Monday, April 30, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 56

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
   56: January 1955, Part II

Crime SuspenStories #26

"The Fixer" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"Dead Center" ★★
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Firebug" ★★ 1/2
Story Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Reed Crandall

"Comeback" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

When the homicide detectives find young Billy standing alone in his family's kitchen and the bodies of his dead parents on the floor, they sit the lad down and ask him what happened. Billy tells them that, ever since his family moved into the neighborhood, they were shunned by the neighbors for being poor. The cruel treatment drove his Dad to drink and when neighbors started being murdered in the night, people started to suspect Billy's Pop of doing more than boozing. Finally, Billy's Mom accused her husband of the killings, showing him a bloody knife she found in a kitchen drawer. A struggle ensued and she was stabbed to death. Dad then took his own life with a pair of scissors. Billy explains to the cops that it was unnecessary, since he had been playing the role of "The Fixer" and knocking off the mean people who made his parents sad.

Jack Kamen stages a death in "The Fixer."
I knew it was Billy from the very first panel! Wessler and Kamen present a story that is at once obvious and confusing. Was there not a single decent person in the neighborhood? Why could Billy's family only find one house to rent, and why was it out of their price range? How did Billy manage to sneak out at night and murder a series of adult neighbors? My most pressing question is, what did Jack Kamen do before and after EC? According to Wikipedia, he went into advertising and one of his sons invented the Segway. Who knew?

Arthur's wife Selma loves professional wrestling, but Arthur hates it, so their best friend Milty starts taking Selma to the St. Mark's Arena in New York every week to see the matches live and in person. Arthur buys a TV set so Selma can watch the matches at home but she prefers the smells and sounds of the live event. Arthur grows consumed with jealousy, convinced that Selma and Milty are doing some wrestling of their own. He buys two tickets for them, "Dead Center" in the front row, so he can watch the match on TV and see them sitting next to the ring in order to prove that they're not off in a motel somewhere. The match airs, he looks, and the seats are empty. When Milty and Selma get home, he shoots them both dead, only to hear the TV host announce that, this week, they televised the match from Chicago, not New York.

Two things to love about "Dead Center."
Arthur is such a dope. Why not follow Milty and Selma and shoot them at the motel or hire a private eye to do it like everyone else? No, he has to cook up this cockamamie scheme involving buying front row tickets and watching the match on TV. Even then, he doesn't hear the announcer say that the match is happening in the Windy City, which surely must have been mentioned about a hundred times. You're telling me the arena looks exactly like the one in NYC? What a dolt. Joe Orlando's status as one of the lesser EC artists is growing, since his work on this story is not impressive at all.

Fire chief Mitchell Slade leads his team in battling a warehouse blaze. Was it started by an arsonist, a pyromaniac? If so, then who is "The Firebug"? That's the question that bothers Lieutenant Humphries of the Arson Squad. Humphries finds proof of arson and the arsonist sets a plan in motion. Humphries gets a late-night call from Slade, who was warned about another fire. Slade gets to the scene first and beats the supposed arsonist to death before Humphries can stop him. Later, when the two men share a drink at a bar, Slade lights a match for Humphries's cigarette and Slade's reaction to the flame is so extreme that it becomes clear he is the real arsonist.

"Okay, I'll stop now."
("The Firebug")
Reed Crandall's art is impressive, so much so that it distracted me from the weaknesses in this five-page story. As in the Kamen story that opened this issue, I knew who the culprit was from the start, and the twists and turns of the plot came too quickly to make much sense. What really bothered me was Slade murdering the man right in front of Humphries with Humphries barely batting an eyelash. I don't buy it for a minute.

Sybil Oliver is not fooled at all when hubby Raymond comes home and shows her the neat new letter opener his friends at work gave him for his birthday. She is well aware that it was a gift from Joyce Adams, the cashier with whom he's been having an affair. Raymond thinks back to how it all began and, after we wake up from a three-page flashback about Raymond and Joyce's courtship, he demands that Sybil grant him a divorce. She says no, and he kills her with the letter opener. Like any good wife killer, he goes to work the next day, steals fifteen grand from the bank safe, and hot foots it to South America, where he disappears into the fields and lives as a peasant for months. Finally missing Joyce too much to go on, he shaves and cuts his hair, returns to the big city, and looks her up, only to find his "Comeback" ruined by the news that Joyce was electrocuted for the murder of Sybil over six months before. Her fingerprints were all over the letter opener, see, and he was wearing gloves at the time of the murder . . .

Jack Kamen stages another death.

At least one story in this issue had a twist ending that I did not see coming. The plot is decent and makes the cookie cutter artwork by Kamen bearable. But why two Kamen stories in the same issue?  --Jack

Peter: The penultimate number of Crime SuspenStories is one of the worst single EC issues I've had to sit through, with only the Reed Crandall art as a minor plus (even Crandall seems to phone it in for the most part). The "shocks" are telegraphed or, in the case of "Comeback" and "The Firebug," never materialize. "The Fixer" and "The Firebug" read like rejects from Shock, with their "deep analysis of the human condition," but lacking the real depth found in those early Shocks. Two of the stories are uncredited but there's no reason not to believe they were penned by the same writer responsible for the other two atrocities. This is a really long fall from the heights of the previous year. Two Kamens. Did you think I'd be happy?

Peter has second thoughts after passing up a rare paperback.
("The Firebug")

MAD #19

"Mickey Rodent!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

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

"Puzzle Pages!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"The Cane Mutiny!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Mickey Rodent!"

