Monday, November 20, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 45

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  45: May 1954

Crime SuspenStories #22

"In Each and Every Package" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Monotony" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

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

"Sight Unseen" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Joe Orlando

Norman has hatched the perfect murder plot. It’s so damned good that he can’t help but regale his fat wife Bertha, his intended victim, with every minuscule detail as he carves her into cutlets with his hatchet. Wrapping up the beef in brown packing paper and burying it in the backyard, Norman hightails it to New York City where friends and family have been told the couple will be vacationing. There he meets up with Sally, his girl on the side who, after some quick plastic surgery, has been made to look just like a slinkier version of Bertha. Now able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, the scheming couple takes in a new quiz show being filmed at Radio City Music Hall. The program, called “Treasure Hunt,” selects random members of the studio audience and teases their brain with some trivia. You guessed it: Norman and Sally are chosen to compete, and they end up winning. Their prize? Three thousand dollars in cash, the sum total of which is now being buried in Norman’s backyard for his happy return home.

He's waited this long, right?
("In Each and Every Package") 
One can’t help but wonder if Norman simply missed the fine print asking for his permission to excavate his private property or if TV producers in the 1950s couldn’t be bothered with such trifles. Either way, “In Each and Every Package” is fair enough, and even if the plausibility of the climax is questionable Feldstein still does a good job of building up the suspense in the closing panels, drawing the story to a close with a line that probably would have made Ray Bradbury proud: “Then, somewhere backstage, a telephone began to ring…” The art seems to be indicative of a creative slump on the part of Reed Crandall, his previous effort “Upon Reflection” being similarly uneven. Here’s hoping the master gets his groove back soon!

The life of a bank clerk is far from an exciting one, and Milton Gans has just about had his fill of it. Wearied by the unending sameness of his days, Milton gets the opportunity for a break from routine when his manager Mr. Thrumble tasks him with carrying out one of his own unfavorable chores. Mrs. Courtright, the bank’s oldest and largest depositor, has a routine of withdrawing $50 on a semi-regular basis, a withdrawal that she requests be hand-delivered to her old brownstone house. A crabby old biddy, Mrs. Courtright nevertheless warms to Milton’s good manners and requests that Milton act as her personal delivery boy from here on out. Milton does so grudgingly, but one day after he accidentally requests a withdrawal from the lady’s account for $500 rather than $50, the seed of avarice is planted in the banker’s brain. Knowing that Mrs. Courtright never bothers to check the withdrawal slip before signing it during his house calls, Milton proceeds to draw more and more funds from the biddy to fuel his new journeys into the extravagant nightlife. But, finally, the other shoe drops: Thrumble gives Milton the news that Mrs. Courtright has kicked the bucket. Fearing the inevitable findings of an investigation, Milton takes a nosedive from his apartment window nine stories up, just a moment before receiving a second piece of news: Mrs. Courtright has willed her entire estate to her dear young friend Mr. Gans.


Perspective is everything, it would appear. “Monotony” might come across as a brief flash in the pan in the story department, but Bernie Krigstein manages to keep the flame going strong for all seven pages through the benefit of his art. The phrase “mannered surrealism” comes to mind when studying his characters and backgrounds; there’s a European sense of civility and class to his illustrations that the brawny stylings of his other American colleagues didn't have, but it’s a civility that seems to be on the brink of descending into total bohemian madness at any point in time. Suffice to say, I dig it.

Oh, OK, thanks!
("Cinder Block")
Conrad and Pat, yet another pair of scheming lovers, have cooked up a plot between them that would make anti-nicotine activists proud: they plan on pitting her husband’s nasty habit of smoking in bed against him by knocking the sod out with some heavy medication and then setting the mattress aflame. Pat, for her part, will be locked in her bedroom the whole time, just as her possessive husband would have normally ensured. Conrad will call the fire department, Pat will be saved, the lovers will bask in their inherited riches, and the whole affair will just look like one happy accident. What could possibly go wrong? A couple of things, as it turns out. While Pat’s snoozing hubby is consumed by the ensuing inferno in no time at all, the fire trucks remain nowhere in sight. With the fire getting more out of control by the minute, the frenzied Pat is left with no alternative but to dive out her penthouse window. Conrad, in a last ditch display of chivalry, tries to catch his missile mistress from the street below. It ends as ideally as you guessed. The firemen, when they do finally arrive, place the blame on a cream-colored Cadillac that had ignorantly been parked and locked tight right in front of the station: Conrad’s car.

Jack Kamen’s assignments have gradually become the Fruit Loops of EC’s balanced breakfast. “Cinder Block” may not be healthy for you, and the artificial coloring may be a little dull, but man oh man can you depend on them for some sugary frills and spills. Conrad’s plot is so nutty and short-sighted as to be almost commendable. Relatively speaking, it might not be such a long throw from all those conniving lovers who staged car accidents only to barrel-roll out of the moving vehicle at the last second that appeared in a whole batch of other EC stories, but Conrad kicks up the probability of fatal backfire to Evel Knievel levels with his hare-brained scheme. At least he’s enough of a gentleman to break his lady’s fall.

Our kind of newsstand!
("Sight Unseen")
Bert Stanton, private eye, is called upon by Mrs. Morgan to help her blind husband Philip, who has recently been receiving typewritten threats against his life. The Morgans’ marriage seems to have been rocky from the start, with financially unsteady Philip lashing out against his independently wealthy wife and demanding a divorce. One morning, Philip awoke from sleep completely blind, but his wife promised to remain with him always. Things have escalated so much recently with the threats that Philip has invested in a shotgun, so Stanton agrees to take Mrs. Morgan’s case and act as Philip’s bodyguard under the disguise of Mrs. Morgan’s visiting cousin. But the dick doesn’t even get the chance to write up his first expense report when news of Mrs. Morgan’s accidental killing greets him upon arrival. The panicked Philip, thinking his wife an intruder when she didn’t respond to his calls, shot her dead. While the police captain berates Philip for a proud fool, Stanton thinks there’s something fishier at work here. Following up on a hunch, Stanton slips a message beneath Philip’s door later that night and sees a light turn on inside. He crashes in, calling Philip out for the fraud he is. The private eye is quicker on the draw than the murderer, who is laid low by Stanton’s .45. Picking up the newspaper in Philip’s apartment that he had been reading earlier, the dick spots the detail that made him question the whole set-up: the evening edition, which only Mrs. Morgan could have gotten immediately before her murder, shows a crossword puzzle completed by the late Philip Morgan.

