Monday, May 22, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 32: March 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
   32: March 1953

Tales from the Crypt #34

"Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Oil's Well That Ends Well!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Attacks of Horror!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"There Was an Old Woman!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Another hottie from the pen of Jack Davis.
("Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall!")
You open your eyes and see a bald, bespectacled scientist with a crazed look in his eye. Though he tells you to stay put and leaves, you break free from your shackles and escape out into the night, where the crowds at a carnival run in fright when they see you. Finding your way to a road, you stop a car and murder the driver, then drive to your home, where your wife, Nancy, is so scared of you that she falls to her death from a second-story window. You return to the carnival and murder the scientist who made you this way. You stumble into a wax museum and see the horror of your own appearance reflected in a "Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall!" You destroy the mirror and run into a hall of mirrors, where the multiple reflections show you as your patchwork body finally gives out and you die.

You are randomly selected to summarize another tired take on the Frankenstein story. You enjoy the Jack Davis art but you notice he still can't draw a pretty girl very well. You wonder why the story is written in the second person. You move on to the next story, unimpressed and wondering just what caused the monster's death.

Smoking kills.
("Oil's Well That Ends Well!")
A couple of con men named Phil and Sam pull into a Midwestern town and set up in a hotel. Their scam? To pump some oil into the city park and then pretend they found oil in the middle of  town. The townsfolk raise $60,000 to pay Phil to handle the drilling to extract the Texas tea from the ground. Sam pretends to get into a fatal car accident while trying to skip town with the loot and Phil has him buried in short order. That night, according to plan, Phil digs up Sam's coffin, but there's a surprise--there really is oil in the ground and Phil is so surprised that he drops the cigarette dangling from his lips and both men are blown sky high.

"Oil's Well That Ends Well!" in a good crime story, one that would fit right into a noir pulp, and George Evans continues to impress me with his clean, sharp art.

A tax on the nerves!
("Attacks of Horror!")
Long ago, in a kingdom by the sea, lived King Moneymad, who spent his days counting his wealth. His royal advisor proposes taking the king's subjects, and what follows are a series of increasingly onerous levies: a Sir Tax on those with titles, and Excess Prophets tax on fortune tellers, and so on, until the people are so overwhelmed by the "Attacks of Horror!" that they rise up and slay the monarch.

Maybe this is funny to someone, but it was lost on me. Even the gruesome moment, when the king orders the thumbs of his subjects lopped off for failure to pay the Thumb Tax, is done off-panel, as is usual with the Kamen stories. The puns don't work for me.

And you should see what I can do with ping pong balls, too!
("There Was an Old Woman!")
"There Was an Old Woman!" known as Aunt Tildy, but when she died and the men came to take her body away, she told them to beat it. They finally cart her off, but her ghost harangues everyone so much that they let her spirit re-enter her body and return home. At least I think that's what happened in this story. I'm sure I read it many years ago, when I read every other Ray Bradbury story, but perhaps Al Feldstein got it a bit muddled up, since I'm not really sure what happened. Ghastly doesn't have much to do here other than draw a lot of panels of an elderly female.--Jack

Peter: "There Was An Old Woman!" seems a very strange story to adapt for a funny book; it's multi-layered and doesn't exactly put the message out in front for all to see. The only feedback on Bradbury's tale, in the letters page of #36, was a positive letter and a less-than-positive missive from Ed Redling of New Jersey, who got straight to the point with "Ray Bradbury's story . . . stunk!" I can imagine most pre-teen moptops shaking their head and wondering what that was all about. It's a well-done adaptation and a definite departure for the company. "Attacks of Horror!" is far from a departure, with its greedy king and jovial "art" from Jack Kamen, but what it is is very funny. You can just imagine Al and Bill, behind the scenes, giggling as they cleverly come up with examples for more taxes: "I've got it! Sails Tax!" The best Grim so far.

Universal's lawyers were napping . . .
("Mirror, Mirror . . .")
"Oil's Well" is yet another variation on the seedy business partners but this one has a hilarious climax and absolutely gorgeous George art. That leaves the opener, "Mirror, Mirror . . . ," which is just another disposable take on Shelley's favorite son. Universal Pictures must not have been clamping down yet on the copyright infringements on their 1931 vision of the monster as Jack Davis's version is a dead ringer for Karloff's. Later on in that decade, Universal would send lawyers to the House of Hammer when the studio announced they'd produce a new version of Frankenstein to ensure the British were aware that Uni's monster was untouchable.

