Monday, February 5, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 50

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
   50: September 1954 Part II

Weird Science-Fantasy #25

"Flying Saucer Report" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"A Sound of Thunder" ★★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson, Angelo Torres, and Roy Krenkel

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

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

"Flying Saucer Report"
Sightings of flying saucers all over America have forced the Air Force to make a statement: the so-called UFOs are scientific phenomena, nothing more than refracted light bouncing off mating squirrels or some such natural equation. It's up to whistle blowers like narrator Frank E. Keely, author of two tell-all best-sellers (with a third on the way), to tell the truth behind the cover-up. Keeley's notoriety and the public's skepticism about the Air Force's "Flying Saucer Report" brings reporter Alfred Miles to Keeley's door for an interview.  Keeley cites incidents and dates to the doubting Miles but can't get his message across no matter how many facts he hands over. Frustrated, Keeley admits to Miles that he's writing these books as a warning to the world about an imminent invasion from Mars. When the amused reporter asks how Keely knows about this invasion, the author confesses that he's a Martian and one of the first to assimilate himself into this culture, getting Earth ready for when his race emigrates from the dying red planet.

Either Al Feldstein had become as engrossed as the rest of the world in all these 1950s UFO sightings or Bill Gaines was just a good businessman and knew what would sell funny books. "Flying Saucer Report" was only a taste of what would come in the next number, an entire issue filled with vignettes about sightings. Not my cup of tea, but "Flying Saucer Report" isn't that bad of a read (though it's packed with wordage); it's just a little too clinical in its "dates and incidents" framework. The reveal, that our narrator is, in fact, a Martian pilgrim, seems tacked on to give the whole more of a fictional (rather than documentary) vibe. Al based his Frank E. Keely character on two UFO "experts," Major Donald E. Keyhoe and Frank Scully, men who'd written two national best-selling exposes on flying saucers. You can read more about the pair here.

Only a sample of the 100,000 words found in "Flying Saucer Report."

"A Sound of Thunder"
In the not-too-distant future, the Time Safari company has made rather exotic big-game expeditions possible by allowing their clients to travel back to the dawn of time to bag dinosaurs in their natural environment. Wealthy and spoiled, Eckles pays ten thousand dollars to travel back and shoot a T. Rex with experienced guides. Once the journey has ended, Eckles is given explicit instructions not to shoot anything unless he's given permission and not to stray from the special path erected for visitors. One crushed blade of grass, he's told, could alter time and events. Skeptical, Eckles agrees and it's not long before the trophy rears its gigantic head. Panicked, the man runs off the path into the prehistoric muck and his guides are forced to shoot the dinosaur and get their client back to the time machine as quickly as possible. Hoping against hope that a little muck won't change the "future" they live in, the men exit the machine and discover their worst fears have been realized . . . on the sole of Eckles's shoe lies a dead butterfly.

"A Sound of Thunder"

"A Sound of Thunder"
"A Sound of Thunder" was the 24th and final official adaptation of a Ray Bradbury story (originally appearing in the June 28, 1952 issue of Collier's) in the EC titles and is certainly one of the two or three best, but then the prose version is one of Bradbury's most loved and adapted (some legitimately and some not-so) SF short stories. It's a fabulous concept and Ray had thought of all the angles. If a single butterfly can change everything, why can't a gunned-down T. Rex? In a brilliant explanatory, that question is answered by a falling tree branch. The art is perfect, just what you'd imagine for a Ray Bradbury/dinosaur/time travel tale; Al Williamson seems to have grown out of the "posed" look that marred some of his earlier work and, instead, concentrates on the "big picture." Speaking of the big picture, the short story was actually expanded to screenplay length and filmed in 2005, starring Edward Burns and Ben Kingsley. The flick was panned by critics and ignored at the box office. A few years after "A Sound of Thunder" appeared in Colliers, L. Sprague de Camp borrowed the concept for his "A Gun for Dinosaur." Was this the first use of the "Butterfly Effect?"

