Monday, June 26, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 107: August/September 1969

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 146

"Balloon for a Hawk!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #60, April 1961)

"My Brother, the Enemy Ace!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #101, February 1964)

Peter: In a new framing sequence, written and drawn by Joe Kubert, Hans Von Hammer must deal with a pilot who's got a fear of flying. By way of explaining that the new kid is not alone in history, he tells two stories of pilots who got the heebie-jeebies until they were broken in. Of course, it's doubtful the Hammer would have actually heard these stories but stranger things have happened. Ironically, DC includes a statement explaining their cover price increase from twelve to fifteen cents, citing inflation but promising that the company will "redouble (their) efforts to maintain the same high standards of publishing that have produced the world-famous line of DC Comics." Getting some new stories out there might convince me.

Jack: Like Sgt. Rock, Hans Von Hammer seems to have a lot of spare time on his hands to relate tired old reprint stories to the men serving under him. After a few more of these, they'll probably beg him to allow them to get up in the air so they can be shot down and end their misery.

Our Army at War 209

"I'm Still Alive!"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"Fill a Dead Man's Boots"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Tiny Tim, the newest member of Easy Co., asks Sgt. Rock if he can buddy up with him because his old buddy got killed. After a brief fistfight with Nazis, Tim marvels that "I'm Still Alive!" and tells Rock how his old squad was wiped out on the beach at Normandy. When Nazi planes attack, Tim runs out in front of them to draw their fire, allowing the rest of Easy Co. to shoot them down with small arms. Tim survives the attack and the soldiers march on to their next engagement.

It's very strange to see Joe Kubert write a Sgt. Rock story and Russ Heath draw it. The tale is reasonably interesting but hardly a classic.

Peter: "I'm Still Alive," for the most part, avoids the banal tendencies of the "new recruit" story (although that climax, where Tiny survives a "punctured helmet," is a bit of a head-scratcher) and offers up just about the best art of the year. Some dynamite action scenes and Heath depicts a haunted and gaunt soldier (as displayed below) like no one else can. The best scene may be when Tiny sidles up to Rock and, in almost a child-like voice, whispers "Is--is it o.k. if I stay close to you?"

"I'm Still Alive!"

Fred Ray lavished a lot of attention
on this panel from "Fill a Dead Man's Boots"
Jack: In the Civil War, Confederate Sergeant Mal Walker sees his captain die in combat, so he decides to "Fill a Dead Man's Boots" by marching on in his late commander's footwear. Stonewall Jackson puts Walker in charge of the company and they proceed to take Cedar Mountain and then blow up the Union Supply Depot to help the South win the second battle at Manassas. Jackson then promotes Walker to Lieutenant and tells him to get some new boots.

I have a special place in my heart for Manassas, since my daughter spent a summer in college as a tour guide at the battlefield. She told a much more interesting story than this, which is poorly illustrated by Fred Ray.

Peter: Howard Liss has been responsible for numerous high-quality stories during our journey but "Fill a Dead Man's Boots" doesn't read like one of Liss's contributions. It's like a green writer popped in to the DC offices and was told to pump out a war script pronto and he went home and read a boatload of Harvey Kurtzman's Two-Fisted Tales. It's not that "Fill" is a bad story (although the art is pretty, pretty bad), it's just that it's . . . not a story. It's the same sort of collection of vignettes that Harvey would transform into a history lesson for EC readers. But those have been done before. Time for something new.

Guess which story?

G.I. Combat 137

"We Can't See!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Story of a Boot!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #64, December 1958)

Peter: General J.E.B. Stuart delivers his usual cryptic message to his confused descendant, Commander Jeb Stuart, this time warning that the crew of the Haunted Tank will fight for their lives in darkness. Just then, the tank rolls up on a desert village, where a boy is being manhandled by a group of thugs. The crew pop out of their tin can and unload on the bullies and the boy, Ali, is so grateful he gifts the crew with a singing parrot and prays he might return the favor some day. That day comes pretty quickly when a British fighter plane crashes nearby and the Jeb Stuart investigates, discovering a dying pilot who reveals that he was on a mission to "destroy a hidden Nazi poison gas dump in the El Mira ruins." The pilot dies and Jeb swears his men will finish the job. After dispatching a Tiger tank  and several guards, our heroes blow up the gas dump but the resulting flash leaves them blind. The Ratzi survivors seek revenge for their explosion-induced wounds and head out after the boys. Luckily, Ali has seen the fireworks and acts as a guide for the crew. Unluckily, the Nazis catch up just as the boys are crossing the roof of a high building. As a fist-fight breaks out, the temporary blindness wears off and the Jeb Stuart crew put the stinkin' Nazi scum on the mat.

"We Can't See!"

An amiable and lightweight entry in the Haunted Tank series, "We Can't See!" takes a plot twist we've seen before and does nothing original with it but (and this is a very old story, too!) Russ Heath's art is gorgeous and the battle scenes "well-staged." Nothing original can be found in the tired reprint either. "Story of a Boot!" joins the family of talking inanimate objects stories, a sub-genre as grating as a Jimmy Olsen/Robin team-up. Not even Kubert's art can keep the reader from rolling eyes.

"We Still Can't See!"

Jack: Kubert's art in the reprint from 1958 is better than Heath's art in the new story, but I agree that we've seen more than our share of inanimate objects that serve as narrators. The Nazis were pretty sorry fighters if they couldn't even best a bunch of blind men. It was awfully handy that the crew's sight came back right in the middle of the fistfight or else this would have been the final episode of the Haunted Tank series.

Peter gives this one the boot.
("Story of a Boot!")

Our Fighting Forces 120

"Devil in the Dark"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Art Saaf

"Killer on My Back"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ken Barr

Peter: Hunter's Hellcats team up with a different kind of hellcat, the gorgeous Italian freedom fighter known as La Donna, to close down the Nazis' new hobby. Within the Roman Colosseum, the Germans are pitting captured Italian partisans against lions and elephants. When the Hellcats and their new friend finally get to the Colosseum, they discover that the Ratzis have strapped partisans to a missile and plan to fire it off. Our heroes manage to free the prisoners, blow the rocket to smithereens, and bring most of the Colosseum down on the enemy.

La Donna makes her entrance in
"Devil in the Dark"

What goes on in Rome after dark
("Devil in the Dark")
Another really bad Hellcats installment with some very amateurish artwork (it looks sorta like what would happen if you had Jerry Grandenetti ink Andru and Esposito), "Devil in the Dark" has only one interesting aspect to it: the death of Hellcat Little Joe in an early bombing incident. Wildly, the only acknowledgement of Little Joe's death is Hunter's "He's gone . . .," with no other Hellcat paying tribute to a fallen comrade. La Donna is a carbon-copy of Jack Seabrook's soul-mate, Mlle. Marie and, even though she's Italian rather than French, the dialogue is interchangeable ("Here ees a lead bouquet . . . from La Donna!").

Jack: I was surprised by the death of Little Joe, mainly because I wasn't sure if I'd ever heard of Little Joe before. Like the men of Easy Co., the key figures in Hunter's Hellcats are invincible and only minor characters ever die. I like the idea of Nazis re-enacting the Roman sacrifices in the Colosseum, even though I think they had many other things to worry about and would never have had the time to enjoy this sort of blood sport. I liked even more the image of the partisans chained to the rocket! By the time Brute started playing Samson and knocking down the stone pillars that supported the substructure of the Colosseum, I was happily in comic book fantasy land, secure in the knowledge that we had completely separated from any attempt to mirror reality. This story went so far into imaginary occurrences that I ended up enjoying it!