Jose: A fairly bland issue from the Crypt. Gaines and Feldstein might have “freely lifted” plots from the old masters, but Feldstein lifts from his own resume with “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…”, a basic carbon copy of his earlier and more effective “Reflection of Death” from TFTC 23. Al would actually go on to use the conceit again in the final issue of TFTC with “Upon Reflection”, another Jack Davis monster-fest that puts the gimmick to more cunning use. I remember thinking “Oil’s Well That Ends Well…” was a really lame story to put in a horror book back when I initially read these, and although I still think that holds true my opinion doesn’t mar the fact that the actual yarn is pretty solid and includes a neat Chekhov’s gun-styled retribution for our oily shysters.

("Attacks of Horror!")
Believe it or not, “Attacks of Horror” is one of the more bearable and even legitimately funny entries from the much-maligned Grim Fairy Tales series. It might not be “The Funeral,” but it’s got enough risible puns and a torture scene perfectly suited for Kamen (thumb chopping—oh my!) to make it a good time. But it's Kamen’s trouble with drawing diverse faces that leads to the story’s biggest laugh on the final page when it appears that the peasant who just had his opposable digits removed in one panel shows up later swinging the axe (!) as his supposedly twin brother holds the greedy King Moneymad. Peter got it right when he stated that “There Was an Old Woman” was probably not the best choice for an adaptation in sequential art, and Jack echoes the same kind of dissonance and confusion I suffered (as well as many others have, I imagine) upon reading this. It probably could have been moderately enjoyable as an episode of The Twilight Zone (and if you count “Nothing in the Dark” from Season 2, then I suppose it actually was), but as a comic book story it comes across like much of Graham’s art: pretty but lifeless. How appropriate.

Hel-lo, nurse!
("There Was an Old Woman!")

Crime SuspenStories #15

"When the Cat's Away . . ." ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"The Screaming Woman!" ★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Water, Water, Everywhere . . ." ★★★
". . . And Not a Drop to Drink!"
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Hail and Heart-y!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

You leave my Dick out of this!
("While the Cat's Away...")
The magic has gone out of marriage for Jay and Emma; the two fight like cats and dogs and, what with Emma's weak heart, that could be fatal. Frustrated, Jay finds solace on the couch, if not in the arms, of best friend/next door neighbor, Dick. As Emma says, Jay is always "running to Dick"! One night, sick and tired of arguing with the old ball-and-chain, Jay asks Dick if he can use his guest room and Dick happily agrees. In the middle of the night, Jay finds he can't sleep and goes looking for some Dick but can't find it him anywhere! Figuring Dick must have slipped out the back door and headed to the office early, Jay decides to patch things up with Emma and heads home. Surprised to see his living room light on, he peeks through the curtains and espies a shocking sight: Emma with Dick! Feeling used (by which side is never clear), Jay hatches a plan: he tells Emma he's off to the big city on business for a week. He later overhears his wife make plans with Dick for "When the Cat's Away . . ." Instead of leaving on the train, Jay waits patiently a couple hours and then doubles back, surprising the dressed-to-the-nines she-cat at the door with a tall tale of woe: he's just witnessed Dick run down by a truck and is too shook up to leave on business. Jay monkeys with the kitchen light bulb and then sends Emma in to make coffee; the frazzled woman enters just in time to witness Dick arrive at her back door. The shock of Dick's rear entry causes a fatal heart attack and then Jay puts a tidy bow on the set-up by plugging his ex-besty with a bullet. He smiles and calls the police, reporting a "terrible accident!"

He's going for the touchdown, folks!
("While the Cat's Away...")
Let's get the obvious out of the way first of all: there is nothing even subtly gay about the relationship between Jay and Dick; it's all in your mind. There's no subtext in dialogue like Emma's "Go running to Dick like you always do! You two are so cozy-cozy, sometimes I think you're married to him instead of me!" or when Jay wakes in the middle of the night, restless and thinks, "Hang it all! No use even trying to sleep! Maybe if Dick hasn't gone to work .  . . ," there's no use hypothesizing what he's thinking after the dot dot dot but I'm amazed Wertham picked on the Batman and Robin team as obvious examples of "deviant behavior" and not these two "pals." Does Jay feel angrier at his wife for cheating on him or at Dick for ostensibly bowing out of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club? The wrap-up is a pretty conventional one; there's no real surprise even though Johnny makes it seem so. It's not one of Craig's best art jobs either; lots of partially-sketched faces and no beauties on display (Emma could be one of the boys). That is a beauty of a cover, though!

