Monday, May 28, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 58

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
 58: February/March 1955, Part II

Piracy #3

"Blackbeard" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"U-Boat" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Mouse Trap" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by George Evans

"Slave Ship" ★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

"Gentleman-turned-buccaneer" Stede Bonnet wants only one thing more than joining Blackbeard's pirate fleet, and that's ascending higher than the famed pirate someday. After Blackbeard is bested by Bonnet in a duel of swords, he has no choice but to accept the upstart into his gang of merry men and it's only a matter of time before Bonnet becomes second-in-command. But runner-up is not what floats Stede's boat now; he wants command of the entire fleet of pirates and he's got a plan to fulfill his dream. Unfortunately for Bonnet, Blackbeard is just as crafty and, through a series of crosses and double-crosses, the older man finds himself still in charge. Not for long, though, as the Albatross is attacked and boarded by the crew of a British man-o-war. Bonnet finally gets his wish as his corpse is hung from the yard arm of the Albatross, higher than Blackbeard's. Our writer may have played around with the details of history a bit in order to make for a more entertaining read (Bonnet was actually hanged in South Carolina), but it works. Reed Crandall can really work up the atmosphere; we feel as though we're at sea with these blackguards and rabble. The multiple back-stabbings had me re-reading the text more than once but a big plus was the absence of any "Arrrr, matey . . ." dialogue to gob up the action.

Eric Von Krohner, commander of a German U-Boat during World War II, may be unlike any other Nazi as he shows sympathy for the "enemy" and holds to his own moral code. That doesn't sit well with his second-in-command, Hitler Youth poster boy Heinrich Hass. When the U-Boat destroys a battleship and rescues two American survivors, it begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game between Hass and his CO. "U-Boat" isn't what I'd call a "pirate" tale but perhaps editor Feldstein considered Nazis pirates or scavengers and so I can live with the bending of the rules a bit. It helps that the story is dynamite, an exciting and (literally) deep sea saga which benefits from some fabulous dialogue:

Von Krohner: No, lieutenant, it is you who are the traitors! You Nazis . . . who betrayed a nation . . . a whole world . . . for the glory of a few greedy, brutal madmen!

Hass: Spoken like a true Prussian! You admiralty men thrive on war and when you think you may lose one, you look around for someone else to blame!

Hard to believe this is Carl Wessler's handiwork, rather than Harvey's, but Wessler seemed to be elevating his level of writing towards the end (as evidenced by several stories that appeared in this time frame); staying up late and absorbing all those EC back issues seems to have helped. Bernie Krigstein was an artist with two styles-- 1/detailed but abstract and 2/cartoony--this here features a whole lot of that Grandenetti-esque cartoony squiggling and I'd be a hypocrite for raving about BK's work on "U-Boat" and shoveling manure on Jerry, so I'll take the easy way out and say that this is one hell of a script and sometimes that's all you need (smiley face).

Martin Hawley only wanted to be a good sailor but the rest of the men on the Sea Spray would never let him forget how scrawny he was. Nor would they give him a break, stealing his food and making him take the top bunk (fer heaven's sake!), wearing the poor soul down. So, when Martin is caught stealing food from the store room and given six lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails, his patience runs out and he puts into play an elaborate plan to turn the men against the skipper and commit mutiny. The joke's on Martin, though, when the men murder the Captain and toss Hawley into a rowboat with no food or water to give the impression the Sea Spray had been scuttled. When he's found, nearly dead, by a passing ship, Hawley confesses his sins and tells the true story of the Sea Spray. The ship's doctor laments that Hawley never got a word out due to his lack of energy. "Mouse Trap" isn't a bad story but it's a bit on the ho-hum side; that might be down to the fact that the first two tales this issue are such firecrackers and "Mouse Trap" seems like such a familiar story. George Evans's art is just as tame as the script, with Martin Hawley resembling a skinny Quasimodo.

