Monday, October 30, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 116: February/March 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 228

"It's a Dirty War!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Brave Soldiers!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: After 26 days of fighting near a German forest, Easy Co. has to hunker down and Sgt. Rock goes on patrol in the woods by himself. He is ambushed by a German soldier and kills the man after a fight but is dismayed to discover that the soldier was a 17 year old boy. Rock takes the boy's wallet to turn in for identification and finds a letter from the soldier's younger brother, with a photo of the boy and his father.

When the C.O. orders Rock and some of his men back to the command post to rest, Rock sets off alone through the woods again, determined to deliver the dead soldier's letter to his little brother. Surviving several attacks, Rock delivers the letter and is nearly caught by a Nazi patrol right after he leaves; however, the dead soldier's little brother sends the Nazis in the wrong direction and tells Rock that his brother wrote that Hitler lied. Rock later finishes off the patrol with a grenade and heads to the command post.

I could probably count on one hand the number of Sgt. Rock stories where the writing equaled or was better than the art, but this is one of them. Rock's decision to hand-deliver the dead soldier's letter is a bit strange, and I have no idea how he located the house, but there is a real sense of compassion in his actions. Kubert's art is not up to his usual standard, though, and is so scratchy in spots that I wonder if someone else inked it.

Back in the Civil War, Union cavalry soldiers are heading to destroy General Lee's supply depot and the only soldiers in the area are 33 young cadets spending the summer at the military academy. An old colonel leads them into position and they manage to hold off the Union soldiers with rifle fire for three hours while a message is taken to Stonewall Jackson. When the Union soldiers realize they've killed children, they give them a decent burial. All of this allows the message to reach Jackson in time.

Ric Estrada's simplistic art is not what we're used to seeing, but this is Bob Kanigher's second decent story in this issue and it shares the theme of children being killed in wartime with the Sgt. Rock tale. The story is entertaining, despite the art, and moves along quickly.

Peter: We get a pretty strong Rock this issue, poignant without being maudlin. I do wonder how it is that these Nazis are such bad shots after they pin down Rock twice, have him sighted in their cross hairs, but allow the Sarge time to pull out pineapples, pop the tops, and toss them. This happens twice in "It's a Dirty War!" and probably an average of 1.8 times per story over the life of the strip. I liked the little nuances of "The Brave Soldiers!" (especially the bickering between siblings), which felt like a chapter from a larger work. Nice irony in the climax when the Union men help bury the Rebs, helping to accomplish Sgt. Calder's goal.

G.I. Combat 146

"Move the World"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Hickory-Foot Soldier!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #13, September 1956)

"A Flower for the Front!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #5, July 1955)

"The Secret Battle Eye!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #66, February 1962)

"The Bug That Won an Island!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #125, December 1962)

"Battle Tags for Easy Co."
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #120, July 1962)

Peter: The crew of the Haunted Tank are stuck in a muddy ravine while a kill-crazy Nazi tank awaits up on the ledge. Our heroes get out of the Jeb Stuart and apply elbows and lead pipes in order to free the sunken tank. Up above, the Nazi commander orders his men to head into the ravine on foot and "obliterate" the Jeb. Just as the men advance, the Haunted Tank comes free and fires a deadly round at the stinkin' Nazis; they then turn tail and escape before the entire German army can blast them to hell.   Undeterred, the Nazi convoy dogs the Jeb, firing but missing. Jeb Stuart (tank commander) receives an order from the C.O. to head to Fort Solitary on the double and defend the base "at all costs." Along the way, the boys run across a lone G.I. holding off dozens of Germans and give the kid a ride to the Fort. When they arrive, they are stunned to see the base has been reduced to smoking rubble. Just then, the Nazi convoy rolls up and begins firing but the boys have a surprise waiting for these cocky Germans: they manage to disconnect the tank turret from the Jeb, essentially granting two firing positions, and blow the vermin sky high.

And More Heath!
"Move the World" is a perfectly good action yarn but there's not much of a plot. That's okay though because we don't always need a lot of motivation and extra characters (the stranded G.I. provides nothing more than an excuse to stage some decent battle scenes) to get in the way of some fabulous Russ Heath art. One thing I'm noticing now that we've entered the 1970s is that the violence in these war stories has escalated; there's a scene here where the boys of the Jeb mow down a handful of Nazis with machine-gun fire (Jeb calls it a "hit and run"). War stories should be violent and I'm glad that restraints have eased, even if only by a hair. It ain't Two-Fisted Tales quite yet but there's a little more wiggle room.

"Hickory-Foot Soldier!"
A failed Olympic skier gets his second shot at glory when he must face an entire mountain of Nazis during his down-hill escape. I like World War II dramas set on skis and "Hickory-Foot Soldier!" is just my cup of tea. I'd never have known this was Kubert's work without the credit; it's early and raw (and looks more like Carmine Infantino to me). Four G.I.s try to save a "Flower for the Front!" from advancing German tanks. All seems to be lost until one of the Joes gets the bright idea of creating a diversion while he digs up the rose and replants it out of the path of the oncoming treads. Yep, you heard me right.

Jack: I'm not sure why they still call the lead series the "Haunted Tank," since by this time the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart is little more than a spectral cheerleader. "That's right boys! Give her the old heave-ho!" The story was basically wall-to-wall battle scenes but I found it uninvolving. The Kubert reprint has decent art but, again, minimal story, and the Andru and Esposito reprint is just another gimmick story with below average art. Below average is how I'd characterize this entire issue.

(imagine the sound of Peter sticking his finger down his throat)

Our Army at War 229

"The Battle of the Sergeants!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #128, March 1963)

"The Mouse and the Tiger!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #73, September 1958)

"The Fighting Blip!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #112, November 1961)

"Two Men--One Hill"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #96, July 1960)

"Surrender Ticket!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #149, December 1964)

Peter: The only "new" reprint (well, new to us at least), "The Mouse and the Tiger!" isn't a bad little suspenser but I've got one question that may make the whole affair moot: why doesn't the guy in the Tiger simply get out of his tank and capture the American rather than wait for his pretty-slow Tiger to get to him? Happily, Ross and Mike don't have much in the way of contact with human characters here (mostly, just tanks and snow) so their art is much easier to swallow.

Jack: "The Mouse and the Tiger!" looked familiar and, lo and behold, it was reprinted in Our Army at War 134 (September 1963) and we covered it here. We both liked it then.

The cover of this issue looks familiar for some reason.

One thing I like in this giant-sized collection of reprints is the framing sequence by Joe Kubert, which I've reproduced below. These are the first and last story pages of the issue.

Our Fighting Forces 129

"Ride the Nightmare"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Ironclad! Man Your Guns!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: The Losers are in wartime London and Johnny Cloud is troubled by recurring nightmares and episodes of violent behavior. His upbringing on the reservation left him with a belief that he should protect his fellow man, yet he holds himself responsible for the loss of the other pilots in his squad.

Meanwhile, the Losers are assigned the task of extricating a prisoner from a German concentration camp. It seems that the man has been forced to allow the blueprint for a Nazi terror rocket to be tattooed on his back. The Losers parachute in behind enemy lines and machine gun their way into a farmhouse near the camp to rescue the prisoner. They stumble upon a camouflaged Nazi rocket and the prisoner gives his life to save the Losers after a Nazi tosses a potato masher their way. The Losers destroy the rocket but lament their inability to rescue the prisoner without having him die.

Gene Kelly? Anita Ekberg?
"Ride the Nightmare" is an utter mess of a script but the art by Ross and Mike is surprisingly good. The Losers spend the first half of the story in London during the Blitz, which makes no sense, since we know they were fighting in Europe and the Pacific for years before getting together and the Blitz ended in 1941, before U.S. soldiers even shipped out. Johnny's nightmare flashbacks to the reservation are more interesting than the usual flashbacks, where he typically fights a brave who later turns up in his unit, but when the story switches to the rescue of the prisoner it goes off the rails. Why have the Nazis tattooed the blueprints on this man's back? Why do the Allies want the man? And what's with the Nazi rocket? It's all just a mess.

It's 1863, and on a Virginia river the order goes out: "Ironclad! Man Your Guns!" An armored Confederate ship is trying to get by a Union blockade and nearly succeeds until it is blown up by the heroic actions of a proto-frogman, who plants a bomb on its exposed wooden hull. He is rescued by a Confederate sailor and both are given medals by President Lincoln.

"C'mon people now,
smile on your brother--"
I think we can all agree that Fred Ray's art is not easy on the eye, and I had a bit of a tough time following who was who in this story, but it was kind of fun, despite the seemingly unlikely ending where Lincoln pins a medal on an unrepentant Confederate sailor.

Peter: Hard to believe but it seems as though the Losers series gets worse with every succeeding installment. The art is haphazard (as is most of A+E's DC war work) and the script is dopey as hell. I love the panel when, after we've been served up eight pages of goofy Cloud antics (dancing in the fountain at Trafalgar Square is a high point), the Losers' C.O. says, "If you feel one of you might crack because he's been under too much pressure--name him!" At least we didn't find out one of Cloud's compadres on the res put a delayed-reaction spell on him or that one of his old girlfriends was now hooked up with Rommel and the Nazis were coming for him. Johnny's dream, wherein his pop tells him that the white man was evil for taking the red man's land away but there are still good white folk out there somewhere, goes nowhere. What's the point? I was completely confused by the dual medal-grubbers of "Ironclad" (that might be chalked up to the simple art of Fred Ray) but interested by the iron boat aspect of the story.