Peter: After riding his new recruits hard, the Sarge knows there's a "Killer on My Back" when a faceless voice promises "tomorrow . . . when we hit that beach . . . I'm gonna kill you!" In the heat of battle the next day, the Sarge can barely keep his mind on his job, anticipating friendly fire at every turn. When the Sarge gets trapped in enemy fire, Private Manton comes to the rescue and, after being wounded, it's Manton who confesses to the threat. Now, lying wounded on the battlefield, the boy confesses he knows why the Sarge was so tough on the recruits. Not a bad tale, with some nice Ken Barr art, but we really don't have to be reminded every other panel that there's "A Killer on (the Sarge's) Back!"

"Killer on My Back"

Jack: This is an exciting mystery, highlighted by a whispered threat on the deck of a ship at night. The sarge's cruelty reminded me of Full Metal Jacket but the reason for the angry soldier's sudden change of heart seemed a bit too murky to be credible.

Our Army at War 210

"I'm Kilroy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Death's Promise!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Sgt. Rock and the men of Easy Co. paddle a raft toward the Italian coastline, making their way through floating bottles that contain messages from Rock's old nemesis, the graffiti writer. Easy Co. has been given the task of finding a hidden Nazi sub base and, surprisingly, messages from the graffiti writer lead them right to it. The Nazis capture Rock and his men but, just as they are about to be executed by a firing squad, a potato masher is thrown into the middle of the group by the graffiti writer. The Nazis dive for cover and Rock blows the place up. Still, the graffiti writer continues to leave messages teasing our favorite sergeant.

"I'm Kilroy!"
"I'm Kilroy!" features the (sort of) return of an unseen character whose motivations are never explained and who seems to have supernatural powers. How does he manage to write all of these messages and to be a step ahead of Sgt. Rock at every turn? Russ Heath's art is all well and good, but Rock should be drawn by Joe Kubert and every time it isn't, I'm less than satisfied. It seems clear to me that Kanigher and Kubert were saving their best work in 1969 for Enemy Ace, because the Rock series has been a bit of a drag lately. With other long-running titles, usually super-heroes, the writers can invent unusual villains or come up with crazy stories. Yet Easy Co. is stuck in about a three-year period of time (1942-1945 or so), in either North Africa or Europe, with basically one enemy--the Nazis. How many interesting stories can they do with that limited premise? Hopefully, as we move into the 1970s, they will find some way to open things up. I would like to see more stories focus on the other regular Combat-Happy Joes, but I don't know if we will.

When Brett Decker was just a lad, living in a log cabin with his Granny in the hills of Tennessee, the old woman told him that she made a bargain with Death not to take her until the boy was old enough to fend for himself. After Brett grows to be a man and his granny dies, he finds himself a soldier in the Civil War, afraid of dying on the battlefield. He sees Death and exacts "Death's Promise!" that he won't die on the field of battle. He fights like a tiger throughout the war and lives to tell the tale, only to be killed on his way home when his gun goes off accidentally.

I wasn't expecting much when the story started out with Brett speaking in a corn pone accent ("ah'm . . . ah'm so tired . . . n-no place to run . . . no place to hide! I'm dead! . . . I'm dead! But--ah can't die!"), but the story held my interest, even though I knew where it was going. This reminds me of one of Ambrose Bierce's Civil War stories, though not as well written.

"Death's Promise!"

Peter: The best Sgt. Rock in months, maybe years, "I'm Kilroy" is a funny, action-packed, James Bond-esque delight from panel one to finis. Who is this Kilroy and how is it that he's one step ahead of our boys and yet does not act on any intel he receives, simply passing it on to his unwitting stooge, Rock? Domo Arigato, Mr. Kanigher! I want more Kilroy! One thing I can live without, though, is Fred Ray's sketchy, yicky art; it's got a very amateurish look to it. The story itself is not too bad, just a bit on the predictable side. "Death's Promise!" is the kind of thing we'll see pop up soon in Weird War Tales. There's correspondence from a very young Tony Isabella on the letters page; just a couple years later, Tony would be pounding out scripts for the competition.

Next Week...
At last!
The boys discuss the infamous story that may

have provided Wertham with the final nail!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-James Bridges Part Thirteen: An Unlocked Window [10.17]

by Jack Seabrook

What's the scariest TV show you ever saw? Was it "Pigeons From Hell" or "The Hungry Glass" on Thriller? How about "The Howling Man" on The Twilight Zone? "I Kiss Your Shadow" on Bus Stop? The Twin Peaks episode when Laura Palmer's killer is finally revealed? How about an episode of The X-Files?

Any discussion of the scariest TV episode ever should include "An Unlocked Window," a TV show that was first broadcast in 1965 and, more than 50 years later, still packs a wallop. I watched it recently with my wife and daughter late at night and there were quite a few shrieks and a promise afterward that they could not go to sleep right after watching that.

The episode is based on a short story of the same name by Ethel Lina White (1876-1944), a British author known for her Gothic mysteries featuring domestic suspense and women in jeopardy. In addition to "An Unlocked Window," which has been adapted for television twice, she wrote many novels, including The Wheel Spins (1936), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as The Lady Vanishes (1938), and Some Must Watch (1933), which was made into the 1946 film, The Spiral Staircase. Had she written nothing else, Ethel Lina White would be remembered as a master of suspense for these three works.

"An Unlocked Window"
was first published here
"An Unlocked Window" was first published in the April 1934 issue of The Novel Magazine, a British fiction magazine that ran from 1905 to 1937. As the story begins, we meet pretty, young nurse Stella Cherry, who has been hired to care for Professor Glendower Baker in his home. Injured by gas doing work of national importance, the professor is confined to his bed and requires a private duty nurse. However, Nurse Cherry forgot to screw the cap back on her patient's last cylinder of oxygen, so Mr. Iles, the handyman, has to take the pony for "the long drive over the mountains, in order to get a fresh supply."

As he leaves, Iles warns Stella to lock every door and window. There is a nighttime storm outside, and after he departs she is left in the big country house with Baker, her patient; Mrs. Iles, the housekeeper; and Nurse Silver, an older woman who was brought to the house recently to help Nurse Cherry. Why did Iles say to lock the doors and windows? Three nurses in the area have been strangled recently and the police are searching for Sylvester Leek, a medical student who had a violent breakdown. Nurse Silver does not trust Nurse Cherry due to her mistake with the oxygen cylinder and comments that she thinks another murder is likely to happen soon.

Dana Wynter as Nurse Crosson
Nurse Cherry has another reason to worry about her patient: she has fallen in love with him and he has proposed marriage to her. In the meantime, Mrs. Iles has too much to drink and the two nurses put her to bed. Dr. Jones telephones to say that a fourth nurse has been found, strangled. Nurse Cherry tries to befriend Nurse Silver, but the older nurse is critical of the younger nurse and accuses her of leading her patient on romantically. They hear a knock at the door and Nurse Silver fears that the killer has arrived. Nurse Cherry goes upstairs to make sure that the rooms are empty, opens an attic window to let in some fresh air, and goes to check on her patient. He needs oxygen, so she tries to phone Dr. Jones, but the phone line is dead.

