Monday, July 3, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 35: June, 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
   35: June, 1953

Frontline Combat #12

"F-94!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by George Evans

"F-86 Sabre Jet!" ★★★ 1 /2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Alex Toth

"B-26 Invader!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"H-5!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

When a teenager manning an "observation post" spots a low-flying B-29, he sends an urgent message to the air force and within minutes, the "F-94!" is dispatched to investigate. When the pilot catches up to the B-29, he shoots a roll of film rather than his machine guns. It's revealed that the B-29 was a test plane used by the AF to monitor their observation posts. Young Sam is given a commendation and America is once again safe. A very exciting tale that has a bit of a let down when you find the whole incident was a ruse. I should have known, since Harvey doesn't dabble in "What If"s but only history, techniques, and applied methods. In this case, Harvey drops clues early on about the Russians copying one of our bombers, but for a minute there I was sold that those Reds were comin' to get us!


"F-86 Sabre Jet!"
The pilot of an "F-86 Sabre Jet!" flies into MiG alley in Korea and must take on what seems to be a whole sky of MiGs. After engaging with one and shooting it down, the pilot becomes lost in a cloud bank and must rely on his gauges  to keep himself from flying into the ground. Despite his very fabric arguing with what the instruments say, the pilot finally emerges from the bank in one piece. Though there's still plenty of war to fight, this F-86 is running low on fuel and must return home. Alex Toth! Holy cow, this guy could do wonders with big, near-empty panels. Of course, Toth is given a great script to work with, one filled with edge-of-your-seat excitement and thrills. The reader literally sits in the seat with our confused hero as he seesaws between his senses and technology. As with most of Harvey's work during this period "F-86 Sabre Jet!" is more an incident than a story, but it's a hell of an incident!

The crew of a "B-26 Invader!" fly into North Korea to bomb the hell out of an enemy supplies convoy. Using the darkness as a tool, the B-26 destroys as many of the vehicles as it can and then heads for home. As with "F-86," "B-26" is not much more than a story told around the poker table by aging vets, but it's a compelling one. This must have been the easiest money Jack Davis ever made since the majority of his panels are black with very little color. Especially effective are the two panels (shown below) depicting the convoy pre- and post-bombing.

"B-26 Invader!"
The final tale in this special "Air Force Issue" gives us a riveting look at how the "H-5!" helicopter is used to rescue downed pilots. In a weird twist of fate, an F-80 pilot is rescued but the H-5 is damaged and must make an emergency landing, precipitating a second rescue by two more H-5s! When the F-80 pilot comments on how much dough must have been spent to rescue one pilot, the H-5 pilot observes that after "how much money the government spent to train" the pilot, he may be "the most expensive item of them all!" As with the previous three tales, "H-5!" weaves an intriguing and suspenseful narrative. In enemy territory with the odds stacked against you and seemingly no exit in sight. The majority of us (with apologies to the vets reading these words) have never been caught up in any of these situations and I, for one, would be looking for a safe place to hide. One of the better themed issues yet. --Peter

Jack: What a fantastic comic book! The imminent threat of an atom bomb in "F-94!" shows just how different life was in 1953 compared to today. The suspense builds as we wonder if the mystery plane is American or Soviet and I never knew of the need for plane spotters on the ground. Does such a need exist today? "F-86 Sabre Jet!" features stunning art by Toth, an artist I did not appreciate when I was a kid but who I really like as an adult. "B-26 Invader!" is good, but not as good as the stories before and after it. "H-5!" features heart-stopping thrills and more magnificent art by Wood. Had I been a kid when this issue came out in 1953, I would have cut out the coupon to join the Ground Observer Corps and mailed it in pronto!

Weird Fantasy #19

"King of the Gray Spaces!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Hot-Rod!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Brain-Child!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"Time for a Change!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Chris and Ralph are pals and both dream of someday being "King of the Grey Spaces!" and piloting a rocket ship to outer space. One day, Chris is selected but can't tell anyone because he might not make the grade. His mother says goodbye and Chris is led off to begin training.

Is somebody cutting onions in here?
("King of the Grey Spaces!")

At first, I thought this story was too wordy, but it drew me in, perhaps because it's so well written. The captions are long and Feldstein, Severin, and Elder do what they can to make it more than just an illustrated short story, but there's not a lot they can do. It really has that Bradbury ring of wistfulness and is rather lovely.