What we in the biz refer to as
"not-so-subtle foundation."
("The Screaming Woman")
While playing in  the detritus-filled lot down the street from her house, ten-year-old Margaret Leary hears a woman screaming from beneath a newly-dug patch of earth. It becomes Margaret's goal to liberate "The Screaming Woman!" but her efforts seem doomed to failure since neither her mother nor her father take her story seriously. Even her best buddy, Dippy, won't believe her. After quite a bit of cajoling, the little sprite convinces her pop to come down to the lot for a listen after dinner (where mom and dad discuss the local gossip, including the big dust-up between Charlie Nesbitt and his wife, Helen, who used to be dad's sweetie and even composed a song for him while they were courting--let's see, how did that tune go, dum de dum dum de . . .) but, of course, the voice from the ground is silent. Margaret goes door-to-door, searching for missing housewives and, at last, comes to the door of the Nesbitts. After hearing the little rugrat's story, Mr. Nesbitt insists that his wife is at the store and that Margaret should come in for a game of cards but, after about ten minutes, Margaret becomes antsy and tells Nesbitt she's going to take matters into her own hands and dig the woman out herself. When the girl gets to the lot, the voice is silent but, with a little coaxing, breaks out into song. Margaret heads home and sings the song to her dad, who quickly recognizes it as the pop standard that Helen had penned for him years before. Dad grabs a shovel, begins to dig, and they all live happily ever after (well, except mom who, in the sequel, murders dad and Helen for running away together).

"And, for my next ditty, a little
something I haven't sung in decades!"
("The Screaming Woman")
Not one of Bradbury's best but the perfect vehicle for Jack Kamen, whose forte was dimpled, pig-tailed little monsters and their dangerous adventures. "The Screaming Woman!" began life as an episode of CBS's radio show, Suspense, and was then transformed by Bradbury into a short story (published in May 1951 in Today). The plot is intriguing, albeit limited, but the outcome is pretty tame for a Bradbury crime story, with the reveal of Helen's lilting soprano performance, despite being buried under ground for several hours, if not days, drawing chuckles from at least one reader I know of. But that blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Bradbury since Al's adaptation is faithful to the source. Decades later, "The Screaming Woman!" would become a necessarily-padded ABC Movie of the Week starring Olivia de Havilland and an episode of the Ray Bradbury Theater starring Drew Barrymore as the precocious little rescuer.

I hope you brought enough ocean
for the *rest* of the class!
("Water, Water, Everywhere...")
Louis and Henri escape from a prison on a remote South American island and head for the beach. They've bribed a guard to place a small boat at the beach so they can make their getaway but the guard has betrayed them and put only a smattering of fuel in the vehicle. The boat sputters and Henri and Louis are stuck in the middle of the ocean with "Water, Water, Everywhere . . . And Not a Drop to Drink!" The blazing sun drives Henri mad and he drinks the sea water, forcing Louis to shoot his friend and dump the body out of the boat. Determined not to lose his mind like Henri, Louis shoots himself just minutes before another boat approaches. The skipper tells his first mate that the dead man must not have realized that they were on the Amazon River and the water all around is fresh. In part two of this "EC Quickie," Louis and Henri escape from a prison in the Sahara desert and the jeep they are riding in runs out of gas. Henri goes mad, seeing mirages, and wanders off while Louis, again determined not to make the same mistakes, sits back against the jeep and shoots himself in the head. The bullet pierces the radiator and drips water on the face of Louis's corpse. One of the better installments of the "EC Quickie" series, helped along by George Evans's ghoulish art (the emaciated partners look like corpses long before they're dead) and a couple of genuinely good twists.

