #24

"A Bloody Undertaking!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

". . . With All the Trappings!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Graham Ingels

"Impressed by a Nightmare!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Death Wagon!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Davis

Undertaker Gilbert Podges has just bid adieu to his former assistant at the Tompkins train station one frosty night when he happens to see a stunning woman standing at the platform. Offering her a lift, Gilbert exchanges introductions and niceties on the drive to her desolate house and receives a warm kiss as a show of thanks. And just like that, Gilbert is hooked. He quickly proposes marriage to Wilma, never thinking the dame might have it in for his lucrative funeral business. Now with a (gold-digging) wife of his own, Gilbert refocuses his energies on hiring a new assistant. He strikes gold when extremely dedicated albeit “strange, queer-looking” Charlie Drayne applies the next day and plies himself immediately to the job. Charlie is dedicated, but perhaps a little too dedicated. All the cadavers in Gilbert’s shop are always expediently drained of blood, a fact that pairs rather grimly with the series of bizarre “vampire killings” that have begun to plague small, peaceful Tompkins. Charlie’s increasingly nervous and off-kilter behavior, matched with wary comments from Wilma, clinches the deal for Gilbert: Mr. Drayne is an undead fiend. His apprehensions catch the ears of the townsfolk, and it isn’t long before his fears rip through the rest of them like wildfire. Clubs and pitchforks are raised and the villagers give chase to the delirious Charlie, whom they then pin to the ground and stake through the heart, the deadly sledgehammer blow delivered by none other than his employer. Exhausted, Gilbert returns to the funeral home and sees Wilma bending over a slab, only realizing too late as she rears her fangs that he has just made his last error of judgment.

Giving chase to the Other.
("A Bloody Undertaking!")

Johnny Craig takes the territory he explored first with the stylish-yet-standard “Vampire!” (Haunt #16) and ratchets up the formula with additional notes of subtle characterization and thematic resonance for one of his masterpieces, “A Bloody Undertaking!” Gilbert and Wilma are Craig regulars, the “old goat” too blind to see the true nature of the “ice queen.” But the secret that Wilma is keeping is decidedly deadlier than your run-of-the-mill adultery, and Craig must be given credit for ably keeping that secret fairly hidden from the reader through his careful manipulation of the plot. He writes Wilma as a genuine human character and not some ethereal, innuendo-spouting wraith whose motivations are instantly telegraphed. She may be a member of the undead, but she’s also on the make; this is a lady who knows how to play the game. While “A Bloody Undertaking!” remains a three-actor drama in its early stages like “Vampire!”, the story expands in its last sprint into an epic as Gilbert’s paranoia takes hold of the other Tompkins residents and generates an angry mob that is less the bedeviled villagers of Mittel-European hamlets depicted in Universal horror shows and more closely (and unsettlingly) related to the lynch mobs from our own bloody soil, a shading that feels to be influenced by the current running through Shock SuspenStories. Craig’s story reaches a real level of poignancy in the panels following Charlie’s staking as all the townies, weary from their bloodlust, slowly trudge back to their homes to an apparent return to normalcy. Though Craig the writer claims that they feel quietly glorious over their “victory,” Craig the artist renders them on the page with wrinkled brows and worried eyes, as if the smallest splinter of doubt and uneasiness is niggling at their collective minds. That this doubt and uneasiness is magnified tenfold by Gilbert’s late-coming revelation regarding his own bloodsucking vamp makes the ending sting you in the throat all the sharper.

We now return to Trappers on Ice.
(". . . With All the Trappings!")
Pierre Duval, Canadian fur trapper, cannot stand the thought of his mortal remains being shucked away into the earth on a pine dinner plate for the worms and grubs to hold banquet. Preservation and posterity: that’s his line. As such, the old coot resolves to purchase one of those new-fangled metal vaults so that his corpse as well as Maria’s, his abiding wife, may repose in unnibbled peace. Unfortunately Maria goes and buys the farm before Pierre has the three hundred dollars saved up to buy the vault. The crafty trapper answers the question “Where Do You Stow a Cadaver Like Maria?” by shutting his dead wife inside the ice house behind their cabin and sets forth into the freezing wilds to rustle up some funds. (Otherwise known as Kickstarter: Roughneck Edition.) Pierre’s trapping spree goes swimmingly, though he grimly notes at one point that a sizable lynx had escaped one of his sharp-toothed snares, though the animal did lose a front paw in the bargain. Bursting from the seams with his bloody furs, Pierre sells the goods and heads into the city to claim his vault. He returns to the ice house to tell Maria the wonderful news, but old Pierre is gorged with horror at the sight of his wife’s denuded remains resting at the bloody stump of one yowling, well-fed lynx.