And not a spot on him!
Amos is parked by the lake with his girlfriend Sally when a strangely-garbed man runs out of the woods and wants to know what year it is. He accidentally drops a package in Amos's car as Amos drives off. Sally tells Amos she won't be with him until he dumps his wife and has a pile of money. Unfortunately, Amos's wife is a nagging invalid. When Amos discovers that the package contains a car part from the future, he hooks it up to his "Hot-Rod!" and discovers he can zoom through the fourth dimension and cover long distances in an instant. He murders his wife, robs his boss, and hits the gas, thinking he'll be far away from the scene of the crime, but he finds himself on Mars and realizes he's out of gas.

Al Feldstein can sure pack a heap of plot into seven pages, can't he? Here, we have an adulterous affair, a man from the future dressed like a refugee from an operetta, a brutal murder, and a science fiction premise with an ending out of left field! Jack Kamen draws Cynthia, the wife, as a hag until right before she is murdered, when she suddenly looks like a trademark JK babe. What a wacky story.

To prevail in the war with Venus, Earth scientists invent the "Brain-Child!," a rocket ship's mechanical brain that can learn from Dane, the ship's pilot. Dane and the Brain work well together, destroying several Venusian ships, until the Brain is distracted one day by Dane's reading and Dane is killed. The Brain repairs the ship on its own and eventually avenges Dane in a suicide mission against a Venusian ship.

Floating duck.
Another story that seemed too wordy at first, this one succeeds in large part due to stunning artwork by Williamson and Krenkel. It took me until the bottom of page three to realize that the machine was narrating the tale (I'm a little slow on the uptake), but the last few pages have real emotional impact.

Universal Theme Parks just aren't what they used to be.
("Time for a Change!")
The first mission to Pluto finds that one side of the planet always faces the sun and thus has lush vegetation rather than a frozen wasteland. The crew finds what seems to be a statue of a dinosaur-like monster, but when they return the next day it looks like it moved slightly. Soon, the Earthmen become in sync with the slow environment on Pluto and have to escape the now-rampaging monsters. When the men return to Earth, they are moving so slowly that everyone thinks they're dead.

"Time for a Change!" is a bit confusing, what with all of the time-shifting, but the end recalls the short story "Breakdown," with the crew member still alive but about to be embalmed. Joe Orlando's art is great, but the story isn't quite up to the level of the two classics in this above-average issue.--Jack

Peter: Bradbury's message, that kids will be kids no matter what the century, is one that may have gone right over most kids' heads in 1953. I know I'd have preferred a space monster or two rather than all the talky stuff (and Wertham would have definitely screamed out loud about the subtle homosexuality). As a "grown-up," though, I appreciate this as a powerful, poetic work. One of Ray's best looks at childhood. Obviously, Zemeckis and Gale drew more than a little bit of inspiration from "Hot-Rod!" for Back to the Future (and both had a hand in creating and writing for the Tales from the Crypt series on HBO), but to call this silly one-note joke inspired is off the mark. The fact that Amos is worried that he ran out of gas rather than looking at his own brains exploded across the windshield is down to the fact that we knew so little about Mars in 1953 but, seriously, the guy's in a convertible and he's got the breath to complain about his situation? With "Brain-Child!," you can really see that Bradbury's tone and themes were rubbing off on Al. It's a bit too talky but it's got a dynamite second half, resembling something someone in a studio boardroom would call HAL Meets Death Wish. And that's coming from a guy who hates stories narrated by inanimate objects. "Time for a Change!" is way too much like an episode of PBS Science Lecture Hour to enjoy. The constant reading of the rules slows down any pace the story may be setting ("If Pluto rotates at the same ratio to its revolution around the sun as Earth does, her day will be approximately ten earth months long . . . then a Plutonian minute would be over four Earth-hours long however these ratios blahblahblah . . .").

Jose: Yes, “King of the Grey Spaces” tests the holding capacity of the captions, but god damn are those some beautiful words that fill them. As opposed to many other stories in WF and WS where the science fictional concept was at the fore of the narrative, Bradbury just uses the trappings of rockets and space exploration to depict the tale of two close friends coming of age and the pivotal point in their lives when they find that their paths will diverge. It’s one of life’s most bittersweet moments, realizing that the people who were closer to you than any other may be left behind. “Hot-Rod” is a return to Feldsteinian absurdity, but after the moving drama of “King…” I actually appreciated settling back into the inanity. “Brain-Child” sees our author picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Bradbury and crafting a quietly powerful story in his own right. (Fantastic art by Williamson and Krenkel to boot!) This is probably one of the only tales from EC’s science fiction pool that has aged the best; with very few alterations, if any, I could truthfully see “Brain-Child” captivating modern audiences on the silver or small screen. Speaking of which, methinks “Time for a Change” would have come across as more engaging had it been depicted in a cinematic or televisual medium, with all the astronauts and monsters starting to sync up in time via slow motion and creating palpable suspense. However, as shown in the static images of comic book panels and laden with too much physics pap, “Time…” becomes a victim of its own concept and starts… to feel… like… it’s… draaaagging. I will say that the final stinger is a dandy though, even if I find it pretty hysterical that the receiving party on Earth finds one character frozen in the midst of writing a letter and still assume that he’s dead!