Our Army at War 230

"Home is the Hunter"
Story by Joe Kubert
Art by Russ Heath

"Military Scout"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Cause and Cure!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Trudging through the winter snow in Italy looking for Nazis, Rock and the men of Easy Co. encounter a funeral procession and the tracks of a giant bear. The local villagers report that the Nazis fled before the Americans arrived but left behind a curse, calling on the Demon of the Black Forest to kill anyone who helped the U.S. soldiers. Four villagers have been killed so far and, when Bulldozer is mauled by the creature while on night watch, Little Sure Shot sets out alone to use his Native American tracking skills to find and kill the behemoth.

Tracking the lumbering beast to a cave, Little Sure Shot is captured by a group of Nazis and discovers that the bear is really a man in a bear suit. Just as he's about to make Little Sure Shot his next victim, the rest of Easy Co. bursts into the cave, spraying machine gun fire and ending the menace to the villagers.

The Nazi in the bear suit is a true method actor,
wandering through the woods on all fours even
when no one is watching!

Russ Heath provides very nice artwork in "Home Is the Hunter," but the story is little better than what one might see on a Saturday morning cartoon. Sgt. Rock provides some unexpected sarcasm in the opening narration when he comments that the army is "noted for placin' the right man in the right job" and then gives examples of the opposite. Also, when Little Sure Shot is in the cave, why would the big Nazi in the bear suit put the bear head back on before advancing on the American soldier? It allows Heath to draw subsequent panels with Little Sure Shot fighting a bear, but it makes no sense!

In "Military Scout," Sgt. Rock gives the reader tips on how to be a scout and then provides a page on which we can look for hidden enemies.

Find the hidden enemies!

Finally, "Cause and Cure!" is another incident involving the U.S.S. Stevens. This time, a mail ship suddenly blows up near where a causeway is being built, and the commander of the Stevens deduces that the other ship was destroyed by Japanese frogmen, who are quickly captured. This is an average entry in the series and I sometimes find these a bit hard to follow and have to read them carefully more than once.

Taking enemy prisoners with respect.
Peter: If there's one thing I can't stand it's a "Scooby-Doo" story. Don't tease me with "Demons of the Dark Forest" only to reveal it's a guy in a bear suit (following a really stupid plan, I might add). I hate that. And can someone tell me why FauxBear murdered the civilians of the village but took it easy on Bulldozer? Back when I was in Junior High (I think the Beatles might have still been together), we used to get handouts from Scholastic with puzzles and little factoids. Sans the puzzles, of course, that's what Sam Glanzman's U.S.S. Stevens series is reminding me of. There's no real story and a lot of it seems like it's coming out of the man's head in a random stream (and dropping on the paper in the same way) but it's . . . informative and boatloads more interesting than most of the other back-up strips.

Star Spangled War Stories 155

"Invasion Game!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Hunter . . . and the Hunted"
(Partial reprint from DC Showcase #58, October 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier has a new mission: to parachute into a small French town near the Belgian border and rendezvous with the mysterious resistance fighter known as Chat Noir! Drop successful and taking on the guise of an old man known only as "the Salesman," the Soldier is immediately pulled to the side by Nazis while strolling through town. Thankfully, the Nazi who grabs him is one of our guys and the faux-Nazi leads "the Salesman" to the lair of Chat Noir! The US is surprised to see the rebel is an African-American but even more surprised that this man has a mighty chip on his shoulder. Once a top Sergeant in the army, Noir is convinced he was given a bum deal and court-martialed; the Salesman must convince the man that D-Day is three days away and preparations must be made for the "Invasion Game!" At that moment, the lair is attacked and Chat and the Soldier must flee, barely escaping Nazi gun-fire. Rendezvousing later with his men, the freedom fighter learns all about the upcoming attack: on June 5th, Allies will storm the beaches and it's up to Chat Noir and his men to take the Nazi stronghold at Fleur-Le-Duc. At first resisting the order but finally giving in, Chat agrees to take part in the massive raid. The fifth of June arrives and Chat's men storm and take control of the stronghold but the promised invasion never comes. What does arrive is half the German army and a bloody battle ensues. Only Chat and the Soldier escape. The Unknown Soldier explains that the information was intentionally false and that the real invasion will take place on the 6th. The German army will never know what hit them.

I'm really confused about a whole lot of things that make this story "work." First, what exactly is our hero's mission? To seek out Chat Noir and then give him bad intel? For what purpose? To test him? Surely, if the Nazis found out about the 5th of June (the faux-date for D-Day given to Chat by the Salesman) from one of Chat's men that would have come out in the story, right? It's not mentioned (but maybe sorta kinda hinted at) so I assume we're suppose to assume the Allies leaked the info to the Nazis themselves. If Chat was "railroaded into a court-martial," how'd he get back to France? And why would he fight for men who would run him into the ground because of his skin color? It's an engaging story nonetheless and it comes wrapped in a poignant bow (as the disgruntled Chat finds his inner soldier and comes to the realization that every man has his place in this war), delivered in a very pretty package. The splash and the two-page spread (above) that begin the issue are top-notch images and set the tone for the cloak-and-dagger hijinks that follow.

Jack: This is starting to feel like the Unknown Soldier I remember from long ago, where the man with the face wrapped in bandages takes on a new identity each issue, aided by amazingly lifelike rubber masks. Peter's comments on some confusing plot points are accurate but I also enjoyed this story and would have liked it to go on for a few more pages. Kubert's art is excellent and suggests that he may be inspired by having a new character to play around with.

Dept. of Shameless Plugs:
Next Week, we cast our eyes on the beauty known as
Woman Wonder!

From Our Fighting Forces 129

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Five: A Bullet for Baldwin [1.14]

by Jack Seabrook

After "The Case of Mr. Pelham," the next episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be written by one of the Cockrells was "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid," with a teleplay by Marian Cockrell. That show was discussed here.

It was followed by "A Bullet for Baldwin," which rang in the New Year on CBS on Sunday, January 1, 1956. Eustace Cockrell and Francis Cockrell wrote the teleplay and the title card says that it is based on a story by Joseph Ruscoll (1906-1956), who wrote for radio in the 1940s and 1950s. The Radio Gold Index lists 29 radio shows with scripts by Ruscoll, from 1942 to 1956; he also served in WWII, which may be the reason for a gap in credits from early 1943 to late 1945. Ruscoll's stories were adapted for several television shows from 1949 to 1957; two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were adapted from radio plays that he wrote. One was "The Creeper," and Ruscoll sued film producer Edward Small for using that title for a 1948 film. There is a photo of Ruscoll here, sitting with a group of mystery writers.

The radio play upon which "A Bullet for Baldwin" is based was called "Five Bullets for Baldwin," and no recording of it survives. It was first broadcast on April 16, 1948, on the Molle Mystery Theater; a second performance occurred on August 1, 1949, on Murder By Experts. No copy of the script exists and, since there is no published story to compare to the TV version, any changes made by the Cockrells must be left to conjecture.

The show opens with a Hitchcockian series of shots that set the scene. A superimposed title card reads "San Francisco 1909" and a shot of a street scene dissolves to one of an office door with "Baldwin King & Co. Investment Bankers" stenciled on the glass; the final dissolve takes us inside the office, where a dejected man named Stepp sits at his desk, working late on a Saturday night. A mousy clerk who wears sleeve protectors on his forearms, Stepp sighs and looks at a revolver in his open desk drawer before getting up to walk across the otherwise empty office and knock on the door of his rotund boss, Nathaniel Baldwin.

John Qualen as Stepp
Why is Stepp unhappy? It seems that, despite 21 years of loyal service to the firm, he is being fired by his uncaring employer. Stepp meekly asks the man to reconsider but is rebuffed and walks slowly back to his desk, where he methodically removes the sleeve protectors and dons his suit jacket before sitting back down in his chair. Taking the gun from the drawer, he raises it almost to his temple, a look of deep sadness in his eyes, before suddenly being seized by an inexplicable feeling of courage. He rises from his chair, walks back to Baldwin's office, and shoots and kills the man where he sits.

Stepp is nothing if not a creature of habit, and his routine kicks back in as he returns the gun to his desk drawer, then dons rubber overshoes, overcoat, and hat, grabs his umbrella, and walks slowly out of the office and down the stairs. At the building's exit door he is met by a janitor and Stepp instructs the man to wait until Monday to clean the office, thus buying himself some time before Baldwin's body is discovered. Stepp walks out into the rain, umbrella raised, and in the next scene it's Sunday morning and he's returning home, where his landlady greets him. Stepp tells her that he spent all of Saturday night riding the ferry and retires to his room.

On Monday morning, his landlady wakes him at 10:30; Miss Wilson, a secretary from Baldwin's office, has telephoned to ask why Stepp has not arrived at work. Stepp, naturally surprised to hear that Baldwin is alive and well, rushes to work, where no one seems to realize that he murdered his boss two nights ago. Baldwin's partner, Walter King, emerges from Baldwin's office and summons Stepp to his own office, where Stepp confesses to having murdered Baldwin. King tells Stepp that he suffered a hallucination and proves it by opening the door to Baldwin's office to demonstrate that the boss is in fine fettle--Baldwin's wife pays her husband a visit as King and Stepp look on. King tells Stepp that he has been working too hard, gives him a five-dollar raise, and instructs him to hire an assistant.

Philip Reed as King
Wondering how all of this can be possible, Stepp returns to his desk, where he takes out the revolver, checks how many bullets are in the chamber, and sniffs the barrel's opening. Later, in Baldwin's office, the partners meet with a group of investors and successfully close a deal. Baldwin tells the men that he plans to go with his wife to their private cabin that afternoon and, after the visitors have left, we finally learn the truth as King and Baldwin--whose real name is Davidson--speak privately. King saw Davidson perform an impression of Baldwin the year before at a smoker in Los Angeles and now King has hired Davidson to impersonate Baldwin so the business deal can go through and the company can avoid ruin. King gives Davidson the agreed-upon fee of $2000 and claims that the real Baldwin had a stroke and is recovering at his cabin, but Davidson sees through the ruse and refuses to be an accessory after the fact to murder.