“Sight Unseen” reads a lot like a second-fiddle yarn from a pulpy men’s magazine, but even that comes across as a lot of fun thanks to its gritty narrative voice. Bert Stanton won’t be erasing the memory of Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer from anyone’s mind anytime soon, but he’s a good no-nonsense noir boilerplate character whose constipated tough-guy squints are leavened with the intellectual smoking of a pipe. Like Peter says below, that anyone would swallow the story of a man who was pretending to be blind seems more than a touch far-fetched, but we’ve seen far crazier things here in the merry old land of EC. So there’s that, I guess. --Jose

Peter: The obvious pillar of quality here (aside from the iconic cover) is Bernie Krigstein's "Monotony" (well, technically it's Al's story but the art is what carries it over the three-star mark), which could very well have been adapted faithfully for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show a few years later. It's that good. Krigstein's work is so startling compared to the work of the other bullpen artists (the closest comparison, to me, is Harvey Kurtzman's stuff, but you can call me crazy if you like) that it almost begs to be taken "seriously." On the other end of the spectrum we find the other three tales of tedium. Perhaps the most horrifying thing about "In Each and Every Package" (and similar stories featuring cold-as-ice killers) is how methodical the murderer can be while chopping up his victim. Odd that Bertha (why are heavy women always named Bertha?) changes shape and size from panel one through eight. She's positively svelte on the splash and a bit porky in the third. We find out another charming thing about the 1950s in "Cinder Block" and that's that insurance companies would pay out for sheets and pillows burnt by cigarette fire. The art is bad even by Kamen standards. But, by far, the worst story this issue is "Sight Unseen," with uncharacteristically poor Orlando art and a dopey, pseudo-Spillane script. Only in the 1950s could a guy dupe the entire world around him into thinking he's blind. Where the hell were the doctors sixty years ago?

Peter, Jack, and Jose seen after being told there are
more Jack Kamen stories on the way.
("Cinder Block")

Jack: Funny that you should mention Alfred Hitchcock Presents, since "In Each and Every Package" is an uncredited adaptation of John Collier's "Back for Christmas," which was filmed for the TV show and broadcast in early 1956 starring the great John Williams. The EC version amps up the gore and adds a bizarre plastic surgery angle, which begs the question: why would you have your hot, young girlfriend get plastic surgery to look exactly like the wife you hate enough to kill? There has to be a better way. I agree that "Monotony" is a beautifully illustrated story, though Krigstein's breaking of the 180 degree rule from panel to panel for no apparent reason is a little jarring. When was the last time Jack Kamen drew a decent story? It's been quite a while, and "Cinder Block" ends with a panel showing two dead bodies that look like department store mannequins. As for "Sight Unseen," it reinforces my feeling that there is something  little bit strange about Joe Orlando's art that I can't put my finger on. The story is not a good one, but I have to like the following, from a caption near the end: "My .45 came out of my shoulder holster, barking flaming death." Now that's prose!

Panic #2

"African Scream!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Lady or the Tiger?" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder and Basil Wolverton

"Breakfast with the Fershlugginers" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Come Back, Little Street Car!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"African Screech"
First up is "African Scream!," a parody of the now-classic The African Queen (a film that had just won Humphrey Bogart a well-deserved Oscar a couple years before), the story of Humphrey Yogert and Katharine Heartburn, two disparate characters who find adventure and love when thrown together during World War I. Al's script follows the film fairly faithfully but, unfortunately, there aren't very many laughs. Wally does his best Elder imitation by jamming panels with sight gags but, like the script, there's not much in the way of guffaws. There's a running gag about the production crew of Mogambo (released in 1953 and starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner) being somewhere in the vicinity. and Humphrey commenting that, if not for his willingness to ignore danger, "there ain't no pitcher, so . . ." Those are good for a couple of smiles but, otherwise, this is pretty slim in the humor department.

Rome, 2000 B.M. (Before Melvin). The King has found an interesting way of dealing with felons: the guilty is plopped in an arena and must choose between two doors. Behind one is a beautiful lady and behind the other is (you guessed it!) a tiger! Melvin is having an affair with the King's daughter and all is going well until His Majesty finds out and sentences Melvin to the arena. While waiting in his cell, Mel is visited by his lover, who promises all will be right; come game time, she'll indicate to Mel which door to open. When the princess tells Mel to pick the right door, his mind suddenly goes into overdrive; would the princess really want Mel to open a door to a gorgeous dame . . . or . . . is she setting him up for a quick death? After much deliberation, Mel decides to go with the girl's choice and opens door #2. A look of terror envelops Mel's face and he slams the door quickly and pleads with the King to release the tiger instead. When Door #1 opens, a slew of tigers race out: Detroit Tigers! Door #2 opens again and out pops a Basil Wolverton girl. Mel once again pleads with the King for a merciful death and it's granted. A tiger emerges and licks Mel's face. It then disrobes and we discover the tiger is actually a disguised Clark Gable, searching for the Mogambo set! Now this is more like it, thanks to a peppier script and the usual Elder antics (with a brilliant Wolverton cameo). The original story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" was written by Frank R. Stockton (who doesn't even receive a credit here!) and left it up to readers to decide whether the guilty man had picked the right door but Al nicely obliterates the mystery.

"The Lady or Rhett?"

Breakfast at the Fershlugginer residence is a bit more interesting than your average American morning meal; Nick and Penelope broadcast their mornings over the radio to their millions of fans. Penelope hawks any item that strikes her fancy (such as the latest sports car, the Phnult, which you "can order at 400 Motors, 1259 Broadway") and poor Nick is left to eat all sorts of horrid breakfast concoctions ("Mother Murphey's quick-frozen hominy grits and corn pone"). The duo manage to pull down a sizable sum of dough for their infomercial rantings and ravings, never suspecting their producer is at wit's end and ready to explode. I'm torn by "Breakfast with the Fershlugginers," a lampoon of the then-burgeoning industry of morning radio shows. It's got some great one-liners and send-ups of the industry but it's a one-note joke stretched to six pages. Penelope's signature phrase, "Isn't that gauche?" is hilarious the first couple times but by the hundredth (on page two), it's become gauche. Joe Orlando is handed the easiest assignment of his EC career as most panels feature nothing more than the faces of Nick and Penelope.

Peter puts up with Jose and Jack but sometimes
they can really get on his nerves.

