Monday, November 6, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 44

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  44: April 1954

Mad #10

"G.I. Schmoe!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

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

"The Face Upon the Floor!" ★ 1/2
Story by H. Antoine D'Arcy
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis and Basil Wolverton

"Woman Wonder!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

"G.I. Schmoe!"
"G.I. Schmoe!" and his pal Sergeant Squirt fight over a beautiful foreign woman, but when Joe wins her she only asks, "Hey, Joe! You got chewing gum?" Joe and Sgt. Squirt battle a massive enemy division and Joe manages to defeat them all by bashing them over the head with his rifle butt. Captured by their leader, another gorgeous gal who just wants chewing gum, Joe and Sgt. Squirt are thrown in prison with a beautiful blonde who happens to be a U.N. agent, also looking for chewing gum. Joe and Sgt. Squirt escape but the enemy army advances and turns out to be made up of--you guessed it--scads of stunning women, all hunting chewing gum. The only people able to stand up to the feminine onslaught are a division of WACS, whose leader celebrates her victory by asking Joe if he has chewing gum.

Wally Wood's incredible talent for drawing beautiful women with magnificent figures is on display in this story, over and over, and it saves the day. Kurtzman's story is racist and sexist but it's also enjoyable as all get out. I know nothing about G.I. Joe in the comics, so I did some quick online research and discovered that it was a comic book published during the Korean War that seems to have been ripe for ridicule. The few issues I looked at had great painted covers by Norman Saunders, though.

A stoic cowboy by the name of "Sane!" rides into town and faces off with a gunman in black hired by the cattlemen. Sane wins a showdown and rides off into the sunset. John Severin was the wrong choice to draw this parody of the classic Alan Ladd/Jack Palance film, since his interpretations of the actors barely resemble them. Kurtzman's story is not very funny. I think Jack Davis might have been able to do something with this, but not much.

A poor drunk tells his friends at the bar about the days when he was famous, rich, and loved; his downfall began when the woman he loved died. D'Arcy's 1887 poem was famous once but is forgotten today. Jack Davis does what he can with "The Face Upon the Floor!" but it's not very interesting or funny. What is interesting is the final panel, drawn by Basil Wolverton. I think this is our first glimpse of his work in an EC comic and the girl he draws looks just like his work almost twenty years later at DC for Plop!

"The Face Upon the Floor!"
Diana Banana is making out in the moonlight with her boyfriend Steve Adore when she receives an urgent message from Nivlem (read it backwards) to come to Ko-Nee Island and stop a monstrous plot from being hatched. After changing into her costume as "Woman Wonder!" she flies in her invisible glass plane to the island, where she confronts Nivlem (dressed like a seedy version of Batman). After he beats her to a pulp he reveals that he is really Steve Adore, and she ends up married to him and slaving over a hot stove while their brats terrorize the household.

Will Elder may not have Wally Wood's ability to draw gorgeous women, but his version of Woman Wonder is truly a wonder! In every issue of Mad, I wait for the Will Elder story, and this one is great. Kurtzman and Elder parody the characters and situations quite well, though I can't help but wonder what it might have looked like had Wally Wood drawn this and included a visit to Amazon Island. Hoo-hah!--Jack

Melvin Enfantino: I could waste time commenting on how unfunny Harvey’s scripts for “G.I. Schmoe!” and “Sane!” are (at least “Schmoe” comes wrapped in a pretty Woody package) or how “The Face Upon the Floor!” is the weakest entry yet in the “Poetry Dept.” Instead, I’ll accentuate the positive and exclaim that “Woman Wonder!” is the best comic strip parody yet (but even stronger material in said department is just over the horizon)! The Kurtzman/Elder team can seemingly do no wrong. I about died larfing when Nivlem questioned the plausibility of Wonder's special bracelets and literally stepped out of the strip until "the story makes more sense!" Diana Banana's escalating oaths ("Neptune's beach litter baskets!") had me in stitches.

"Woman Wonder!"