Suddenly, Nurse Cherry remembers that she left open a window in the larder when she had been frightened by a mouse. On her way to the basement, she sees a man's footprint, still wet. Running upstairs, she hears a strange, male voice. She finds Nurse Silver, who has been drugged. Now alone in the house with a murderer, her patient in danger and the other two women essentially unconscious, she chooses to sit by Professor Baker as the hours pass. Around three a.m., she hears a man's footsteps in the next room.

T.C. Jones as Nurse Ames
Rushing out to the landing, she sees Nurse Silver crush a mouse under her heel and Nurse Cherry realizes that Sylvester Leek murdered the real Nurse Silver and took her place. He emptied the oxygen tank, drugged Baker, and put Mrs. Iles to bed, all to eliminate any obstacles to killing Nurse Cherry. He cut the telephone line and refused to answer when someone knocked at the door--surely it had been Dr. Jones knocking.

Entering the attic, unaware that his secret is known, Leek reaches to close the window that Nurse Cherry had left open and Nurse Cherry pushes him out. After he falls to his death, Nurse Cherry checks on her patient and then goes around the house, unlocking the doors and windows as dawn breaks.

"An Unlocked Window" is an effective story of suspense, in which the young and innocent "Cherry" is menaced by the more mature "Silver." It benefits from its time and place: Iles must go by horse-drawn carriage at the beginning to get more oxygen and the house is lit by candlelight; it is located at a remote spot in the country, connected to the rest of the world by a thin telephone line that is easily cut. There are subtle clues along the way that Nurse Silver is a man: she has a "solid build" and "strong features," as well as "stout looks" and "tight shoes," suggesting that Leek stole the dead nurse's footwear and that it is a little too small for him. The moment of revelation comes when Nurse Cherry sees Nurse Silver stomp on a mouse; the implication is that a woman would run in fright from a small rodent, as Nurse Cherry did in the basement, while a man would kill it without hesitation.

Louise Latham as Maude
James Bridges does a brilliant job of adapting the story for television, adding scenes, fleshing out characters, and making a shocking change to the conclusion that renders the show one of the most terrifying ever broadcast. Premiering on NBC on Monday, February 15, 1965, the show begins like many of the adaptations by Bridges, with scenes that dramatize events that had already happened when the short story opens. The first scene features poor Cathie Merchant, who had been the murder victim in "The Star Juror" and who was sitting next to Riley McGrath when he shot Stoney Likens in "Return of Verge Likens." Playing Nurse Frieda Little, Merchant leaves the home of a patient and walks home after dark, followed by a sinister man whose face is not shown. There are many shadows and quick cuts back and forth between pursuer and pursued, with music heightening the tension; "You're such a pretty nurse," says the killer, and Frieda screams. We hear a sinister laugh, there is a cut to clouds obscuring the moon, with plucked strings and horns adding musical tension, and the scene dissolves to the exterior of the famous house from Psycho.

High wind is heard on the soundtrack and the scene cuts to an interior shot in the room of Glendon Baker, the patient, as Nurses Crosson (Cherry in the story) and Ames (Silver in the story) sit in chairs on either side of his bed, watching a television news report on the latest killing. Baker has an oxygen tent over him and appears fragile. This scene presents a rather awkward method of exposition, as the camera cuts back and forth from the picture on the TV set to the faces of the nurses watching. The purpose is to provide a quick summary of the murders and the room is dark but for the light from the TV screen; tree branches outside the window cast ominous shadows within the room. Other than one interesting camera move at the end of the scene, where the camera focuses on the TV screen before pulling back and swinging around without a cut to show the entire room, this is a static moment in an otherwise exciting show.

John Kerr as Baker
The character of Maude Isles (Mrs. Iles in the story) is much expanded in the teleplay and becomes a humorous chatterbox of the type often found in Hitchcock's films. "I read a book," she says, "about a man who only killed trombone players. He beat them to death with their own trombones." Maude provides some much-needed comedy relief in the episode until she passes out from having too much to drink. Her husband Sam, the handyman, heads off by car (not pony cart) to get the oxygen tank and, in another scene referred to in the story but dramatized on screen, Stella heads down to the cellar with a flashlight to make sure the windows are shut. She closes one but is distracted by a mouse and forgets to close the other. We see the open window and a shot of this window swinging open is repeated on and off throughout the show.

Initially, "An Unlocked Window" teases the viewer by providing little shocks that turn out to be nothing and are treated lightly and laughed off, such as when a door is suddenly opened and a character is surprised to find someone behind it. More humor is provided when the patient, Baker, talks about Maude's skill at strangling chickens to make soup. There is a nice camera angle looking up at Maude as she talks on the telephone; the angle allows us to see her, the staircase leading to the second floor, and the upper landing, all at once. The first act ends with a shot of the basement window swinging open and a musical sting with horns; similar shots will end the second and third acts as the show breaks for a commercial.

The same musical phrase begins Act Two, over an exterior shot of the house; like the shots of the open window that end the first three acts, shots of the outside of the house occur after the initial murder and at the start of Acts Two, Three, and Four, establishing the location clearly. The thunderstorm has now begun and the doctor has just called to report the nearby murder of another nurse. Maude adds to the tension as she counts off the time between lightning strikes and thunder claps, but her darkly humorous tales of murderers come to a halt when she is sure that she saw something outside the window. It doesn't help matters that a stubborn tree branch keeps smacking against the window pane!

E.J. Andre as Sam
Bridges also dramatizes Baker's proposal to Stella although, unlike the story, in which she thinks happily of her upcoming marriage, Stella on TV does not immediately say yes. Maude gets drunker as the storm rages on and we hear a man's voice say, "Such a pretty neck," echoing the words of the killer in the first scene. Is Maude imagining this because she's drunk, or is the killer really in the house? We won't know until the show's conclusion. The electricity goes out and Act Two ends with another shot of the basement window swinging open in the storm.

In Act Three, the house is only lit by candles, as in the short story. Maude continues to drink and passes out, insisting that the killer is inside the house. When she is in bed, Maude again hears a man's laughter; she screams and the nurses give her a sedative. The killer telephones and Nurse Ames takes the call, telling Stella that the killer knows they are alone and will pay a visit that night.

The final act begins as Nurse Ames calls the police and we see a man outside walking toward the house in the driving rain. Gus the cat scratches at the window of Baker's room; Stella lets him in and realizes that the cat got out because she left the basement window open. She heads down to the cellar and again we see the man approaching the house. As she closes the window, Stella sees the man's legs outside and screams. The phone is dead and there is a knock at the door. Nurse Ames directs Stella to go and sit with her patient.

Cathie Merchant as Nurse Little
The man comes to the front door and Stella hears Nurse Ames scream. She goes out to investigate and sees the door wide open and a man's wet footprints in the front hall. Nurse Ames calls to Stella, who also hears a man's laughter. She finds Nurse Ames sitting on the floor in a corner, claiming that the killer tried to strangle her and is in the house. They see a man behind the front door and Stella throws a fireplace poker at the figure, which falls and is revealed to be the corpse of Sam Isles, the handyman who had gone out for the oxygen tank.