"Mouse Trap"

"Slave Ship"
Farmer Tod Ellis awakens after a long night of drinking to find himself at sea. Tod has been shanghaied! While making his discontent known to the first mate, Tod shows his fellow crewmen he's not one to be bullied and quickly earns their respect. Because Ellis knows he's trapped in the middle of the ocean, he swallows his anger and makes the best of a bad situation. That is, until the ship reaches Africa and he discovers the true nature of the trip: Tod is aboard a "Slave Ship"! Once under way, the first mate murders the Captain (whose heart really wasn't in the smuggling trade) and tosses the corpse into the water, all in full sight of Ellis. When Tod explains the situation to the crew, the first mate sucker punches him and moves in for the kill. At the last moment, one of the slaves (who Tod has been kind to) breaks his chains and breaks the first mate's back. The crew have a complete change of heart and head back to Africa to free their new friends. I'm not sure how to react to what surely must be the first EC story we've run across with a happy ending. On one hand, there's the syrupy, overly-familiar script (this ship of fools is manned by a boatload of cliches) but, on the other hand, there's the graphics which prove Ghastly (who now signs his work simply "Graham") had lots of oomph left, even after his gravy train was shut down by the Senate Stooges.--Peter

Graham may not be Ghastly anymore
but he still has the Ghoods!
("Slave Ship")

Jack: As I read "Blackbeard," I suspected that besting the title character in a sword fight might not be the smartest way to ensure long-term survival, and I was right. This is a great adventure tale with a satisfying conclusion and Reed Crandall's art is the best of what we see in the four stories in this issue. I was not that impressed by "U-Boat" and Krigstein's art did not work for me up until the end, when it kind of started to work. As I looked at the panel Peter selected above it finally hit me whose art Krigstein's reminds me of here (and sometimes elsewhere), with those heavy black lines: Frank Robbins! That's not a good thing. "Mouse Trap" is a pretty good story with an unexpected and effective twist, though it hardly showcases Evans's best work. Finally, "Slave Ship" is the second story this issue to feature an unexpected artist, though I think Ingels handles the task much better than Krigstein and this reminds me that the artist did some pulp work before he ever heard of EC.

MAD 21

"Poopeye!" ★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Slow Motion!" ★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Comic Book Ads!" ★★★★+
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Under the Waterfront!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Our favorite old salt, "Poopeye!," is being stomped on by his gal pal Mazola Oil for checking out a hot babe, so he downs some spinach and turns the tables. He then has to defend the honor of baby Swee'back, who has been hit by Mammy Jokeum (presumably visiting from the Mad version of "L'il Abner")--of course, more spinach is required. Poopeye then gets into a big fight with Melvin of the Apes, who is also accused of whacking little Swee'back. After Melvin knocks Poopeye around for a while, more spinach allows Poopeye to knock Melvin into a tree. Here comes Swee'back again, crying that Clark Bent hit him. Though Bent finds a phone booth and changes into Superduperman, it's not long before Poopeye is shoveling spinach down his gullet and knocking out the last son of Krypton. Finally, Swee'back himself gives Poopeye a good beating, complaining that his Broccoli empire is being harmed by Poopeye's devotion to spinach. Guess what? Poopeye eats spinach out of a garbage can and knocks Swee'back into a pile of ashes.

"Slow Motion!"
I can't believe I just typed all of that. Harvey and Bill are at the top of their game in this eight-page story, skewering a cross-section of comic book and comic strip heroes and satirizing the Popeye family of characters at the same time. The usual nonsense in the backs and sides of the panels is present in full force and, perhaps because I'm so familiar with the characters being spoofed, this strip really made me smile.

Gosh, isn't it cool when you see a portion of a sports event shown in "Slow Motion!"? That golf swing, that boxing punch, that water-skiing moment--none is quite what it seems. Jack Davis works a little harder than usual on the art in this six-page series of vignettes, but by about page three all the humor has been drained out and it's just an endurance contest to get to the end.

Man, those "Comic Book Ads!" sure are stupid, aren't they? Learn how to use the power of hypnosis, sell greeting cards door to door, build muscle--we know them all. But wait! The amazing duo of Kurtzman and Elder turn the ads on their heads and give us five of the funniest pages I've seen yet in Mad. At first glance, these could almost be mistaken for the real ads, but (for once) reading the fine print is worth every moment it takes. Satirizing other companies' comic stars is one thing, but such a dead-on attack on the classic comic book ads took major guts. They really get the point here and tempt the young readers with promises of freebies. They also put a line for the name of your lawyer and spaces for your fingerprints. This is great, classic Mad!