The Haunt of Fear #24

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes . . ." ★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Graham Ingels

". . . Only Sin Deep" ★★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Secret" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"Head-Room!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes..."
Hillbilly Jake Watson can be a real monster to his wife, Bethy, when he's had too much moonshine (and he always has too much moonshine) but Jake becomes a real monster when Bethy and her boyfriend, Clem (who supplies Jake with his rotgut), decide to off the old codger. The lovers lure Jake up to Clem's still and then toss him into a vat and pour lye on him. The dirty deed done, the couple hightail it to Bethy's shack, where they tie a few on and get to know each other. But . . . back at the vat, the goo that used to be Jake drips out of the still and oozes its way back home, where Clem and Bethy welcome it with less than open arms. Clem is absorbed into the Blob and the muck turns its attention towards its former bride. Bethy is a little upset about her lover's demise but figures there are other fish in the ocean and sets to shoring up her sanctuary, surviving the night none the worse. Realizing now would be the time for a good bath (when is it not in the backwoods?), Bethy pumps the water from the well but, too late, discovers that Jake the Blob is two steps ahead of her. The best thing about this Heap variation (a plot already parodied in Mad!) is the title, "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes . . ." (the title of which belongs to a very old song covered by a multitude of artists including Johnny Cash) and that's about it. By now, Graham gets all the icky gooey stories so this one's a natural (could you imagine Kamen drawing a bubbly, pulsating mass with eyeballs?). Bethy is the typical backwoods she-demon, pushed a bit too far and the claws come out, and by the time Jake hits the vat you know just what's coming down the pike. And, hey, after a long night of fighting back a demonic glob by covering every single crack in the shed, one would naturally pump water from outside and take a bath, right? Otto Binder would go on to write much better horror stories in the next couple of decades.

"Only Sin Deep..."
If there's one thing Lorna Vanson loves, it's money. And Lorna knows how to get it, using every little bit of her beauty to take advantage of any poor sod who'll throw cash her way. But Lorna becomes tired of the low stakes and wants to strike it rich so she rolls a poor dope and steals his watch to pawn. When the girl gets to the pawn shop, the owner tells her the watch is worthless but he'll give Lorna a cool grand for her beauty. Thinking the old crow a fool, she quickly agrees and the man takes a life mask of her and sends her on her way with a pawn ticket good for one year. Laughing all the way to the beauty parlor, Lorna soon gets her make-over and lands the perfect(ly rich) chump of her dreams. Married and living in splendor, Lorna is happy beyond her dreams until, one day, she notices wrinkles appearing on her face. Terrified she's become an old woman at the ripe age of 22, Lorna sees a dermatologist who tells her that, sure enough, her facial skin is dying. Knowing that her hubby won't stand for being married to an old maid and putting two and two together, Lorna heads for the pawn shop, where the proprietor informs her that she can have her beauty back for a hundred grand. Lorna concocts a hare-brained scheme of selling off her own jewelry and valuables and claiming she was robbed, but is caught in the act by her husband who doesn't recognize the aged biddy. Putting her looks before love, she whacks her old man to death and escapes. Unfortunately, the servants see her exiting (under a veil) and positively identify her to police as the Mrs. If Lorna doesn't want to enter the gas chamber, she'll  be stuck with her decrepit looks for the rest of her life. Though it's a Kamen-illustrated story, I liked ". . . Only Sin Deep" for its supremely ironic climax. EC characters can certainly make life-changing decisions and turn on a dime on a whim. Lorna bashes hubby in the skull, all the while thinking she can get herself another roommate, but her looks are her bread winner. The HBO version of this was not too bad, as I recall, starring Lea Thompson as the icy princess (rebooted as a prostitute, of course) and aired in the first season.

"The Secret"
Poor little Theodore is trapped in the orphanage and treated quite badly by the orphanage matrons, who lock him in his room when he's hungry and talk behind his back about his secret. Theodore sometimes escapes his prison by climbing out the window and disappearing in the night but he always makes his way back to the orphanage by dawn. One day, Theodore is adopted by a nice couple, the Colberts, and taken with them to live his life like an ordinary boy. But his new life may be worse than the old; Theodore is locked in a room with bars on the window and stuffed full of food daily. To what end? A month passes and the Colberts finally decide to tell their new boy their secret: they're vampires and they adopted little Teddy to fatten him up for food! But, just in time, Theodore discovers his own secret: he's a werewolf! Groan. If you're a vampire, why would you go to the trouble of adopting a kid and leaving a paper trail? Silly question? Perhaps. Silly story. Indubitably. You can almost hear George Evans (who swings for the fences with his dark and stylish art) sigh as he reads each page of Carl Wessler's inane script for "The Secret" while he hunches over a drawing board at two in the morning, thinking that advertising has got to be a better way to make a living. If EC had lasted years longer, might we not be focusing on just how bad a lot of these stories were?