"A Desirable Streetcar Named Death"
Lola Kowalski stands in front of her dilapidated flat every day, screaming out for the streetcar that halted service years ago. Her alcoholic husband, Doc, berates her for her tenacity while her sister, Blanche, and brother-in-law, Willie, live a pauper's existence upstairs. When Doc beats Lola and threatens her with a switchblade, the streetcar comes and hauls him off to the nuthouse. All the while, an audience watches in rapt (and drunken) attention. The third story this issue to break the fourth wall, "Come Back, Little Street Car!" combines elements from Come Back, Little Sheba, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Death of a Salesman to so-so effect. Feldstein's acidic commentary on the absurd seriousness of then-modern theater is pretty bold considering all three plays were critical favorites (the intro identifies the playwright as "Tennessyringe Miller"). And there's that Mogambo reference (odd that Fershlugginer offered no such cross-over) to remind us all we're in on the joke. Despite Al's best efforts though this one, like most of the issue, just isn't very funny. Panic is still coming off as the little brother wanting to follow in his football-star brother's footsteps but not even getting to try-outs yet. --Peter

Jack: Peter, you're being kind to what has to be one of the most tedious humor comics I've ever had to slog through. "African Scream!" is a completely unfunny takeoff on a great movie and, while I love Wally Wood, I did not get a single smile out of this story, even though it points the way to the direction that Mad magazine would take in the future. "The Lady or the Tiger?" has some great gonzo art and I admit I chuckled at the Detroit Tigers. "Breakfast With the Fershlugginers" will be hard to top as worst story of the month and features more of that strange Orlando art, while "Come Back, Little Street Car!" demonstrates that sometimes Jack Davis's drawings are just plain ugly. The last two stories in this issue were read purely out of duty and were no fun at all.

Shock SuspenStories #14

"The Orphan" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Whipping" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein & Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Wally Wood

"You, Murderer" ★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"As Ye Sow . . ." ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

She may look like a little blond angel, but ten year old Lucy Johnson has it rough: Dad is an abusive drunk and Mom wishes her child were never born. One day, things start to look up when Lucy catches Mom with her new boyfriend Steve, who treats Lucy with kindness, but when Lucy overhears Mom and Steve planning to run off without her things turn nasty. Dad comes home and catches Mom and Steve in the act of leaving. Dad is shot to death and the cops arrest Mom, who has the gun in her hand. Steve is caught and he and Mom are tried, found guilty, and executed in the electric chair. And what of "The Orphan," little Lucy? She lives happily ever after with her spinster aunt and confides in the reader that she shot Dad from an upstairs window and then planted the gun in Mom's hand before the cops arrived.

I'm apprehensive about any EC comic from 1954 that opens with an eight-page story drawn by Jack Kamen. This one is at least better than the Grim Fairy Tales we've had to put up with, but Johnny Craig could have told it so much more effectively.

When Peter met his first girlfriend . . .
("The Whipping")
When a Hispanic family moves into Ed's neighborhood, the bigoted Ed tries to rally his friends to drive them out before more deplorables follow. Things go from bad to worse when Ed's daughter Juliet Amy announces that she's in love with Romeo Louis Martinez, a young man from the new family on the block. Ed finally convinces a group of men to join him by claiming that Louis assaulted Amy. Next thing you know, the men have donned white sheets and white hoods and are heading for the Martinez house to dole out "The Whipping." Under cover of darkness, they enter the house and drag out the inhabitant, putting a gag in the unfortunate person's mouth. Ed whips the person to death and Louis comes running; only then does Ed realize that the person he was whipping was Amy, his own daughter, who had secretly married Louis.

I'll admit that I guessed the ending a page early, but this is still a powerful story, one in a series of social commentary tales that stand as some of EC's most sober, adult fare. Wood's art is, as usual, fabulous, and he can't stop himself from making Amy a pinup gal. The title has a double meaning: the whipping is not only the physical attack on the girl but also the whipping up of the neighbors into a frenzy.

Where do you find a coat when your arm is too long?
("You, Murderer")
A man walks alone through the city on a dismal, foggy night. He is accosted by another man, who hypnotizes him and tells him to commit murder. The man carries out his orders, killing the hypnotist's wife's lover with a length of chain. The next morning, the story of the murder hits the papers, and the hypnotist addresses the reader, reminding him that he is the murderer.

"You, Murderer" shows me that Bernie Krigstein was not infallible. In fact, the art is pretty bad for the most part. Otto Binder's story is a run of the mill second-person approach, something Cornell Woolrich did years before and Al Feldstein already wore out at EC. The story ends on a flat note as well.

"As Ye Sow . . ."
When Laird Kimball married Nora, he was a happy man, but when she started to get bored with married life and spent her evenings visiting friends, he became depressed. Once he discovered that she was cheating on him, things only got worse until he confronted her and she admitted it. Laird hires a mob hit man to follow Nora and rub out her lover, but when Nora changes her mind about leaving and runs home to Laird, the hit man thinks the husband is the lover and puts a bullet in his chest.

"As Ye Sow . . ." features a fairly good script by Carl Wessler and some nice, noirish art by George Evans; in the quickly deteriorating world of EC comics circa May 1954 this is an above-average story, but a year or two before it would have been below average. I find it somewhat frustrating that this is the second story in a row in this issue with second person narration, an affectation that wears thin quickly.--Jack

"The Orphan"
Peter: I continue to admire George Evans's moody artwork but "As Ye Sow . . ." has a few convolutions heaped upon convolutions, don't you think? The very nicely-drawn Nora can't stand to be in the same room as her husband, but a dozen panels later can't live without him. The final twist has been done a few times too many. "The Orphan" is dreadful schlock with interchangeable Kamen faces. How about those pre-CSI days when the Keystone Kops couldn't tell if a bullet was fired from an angle? As Bill and Al work their way through their Spin-the-Discrimination-Wheel, we land on "The Whipping," a sloppy Shock that reboots several of the "grabs" that highlighted more powerful Shocks in previous issues. The question is, do these lesser Shocks diminish the power of the classics? Dr. Caligari Krigstein contributes some interesting art to the best script this issue, that being "You, Murderer," of course. Why I find Krigstein's doodles more rewarding than the comparable chicken scratch that made Jerry Grandenetti's stuff (a decade or so later in the DC mystery titles) so irritating is anyone's guess. I'm nothing if not consistent. My favorite story this issue would have to be the one-page prose piece, "Slaughter!" I've never commented on these things other than in an "EC was forced to publish one page of prose . . ." historical blahblahblah, but "Slaughter" made me stand up and take notice. The story of "little Petie Dildo," who witnesses something awful, runs home to the "Dildo barn" and notifies papa Dildo that something bad is going on at the Winsted place is highlighted by such elbow-and-a-wink sentences such as "At last, with a gasp and a stagger, the two Dildo's [sic] sprinted toward the open Winsted barn" and "Dildo felt his flesh crawling with horror," I felt just like a pre-teen again.

