Monday, April 2, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 54

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
54: December 1954
                  + Best of 1954

Weird Science-Fantasy #26

A Special "Flying Saucer Report" Issue 

Stories by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, and George Evans

A whole issue of this otherwise excellent science fiction title devoted to the "truth" behind dozens of UFO sightings and plane crashes is, in my mind at least, a waste of time, energy, and paper (the time and energy being my own). Fortunately, there are lots of pretty pitchers to absorb between the startling facts of the "British overseas airways Comet-jet liner" that crashed and killed all 43 passengers near Calcutta in 1952
(a quick Wiki look reveals that the crash actually took place in 1953 and the cause was a severe storm) and the little fishing boy who witnesses a silver dish gliding over him one day and all the similar-sounding reports in between. The issue also comes complete with a plea from the EC staff to the United States Air Force to "tell us the truth about the flying saucers."

Gold Key managed to squeeze thirteen issues out of this slim idea a decade later but it's a lot easier to accept a publisher like GK trotting out something like this, not the guys that gave us classic adaptations of Ray Bradbury. --Peter

Jack: The flying saucer hysteria of the early '50s really is hard to comprehend today, isn't it? Imagine thinking that the government was covering something up, or not investigating something, or--oh, you get the point. I love Al's refrain of "it's important" when he mentions a particular fact, or "actual quotes" of pilots saying things like, "there's one of those things again." I wasn't all that impressed with the art, either, and thought it did not go well with the narrative, such as it was. All in all, this is a terribly dated issue that really doesn't reward today's reader.

The Haunt of Fear #28

"The Prude" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

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

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

"A Work of Art!" 
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

Well, folks, we've got trouble right here in River City! Actually, it's the little town of Northton that is suffering under the tyranny of "The Prude," a self-righteous man by the name of Mike Pence Warren Forbisher who has appointed himself guardian of public morals. In the early 1800s, he convinces the townspeople to outlaw one thing after another, from adultery on down to public kissing and holding hands. It gets so bad that he orders that men and women can't be buried next to each other, because who knows what they get up to in the afterlife? There's just one problem. All of the women's bodies are dug up and reburied in a separate cemetery across the street, but every night the dead gals grab their tombstones and march right back to spend eternity next to their hubbies. Warren thinks something fishy is going on but gets his just desserts when the corpse of his long-dead gal pal drags him into the grave with her.

"The Prude"
It's sad to see Ghastly's signature on the first page, with teardrops and a little handwritten "Farewell." Wessler's story takes a nutty idea and runs with it, and it's funny to watch the prude of the title gradually convince everyone in his little town to make their own lives more miserable. Ingels gets to draw some shambling corpses near the end but I was disappointed not to get a look into that grave where Warren lies next to his decaying former lover.

A cruel man recalls how he loved to trap and torture animals in the jungle before killing them, all the while thinking of the people he had known who had wronged him. One day, he falls in one of his own traps and the ants get their revenge, leaving him nothing but a bleached skull.

Bernie gets Ghastly.
"Numbskull" is a disgusting story that revels in depictions of torture and ends with a corny and unworthy twist where the narrator is revealed to have been dead all the while he was telling the tale. Krigstein's art is passable, though he looks to be aping Ghastly in one panel where strings of saliva fill the narrator's open mouth.

Ethel Stark, a pretty teen who plays a mean clarinet, follows bandleader Phil Vitale around and begs him to let her be in his all-girl band. When she says she'll kill herself, he saves her the trouble and injects her with something that makes her a zombie. She thinks you have to be dead to join the band but quickly learns that it's actually an "all-ghoul" band that is anxious to feast on the nubile musician.

Not another Jack
Kamen story!
Good lord, "Audition" is so dumb it couldn't even hold my interest for five pages! One plus of the end of Haunt of Fear is that we won't be forced to read any more awful Jack Kamen stories.

Mortician Jarvis Edwards considers every body he prepares for burial to be "A Work of Art!" so he is disappointed when his son in law becomes his apprentice and wants to cut corners to make more money. After Jarvis has a mild heart attack, he becomes obsessed with his own death, worrying that his son-in-law will do a poor job on his corpse. He sees something in a magazine that intrigues him and, after sending off many mysterious orders by mail, he drops dead; his daughter and son in law discover that he built a robot mortician in the basement to make sure the job is done properly.