"Mickey Rodent!"
Why the heck is "Mickey Rodent!" trying to contact Darnold Duck? Everyone in town, from sexy Minny Rodent to Pluted Pup (the only mute animal in Walt Dizzy's world) to Goony, has been stopping Darnold in his tracks and relaying the message: "Mickey Rodent is looking for you!" The Duck can't stand the Rodent as the dirty rat can't help but hog the spotlight and, anyways, who's the bigger star in the Dizzy universe? The rat or the fowl? So, whatever, the rat finds the duck and the duo scamper off, trading insights on life in the Dizzy world (why do all the animals have to wear white gloves? Even on hot days.) and eventually doffing clothing and skinny-dipping in a local mud hole. While the boys (?) are enjoying freedom, some miscreants (probably the Looney Tunes) swipe their garments, thereby leaving them open to the elements. Our heroes follow the tracks of the robbers to a nearby zoo but, in a moment of evil selfishness, Mickey locks Darnold in a cage and hightails it, ostensibly to renegotiate his contract with Walt Dizzy.

"Mickey Rodent!"

Though not quite reaching the lofty heights of "Starchie!" (which was, despite what my two knucklehead colleagues might say, the Best Story of 1954), "Mickey Rodent!" comes pretty darned close. Is it just that I love these strips that demolish beloved icons, showing us how these characters would look and behave in "the real world," or is it that Harvey has a special gift for crawling under their shiny surfaces and pointing out the absurdities we ignore? Maybe both. Particularly hilarious is the scene of Mickey and Darnold, foliage covering their naughty bits, walking through the forest when the Duck notices Bill Elder's signature at the bottom of the page and exclaims, "Hah, look at that signature! It's not Walt Dizzy's style . . . I knew the style of this drawing was different!" Or how about Goony advising Darnold that maybe he should wear pants the next time he leaves the house? Blink and you'll miss KurtzElder's subtle slam at the Disney merchandising machine in the guise of Big Ben with a Mickey face.


The last we saw of Dad Sturdley and his family, they were braving the wilds of a "Restaurant!" (back in #16). Not having learned their lesson, the Sturdleys decide that it's a good time to investigate that new supermarket down the road. Bad parking, frenzied automatic entrance doors, unobliging and obese fellow shoppers, and grocery carts designed for the Indy 500 are just some of the obstacles in the way of the Sturdleys' happy adventure. In the end, our hapless family agrees that maybe that little Ma and Pa shop they frequent is adequate. "Supermarkets!" is mildly amusing in the same fashion as that earlier Sturdleys chapter (by the way, Jack Davis's Sturdleys look nothing like the earlier version conjured up by Will Elder), but it's apparent to me that MAD's bread and butter is its media parodies rather than its piercing eye on the American way of life; that will change within a couple years, of course.

Relax with an easy brain twister!
("Puzzle Pages!")

What's more relaxing with your cup of coffee in the morning or after a long day in the salt mines? Why, a brain puzzler, of course! And the editors of MAD have been generous enough to share with us several difficult brain teasers. In fact, some are downright impossible. These types of parodies are usually pretty bad but I stopped counting guffaws at about 100 (Rebus #4 is especially side-splitting-- it's reprinted below); there are just so many clever little nuances to KurtzElder.

And they've been nice enough to provide the solutions!
("Puzzle Pages!")

"The Cane Mutiny!"
The USS Cane has gone to pot thanks to its slob of a captain, but now the Navy intends to put things right by sending out a slave driving captain named Kweeg. The men (including Ensign Willie Wontie) immediately take offense to everything the new guy does, including subjecting them to eating desserts of white sand (don't ask) and wearing pants. Eventually, matters reach a boiling point and the crew mutinies. A court case (shown "off screen" because it would be to boring for readers) ensues and Wontie is assigned another ship: the Bounty. "The Cane Mutiny" is the only real dog this issue but it's quite a dog, lacking anything resembling humor. Instead, Harvey resorts to renaming characters and dragging "laughs" out across several panels. It's all rendered by Wally, which is a plus, but it's a real slag to get through.
--Melvin Enfantino

Jack:  I'm surprised EC did not get sued by Disney over "Mickey Rodent!" I thought it was reasonably amusing until the last page, which I thought was great. Overall, it's pretty biting satire. "Supermarkets!" was also somewhat funny, though a bit long at eight pages. Not much has changed about grocery stories since the '50s, except that neat conveyor belt that sends your groceries outside where a clerk loads them into your car for you. "Puzzle Pages!" was funny, especially the answer page, and "The Cane Mutiny!" is another dud of a movie parody, livened up only by Wood's insertion of a gorgeous gal every so often.

Proof that the readers may have been just
as MAD as the creators.

The Vault of Horror #40

"Old Man Mose!" ★★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"An Harrow Escape!" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Pit!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"Ashes to Ashes!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

Ned Rogers comes upon some boys throwing stones at "Old Man Mose!" and stops them, protecting the unfortunate man and hiring him to help around the house. Not used to being treated kindly, Mose grows attached to Ned and his wife Belle. Soon, the townsfolk warn Ned about Mose, who is said to consort with the Devil. Ned sticks up for Mose and heads home, where he finds that the stock on his rifle has split and he needs a replacement. After having trouble sleeping that night, Ned awakens and encounters Mose coming home late, claiming he was out for a walk. The next day, the townsfolk tell Ned that a man was murdered the night before. He lies and says Mose was with him all night. Ned races home, worried that Mose is a killer and that Belle is in danger. He arrives home to find Belle on the kitchen floor and Mose with scratches on his face. He beats Mose to a pulp before his wife reveals that the old man was protecting her from a murderous escaped convict, whose dead body lies just outside, near where Mose had spent the previous night making a new rifle stock for Ned.