Lola rents out her extra room to the shy Otto and quickly falls for him, hinting at passionate trysts and even marriage, but Otto wants nothing of it, seemingly content to lug his sample cases up and down the stairs every day. Otto even suggests that Lola rent his room out during the day when he's not around to cut costs. One day, the frustrated old maid looks up from her register and sees a brutish, ugly man requesting a room to rent. Afraid to say no, she gives him the spare key to Otto's room and insists he must be out during the night. The brute agrees and, that night, just as promised, he exits the building. Coincidentally, a wave of brutal decapitations rocks the city and Lola puts two and two together and they equal  her new tenant. After the man leaves for the night, Lola enters the room and finds a plethora of heads hanging in the closet. She faints and comes to in the arms of Otto, who comforts her and tells her everything will be all right just before he morphs into the brute and severs Lola's head. Though "Head-Room!" is no classic (it's not even all that good), it's entertaining and humorous where it should be. Interesting that Wessler doesn't spend the time to explain how Otto becomes his monstrous alter ego a la Jekyll and Hyde but perhaps that's for the best. No other artist could have been assigned this one; it screams "Jack Davis!" --Peter

Jack: As we've read our way through the New Trend, issue by issue and month by month, I've been surprised to find that I enjoy the horror comics least of all the EC genres. Before we started this blog, I naturally associated EC with horror comics and assumed that they were the best of what the company had to offer. Yet I've discovered that I prefer the crime comics and think that the horror comics are, all things considered, probably the least impressive of the lot. Of course, reading an issue made up of two stories by Otto Binder and two by Carl Wessler makes me pine for the good old days of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein taking on the plotting and scripting chores. I thought the Ingels story was derivative, the Kamen story just plain bad, the Evans story boring and obvious, and the Davis story clunky with uninspired art. The worst issue of an EC comic we've read yet? It's certainly in the running for that dubious award.


Two-Fisted Tales #37

"Action!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Warrior!" ★★★
Story by Colin Dawkins and John Severin
Art by John Severin

"Homemade Blitz!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Showdown!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

As the most “dangerous man” in the world, Ruby Ed Coffey finds himself embroiled in another plot of intrigue set amidst the drama-filled era of Prohibition. This time out the salt-and-pepper heartthrob receives word that one of the Reds’ “top trouble shooters” Georgi Capek has smuggled his way into Canada with a mysterious female in tow. Coffey smells espionage and with his band of merry men seek to intercept Capek at the docks, but the refugee’s brawny, shifty-eyed escorts make them reconsider an open attack. Turns out the two “apes” aren’t Mounties as previously suspected but a pair of “Red torpedoes,” and Coffey’s gang find them with broken necks back at Capek’s place after their target flees the scene. Capek shows just as much determination to remain left alone when he Tommy-guns a car pursuing his own later on the road. Finally cornering Capek in a boarding room, Coffey discovers the affair: the Russians want Capek dead for his knowledge of their activities, and the mysterious woman is Capek’s pregnant wife. Intervention from Coffey’s gang brings everything to a head of gunfire as the Americans provide the Russian cover and transport to a hospital across the border in New York. Capek is happy to pay for his crimes against the country now that his son has been born an official citizen of the United States.

The guys at bare*bones e-zine are not
in the mood for your crap today.
Just like “Dangerous Man” before it, “Action!” continues the saga of meat-and-potatoes hero Ruby Ed Coffey. Like my own comrades allude to below, the Coffey stories—and much of the output from new EC staff writer Colin Dawkins in general—smack of older, time-honored (and some might say timeworn) narratives, the stuff of pulp magazines, radio serials, and even the seemingly immortal plainclothes heroes that frequented the pages of comic books during the Golden Age. So depending on the cut of your jib you’re likely to dig the mothball-scented adventurism of these stories or find them hopelessly boring. Taken on its own terms, I find Dawkins’s work to be quite a bit of fun, even for all the over-familiarity. “Action!” has a drawn-out gunfight to boast as its climax, but it’s nowhere near the camp thrills of the gentleman’s sword fight that caps “Dangerous Man.”