Stella hears laughter again and sees Nurse Ames, who now speaks in a man's voice and is revealed to be the killer. Ames grabs Stella, who knocks his wig off and tears open his shirt, revealing a hairy chest. "You're such a pretty nurse," he tells her, and the camera fades to black as we realize the villain has won and is murdering Stella.

For anyone who has read Ethel Lina White's short story, the ending to the TV version of "An Unlocked Window" comes as a shock. Rather than a happy ending, where the nurse in peril pushes the killer out a window to his death, we get a terrifying conclusion, where evil triumphs and the heroine is murdered. The effect is chilling and many elements of this episode will stay with the viewer long after the closing credits have rolled. The menacing laughter, the phrase "such a pretty neck" and, most of all, the revelation that the unlocked window of the title was a red herring and the killer was in the house all along. Norman Lloyd later revealed, in an interview, that Alfred Hitchcock suggested having Stella rip Nurse Ames's blouse open in the climactic struggle, just to make sure the audience could see that he is a man.

In addition to the brilliant script by James Bridges, credit for the success of "An Unlocked Window" must go to the cast and crew, who realize it so effectively for the small screen. First in line is Joseph Newman (1909-2006), the director, who directed ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in all, including "The Gentleman Caller," "Beast in View," and "Dear Uncle George," all from scripts by James Bridges. Newman succeeds in building tension to a high level in the final moments of the show and in making sure that there is no hint at the true identity of Nurse Ames.

The killer revealed
The show is photographed in shadows by Stanley Cortez (1908-1997), who was born Stanley Krantz in New York City and who worked as a cinematographer from 1936 to 1977. Among his films are The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Night of the Hunter (1955); he did not do much TV work and this is the only episode of the Hitchcock series he photographed.

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) wrote the frightening musical score. This was one of 17 Hitchcock hours he scored; the last discussed here was "Where the Woodbine Twineth."

The sound work on this episode is another important factor in its success, and it was engineered by Richard Tyler (1928-1990), who was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Leading the cast as Nurse Stella Crosson is Dana Wynter (1931-2011), a fine-boned actress born Dagmar Wynter in Berlin. She grew up in England and was on screen from 1951 to 1993; this was her only appearance on the Hitchcock show. She is best remembered for co-starring with Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

T.C. Jones (1920-1971) was a talented female impersonator who began this line of work in 1946. He was mostly a stage performer, though he appeared in a handful of movies and TV shows in the 1960s. His performance as Nurse Betty Ames is probably the most important role in "An Unlocked Window," since his ability to keep the audience from realizing that he is a man in disguise is the key to the entire mystery.

The exterior of the house
Comedy relief is provided by Louise Latham (1922- ) as Maude Isles. Latham has been on screen since 1961 and this was her only role on the Hitchcock series. She is best remembered for her first film role, as the dreadful mother of the title character in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964).

Lying in bed for all of his scenes is John Kerr (1931-2013), who plays Baker, the patient. He was on screen from 1953 to 1992 and played Lt. Cable in the film version of South Pacific (1958). He also won a Tony in 1954 for his starring role in Tea and Sympathy. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

Sam Isles, who appears at the beginning of the episode and then reappears at the end, is played by E.J. Andre (1908-1984), who had a three-decade career on screen and who also played the preacher at the funeral at the beginning of "Where the Woodbine Twineth."

Finally, Cathie Merchant (1945-2013) is killed again in the first scene, just as she was in "The Star Juror"! Only nineteen years old, this was one of her four appearances on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Bruce Davison as Nurse Ames
The cast and crew of the 1965 version of "An Unlocked Window" did a masterful job of bringing Ethel Lina White's story to life for television. A less successful translation came in 1985, when the show was remade as the fourth and final segment in the two-hour pilot for NBC's revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Airing on May 5, 1985, the segment was written and directed by Fred Walton and stars Annette O'Toole as Stella and Bruce Davison as Nurse Ames. The show is in color, which dampens the suspense, and it includes an unfortunately histrionic performance by Helena Kallianiotes as the housekeeper. The show may be viewed online here.

"An Unlocked Window" has been anthologized several times and is not hard to find. The version aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is not currently available online or on DVD in the U.S.

"Ethel Lina White." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003. 10 June 2017.
The FictionMags Index. Web. 10 June 2017.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 10 June 2017.
"An Unlocked Window." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. NBC. 15 Feb. 1965. Television.
"An Unlocked Window." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 5 May 1985. Television.
White, Ethel Lina. "An Unlocked Window." 1934. Murder at the Manor. Scottsdale: Poisoned Pen, 2015. 324-44. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 10 June 2017.

In two weeks: "Death Scene," starring Vera Miles and John Carradine!

Monday, June 19, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 34: May 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 34: May, 1953

Mad #4

"Superduperman!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Flob was a Slob!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Robin Hood!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Shadow!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

Genuine twerp Clark Bent might clean out spittoons and vie for the frosty affections of “girl reporter” Lois Pain during working hours at the Daily Dirt, but when trouble arises in the fair city of Cosmopolis Clark stumbles his way into the nearest telephone booth to transform into the mighty “Superduperman”! The big boy in blue runs up against his match in strength when the previously goody-two-shoes Captain Marbles decides to use his mountain-punching powers for personal gain instead of saving kittens from trees. Thankfully our brave Superduperman is able to cunningly trick Captain Marbles into punching himself in the face, but even when in the guise of a hunky hero Clark finds out that Lois thinks he’s still nothing but a creep!

The lawyers at DC and Fawcett were out to lunch.
This is a story I can appreciate more for what it is attempting to do rather than what it actually achieves. Setting the template for the outlandish superhero parody, “Superduperman” still suffers from a bevy of jokes that fall flat or are played out for too long (I found nearly everything leading up to Clark’s transformation to be more trying than funny). And say what you will about Wally Wood’s genius, but I’m not sure that he’s at his finest in the funny bone-mode.

Ramona Snarfle is one of those young all-American virgins caught in a romantic whirlwind of trouble the likes of which you would normally see in bad comic books (hmmm…): she can’t seem to choose between the simpleton charms of her butterfly-chasing childhood sweetheart Sheldon Flob or the devilish advances of bronze-skinned Rackstraw Him. After settling on Rackstraw, Ramona is pushed away by his rakish ways—which includes robbing banks and selling reefer to schoolchildren (!)—and runs towards the open arms of Sheldon… only to dump the slob for a more lucrative life of drug peddling to minor.

Like Peter, I didn’t even realize “Fob was a Slob” was the work of Jack Davis at all. I thought surely this was Harvey’s penmanship; the character of Sheldon in particular seems like something we’d see from him. Again, this is a story that’s more miss than hit, but you really have to hand it to those morally-corrupt degenerates at EC for having the cajones to end their romance tale with the sweet-faced heroine transforming into a snarling drug dealer offering joints to children. Easily gets a half star just for that!

The Senate Subcommittee was out to lunch.
("Flob was a Slob!")