Tales from the Crypt #41

"Operation Friendship" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Davis

"Come Back, Little Linda!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

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

"Mess Call" ★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Graham Ingels

"Operation Friendship"
Philip and Andrew have been having a nice, friendly chess game every night for decades. They've been friends since childhood, formed an unbreakable bond, and worked their way to college degrees and successful practices, Philip in electrical engineering and Andrew in medicine. The years roll by and their friendship remains strong until one night when Philip tells Andrew he'll be marrying. The news shocks Andrew to the core; he can't accept that a dumb blonde like Philip's belle, Jondra, could split up a friendship bordering on . . . well, something else. When Jondra goes away for a spell to visit relatives, Andrew invites his friend to come stay with him. Twenty years later, Andrew answers a knock on the door and invites Philip and Jondra in for a visit. When the couple leave, Andrew remarks to himself how astonishing it is that Jondra never noticed a change in her husband all those years ago. The doctor then goes down into his lab and starts another game of chess with "the important part" of Philip's brain, the "creative artistic part." Though we're pretty sure where this is going to land from the get-go, Otto Binder still manages a couple of interesting and humorous twists. There's no denying a not-so-subtle gay vibe throughout "Operation Friendship," one I'm sure didn't escape Witchfinder Wertham. Just before Phil breaks the news of his impending nuptials to his old friend, Andrew exclaims, "I can feel something standing between us!" That final panel, with Phil's 25% brain (though it sure looks like a really big 25% floating in that tank) arguing that it's his move, is priceless.

"Operation Friendship"

"Come Back . . ."
Asylum director Dr. Ullman has been making a killing at the County Nuthouse, saving a bundle of cash by storing inmates in the dungeon cells instead of in their nice, clean rooms. He and his assistant, Eric Hagen, scrimp on non-essentials such as food, medicine, sheets, and beds, and pocket the extra dough every month. When Ullman gets a telegram from the state inspectors, informing him there will be an inspection the following day, the penny-pincher gets nervous and moves the loonies back up into their regular rooms. Only one inmate wants to stay, an old man who keeps calling for his "Linda." Ignoring the patient's exclamations, Ullman and Hagen manage to clean the upstairs as best they can, giving the illusion that everything is above board, and the inspectors are delighted to find the place relatively spotless. Everything's going peachy until the old timer starts screaming for "Linda" and hoofs it downstairs to the dungeons. The inspectors, smelling something fishy (and, in a moment, something worse), follow the bellowing man downstairs where he heads right to his cell. Once in there, he finds his "Linda," a really "big fat ugly foul-smelling rat . . .!" and Ullman's beans are spilled.

". . . Big, Fat, Ugly, Smelly Linda!"
Bill and Al are obviously digging on Come Back, Little Sheba (which had hit movie theaters the year before), since "Come Back, Little Linda!" is the second variation on the title this month. "Linda" is one of those rare stories where the cliches are thrown about (the asylum director who treats his inmates like crap to save a buck) but the outcome is far from obvious. Since this is Tales from the Crypt, we're assuming "Linda" is a witch/vampire/ghost/whatever, not your average "big fat ugly foul-smelling rat." Evans's noir-ish art is perfect for the subject matter (although the panel where Ullman and Hagen skedaddle to put mop to floor is a hoot, with Hagen's left leg breaking the panel, attempting something akin to a Michael Jackson dance move), with the splash of the old man in his cell, sitting "amid the foul odor of decay and rot and unremoved human excrements . . .," a chiller. Al's prose here is very strong as well: Far below the bleak grey insane asylum, down in the valley, lights blinked on as twilight turned to night. The people in their clean white houses sat at clean white tables and ate from clean white dishes and never dreamed of the horrors going on above them . . . Particularly bleak and grim, which spells success.

Kamen's fans clamor for more!
("Current Attraction")
Trapeze veteran Rufus is teaching his daughter the ropes (hee-hee), hoping young Jean will become the circus sensation her late mother (taken entirely too young after a "mistimed double forward summersault") was years before. But Jean drops a bombshell on her old man: she's in love with ace knife-thrower Enrico, a slimy Lothario who's gotten tired of his drunken wife (who's the "straight man" in his act) and is set to run his fingers all over the virginal Jean. Rufus will have none of it, but a talk with his daughter about morals goes nowhere so he confronts Enrico, who tells the old man to go fly a kite. Enraged, Rufus decides to get rid of the predator in his own way; the old man rigs a powerful magnet behind Enrico's knife board, hoping the magnet will attract one of the thrower's weapons and cleave the drunken wife's head in half. Enrico, who has made no bones about wanting a divorce, will be arrested and problem solved. That night, Rufus heads for the big top to watch what should be an interesting show but is headed off at the pass by his boss, who wants him to do a favor for him. The favor is to take Enrico's wife to the train station. Rufus blurts out a question to the sloppy drunk about the act tonight and the woman replies that Enrico replaced her with Rufus's daughter! Just then, behind him under the big top tent, the crowd groans. The big top story has been done to death and, usually, that foundation has the sleazy love triangle. What's different here is that the "good guy" is the perpetrator; Rufus only wants to get his daughter away from Enrico's tentacles and will use any methods available to him. The twist in "Current Attraction" is almost a mirror image of "The Whipping" in this month's Shock. Kamen's art is . . . oh, never mind.