“…With All the Trappings!” finds Feldstein extending his reach in delivering rabid EC readers their “heaping helping[s] of horror.” Gone are the steadfast vengeful corpses (at least for this part of the issue) and the murderous spouses, here instead replaced by a blisteringly realist approach that recalls the survival horror stories of Jack London and Stephen Crane. Pierre’s actions are motivated by his revulsion of the burial-and-breakdown process, but whereas this type of aversion would act as the center of morbid fascination in a number of other EC tales, the trapper’s mental quirk is never exploited with a grandiose, ironic finish that cruelly plays on his fears. Instead Pierre becomes one of the hapless victims of Mother Nature and pure chance, a bystander to scenes depicting an animal resolve stronger than his own. Pierre and his wife Maria are an especially rare breed of leading players for the company, totally free of malice or ill will directed towards each other or their fellow men yet met with bleak endings all the same. In this way they are not unlike the source of Pierre’s living: blameless animals trying to make their way through life without needlessly hurting others of their kind, yet still prey to the bite of steel jaws waiting patiently for them in the snow.

A Woodian highlight from a dim night terror.
("Impressed by a Nightmare!")
Emma Dworkin has been having the strangest dreams lately. First she envisions her own finger getting cut, an accident that comes to fruition as she’s uncanning frozen orange juice the next morning. That night she sees her young daughter falling in the street and skinning her knees, a premonition that finds exact expression the following day. At this point she’s made her worries known to her husband, Fred, but his advice is to tell her get more sleep, accented by exclamations of “Kibosh!” and “Fiddle-faddle!” when Emma tries to keep their teenage son from borrowing the car after she dreams of an auto accident. Fred reluctantly eats his words when they get the telephone call later that night from their unharmed and apologetic son. Fred still doesn’t buy his wife’s precognitive powers, and sadly for him Emma proves to be too helpful when she runs to the printing factory where he works to warn him of the nightmare she had that showed him falling into the giant press. The commotion she raises startles Fred on the catwalk, immediately leading to his depressing fate.

“Impressed by a Nightmare!” is a strictly average yarn that adds nothing to the “clairvoyant dreams” strain and one that suffers from some wildly inconsistent art from Joe Orlando. Is this the same guy who turned in “A Rottin’ Trick” this month? There’s not one sign of the smoky romanticism that the artist brought to that tale, replaced here with flat anatomy, awkward poses, and a series of strange ear silhouettes (don’t ask). Don’t trust what it says on the label: there’s hardly anything impressive here.

Wanted: More walking corpses carrying purses and umbrellas.
("The Death Wagon!")
Herman Kitch and Amos Sink of the “Kitch and Sink Used Car Lot” (GET IT?) have just put the wraps on another day of integrity-driven salesmanship, honest appraisals of their wares, and a conscientious desire to help every last one of their humble customers in their time of need. The fact that they do this by mocking up complete junkers with a fresh coat of paint and selling them for double their purchase price is besides the point. But their larcenies and frauds have consequences bigger than the two scam-artists can appreciate: their used cars, frequently held together with nothing but a roll of dental floss, are leading to a record number of road fatalities, killing everyone from a nice elderly couple to a vacationing family, even a few bystanders in one case. The police smell something fishy, and it ain’t just the diluted transmission fluid. Promising to go over the lot with a fine-toothed comb, a detective returns the next day to find that Herman and Amos were up all night remodeling. Except that the salesmen were actually the new parts, and the mechanics were the punishing corpses of all their victims!

If nothing else, “The Death Wagon!” is a bit of fun (and educational) when it instructs the reader through the mouthpiece of Herman on all the neat little tricks you can perform to make automobile issues simply disappear. At least for a few miles, anyway. I remember enjoying this story a fair deal when I first read it as a teenager, thinking that the final payoff was gruesomely imaginative and gnarly, even if all we did get to see were those deaths-head headlights. Now the story strikes me as fairly rote, a nod in the direction of the increasingly icky scenes that EC would begin to depict in a short amount of time. --Jose