Big John and Sparkie are two pals in Merry Olde England bemoaning their penniless states when they suddenly hit on the idea to seek out that great bastion of the impoverished, “Robin Hood”! The bloke steals from the rich and gives the booty to the poor… Big John and Sparkie are poor… and, well, as Einstein would say, “You do the math!” The bums run into Robin Hood in short order and tell him and his Merry Men about a caravan of well-to-do snobs that just passed through, which they verily loot and pick clean. When our heroic bums bemoan that they only have two cents to their name, Robin and Co. verily loot and pick them clean before going back for the shirt on their backs.

Fredric Wertham was out to lunch.
("Robin Hood!")
If any one story from this issue shows how it strains for the laughs, it’s this one. Sure there are some fair maidens gags about Snow White’s dwarves showing up in Robin’s gang and some comedic saxophone playing, but the rest of this yawner is pretty tepid stuff, as is John Severin’s tired-looking art.

Margo Pain, female companion of the mysterious Shadow (short for Lamont Shadowskeedeeboomboom), walks into a regular den of iniquity fit to bursting with gruesome thugs and hoodlums and starts yapping about her tight relationship with the invisible avenger. Shadow makes his (dis)appearance and a bloody shootout ensues with every evil-doer biting the dust and Margo getting a kick in the rear for her indiscretion. Things turn decidedly more serious when attempts on Margo’s life begin to occur, covering everything from falling pianos to exploding apples! Responding to a note sent on a messenger dagger, Margo and Shad journey to the outhouse at the end of the street where our brave heroine waits on a seat of dynamite while the invisible avenger checks outside for any evil-doers. But in actuality what he does is ignite the fuse to the TNT and blows Margo sky-high, effectively ensuring that his secret identity remains a secret!

Out from the muck of Mad’s fourth issue comes this genuine classic, a rib-tickling good time from start to finish that’s furnished with Bill Elder’s indelible, zany art and more background gags than you can shake a contaminated chicken leg from the Cafeteria Bacteria at. When I look at Bill Elder’s work in this series, I always end up saying to myself  that *this* is what a Mad story should look like, and what so many of the other artists seemed to be striving to do but could never pull off. You get the impression that dreaming up all this kooky and inane stuff came as easy as breathing to Elder. I could sit here and bullet point every joke that I found funny in “Shadow”, but I would only end up quoting the entire story. So go on and read it for yourself, ya creep! --Jose

Margo Pain has just lost her lunch.
Melvin II: After four issues of mostly tedious silliness, I'm beginning to think that either I have no sense of humor or I'm just the one person who isn't in on the joke. Oh, I'll admit that there are spots here and there that make me giggle (like the sign on the cafeteria window that reads: "The only restaurant where you can eat dirt cheap!" or Ramona Snarfle selling dope to school kids) but did these early issues really make readers laugh out loud? If not for the credits, I would have never pegged the artist of "Flob Was a Slob!" as Jack Davis. A very reserved Davis at that.

Jack: I think the cover is classic Kurtzman and "Superduperman" is classic early Mad as well. The panels are incredibly busy with gags and Wood's art is superb, though we're getting used to that, aren't we? His Lois Pain is a force to be reckoned with and the epic battle between Superduperman and Captain Marbles is especially funny in light of the 1951 resolution of the 12-year court battle between DC and Fawcett. I don't think I ever read "Flob Was a Slob! before and, while Davis's gals can't hold a candle to Wood's, the story is funny and surprising, especially the conclusion. "Robin Hood!" did nothing for me at all, but "Shadow!" has always been one of my favorites. Will Elder was born to draw Mad stories!

Shock SuspenStories #8

"Piecemeal" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

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

"The Arrival" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, and Roy Krenkel

"Seep No More!" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Why is Eric staggering around at night next to a swimming pool, his left arm torn off at the shoulder? It all began when he visited his older brother, Sidney, and Sidney's beautiful young wife, Sally. Sidney spent much of his time tending to his collection of rare fish, so there were plenty of opportunities for Eric to hit it off with Sally, who liked to give her husband sleeping pills at night so that he would not interfere with her late-night swims with Eric. Soon enough, Sally plans to murder her husband with an overdose and have Eric all to herself. What neither of them reckoned with was Sidney's latest rare fish purchase: a man-eating shark in the swimming pool. As Sidney lays dying in his bed from too many pills, Sally is eaten by the shark and Eric loses his arm trying to save her.

Submitted without comment.
"Piecemeal" has a good plot and is well written; Kamen's standard husband/wife/lover cutouts are adequate to tell the story so that it held my interest. I had a feeling a hungry fish was in the offing and I was right, but who buys a man-eating shark and puts it in their swimming pool? What about the chlorine?

Lucy Cartwright has been missing for 36 hours and her parents are getting frantic. Suddenly, she returns and reports "The Assault!" She was victimized by an old recluse named Hodges. The men of the town get a posse together, pay a visit to the old man, and beat him to death. That afternoon, a handsome fellow named George shows up at the Cartwright house and takes Lucy for a walk in the woods to have a chat. It seems George met Lucy months ago at a juke joint and began a torrid affair. She was with George when she went missing but, when he proposed marriage, she laughed at him and went home, making up the story about Old Hodges, who was like a father to George. When George threatens to tell the cops, Lucy reminds him that she's 17 and he'd be confessing to statutory rape, so he rids the world of the shameless hussy by putting six bullets in her face.

George, you old smoothie!
("The Assault!)
Now that's an impulsive way to solve a problem! Wally Wood goes to town drawing 17-year-old Lucy as only he can, and the portrait of mob violence is one we've seen before in these comics. The ending is surprisingly harsh and really rather inexplicable.

Martians have been watching Earth for a long time, seeing civilization wiped out by atomic war and waiting for it to be revived. When a spaceship takes off from the third planet, the denizens of Mars prepare themselves for "The Arrival." As the ship draws closer, communication is established and the Earth creatures tell the story of civilization's rise and fall. When the ship lands and the door opens, the Martians greet the only survivors of the atomic war--rats!

What a trio of artists! The GCD suggests that Williamson did most of the work, with some help by Frazetta and Krenkel, but the pictures are beautiful. The story is run-of-the-mill 1950s science fiction, the author certain that the crisis then was the one that would wipe out mankind. I did get a kick out of the ending, though.

Looks more like a squirrel!
("The Arrival")
Never laugh at a man in love! That lesson was not learned by Irene Lauton, a pretty stage actress who scoffed at a declaration of love by Mr. Finner, who lived across the hall in the same rooming house. When Irene disappears, the police come calling and Mr. Finner starts to see a big, bloody spot develop on his ceiling. He cleans it off but it comes back, so he tries white paint. That doesn't work either, so he opts for a pot to catch the blood, which he prays will "Seep No More!" Finally driven batty by the incessant blood, he confesses to having murdered the woman and stuffed her body in the storage attic. Of course, the police find the body but no sign of any dripping blood.