"Ben's Being Useful"
Lyrics by Helen Nesbitt
("Hail and Heart-y!")
Ben Storch is a lazy, good-for-nothing so-and-so who won't lift a finger to do chores or yard work, leaving the entirety of the maintenance to his overworked wife, Anna. Sure, Mr. Danbury will help Anna now and then (bless his soul!) but usually, after putting in a long day at the office, it's a long night's work around the house. Ben uses his weak heart as a crutch but, as his wife reminds him, changing a light bulb isn't that stressful! After a particularly grueling morning of shoveling snow, Anna heads off to work but is forced to stop at Doc Brewster's when she gets a sharp pain in her chest. The Doc reminds Anna that she isn't getting any younger and should try to rest a bit more but the exhausted woman reminds Brewster that Ben's heart forces her to do all the chores. The Doc chuckles and tells her that Ben has just been examined recently and all that ailed the lazy slob was indigestion--Ben's heart is "as strong as a man's half his age . . ." When Anna gets home, she beckons Ben to the cellar, where she chops him up with an axe. Later that day, Mr. Danbury sees Anna spreading ashes on the icy sidewalk and (choke!) finds a gold tooth on the path! I've said it before and I'll doubtless say it again (well, yes, I hear you comment with a heavy sigh, you're about to say it right now): it's hard to invest in some of these little seven-page morality fables when the sides are not evenly drawn.

Peter, contemplating the reading
of another Grim Fairy Tale.
("Water, Water, Everywhere...")
Anna's ascending list of neglected chores that opens the story (I asked him to clean the screens . . . It isn't hard to rake the leaves . . . I told him the door hinges needed oiling . . . Couldn't he change the bulb?) and Ben's behind-the-back grins and mugging at Anna's toiling make for a character devoid of any sympathy and, frankly, believability. The mental breakdown and violent transformation of Anna are a given from page one; the only question being how the act would manifest itself in the final panels. Poor Ghastly seemed to be handed quite a few of these predictable plays around this time and did the best he could with them. But the finale, of a nutty Anna strewing Ben's ashes here and there, does not make for one of Ghastly's grimmest realizations. --Peter

Jack: Overall, this is a strong issue of Crime SuspenStories. I thought the Craig story was superb, a great story of revenge without an annoying final twist. The Bradbury adaptation was my favorite so far and is a perfect vehicle for Kamen's art. The two Quickies are better than average, as well, with strong Evans art and--at least in the first part--an unexpected conclusion. I guess that in the 1950s, jeep radiators ran on potable water. The Ingels story is, as so many of his stories are, kind of blah until the great finish; one of the more surprising things I've discovered as we read our way through every EC comic is that Ingels is not as reliably good as I remembered.

Jose: I prayed that all the homosexual subtext I felt like I was picking up in “While the Cat’s Away…” was only in my mind. So the back doors to Jay’s and Dick’s houses face each other and are frequently brought up in conversation… So what? Not to mention Jay waking up in the middle of the night and going to Dick’s bedroom with the idea that his best pal will be in the middle of getting dressed for work. “What of it?” I ask you. And then there’s of course the title, which some liberal deviant could easily posit has more to do with Jay’s hopes of leaving his wailing minx of a wife than Emma’s own desires to have a little alone time with her hubby’s BFF. In a measure of ultimate bad taste, this same deviant would probably propose that a better title for this piece would be “Everybody Loves Dick!” Thankfully, we here at bare*bones don’t take to this kind of low humor or the presence of abnormal sexuality in our funny books, so it’s nice to have Peter’s reassurance that this is nothing but wholesome, safe American entertainment.

Speaking of wholesome, there’s Jack Kamen! Were it not for the seeds of discontent that Bradbury sows in the soil of "The Screaming Woman", this could pass as just another one of ol’ Jack’s “widdle kid” tales. Dig  that telling final line Margaret delivers about her Pops. “The last I saw of him.” Is that meant to imply that Dad hooked back up with Helen after rescuing her from a premature grave? Now that’s the story I wanna read! The EC Quickies manage to pack a brutal little punch this time out, their effect more pronounced and grim given that both short-shorts end with our two would-be “heroes” succumbing to madness and suicide respectively. Evans’ haunted-eyed cast allows us to feel the pain of the moment. “Hail and Heart-y” was one of the first ECs I ever read, tracked down to a far corner of the Internet in my desperate search for that GhouLunatic ghoulash. But whereas “Horror We…” and “Lower Berth” only proved their timelessness upon rereads in previous posts, “Hail…” showed signs of age and distress as clearly as Anna’s clapboard house. This feels like a rush job in spite of a number of nice turns of phrase that Feldstein sprinkles throughout, Ingels’ illustrations in particular reflecting the boredom the artist must have felt at receiving the assignment. You can’t go from gummy bayou cadavers to domestic power plays without feeling a little bit bummed about it!