King admits that he and Baldwin's wife are having an affair and explains that Stepp shot and killed the man two nights before. King came upon the scene soon after Stepp left and quickly came up with a plan to avoid discovery and avert business collapse. Baldwin's wife will set fire to the cabin and destroy the corpse; King agrees to make Davidson his partner in order to buy his silence.

Later that night, in a scene that mirrors the episode's opening scene, Stepp is once again alone in the office and working late. In an eerie replay of his encounter two nights before, he enters Baldwin's office, but this time it is King who fires the loyal employee, accusing him of giving himself a raise and hiring an assistant without authorization. King offers Stepp two weeks' severance pay and a train ticket back to St. Louis; Stepp offers mild resistance but King dismisses him. Doubtless thinking that he got away with murder once and so it must have been imaginary, Stepp repeats his desk routine and shoots and kills King before donning his outerwear and heading downstairs to leave the building. This time, however, Stepp tells the janitor to go ahead and clean the office, certain he has hallucinated again and it will be empty.

"A Bullet for Baldwin" ends with the mousy little man striding confidently into the rain, unaware that the consequences that he escaped forty-eight hours before will be visited upon him very soon. The show features two cold-blooded murders yet feels light-hearted; the performances by the three leads are excellent, especially that of John Qualen (1899-1987) as Stepp. His voice sounding a bit like that of Tex Avery's cartoon dog Droopy, Qualen inhabits the role of the put-upon office worker and is completely convincing. His despair after the initial murder is replaced by confused acceptance, and later by a misplaced belief in his own invincibility. Double murder cannot be excused, but we root for Stepp nonetheless to exact vengeance on his heartless bosses.

Sebastian Cabot as Baldwin
It's fun to speculate how the Cockrells changed the radio play "Five Bullets for Baldwin" to create the TV show "A Bullet for Baldwin." Is it a coincidence that, in his introduction, Alfred Hitchcock lines up five bullets on the desk in front of him? And how do the five bullets figure in the radio play? Perhaps it is the fact that, after the initial murder, Stepp's gun still has five bullets remaining. One thing the writers must have done is to take descriptive narration, possibly by Stepp or a narrator, and turn it into pictures; this is most obvious in the scenes at Stepp's desk, which are without dialogue in the TV show but which must have been described in the radio play. If anyone reading this has more information about Ruscoll's radio show, please leave a comment!

John Qualen was born in Canada and began appearing in films in 1931; he became a member of John Ford's stock company and had roles in such classic films as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). He began appearing on TV in 1951 and was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Shopping for Death" and "Help Wanted." He last appeared on screen in 1974.

Playing dual roles as Baldwin and Davidson is Sebastian Cabot (1918-1977), a British actor who was on screen from 1935 until the year of his death. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but over the years he was a regular on four TV series: Checkmate (1960-1962), The Beachcomber (1962), Circle of Fear (1972), and Family Affair (1965-1971), where he played Mr. French, the butler.

Suave Philip Reed (1908-1966) plays King, the second boss to be shot by Stepp. Born Milton LeRoy in New York City, the actor was on screen from 1933 to 1965 and was seen on the Hitchcock show five times, including "The Derelicts" and "The Big Score."

Co-writing the teleplay with his brother Francis was Eustace Cockrell (1909-1972), a fellow author of short stories who had some work in the 1950s on television. The Fiction Mags Index lists his short stories appearing in magazines from 1932 to 1957 and IMDb lists TV shows (and two movies) either adapted from his short stories or written by him from 1950 to 1962. Many of his short stories may be read for free here and there is an informative website devoted to him here.

Finally, "A Bullet for Baldwin" is directed by Justus Addis (1917-1979), who worked mostly in episodic TV from 1953 to 1968. He directed ten episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and was the partner of Hayden Rorke, who played Dr. Bellows on I Dream of Jeannie.

"A Bullet for Baldwin" is available on DVD here or can be watched online here.


"A Bullet for Baldwin." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1 Jan. 1956. Television.
"The Creeper (1948) - Notes." Turner Classic Movies. Web.
"Eustace Cockrell and the Art of Story Telling." Eustace Cockrell Famous Writer. Web.
The FictionMags Index. Web.
Goldin, J. David. "Joseph Ruscoll.", Old Time Radio Show Database. Web.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
Haendiges, Jerry. "Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs." Molle' Mystery Theater .. Episodic Log. Web.
IMDb. Web.
Kogan, David. "Murder By Experts." Thrilling Detective. Web. Web.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Oct. 2017. Web.

In two weeks:  "You Got to Have Luck," starring John Cassavetes.

Monday, October 23, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 43

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
    43: February/March 1954

The Haunt of Fear #23

"Creep Course" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Graham Ingels

"No Silver Atoll!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Hansel and Gretel!" ★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Country Clubbing!" ★★
Story and Art by Jack Davis

Dumb blonde co-ed Stella has a foolproof plan to get an "A" in what she considers a "Creep Course" of Ancient Civilization: bat her eyelashes at the old professor! She works at it all semester and finally wangles an invitation for dinner at his house, but when she arrives he tosses her in the cellar with other students who had gone missing and they all get fed to bloodthirsty beasts as he reenacts Nero's Colosseum antics. But wait! It's only a dream! When Stella really goes to see the old professor, he instead whips off his robe to reveal that he's dressed like an Ancient Egyptian and plans to mummify her!

"Creep Course"
Ingels is the right guy to draw the ancient stuff but the wrong guy to draw Stella, who is barely sexy enough to qualify as a co-ed in many panels. Wally Wood would have been a better choice. At least it's fun to see the professor as Nero and an Egyptian priest.

On a long plane trip across the Pacific, Ruth falls in love with Clark, another passenger. The plane crash lands in the ocean and the passengers and crew manage to guide their rafts toward a nearby island, but it turns out to be "No Silver Atoll!" when first all of the peoples' silver starts to disappear and second a werewolf starts killing them off by the light of the full moon! Ruth deduces that Clark is the creature and, when he tries to kill her, she stabs him with a hypodermic needle she found in a medical kit and injects him with a fatal dose of silver nitrate.

Mickey Spillane! Ha ha ha ha!
("Hansel and Gretel")
The title of the story tipped me off to the fact that a werewolf would be popping up soon and the story is mediocre. Fortunately, there is a passenger from Europe who makes speeches about werewolves, but I was reminded of nothing scarier than Abbott and Costello or Marty Feldman's Igor.

"Hansel and Gretel!" are eating their parents out of house and home, so the parents ditch them in the woods. The hungry brats find an old woman's house and when she shows them her treasure chest they kill her and head home with the cash, telling their parents the story we've heard all these years instead of the truth.

So help me, if I have to read one more of these Godawful Grim Fairy Tales I'll tear up my EC Fan Addict card! If Mad were this bad it never would've gotten off the ground.

Goosebumps, anyone?
("Country Clubbing")
An escaped convict in the swamp comes across a remote shack and clubs to death the old woman who lives there so he can eat her food. His "Country Clubbing!" does not go unnoticed, however, and he is pursued through one peril after another by her son, a lumbering monster who wields the cub as if he plans to do to the convict what the convict did to his mother. When the big fella finally catches up with the convict, he simply gives him back his club and turns and walks away.

Jack Davis's approach to this story shows that it's supposed to be funny rather than scary, and I guess it is, though I figured out what was happening fairly quickly and the perils that the convict encounters are all played for laughs. This was a disappointing issue of Haunt of Fear.--Jack

Handy guy to crash-land with!
("No Silver Atoll")
Peter: The highlight of the issue, for me, was "Country Clubbing!," a funny, text-light Jack Davis gem (story and art!). The con's run through the swamp reminded me of the obstacle courses used on Battle of the Network Stars (well, if the obstacles could eat you, that is), with each stop more difficult than the last. Davis's art is perfect for the subject matter. Like all the installments in Gaines/Feldstein’s “Grim Fairy Tale” series, the slant of "Hansel and Gretel!" is on comedy but, unlike the rest of the "Grims," this one is funny. Can't say I remember ever saying that about any of the previous entries. "No Silver Atoll!" has a great premise and a fabulous opening but the werewolf's identity is something less than a shocker. Orlando's art is muy atmospheric but his beast is about as scary as a big dog. That leaves "Creep Course," which predates the Saw/Hostel/Ad Nauseam "torture porn" franchises by fifty years, a pretty creepy tale until the Prof. whips off his Hefner smoking jacket and pops a mantle on his head. All in all, an above-average issue of Haunt!

Crime SuspenStories #21

"Mother's Day" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

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

"In the Groove" ★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Blood Brothers" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Years ago, Donna Kingsley's husband ran off on her, leaving her with a son who looked like his no-good father and a baby not yet born. When the second boy was born and resembled Donna, she poured out all of her love on him and gave short shrift to her elder boy. Fred, the older son, tried to win his mother's love but she lavished it all on Harold, the older son. When they grew up, Harold became a criminal but Fred took the rap and went to the slammer for five years. Donna found a gun in Harold's room and he hit her in the head with it; the no-goodnik was killed two years later. When Harold finally gets out, he visits Mom and pleads with her to love him and to understand that he was the good boy all along. When she refuses to acknowledge him, he shoots and kills himself next to her bed, not knowing that the blow to her head had left her paralyzed and unable to respond to his entreaties.

("Mother's Day")
Reed Crandall turns in a fine art job on this Cain and Abel-like tale, but "Mother's Day" has a twist ending that makes little sense. Would Fred really not know his mother was paralyzed and unable to speak? No one told him while he was in stir? He couldn't figure it out himself while he yakked away at her for the longest time? It's a sad story about parental cruelty but come on, Fred--have some sense!