"Old Man Mose!"
I was surprised to see in the GCD that Johnny Craig wrote this story, since it has the same clunky plotting we've come to expect from Carl Wessler. Things are going along fairly smoothly until there's that obvious plot device of the broken rifle stock, which stands out and is clearly a setup for something to come later. Craig's art is still fine, but the writing is not what it was earlier in the series.

Captain Grady brings his Coast Guard cutter alongside the Seawitch, a small craft drifting aimlessly on the waves, and boards her, only to find a dead woman on one bunk and a nearly dead man on another. The man tells a strange story: he and his fiance, along with another couple, were on a cruise the day before when their boat was caught in a storm and they sought refuge at a castle on Harrow Island. That night, the man discovered that their hosts were vampires and that the other couple was dead. He killed one vampire but was too late to save his fiance, who had been bitten already. The captain thinks the story of "An Harrow Escape!" is bunk but, just to be sure, his lieutenant plunges a stake into the woman's heart and her body turns to dust. Not long after that, the captain and his lieutenant are up on deck and realize--too late--that if the woman was a vampire and bit the man, he must be a vampire, too. As he attacks them from behind they realize they were right.

Surprise! He's a vampire!
("An Harrow Escape!")
Carl Wessler's stories tend to follow the same pattern: he introduces a strange scene, then has a long flashback to explain how things got that way, then brings us back to the present, where the conclusion soon occurs with a supposedly surprising twist ending. This story is a straightforward vampire tale with little new or different from many we've seen before. Orlando's art is less offensive than it has been in some time, however, and he draws the young woman well.

The crowd revels in bloodshed as two roosters fight to the death in "The Pit!" Felix Johnson doesn't much like running the violent show but his wife Lila likes the money it brings in. They have competition from Aaron Scott and his wife Beatrice, who run a nearby dog fighting show in a similar pit. Things go from bad to worse as the wives badger their husbands to make the games bloodier and more violent to try to attract crowds away from each other. In the end, the husbands put their wives in the pit for a final, bloody battle.

("The Pit")
Bernie Krigstein sure draws some weird-looking people! There are panels in this story where the spittle in the characters' mouths resembles long fangs. The story is fairly obvious and disgusting, but I must be a dope because I did not see the ending coming until the last page. That final panel is pretty gruesome, with Lila sinking her teeth into Bea's arm.

For six generations, the male members of the Frankenstein family have worked to create life. At age 50, Emil Frankenstein finally succeeds! A seemingly perfect baby is born from raw slime, but is it normal? Can it grow and reproduce? To test it, Dr. Frankenstein switches the baby at a hospital for a dead infant and then watches it grow up for twenty years, at which point the good doctor observes two young men, Karl and Heinrich, arguing over a woman named Louisa. She chooses Heinrich and Emil comes back later with a gun but, instead of shooting his rival, he accidentally kills Louisa. Her body dissolves into "a greenish-black blob of vile, stinking decay," demonstrating that she, and not one of the two men, was the Frankenstein baby grown to adulthood.

("Ashes to Ashes!")
Like Joe Orlando, Ghastly brings his "A" game to "Ashes to Ashes!," a story that appears late in the day for the EC horror line. Wessler's story is nothing special, and the twist ending isn't very exciting, but Ingels does very smooth work.--Jack

Peter: The final issue of Vault is, for the most part, a well-written parting shot. "The Pit!" should be the obvious standout here, with its B. Krigstein art and "deep, meaningful" script. Krigstein gets high marks as always but Wessler's script is predictable and, ultimately, pretty silly. My compadre, Jack, may slight BK for the exaggerated and downright disturbing Bea and Lila but I'd argue that was the point. Without the escalated transformation from sexy babe to bloodthirsty beast, this would just be another weak Shock wannabe. Imagine "The Pit!" with Kamen attached!  I liked "Old Man Mose!" as well, especially the fact that we never see the real threat until the final panel and no tidy expository (other than a mention that the assailant is an escaped con). Craig avoids all the usual cliches and just tells an interesting story. "Ashes to Ashes!" is a bit talky but it's a clever reworking of the Frankenstein mythology and benefits from one of the best last lines in an EC horror story.  "An Harrow Escape!" is the only dud this issue, a juvenile monster story with a twist ending that was, evidently, only surprising to its writer. "Oh, crap, he's a vampire? Who'da guesst?" Interesting that Johnny Craig was assigned to redraw one of "Harrow" panels for the cover.

Shock SuspenStories #18

"Cadillac Fever!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Trap" ★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"In the Bag" ★★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"Rundown" ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Reed Crandall

"Cadillac Fever!"
Poor Clyde Wilkes jes' wants ta ride in a Cadillac once afore he dies but his greedy wife, Effy, steals his saved-up quarters for more of her consarned women stuff. What's a man to do? Effy pays no heed to Clyde's threats of blowin' a hole in her mid-section and the thievery continues. Daughter Ruthie sympathizes with her hen-pecked pa but what's a poor young girl to do aside from escortin' Clyde past the Cadillac dealership every day and feedin' his dreams of someday ridin' in a Caddy? Then, one day, Effy turns up with a "hole in her big as youah fist" and the law comes down on Clyde. At the trial, Ruthie allows as how Pa gunned down her Ma after a steamy altercation and Clyde is sentenced to die in the 'lectrical chair. Once Clyde gets his Caddy ride, in a coffin to the cemetery, Ruthie owns up to pullin' the big trigger on her Ma so's Pa could satisfy his "Cadillac Fever!" Carl Wessler satisfies his need to be Erskine Caldwell for six pages and we're left with an okay SuspenStory (well, I could have done without the silly final expository) and some nice Evans visuals. Ruthie's scene with Mr. Wyler, a wealthy Caddy owner, is nicely handled and genuine pathos is generated from Clyde's predicament, but we've seen Effy, a cliche if there ever was one, several times before.