Poor Donalds, an astronaut deep in space and he's got a "Bellyful" of pain. The doc does what he can but an important mission comes up: the men have to explore Planet X-15! When the men land on the surface, they disembark and explore but are soon confronted by a huge monster. The creature destroys the spaceship and swallows the explorers whole. Deep in the thing's gullet, the Doc explains to Donalds that the creature has the same ailment that Donalds has: a tapeworm. A fairly simple tale that ends not with a bang but with a parasite. Al's script is a bit hokey (the doc stretches out his analysis of Donald's ailment as if it's a life-threatening disease instead of simply telling the poor schmuck he's got a tapeworm) but Bernie's work provides a nice change of pace for an outer space story.

Indi - gestion.

A robot questions why he must tend to a "Harvest," year in and year out, when robots don't eat. One of his comrades explains that it is not for him to question but just to tend, so tend he does. One day, the robot sees a gleam behind a stack of boulders and digs through to find a huge door. Ignoring protests from his fellow automaton, the robot pries open the door and discovers a chamber housing thousands of tubes filled with humans. Without thinking, the metal man reaches out and snips a series of wires leading to one of the tubes and the human inside turns a "sickly green." A man approaches and admonishes the robot, explaining that the pods hold Earth's greatest brains, put in hibernation after a war left the Earth uninhabitable. The robots were created to refertilize the land and make it suitable for human life again. The scientist heads up above to examine the condition of the soil, snaps a tomato off a vine, and eats it. The robot takes offense, bashes the man's brains in, and heads back to the chamber to destroy the rest of the humans.

One of Al's best original SF scripts, "Harvest" is a deep and ultimately surprising cautionary tale that doesn't go where you might think it will. Why does this particular robot question his existence and needless toil? Did something go wrong (or right) in his construction to give him something akin to humanity? Al wisely skirts these questions and lets the expository come almost organically (through the words of the resurrected scientist). If there's a weakness here, it's Joe Orlando's art. Well, to be specific, Joe's art is fine when he's handling silver robots (and he'll be doing that a lot in the next few issues of WSF) but once a human pops up, we get a cartoonish yellowjacket (who seems to have stolen Ronnie James Dio's tights) whose head changes size from panel to panel. But ignore that complaint and you've got one hell of a good "End of the World" saga. --Peter

Jack: This seems like a quality issue that would appeal to smart kids, but the whole thing seems a little bit dry and dull and I feel as if I should like it more than I do. "Flying Saucer Report" is more a catalog than a story, with too many words and not much room for Wood to spread out and draw. "A Sound of Thunder" is based on one of Bradbury's most famous stories, which blew my mind when I was a kid but which is so familiar now that any surprise is lost. Krigstein's art is the attraction in "Bellyful," but the story is obvious, and Orlando's tendency to draw ugly people mars a decent robot story in "Harvest."

Tales from the Crypt #43

"Four-Way Split" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Davis

"Cold War" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"Clots My Line" ★ 1/2
Story by Otto Binder
Art by George Evans

"Accidents and Old Lace" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Roy Dixon grows sick and tired of Buck Gordon, his old pilot captain from WWII, throwing his weight around as Roy’s new business partner in their shared independent airline venture, and so naturally—this being an EC funny book and all—Roy decides to off the jerk in only the most colorful of fashions. Recalling a scintillating nugget of trivia discovered during his law work for the airline, Roy devises to put his crime out for all to see by strategically dumping Buck’s body from 37,000 feet in the air onto the stone marker that signifies the area where the four states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, thus making it legally impossible for any one state court to find him guilty. His plan goes off without a hitch, yet that somehow hasn’t kept Roy from experiencing vivid nightmares wherein he is subjected to various modes of execution—gassing, hanging, and electrocution—at the control of a masked man. Only when Roy finds himself upon the stone marker facing an invisible firing squad does his situation become clear: he is in Hell, and his executioner is the mangled corpse of Buck Gordon.