Jim and his wife Myrtle fight all the time, just like Gail and her husband. Jim and Gail walk out one evening and run into each other in a bar. It turns out they used to be lovers and they're sorry they ever split up and landed in unhappy marriages. Jim proposes that they both do away with their spouses and head for Europe together, which they do in short order. They take fuzzy photos and send them home to friends and family to keep anyone from becoming suspicious, but soon they decide they need to resemble each other's dead spouses more closely to make the photos better. With a change in looks comes a change in attitude, and before you know it they're fighting and thinking about murder.

Hey Kids! Comics!

A rare miss for Johnny Craig, "Understudies!" starts with a thin premise and heads toward an inevitable conclusion. His ability to tell a story in words and picture is not diminished, but this just isn't one of his better ones.

Garry Green, a famous radio DJ, has fallen for a new gal and devises a clever plan to kill his wife. He will record a five-minute intro to a platter and a five-minute afterword, then stack three discs to play automatically while he runs home and bashes his wife's head in with a fireplace poker. His listening audience will think he's live in the studio and provide him with a perfect alibi. Unfortunately, he didn't plan for the record to start to skip.

Kinda like the red hand--
("In the Groove")
"In the Groove" features yet another pipe-smoking, tweed-jacket wearing, Jack Kamen-illustrated killer getting his just desserts in an ending so obvious and predictable as to be almost amusing. There is a slightly above-average panel (for Kamen, and I admit the bar is set low) where Garry kills his wife but, overall, this is dreadful. It's hard to believe, I know, but it's a tad better than another grim Fairy Tale.

Alex pays a surprise visit to his brother Frederick at the latter's beach house but secretly plans to kill him with an axe he brought in his suitcase. Alex figures he's Frederick's only family and will inherit all his money. He slaughters his brother on the beach with an axe but the deed is such a bloody mess that he dives into the ocean to wash the blood off of his own body. The swirling blood attracts a shark and it's the end of Alex.

What a sad excuse for an issue of Crime SuspenStories, and what a waste of the talents of three terrific artists. Feldstein and Gaines were just pumping out stale plots at this point from the looks of things, and "Blood Brothers" is no exception. Alex even sets up an alibi based on timing, just as DJ Garry did in the previous story, but it's pointless because it doesn't affect the outcome. Crandall's work is quite good, though.--Jack

The axe was the first clue . . .
("Blood Brothers")
Peter: "In the Groove" is a badly-illustrated episode of Columbo. How is this record scheme the "perfect alibi?" Were the police really that dumb in the 1950s? And why would Garry want to dump a babe like Rita for a fuddy-duddy like Val (not that there's much physical difference between the two)? Surely, by this time, Jack Kamen could smell a rat when he constantly got the worst scripts pumped out of Al's Smith-Corona. "Mother's Day" is a bit too forced for my tastes but "Understudies!" is deliciously ironic and continues to fuel the argument that Johnny Craig was the second best writer in the EC bullpen. An interesting change-up with the one-page "prologue" before the splash. The first of two SuspenStories this month with the same title, "Blood Brothers" is a nasty little gem, one that hides most of its gore from your eyes but not your mind, made even more superior by George Evans's dark and moody visuals. With his prolonged and bloody deed, Alex shows he's just as successful an axeman as businessman.

Panic #1

"My Gun is the Jury!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"This is Your Strife" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Little Red Riding Hood" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Night Before Christmas" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Charles Clement Moore
Art by Bill Elder

When some unknown fiend shoots down a kid that had once polished his car, private eye Mike Hammerschlammer takes on the case to bring the criminal to justice… HIS justice, which entails enacting the same fate upon the killer following Mike’s rigid “eye for an eye” mentality. With homicide captain Chamber Pot lagging miles behind him in the “race” for the killer, goons trying to stab his head, and a bevy of beautiful women throwing themselves at Mike’s “lithe,” graceful frame, the dick has his work cut out for him in getting anything done. But they aren't any problems that a gun can’t fix, and Mike proceeds to erase every last one of them with shots of hot lead. Miraculously, after slaughtering his way through an entire cast of supporting players and cozying up with a vixen named Stella who wants to bed the detective in the worst way, Mike manages to piece everything together and figures Stella herself for the killer, delivering the fatal blast “a little below the belly button.” But Mike is stunned to discover that Stella… was actually a man! And that’s horrible news because Mike… is actually a woman!

"My Gun is the Jury"
I’ll have to rely on the reactions of my colleagues here and abroad to attest to the supposed felicity of Al Feldstein’s parody with the hyper-violent works of hardboiled author Mickey Spillane that it lampoons, but even without knowledge of the source material “My Gun is the Jury” still makes for some icky fringe entertainment. And I say that with love! As one of the “mixed-up fiends” that Hammerschlammer refers to in a couple of winking panels (a case of EC biting the hand that feeds?), I admittedly derived some sick satisfaction from the flippantly graphic and racy material that was being peddled here. “My Gun is the Jury” is more self-aware and crass in its displays of sadism and debauchery than something like, say, the infamous “Foul Play,” but in the end the result is basically the same: the violence becomes so cartoonish that you can hardly take it serious anymore. Point for point, this first story from the annals of Panic, EC’s in-house answer to the “inferior” Mad copycats they saw clogging up the newsstands, is more savage and rampantly gory than 90% of the company’s horror material, but this is communicated all through Feldstein’s overheated prose only to then be interpreted by artist Jack Davis as just another funny bit of slapstick. Context is everything!

On that perennial, tear-jerking favorite program of television, “This is Your Strife,” star of stage and screen Melvin Melville is “randomly” selected from the audience to act as the guest of honor. Emcee Ed Ralphwards grinningly introduces members of Melvin’s previous life in Pig Sty, Utah, from pharmacist R. X. Pillstuffer who sold Melvin a bottle of arsenic the day his wife disappeared to C. Smallprint, the agent who sold Melvin a $35,000 life insurance policy for his wife Emma Lou. As the yokels and God-fearing villagers are trotted out onto the stage, Sam Sucker is introduced as the man Melvin sold his old dog to, a vicious mongrel that hasn’t been good for anything except digging up a whole boxful of bones from the property. On closer examination, dentist Harry Yankum recognizes the upper plate he gave Emma Lou, as does Doc Hacker for the mended thigh bone. The pieces all come together, and soon Melvin is being escorted offstage by Pig Sty’s own district attorney.

Peter and Jack lambast Jose for getting
his reviews in at the last minute.
("This is Your Strife")
Say what you will about how long the joke gets dragged out, I still found “This is Your Strife” to be vastly funny and even, dare I say it, leagues more enjoyable than *anything* contained within the first issue of Mad. (Or even the first few issues.) Feldstein had a great brand of zany humor akin to Spike Jones and His City Slickers, and he knew how to wield it well. This story, in particular the “message from our sponsors” Pecan Cardinal’s No-Smudge Lipstick, points the way to the rampant film and media parodies that would become Mad’s calling card under Feldstein’s editorship. Despite the blatant obviousness of Melvin’s crime, I couldn’t help but crack a smile a perpetual smile as more horrific evidence of Emma Lou’s disappearance kept stacking up.

Foxy, red velvet-clad Gwendolyn walks the streets of her fairy tale village hearing the cat calls and wolfish jeers of sexually-starved rubes every day of her life, but she gives everyone a turn when she decides to step out one evening with none other than local doofus Melvin. As she explains it, her admiration for the simpleton stems from a traumatic incident from her childhood when, after receiving her famous scarlet cape from her parents, she traveled to her sickly grandmother’s house with a basketful of jet fuselage and tommy guns only to be waylaid by a ravenous wolf that was quickly gunned down (on the second shot) by an intervening woodsman. So Gwendolyn’s romantic appetites have tended towards the meeker shade of male, but nose-picker Melvin soon discovers that it goes much deeper than that. The woodsman, you see, actually killed Gwendolyn’s grandmother, and now as a matured young woman preening under the glow of the full moon herself, Red Riding Hood assumes her true shape and grabs herself a nice (chewy) piece of ass.

"Little Red Riding Hood"
In an issue filled with some very funny material, “Little Red Riding Hood” pales in comparison mostly for the fact that artist Jack Kamen isn’t anywhere near equipped to operate on the same gonzo level as Jack Davis, Joe Orlando, or Bill Elder. Still, this story is easily more humorous than the last seven Grim Fairy Tales from the horror titles put together. It seems like Al was consciously restraining himself from letting those yarns get too far out there (with the exception of maybe “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”), whereas here in Panic he can go into full-on silly mode without fear of repercussion from the GhouLunatics or any of  the Fan-Addicts. Red Riding Hood’s sassy rejoinders to the other characters (“Higher, idiot! You missed!”) and the random, startling bits of viciousness (Gwendolyn’s father telling her that she’ll wear her new cape or he’ll “rip off [her] arm and beat [her] with the bloody stump”) made me guffaw aloud on more than one occasion.