The Vault of Horror #29

"The Mausoleum!" ★★★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Let's Play Poison!" ★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Sock for Christmas" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Pickled Pints!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Evinced by his doddering old uncle’s steadfast refusal to accept the offer of a wealthy American eccentric to buy up the familial English castle and transfer it to the States for a hefty price, ne’er-do-well nephew Nathan promptly shows his disapproval by giving the old boy the ax—right down the middle of his skull. Nathan passes off Uncle’s death as a disappearance and then passes off the house keys to the American, Howard Martin, but the murderer insists that the family mausoleum be left intact on the moor grounds. (After all, that’s where Uncle’s hanging out now.) But what neither man counted on were the host of crumbly ghouls who live in the mausoleum to tear the structure asunder and conveniently rebuild it in the garden of Martin’s estate. Martin is thrilled to see that his place is genuinely haunted, but Nathan is less than thrilled when he travels to America to give Martin a piece of his mind but ends up losing all peace of mind when the ghouls snatch him up and nail him into a coffin to be interred alongside Uncle’s ferreted corpse. In the nights to come, Martin delights in unsettling his dinner guests with the ghastly, ghostly wails that emanate from his garden mausoleum.

Though much more gruesome in appearance than the typical Craig fare that would regulate the oozy monsters to a few brief glimpses, “The Mausoleum” is shot through with enough droll wit and winking humor to leaven the nasty sight of the zombie construction workers with a light air. The two elements are really at perfect balance in this tale, similar to how Craig experimented with horror and humor in earlier tales such as “Horror House” (VOH 15). Glancing back at that tale and studying the layout of “The Mausoleum” is just as good a testimony as any of how far Craig had advanced as an artist in those few short years. Along with the specific shots that Jack mentions below, the opening splash of the prototypically Gothic mise en scène displays a wonderful use of scale and architectural detail that captures your attention just as brilliantly as any putrid cadaver.

Kids Do the Darnedest Things!
("Let's Play Poison!")
Mr. Howard hates kids. In a sense, one can hardly blame him. After all, he did witness a group of his students surround young Michael, shouting that they hated him just before pushing the boy from a third-story window. Still, Mr. Howard takes his theories further than even the most rotten ol’ bastard: he remains convinced that children are an entirely demonic breed unto themselves, separate from the adult human race and forever preoccupied with the strange occult ritual known as “playtime.” He finds out one of these morbid games goes by the name of “Poison” and entails the little brats skipping over “gravestones” in the sidewalk marked with names of the dead, really just the inscription of the company that laid the concrete. But Mr. Howard finds out that there just might be something to the game after all when a group of pranksters rouse him from his home and lead him to fall ass over teakettle into an open pit, bashing his head on an exposed pipe and effectively burying him into a sidewalk grave that will respectfully henceforth read “M. Howard R. I. P.”

I enjoyed this Bradbury adaptation more than I thought I would (“There Was an Old Woman” had left me a little leery), and Jack Davis shows that he was just as crafty wielding a pen to depict the macabre merry-go-round lives of children and the miserable teachers who loathe them in this quietly insidious yarn that is oh-so-softly infused with some autumnal tidings.

Kamen gets the lead out!
("A Sock for Christmas!")
Melvin, the baker’s child, seems to get the break of a lifetime when the great King Irving comes down from his mighty castle yon high to enlist the child in becoming his son, Prince Tarby’s, new royal companion. But Melvin, already saddened at being wrested from the home of his peasant family, quickly finds out that the only break he’ll be getting is the crack of a hand against his hindquarters as Prince Tarby’s new royal whipping-boy! Tarby, you see, is a little jackass of all trades whose brilliant father has devised a means of handing out rightful punishments for his son’s crimes without actually having his son suffer the consequences: get some other poor little bastard to take the beatings instead! Heartbroken after hearing from Tarby that as a “naughty boy” he’ll be receiving no presents for Christmas, Melvin is reassured by his father upon his return home that the King will help to fill his fireside stocking. And that Santa makes sure of… even if it means taking the King and stuffing him into the stocking one bloody chunk at a time!