("Comic Book Ads!")

Things sure are tough "Under the Waterfront!" Terry just wants to get along with his girl and maybe do a little boxing, but labor troubles keep resulting in people getting killed. Terry nearly takes a dirt nap himself but manages to stay alive and keep working. This spoof of On the Waterfront doesn't worry too much about plot or even logic, but Wally Wood's art continues to amaze me. I always liked him, but reading our way through the EC line has made me love him and want to learn more about poor, doomed Wallace. This issue of Mad is really up and down--but that's kind of what Mad was all about, I guess--throwing lots of gags against the wall to see what stuck. On a side note, there are several pages of ads for the New Direction line and I must admit I'm not salivating at the prospect of a comic about psychoanalysis with art by Jack Kamen!--Jack

"Under the Waterfront!"
Peter: Aside from the insanely detailed cover and a few of the interior "Comic Book Ads!," this is one of the weaker of the recent issues. "Poopeye!" is smart in the way KurtzElder dismember comic icons but it's not very funny. It's repetitive and overly long and I laughed out loud exactly once (the first time Poopeye gets his spinnitch and his muscles expand, forcing his eyeball from its socket--now that's funny!). "Slow Motion!" is a cute one-note joke expanded into a feature-length snore (a la "Sound Effects" in MAD #20). "Under the Waterfront!" takes its one good joke (the fact that everything in On the Waterfront is LOUD!) and rams it right into the ground; there's nothing else humorous in this strip. As noted, "Comic Book Ads!" (the best feature this issue) has some pretty funny sections to it, the best being the "Uncle Louie" ad (below), promising the world "without one cent of cost!" The escalating prizes are a hoot.

For selling 1,000,000,000 packs . . .
Jack Seabrook's unlisted number!
("Comic Book Ads!")

Crime SuspenStories #27

"Maniac at Large" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by George Evans

"Just Her Speed" ★★★
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Where There's Smoke . . ." ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Kamen

"Good Boy" ★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Graham Ingels

Pretty young thang librarian Blanche is all a-quiver over the string of strangulation murders that have been plaguing her fair city, each blaring headline denoting the killer’s continued elusion from the police. One rainy night head librarian Mrs. Pritchard leaves Blanche to her own devices while she fetches some coffee and sandwiches for their all-night inventory inspection (librarians know how to party!), but the jittery bookworm sees potential danger in every patron and passer-by, from a sinisterly-smiling reader to a disgruntled man who Blanche won’t allow inside to return his overdue book. When Mrs. Pritchard returns and hears of her employee’s apprehensions, she laughs them off and morbidly begins to theorize that the killer could just as well be a woman. Hearing this, Blanche realizes that she must protect herself from danger and wrings old Mrs. Pritchard’s gizzard right on the spot, just as she had done for all seven of those other maniacs who had threatened her before.

Eh, eh, ehh...
("Maniac at Large")
The majority of “Maniac at Large” may not be great shakes when it comes to the story department—my opinion may have been colored by the fact that I was already familiar with this one from its adaptation for the HBO series, which was pretty good—but it’s always a pleasure to see George Evans bringing his no-nonsense work to the drawing board, especially when it comes to the depiction of insanity and violence. Ol’ George was more of a realist than the other EC artists, so when he drew a pair of glazed eyes and a hanging jaw or displayed a scene of manslaughter it just hit that uncanny valley nerve where we could see a disturbing correlation to our reality in his two-dimensional illustrations.

Ed has finally managed to track down that no-good son-of-a-gun Marty Selzer to a roadside diner where Marty works as owner and server. Jubilant that his years-long search is finally over, Ed surprises his old chum with an order for some hot steaming lead served into Marty’s guts. But Marty being Marty, the soda jerk who stole Ed’s fiancé Shirley and a wad of dough (the money kind) tells the gunman that he’d be better off dead, explaining how miserable his life has been since that fateful day what with Shirley taking up with any man in town who will have her and spending Marty’s wages as soon as he earns them. But Marty isn't confessing all this just to cleanse his soul: he hopes he can stall Ed long enough for when the state trooper arrives at the diner for his nightly cup of coffee. Marty tries to appeal to random diners and travelers that briefly stop in, but they all exit quickly and leave the traitor to his fate. Finally the sound of the trooper’s motorbike fills Marty with victory and he gleefully tells Ed that everything he said was a lie and that Shirley is the best wife on Earth. Too bad for him that the trooper catches sight of a speeding car and hightails it out of the diner parking lot before he ever makes it inside. Ed takes this news in stride, killing Marty on the spot and leaving just as the trooper has caught up to the speedsters. Inside the car are Shirley and her latest boyfriend who kindly ask the policeman not to let Mr. Selzer know of their rendezvous.