Capping this bone-tickling premiere is a reinterpretation of Clement C. Moore’s (or is it Henry Livingston Jr.’s?) famous Yuletide poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” or, as it is more commonly known to us heathens, “The Night Before Christmas.” From its slaughterhouse opening depicting no creatures stirring—but plenty of them strung up as sides of meat—to the fateful visit of the “little old elf” himself cursing to his team of flying football players, Elder revels in sight gags and general inanity almost to the point of gratuitousness. Like the retelling of “Casey at the Bat” from Mad, the humor of “The Night Before Christmas” lies mainly in the visuals while the rhyming captions play it straight, but Elder uses the lines as a jumping-off point for some overly-literal imaginings of just what Moore (or Livingston) meant by his fanciful descriptions. Santa, for instance, is depicted with flowers sprouting from his “rosy cheeks” while the “sugarplums” that the tots dream about in their nailbed cots range from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell to a free lifetime subscription to EC Comics, natch. It all ends with a winning final panel in which the merry salutation of the season is voiced by none other than William M. Gaines himself as Santa Claus, the whole stable of self-drawn EC artists bursting from his sack of goodies. If that doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit, then nothing will! --Jose

"The Night Before Christmas"
Peter: With the newsstand bulging with imitators, Bill and Al decide to get in the game and imitate themselves with the first issue of Panic. Unfortunately, as we'll find very quickly, Feldstein is no Kurtzman when it comes to humor and this second funny book may be a case of stretching things too thinly. Maria Reidelbach relates, in her fabulous history of Mad (Completely Mad, published by Little, Brown), how "My Gun is the Jury!" got EC's business manager, Lyle Stuart, thrown in the pokey for selling disgusting material. This was at the height of the witch hunt and New York's finest decided it would side with the moral majority. "My Gun" may be salacious (for its time) but it certainly isn't funny. By this time, the repeated catch phrases being a hook is tired and lazy and Al uses a couple lines here over and over. For a parody of Spillane, I guess it's spot-on but I'd have preferred a couple giggles as well. Things go from bad to worse with the embarrassingly juvenile (and not in a good way) "This is Your Strife," which finds Al reaching constantly for what he thinks is funny material. There might have been a good idea in this mess somewhere but the one-note joke is stretched out to an interminably long seven pages. The material jammed into the first issue of Panic is worse than any of the imitation material found in the competitors' rags. "Little Red Riding Hood" is about what you've come to expect from the Feldstein/Kamen Fairy Tale series, though the panel of the little tyke pulling out her birth certificate and castigating her mother for calling her "Red" instead of her real name is pretty amusing. "The Night Before Christmas" has some giggly bits (the fake leg hanging from the fireplace in lieu of a stocking is genius) but the "put nonsensical banners on everything" hook may need a rest. The final panel is a classic.

Jack: I thought the Spillane parody was very funny and that Jack Davis was the perfect choice to draw it. I love Mike's increasingly obscure motives for killing dames and the finish plays off a later Hammer novel in a surprising way. This story was funnier than many of the stories in Mad. After that, the issue goes quickly downhill. "This is Your Strife" is a corny takeoff that is slightly improved by the gradual buildup to the revelation of the murder, while "Little Red Riding Hood" is a shade better than "Hansel and Gretel!" until the stock ending sinks it. "The Night Before Christmas" takes the familiar poem and makes it pointless--there's no need to read the captions when you can watch Bill Elder go wild with sight gags. As Peter noted, the last panel--a full-page--is a keeper and it's great to see all of the EC staff in one place.

Shock SuspenStories #13

"Only Skin-Deep" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Blood-Brothers" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Upon Reflection" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein, Bill Gaines & Jack Oleck
Art by Reed Crandall

"Squeeze Play" ★★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Frank Frazetta & Al Williamson

A man, his face covered in bandages, awakens in a hospital room to the heavenly sight of a smoking blonde standing before him who claims to be his lover. (Not a bad way to wake up!) She is Gloria Anders and he is Robert Sickles, but their connection was not so innocent: according to Gloria, she and Robert were entangled in an extramarital affair that ended with the death of Gloria’s husband Charles at Robert’s hands, a feigned automobile “accident” that led to the scarring of Robert’s face. Thankfully plastic surgeons were able to restore Robert’s face to its former glory, and the befuddled but thankful gentleman is discharged into the arms of his paramour. Booking a quick wedding ceremony and a cozy cabin for their honeymoon, the two settle in as they begin their new lives together. That is until Robert takes a tumble onto the floor that night, jogging a particularly nasty memory from his amnesiac brain. So nasty in fact that he strangles his newlywed wife on the spot as she gasps in shock. As “Robert” explains to the police later, he is in actuality Charles Anders, the cuckolded husband who eavesdropped on the lover’s plot before getting the drop on Robert and stowing *his* unconscious body behind the wheel of the car. An exploded gas tank damaged his face and Charles, having switched clothes and ID with Robert, was given the face of his romantic rival when it was assumed that Robert had been the survivor of the “accident.”

Feldstein: Give me three of the goofiest, most unnatural poses you can think of.
Kamen: I'm on it!
("Only Skin-Deep")

I hope you got all that because there’s going to be a quiz following this review. “Only Skin-Deep” is pretty much Dullsville the whole way through, a story where I hoped that my prediction of the twist ending was going to be proven wrong but was unfortunately confirmed. Seems a bit of a stretch, doesn’t it? Like Peter says below, was there literally nothing else to correctly identify Charles? Just because he had Robert’s ID, it instantly meant that he must be Robert? Kamen’s art looks even more tired as usual. In an interview contained in the B&W reprint volumes, Bill Gaines mentions that at this point in the company’s history the books were mostly operating on house plots; Gaines and Feldstein were just about tapped for any original ideas and would soon resort to bringing outside writers into the fold to spice things up. “Only Skin-Deep” is proof of just how badly they were needed.

Good thing these are all outdated beliefs.
The news of an African American family putting in an offer for Jed Martin’s house has some residents riled up, but none moreso than full-time bigot Sid. He confides his prejudiced fears with his neighbor and close friend Henry Williams, but Sid is left speechless when Henry reveals that his grandmother was black. Seeing this as a betrayal of the worst sort, Sid begins a one-man campaign of ignorance against the Williams family. As if getting Henry fired from his job after making an anonymous call wasn’t bad enough, Sid even stoops to telling his kids not to play with Hank’s boy and threatens to cease his business with local merchants if they keep serving someone tainted with “Negro blood.” The clincher finally comes when Sid sets fire to a crucifix on Hank’s front lawn, driving the persecuted man to finally take his own life. Old Doc Falk provides Sid with an interesting piece of local history as the man stands triumphant over the crucifix ashes: as a boy, Sid got into a terrible accident that required an immediate blood transfusion to save his life. The only person who had matched his blood type was George, the family's hired farmhand. As Doc Falk retorts, “ ‘Negro blood,’ pumped into your veins, snatched you from the jaws of death!” The physician leaves the stunned man to ruminate on his evil deeds.

If it weren’t for the going-out-of-its-way twist ending, “Blood-Brothers” just might have made the grade as an all-around excellent yarn, but for my money it would still have had a tough time distinguishing itself from past stories that tilled similar territory (and to much better effect) like “Judgment Day” and “In Gratitude…”, or its fellow loathe-thy-neighbor SuspenStory, “Hate!” Though he was (and is) more lauded for his fanciful SF illustrations, Wally Wood demonstrates most ably here why he was such a great fit for this particular EC title: his art carries a sense of weight, gravitas, and moral complexity that just about no other artist in the EC stable could touch for all their excellent draughtsmanship. You feel like you might have passed his characters on the street once, or in this case lived next to one.

I think I've been reading too many comic books, Doc!
("Upon Reflection")
“Joey Berksant, number one contender for the middleweight championship” is having a tough go of it. Ever since he whaled on his opponent Manny Williams too hard during that match at the Garden and killed the poor bastard, Joey’s been down deep in the blues. It didn’t help that Manny’s widowed wife burst into the locker room after the event, calling the pugilist a “twisted ugly blood-thirsty beast.” And when Joey wakes up the next morning, he most certainly is! His hands have become misshapen claws, and it isn’t long before the transformation spreads and he’s become a knuckle-dragging chimp wearing a monkey suit. Just before he blows his brains out, Joey hits on the idea of calling up psychiatrist Dr. Coleman to talk him out of it. Coleman tells Joey like it is: the transformation is all in his head and he’s merely suffering from a guilt complex. Fully human and relieved, Joey leaves the office before stopping in front of an outdoor mirror. What he sees causes him to snap and follow through on the earlier postponed suicide. As the storekeeper later explains to the police, the poor gentleman had just stopped to look in a funhouse mirror that was installed on the building as a publicity gag before taking his own life.

“Upon Reflection” is not only a doofy story but a strange one to find within the pages of the post-“EC Sampler” days of Shock SuspenStories. If it weren’t for Crandall’s art, I could be easily convinced that this was something from one of EC's competitors. Which is not to say that everything EC’s competitors did was bad, but this story just feels so entirely bereft of the the company's usual pizzazz that it could be mistaken for the work of someone else. Crandall himself doesn’t seem to have been too thrilled by the assignment. His artwork feels like a six-page yawn.

("Squeeze Play")
Harry, by every definition of the word, is a stud. A buckin’ sexual bronco, he’s a man’s man who won’t be hemmed in by the silly dreams of any woman, so when his girlfriend Cora brings their days of idle dating to a screeching halt first with questions of marriage and then with news of a baby, Harry starts to sweat. Harry doesn’t like to sweat; he likes to be free and to feel the cool breeze left from the exit of his latest paramour on his face. He might like to lift weights, but the thought of a wife and child feel like shackles to him. So when he and Cora take a trip to the local carnival on the pier, Harry starts percolating with ideas at the sound of screams from the rollercoaster. Dragging Cora kicking and screaming onto the ride, Harry beats her in the coaster’s last car and tosses her out just as the ride comes to its highest peak. The brute feigns horror as he disembarks, but the crowd isn’t having it: they saw the way he forced Cora onto that ride. The murderer hightails it from the carnival as pursuers give chase. Hiding under the pier, he sheds his clothes down to his bathing suit and then intermingles with the throng of beachgoers. He strikes up friendly conversation with some bikini-clad beauties, planning on using them to facilitate his escape, but then the giggly gals decide to pal around with their boy-toy by dragging him into the surf. Harry can’t swim, but he can’t make too much of a scene lest he out himself. But when the gals abandon Harry in favor of their other boyfriends, the killer is left to sink to the water’s bottom, fully weighed down by wife and child at last.