The Haunt of Fear #19

"Sucker Bait!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Lover, Come Hack to Me!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Double-Header!" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Foul Play!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Emile has just come back from college to find that his hometown really sucks… literally! A vampire has been prowling the nocturnal streets and has sucked twelve victims dry in just as many nights. The Nosferatu has proven too crafty for detection and has gone undiscovered during his campaign of terror. Emile’s father and his older brother Stanley try to cheer the lad up but the whippersnapper is determined to root out the monster, especially after it sticks its canines in ol’ Pop’s jugular. Burning with vengeance, the chemistry wizard devises a full-proof method for tracking down the vampire: by swallowing a bottle of radio phosphorous, Emile will effectively render his blood radioactive and then allow the vampire to sup from his veins, thus ensuring the beast’s eventual discovery with the help of a Geiger counter. All this Emile reveals to Stanley in a letter before he bravely soldiers into the dark, but the college boy quickly sees that the only sucker that night will be him. The vampire is none other than his own brother, who quickly tears Emile to pieces and destroys his incriminating letter.

Injury, meet Insult.
("Sucker Bait!")
Some pretty tepid stuff, this. Giving Ingels an American-small-town-murder-mystery? Unfortunate. Aside from Emile’s cuckoo plan this is a very familiar story with a culprit that that can be sniffed out from the very start of the narrative proper. The first mention of Stanley’s night job instantly pings the antenna, but I thought it such an obvious move that the information was meant to be a red herring. Nope, it just really is that obvious. The fact that Stanley essentially waits to kill his father seems to point to the notion that Pop’s adoration of his other, college degree-waving son drove factory worker Stanley to take out his aggression on the old man. Wouldn’t that have been the more interesting story to tell here? Stanley, the guy who can’t seem to do anything right, the guy who can’t get his dad’s attention even when he’s been transformed into a CREATURE OF THE NIGHT? I’ve said before that EC could have turned a lot of dull, by-the-numbers mysteries around if they had just attacked the stories from a slightly different angle, but the influence of 60+ years’ worth of stories that have actually gone on to do that and my ignorance of the time-crunch involved in churning out these issues are probably tainting my opinions here. I still don’t really like “Sucker Bait,” though.

Oh, my!
("Lover, Come Hack to Me!")
Charles and Peggy are the requisite Newlyweds with Car Troubles in a Raging Thunderstorm, but they’re not ones to let clichés keep them from Gettin’ It On. Lucky for them, there’s a towering old mansion just a few yards from their broken-down auto, so the crazy kids make a run for the house. The inside’s a tad stale and dusty and full of ghostly furniture and a battle-ax hanging over the communal bed, but it’s nothing that a little warm fire and pillow talk can’t spruce up. Awaking from a contented slumber, Charles looks out the window to see another pair of springtime lovers heading towards the house. Only now all the furnishings are shining-new and Peggy is nowhere to be found, though the new lady bears a striking resemblance to her. Putting four and seven together, Charles realizes that he’s witnessing a replay of the night that Peggy’s parents commenced their own marriage. But Charles watches in horror as the nuptials comes to a grinding halt when Freda, Peggy’s mother, goes full-on moon-eyed and grabs the battle-ax, promising to keep her and her husband’s first copulation clean and pure by turning the poor man into Kibbles ‘n’ Bits. Charles snaps back from the vision to the present just long enough to realize that Peggy is intent on keeping the family tradition going strong.

“Lover, Come Hack to Me” is a marked improvement from the warmed-over ghoulash that preceded it and a demented classic in its own right. This story contains what are likely the most overt and extensive sexual overtures seen in any EC tale thus far—and possibly ever. Copulation is alluded to pretty heavily as Charles and Peggy bunk down for the evening, and Feldstein even slides in some sneaky metaphors regarding the storms “spending themselves.” The fact that the story’s sexuality is so twisted and perverse only makes it all the more memorable. Evans was an excellent choice for this assignment; who else could render a glazed rictus of pure madness better than the one that bookends Page 6? The sparseness of his illustrations here helps to balance and ground the utterly weird plot. Time travel, homicide reenactments, black widow cults and battle-axes all combine to make “Lover…” feel more dark, primal and threatening in its horror than the wiseacre slaughter we’ve been accustomed to. Like Charles, in the end we feel as if we have just bared witness to something utterly horrible and beyond our comprehension.