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals! Yet another entry from the Grim Fairy Tale line, “A Sock for Christmas” scores big by not only going for the laughs but for being built around a fairly original and intelligent premise: what happens to the boy who takes all the real jerk’s punishments when the holidays come around to reward only the good children? We could probably poke fun at Jack Kamen’s stencils for the whole marathon (and let’s face it, we probably will), but stories like “A Sock for Christmas” clearly illustrate (har-har!) what a consummate professional and draughtsman he could be at times. I found myself staring at the finely-wrought details of certain panels a number of times with this one. And talk about surprises: how ‘bout that ending folks? Yee-haw! I’m sure most children probably wouldn’t be comforted by the fact that Ol’ St. Nick would happily smite their enemies like an avenging guardian angel in fur, but this 26-year-old degenerate couldn’t think of a more heart-warming end to this Yuletide tale. God bless us, everyone!

Warren and Cal are operating a pretty sweet racket: by offering bums and hobos a cool ten dollars to donate blood to their derelict loft clinic, the two shysters then turn around and sell each pint to a legitimate blood bank for thirty bucks a pop. It’s a set-up that can’t lose, except when the bowery bums start repeatedly returning to Warren and Cal’s place to give blood so that they can buy their next bottle of rotgut. The literal final nail in the coffin comes when one of the bums kicks the bucket, effectively scaring off any willing donors from the premises. So Warren and Cal take up their cudgels and take to the streets to rustle up some blood, but the con men get the scare of their lives when they nab a napping derelict from the loft basement only to discover that the box the gentleman was snoozing in was actually a coffin and that come sunset the drifter has plans to make a considerable withdrawal from Warren and Cal’s personal blood banks.

("Pickled Pints!")
“Pickled Pints” is solid B-grade entertainment, but it goes down smoothly. I recall being fairly surprised by the twist ending to this one when I first read it; though in retrospect it makes perfect sense, Feldstein doesn’t overburden the metaphor ahead of time like he has before so that we see the payoff coming a mile away. Here the introduction of the supernatural comes as a sudden shock. Nothing in the trajectory of the story prior to the vampire’s arrival points to the possibility of that happening, yet in the end it feels entirely appropriate. This isn’t Ingels’ most standout work, but the story is worth it alone for those super glamour shots of the Old Witch throughout (dig that poached egg eyeball at the top of Page 6!) and the gnarly Nosferatu that rips across the final page. --Jose

Yow! Pt. 2
("Pickled Pints!")
Peter: The word that best sums up the contents of Vault of Horror #29 is "average." Not bad, not especially good, just average. Johnny Craig's visuals for "The Mausoleum!" are among the best we've seen but the script could have used a little work. "Poison" is not one of Ray's best short stories but Al does what he can and Jack does a better job than Kamen at creating a Bradbury child's POV. The Grim Fairy Tale (a subspecies that is, seriously, wearing out its welcome) has a great twist and (-choke-) actual blood in a Kamen story but "Pickled Pints!" is strictly low-grade Ghastly.

Jack: "The Mausoleum!" is four stars all the way. Craig can do so much with a wordless panel at the right moment, and that moment comes with the axe attack in this story. Mr. Martin is a man after our own hearts, grinning as he watches corpses assemble the mausoleum by moonlight. Like the rest of the Bradbury adaptations, "Poison" features higher quality writing than we're used to and it's interesting that we're seeing so many adaptations of Ray's horror tales when he was best known for science fiction, at least at this point in his career. The Christmas story is terrible and having St. Nick kill and dismember the king shows misguided revenge, if you ask me--the little brat was the one who deserved it! The best thing I can say about the Ingels story is that he really excels in drawing the Old Witch and sometimes seems more inspired to draw her panels of narration than he does to depict the characters in the main story.

Shock SuspenStories #7

"Beauty and the Beach!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

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

"Infiltration!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Small Assassin!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Two couples sit on the beach in the hot summer sun: John and Mary Milton and Percy and Ginger Fullman. The women love to display their beautiful bodies in bikinis and soak up the sun; the men aren't so keen on the subject. Mary is approached to enter a beauty pageant and Ginger is invited to be spokesmodel for a tanning oil; both women jump at the chance, despite the protestations of their men. When the gals get too wrapped up in their work, the men are forced to act: John encases Mary forever in plastic so she can show off her body for all time, while Percy subjects Ginger to a bank of heat lamps and burns her to a crisp.

Peter does not approve.
("Beauty and the Beach!")

Bill Gaines must have decided he'd forced Jack Kamen to draw enough bratty kids and Grim Fairy Tales, so it was time to let the man run wild with his greatest talent--drawing beautiful gals posing with very few clothes on. "Beauty and the Beach!" is the Cheesecake Factory, circa 1953! The plot is entertaining, too, if one even notices that there is one.