Yep, pre-murder Matt looks
completely different from post-
thanks to the wonder of Jack Kamen.
("The Trap")
Nag nag nag. That's all Irene Hall can do as far as hubby Matt is concerned. She's not happy with the dump they live in or the rotten neighborhood they're stuck in or the rags she wears, but there is a way out, she insists. If Matt could cash in his life insurance policy, they could have twenty grand to splurge on the niceties of life. Irene has even enlisted the help of local undertaker (and, evidently, medical examiner) Larry Grover and the two have concocted the perfect plan: Matt will fake his own death and Grover will take care of all the "burial" arrangements. Matt bites and the plan is put into action. After Matt is declared dead, he heads for Argentina to lay low for a year, at which time his wife will join him. Eighteen months later, with no sign of Irene, Matt gets fidgety and heads back home, only to find Irene and Grover married. When Matt raises a fuss, the couple ID him as the killer and he hangs for his own murder! Interminably simplistic (Grover manages to oversee everything related to the "Matt Hall murder case" and the police, evidently, never lay their eyes on the "corpse"), head-scratchingly baffling (Matt grows a mustache in order to fool the entire town into thinking he's someone else--in a Kamen cartoon!), and just plain giggle-inducing (when a cop is asked to check post-murder Matt's fingerprints, he exclaims "That's it, chief! I thought they looked familiar . . ." and whips out the fingerprints from the murder weapon--a perfect match!), "The Trap" is a blending of several elements we've seen countless times before, usually wrapped in a Kamen bow: the shrewish wife, the hen-pecked hubby, the faked death, and the more-than-a-little-interested third party. Special Award for Stupidest Husband of 1955 goes to Matt Hall.

The world's most observant beat cop.
("The Trap")

"In the Bag"
McLeod, a plain-clothes cop, becomes suspicious when a mousy guy with an odd sack shuffles by. When McLeod shouts to the man to halt, he notices the bag is round with a red stain at the bottom. The creep hightails it but McLeod manages to catch up. When pressed, the man admits that, "In the Bag" lies the head of his pushy boss. The psycho gets away and McLeod alerts two beat cops to issue an APB while he searches the dark streets. Hearing footsteps behind him, McLeod turns to see a man approaching, holding a sack, and the cop guns him down. The beat cops return, informing McLeod that they've apprehended the psycho with the bloody bag. McLeod has shot a man carrying a bowling ball.

I've run out of adjectives for the work of Bernie Krigstein so I'll just drop my jaw and utter, "Wow!" I thought I'd be clever and highlight some of the genuinely unique aspects of "In the Bag" but, alas, it's already been done by EC historian extraordinaire, Bhob Stewart, in an interview that appeared in Squa Tront #6 (1975):

"In the Bag"

Bhob Stewart: We were sure you had adapted film technique to comics when we found a panel in "In the Bag" where you had drawn the effect of the headlights of a car reflecting on a camera lens.

Bernie Krigstein: That's definitely an occasion where it was a camera effect . . . Sometimes I'd think in terms of a camera or a movie . . . I desired to stop all action and make everything still and repetitious, and come back again and again, and keep repeating the effect. I'm fascinated by movies.

And you can tell just by turning the pages and drinking in Krigstein's panels. So many are almost like the flickering of film frames, such as the sequence on page three (below), where the murderer is relating his motive to McLeod and his face changes shape and reaction each successive panel. The aforementioned headlight reflection from the first page and McLeod's flashback of a previous series of murders (shown only in black, white, and blue and as if seen through McLeod's eyes) contribute to that vibe that we're actually watching the events unfold on the big screen down at the Fox on Friday night. The beat cop's hushed "You . . . you better give me your gun, McLeod" accompanies our "Holy Crap!!!" as the screen fades.

Best Story of the Year is
almost "In the Bag."

All that Joe Harris needs, he believes, to keep his gorgeous wife, Marsha, from running away with another man, is a little dough. So the dope withdraws all forty-three bucks from his account and lets it ride on red. When the little ball lands on black and Joe is broke, he hangs around at the casino to watch an elderly man clean up. The man makes a haul of over sixty grand and then heads for home, with Joe following. A simple robbery goes bad and Joe ends up gutting the man, but the real problem is getting rid of the evidence. Our hapless "hero" can't find an unpopulated area anywhere in the city, finally having to do with stuffing the body down a manhole. Fearing he's been seen by a couple of cops, Joe hightails it, only to discover one of the officers hot in pursuit. Crossing the street in a panic, Harris is "Rundown" and fatally wounded by an auto driven by--surprise!--his wife and her lover. The cop helpfully explains to Marsha that she can come down and claim Joe's bankroll at the precinct as her husband expires. "Rundown" is not a great script but it's not awful; it's a quick five-minute read and has a couple of nice twists in its final panels, and who can complain when the visuals are supplied by Reed Crandall? Marsha is cut from that same broad cloth that Carl drew from to create Effy Wilkes and Irene Hall, three shrews with not a whit of personality or originality between them. The same could be said for weak-kneed and hen-pecked Clyde, Matt, and Joe. Not a strong man among them.