The best story in a strong issue, "Seep No More" recalls Poe and even Ray Bradbury's "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" in its depiction of how guilt can overwhelm the mind and cause it to see things that are not there.--Jack

Peter: "Piecemeal" is pretty silly and pretty standard tryst fare. Even though the excited Sidney doesn't get the audience he'd hoped for his all-new, all-great specimen, you'd think he'd have the courtesy to say, "Oh, Sally, by the way, do be careful swimming in the pool as I've just acquired a man-eating shark!" Lucy, the hell-cat of "The Assault!," definitely gets what's coming to her (although six bullets in the face may be overkill), just like the women Lucy is patterned after, those fabulous bad girls of the 1950s Gold Medal novels. I'm glad Al had time to read some of the finer things in life, not just all that Shakespeare nonsense. "The Arrival" has a great climax I never saw coming and some fabulous Williamson art. The winner this issue, for me, could very well be a polarizing story. Some may see "Seep No More!" as a long, slow slog with a "twist" lifted from Poe's "The Black Cat," but I love its slow burn and the way Finner, the story's rational maniac, almost foretells upcoming human monsters of literature like Norman Bates. For once, Al doesn't fall back on a murderous adulterer or crazed owner of a meat packing plant, but rather that quiet guy down the hall at the boarding house who may just ogle Ms. Lauton a second longer than is courteous. George Evans's art is superb (especially that eerie splash, reprinted above); was Evans the most noirish artist EC employed?

Jose: My issue with “Piecemeal” isn’t so much the question of the pool’s ability to sustain a man-eating shark (I believe at one point Sally mentions to Eric that it’s a salt-water pool) but the question over how in the hell neither of the two plotting lovers saw the big, flesh-chomping beast swimming around before they decided to dive in. Outside of that, this fish story is harmless enough. “The Assault” is another *Shock Special*, a brutalizer that leaves you feeling like you have six bullet holes in your face, too. The moral lesson condemning mob violence feels more implicit here, with the focus instead being placed on the rough and seedy elements of spring/autumn romances. This one feels more nihilistic than other “preachies,” as there are precious few champions of justice here and more than enough warped and violent sociopaths. “The Arrival” perks our spirits back up with a reservedly joyous prediction of the eventual fate of the planet that posits that long after us humans have nuked each other’s brains out and our radiation-scarred bones have cooled, the cuddly rats that we so despised will rise up as the usurpers of the planet and finally make contact with the equally adorable reptilian residents of Mars. “Seep No More” takes us from the fanciful high and brings us right back down into the grime and the dark corners of a psychopath’s neurosis. Though it clearly borrows from classic literature, Gaines and Feldstein do a more-than-fine job of updating the yarn for modern sensibilities and, complemented by George Evans’ stark artwork, make this one a menacing and haunting psycho-drama.

Tales from the Crypt #35

"By the Fright of the Silvery Moon!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Midnight Mess!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Busted Marriage!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"This Wraps It Up!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

The Gedra men, recently emigrated from Hungary to a small farm in the American Midwest, find their peaceable existence shattered with the sudden breakout of violent murders in their fair burg. The victims look to be the target of wild animal attacks, but father Alec Gedra knows the telltale signs of the werewolf when he sees one. His youngest son Edward is completely absorbed by this notion and begins blabbing his father’s secret theories to everyone in earshot despite his older brother Peter’s attempts to rein him in. Edward’s superstitious jabber catches the ear of the sheriff, who after an afternoon of library research determines inconclusively that there definitely is a werewolf in this here town and that it’s none other than Papa Gedra! The foreigner is summarily dragged from his house and executed by firing squad in front of his two horrified children. The boys swear vengeance on the real lycanthrope and come the next full moon they head out armed with sharpened silver dollars and slingshots. After they split up Peter hears the sounds of another slaughter and finds the wolf man slavering over his latest kill. The boy’s aim is true, but after he fells the horrible beast he is dismayed to see it reverting back to its human shape of Edward, his brother.

If I had a nickel for every time *that* happened!
("By the Fright of the Silvery Moon")
“By the Fright of the Silvery Moon” works best if you try not to think about the developments and machinations of its plot too closely, which is something that I don’t have too much trouble doing anytime there are werewolves in the mix, and especially when they’re drawn by Jack Davis. Due to the murder-mystery trappings of the story we don’t see any signs of our trouser-wearing hellhound until the final page right before the “shocking” conclusion. So I take it that Edward was only allergic to silver in his wolf-form? Otherwise shouldn’t he have broken out into hives during all that silver dollar filing? (Jack can say whatever he likes about that, but I think that two kids going out werewolf huntin’ with nothing but razor-sharp coins and a couple of slingshots is pretty badass.) “By the Fright…” is not quite the perfect lycanthrope story we were hoping for (was there ever one?), but it’s worth it solely for bringing about that ferocious front cover if nothing else.

It’s hard for Harold Madison to enjoy his trip to see his sister in the tottering old Victorian village she lives in, what with the place being completely shuttered and deserted come sundown with nobody but crazy old coots running in the streets and talking of vampires. Harold finds that his sis Donna is no better, blaming the recent spate of bloodthirsty killings on creatures of the night. He tries to settle himself with a good meal later that night and is surprised to find the restaurant that turned him out earlier is now buzzing with activity. But as Harold dines on the suspiciously salty and thin and red delicacies that the waiter brings out, he begins to think something is terribly amiss. And he’s right: all the restaurant patrons and staff are vampires, and they celebrate the occasion of their human guest by stringing him up and tapping his jugular vein like a cask of fine Moscato.

Ahh, a good fear!
("Midnight Mess")
Justly infamous for its simultaneously ludicrous and queasy finale, “Midnight Mess” lets it be known from the get-go that it will be settling in for some creaky old chills right from Joe Orlando’s opening splash depicting Harold walking through the Halloween-postcard town unknowingly menaced by flapping bats and hooded figures in black. This makes way for more visceral developments come the final part of the story that trades in the “greasy, grimy gopher guts” level of sophomoric gross-out humor that repurposes human blood as various sumptuous dishes. But the real selling point is that jugular tap, so repulsive and morbidly funny that you don’t whether to chuckle or to retch. The inclusion of the supernatural undoubtedly softens the blow here; had this been an act performed by mortals, this story would have likely raised a far bigger stink.

Jeffrey Horn likes Louise Brittling, but he likes her riches even more. But Louise doesn’t like Jeffrey. What’s a poor leech to do? Why, go to the “native” proprietor of the closest curio shop and ask for a pinch of that ol’ voodoo! Jeffrey does doo and receives two sugar dolls made up in the form of bride-and-groom wedding cake toppers, and any action performed upon them will occur to their fleshy counterparts. So since they’re already dressed for the big day then… that means the real Louise will fall in love with Jeffrey and marry him? Sure enough, she does! But then Jeffrey meets Louise’s hot, younger friend Eve and decides to cut the honeymoon short by sticking Louise’s doll in a sealed bell jar to give her a little air-cut. Louise dies, leaving Jeffrey and Eve to enjoy their own wedding night. Only until the rotting, moldy zombie sugar-doll rises from the trash heap and knocks Jeffrey’s doll down from its mantle, leaving the groom (and his new bride’s mind) shattered in pieces.

Hello, Dolly!
("Busted Marriage")
Coming in the midst of this monster mash of an issue is Jack Kamen’s old voodoo softie “Busted Marriage.” Not much can be said of its narrative, yet another threadbare gimmick constructed solely for the just punishment of the villain(s). The finale might have seemed inspired or packed some punch had we not already seen it before; Peter mentions “Drawn and Quartered” below, but we saw something a lot more familiar all the way back in Johnny Craig’s “Voodoo Vengeance” from VOH 14… and even earlier than that when Robert Bloch published his story “Sweets to the Sweet” in the March 1947 issue of Weird Tales. For what’s it worth, “Busted Marriage” features one of the closest glimpses we have had of Jack Kamen depicting a legitimate walking corpse, even if it is the walking corpse of a doll. By the way, if those dolls had the power of animation all along, then why didn’t the bride just break out of her sealed bell jar when the air supply started running low? Or was that only a capability that was made possible by the commitment of a crime on the part of the voodoo beneficiary?