Pick a-litlle, talk a-little...
Once upon a time in the land of Who-Gives-a-Fart, old King Irving lies slumped in his throne as a trio of old maids princesses throw themselves at his feet in the hopes of catching his eye and being taken as his wife. Too bad for the biddies that Irving has his rheumy peepers stuck on the rosy-cheeked scullery maid, Sylvia, who he soon promotes to Queen Sylvia. But Irving isn’t the hot-blooded Lothario that he once was, and Sylvia’s old boyfriend Cedric, captain of the guards, proves too passionate to turn down. One scheming maid catches sight of the couple swapping saliva, another hears the two playing doctor, and the third makes it her duty to tell Irving that Sylvia is now wearing someone else’s class ring. Heartbroken, Irving sentences the young couple to a double beheading. The maids think they’ve got an in for sure this time, but Irving proves that he doesn’t believe in letting the messengers go unpunished: one maid has her eyes plucked out for spying, one her ears scalded off for eavesdropping, and the third her tongue torn out for wagging it too much.

Much to the relief of everyone, “Double-Header” doesn’t rely as heavily on out-and-out “humor” as previous Grim Fairy Tales and instead dials the tone back to a pleasant drollness, peppers it with another smattering of red-hot innuendos, and then brings it all to a head (not sorry) with a vicious climax that feels like it genuinely could have come from a book of European folktales. Though Jack Kamen was usually never handed any overt violence to depict in his assignments, he actually does an effective job in the last panel as he shows the three princesses in the throes of anguish gripping their respective mutilated organs. The tears in the eyes of the tongueless maid are an especially gruesome and surprising touch. Nice job, Mr. Kamen!

An ending worthy of Disney!
It’s the final days of the bush league pennant race, and the baseball teams from Central City and Bayville are both poised and hungry to get the gold. The Central City team is putting their faith in their second baseman, Jerry Deegan, to rip the mat out from under the big, hulking feet of Herbie Satten, Bayville’s star player and a son-of-gun not averse to resorting to dirty tricks. Jerry soon finds out how low Herbie’s willing to go when a surprise steal of second base earns the baseman a leg full of spikes as Herbie slides down the mound. Jerry’s only scratched, but when he leaves the dugout to clinch the game at bat the ballplayer grows increasingly woozy before passing out right at the third ball. The team doctor gives the fatal diagnosis, but it’s only later when the doc follows up on a hunch that the Central City team concludes that Herbie laced the spikes of his cleats with a fast-acting poison. The team is patient in delivering its punishment, but when they lure Herbie to their home field under the auspices of setting up a monument in his name, Herbie finds out they have something different in mind. That night the moon plays witness to a strange ballgame. One where intestines link the bases, and severed hands serve as mitts, and heads are lobbed towards detached limbs…

Reprinted in all its gory.
("Foul Play!")
Yes, this is the One. Or one of the Ones, at any rate. “Foul Play” brought down a rain of heavenly fire on EC from Mssr. Wertham and the Senate Subcommittee, who found the rampant “sick humor” of the tale’s overblown denouement not the least bit funny. As Peter points out below, the narrative leading up to this minefield of body parts is the patented Gaines-Feldstein formula of crime/punishment. The fates of the villains in these stories, most of which were also drawn by Jack Davis, were usually only teased at or depicted in a clearly cartoonish manner. Think the Looney Tunes-esque flattened bodies at the end of “Graft in Concrete,” or even the wicked father reduced to chop meat in “Grounds for Horror.” These could be easily brushed off as comic book fantasy. The fact that in both these cases the villain was done in by a supernatural force (walking corpses and an imaginary friend, respectively) probably didn’t hurt to soften the blow either. But even when the dismemberment was undertaken by a human agent, such as in “ ‘T’ain’t the Meat… It’s the Humanity” or “Garden Party,” the aftermath was generally confined to a single panel that gave the story a short, sharp punch and left it at that.

Strap in, sickos!
("Foul Play!")
Not so with “Foul Play.” Here the punishment is not being undertaken by one person pushed to the breaking point and enacted on their oppressor but an entire team of reasonable, thinking men who take the time and effort to lure their prey out, break him down into units, and then debase his remains even further by playing a round of America’s favorite pastime and hitting, running over, strapping on, and throwing them about like it’s just another afternoon. Stowing your husband’s organs away in the deli counter is one thing, but to appropriate a corpse so fully and so completely (and, let’s admit it, so inventively) in the playing of a game just feels so much more wrong, doesn’t it? And if all *that* wasn’t enough, Gaines and Feldstein hock a big ol’ wad of tobaccy on the ash heap by tagging on *another* panel that shows a blood-red field fitted with a base made up as a grave marker reading “Herbie Satten. Pitcher. Murderer. R. I. Ps.” (Rest in Pieces. Get it?!) And then the Crypt-Keeper cracks what for all the world sounds like a testicle joke? Hoo-boy! Even with all these decades passed, I think that we can all agree that “Foul Play” is a story with some serious balls. --Jose