I don't know what art is, but I know what I like.
("Four-Way Split")

Say what you will about “Four-Way Split” groaning and writhing under the strain of the narrative convolutions that scripter Otto Binder inflicts upon it, but you can’t deny that this is one memorable if albeit loony story. Roy’s plot is just ridiculously convoluted enough and hinges on the most minuscule things going in his favor that you just have to respect the man for his gumption. But alas, Otto plots himself into a corner and meets his match in the form of his own unassailable villain: with Roy committing the perfect crime that no court on Earth can legally punish, how are the scales to be balanced in typical EC fashion? Whereas Feldstein, Wessler, or any number of other writers might have attempted to place Roy in the cross-hairs of Fate and had him buying the farm through some incongruous, horrible accident that just so happened to recall the crime that he committed, Otto takes the opposite route and says “Hang it all—I went out of my way to painstakingly explain how my perfect crime was committed so I’m going to explain precisely nothing regarding the punishment.” And that he most certainly does (or is it doesn’t?). Roy is subjected to supernatural justice at the  hands of his own victim, garbed in executioner’s mask and giving Roy “a little taste” of each capital punishment that he missed out on. Has Roy actually died and gone to Hell? Is this all just part of a recurring nightmare? An elaborate parlor trick? Please join me and Otto in a recitation of the operating phrase here in the land of “Four-Way Split”: who cares?

And you thought your wedding present was bad.
("Cold War")
Norman King has got the hots for Maria Holt in the worst way, not even letting the bothersome presence of Maria’s husband Paul stand in his way. Norman doesn’t plan on Paul standing for much longer anyhow, but before he can plug the square full of lead Paul takes a moment to tell Norman the spooky story of how he and Maria hooked up. Turns out Paul was bedeviled by Maria’s good looks just like Norman during a “Hallowe’en masquerade” in Port-Au-Prince and instantly knew that he had to have her. A visit to Maria’s stuffy and antiquated house to ask for permission to marry her from Maria’s stuffy and antiquated parents quickly followed. Once the justice said his peace, Mom and Dad offered a strychnine tablet to Paul as a bizarre wedding present. As it turns out Maria and her folks were members of the living dead, and they wanted Paul to make the ultimate sacrifice. Back in the present, Norman scoffs at Paul’s cheap diversion tactics but finds himself short on words when his bullets leave zombie Paul unmoved and even shorter on breath when Paul strangles him to death.

“Cold War” plods along with the gait of a voodoo deadhead, but for all that Jack Kamen’s posed and stiff art still manages to give off a glamorous and polished sheen. That sheen naturally means that any overt displays of gruesomeness, violence, or anything overtly resembling horror are kept to a supreme minimum. Maria looks like she could have stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, while her “undead” parents merely resemble a pair of old retirees who have decided to settle into their golden years by participating in some Downton Abbey cosplay. The stodginess almost works in the story’s favor at times; in what is perhaps a winking moment on Kamen’s part, Paul’s new mother-in-law holds her lorgnette up to her zombie eyes as she and her clan give chase before the groom can throw himself out an attic window.

George Evans, doing everything he can.
("Clots My Line")
Pierce Draynor is pleased as punch to be the newest guest on “Guess the Guest,” the latest game show sensation wherein three working slobs esteemed panelists use their combined brainpower to accurately name Draynor’s profession based on a series of “yes” or “no” type questions. When Draynor begins alluding to the “vital” “red” fluid that he deals heavily in, the panelists begin to get a little squirmy, much to the delight of sadistic bastard charming emcee Mr. Chatfield. With guesses ranging from “mortician” to “nail polish salesman” being shot down, the panelists burst out in an uproar over Mr. Chatfield’s dirty trick. But the trick is really on Mr. Draynor, as both the emcee and the panelists (and even the cameraman) are in actuality ravenous vampires out to suck every last ounce of enjoyment from this story.

Whereas “Four-Way Split” was all over the map (heh, heh) and engagingly gonzo in its logic, “Clots My Line” imprisons us in a single room of monotony for its six pages before delivering us to its foregone and highly-anticipated (because it means the story’s over) ending. Poor George Evans gets the dog’s share this time out, forced to make endless panels of people sitting at tables, asking inane questions, and giving vague answers look interesting. He shines briefly at the very end as the vampires assume their glowing-eyed form and graphically slurp their fill over some open wounds. Our emcee tells us that “Guess the Guest” is apparently only *one* of many similar programs being broadcast by the “Supernatural Private-T.V. Network” that deals with monsters going through a lot of trouble to ambush one victim at a time and eat them on screen. Oh God, can we just cut to a commercial instead?