With his dying breath. Arnold revealed the
one concert he always regretted
missing out on.
("This Wraps It Up")
Three archaeologists are overjoyed to see that their days of toiling and digging in the scorching Egyptian heat have paid off with the discovery of Pharaoh Ikah-mu-kahma’s secret tomb. The crumbling skeletons in the trophy room don’t scare the boys away, and the vast riches on hand turn the plotting Thomas and Jerome’s minds to greed and murder. Their partner Arnold had a bad ticker, you see, and all it would take would be a big enough shock to send the man into cardiac arrest. A shock such as seeing the bandaged remains of Ikah-mu-kahma reviving to enact vengeance on the defilers of his grave. The duo set it up so that Thomas will don the filthy wrappings and go into his Kharis act after his screams provoke Arnold and Jerome to “investigate” that night. The plan goes off without a hitch, but when Jerome turns the tables on his partner he discovers that the bullets in his revolver have very little effect. That’s because Thomas has already been killed by the real Ikah-mu-kahma, and the revived mummy is now closing in on Jerome.

“This Wraps It Up” puts a dull, limp bow on this issue. This seems like a plotline that would have been found in the early issues of EC’s horror titles. It still has that innocent, old-time-radio sheen about it. Compared to feral-faced werewolves and blood-tapping vampires that we saw at the start of the issue, a shambling mummy that turns out to be an actual shambling mummy seems awfully tame by comparison. And to give *that* story to “Ghastly” Graham Ingels. What a shame! --Jose

Uggh... leftovers!
("Midnight Mess")
Peter: It would seem as though Graham Ingels would have been the natural choice to illustrate "Midnight Mess!," but Joe Orlando does a bang-up job in Ghastly's spot. "Midnight Mess!" is the seventh story we've come across so far of the ten adapted for the Amicus films. While the filmed version was lacking in just about everything (especially in the effects department), the comic original is a classic from Joe's detailed first panel to the laugh-out-loud finale. The menu alone brings a loud groan. "By the Fright..." is a typical werewolf tale with a predictable outcome (the dad and the sheriff are too obvious so we know who it's got to be) but Jack's art is nice, as are the semi-sorta western undertones. Al (and Bill) draw a whole lot of their inspiration for "Busted Marriage!" from Al's "Drawn and Quartered!" (Crypt #26) and Kamen drew . . . something. "This Wraps It Up!" wraps up a mixed-bag of an issue. The twist is a good one, even though the plot that precedes it has been used before and did we really have to be reminded of Arnold's bad ticker every other panel? I not only noted it but knew it meant something. The big minus to "Wraps" is that it doesn't really give Ghastly much chance to shine, does it?

Jack: Once again, the story features less than Ingels's best work but the standout panel is the splash with the Old Witch. It sure looks like he lavished most of his attention on those initial panels with the Old Witch every issue, doesn't it? "Busted Marriage!" has below average Kamen art and a dull story, but the last half-page was a surprise to me. Clunky plot mechanics are in evidence both in "Midnight Mess!" and "By the Fright..." In "Midnight Mess!," the early scene with the big mirror is a tip-off that the vampires will cast no reflection later on. I recall this story from the big 1970 collection but, on re-reading it, I thought it was mostly a long, drawn-out gag with a classic payoff. The Davis story is also weak in the art department and the idea of a slingshot and a sharp silver dollar as a method to kill a werewolf seems far-fetched to me. They had a month--find a gun and make a silver bullet!

Crime SuspenStories #16

"Rendezvous!" ★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Fission Bait!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Come Clean!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Angelo Torres

"Who's Next?" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Joe Haines is a free-wheeling playboy stuck in a low-paying accountant’s job. To keep his girlfriend Nickie happy and well-jeweled, he’s been appropriating funds from work. When the boss gets suspicious and voices his concerns, Joe realizes he’s going to have to think up something fast. His salvation comes in the form of a time bomb and a timely business trip. Joe places the bomb in his boss’s luggage just before the man takes off, then drives to the spot in the desert where he’s calculated the crash will occur. Joe gets his expected comeuppance when he becomes part of the crash. "Rendezvous!" is not a great story in terms of the plot and the contrivances needed to pull it off (does Joe really think he could dig through the flaming wreckage to cover up any proof of the bomb?), but it's livened up by what could be one of the most sadistic characters in comics. To cover up his own foolishness, Joe thinks nothing of killing hundreds of lives. It’s also a tough story to read in the wake of 9/11. Back in the 1950s, monsters like Joe Haines populated comic books, not desert training camps and 747s.

Eddie and Louise Miller have been living it up, making money with their small machine shop, selling parts to the military but, with the end of World War II, business dries up. Eddie falls into a funk until an Army colonel comes a-callin', explaining that the Army will pay the Millers a boatload of money for pumping out special casings designed for atomic bombs. Suddenly, the Millers are back to living high on the hog, buying big houses, nice cars, and a huge ranch in the valley. On business in Los Angeles one night, Eddie is introduced to the gorgeous Pat Walton and immediately falls in love. The two live a clandestine relationship for over a year until Pat becomes tired of the secrecy and demands that Eddie divorce Louise. In the meantime, Louise has grown suspicious of Eddie's frequent business trips to La-La Land and hired a PI to follow him. Things come to a head one night when Louise confronts her husband over his infidelity and Eddie snaps, killing his wife and burying her body in the desert. The cold-blooded killer cheerfully explains to Pat that Louise has found out about their affair and walked out on him but, as the couple are making love on the sofa, the police break in and arrest both of them. As the police car is heading for headquarters, Eddie asks the cop how he found out about the crime. The detective explains that an old prospector had been searching in the desert for uranium deposits and Louise's watch had set off his Geiger-counter. For once, it's not just Jack Kamen's stencils that deep-six a story but also the -blah- script from Al. There's not a cliche left out of "Fission Bait!" and the "startlingly ironic reveal" elicits more yawns than gasps.

Ralph Jansen is about to be executed for the murder of Lillian Smith, a woman he picked up in a bar for a one-night stand. The prosecution’s evidence consists of the testimony of the landlady who saw him in Lillian’s apartment and his coat, which was seen on a man running from the apartment after the murder. Jansen spends his last minutes going over the night in his head, trying to come up with a missing piece. Unfortunately for Ralph, the missing piece arrives in his brain just as the switch is flipped. A wild, pessimistic story with no expository final panel. The executioner didn’t do it. No gleeful, guilty sheriff. We know Jansen is innocent, but we never find out who or why Lillian is killed. Just about the most noir-ish tale we've run across on our journey thus far, with all sorts of lines that could have fallen out of a Mickey Spillane paperback conveniently opened on Al's lap:

We started to talk! I looked her over! She wasn't bad . . . for her kind!
She drank like a fish! And she could sure hold it! Her eyes got a little bleary, but otherwise she was okay! Just a little gay . . .