As the white man ceaselessly robs more land and resources from the Native Americans, the Shoshoni tribe grows restless with mutterings of war and retaliation. But the wise and aged warrior Washakie warns his fellows that “never again does red man beat white man!” Regardless of this sage advice, hot-heads in the group, led by the blustery White Horse, challenge Washakie’s authority and claim that battle is the only way to go, not retreating to a new reservation across the river. The angered natives take to riding into settlements and slaughtering every pale face they see, but their victory is short-lived when the white man retaliates with intervention from the Longknives. Still Washakie’s bravery and nerve are challenged, so just to shut everyone the hell up Washakie dons his war paint and feathered headdress and goes into the woods to scare up some scalps from one of the Shoshoni’s dread enemies, the Sioux. Returning to the tribe with his staff of bloody prizes, Washakie earns the respect of White Horse and then leads his people to the new reservation.

Great splash courtesy of J. Severin.

“Warrior” appears at first to be a simple story well-told, but there are currents of complexity running under its surface, most prominently the divisive nature of the Shoshoni’s methods of dealing with the invasive white settlers. On the one hand, repaying their oppressors with the wanton slaughter of people who may very well have never had a direct hand in their extermination seems a bit misdirected, to put it lightly, but then Washakie’s comments about how well they’ve been treated by the white man and what a nice reservation they’ve had set up for them can’t help but ring as grimly ironic to contemporary ears. John Severin gets to show off his skills more here than perhaps anywhere in the issue, particularly in the tense scenes of hand-to-hand combat.

Terrorize this!
("Homemade Blitz!")
Detective-Inspector Noel Bews, like everyone else in 1939 London, has just about had it up to here with all the rampant bombings engineered by the Irish that have been occurring throughout the metropolis. What with the threat of a second world war on the horizon, the last thing anyone needs is another case of domestic terrorism blowing up in their face. After catching sight of a conspicuous-looking package at the site of an earlier explosion and expertly defusing the sticks of gelignite within, Bews takes the fight to the Irish’s doorstep when he infiltrates the boarding room of a ring of conspirators and engages them in a constructive, rehabilitative dialogue using his fists. King George VI himself gives the detective-inspector a lovely new brooch for his efforts, and even the criminals of the British underworld are so relieved by the cutback in the blitz that they throw Bews a surprise party in a pub and award him with their own medal.

Believe it or not, it’s true! (Apparently.) “Homemade Blitz,” as the brief endnote informs us, is in fact taken from historical record and only changed the names of the parties involved in its adaptation to graphic form. Say what you will about how generally ho-hum the story might be, but Dawkins definitely employs a lighter touch in the Fact Dumping Dept. than Kurtzman did 90% of the time and actually makes a genuine (and most appreciated) effort to build this chronicle of a hero’s exploits into a worthy and organic drama. After suffering reading through the last batch of 8th grade history essays that Kurtzman was passing off as stories of ace fighter pilots, “Homemade Blitz” feels positively like a breath of fresh air.

In Smoky Ford, Texas, young “tinhorn” Webb Young knocks noted gunslinger Whip Creed into the dust after Creed makes a few impolite remarks towards a young woman.  Creed tells Webb to get himself a six-shooter because he’ll be gunning for him soon. The young woman, a Miss Terrell, is not exactly flattered by Webb’s display of chivalry, and when Webb refuses to take her advice to leave town she has a pair of goons wrestle the whippersnapper to her place so that the young buck may learn to properly fend for his life. Webb falls under the tutelage of Jingle Bob, an old-timer who teaches the boy everything there is to know about a gun. While out herding cattle one day, a band of rustlers breaks into camp under cover of nightfall. Webb is able to gun one of the owlhoots down, but Jingle Bob loses his life in the crossfire, a rowel in his clenched fist the only clue as to who pulled the trigger. When Webb returns to Smoky Ford, Whip Creed is there to call him out, and when Webb notes the missing rowel on one of Creed’s boots the young man ably applies the lessons of his teacher and shoots the bad hombre down.