("A Bloody Undertaking")
Peter: If the wordy punchline to "The Death Wagon!" sounds familiar ("Two red tongues had replaced the windshield wipers! Eye-balls stared from parking light sockets! Severed hands served as door handles!" Etc!), that's because it was reused to much better effect a year later in the infamous "Foul Play" (". . . the catcher with the torso strapped on as a chest-protector, the stomach rosin-bag . . ." Etc!). It's another in a long line (with more to come) of by-the-numbers revenge yarns. 1/ Introduce the villains. 2/ Introduce the innocent. 3/ Introduce death and mayhem. 4/ Rotting corpses rise from the grave to mete out ironic fate. Simply change vocations for the bad guys and the stories practically wrote (or re-wrote) themselves. Similarly predictable are the vampire tale and "Impressed by a Nightmare!," the latter of which doesn't so much end as peter out; Al is seemingly so uninterested in the narrative, he sees no use in coming up with the O. Henry. I'll agree with my partners, though, on the Craig art. Solid as always and the man can always be counted on to do something nice with a figure (check out, for example, that stunning shot of a reclining Wilma--the term "headlights" was coined because of this panel!). ". . . With All the Trappings!," however, manages to avoid all the usual cliches and delivers solid shocks and sympathy. Pierre is not a bad man; in fact, in an unusual turn of events, ". . . Trappings" has no villains (save the hungry lynx, maybe). Pierre's fate may be a result of his trapping, but the man is only doing what he thinks is right for the woman he loved. One of Ghastly's best jobs to this point.

Jack: I agree with you that this setting really allows Ingels to go to town with the art and we get a couple of particularly ghoulish close ups of Maria's corpse. Still, I saw the end coming a mile away, as I did with the vampire story. That Wilma sure is one hot gold-digger! I love the panel right after her ride in the car with Gilbert where he is overwhelmed by having had her in the front seat with him. Classic Craig! I had the same reaction to the Davis story that you did and think it was a rehearsal for "Foul Play!" but here he isn't allowed to go whole hog and show us the entire, disgusting car--only a tight shot of the front end. Orlando's art on "Nightmare" is a little odd but he takes every opportunity he can find to display Emma in her nightgown, for which we can all be thankful.

So this means no breakfast, right?
("...With All the Trappings")

Shock SuspenStories #2

Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Gee, Dad . . . It's a Daisy!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Patriots!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Freda is a doll who married old Oscar Higgins for his money, but when he has a heart attack and is paralyzed and bedridden for life, she soon tires of caring for her drooling hubby. She meets a hunk named Rick who wants to marry her, so she cooks up a plan to kill Oscar. Workmen are hired to put bars on the basement windows and a snap lock on the basement door and, after stocking the basement pantry with canned goods, Freda "accidentally" locks herself down there for three weeks until the meter reader stops by and lets her out. In the meantime, Oscar has died and she is now free to marry Rick. She heads off to New York to see the lawyer and settle the estate but, when she returns, she finds that Rick accidentally locked himself in the basement and the shock of the ordeal has left him comatose, so now she has another man to care for.

Our kind of gal!
Not a bad little story, "Kickback!" has an unexpected twist and the usual Good Girl Art from Jack Kamen. It's surprising to see one of his stories leading off an issue, but this one is above average and these hard boiled dames are the best!

On the rocket ship Orion-W, Lt. Hartly likes to spend his time tending to his flowers, much to the amusement of the rest of the crew. Egged on by the other men, Lt. Linden plucks a daisy from Hartly's garden and pulls off its petals, skipping around and asking if "she loves me" or "she loves me not." Landing on yet another planet with an Earth-like terrain, the crew spend the night in a clearing, but in the morning one of their team is missing and is later found dead. That night, they discover that they are surrounded by man-eating plants, one of whom picks up Linden and pulls off his limbs, chanting "she loves me," "she loves me not."

Fun times at the offices of
bare bones e-zine.
("Gee Dad . . . It's a Daisy!")
I think the title of "Gee Dad . . . It's a Daisy!" is a play on an old ad for a rifle that a boy is given for Christmas. For some reason, I think this story is well-remembered, but today it seems silly to me. Wally's art is outstanding, though, as usual.

A big parade is being held on the main thoroughfare of a city. A young woman leaves her husband's side to do some shopping, figuring that the stores will be empty. As the parade passes by, "The Patriots!" in the crowd around the husband cheer, but he looks on with no expression save a sneer on his face. Assuming he must be a Dirty Commie Red, the men in the crowd beat him to death. His wife returns to the horrible scene and explains to the roughnecks that the man they just killed was a soldier who came to watch his old unit parade by. His face was injured in the war so all he can do is sneer, and he didn't react because he's also blind.

This is the second time this month it feels like Harvey Kurtzman's influence is behind a story. We have a tale here with a strong moral stance, one that Rod Serling would later pick up for any number of Twilight Zone scripts. Jack Davis does a respectable job of drawing normal people.

Scene at a Trump rally.
("The Patriots!")
Ann Dennis takes a job as matron to the children of Briarwood Orphan Asylum and is soon struck by the terrible condition of the place. The children are miserable, poorly fed wretches who are dressed in rags, but Mr. Critchit, who runs the place, says that's all he can afford on the money he's given. Ann uses her own income to supplement the meager stipend she gets and the children's lives improve measurably, but with "Halloween!" approaching, they would like a pumpkin to carve into a festive jack-o'-lantern. Of course, Critchit says he can't afford it. Ann finds proof that he's been stealing the money that should go to the kiddies and, when he discovers her in his office, he threatens her. But it's the children to the rescue! They take care of Mr. Critchit once and for all, severing his head and hollowing it out to make a lovely Critch-o'-lantern.