With this ax, I thee behead.
("Lover, Come Hack to Me!")
Peter: The story here with the most historical significance is, of course, "Foul Play!," which may have been the straw that broke Wertham's back with its ludicrously over-the-top finale, but the story is merely another variation on the "just desserts" foundation that Al had been running into the ground. Yes, those two panels are extremely gory but none of the events surrounding them make a lick of sense and, for my money, the ball game of "Foul Play!" is nowhere near as sick as the deli counter of "Taint the Meat . . ." (from Crypt #32). "Double-Header!" is just more Kamen/Fairy Tale nonsense and "Sucker Bait!" has nothing in the way of mystery going for it (the vampire's true identity is known to the reader pretty quickly). That leaves "Foul Play!" as the most infamous tale this issue but "Lover, Come Hack to Me!" is the best. There's no rhyme or reason to the plot (we never find out why Charles is shown the true events of the murderous wedding night) but there's something very unsettling about the entire seven pages (it may well be George Evans's depiction of the two crazed women) that stays with you long after you've returned the issue to its boarded plastic bag. The HBO-Crypt offered up a typically botched job of "Lover" (with a screenplay by acclaimed horror author Michael McDowell and directed by Tom Holland), adding a motive for Charles to marry Peggy (she's loaded) and, of course, showing all the gore that George Evans avoided.

Jack: Come on, Peter, you know you love "Foul Play!" It gets an automatic "A" from me. Baseball is my favorite sport and the nature of the game is such that it provides suspense and tension so that it fits perfectly into a story like this. The creativity of how to use the body parts is impressive. The Evans story is also excellent and features more of that haunting artwork that we're getting accustomed to. Ghastly's tale is well told but, as you say, the end is no surprise, and the latest Grim Fairy Tale makes me wonder how they kept going so long with this worn out theme.

Weird Science #19

"The Precious Years" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The One Who Waits" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, and Roy Krenkel

"Right on the Button!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Keyed Up!" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Precious Years"
In the 42nd Century, death is no longer inevitable. Martin sits, pondering five hundred and fifty years of life on the day of his latest "longevity-shot," and decided he's bored. Tired of the routine and tired of feeling empty. When he arrives at the center for his shot, he meets up with a gorgeous blonde named Jean and they exchange pleasantries. When Martin enters the room where he's to receive his vaccination, he's confronted by a man behind a large desk who asks him if he's tired of life. When Martin answers in the affirmative, the agent informs him that something can be arranged to end his life painlessly and immediately but, once agreed upon, cannot be revoked. Martin agrees and is whisked into an adjoining room where he meets up with Jean, who has also opted for death. They talk for awhile, realize they have much in common and rue their decisions but realize that what's done is done. The man from the desk appears and points a gun at both, administering "the end of boredom."

Soon after, Martin and Jean awake in a spaceship and are informed they were not killed but were not given their rejuve-shots; their lives are now limited to an average lifespan and they are being shipped to a colony planet where they will help tame and populate the new frontier. "The Precious Years" should be so much better than it is but it comes off pretty sappy (tantamount to Weird Science via Harlequin Romance), although I guess I'd be complimenting Bill and Al if I said that I assumed this was the Bradbury adaptation this issue, rather than the following story, since it has so many Bradbury beats. Wally's art, as always, is gorgeous with all the right parts of the anatomy highlighted and, at least this story gives its hero a reason to wear a cape (it's so damned cold out there!). If only that script wasn't a blend of so many other scripts we've read already.

"The One Who Waits"

"The One Who Waits"
On Mars, a vapor waits deep in a well, waiting for any kind of life to come near enough for it to rise up and possess. An expedition of explorers from Earth discovers the well and, one by one, the men are possessed by the being and then commit suicide rather than be pawns. In the end, the entire expedition lies dead but another rocket ship approaches. "The One Who Waits" was a relatively obscure horror story that originally appeared in August Derleth's small-press magazine, The Arkham Sampler, in summer of 1949 and didn't make the cut of the 28 stories initially selected by Ray Bradbury to form The Martian Chronicles (instead being waylaid until The Machineries of Joy in 1964). It's a haunting short story, very reminiscent of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" but devoid of Campbell's pulpy writing (and before you start throwing vegetables at me, I like Campbell's pulpy prose, okay?); Bradbury goes for an almost poetic narrative instead. The art is serviceable but certainly not up to the high standards that Al Williamson will display before too long. Let me just add that, as I've noted before, I'm no expert on artists but I don't see much Frazetta peeking through the Williamson and Krenkel here.