Johnny Severin, who knew you had it in you?
Yeah, “Showdown” is just about as old hat as you can possibly get, but it must be the youthful exuberance that Dawkins brings to the material that must make it feel so pure-hearted to me. This feels more like the eagerness of a young writer trying to form his own voice while honoring all the stories he grew up on rather than the tired, cynical, and lazy retreads of a seasoned veteran just grasping at anything that comes his way to fill the issue. That doesn’t make “Showdown” great, mind you, but nevertheless it’s a solid and endearing seven pages of entertainment. --Jose

Peter: I am just not warming up to the New Two-Fisted Tales as the stories found within are nothing but the same old thing. Ruby Ed Coffey (of "Action!") and DI Bews are one-dimensional he-men who eat lightning and crap thunder and have all the answers in the palm of their hands. Colin Dawkins's wild, wild west of "Showdown!" resembles nothing more than a Grade-B Universal-International pic with its strong but supple female co-lead, its stampedes and, most glaring of all, the innocent who masters the firearm and out shoots his opponents by the seventh page (or the final reel). Though EC seldom bowed to its competitors in terms of quality, I'd argue that the Atlas westerns were loads more exciting and interesting than the scant number of EC oaters we've been subjected to. "Warrior!" is the closest in spirit to what Harvey used to accomplish with his little history lessons, save the tacked-on "foot note" (sic) from Dawkins claiming that the Native-Americans led by Washakie got a pretty good deal from the American government. Tell that to them. A whole issue of Severin is way too much and bits here and there (especially in "Showdown!") look rushed and incomplete, lacking the fine detail usually found in a Severin job.

Jack: I was thinking the same thing. John Severin is not among my favorite EC artists and a whole issue of his art is way too much. The cover is sharp and I think the last two stories are better than the first two, but overall it's mundane. "Action!" reminds me of a run-of-the-mill pulp adventure yarn, while "Warrior!" has some nice hand to hand combat but not much else. "Homemade Blitz!" is a somewhat entertaining look at the Irish problem during the Blitz and "Showdown!" has a nice, wordless sequence where the hero learns how to draw and shoot. I thought it was unusual to see the captions below the panels in this story rather than in their usual spot above them.

Well, what are you waiting for?
Oh . . . um . . . next week, of course!


Anonymous said...

After its promising start in TFT #36, the New Two-Fisted Tales experiment crashed when it converted from a multi-artist title to John Severin comic book. Severin did an excellent job with 20th century war stories and Kipling-inspired stories of Soldiers of the Queen. But he doesn't do particularly well with westerns, and the lack of variation in style damages the product. TFT #37 also suffers from having the only Ruby Ed story I don't think is any good; Ruby Ed and his crew don't hit their stride till the next issue, when Dawkins changes it from a spy series to a pure adventure series and starts fleshing out Ed's henchmen. But this iissue, with two westerns and two pretty pedestrian espionage stories, doesn't show off Severin's talents to best advantage.

I don't think Kurtzman's Mad is for everybody, and it seems that a couple of you aren't huge fans of it. I'm a fan, though, and I feel that there are almost always two or three very good pieces in every issue from #8 through #21 (after which II think it runs out of steam). Woman Wonder is terrific, and while the dialogue in G.I. Schmo isn't great, Wood's art is. So for me, Mad #10 is another winner, even though the the choice of Face upon the Floor is inexplicable.

-- Jim

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jim. I think we're pretty much in sync at this point.

Quiddity99 said...

Very little this month! I kinda feel the opposite of you guys on this month's Haunt of Fear issue, I enjoyed all four stories quite a lot. Some great art by Ingels and Evans in particular here, with the blob-like monster (something EC wouldn't do that often) and a scary our protagonist's reveal in the final panel of The Secret. Only Skin Deep kinda eschews the typical twist ending but does end on a rather dour note for our protagonist. The TV adaption added one final bit where she steals the mold of her face but drops and destroys it, losing her chance to ever get her beauty back. Kinda reminds me of an excellent story from Weird Fantasy #13 (can't recall the name at the moment) when a guy freezes his lover then drops her, causing her to smash into a million pieces. The Secret also got a TV adaption but unfortunately wasn't as good.

I got very little to say about his month's Two-Fisted Tales, which is now in my least favorite part of the title's life. I think they adapted "Showdown" for Tales from the Crypt as well, or at least had an episode with that title that didn't have much to do with the actual story if I'm remembering correctly. Actually one of a few episodes they filmed when they intended to do a Two-Fisted Tales TV adaption that got dropped.

I've never read this month's issue of Mad but Wolverton is a welcome addition; one of the strangest artists out there and I know he appears several more times in Mad and Panic.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Q! Of course, I thought Haunt of Fear was awful and Two-Fisted Tales just kind of blah. I'd like to see more of Wolverton than a single panel, though.