That's it? He built a robot? This story was going along so nicely until Wessler fumbled on the goal line. A robot! How disappointing. I was picturing that Ray Bradbury story where the guy ends up stuck in the mechanical coffin that digs its own grave. Now, that was a memorable image! Too bad this one isn't. The final issue of Haunt of Fear is a big yawn.--Jack

The disappointing finish to the final story in Haunt of Fear.
("A Work of Art!")

Peter: So how does The Haunt of Fear fare on its last voyage? Only so-so, I'm afraid.  Even though "The Prude" comes with the oh-so-subtle underlying message, I found it to be delightfully sick, especially its closing panel ("Why, Mr. Forbisher! Don't you know there are laws about that sort of thing!") and its Grade-A Ghastly visuals. Bernie Krigstein has been lights out since showing up in the EC bullpen but "Numbskull" (with its numbskull script) is his first stumble, a really bad tale that accentuates the sketchiness and cartoony style that Krigstein has actually shown to good effect in previous contributions. It doesn't help that the protagonist is so evil as to be unbelievable (he goes all the way to Africa to torture animals because of some bad personal experiences?). "A Work of Art!" could pass as a Bradbury adaptation; it's got that small town everyman vibe to it and, a rarity, no real villain. The only five-page horror story to appear in an EC title, "Audition" is supremely dumb, an occurrence that seems to happen in some kind of alternate reality where bandleaders have need for zombies and ghouls. So, it's sad to see the horror titles ending but, and I've said this before, if this was the direction Wessler and Oleck were taking the line, it was time to die.

MAD #18

"Alice in Wonderland!" ★ 1/2
Story by Lewis Carroll
Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Tenniel and Jack Davis

"Howdy Dooit!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

"Pot-Shot Pete---" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman
(Reprinted from Billy the Kid Adventure #9, March 1952)

"Stalag 18!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

When young Alice chases a rabbit and falls down a rabbit hole, the results are unpleasantly messy. She next tries to climb through the looking glass, but it smashes to bits. She has similar difficulties when trying to go through a tiny door. Finally making it to Wonderland, Alice attends a tea party and gets close up to the white rabbit, who looks an awful lot like Bugs Bunny. Bugs reads the poem called "Jabberwocky," but "Alice in Wonderland" doesn't think much of it. In the end, it all turns out to be a dream, so Alice is dragged off to see a shrink.

"Alice in Wonderland"

Jack Davis's take on the classic Tenniel art style is funny and I liked the Bugs Bunny cameo. "Alice in Wonderland!" breezes by, more amusing than hilarious.

How Jose met his wife.
("Howdy Dooit!")
The kids in the Peewee Gallery may not realize it, but it's "Howdy Dooit!" time! Yes, our favorite TV kids show host, Buffalo Bill, is here to corral another half-hour of black and white fun for the confused and bored kids in the audience. After a threatening commercial for Bupgoo by the scary title puppet, Big Chief Thundamelvin and Clarabella the clown provide a brief interlude before it's time for another word from our sponsor. Howdy demonstrates for the kids at home how to have a tantrum to get Mom to buy your favorite product at the store, then Buffalo Bill chats amiably with the kids in the Peewee Gallery, until one little monster cuts his strings and it is revealed that the host was himself a puppet.

How Jack met his wife.
("Pot-Shot Pete---")
"Howdy Dooit!" is the best new story this time out, with Kurtzman and Elder making an unbeatable combo. I especially liked the panel where one little girl in the Peewee Gallery is giving a little boy her phone number.

Yucca Pucca Gulch's "Pot-Shot Pete" is back, and this time he has to bring in the McYetNit Boys! He must avoid a gun-happy young Gunzel and a smooch-happy young blonde, but in the end he brings in the McYetNit Boys, who turn out to be two little lads who had to make it home in time for supper.

Another "Pot-Shot Pete" reprint is welcome, since Kurtzman's work is so creative and absurdly funny.

How Peter met his ex-wife.
("Stalag 18!")
"Stalag 18!" is a German POW camp for American sergeants during WWII. When they tire of such hi jinks as running a rat race, drinking from a still, and ogling the Russian women in the POW camp next door, they decide to try to make their escape through an underground tunnel, but there's a spy in their midst. Once the spy is disposed of, two of our heroes manage a dangerous escape, only to find themselves emerging in the Russian women's POW camp. Unfortunately, the Russian women are not of the young and beautiful sort.