When we began this journey two years ago, I had not read any of the EC stories in over thirty years (since the Cochran box sets were published) and, to my mind, the strongest title was Shock. The twists, the controversies, the tackling of subjects ignored by other publishers, this series had it all. So, how did it measure up on re-reading? Not as perfect as I recall but still pretty damn good. Of the 72 stories Shock presented, I awarded 32 with a rating of three stars or more (ten of those got a perfect "four"). That's a respectable percentage if stacked up against the other titles (and I'll present a complete overview in our publisher wrap-up in December) and it's even more respectable if you omit Jack Kamen's sub-par contributions. So many classic Shockers. This is one title I am very much going to miss. --Peter

Jack: Not surprisingly, my ratings for the stories were exactly the same as yours, except for "In the Bag," since I'm not as gaga over Krigstein as you are. The issue as a whole is dragged down by Carl Wessler's mediocre writing. The cornpone dialog in "Cadillac Fever!" is a chore to read and the final ride is obvious from early on, but Evans's art is a joy. Not so Kamen's work in "The Trap," where some panels are so bad I wonder if Kamen even drew them. The story is terrible, too--bottom of the barrel. "In the Bag" gets almost all of its noir atmosphere from Krigstein's art, but the story doesn't come close to a four-star rating. Finally, Crandall shines in "Rundown," making me think he and Evans are my favorites at this point. Two Cadillac stories in the same issue is at least one too many and the ending comes out of left field. That panel of Joe getting run over is a shocker.

Next Week in
Star Spangled DC War Stories #129:
Is This the End of Easy?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Stanley Ellin Part Two: The Blessington Method [5.8]

by Jack Seabrook

Stanley Ellin's Edgar-winning short story, "The Blessington Method," is a vastly entertaining look at a problem that confronted middle-aged people in 1956, when the story was first published, and that still confronts us today. The story begins as Mr. Treadwell, a prosperous New York businessman, receives a visitor named Bunce, who represents the Society for Gerontology. Bunce knows a great deal about Treadwell and confronts him with knowledge of a problem: Treadwell's 72-year-old father-in-law, who has moved in with the Treadwells and who is likely to live another 20 years. Bunce explains that the one and only solution to Treadwell's problem is the Blessington Method, which involves killing the aged in a way that looks accidental, thus freeing the family of a burden. Treadwell dismisses Bunce in anger but, in the days that follow, finds himself thinking about the Blessington Method and growing ever more aggravated at the presence of his aging relative.

Henry Jones as Treadwell
He visits Bunce at the modern, busy offices of the Society for Gerontology, where Bunce convinces him to sign a pledge to pay a sum of $2000 in a month in exchange for the elimination of his father-in-law. The aged parent is found drowned off a Long Island pier three weeks later and the death is ruled accidental. Soon, Treadwell visits Bunce and gives him a check. However, Treadwell is troubled by the thought that one day he will be the unwanted elderly relative, destined to be murdered at the behest of younger members of his family. Bunce tells Treadwell to think of his loving daughter and how unlikely she would be to harm him. " 'Hold on to that thought, Mr. Treadwell, cherish it and keep it close at all times. It will be a solace and comfort to the very end.' "

Ellin's story is a model of irony and deservedly won the Edgar for Best Short Story of 1956. Published in the June 1956 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, it proposes murdering the unwanted elderly but couches it in terms that make it seem palatable. Bunce, described as "stout, well-dressed, and imposing," is a master salesman. His target, Treadwell, is described as "a small, likeable man," and he falls prey to a carefully thought out sales pitch. The Blessington Method, founded by J.G. Blessington (the use of initials gives him a brisk, businesslike sound), is presented as a multi-step process, like any number of self-help schemes popular then and now:

Step one: admit there is a problem
Step two: realize that no logical or practical solution exists
Step three: understand that the existence, not the presence, of the aged subject is what creates the problem

Dick York as Bunce
Though Bunce never comes right out and says it, one suspects that step four is the realization that murder for hire is the only solution. Like any good salesman, Bunce has done his research--he knows all about Treadwell's financial status and family life and he has cultivated a relationship with Treadwell's father-in-law by providing a listening ear when the old man spends time in public places. Bunce presents the situation as one with a natural, even an honorable solution, arguing that the aged are neither producers nor consumers, "only barriers to our continued progress." In post-war America, progress was important and anything that stood in the way of success and forward movement was to be shunned. As Bunce explains, the elderly are like worn out parts in the world organism that need to be replaced to maintain societal efficiency. Turning murder for hire into a societal good demonstrates the brilliance of Bunce's sales pitch; he tells Treadwell that by "signing a pledge to our Society a man is truly performing the most noble act of his life." Only then does the appeal for money come, and even that is softened by flattery when Bunce tells Treadwell that his research into the man's financial standing shows that he can afford the $2000 fee.

Elizabeth Patterson as Treadwell's mother-in-law
The story's clever twist finds Treadwell coming to the realization that he someday could be the object of a murder for hire. One again, Bunce, the silver-tongued salesman, comes to the rescue with a combination of sophistry and flattery, comforting and convincing Treadwell that the daughter who loves him could never take the step that he himself has just taken. By convincing Treadwell that he is unique and special, Bunce does his final bit of sleight of hand by distracting Treadwell from recalling that the threat to his future self is likely to come from his son-in-law, not his daughter. The reader sees the irony in Bunce's words but Treadwell, at the end of the story, appears blissfully unaware.

"The Blessington Method" is so smoothly written that one is tempted to gloss over the shocking nature of its premise. Apparently, the producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were not so blind when they decided to adapt the story for television in 1959. The author of the teleplay, Halsted Welles, has kept the central premise, characters, and events of the short story intact while making significant changes that probably were enacted in order to make it more palatable to a wide audience watching the show on network television. The show aired on CBS on Sunday, November 15, 1959, less than two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, when families would gather to share a meal with their aging parents and in-laws. It is set 21 years in the future, in 1980, when office doors swing open by themselves and a father says grace at dinner time by intoning, "Our father, who art in space."