Peter finds this scandalous.
("The Bribe!")
Fire Inspector Frank Wilson is appalled by the crowded Blue Swan Club, which lacks sufficient exits for safety, and tells the owner that he'll report the situation. His daughter, Jeannie, meanwhile, is in love and wants to get married, so Frank agrees to take $1200 from the club's owner to look the other way. After "The Bribe!" has been paid, there is a fire and many patrons of the club are killed. A photograph shows Frank that Jeannie and her beau were there that night and, in despair over causing his beloved daughter's death, he kills himself. He never hears the phone ringing and thus fails to learn that Jeannie and her fiancee left the club and eloped before the blaze began.

A bracing story of corruption and misunderstanding, "The Bribe!" is elevated by tremendous art by Wally Wood, who can draw serious men thinking serious thoughts in one panel and then a gorgeous babe like Jeannie in another. It's a shame he came to the same end as Frank.

"Unacceptable," says Peter.
Miss Curtiss is hired by Col. Shaw to work at a Pentagon bureau responsible for ferreting out Martian invaders. He tells her that there has been an "Infiltration!" and that she must watch what she says and be on guard. She meets Phil Brady, another employee, who says he knows there is an alien among them. She accepts his offer of a date and tells Shaw, who informs her that Phil is the alien! That night, she takes Phil back to her place but he is shocked to discover that both she and Shaw are Martians. In fact, everyone in the bureau except for Phil is a Martian, and he must be eliminated so he does not stand in the way of the invasion.

I had a sneaky suspicion Miss Curtiss was a Martian but I did not suspect Col. Shaw, so they got me. Like Peter and Jose, I am enjoying Joe Orlando's growing place as a regular artist in the EC stable.

Since before her baby was born, Alice thought the little guy was trying to kill her. Dr. Jeffers explains to her husband David that she's just emotionally upset, but while David is away on a business trip Alice contracts pneumonia. He comes home and slips on one of the baby's toys, nearly falling down the stairs. Alice has the same accident and he finds her dead. The baby soon does away with Daddy as well by leaving on the gas at the stove. Dr. Jeffers finds David's body and, convinced that the infant is "The Small Assassin!," advances on the child with a scalpel.

"Sexist and exploitative," warns Peter.
("The Small Assassin!")
There is just too much text in this story for me to fully enjoy it as a comic book entry. George Evans's art is photo-realistic but the pictures are crowded out by words and the action is quite static for such a tense narrative.-Jack

Peter: The more work I see by George Evans on this journey, the higher his name climbs on my list of favorite EC artists. "The Small Assassin!" benefits not only from an eerie, noir-ish visual style but also from the source material, a tale with a very bold climax for its time (it would be bold for our times as well). Bradbury builds his fable around the common fears a woman has post-childbirth and magnifies those fears a thousand-fold. We all think our kids are trying to kill us at one time or another. The other standout this issue, "The Bribe!," fools us into thinking we've guessed what the twist will be but then Bill and Al smile and say, "Oh, we're not done yet, kiddies!" The Wally Wood/Shock story is fast becoming the "Sure Thing" of the month. "Infiltration" sees no such double-trickery in its climax; it's utterly predictable and that reveal has already been used by Al in the past. "Beauty and the Beach!" could very well be the nastiest and most vile story we've seen yet (well, okay, second place behind "Cutting Cards"), a tale that exists only to display torture (and to two women who didn't even commit adultery) and misogyny. A forerunner of today's so-called "torture porn" films like Hostel and Saw.

Jose: Damn, that climax to “Beauty and the Beach” is rough, isn’t it? With its buxom babes drawing lascivious glances and the over-the-top savagery of its final kills, one could easily be fooled into thinking they’ve stumbled across a lost Herschell Gordon Lewis film. That being said, I did enjoy Feldstein’s ping-pong narrative that has events and dialogue occurring with one couple resurfacing with the other, a mirroring method that shows that there’s always somebody else out there who has the same problems as you do, even if they may prefer vats of bubbling plastic to human toast. “The Bribe” has all the best qualities of a top tier “Shock SuspenStory”: stark, uncompromising, and haunting. Frank could’ve easily been broadly drawn as a bull-headed nasty or an upstanding Samaritan, but instead Feldstein presents him as a believably conflicted man with varying shades of light and darkness within him, thus making his conflict and grief over the outcome of his crime all the more palpable. You get the impression that he’s a good guy and a loving father who just made one bad mistake, so his suicide comes across as legitimately tragic, and then Gaines and Feldstein grind their heels into our hearts a little deeper by revealing that not only were Jeannie and her betrothed not at the immolated club but that they left to elope, thus rendering the bribe Frank took completely meaningless. “Infiltration” pierces these dark clouds with an OK scifi yawn (sorry, yarn) that would’ve been dead in the water had anybody but Joe Orlando drawn it. I’m not sure exactly where I stand with “The Small Assassin.” (Hopefully not anywhere near that staircase!) Chilling, creepy story and tense, uncomfortably realistic artwork by Evans, and yet… Like Jack said, it might be that this one just suffered in translation. I can understand the urge to leave in as much of Bradbury’s text as possible, but here it makes the journey from one panel to the next feel more arduous than it should.