"Right on the Button!"
Somehow, an invasion took place and we didn't know about it. Now aliens (who look just like us) are taking their place amongst our race. But don't tell that to Della, who's about to be married to dreamboat Lon; she doesn't want to hear about the invasion until after her honeymoon. Her boss begrudgingly allows the gorgeous gal to head off for wedded bliss but cautions her to get back as quick as possible so they can get back to the fight at hand. On her wedding night . . . afterwards (wink wink) . . . she gazes in contentment at the Adonis she's just hitched her wagon to. Those eyes . . . that chin . . . those abs . . . that . . .  Suddenly, she races to her overnight bag and draws out her hatpin and drives it into her husband over and over until he's a bloody mess. When her boss answers her plea to meet her at the hotel, they both stare in horror at Lon's belly button, the sure sign he was an invader from Earth. Della sobs and looks out over the Martian landscape from her balcony. Is nothing sacred in this universe? Well, I knew the twist was coming but I just didn't know in what form. I assumed Lon was an alien but of the Martian variety. Well played, Al! "Right on the Button!" has a pretty risqué interlude beginning with Lon letting on that he's "tired" and wants to go to bed and ending with the scantily-clad Della admiring Lon's nude figure. There's clearly been some hanky-panky going on that the smaller readers shouldn't know about. Unfortunately, we never learn why we (the evil Earthlings) are invading Mars; we only get a final panel paper-clipped note informing us that the story was "an accurate translation from the original Martian manuscript discovered in 2439 after the third invasion attempt." I'm not sold on Elder's art here (though, in general, I do like the man's work) as his cartoony style gives the whole affair a Betty & Veronica vibe rather than the hoped-for menacing atmosphere.

"Keyed Up!"

Peter's had enough of MAD.
("Keyed Up!")
Ever since the accident four years before that left most of the crew dead, Benson hasn't been able to get Guernsey to talk to him. Guernsey just sits with his book as Benson profusely apologizes for the drunken stupor that caused the deadly accident. Then one day, Guernsey explodes with anger and lets Benson know that he'll pay once they get back to Earth; he'll make sure the drunk stands trial. Just then, a meteor hits the ship and Benson must go out to survey the damage. While out walking the surface of the ship, Benson suddenly gets a brainstorm: if Guernsey were to become separated from the ship, no one would be the wiser as to how the crew met their fate. Convincing his comrade that he needs his help, Benson shuts the hatch once Guernsey is out of the ship. Within hours, Guernsey suffocates and dies . . . but his body remains anchored outside near the port window, thanks to his magnetic boots. Over time, the corpse rots and begins to drive Benson mad. After a week of the horrible sight, he's had enough and exits the vessel to rid himself of the body. Benson manages to dislodge what's left of Guernsey and watches it drift off into space. Too late, Benson realizes the key back into the ship is attached to one of Guernsey's magnetic boots!

A Weird Science tale? I think not! The creepy vibe and decomposing astronaut sure smell like The Haunt of Fear to me. This one's a keeper, from its uncaring, crazed protagonist to its ultra-sick Orlando artwork (Guernsey's gradual deterioration is a thing of beauty). Perhaps, best of all, is the fact that you actually feel a tad bit sorry for this swine as he faces his fate in that last panel. I'd lay money down that Tom Sutton got a whole lot of inspiration from Joe Orlando. --Peter

"Keyed Up!"
Jack: After the first two stories shine with stunning art by Wood and Williamson (et al.), it's a bit jarring to see Will Elder's art on the third story and then Joe Orlando's gritty style in the fourth. Yet it all works, somehow. The first pages of "The Precious Years" are eerie in how they predict what life is like today (with an early version of Amazon's Alexa) and, while the story is more meditation than narrative, Wally Wood's depiction of the woman makes giving up immortality understandable. Stories like this seem like precursors to the more serious-themed graphic novels of today. As for the Bradbury/Williamson/Frazetta collaboration, it's amazing that something like this would be found in a ten-cent comic book. Has there really been any progress in comic art since 1953? This Bradbury adaptation does a better job of integrating words and pictures than many of the previous Bradbury stories. Elder's art in "Right on the Button!" has an almost underground comix vibe to it, and I completely agree with Peter about the Orlando story being more horror than sci-fi, with really gritty art.