This is not the best work we've seen from Al Williamson; the vibe is a bit mid-century rushed and unfinished (the police chief looks a whole lot like Edward G. Robinson) but it's also got a grittiness to it that's perfectly suited for the noir atmosphere.

Tony's a very happy man; he's got his successful barber shop, he's got his health, and he's got his gorgeous wife, Anna. Lately, though, Anna has not been herself, rebuking Tony at the breakfast table, spurning his kisses, and not showing up for her wifely duties at night ("I was tired last night, Tony!"). Regardless of his unhappy home life, Tony still shows up to shear off his customers' unwanted locks and provide some much-needed bonding time between men. Curiously, big-time banker-man, Mr. Barker, shows up every day to inquire as to the wait for a haircut and, every day, he turns right around and leaves when his question is answered. One day, Mr. Barker comes in, inquires and leaves, but drops his wallet. Ever the good citizen, Tony scampers after the wealthy banker, only to discover why Mr. Barker is so inquisitive about Tony's workload: Mr. Barker is the reason why Anna is . . . so tired! The next day, Tony makes sure his slate is clear and, when Mr. Barker arrives, he gets a very close shave! "Who's Next?" is more of the same from Al's bag of plots, this one using the haggard frame of the poor guy with the adulterous wife who doles out revenge based on his profession (a frame we seem to be seeing quite a lot of). Nothing new here and, in fact, five of the seven pages are given over to nothing but poor Tony wondering why his wife is being so mean to him. Joe Orlando provides decent visuals for a story that would usually be handed to Jack Kamen. --Peter

Jack: I found "Who's Next?" to be satisfying from start to finish, with adult themes and solid art. I liked it best out of four good stories in a very strong issue. Johnny Craig's "Rendezvous!" is disturbing in retrospect, with the usual great art from Johnny. I like the Kamen story more than you did; it's a good little crime tale but the twist ending does seem superfluous. As for "Come Clean!," it's terrifically hard boiled and the narration is fabulous, but I think Al Williamson is the most uneven artist we're seeing in these EC comics. Perhaps it all depends on the inker.

The Vault of Horror #30

"Split Personality!" ★★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Who Doughnut?" ★★
Story by Al Feldsetin
Art by Jack Davis

"Practical Choke!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Notes to You!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Handsome con man Ed King collects donations for a living and can't resist turning on the old charm when he learns of beautiful blond twin sisters who live together, never go out, and have a boatload of moolah. Gaining entry to their home by means of rescuing a kitten from a tree, Ed quickly makes himself indispensable and the girls fall in love with him. Being a clever con artist, Ed realizes that he can double his winnings by pretending to be twins, so he tells the girls that he and his identical twin brother Alphonso take turns minding their holdings in South Africa, each one spending a month there at a time. The gals fall for it like a ton of bricks and before you know it, Ed and "Alphonso" have each married one of the twin sisters. Sadly for Ed, an unintended tan line from a sun lamp tips the girls off, but they solve the problem quite creatively by cutting Ed down the middle with an ax, so each sister gets her fair share.

Johnny Craig could mix humor, horror,
and hardboiled in the same story.
("Split Personality!")

I've been waiting for a great Johnny Craig story for a while now, and I think "Split Personality!" is it! The art is perfect, blending crime, humor, and horror seamlessly, and the story is a lot of fun, all the way to the side-splitting finish. And how about that cover? If I were in Congress, I'd hold it up as Exhibit A. The bone sticking out is the worst part.

Not even Jack Davis could make this work!
("Who Doughnut?")
Seven women dead in under a month, blood drained from their bodies, round welts covering their skin! "Who Doughnut?" wonder the police and intrepid reporter Danny Hughes. What's more, the victims all have traces of sea brine left on them. One night, down by the docks, Danny follows a suspicious character to the aquarium and discovers that the killer is an octopus!

Were it not for Jack Davis's efforts to tell this story with a relatively straight face, it would belong in Mad. The script is awful and the ending is telegraphed a mile away. And since when can an octopus put on a hat and trench coat and slink around town?

Three fun-loving medical school students play one "Practical Choke!" after another on the unsuspecting public. They leave a severed arm hanging from a subway strap, a couple of severed legs sticking out of a sand dune at the beach, and a severed head in a photo cutout at the boardwalk. Thinking they need to hide the evidence of their misdeeds, they return to the morgue to dispose of what remains of the body they took the parts from, when a length of slithering intestines sneaks up and chokes them to death!

Compare the Evans panel to the Craig cover.
("Practical Choke!")

Only slightly better than the story before it, this one is notable for more strong art from George Evans and for the fact that the panel that mirrors Johnny Craig's cover is actually less gruesome. Think about that--the cover is more graphic than what's on the inside pages! The end is ridiculous and makes me fear that Feldstein is running out of ideas.

Popkin's candy store stocks EC comics!
("Notes to You!")
Judson Slack receives a poison pen letter telling him that his wife has been unfaithful. He confronts her and, not believing her denial, walks out. She kills herself and he feels remorse. Morton Cox receives a similar letter telling him that his trusted employee has robbed him. He confronts the man, who leaps from a window. The same thing happens with Averill Minton, who kills himself after a letter sent to the customers of his bank impugns his character. Finally, Mr. Popkin, who owns a candy store, refuses to serve bitter old Ambrose Baldwin in front of some kids. Baldwin complains and Popkin gives him a bottle of ink and tells him never to come back.

Baldwin goes home and writes a letter to the health department, stating that the candy store is filthy. They investigate but, when the letter is produced, it is blank. Popkin then knows that Baldwin is the poison pen letter-writer and he and the other three men who were affected realize that they all slighted Baldwin at some point in the past. To get revenge, they visit him at home and jab him repeatedly with fountain pens filled with lye until his body dissolves.

Very nice art by Ghastly in "Notes to You!" can't save another weak story from Bill and Al. The parade of poison-pen letters is fine and the story seems to be going in the direction of revenge, but the idea of sticking a man with pens filled with lye and that causing him to disintegrate into "a foul-smelling, oozing pool of putrescence" is too much.--Jack

The Terrible Twins plot Peter's demise.
("Split Personality!")
Peter: All four stories in this extremely weak issue are hampered by dopey climaxes (y' know, those kind that are telegraphed form the splash page?). Al doesn't even try to explain how (or why) an octopus climbs into Mickey Spillane duds to prowl the street for prey. Is it an intelligent half-man/half-octo who can sense that a creature such as he should don a trench and fedora so as not to draw attention? Sheesh! The only thing to recommend in "Split Personality!" is Craig's crazed Blair sisters. Sure, they turn on a dime a little too quickly but it's a fun transformation. Speaking of quick, the fatalities of "Notes to You!" certainly didn't waste their time explaining or looking for solutions to their problems, instead ending their lives within minutes of the slights. The climax boils down (pun intended) to the same ol' same ol'. That leaves the only story this issue that garnered as high as two stars in my notes: "Practical Choke!," which begins very promisingly but then sputters and dies. I thought this one was heading into the same territory as the classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour episodes "The Cadaver" and "The Jokester" (both broadcast long after this issue was published) but, in the end, Al falls back on the patented shock finale that makes no sense.

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