That "Bitch and Stitch" session got dark real quick.
("Accidents and Old Lace")
Much to his surprise, the sleepy little burg of Millville doesn’t seem to be the happening place that former New York art dealer Eric Holbein thought that it might be upon his arrival. Running low on cash and lower on patience, he gets a break when he is begrudgingly brought up to the room of the three old Salsbury sisters at the boarding house where he stays and discovers that the gals weave tapestries as a hobby. But Eric isn’t interested in the lacy, frilly things that the girls primarily create but the disturbing anomaly he finds tucked away in their room: a gory, disturbing masterpiece that reflects the sisters’ reaction to a horrible car accident that claimed the life of a previous boarder. When Eric takes it to New York and foists it on an old buyer contact, he reaps $500 for his troubles with the promise of more riches to follow future deliveries of the terror tapestries. Eric gives the Salsbury sisters 50 bucks and pockets the rest, doing everything he can to get the gals to the scene of an accident (they can only create after being duly inspired) from getting a police wavelength band to instigating an accident himself. But when the frazzled dealer blurts out his treachery in a moment of rage, the Salsbury sisters turn their scissors and needles on Eric and sew every beautiful piece of him into their latest project.

“Accidents and Old Lace” has a great concept at its heart that I think could have been better explored had the story been about the Salsbury sisters themselves rather than being framed within the old sinner-must-be-punished formula. Just think of all that cool backstory we’re missing out on about the sisters’ careful orchestrations of the “accidents” throughout their lives, not to mention the warped techniques they utilize to convey the viscera from the scene through needle and thread. But alas. Bill and Al’s return to the plotting board still works pretty well as it stands, and the graphic-in-caption-only final panel is classic EC. --Jose

Peter: The word that comes to mind as I read this issue of Tales from the Crypt is forced, as in: I was forced to read this junk. Actually, I liked the opener, "Four-Way Split," with its extreme gore and gallows humor (and Otto offering up no explanation for Buck's resurrection), but the other three are bottom-of-the-barrel nonsense. Again, I use the word forced to describe the plots and hooks of "Cold War" (zombies who go to the trouble of marrying off their daughter?), "Clots My Line" (vampires who go to the trouble of staging a TV show so that they can get one victim at a time?), and "Accidents and Old Lace" (an art dealer who goes to the trouble of staging murders for $450?). Bill and Al stage a comeback for that final tale but the rest are the property of new dogs Otto and Carl and there's a sameness seeping in. Wessler begins "Cold War" with his usual flowery description of the surroundings: There was a biting frost in the late November night air which hovered about the last remaining fall flowers, bestowing icy kisses of death upon their shriveling petals. The leaves had long since left the trees, baring their gnarled trunks to the coming winter winds, uncovering branches that reached skyward like twisted and misshapen gout-wracked fingers. Was Bill paying by the word?

I think this qualifies as a "dis-comforter."
("Accidents and Old Lace")

Jack: "Four-Way Split" is another dumb story that hinges on a weird fact, with Binder twisting himself into a pretzel to plot his way into the unusual ending. Kamen's art seems especially wooden in "Cold War," a story that plods along to an unsurprising conclusion. Things perk up with George Evans doing his best to enliven "Clots My Line," though the story is static and he isn't given much to do. The fairly gruesome last panel shows how EC was starting to show more gore and violence as they began to run out of ideas. This problem also shows up in the Ghastly tale, though the last panel hides the big finish. Ghastly turns in one of his better offerings of late.

 MAD #15

"Gasoline Valley!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Pot-Shot Pete Sheriff of Yucca-pucca Gulch!" ★★★
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman
(Reprinted from John Wayne Adventure Comics #6, January 1951)

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

"Captain TVideo!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

In the world of “Gasoline Valley” everything grows fast—especially the people. Skizziks Willit, after being taken in by Wilt and Phyllus, proceeds to mature at an exponential rate, getting knocked down as a toddler by a bully one second and then turning around and socking him in the jaw as someone his own size (and how!) the next. Skizziks continues to climb up the chronological ladder with the changing of the hour, courting and marrying gorgeous Nin O’Clock all on a golden afternoon. They grow elderly and have children of their own—Wilt and Phyllus as it turns out—and just when the timeline couldn’t get any screwier Wilt Jr. shows Skizziks that his baby brother Caulky, who never matured past his crib stage in all this time, has *finally* grown… into a mammoth baby the size of his backyard.