Two-Fisted Tales #33

"Signal Corps!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Outpost!" ★★
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Pearl Divers!" ★★
Story by Jerry DeFuccio
Art by Joe Kubert

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

In North Korea in 1950, a "Signal Corps!" is stringing communication lines when they notice that the locals are leaving town. Soon, they are besieged by Communist troops and have to take refuge in a school building. A heroic sergeant manages to get a phone line and call for help before driving the wounded to safety and bringing back the Marines. His men realize that their job also includes being prepared for fighting.

"Signal Corps!"
Jack Davis does a great job of creating excitement in the middle pages of this tense tale, though I began to wonder if the sergeant was really dead and imagining the events. He avoids being hit by machine gun fire almost as much as Sgt. Rock!

At an Afghan "Outpost!" in the 1880s, Sgt. Tubridy tells Private Thorne a story about how he faced up to bullies when he was a young man. He drew a chalk circle around his cot and beat any man who crossed it. When Thorne is on patrol up in the hills and meets an enemy soldier, Tubridy is surprised to see the young man take his advice to heart and kill an attacker  who crossed his chalk circle on the ground.

The accents are a little thick in this one, but it's a nice slice of life in the old Empire and reads like an old soldier's anecdote. I like Severin alone and I like Elder alone, but together they seem to be more than the sum of their parts.

In an Australian bar, a rough character named Mike Holford meets Rex Kingdom and signs on with him as one of his "Pearl Divers!" Rex brings up a large and valuable pearl but when he goes down looking or more he's attacked by a tiger shark. He lives to tell the tale and knocks out Mike after discovering that Mike smeared his ballast with ground beef in order to attract the shark. Mike was hoping Rex would be killed so he could keep the pearl.

Joe Kubert turns in a stellar job on the art in this tale, demonstrating that he was much more than just DC's greatest war comics artist. The story is thin but entertaining in a rough and tumble men's adventure sort of way.

"Atom Bomb!"
An old woman in Nagasaki thinks back to when her son went off to war and everyone thought he'd be in danger and they'd be safe at home. Then the "Atom Bomb!" was dropped, killing many civilians instantly and poisoning many more. The woman writes to her son, who is a prisoner of war in Siberia; he reads the letter and keels over dead. Yet the woman looks around and sees signs of life among the new construction and hope among the children.

Harvey is preaching again, but how can you argue with his message, especially when Wally Wood is giving his all to deliver it visually? This has to be one of the strongest months yet for EC overall, with story after story featuring truly outstanding art and few of them certified duds.--Jack

Peter: The overwhelming feeling I get from Two-Fisted Tales #33 is deja vu. Yes, "Atom Bomb!" is a heart-breaking tale of loss and survival, but it's nothing that we haven't seen from Harvey before (perhaps, because Harvey wrote so many classics, I hold him to a very high standard). The same can be said for the other three stories (two written by Harvey's research man, Jerry DeFuccio) in TFT #33. "Pearl Divers!" is interesting only from a historical perspective; it was a return to the kind of rollicking he-man adventures that populated the pages of TFT in the early days. Kubert's art is perfect for the subject matter, but the script is warmed-over B-movie fare. Rex Kingdom? It's so different from anything EC was producing at the time; almost has the feel of a try-out for an ongoing series.

Jose: Kurtzman and Davis do a great job of communicating the tension of war in “Signal Corps.” While the verbosity of Al Feldstein could be a purple-hued delight, Kurtzman was savvy enough to realize that excessive wordiness could sink a war comic like a torpedo and that it was important to maintain the interplay of dynamic images and text cut to the quick. “Outpost” is a load of fun thanks to the character of the incorrigible Sgt. Turbidy. Was anyone else hearing Sean Connery as Malone from The Untouchables during his scenes? Quite the accomplished debut for Kurtzman’s right-hand man, Jerry DeFuccio. “Pearl Divers” is, as Peter says, a trip down memory lane back to a time when TFT wasn’t strictly about bombs and battlefields but also red-blooded yarns of derring-do. The story isn’t any great shakes, but the brawny art of Joe Kubert lends it a nice sense of swagger. Rounding out this batch of contents that are exemplary of TFT’s varied tones, we have Kurtzman delivering one of his tearjerkers in “Atom Bomb.” That descriptor sounds more cynical and dismissive than I’d prefer, but it’s clear that Kurtzman is looking to stir specific emotions of sadness, hope, and, yes, even a little implicit guilt here. The story is still quite powerful and shocking, such as when we see a boy crying for his family as his immolated house come crashing down on top of him. Wood’s art is on point here, distilling all of the moods and touches that he’s known for in this one story.

Inside front cover for Frontline #11

From Frontline #11

Next Week...
St. George and the Enemy Ace?!