In Our 105th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories...
Oh Goody! More Canine War Heroes!


Quiddity99 said...

I think this is the first issue of Tales from the Crypt I ever read? "Mirror Mirror on the Wall" is essentially a redone version of "Reflection of Death" from Crypt #23 as you've said; Crypt 46's "Upon Reflection" uses the mirror for the ending but at least is a considerably different story. "Oil's Well that Ends Well" is a pretty good story (overcomplicated too much in the TV series adaption unfortunately), and a type of story that would fit just as well in Crime or Shock. "Attacks of Horror" seems like a joke taken too far and to too much of an extreme at times, but is at least better than some other recent Grim Fairy Tales like "A Likely Story" from Haunt 17. I'd agree that overall "There Was an Old Woman" is hard to understand, not one of their better Bradbury adaptions story-wise (the art is fine). Most of the Bradbury adaptions were good, but there were a few like this that just don't fit the comics medium that well (thinking "The One Who Waits" and "You Rocket" from upcoming stories in Weird Science & Weird Fantasy).

Incidentally enough, I think this month's issue of Crime was in the same reprint issue as Crypt #34, and was also the first issue of Crime SuspenStories I ever read (although missing Craig's excellent cover). Our first story is quite the rarity, no shock ending! "The Screaming Woman", while not the best story overall is at least a considerably better story to use than "There Was an Old Woman". Our best pair of EC quickies for Crime at least? I kinda think so (I'm also partial to the hilarious pair from Weird Fantasy #14). I have a better overall opinion of the issue's finale, maybe based on nostalgia. It is also, incidentally enough, Ingels' final "horror" story for Crime SuspenStories as we get Orlando instead the next issue and the feature is then dropped.

This month's issue of Vault of Horror is one of my all time favorite Craig covers, with the absolute perfect mix of horror and hilariousness with just how ridiculous the scenario our poor protagonist is in! Yikes, yet another Bradbury adaption this month, and another one I don't particularly care for. "A Sock for Christmas" is a fairly strong Grim Fairy Tale and the issue wraps up with some great art from Ingels in a more supernatural story than what else we got from him for this month.

A very effective cover for Shock SuspenStories (one that took me a while to figure out what was going on). "Beauty and the Beach" is the perfect type of story for Jack Kamen. Although I'd agree that I don't think the women of the story really deserve their fate. Great art by Wood in "The Bribe" and suitably tragic ending, yet... what was so difficult about that club that they couldn't have gotten their club in compliance with the fire code? Wouldn't putting in more exits be cheaper than all the bribes? Even more bizarre aliens from Orlando in "Infiltration" which otherwise is a rather average story. Wrapping up with our final Bradbury adaption in a month stuffed with them, "The Small Assassin" is the best of the bunch.

If I have the months right, your next EC entry features my absolute favorite issue of Haunt and Weird Science, can't wait!

Jack Seabrook said...

It's funny how we remember the earliest comics we read. As Peter and I work through the DC War comics in our other series, I see covers from 68, 69 & 70 that bring back the strangest feelings of longing from childhood. Thanks for reading and for your comment. We love comments.

Jose Cruz said...

Ha, good point re: "The Bribe", Quiddity! I hadn't even thought of that. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and so thoroughly too! You're like the special feature to these posts. :)

Grant said...

I only know "Poison" as an episode of RAY BRADBURY THEATRE, where Mr. Howard was played by Richard Benjamin of all people. He was surprising believable as a kid-hating teacher!

Jack Seabrook said...

I guess it's my age, but I always think of him in Quark!