"Halloween!" is as close to the perfect EC story as we'll see. Ghastly's art is glorious, there is a kindly young woman, children in peril, and a greedy man who gets exactly what he deserves. Throw in a beautiful half-page splash panel and a fabulous last-panel reveal and it doesn't get better than this! --Jack

Ingels and Halloween: The Reese's cup of comics.
Peter: "The Patriots!" was written in 1952? Coulda fooled me. This is the sort of political crowd madness we saw all year from both sides, no? Though there are some wrong beats here and there (for one, I don't buy the missus leaving her blind hubby alone in the crowd), this is a four-star stunner in the end and a shining example of what direction this title would be taking. The chief reason for enjoying "Halloween!" is the stunning splash and stomach-churning final panel illustrated by Graham Ingels (by now, signing his work with his trademark, "Ghastly"), even though it's becoming quite evident that Ingels has a standard "woman" face, "man" face, and "villain" face that he adorns his characters with. As far as the writing goes, Mr. Critchit is a carbon copy of landlord Edgar Chambers (of "Friend to 'Our Boys'!" in Crime) and a foundation for Gunner Grunwald, the sadistic director of the Home for the Blind in "Blind Alleys" (coming soon to this blog!), so nothing ground-breaking. It's just enjoyable. The best thing to happen to Rick, the poor schlub who falls for femme fatale Freda Higgins, is that his paralysis prevents him from having to wear any more of those ridiculous Jack Kamen bow ties. And the less said about "Gee, Dad . . . ," the better. But, ah hell, I can't help myself. It's a shame that Wally's work is dragged down by one of the silliest scripts that ever rolled out of Al's Smith-Corona. Observant of one of the travelers, after discovering his comrade is gone, to offer up that "I . . . I thought I heard a scream last night . . ." The ridiculously inane climax might have elicited more (even a chuckle or two) from me had it not been a variant of a "hook" that's been driven into the dirt ("Gone . . . Fishing!" anyone?).

I remember Halloween! Sliced heads hanging from poles!
Jose: The odd thing I discovered with “Kickback!” is that there wasn’t anything glaringly bad with either art or plot (save for Rick’s quick turnaround to the idea of killing old Oscar), yet I still couldn’t quite take to it as a story. There’s something very rehearsed about it; it seems a little staid. For comparison, hold it up next to “The Patriots!” and you can’t help but notice how lifeless “Kickback!” looks. The finely tuned six-pager turned in by Davis gets the third story slot that has thus far typically been the “scrap slot,” the no-man’s-land of average ideas (you’ll remember that “Gone… Fishing,” which Peter mentions above, was a perfectly middling example), and yet in this issue we find it occupied by the introduction of the story type that was to become the regular of this series, along with crime. The shorter length works in service of the tale, a brief explosion in the middle of an American war field whose shock waves can be felt well after the final panel. (I will say though that Davis seems to be a little stumped when it comes to the notions of sneers and smirks.) “Gee, Dad  …” may remind readers of Algernon Blackwood’s classic Weird story, “The Willows,” especially during the tense scenes of the woods slowly advancing upon the camping tents, but EC’s version earns no merit by the similarity, and the tale quickly devolves into the overly-literalized climax that tarnished so many of the company’s SF stories. “Halloween” is a darkly delicious confectionery, hitting all the right tasteful notes: Dickensian orphans and their cruel master, a chilly autumnal setting, a kind outsider to the horror with whom we can sympathize, and a fittingly nasty, seasonally-appropriate end for our villain. As Jack said, it doesn’t get any better than this!

Next Week in Star Spangled DC War Stories #95!
Witness the Wonder of Neal Adams's War That Time Forgot!


Grant said...

I'm glad someone mentioned how relevant "The Patriots" is this past year.
(I've read that kind of story before, and I heard somewhere that's it's some kind of urban legend story, so that must have been their inspiration.)

Anonymous said...

Sadly that was the scene at a Trump rally on more than one occasion- where his supporters had to fear for their safety at the hands of self-righteous 'real' Americans.

Jack Seabrook said...

I think both sides have plenty to be ashamed of, but the violence (or threat of violence) seemed more palpable at the Trump rallies, at least as far as things were reported. I think it was mostly due to a few bad apples.

Quiddity99 said...

The story was inspired by a true life incident that was included in the book Try and Stop Me by Bennet Cerf. Said book was an inspiration for many other EC stories.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for your comment! Bennet Cerf wrote some great books.