Paul E. Burns as the doomed fisherman
The teleplay by Welles opens with a scene not in the short story. We see a young man (whom we will later learn is J.J. Bunce--initials added for TV) in a business suit sitting on a pier. He is joined by an elderly fisherman (he says he's 93 years old), who takes Think-Eze pills to improve his memory and who remarks, "it's a great life if you don't weaken!" The young man encourages the old man to lean over the edge of the pier to see a large fish, then gives the old man a gentle push that causes him to fall into the water, where we assume he drowns. This opening scene is treated as light comedy. Dick York, playing Bunce, looks nonthreatening yet commits cold-blooded murder; the tone helps distract us from the fact that we have just watched a defenseless person being murdered.

Penny Edwards as the receptionist
The next scene begins with a shot of a futuristic clock that has both time and date (July 13, 1980) and the odd reference to Think-Eze pills in the prior scene begins to make sense. By setting "The Blessington Method" 21 years in the future, Welles makes the events seem foreign and thus more acceptable; the audience is given distance from the America where these things take place and is not forced to think about how closely the characters and their problems parallel our own. Bunce arrives in the reception area of a modern office, where the beautiful blond receptionist refuses to speak. Since talking spreads germs, she presses buttons and a speaker on her desk utters prerecorded sentences directed at Bunce. A spherical camera lowers itself from above and Bunce must speak into it; he begins to lose his temper and is allowed to proceed to Treadwell's office.

The TV version briefly picks up where the short story began, as Bunce enters Treadwell's sparsely-furnished modern office and makes his sales pitch. He is a representative of the Society for Experimental Gerology (a made up word to replace the real term, gerontology, used in the short story) and when he tells Treadwell all of the things he knows about the man's life, among them is the fact that his "mother-in-law's face lifting [is] not yet paid for." Welles switches the gender of Treadwell's aged in-law and follows the long comedic tradition of poking fun at a man's mother-in-law. To further make the show seem like a blend of comedy and science fiction (a very successful one, at that), the mother-in-law is said to be 82, and Treadwell says that actuarial tables show that she is likely to live another 32 years! Once Bunce gets to the list of murder methods that look like accidents, he mentions "tumble off a pier," and we realize that what we saw in the show's first scene was an example of Bunce at work, killing the elderly relative of a client. In the TV version, the sales pitch is shortened and Treadwell realizes what's going on quickly.

Vaughn Meadows as Treadwell's son
Stanley Ellin's story uses narrative to tell the reader about Treadwell's subsequent frustration with his aged in-law, but Halsted Welles takes the opportunity to dramatize this in the scenes that follow, and the result is hilarious. At the Treadwell house, the family is gathered around the dinner table when they are interrupted by banging on the ceiling--Mother wants Treadwell to come upstairs and fix her TV set, "or I'll miss the roller derby." After dinner, the Treadwells spend a pleasant evening together as the teenage siblings do their homework at the dining room table and Treadwell examines a graph of population growth according to increased age. He is temperamental and yells at the kids, demanding quiet, but as soon as he goes upstairs the silence is shattered by his mother-in-law, who plays a loud Sousa march on her record player. Treadwell visits her in her room and she hurls insults at him, telling him that his stomach makes him "look like a rumpled pillow" and causing his frustration to grow.

Bunce appears godlike after he kills the mother-in-law
To keep scene changes and sets at a minimum, Welles has Bunce make a return visit to Treadwell's office, rather than having Treadwell visit the offices of Bunce's society. Treadwell agrees to have his mother-in-law killed and, in an ironic twist, Bunce chooses to commit the murder on Sunday morning, while Treadwell's family is in church. On Sunday morning, Treadwell has taken his mother-in-law to the park and returns home to announce that he is not going to church. Instead, he will go fishing. The show's first scene is recalled in the scene that follows, where we see Bunce wheeling Treadwell's mother-in-law out onto a pier (she has a broken leg and is in a wheelchair); he talks to her in a soothing voice about the natural order of things and the importance of death, then he pushes her--wheelchair and all--into the water. There is a shot with the camera looking up at Bunce, godlike, as he looks down at the water, where the woman is surely drowning.

The final scene of the show finds Treadwell out in his fishing boat, Bunce sitting on a nearby pier. Bunce tells Treadwell that the deed is done, and this time the camera looks up at Bunce with the sun behind him. The effect is somehow sinister, as Bunce speaks of the future and the idea of his destiny occurs to Treadwell. Bunce finishes his speech, stands up, dons his hat, and walks off with confidence, leaving Treadwell sitting alone in his boat, looking apprehensive as he ponders the rest of his life and how it is likely to end.

Irene Windust as Treadwell's wife
"The Blessington Method" is a great short story that was adapted into an equally great half hour of television, one which stands as one of the rare forays into science fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The reason for the future setting, however, was surely to make the premise of Stanley Ellin's short story acceptable to viewers in 1959 by making all of the small details surrounding the central conceit seem foreign and thus suggesting that no such thing could happen in 1959 America. Much of the credit for the success of the TV adaptation must go to Halsted Welles (1906-1990), the writer of the teleplay, who worked in live theater in the 1930s and who wrote a handful of screenplays, including the classic western, 3:10 to Yuma (1957). He wrote many episodes for Suspense, in the early days of television, and he wrote a total of six episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Among the many other TV shows he wrote for was Night Gallery.