"Just a Mess"
Hans was a good soldier until the night he had to kill an enemy soldier who had stumbled into his trench. Now, he is plagued by a nightmare of that incident every night. He spends time in a hospital before kindly butcher Herr Heinrich "adopts" him and takes him back to his home, where he gives Hans a cleaver and a job. Every night, Hans has the same horrible dream but Herr Heinrich patiently calms him back down and points him into the butcher shop, where the shelves are full of delicious, red meat. In fact, Herr Heinrich's shelves are oddly overflowing with meats since there is a shortage throughout Germany. Hans's bad nights continue until he awakens during a particularly vivid dream to discover a cleaver in his hand, a body in front of him, and Herr Heinrich ordering him to continue carving. It's at that point that Hans discovers why Herr Heinrich's shelves are so full. Hans adds a little more when he slices and dices his boss. Perfectly predictable fluff, "Mess Hall" is not very memorable in either script or art department. Writer Oleck doesn't bother explaining why Hans suddenly awakens during one of his nasty dreams; he just does. Ghastly's reduced to mostly head shots (and those are weirdly angular) and not much else. --Peter

Jack: I am a sucker for a story involving an insane asylum, so "Come Back, Little Linda!" works for me, especially with the delicious ending involving a rat. Next up in my list of favorites after asylum stories are circus stories, so I also enjoyed "Current Attraction." where Kamen's cheesecake skills are on display. "Operation Friendship" seems a little weird to me, even for the '50s, as if Otto Binder is trying to imitate the EC style and not being too successful. If you're trying to inject new blood into your comics, is Otto Binder really the best choice? I think he was writing comics when Bill Gaines was still buying penny candy at the corner store. As for "Mess Call," the less said the better. Ingels is not someone who should be drawing a war story and the writing is terrible.

Mad #11

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

"Mad Reader!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Basil Wolverton

"Murder the Husband!"/
"Murder the Story!" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Jack Davis
("Murder the Husband!" is reprinted from Crime SuspenStories 12, September 1952)

"Dragged Net!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Flesh Garden!"
Mega-hunk "Flesh Garden!" fights evil in space alongside his companions Dale Light and Dr. Zark and there's no shortage of bad guys on the planet Ming. Flesh must stand up (and run away) before the likes of the rockmen, owlmen, airmen, grassmen, treemen and, worse of all, the dreaded menmen. The trio are finally brought before Ming's emperor, Mong, where Flesh is sentenced to die in the arena. Only quick thinking (and a bit of foul play) save Flesh from certain death. After a long flight, the Duck Dodgers spaceship arrives back on Earth but when the craft is opened, only Dale emerges, explaining to the waiting crowd that her two partners remained back on Ming. Meanwhile, back on that far-away planet, Zark and Flesh recline in a room full of beautiful Ming-girls. Another of those unfortunate Kurtzman/Wood comic parodies that sound better on paper than they read. Wally's SF chops come in handy here; the monsters, space costumes, and rocket ships all have that Wood pizazz, but Harvey's script is a bundle of unfunny one-liners and strained events. As with all of the Mad parodies, there are a few hilarious bits such as Flesh, waiting for his opponent in the arena, checklisting his available weapons and including the thought balloon over his head or the seemingly endless array of "-men" villains. Let's have a moratorium on the hero who flaunts his machismo, heads to danger and then, once the threat presents itself, runs the other way. It's getting old.

"Flesh Garden!"

Yep, you guessed it.
Seabrook at the EC Convention.
("Mad Reader")
Building from the foundation of the ground-breaking cover (the first not featuring the standard "Mad" title and obviously based on the then-popular Life magazine), "Mad Reader" is a series of full-page portraits of the typical humor magazine peruser, all intricately detailed by the warped pencil of Basil Wolverton. Exaggerated foreheads, bulging eyeballs, and grotesquely large teeth accent Wolverton's snapshots of what the editors "believe to be a cross-section of the people who read Mad!" My favorite would have to be the "Elderly Mad Reader," a green-tongued, ostrich-necked, barefoot (and note the nail in his sole!), skirt-chasing old codger (a man after my own heart). Two decades later, Wolverton's similar portraits would define the look of DC's Mad imitation, Plop! (ironically, by the '70s, a better rag than Mad).

In "Murder the Husband!," Walter Graham is madly in love with Jeanne, the wife of his best friend Kenneth Martin so, naturally, he plots Kenneth's murder. On the pretext of a relaxing day of fishing, Graham gets his best bud way out on the lake in a rowboat and then plugs him with a heater. Unfortunately, one of the bullets blows a hole in the bottom of the boat and dopey Walter can't swim. The End. Well, it would be the end if this wasn't a parody of the retired "EC Quickie" horror series, wherein Al Feldstein would present a three- or four-page story and follow it up with the same story/different twist (not always successfully). With "Murder the Story!," Harvey roasts Al (or perhaps politely pulls his tail) by showing the same three pages of Jack Davis art but with a completely different script. Cracker Graham is in love with Melvin Martin's row-boat, Jeanne, and aims to make her his own. He and Melvin row Jeanne out and Cracker suggests the duo scuba dive to find a body at the bottom of the lake, a body rumored to have pockets full of Indian-Gum tickets. Cracker "needs them tickets to complete" his set. Melvin spouts out his exclamations in Russian, Chinese, German, and fancy font, but Cracker seems to comprehend with no problem. When Melvin starts singing little ditties, that pushes Cracker over the edge and he ventilates his old chum.

"Murder the Feldstein Script"

I'd love to know what Al Feldstein thought of this shish-kabobbing of Al's baby. "Murder/Murder" is a laff-riot that only gets more irreverent as the pages turn, going from slightly skewed to downright nonsensical. Kurtzman, waving a banner that says "Yeah, we know these things are pretty silly even when we take them seriously," fills dialogue balloons as if he has his eyes closed and half-inebriated (while racing to meet a deadline in a unique way). How else to explain Cracker's fondness for Indian-Gum tickets (whatever those are!) or Melvin's multi-lingual retorts or Cracker's final exclamation that he's stuck in a sinking row boat and it's time to listen to Dragnet! Wild and wacky and downright genius.

The proper way to conquer deadline doom.

"Dragged Net!""
Detective Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner Mike Sunday work the homicide detail on Monday and the chief wants the duo to work stake-out (that's stake-out not steak-out). First, the boys follow a gorgeous, beautiful damsel home and happen upon her poisoning her boyfriend for the insurance money. Where did she slip up?, she insists on knowing. Friday admits she dumped a maraschino in the dope's martini rather than an olive. DOMM-DA-DOM-DOMM! Next up, the boys foil a bank robbery, even while smoking thousands of cigarettes. The robber insists on hearing how the cops caught him. What was his slip up? "Easy, fella," says Friday, ". . . on this banana peel!" DOMM-DA-DOM-DOMM! A parody like "Dragged Net!," of course, defies description, never mind a synopsis. It's Elder and Kurtzman, so chances are it'll be a winner. There are sight gags (some are familiar to me and some that I don't get at all but they're usually funny regardless) and wonderful plays on words ("the stake-out" for one) galore to keep the reader's sides stitched. Funny funny books don't get much funnier than this funny book. --Melvin Enfantino

"Dragged Net!"