The horrifying death of Cora.
("Squeeze Play")

I had heard mention made of “Squeeze Play” over my years of EC fandom starting back in middle school, but I had always assumed that the notoriety was over the fact that it was the only story in the bulk of EC titles that boasted artwork entirely rendered by the legendary Frank Frazetta. Having now finally read the piece, I can certainly see why this might be seen as cause for reverent allusions, as the artwork here is fantastic (Frazetta’s characterization of Harry as a bonafide psychopath with James Dean looks is truly blood-chilling), but the story itself is an absolute knockout to boot. Thank the heavens above that the contents of this issue didn’t follow through on the threat made by the front cover and have Jack Kamen taking the reins of “Squeeze Play,” because Frazetta’s sole solo-work is a masterpiece and one that I would easily place in any volume compiling the “Essentials of EC.” (Anybody interested in publishing this? Bueller? Bueller?) In addition to Frazetta’s contributions, Feldstein’s script feels especially vicious and razor-sharp. The fitting justice that befalls Harry feels so natural and innocent as to be perfect. Feldstein should have been proud of this one. --Jose

Peter: Even sixty years on, "Squeeze Play" is still dynamic and risque material, with Frank Frazetta breaking away from the shadows of Krenkel and Williamson and striking out on his own with spectacular results. Harry is clearly modeled after the artist himself, striking manly poses throughout. The idea of pre-marital sex and (for shame) unwed mothers in a funny book must have given Wertham kidney stones. Even Al gets the whole package right by not selling out and having Cora's broken corpse weighing Harry down in the watery finale. Fantastic stuff. But for the maudlin final panel ("Oh God, what have I done," says the bigot in a moment of phony clarity when he realizes he's part-Negro as well), "Blood-Brothers" is just as powerful now as it was then (and just as relevant I hasten to add) and its jaw-dropping Wally art only seems to get better. The other two tales are a different story altogether, both containing dumb twists (and, in the case of "Only Skin-Deep" some blah art). Even before CSI, couldn't the cops tell the difference between one guy and another (fingerprints, anyone?)? "Upon Reflection" features nice Crandall art but even Reed can't save me from the eye-rolling madness that is the moronic reveal.

Jack: Peter, I agree with you on all counts. Another reprint from my fondly-remembered EC Horror Library of the 1950's, "Squeeze Play" is a stunning classic of illustrated crime fiction. "Blood-Brothers" is a powerful tale with fabulous art by Wood, but the forced surprise ending is unnecessary. "Upon Reflection" features uninspired art by Crandall and a weak twist ending that may be the work of Jack Oleck. Worst of all--as usual--is the Kamen entry which, for some strange reason, was chosen to open the book. An obvious twist is dragged out for eight tedious pages. Too bad Frazetta wasn't able to draw the cover to go along with his story!

Tales from the Crypt #40

"Food for Thought" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Pearly to Dead" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Prairie Schooner" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Half-Baked!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Food for Thought", indeed!
For years, married couple Marta and Carl have been able to work their odd gifts into a career at the circus (Marta can read Carl's thoughts--but only Carl's thoughts--and he works as a "transmitter"), but Marta has never loved her husband and now finds that she's fallen for lion tamer Eric, who persuades the beauty to run off with him when the month ends. Carl overhears the plan and, seething with rage, concocts a plan: he'll murder Eric and pin it on a local maniac who has been digging up corpses and tearing them into little pieces! Late that night, Carl walks Eric into the lion's cage at gunpoint. The bloody mess has Marta shocked, broken-hearted, and convinced of Carl's guilt. One day, while the circus tent is being broken down, a pole falls on Carl and he is pronounced dead but Marta can hear his thoughts: he's not dead, just paralyzed. At Marta's insistence, Carl is buried without being embalmed (nor an autopsy it seems) and his pleading thoughts scream out to his wife for mercy. Shoveling has the coffin-trapped murderer hoping he's gotten through to Marta but, once the lid comes up and the ghoul starts feasting, Carl knows otherwise.

"Food for Thought"
There are so many dopey obstacles in the road to the climax of "Food for Thought" that can't be ignored: why would Carl be buried sans an autopsy, seemingly on the same day he's "killed," and how in the world can he breathe underground for an entire day?! And how popular could a mind-reader be if she can read only one person's thoughts? I'd have at least liked to see how this gimmick was utilized under the big top. This circus triangle plot has been worked to death but at least Jack Davis was able to work in some nice cheesecake to alleviate the pain.

"Pearly to Dead"
Larry and Phil have always been best buds but Phil has always seemed to get the best of Larry in two important arenas: swimming and girls. In particular, one girl, Gladys, has both seeing stars. Now, as Navy frogmen during World War II, the pals dive into an atoll just off a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. While setting detonators and cutting underwater fencing, Larry spots a huge oyster field and decides to take some back with him. Phil convinces his friend that they have to exit stage left since the explosives will be going off at any moment but promises, when the war is over, to come back with Larry to dive for the treasure. Once the war ends, the boys land in San Fransisco to meet with Gladys, who announces she's made her choice: Phil. The guys make their travel plans but Larry, seething with jealousy, drowns Phil one night while they're practicing their pearl diving and makes advances towards Gladys. Larry sails to the small atoll in the Pacific but can't shake the feeling he's being watched by a bloated, stinking corpse all along the way. Turns out Larry's right since, once he dives for the pearls, Phil's rotting body swims up and gives his old buddy a hug. If we thought we'd seen circus murders one time too many, how about the old buddy-turned-murderer-over-lust-and-greed warhorse? Al just seems to biding his time until the inevitable final panel which is, SHOCKER!, exactly what we thought would happen. George Evans serves up some gorgeous, noir-ish visuals but that's the only thing "Pearly to Dead" has going for it, unfortunately.


Calvin Dugan, owner of The Sea Shell Restaurant, hates lobsters, thinks they're vile, filthy animals and revels in splitting them down the middle and watching them cook. Meanwhile, poor fisherman Ambrose can't figure out why his lobster traps are constantly empty, as if someone is making off with the spoils of his hard work, leaving his family penniless and hungry. When his chef tells him that the restaurant's stock of lobsters is running low, Dugan hops in his skiff and, once again, plunders Ambrose's traps. Ah-hah! Hearing the boat's motor from his house, Ambrose rows out to discover the big-time restaurateur in the act and promises Dugan will see jail time. Enraged, Calvin stabs the fisherman to death and scuttles his rowboat. Driving back to the restaurant, Dugan has a blowout and is broiled alive in the wreckage. 1/Wash; 2/Rinse; 3/Repeat. Aside from the really good Ghastly (especially the panels of Dugan at night in his skiff which have boatloads [pardon the pun] of atmosphere), "Half-Baked!" is deadly dumb from the splash right up to its oh-too-predictable finale. Calvin Dugan could be the most ludicrously over-the-top character to appear in an EC horror story, with his seething monologue about "horrible creatures" that "should die horribly!"

Our first glimpse of "Prairie Schooner."

Retired school teacher Millie Jackson leads a comfortable life until her ex-sailor brother, Ezra, comes to live with her. Ezra is a bit tetched, if ya know what I mean, and imagines the house as his ship, but Millie hasn't the heart to put him in a home so she swabs the kitchen floor and rises at 2 a.m. for the "night watch" without raising much of a fuss. The real trouble begins when Ezra gets a glance at the basement, where Millie does the laundry, and decides it's the perfect place for a recreation of his ship. Millie withdraws her life savings and has workers transform the basement into a Captain's quarters, complete with mahogany-paneled walls and port holes! Her savings tapped, Millie must take in laundry to make ends meet and, one day while doing the wash in the upstairs tub, Millie has a heart attack and dies. The water flows down into the basement, where Ezra does his best to salvage his sinking ship but, before too long, the ex-Captain is sent to Davy Jones' locker.

"Prairie Schooner"
A wild and unpredictable gem, "Prairie Schooner" is a breath of fresh air amongst the rest of the crap in this issue. Is it Bernie who brings his A-game to a brilliant script or Al who knew Krigstein would work magic? Regardless, this is a perfect melding of two masters at the top of their game; I'd point to "Prairie Schooner" (and, even more so, this month's "The Flying Machine," over in WSF) as the "big EC breakthrough" for Krigstein. From here on out, we're going to see some startling visuals from Mr. Krigstein. Readers wanting more information on Bernie should seek out the 6th issue of Squa Tront (the special BK issue can be found on eBay for around twenty bucks--well worth it) for a career-spanning interview (well, up until the time the interview was conducted in 1962) and an amazing page-by-page dissection of "Master Race" (more on that story in a few months).--Peter

Jack: Krigstein brings an exciting, new visual style to EC comics, but I was not as blown away by the story of "Prairie Schooner" as you were. At the end, I just kept thinking about how it was not possible for there to be that much water in the well, much less that much hot water in the hot-water heater! I know we have to suspend disbelief, but when a story is as realistic as this one I have a problem when the conclusion depends on something that couldn't happen. Perhaps Feldstein, a New Yorker, thought water came from an inexhaustible source! I was just as impressed with the art of George Evans in "Pearly to Dead," which seems, for much of its length, like the template for countless stories we've read in the DC War Comics. Sometimes Al Feldstein's over-writing and constant piling on of adjectives can get to be a little much for me to wade through. "Half-Baked!" wastes good art by Ghastly and swings and misses at the finale, where I was really hoping for a giant lobster, while "Food for Thought" takes one twist too many. My favorite moment in this story is when the caption says that "Marta slips on a robe" but Davis draws her in a see-through nightgown.