Herschel Daugherty (1910-1993), one of the Hitchcock TV series's most prolific directors, was behind the camera for this episode, and he moves the story along at a rapid pace, successfully lending a humorous tone to the proceedings without sacrificing the core conflicts of the story. Born in Indiana, Daugherty started out as an actor, playing bit parts in films from 1949 to 1951, but achieved success as a director, almost exclusively for TV, from 1952 to 1975. He directed no less than 27 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Cure," and he later directed a couple of episodes of Star Trek, among many other shows.

Top billing goes to Henry Jones (1912-1999), the laconic actor who was born in New Jersey and whose long screen career spanned the years from 1943 to 1995. He was in six episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The West Warlock Time Capsule," and also appeared on such shows as Thriller, Night Gallery, and The Night Stalker, in addition to playing a role in Hitchcock's 1958 classic, Vertigo. Jones is perfect as Treadwell, able to demonstrate growing frustration with his mother-in-law and comfortable making the questionable moral leaps required to accept the Blessington Method.

Nancy Kilgas as Treadwell's daughter
Playing the difficult role of Bunce is Dick York (1928-1992). York must be charming and sinister, a master salesman who can make murder for hire seem like the only honorable choice. Like director Daugherty, York was born in Indiana; his screen career lasted from 1953 to 1984. Plagued by terrible back pain caused by an injury sustained on the set of a film, he nevertheless appeared in seven episodes of the Hitchcock show, as well as being on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. York's most famous role, however, was as Darrin Stevens on Bewitched, the popular situation comedy where he co-starred with Elizabeth Montgomery from 1964 to 1969, when he quit the show due to his back problems.

Among the supporting cast:
  • Elizabeth Patterson (1874-1966) as Treadwell's mother-in-law; born in Tennessee and on screen from 1926 to 1961, this was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She also had a recurring role on I Love Lucy.
  • Irene Windust (1921-1999) as Treadwell's wife; she had a brief career on screen from 1958 to 1963 but managed to turn up on four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents during that time.
  • Paul E. Burns (1881-1967) as the old fisherman who is killed in the first scene; he played bit parts in film and on TV from 1930 to 1967 and was seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one episode of The Twilight Zone.
  • Vaughn Meadows (1944- ) as Treadwell's son; he was in only eight TV episodes from 1956 to 1962 and this was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.
  • Nancy Kilgas (1930- ) as Treadwell's daughter; her brief career from 1954 to 1959 included just one episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; she also made an uncredited appearance as a dancer in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966).
  • Penny Edwards (1928-1998) as the receptionist at Treadwell's office; she was on screen from 1947 to 1961 and appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
"The Blessington Method" has been collected in two of Stanley Ellin's short story collections and has been reprinted in other volumes. Watch the TV version online for free here or get the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review here. Both the story and the TV show are worth seeking out.

“The Blessington Method.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 8, CBS, 15 Nov. 1959.
Ellin, Stanley. “The Blessington Method.” The Specialty of the House, Mysterious Press, 1979.
The FictionMags Index,
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Apr. 2018,

In two weeks: Specialty of the House, starring Robert Morley!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 128: July 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 163

"Kill the General!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Dan Spiegle and Joe Kubert

"The Ace Who Died Twice!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #114, April 1966)

"Sgt. Storm Cloud"
Story by David Kahn
Art by Carmine Infantino
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #8, January 1954)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier must put the kibosh on a plan to kill Ike in Paris but the Krauts may be just as skilled in deception as our hero. In the end, the Allies use keen war training (a cardboard cut-out of Ike standing in front of the HQ window!) and, of course, masterful make-up and very life-like masks to shut down Der Fuhrer's insane plot.

There seems to be a wild shifting of quality amongst our DC war series every year or so (except for Sgt Rock, which seems to maintain a level of average to high quality month in and out); just when you get used to the Losers being . . . losers, the editors throw a monkey wrench called Severin in. Likewise, the Unknown Soldier which, for its first ten installments, seemed to be a natural replacement for Enemy Ace. Bob Haney, for the most part, has been doing a very good job of fleshing out the character and drawing our interest in much the same way as Kubert and Kanigher enthralled us with the exploits of von Hammer, but "Kill the General!" has a juvenile, almost superhero-ish, quality to its writing. The Soldier's antics have never been what we could describe as "realistic," with his instantly manufactured masks and costumes, but at least the stories kept us involved. Not so here; US is almost a different character and the plot hasn't even been dusted off. The introduction of Dan Spiegle as artist is also a minus (get used to Dan, he'll be around for a while); his work is cartoonish and sketchy, a la Glanzman, Sparling, and Grandenetti. There may be a bit of hope on the horizon, though, in the form of Archie Goodwin.


Fresh off the reservation, "Sgt. Storm Cloud" (no relation to Johnny Cloud) hopes his forest-born skills as a Native American will come in handy against the Nazis. When Cloud and his men are ambushed in the African desert, the sergeant uses all his childhood training to outwit the enemy. Not bad for a mid-'50s war tale and, certainly, much more entertaining than the opener. Again, I must defend the work of Carmine Infantino, whose work here is dazzling and well-choreographed.  This Cloud is a heck of a lot easier to root for than the dour Johnny currently found in the Losers. The issue carries an announcement (reprinted far below) that, beginning next month, the price for a DC comic will drop to 20 cents. Publisher Carmine Infantino explains all the backstage rigmarole and exclaims that "all our magazines will soon contain additional pages of fresh excitement." That remains to be seen.

Jack: After the cool art/photo montage splash page by Kubert opened the Unknown Soldier story, I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Spiegle's art and enjoyed the tale. The Unknown Soldier can impersonate anyone convincingly, from an old man in a wheelchair to a female nurse! I'm with Peter in my admiration for the early '50s work of Carmine Infantino, and "Sgt. Storm Cloud" was an entertaining read and possibly a precursor to the later Johnny Cloud, though this soldier was not a pilot.