AndyDecker said...

These artwork samples are wonderful. "Foul Play" sure played in another league as those lame vampire tales. Still one wonders if editorial realized what they had there. Or if they wanted to raise the stakes. It is a great story, even if it indeed doesn't make much sense. Why go to such lengths? Killing the guy would have been enough. Of course this is much more spectecular.

Jack Seabrook said...

"Vampire tales?" "Raise the stakes?" Andy, I think you're channeling Bill Gaines!

Quiddity99 said...

An average issue of Two-Fisted Tales this month which shows that we are nearing the end of the title's classic period of peak war stories from Kurtzman; in fact we are probably already past that point now. Adventure is really starting to make its way back into the book again as Jerry De Fuccio gets the chance to write more stories. The character of Tubridy from "Outpost" is one of the rarest things you'll see in an EC comic, a recurring character that is not a Ghoulunatic. He appeared in several prior text stories in Frontline Combat and will also appear in a later Frontline Combat issue. "Atom Bomb" is easily the issue's peak story, reminding me of "Dying City", a Kurtzman/Alex Toth collaboration from a couple of years back. "Signal Corps" is a great way to show the difference between Kurtzman and Feldstein written stories with all the dialogue-less/caption-less panels, something which would be heresy in a Feldstein story. This month's Frontline Combat is still all Kurtzman, but I'll admit as someone not that into air force stories that it isn't as memorable to me. Good to see an Alex Toth appearance, his final for EC, and them eschewing the usual 8/7/6/7 format, with a 6/7/6/8 one this time.

After a long run of great issues for Weird Fantasy (over the last year's worth of issues only issue 16 has been below average), the title finally begins to falter with this month's below average issue. I can only imagine the reaction of 1950's readers to both Bradbury adaptions this month; both well written stories but both so apart from the typical EC fare. "King of the Grey Spaces" is a fine story but for an EC comic just not the most interesting. "Brain Child" is the issue's weakest effort while "Hot Rod" is not much better. "Time for a Change" wraps up the issue in fine fashion though with an interesting concept and good Orlando art. In fact we're around an era where Orlando really can't do any wrong; coming off of arguably EC's best story with "Judgement Day" last time he gets the best story of the issue this time, as well as the best story in the next issue of Weird Fantasy and the best story in this issue's Weird Science as well.

This issue's Weird Science, while weaker than last time's issue and next time's is a bit better than the Weird Fantasy issue, starting off with another great cover from Wally Wood, whose given us really strong and scary covers in 3 of the last 4 issues. As mentioned above, "The One Who Waits" is an odd choice for an adaption here; one of the less straight forward Bradbury adaptions although Feldstein would use it as inspiration for "My Home" in Weird Fantasy 21, a couple of months from now. "Right on the Button" is fairly good as well and "The Precious Years" is at least average. A rare EC story with a happy ending!

Quiddity99 said...

Comments long enough this time to force 2 separate posts!

The Haunt of Fear is this month's best, without a single weak story. "Lover Come Hack to Me" is my pick for best of the issue, in addition to the inuendo you mention in the post it comes off a bit more of a unique story than the typical EC fare. A better than average Grim Fairy Tale as well, a series that can be weak in many of its entries. "Sucker Bait" I enjoy as well although more for the Ingels art than the story. Not sure I'd be as high on it with someone else drawing it.

What more needs to be said about "Foul Play", one of EC's most well known stories for how over the top with the gore it gets? And yet it is so over the top that it kinda loses the effect somewhat, at least for me. Personally, stuff like the apprentice bell ringer's fate in Vault 27's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" or the lady getting her face torn off on "Only Skin Deep" from the upcoming Crypt 38 came off as more gruesome to me. A few months from now we'll actually see EC self-censoring its covers and several stories (Vault 32 in particular) yet this really over the top violent and gore continues in other ways, such as a series of Johnny Craig covers on Crime SuspenStories. In any case, with the possible exception of "The Orphan" from Shock 14 it may be EC's most controversial story.

Jack Seabrook said...

Quid, I think you wrote more than we did! Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments. We read and enjoy all of them!

Anonymous said...

Oops. I read your two most recent EC blogs at once and put in my comments on TFT #33 and Frontline #12 in the same place as a comment on Mad #4 in the one from two weeks ago. In any event, I'm very glad I found your blog; this is a favorite pop culture topic of mine, and I always enjoy reading what you folks have to say. I'll go back and read your older entries when I get the chance; I look forward to seeing what you've written about Frontlines 1-5 and TFT #21-25 -- my ten favorite comic books of all time!

Best regards,
Jim G

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jim--we look forward to more comments from you!