Weird Science-Fantasy #23

"The Children" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Fish Story" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel

"The Flying Machine" ★★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adapted by Al Feldstein
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"Fair Trade" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

On an unnamed alien planet, Ellen and David are overjoyed to be the first of the new human colonists to give birth to a child, but the happiness is torn right from them when the hospital, lorded over by Doctor Garden, who is apparently *not* a fugitive villain escaped from a futuristic 80s music video, immediately takes Ellen’s baby boy into their care. Garden says that new parents aren’t emotionally or mentally equipped to take on the burden of rearing a child and that a team of psychologists are best suited to raise babies properly. He promises Ellen that she may reclaim her son in two years’ time. But on the scheduled date, Garden shakes his head and tells Ellen that it’ll be another five years before her boy can be reunited with his family. David seems less perturbed than Ellen, entrusting his faith in science and logic whereas Ellen believes that love is the one thing that every child needs. When Ellen arrives at the hospital to claim her son on the seventh year, Garden tells her she’ll have to wait five more years. Finally incensed into action, Ellen rallies the other parents of the colony to storm the nursery. Garden is waiting for them, and before he lets the mob through he asks them one vital question: Are they sure they really want their children back? The planet, according to Garden, had a terrible effect on all the human offspring, mutating them into abnormal freaks. But when Garden opens the doors to the room full of dwarfed, tentacled, and misshapen kids, the parents rush forward in unabashed love to reunite with their children.

One Big Happy.
("The Children")

The mutant child trope had certainly been no stranger to EC, having cropped up in close to a dozen other yarns in the SF titles, if not more. But whereas the child’s otherness was the primary focus before, it’s kept a secret until the final reveal of “The Children.” The effect here is completely different to just about anything else we’ve seen before though. When the mutant child was revealed in past stories, it was usually to inform us that our rugged heroes had just unknowingly slaughtered their offspring. Here the idea is turned on its ear when the long con of Doctor Garden’s reverse psychology ploy pays off in spades, each parent blind to the deformities that mark their children and seeing only the baby boys and girls they’ve longed for all these years. Wood sells this moment superbly in a grand splash on the final page, marred only slightly by the humorous epilogue that shows Ellen and David’s boy shuffling from his bed on a set of noodly tentacles to fetch himself a glass of water.

Fish-people have problems too.
("Fish Story")
A rocket ship crash lands into a planet with an atmosphere made up completely of water. Two of the fish-creatures who live there, Cxargx and Zlafl, watch intently as the vessel sinks to the depths of their world. Knowing that their own planet is doomed to become engulfed by a super nova in a short time, Cxargx and Zlafl plan to kill the human astronauts inside the vessel and then take their ship back to Earth to begin their gradual colonization and takeover of the planet. Blasting a hole into the craft, the aliens assume ownership after the human astronauts drown and then make ready to evacuate their world a few days later. Later, back on Earth, the Galactic Exploration Patrol is saddened when attempts to dredge the rocket ship from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean prove fruitless. They give up hope that the astronauts survived the crash, but the incident did stir up some bizarre lifeforms and findings though, such as that the bloated bodies of the weird, gilled creatures found near the scene of the crash were actually that of fresh-water fish!

“Fish Story” is not exactly a whopper but just serviceable enough to pass the time with, featuring some great close-ups of the catfish-faced villains mucking around courtesy of Al Williamson and Roy Krenkel. Like “The Children” before it, the power of “Fish Story” comes from its ending, here delivered in characteristically wry EC fashion with the delivery of the professor’s autopsy report of the aliens.

EC's new look?
("The Flying Machine")
In 400 A.D., Emperor Yuan of China is just enjoying the pleasant weather and a cup of tea when one of his servants interrupts his reverie with news of a grand sight: a man has mastered the power of flight, twirling through the air on a magnificent homemade contraption of bamboo sticks and colored paper in the style of a dragon. After calling the pilot down and briefly interrogating him, Emperor Yuan calls for his two executioners and has the pilot beheaded on the spot. The emperor, though enraptured with the pilot’s ability to soar through the sky and the thought of the incredible views he must be experiencing, realizes that the pilot’s power over gravity could just as easily be appropriated by men with more sinister purposes, such as attacking his beloved homeland. As such, the knowledge of flight must die along with its owner, and Emperor Yuan returns to the simpler, more innocent pleasures of the harmless mechanical diorama he has created back at his palace.

Told in the graceful fashion of an ancient fable, “The Flying Machine” remains one of Bradbury’s most understated and heartfelt stories, an entire world away from the type of Rockwellian science fiction that he’s become so well known for. The artistic contributions of Bernard Krigstein, whose singular style of thin, wavering lines reminiscent of 60s cartoons has started to grow on me since my salad days, complement the proceedings perfectly, bringing gentleness and beauty to a story that contains in its wistful demeanor dark allusions to Man’s reach far exceeding his grasp and the terrible destruction that typically comes about with each of his innovations. Like Peter states below, “The Flying Machine” may very well have pointed to the “New Direction” EC was hoping to take its publications, so it’s a pity if the PR nightmare that was the Senate hearings took the juice out of that effort in its mission to staunch all the blood and viscera from the company’s other books.

The leader of a tribe of cavepeople recalls how he came to the desolate ruins across the river that his aged father had warned him about. Despite the old man’s prophecies, the tribe leader does not instantly die from heavenly fire following his forbidden tour of the ruins as had his grandfather before him, so after Dad kicks the bucket and leaves the Keys to the City to Junior, the tribe leader takes the gang across the river to populate the spacious and cave-friendly ruins. But when the primitive clan spots the brilliant descent of a rocket ship upon their home, the gang thinks their punishment has finally arrived. But from out of the ship comes a gaggle of suited astronauts who claim to come in peace, waving a generous offer of beads and blankets in payment for ownership of the land the ruins rest upon. The cave-people, in a mixture of bewilderment and relief, accept the tokens and hightail it out of there. The astronauts, meanwhile, have bigger plans of expansion and hope to wipe out the native savages completely. The land of the ruins, named “Manhattan Island” by the savages, will just be the start.

Next stop: Disneyland!
("Fair Trade")

Hmm. Alright then. “Fair Trade” is too unfocused and cryptic to generate anything close to interest during the first two-thirds of the story; we have a pretty good feeling that this is going to end in some post-apocalyptic, they-were-on-Earth-the-whole-time reveal, and even though we’re not sure *how* it’s going to be revealed that still doesn’t make us care any more than we already didn’t. The lazy allusions to the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans feel like an afterthought and a wasted opportunity for a meatier parable. Orlando’s art is strictly by-the-numbers and unfortunately bereft of his usual loony aesthetic. --Jose

Peter tells Jose another bedtime story.
("Fair Trade")
Peter: In the same issue of Squa Tront mentioned in the review of Tales from the Crypt above, EC expert/historian Bhob Stewart (who passed away in 2014) admits he considers "The Flying Machine" to be "the greatest story that has ever appeared in comic books." While I think the tale is nicely told (and very nicely illustrated), I'm afraid I don't find it nearly as satisfying as Stewart. I'm not even sure why it's been included in an issue of WSF as there are no fantastical elements (unless the idea of flight in the 5th Century is the sf/fantasy hook). It certainly sets itself apart from just about any other EC tale we've seen so far in its theme and presentation. If the EC funny books had not been shut down by the witch-hunters, perhaps this was the road the titles would have taken anyway, a more highbrow package. The original prose appeared in the Bradbury collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun (Doubleday, 1953). Elsewhere in this issue, "The Children" has a long, slow buildup to a hell of a twist ending; the sight of the parents lovingly welcoming the mutants into their arms is a nice change of pace. "Fish Story" has some gorgeous art but a pedestrian hook, one that I swear we've seen already. It's got a boatload of coincidences to boot. Al wraps up this so-so issue with a preachy of monstrous magnitude. Al throws stones at the government and reminds us what the pilgrims did to the Native Americans as well. The dialogue between the two astronauts at the climax is a preach too far though:

Astronaut 1: "Pretty stupid, selling a hunk of land that size for a handful of beads and some old blankets . . ."
Astronaut 2: "At least we gained their confidence! That's a start . . ."
Astronaut 1: "Later, we'll just drive them off the land . . . even kill them for it . . ."

The silliest thing about the deal the "savage chief" made is not how royally he got fleeced but how quickly he gave up the land after making such a big deal about getting there!

Jack explains the medical benefits package
to a new bare*bones staffer.
("The Children")
Jack:  The greatest comic book story ever? I wouldn't put it in my top ten, even though I gave it four stars in my notebook. Krigstein demonstrates an unusually sensitive hand that is guided by an understanding of the language of film and how to convey it in the graphic story medium. I thought the Wood story was equally impressive, as was his cover, and it seems like Wood has become the go-to guy for stories with adult themes. Williamson and Krenkel provide more beautiful art and their story has a nice, subtle twist; the first three stories are so strong that Orlando's final tale suffers in comparison, though I would've liked to have seen what Joe Kubert would have done with "Fair Trade."

Mad #9

"Little Orphan Melvin!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Raven" ★★★
Poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

"Bop Jokes!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Hah! Noon!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Little Orphan Melvin!" is a poor, redheaded girl who wanders the streets of the city during the Great Depression talking to her dog, Gravel. Crooks grab her and shoot her out of a cannon but she is rescued at the last minute (sort of) by her protector, Daddy Peacebucks, who enlists the aid of his helpers, The Gasp and Punjoke. After a few exciting rescues, Melvin is revealed to be a stunning, fully-grown redhead, giving new meaning to the term "Daddy."