Wood's art is the highlight of "Stalag 18!" but since I've never seen the movie I don't really get the gags.--Jack

Melvin Enfantino: I'm afraid I didn't laugh out loud, guffaw, or chortle this time out. The only snickers were drawn from the page where Alice tries to get the whole "large room, small door, big key, tiny panel" routine down. Otherwise, this was a very weak issue; in fact, if not for the cover, I'd have pegged it as a Panic. That cover's a classic though.



1 "Fire Trap!" (Crime SuspenStories #20)
2 "Star Light, Star Bright!" (Vault of Horror #34)
3 "Squeeze Play" (Shock SuspenStories #13)
4 ". . . And All Through the House . . ." (Vault of Horror #35)
5 "Shoe-Button Eyes!" (Vault of Horror #35)
6 "Flesh Garden!" (MAD #11)
7 "Starchie!" (MAD #12)
8 "Indisposed!" (Haunt of Fear #25)
9 "The Pioneer" (Weird Science-Fantasy #24)
10 "The Privateer" (Piracy #1)


1 “Star Light, Star Bright!”
2 “Squeeze Play”
3 “…And All Through the House…”
4 “Dragged Net” (MAD #11)
5 “More Blessed to Give…” (Crime SuspenStories #24)
6 “Gasoline Valley” (MAD #15)
7 “Tick Dracy” (Panic #5)
8 “Dog Food” (Crime SuspenStories #25)
9 “The Squealer” (Crime SuspenStories #25)
10 “Swamped” (Haunt of Fear #27)


1 "Starchie!"
2 "More Blessed to Give..."
3 "Squeeze Play"
4 " . . . And All Through the House. . ."
5 "Pipe Dream" (Vault of Horror #36)
6 "Prairie Schooner" (Tales from the Crypt #40)
7 "Robinson Crusoe" (MAD #13)
8 "3 Dimensions" (MAD #12)
9 "Fall Guy" (Shock SuspenStories #12)
10 "Woman Wonder" (MAD #10)

Next Week . . .
A very bad day for Sgt. Rock!


Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of your "best of" posts. Here's my best of 1954:

1. The Flying Machine (WSF #23)
2. Pipe Dream (VOH #36)
3. Squeeze Play (SS #13)
4. Starchie (M #12)
5. The Whipping (SS #14)
6. 3-Dimensions (M #12)
7. A Kind of Justice (SS #16)
8. The Children (WSF #23)
9. The Kidnapper (SS #12)
10. The Catacombs (VOH #38)

-- Jim

Peter Enfantino said...

My favorite aspect of doing these blogs is putting together the best of lists. Coming soon: my Top Ten list of Top Ten Lists.

Quiddity99 said...

So I was (and still am, but not as much) a UFO/flying saucer fanatic, and yet I always found this issue of Weird Science-Fantasy very boring. Al Feldstein basically sat down with and got all his details from a UFO expert at the time, I think David Keyhoe was his name. Kurtzman handled the non-fiction work a hell of a lot better than Feldstein (certainly the shorter length helped).

Agreed with you guys on how mediocre this last issue of Haunt of Fear is. The first story is decent but the other 3 are awful. A Work of Art is clearly a reworking of Bradbury's the coffin, but in much less interesting fashion.

Jack's love for Johnny Craig shows quite a bit, as 4 of his top 5 stories were either drawn by or written by him! Good to see "The Pioneer" get some love, I always enjoyed that story quite a bit and find it very underrated.

As for my own top 10... I will actually mix it up a little and

1. And All Through the House - V35
2. Any Sport in a Storm - V38
3. Understudies - CSS21
4. About Face - H27
5. The Children - WSF23
6. Fish Story - WSF23
7. A Sound of Thunder - WSF25
8. Squeeze Play - SS13
9. The Pioneer - WSF24
10. My Brother's Keeper - SS16

Grant said...

I don't know about the QUALITY of them, but I don't see the problem with the general idea of UFO story dramatizations in a horror comic (once in a while, at least, or in this case, a single issue about them). So Quiddity99's comment makes sense to me, since it's not about how wrong it is to use them in the first place, only the quality of them.
Donald Keyhoe was one of the biggest ufology figures at the time, so yes, he probably was the one who was consulted.

Jack Seabrook said...

Q99, thanks for sharing your list! I'm often frustrated with doing these lists because I end up with about 20 stories and then have to start cutting. Some of the ones I cut are as good as the ones I leave on.

Grant, I agree with you that a UFO story is fine as long as it's a good one. Unfortunately, this issue is boring, depsite the art.