Our Army at War 247

"The Vision!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Color Me Brave!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

"Old Soldiers Never Run!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #91, February 1960)

Jack: Easy Co. is on a mission in France to scout anti-aircraft nests when they are surprised by a spotlight that makes them sitting ducks for a sunken tank turret. Suddenly, resistance fighters join them, led by a beautiful young woman. The tank is destroyed and the young woman reveals that she is Joan of Arc, back from the dead to lead her people to victory against the Nazis. Joan hears voices and awaits "The Vision!" to tell her what her next move will be.

Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. follow her to a village for some rest. Just before dawn, the soldiers and resistance fighters follow the young woman out of town, where they find the hidden anti-aircraft nest. The allied forces manage to blow up the nest before friendly planes fly overhead into the danger zone, but the young woman is shot and killed in the battle. The villagers gather around her lifeless form and Rock tells his men that he thinks she'll be back the next time she's needed.

Was the young woman really the reincarnation of Joan of Arc? It all depends on what you believe. One thing is for sure--Russ Heath draws her in a skintight outfit with a body like a centerfold model. Kanigher and Heath's latest Easy Co. stories seem straightforward and simple in a good way, allowing the art room to breathe without overloading the panels with type. I like the trend.

After the Japanese planes bombed U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma rolled upside down and began to sink. For the men on board ship, it was chaos. One steward's mate named Mac Stringer knew his way around the ship and risked his life in a heroic rescue of several other men who were trapped in a room and not thinking straight. Mac was commended for his bravery but later remained a steward because he was black.

If Sam Glanzman were a better artist, this would be one of the best stories of 1972. As it is, the tale is powerful and the ending completely unexpected. Glanzman manages to make a point without being heavy-handed, something that wasn't always accomplished in the DC comics of the early 1970s.

Peter: Nothing much to say about "The Vision!," other than it's gorgeously illustrated and the script seems overly familiar. I thought for sure we were seeing the latest adventure from Jack's favorite female freedom fighter, Mlle. Marie, but the climax explained the need for the new heroine. It's almost one of those Big Bob scripts that kinda sorta introduces supernatural undertones but pulls away before making a statement. Did I mention that Russ Heath seemingly can do no wrong? I've neglected commenting on the U.S.S. Stevens entries lately as they've all been pretty much the same thing: insightful script but raggedy art but, while the art remains rough, "Color Me Brave!" is one of Sam's best "scripts" of late, four pages overflowing with suspense and bravery. Nicely done.

G.I. Combat 154

"Battle Prize!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Frogman Battleground!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #59, July 1957)

"Night Attack"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #53, January 1958)

"Count on Me!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #58, June 1958)

The Haunted Tank is captured by the Nazis and Hitler sends the crew of the Jeb on a tour of Germany, pointing out to his lemmings that this "junkyard tank" is "proof that the Allied military are scraping the bottom!!" While on a train bound for the next carnival, freedom fighters save the Jeb and send them on their way. Only problem is that the men find themselves in Russia! There, the boys become allies with Russian rebels camped in the forest and help the fighters win back their village. Casualties are heavy and, in the end, Jeb Stuart wonders how his men and the Haunted Tank will make it back to the front line.


Oh no, no, no, no . . . This will not do. Sam Glanzman may be palatable in small, four-page doses but not in a fourteen-page strip previously illustrated by DC's finest artist, Russ Heath. It's tough to keep the characters sorted out as Sam's sketchy art just blends them all together in a mishmash of pinks and black lines. Gone is the incredible detail and well-staged battle scenes; what we're left with here is what could best be summed up as plastic soldiers in front of a cardboard diorama. Even Dan Spiegle shows more care in his work. Big Bob's patchwork script isn't much better; it bops all around but doesn't seem to get anywhere. I'm not sure I'll survive much more of this.

Double Ugh!

"Frogman Battleground!" details the trials and errors of a newbie fishman trying to avoid, at all costs, that "rock bottom line" frogmen have to be aware of lest they lose their minds and drown. Nice Heath art but the story becomes a little too enamored of the "rock bottom line" (I'm really surprised that this wasn't the title) and our hero becomes a pinball jettisoned from one encounter with the dark deep to another. Much better is the Kanigher/Kubert collab, "Night Attack," which succeeds at illustrating the night fears of a foxholed G.I. and his almost OCD ability to protect his ground from the enemy. "Night Attack" is the best reprint we've had in years. Finally, "Count on Me!" offers up John Severin art that looks nothing like John Severin (uncredited inker?) and a script hanging upon that title.

"Night Attack"

Jack: It's not fair to put a new Sam Glanzman story in the same comic as reprints drawn by Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, and John Severin, even if the Severin story is not an example of his best work. Glanzman's faces are the least successful part of his art, but in a 14-page story that depends on characterization, the inability to draw faces is a big problem. Some of his layouts are passable and the story is more violent than we're used to, but the art is disappointing. There are a few panels where I wonder if he was swiping from Kubert or Heath, because it doesn't look like Kubert the editor redrew them but it also doesn't look like the usual Glanzman faces. I must admit that when mention was made in "Frogman Battleground!" of the aqua lung, my mental jukebox started playing "Sitting on a park bench . . ." "Night Attack" features truly superb work by Kubert. Let's face it, Peter, Kubert is better than Heath. Just admit it.

"We're going to make you love getting less for more!"

Next Week . . .
The purge continues as we take
one last trip down into
the Vault of Horror