This is the best issue of Mad yet! Even the house ads are funny! "Flesh Garden!" is my favorite, in part due to Wood's gorgeous art and in part because Kurtzman clearly knows the material inside and out and has a deep love for it that allows him to write a perfect parody. I get my wish with six full-page illustrations by Wolverton and there are some iconic Mad images here. I did not think "Murder the Story!" was quite as funny as you did, Peter, but I appreciate the idea of EC poking fun at itself. "Dragged Net!" is the usual Elder treat and I love the emphasis on the musical theme, especially with the band following Friday around everywhere. If you know anything about Dragnet, you know the theme music, and it repeats in your head as you read the story, to hilarious effect.

The Vault of Horror #36

"Twin Bill!" ★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Witch Witch's Witch!" ★★★★
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Jack Davis

"Pipe-Dream" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Two-Timed!" ★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Graham Ingels

After Larry Bannister catches on to the fact that his wife is stepping out with another man, he tracks them down to their cabin hideaway in the middle of the woods to break the news to them. This he does at the other end of Colt .38, and with it he guides the lovers deep into the forest until they come to a clearing where Larry forces them to dig their own graves. The lover attempts to strike out, but Larry clobbers him on the head and then buries the two of them alive. Torment and misfortune plague Larry from that point on, as he’s forced to abandon his dead car and take the lover’s auto back into town before he can return with a new battery after settling business with the police. Returning to the undiscovered crime scene, Larry realizes the keys to the car have been lost and heads out to the grave site to retrieve the spares from his wife’s buried purse. But a grim surprise awaits: the grave is empty. Seeing the shadows of his escaped would-be victims in the distance, Larry barrels back to the cabin and waits in the dark, his Colt at the ready. Once the couple has finally made their agonizingly slow entrance, Larry clicks on his flashlight only to see that his wife and her lover are now a conjoined pair of festering, ambulatory corpses. The Colt barks, Larry screams, and the zombies rejoice.

("Twin Bill!")
The denouement of “Twin Bill” may feel perfunctory and like business as usual on the surface, but on closer examination it’s a worthy conclusion taken on its own terms. Johnny Craig approaches the tale as if the walking corpse shtick hadn’t become synonymous with the publisher he was working for; he conceals the fact until the very last minute, not unlike Al Feldstein did in “The Dead Will Return” all the way back in VOH 13, another exemplary yarn that played with the possibility of the supernatural. Craig’s mastery of psychological suspense is just as fine as ever; we can feel Larry’s squirmy fear as he bites his lip and sweats bullets and gives off those thousand-yard stares. Craig’s art only seems to be getting better with the passage of time, too.

The inhabitants of Blumstadt greet the return of young Eric Holbein and his new bride Helena with malice and suspicion. It’s no wonder why: Eric had been betrothed to the chaste Alicia Gruenwald prior to his departure, and his sudden breaking-off of the engagement and marriage to “cheap, brazen slut” Helena has caused a stir of controversy and bad feelings, most vociferously expressed by Eric’s and Alicia’s mothers, not to mention Alicia herself during a private conference with Helena. Helena for her part is mortified and depressed by all the slander and alienation, but she can only sit back and watch as everyone in town turns up their noses at her. But, one by one, Helena seems to be claiming her vengeance: first Eric’s mother drops stone dead, then the leader of a church group that had barred Helena from attending services falls into a coma. The sudden, unaccountable death of Alicia’s mother and then later Alicia’s frenzied claims of having her heart torn out by “the witch” during the funeral service finally whips the people of Blumstadt into the frenzy that had been simmering all the while. They storm into the Holbein household, beat and shoot Eric, and then drag Helena into the town square after they discover a voodoo doll hidden in the attic. Helena, broken at last, cries into her hands and then shouts above the roar of the crowd… but her words aren’t any known by God-fearing people. The wicked crone, revealed at last, stands exultant over the mob she has just transformed into a swarm of rats.

Worth a thousand words.
("Witch Witch's Witch!")

If “Twin Bill” acts as if the tropes and familiar plots EC developed over time didn’t exist, then “Witch Witch’s Witch” cleverly uses the house formula to its distinct advantage. After being inundated with other “mob mentality” yarns both in Shock SuspenStories (which told us the real monsters were the angry villagers) and the horror titles (which told us the real monster was some other monster in disguise), Craig inverts reader expectations by revealing that Helena really is exactly what every frothing bumpkin believes her to be. And like a consummate professional, Craig doesn’t let us down in delivering this game-changing gobsmacker: the last two pages of this story are pure adrenaline and terror, the screams of the parties involved too big and raw to be contained by puny speech bubbles, Jack Davis giving it everything he’s got as he sells the utter pandemonium of this crucial moment. And then, just like that, Helena throws up her hands and gives the crowd just what they’ve been begging for. Craig has utilized wordless panels to great and notable effect in his own stories from the past, but the final panel in “Witch Witch’s Witch” just might take the cake for visual power. When I first read this story, I interpreted the army of rats as a bubonic plague that the witch summoned upon the town. Reading it now, it became clear to me that Helena transformed the mob into vermin, which is unquestionably creepier.

In a Chinese opium den, aged Chen Chu Yang smokes away his sorrows in clouds of fragrant smoke. This is a retreat he has gone to many times throughout his life, but now he remains a permanent denizen, for he has suffered many a great sorrow of late. First his hard-working and devoted wife passed away after Chen saw the tragedy in his drug-addled dreams, leaving him to provide for his adult son and daughter. Chen attempted to enter the world of business, but a combination of his age and a general lack of ambition led to his son picking up the slack. This ends once the son is drafted into the war, and Chen’s precognitive visions ring true once more when Chen’s son dies in a road accident on his way home. The strongest vision of all comes after Chen’s daughter weds a brute who beats and shames her; the old man dreams of slaughtering the fiend with an axe and living happily ever after. Upon awaking, Chen discovers that the reality has altered from the dream: the fiend has indeed been killed, but Chen’s daughter is accused of the murder and sentenced to death. And so, now with nothing truly to live for, Chen returns to the land of his dreams forevermore.