"Little Orphan Melvin!"
Some of these EC comics just come back to me the moment I see them, and this is one of them. That great cover by Kurtzman is imprinted on my brain due to a reprint I once had, and I love Kurtzman and Wood's takeoff on Little Orphan Annie. I am not very familiar with the comic strip, having grown up with the Broadway show as my touchstone for the character, but I know enough about the original to enjoy this parody a great deal.

A solitary man sits alone in his study one bleak December night when "The Raven!" flies in through an open window. Despite the man's pleas for the return of his beloved Lenore, the raven only responds with a single word: "nevermore."

I'm not really sure how best to appreciate these Mad/Panic stories where a classic poem is illustrated in a zany fashion. Am I supposed to slog through each caption of poetry and then be amused by the ironic picture below it? It's all a little much and it blunts my enjoyment of the Elder craziness.

"Bop Jokes!"
After a full-page "Bop Dictionary" that explains the meaning of hip terms, we are treated to five one-page "Bop Jokes!" As unfunny as it is dated, this couldn't have been particularly hilarious back in 1954 and it has not aged well.

As "Hah! Noon!" approaches in a dusty town in the Old West, Marshall Kane weighs the pros and cons of waiting for the train to arrive with a killer and the shootout that is certain to follow. Though he longs to take the earlier train out of town and avid the confrontation, he ends up facing down the villain, who is utterly confused by the train timetable.

I think this is a Mad classic! This issue shows that, along with Will Elder, Wally Wood and Jack Davis were able to master the parodic formula that really made for the best Mad stories. Kurtzman knows the movie backwards and forwards and his script is clever; Davis milks every last joke out of the situation.--Jack

"Hah! Noon!"

Lenore as never before!
("The Raven")
Melvin Enfantino: Hard to believe, but Bill Elder's lunacy seems to be escalating . . . and that's a good thing. The whacko stuff we find tucked into every nook and cranny of "The Raven" is a joy to breathe in. It's like getting one of those variety packs of jelly beans and just tucking in, letting the mystery flavor overtake you. That's what it's like turning each page. Here we have a dog eating from a box of "Giant-Sized Dog Food" and growing larger as the stanzas roll on. Or the bust of Pallas that is, panel-by-panel, stripped to its skull. This stuff could literally warp a kid. Our first glances of "Little Orphan Melvin!" are of a patchwork waif with no irises and peanut butter/mashed potatoes stacked precariously atop her head. Wally then adds extra ornaments to Melvin's coif, such as eggs and flowers. The first few pages made me larf out loud several times; you get the feeling Wally and Harvey were giggling over the source material and wondering why anyone would eat this crap up. Unfortunately, there were five more not-so-funny pages attached. At least Wally maintains the Elder-esque high quotient of sight gags per panel. The climax of "Hah! Noon!" is pretty funny but the rest is a repetitive slog.

The Vault of Horror #35

". . . And All Through the House . . ." ★★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Tombs-Day!" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Davis

"Beauty Rest" ★
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jack Kamen

"Shoe-Button Eyes!" ★★
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Graham Ingels

"... And All Through the House ..."
On Christmas Eve, a woman gives her husband the ultimate gift: a poker across the head. Having planned this months ahead of time, the gorgeous blonde calmly gets to work on cleaning up her mess. She trots upstairs to see if daughter Carol is still asleep and then heads back down to begin work. She lights a cigarette and turns on the radio. "Jingle Bells" is interrupted by a special announcement: a maniac, dressed as Santa Claus, has escaped a nearby sanitarium and authorities advise that everyone stay in until the nut is apprehended. The looney's vice is strangling beautiful young women and our heroine/murderess certainly fits the bill. Suddenly, a knock on the door summons the woman to the window, where she beholds a yule tide surprise: a man dressed in a Santa suit! Panicked, she rushes to the phone but remembers she can't call the police since her husband's body might elicit pesky questions and she can't get rid of the body because she can't get out of the house. What to do? She races around the house to make sure all windows and doors are locked then heads down into the cellar for some wood to shore up her defense. After finishing, she finally drags hubby down to the basement (lest Carol wake up and ask more of those pesky questions) and then heads back upstairs to check on her young'n. Finding the bed empty, she panics until she hears Carol calling her from downstairs. She races down the stairs, only to find Carol standing in front of the open door, gleefully telling mommy that she has let Santa in.

" ... And All Through the House ..."
Another classic Craig strip and yet another tale that was faithfully adapted by Milt Subotsky for Tales from the Crypt, ". . . And All Through the House . . ." is ghoulish holiday fun. I love how Craig has our nameless heroine calm as a millpond, sparking up her ciggie and coldly sizing up the corpse on her living room rug, but when the shit hits the fan, our girl is racing around doing five things at a time (and not doing any of them all that well!). She begins to hide that body three times but is always interrupted by some other thought. Little Carol's beaming face in the final story panel is a classic. I'm on the fence as to whether Subotsky improved on Craig's story or if they're just about equal (the one thing that the story has over the film is that Craig is able to sustain the dread without actually showing the maniac until the very last panel!). Joan Collins does a fabulous job as the cold, calculated murderess and the suspense keeps you right on the edge of your seat; it's a hard thing for a filmmaker to do when only given about fifteen minutes.

Professor Burton leads a small expedition into the tombs of an Egyptian sphinx, trying to locate a previous group of scientists who'd disappeared just after reporting a terrific find. Once in the tomb, the group is cut off from the outside world by a series of trap doors and, one by one, each member is murdered in gruesome fashion. Realizing their only way to safety is to find some other way out, Burton leads the dwindling group further into the tomb, only to stumble over a cache of priceless gems. As Burton and the only other survivor gawk at the treasure, the professor reads the hieroglyphs on the wall, detailing the entombing of a living sphinx, half man and half lion. Suddenly, the creature of legend leaps from the shadows and it is . . . the end. "Tombs-Day!" is another by-the-numbers mummy (well, technically, you're right, there's no mummy, but . . .) tale with nothing to add to the mythos and a whole lot of talking Jack Davis heads. Burton is a total dope in that he suspects the previous expedition went missing somewhere in the tombs but sees no problem wandering into "secret panels." The only bright spot is JD's sphinx monster in mid-leap in the final panel.

She had some stiff competition.
("Beauty Rest")
Helen Curtis is certainly tired of all the attention her room-mate, Joyce Noble, gets from the men, especially since Helen is the more talented and prettier of the two, so when opportunity knocks, Helen answers. When Joyce comes home, bragging of her latest date and how the schmuck is going to fix a beauty contest for her, Helen sees red and pops a dose of sleeping pills in Joyce's hot milk, with an eye to taking her room-mate's place at the contest. Next day, Helen arrives and discovers she's to be crowned "Miss Corpse of 1954" at the annual Undertakers' and Embalmers' Association convention but must accept her prize that night at the award presentation. In the meantime, the excited young miss heads home and finds, to her surprise, that Joyce is still out. In fact, Helen may have given the cold miss a few too many sleeping tablets. Quickly erasing all evidence, she calls the cops and sobs out the story of her best friend's suicide. Shrugging her shoulders and glad she's rid of Joyce, Helen heads to the award ceremony, held in the dank basement of a creepy brownstone. Too late, Helen discovers, as several men emerge from the shadows with gleaming blades, she's actually going to become Miss Corpse of 1954! The ludicrosity factor of "Beauty Rest" is very high, dangerously high. How would these undertakers ever get away with the murder when other women entered the contest? What possible motive would they have for wanting an actual corpse? Are they ghouls or simply maniacs united in one common goal? Too many questions? Maybe. Have I spent too much space pondering this dreadful waste of time? Certainly.

Born blind, little Billy has always tried to "look" at the bright side of life, even when his father dies and his mother remarries a "not so nice" man who taunts and tortures the little tyke. Luckily, Billy has his teddy bear to keep his spirits up when the step-father is abusing mom. One night, the mean old man gets drunk and rips the "Shoe-Button Eyes!" from teddy and taunts the boy with the disfigurement. Billy's mother gets sick on Christmas Eve but, before she dies, she fixes teddy up with some new eyes and begs her husband to take care of Billy. The drunk smacks his stepson and the boy hits his head, blacking out. The next morning, after hearing terrible screams from the house, neighbors break in and find the man torn to pieces, his eyes replaced with shoe-buttons and the teddy bear soaked in blood. Billy finishes his story by letting us know he can see now and the view from "up here" is pretty. Though the final panel has a reveal I didn't see coming (narrator Billy has been dead throughout his narrative), the bulk of the story is oozing with soap opera pathos and unrealistic characters (as I've said before, the more loathsome the villain, the more unrealistic that character becomes to me and the more uninvolved I become). Dismiss the story and you've got hot and cold Ghastly; most of his talents here are wasted on talking heads and that final panel might elicit laughs rather than chills. The corpse on the splash, with candles stuffed in every orifice imaginable, sees Graham Ingels ignoring the sign that reads "Overkill" and speeding straight for the cliff. --Peter

Jack: Craig's opening tale is eight pages of sheer terror, and even though I remember the ending from the movie it's still great. I'm not sure what it says about me that I really like stories about homicidal maniacs who have escaped from the asylum--"The Dangerous People" is one of my favorite episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I think "Shoe-Button Eyes!" is a classic, with a tight script by Craig and fine art by Ingels. Is this the only time the two have worked together? The other two stories are forgettable. While I love a good Egyptian tomb tale, Oleck and Davis don't wring much excitement out of this one. At least the Kamen story does not involve a fairy tale and allows him to draw pretty girls, his greatest strength.


From Panic #1

Sign us up!
(from Tales From the Crypt #40)

Next Week . . .
Will we learn anything new about
The Unknown Soldier?