Welcome to Crazy Town!
("Gasoline Valley!")
Zounds! It’s great seeing MAD live up to its namesake and deliver an appropriately flipped yarn like “Gasoline Valley.” Harvey Kurtzman and Bill Elder’s riff on the perennial Sunday newstrip (see Jack’s comments below to find out *how* perennial) goes for broke in the lunacy department, completely eschewing any obligations to logic, fair play, and the time-space continuum. The sequence where we see elementary-aged Skizziks flirting with teenage Nin only to force himself to grow into pubescence as if he were straining from a bout of constipation pretty much epitomizes the entire “screw it” attitude of the story. From there Skizziks somehow becomes his own grandpa, gives birth to his adoptive parents, and then meets his “fully-grown” little brother as he rocks in his Trojan cradle. Such inanity is the stuff of a village idiot’s dreams, and you can count this village idiot as being most definitely tickled.

Whatta man!
("Pot-Shot Pete, Sheriff of Yucca-Pucca Gulch!")
There’s only room for one love in the heart of Sheriff Pot-Shot Pete. No, it’s not his ever-puckering fiancée. No, it’s not his obligation to law and order. No, it’s not even his talking pinto pony “Muzzle.” It’s his shiny tin star!  But Pete finds himself in a pickle when someone begins smuggling rifles to a band of Apache warriors. Sneaking to the campsite, Pete disguises himself as a brave only for his fiancée to sour the ruse and have them both end up being tied to stakes for scalping and BBQing. Thankfully the cavalry arrives just in time (with bomber planes and naval fighters!) before the warriors can carry through on their threat to take away Pot-Shot’s tin star!

Kurtzman’s MAD sensibilities were in full evidence even in assignments undertaken outside the remit of EC Comics, as the reprint of “Pot-Shot Pete, Sheriff of Yucca-Pucca Gulch” attests here. This feels like a segment straight out of the Merry Melodies canon, right down to the unfortunate stereotyping of the Native Americans. For all of that, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t titter like a loon when the nervously grinning Pete attempts to slink away from the braves with the line “Excuse um me! Me left water runnin’ in wigwam!” Reading this story makes me wish that we could have seen a little more work from Harvey during this time.

You’ve seen “The Wild One.” Well get ready for “Wild ½”! After blazing a trail on their motorcycles down the wrong highway, the central gang of no-goodniks that make up this movie’s band of merry men takes the correct route to the film’s first scene wherein various aged upholders of peace bemoan the arrival of their hot-rod testosterone. Marlon Branflakes, who plays the stone-faced leader of the gang, pushes elderly cops onto their keesters and pines for the affection of the local virgin. The cavalry arrives just in time yet again, but as it turns out Marlon and his gang are singing a different tune: decked in boy shorts and riding bicycles, the disturbed youths head back out onto the road.

("Wild 1/2")

Even though I haven’t been familiar with the source of derision for the majority of MAD’s satires (as is the case here), “Wild ½” and others like it still manage to give you a pretty good indication of the source material’s tenor based on the elements the satire pokes fun at. Still, I’m sure the jokes are a little bit funnier when one has the foreknowledge of the material. (Maybe.) “Wild ½” is still pretty damn amusing for its duration, but it really gets to shine when Kurtzman hands the reins over to artist Wally Wood to depict a speechless segment that manages to feel wonderfully cinematic even on the printed page. It’s such an outlier moment, virtually free of any overt humor and presented as if it was solely meant to show off Wood’s visual chops. I can live with that.

("Captain TVideo!")
This week on the thrilling adventures of “Captain TVideo,” the intrepid space-explorer finds himself matching wits with a race of invisible Venusians who are taking over the bodies of physical Earthians, their bizarre appetite for cigars acting as a dead giveaway of their true identity. After charming his sidekick with his super-cool, super-licensed “Rocket Ranger’s Emergency Rescue Ring” and sticking around for a commercial of same, Captain TVideo discovers that his trusty sidekick is none other than a *very* visible Venusian monster in disguise. His screams are the last thing we hear before the broadcast cuts out.