Krigstein! Pt. 2
("Pipe Dream")
And now for something completely different. It’s a real bummer that Craig assumed editorship of VOH so late in the game and didn’t get a chance to assign more of his own scripts to the EC bullpen, because if weird experiments like “Pipe Dream” are any indication then fan-addicts then and now missed out on seeing all the interesting directions Craig could have taken this horror title. One feels tempted to say that we would’ve gotten a good number more of stories that could be seen as having a direct lineage to the more surreal entries from Warren’s stable of terror magazines a decade later. Though Craig's prose tends towards the overly-affected, Krigstein employs his spare, expressionistic style to good use here, lending all the characters and set-pieces an appropriately smoky and ephemeral air and loading the panels with some indelible bits of nightmare imagery such as the horned reaper of war and all the contorted shades of suggested violence. I can’t help but laugh at remembering how much I disliked all of Krigstein’s stories when I first read them. Now I can thankfully appreciate them for the bizarre and utterly refreshing breaks from tradition that they are. Hooray!

In 1900, young Dickie (or is it Tommy?) awakens one morning to the sounds an argument occurring just outside his house. Venturing into the woods, the boy is horrified to find a man beating a woman senseless with a lead pipe, but he’s even more terrified when the assailant spots him and begins to strangle him. Just as Dickie passes out, he hears the sound of a gunshot. He awakens yet again that day to the sight of his worried parents and the investigating Constable Phyfe, who is befuddled by the sight of scorched grass near the site of the incident and the relative lack on any clues. The assailant is never found, but Dickie goes on with his life and grows up to marry a two-timing hoo-er who ends up breaking his heart, so Dickie resolves to break her bones. Gathering the necessary tools for his plan, he drags her out into the middle of the woods and begins beating her senseless with a lead pipe. He stops once he realizes he’s been spotted by a young boy whom he then attacks. Dickie realizes that he’s somehow found himself in a time loop of some kind, but just before he can lay it all out for us and allow this story to start making sense (yeah right), an older Constable Phyfe arrives on the scene and guns Dickie down just after he’s set fire to his wife. As the policeman explains to the dying man, he was given a lead all those years ago to return to the scene of the mystery when he found a scrap of paper with that day’s date written on it.

Yeah, I was disappointed too. “Two-Timed” is certainly interesting in concept, a step away from the more visceral thrills that were to be expected from the horror titles in general and Graham Ingels specifically. Alas, the anonymously-penned script here (possibly the work of Jack Oleck) is certainly no “Shoe-Button Eyes” from the previous issue of VOH, despite the presence of dewy-eyed moppets in both stories. Like Jack mentions below, “Two-Timed” features more of Ingels’s inconsistencies than his strengths, and it’s a sad sight to witness from a man who was (and is) considered by many to be one of the eminent kings of horror comic art. --Jose

Peter: "Two-Timed!" uses a variation of a theme used several times in the SF titles. It's got an intriguing build-up but an outlandish finale. What set this whole scenario into effect and will it repeat again? And it certainly takes Tommy quite a bit of time to put two and two together. "Twin Bill!" similarly hauls us in with its suspenseful plot but then delivers a lazy pay-off. When in doubt, deliver a walking corpse, right? "Witch Witch's Witch!" has exactly the opposite effect on me. The build-up is repetitious and not very involving, but the final four panels, revealing Helena's true self, are very effective (in particular, the panel of Helena spouting her arcane mumbo jumbo). That last panel is a fabulous kick in the nuts. "Pipe-Dream" is in a class all by itself. Amazing that Johnny Craig wrote this and handed the script over to Krigstein. Craig's one of my favorite EC artists but "Pipe-Dream" needed someone a little more . . . eccentric (in Squa Tront #6, Bhob Stewart suggests that Craig wrote "Pipe Dream" for Krigstein after seeing how well "The Flying Machine" turned out). The only other artist that might have pulled this off would be Harvey. Again, Krigstein's spare style wouldn't ring everyone's bell but, here, even his most staunchest of critics would have to admit the style suits the subject.

Jack: "Twin Bill!" is the issue's standout for me, since Johnny Craig does the best crime/noir work at EC. There is a great use of rain to create atmosphere and the dark and shadowy panels set up the big payoff. I agree with you about the Davis story--it's boring for six and a half pages and then has a shocker of an ending that just sits there. "Pipe-Dream" is yet another of the stories etched in my memory from the big book and Krigstein's expressionistic art fits the Asian setting perfectly. The Ingels story is too confusing for me and unfortunately has more examples of Ghastly's difficulty with figures and faces. I'm sorry to say that the more Ingels art I see the less I like it. This issue of VOH is inconsistent, just like this month's EC fare as a whole. Gorgeous cover, though, with stunning color.

Next Week . . .
More DC War Crossover Madness
As Sgt Rock Meets the Unknown Soldier!


Quiddity99 said...

Some good highlights from this month, including some of the most controversial content EC ever put out! Especially that Crime SuspenStories cover which is the one that Bill Gaines was questioned about extensively by the Senate over. Surprisingly enough Craig, who is up there with Johnny Kamen as an artist who tended to avoid gore and violence as much as possible in his interior stories has some of the goriest covers, with this taking the top spot, at least by the general public.

Alas, it has a rather weak interior issue behind it, and with this cover, Craig's time in Crime SuspenStories comes to an end (he did his last interior story with #21).

This month's Shock SuspenStories also contains the very controversial "The Orphan", featuring a little girl murdering her father and framing her mother, which Gaines was also extensively questioned on by the Senate. The same for the following story, "The Whipping". He really took a beating from this month! Unlike this month's Crime, this particular issue is quite strong and I even enjoy the "You Murderer" story. "As Ye Sow" had a fairly decent adaption for Tales From the Crypt.

I really enjoy this month's Vault of Horror too. This is the single EC issue that contains the most Johnny Craig content, including the cover, the 8 page lead story and 2 more stories written by him as well. Craig's art by this point is just amazing and he does such a great job here in "Twin Bill" with the rainy atmosphere and building up to the horrifying climax, which features, who else, but a rotting corpse (or corpses I should say) back from the dead to take revenge. "Witch Witch's Witch" has that great shock ending that eschews the cliche of the false witch accusation. "Pipe Dream" is so much unlike nearly every other EC story which you gotta love by this point since EC is doing formula and repeating old story themes so much. I agree that this is the type of story that would have fit well in a Warren magazine decades later (I can just imagine them having someone like Esteban Maroto draw it). The issue does grind to a quick halt with the only content Craig wasn't involved with though, Two-Timed, which never made any sense to me. Graham Ingels really lets you down (granted the scripts really let him down too) as we get towards the end of the Vault of Horror. Unfortunately after having Craig contribute so much to this issue, and having 3 stories written for other artists in the last 2 issues alone, he only writes his own stories the rest of the way (although I suppose as editor probably was involved somewhat in the stories that outside guys like Carl Wessler and Otto Binder were doing).