The visual aesthetic of this story, mimicking the monochromatic and hazy transmission of an antiquated TV show, feels most appropriate given that “Captain TVideo” transpires like an off-kilter program you caught through half-closed eyes in the dead of night while you were between the worlds of wakefulness and slumber. I can’t honestly remember many details regarding the story; even scanning through the panels on the second go-around doesn’t spark any kind of vivid recollection. Moreso than the similar in look-and-tone parody “The Countynental,” this story forces us to strain our eyes through the white noise to find the goofy Jack Davis art beneath, like some kind of demented visual Cracker Jack box. What we end up finding is at turns odd, ugly, and a little frightening at times. That’s entertainment…? --Jose

Melvin Enfantino: One of the weaker of the recent issues of MAD due, no doubt, to my ignorance of the source materials. I've never read the Gasoline Alley strip so the humor comes off as . . . well, it doesn't come off at all since I didn't find it remotely funny. Nor did I guffaw at the latest Harvey reprint or the Brando parody. I found "Captain TVideo" to be mildly amusing but, unlike the past few issues, there was no out-loud roaring at the Melvin residence.

Jack: Like you, I have never read Gasoline Alley, and the satire isn't as funny when I don't know the source. I like how Elder signs the last panel of each page as if it's a Sunday strip. By the end, it was kind of funny, but when I read the Wikipedia page about the real strip I was amazed to find it's still running! Knowing a bit about the background actually makes me appreciate Kurtzman and Elder's work more. I really enjoyed the "Pot-Shot Pete" reprint and think one of the delights of doing this blog has been to discover just how talented Harvey Kurtzman was. That issue of John Wayne Adventures also contained a story by Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta! "Wild 1/2" is the highlight of the issue of Mad for me and I think Wood outdoes Elder this time around; the long, wordless sequence is particularly enjoyable. The Davis story suffers from the decision to print it in black and white with horizontal lines across every panel to mimic poor TV reception. The story is hard to look at and not very humorous.

The Vault of Horror #38

"Any Sport in a Storm" ★★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Johnny Craig

"Coffin Spell!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

"The Catacombs" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Out of Sight . . ." ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

In the midst of a terrible storm, smuggler Lon Shannon arrives at the Ratsmouth Inn, where talk of the Sea Hag has everyone so spooked that he can only enlist one helper to head out to sea and plunder a schooner. Shannon and Scollay battle the elements for two hours before their boat washes up on a beach, where they are welcomed into an unfamiliar lighthouse by the lighthouse keeper. Shannon has eyes for the man's pretty daughter, Heather, and beds her later that night. He and Scollay head back to their boat before daybreak but Scollay freaks out in the continuing storm and Shannon pushes him overboard. Heather emerges from below decks, having stowed away, but Shannon tells her he wants nothing to do with her. Big mistake, as she transforms into the Sea Hag and pulls him to a watery grave.

This is known as the Harvey Weinstein approach.
("Any Sport in a Storm")
Wow! I was worried that Johnny Craig could not work his magic on a Carl Wessler story, but "Any Sport in a Storm" is great! Craig's art is superb, as usual, and the final transformation of Heather into the Sea Hag is handled perfectly.

Nadyi and Janos are a couple of grave robbers in Hungary who steal bodies and sell them to a doctor at the university for his students to dissect. They happen upon a graveyard where a funeral has just been held and find eight fresh coffins in a mausoleum. They decide to steal both bodies and coffins for extra profit, so Janos leaves Nadyi to guard the coffins while he goes to get a bigger wagon. When he returns, they load up the coffins but Nadyi is oddly quiet. They get them home and unload them but soon eight vampires rise from their caskets. Janos locks himself and Nadyi in a safe room but it turns out Nadyi was bitten while he waited for Janos to come back and he's now a vampire too.

("Coffin Spell!")
"Coffin Spell!" features above average, moody work by Jack Davis and the Hungarian setting is welcome, but the story of grave robbers is an old one and the vampire twist has been done too many times to be anything close to a surprise.

Pietro and Gino rob a store and run off with a bag of silver. To avoid the police, Pietro suggests hiding the loot in "The Catacombs," though Gino fears the darkness below ground. They leave a trail of red wine so they can find their way out, but when they're deep inside, Pietro murders Gino and suddenly can't find his way back to the entrance. Gino's lantern dies and, with it, Pietro's last hope.

Religious images in an EC comic!
("The Catacombs")

Wessler's script is unusually lyrical and Krigstein's art is sharp and inventive, so "The Catacombs" is an unexpected pleasure.

At a seedy carnival, the Great Brain's mentalist act flops when his slow-witted assistant Benny screws up. The Great Brain beats Benny and Benny threatens to kill him, but gives up and is consoled by Hulda, a sexy dancer. The Great Brain mocks Benny but Hulda admits that she loves the big lunk. The Great Brain is jealous and has his own ideas for Hulda, so Benny fixes him once and for all. The next time the act is presented before a crowd, Benny stands up and introduces his partner, The Great Brain, but this time all it is is the actual brain in Benny's large hand.

I love a good carnival horror story, and "Out of Sight . . ." delivers the goods, from a terrific splash page to a satisfying final panel where Benny holds up the gooey brain. Perhaps editor Johnny Craig is responsible for the unusually high quality of this issue, which is one of the best of the horror books in some time.--Jack

This is what it's all about!
("Out of Sight")
Peter: Four pretty darn good stories this issue, all written by (surprise surprise surprise!) Carl Wessler.  "Any Sport . . ." is a good old-fashioned monster story, something we haven't seen in a while, with ultra-cool Craig graphics (but, hey, no cigarettes?). I've got a feeling that Jack Davis borrowed the look of his Janos character in "Coffin Spell" when it came time to design Uncle Creepy a decade later. The script melds two very generic plots into one and turns it into something at least readable. B. Krigstein continues his startling run at the Best EC Artist trophy with his stark work on "The Catacombs," but what's with the weird monkeying with word balloons? And, finally, Ghastly gets a chance to return to his old stomping grounds, the carnival, for "Out of Sight . . . ," his best work in donkey's years. That's a fabulously sick final panel but what happened to Hulda? Benny was advancing on both Evans and the beautiful dancer in a menacing fashion (and isn't it a nice change of pace that Hulda really seemed to be in love with Benny rather than playing him for the chump like the usual carnival tramp?) so I assumed I'd be seeing something like two shapely legs to go with that brain.

Next Week . . .
Battle Action in the
All-New All-Different
Star-Spangled DC War Stories #123

Collect Them All!


Denny Lien said...

I suspect the surprise in "Bellyful" may have been "borrowed" from "Beyond the Black Nebula," a 1949 story by L. Ron Hubbard, in which a space warp leads into a strange cavern filled with strange monsters -- which turns out to be the guts of a worm. (I don't recall if it was a Giant Space Worm from Out There, or if the warp shrunk the ship and its crew to teensy size and they ended up in a Normal Space Worm from In Somewhere, though.

Not only is the comic strip GASOLINE ALLEY still going, lead character Walt Wallet (a WWI veteran) is still alive and mobile, though he looks pretty terrible. His wife and various younger characters have been killed off by the writers over the years, but apparently they can't bring themselves to pull the trigger (literally or otherwise) on their original protagonist. There was even a storyline a couple of years ago where his extreme age caused townsfolk to decide he had found the Fountai of Youth, and riots ensued. As if the 130-ish lead character isn't fantasy element enough, these days a number of stories revolve around a spooky kid who can talk to animals, including a bear who protects the kid's precious scrapbook during a forest fire, almost at the cost of his own life. You can't make this stuff up. . .

Jack Seabrook said...

I can say with certainty that I have never read a single thing by L. Ron Hubbard, so thanks for the tip. That's funny and fascinating about Gasoline Alley. I wonder what kind of readership it has now and if any real-life newspapers still run it or if it's just online at this point. We stopped getting a daily paper years ago, so the only cartoons I see on a regular basis anymore are the ones that run in The New Yorker. I used to enjoy reading the daily funnies.