As for the rest of the month, "Come Back Little Linda" is the clear highlight, a story and ending I always enjoyed quite a bit. Not much else to love among the other stuff, aside from all the Basil Wolverton art I suppose.

Anonymous said...

Shock Suspenstories is one of my Four or five favorite comic books of all time, and it’s because of the extraordinary combination of Wally Wood’s art and stories by a Gaines/Feldstein team that leaves me cold in all of their other titles. The book gets off to an inauspicious start; if you’re not a fan of Ingels’ horror stories — and I’m afraid I’m simply not — the only gems in the first five issues are Wood’s three preachy morality tales in SS#3 through SS#5. Similarly, the only great story in SS#6 is Wood’s preachy, but in that month they gave Wood the cover he was born to create — a cover for the ages. In SS#7, Wood’s great preachy is complemented by Evans’ great “The Small Assasin”, and in SS#8, the title ups the ante with not only another good Evans effort but also a genuinely charming Al Williamson sci-if story. SS#9 is a tour de force: an unusually great Feldstein cover enclosing (1) that rarest of jewels, an excellent Kamen story (more on that below), (2) a great, non-preachy Wood crime story with one of his greatest pinups, and (3) Reed Crandall’s unforgettable “Carriom Death.” SS#10 and SS#11 coast on the strength of Wood’s preachies, but SS#12 serves up Feldstein’s second great cover and one of Crandall’s three best crime efforts along with great Wood art in an absolutely hilarious crime story, and SS#13 rides to great heights on Frazetta’s magnificent “Squeeze Play” and a well-presented, albeit non-extraordinary, return to the preachy genre for Wood. SS#14 maintains the high quality with one of Wood’s best preachies and the welcome addition of Krigstein to the team. I can appreciate that some of you may think that “You, Murderer” isn’t great by the high standards to which we should hold Krigstein, particularly since it came out the same month as the fantastic “Pipe Dream”, but any time you add a leering Krigstein maniac to a scary comic book, you have done well.

As a wonderful bonus, SS#14 has “The Orphan”. Fantagraphics Books has published two Comics Journal Library volumes of interviews with the E.C. artists. The second one contains a nice interview with Kamen that shows why most of you (and I) dislike most of his stories. Kamen was technically proficient and was essentially killing time in the comics world before going into the far more lucrative world of commercial art. In the interview, Kamen (who comes across as a lovely and artistic man who thinks his wife and children walk on water) emphasizes his ability to draw the same close-ups over and again to tell stories quickly and efficiently as his big contribution to the E.C. effort. If ever E.C. had a time-puncher, it was him. Shock Suspenstories was supposed to be his title, the way Tales from the Crypt was Davis’s title, Vault and Crime were Craig’s titles, and Haunt was Ingels’ title. And most of the time, that meant that the first story put the book into a hole from which Wood had to extricate it. But in SS#9 and SS#14, Feldstein struck gold by having this entirely bland artist draw entirely INSANE stories: “The October Game” is about a man who deals with his vague feelings of inadequacy and his inchoate dissatisfaction with his remote (and from his perspective, condescending) wife by chopping up their eight year-old in front of the neighbors, including the other children. I cannot stress how uncharacteristically insane that story is for Ray Bradbury. Then, in “The Orphan”, a ten year-old channels “The Bad Seed” and anticipates the terrifying nine year-old in “Joshua” by 50 years by flat-out killing her awful dead and framing her awful mom into the electric chair so that she can live with her relatively nice aunt. That is nuts. And Kamen draws that story, as he draws “The October Game”, as though he was trying to sell household appliances. Which is also nuts. And which is why those two Kamen stories, unlike everything else he ever drew, scared the heck out of me. So good for him!


Anonymous said...

A relatively quick follow-up to my earlier long comment:

Unfortunately, for some reason Shock Suspenstories falls off a cliff after this issue and never recovers. Wood’s preachy in SS#15 is perhaps his weakest —a half-hearted rip-off of “I Confess.” Then he disappears from the title entirely. There are only three things I really like in the final four issues of the run: (1) Crandall’s attempt at a Wood preachy in “A Kind of Justice” in SS#16; (2) Evans’ gritty cover illustrating the same story; and (3) Krigstein’s SS swansong “In the Bag” in SS#18, which gives a much better hint than this month’s “You, Murderer” does that the artist is capable of delivering something as transcendental as Impact #1’s “Master Race.”The dropoff in quality of those last four issues has always been a disappointment to me, so this is the last comment on Shock Suspenstories I plan to make, though I do look forward to reading your insights on SS#15 through SS#18.

Mad #11 continues the title’s ascension in quality. I think it hits it’s apex the next month I’m Mad #12 and then holds up at a high level through the rest of 1954.


Jack Seabrook said...

Jim & Q99: Your long and thoughtful comments really make us happy! It's so interesting to hear from readers who know EC backwards and forwards. I read EC's on and off in the '70s, when I was a big comics fan, but by 1980 I had lost interest and so I missed all of the scholarship and interviews that came later. The vast majority of these stories are new to me, so having readers like you fill in some of the gaps and provide considered opinions is a lot of fun. Thanks for continuing to read along with us and for taking the time to comment!

Jose Cruz said...

What Jack sed!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jack and Jose. I enjoy your blog very much. I don’t actually have a ton of knowledge about comic books in general, but I did read the ECs over and over again in the early 1970s and developed a life-long fascination with Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Harvey Kurtzman, and Wally Wood. I read most of the titles at the time; the Wood stories in SS (plus Crandall’s three stories in SS #9, 12, and 16) and Krigstein’s stuff generally made a huge impression on me, and even as an adult I have often reread the war titles and SS and Mad in reprints while enthusiastically collecting the originals. It’s a lot of fun watching you guys go through absolutely everything in order.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Grant said...

"Breakfast With The Furshlugginers" is a reminder that some kinds of product placement are not recent at all.
I just saw an episode of the Burns and Allen TV show, which not only has several references to Carnation (their sponsor) but as if that weren't enough, has an entire short scene about it, a kind of very small info-mercial. I hate to make any complaint about such a nice show, but that can be a real fly in the ointment.

Jack Seabrook said...

Hey Grant! Yep, old time radio shows were filled with plugs and product placement. It's nothing new. I think Jack Benny and Abbott and Costello were doing meta bits commenting on their own shows and sponsors by the '40s, if not earlier for Benny.