A typical Krigstein breakdown.
("Just Her Speed")

Though the jury seems to be out regarding the penmanship of this story like “Maniac at Large” before it, “Just Her Speed” is a neat and efficient little killer with a nice double-socko ending that wouldn’t have been out of place at all on a program like Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Though the story does make us privy to Marty’s scheme to string Ed along so that the trooper can intervene, the reveal that Marty’s story has been one big hoax comes as a genuine surprise, and the grim dénouement that finds the weasel getting plugged over what was, as it turns out, the actual truth about trifling Shirley comes across as a nicely-delivered cosmic joke. Bernie Krigstein, up to his usual tricks with panel divisions, is seen in a more subdued form here.

Ed has just about reached his last nerve in having to deal with his wife’s Mae constant nagging and complaining after he’s put in a hard day at the used bookstore he owns, and her incessant chatter about local gossip lulls him into an angered sleep. But Ed still has his dreams to himself, dreams like having pretty young Alma to himself, the winsome lady who works for Ed at the bookstore. Though Alma hasn’t made any forward advances or dropped any hints, Ed feels that all it would take to win her over is a dead wife and a heartfelt proposal, so armed with this bulletproof conviction he proceeds to hatch his own bonafide Spousal Murder Plot (patent pending from EC). Ed’s plan involves convincing the world (re: 1 other person) that Mae is a habitual smoker before dousing her with a can of benzene back at home and—presto!—accidental death by immolation, as far as the authorities are concerned. But before Ed can go through with his plan he’s introduced to Alma’s very young and handsome fiancé and given her notice all at once. Tail tucked between his legs over the foolishness of his enterprise, Ed later wakes up after his evening nap to find Mae flicking a lit cigarette at him after she’s doused him with the benzene.

Do husbands dream of exploding shrews?
("Where There's Smoke...")
Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Just another in a long line of Jack Kamen “husband kills the wife” rigamaroles. Oh, but that ending! In all honesty, I give “Where There’s Smoke…” a whole ‘nother star just for that giddy, out-of-left-field climax. The sight of Mae gleefully flicking the butt at Ed, himself the butt of yet another particularly black joke this issue, is enough to elevate this sub-potboiler to the level of “pretty good.”

Jim’s son Paul is a jerk. Everyone knows Paul is a jerk. Everyone but Jim, who doles out spankings and punishments but ultimately caves to his son’s sweet-talking ways. This develops over time into a mutually-harmful relationship wherein Jim is constantly suckered and Paul is constantly embroiled in affairs of increasingly criminal quality. When Jim is finally confronted with news of Paul’s nefariousness by no less than the police who tell the father about Paul’s shooting of a bootlegging kingpin, Jim turns and fills the closet where he has hid his son from the law full of lead. Jim then cries over his jerk son’s corpse.

Bust out the Kleenex, folks, cause we’ve got a weepie made to order here. “Good Boy” is about as hand-wringing as they come, a sorry swan song for Graham Ingels and this issue. Crime was never Ghastly’s forte, but like the story’s title suggests the artist was handed a real dog for his final assignment on this series. You can practically hear the organs piping by the time the last panel comes around.--Jose

This would've never happened if he hadn't
smoked those 5 marijuanas!
("Good Boy")
Peter: Yet another of the foundation titles comes to a screeching halt after 27 issues. Looking back over my notes for the entire run, I see the majority of stories in CSS were mediocre at best; it certainly didn't contain the quality stories found in its sister pub. How does the final issue score? I liked "Maniac at Large," even though it's built around a cheat (but a cheat that's nicely explained away, so . . .) and Evans knows his way around a cashmere sweater. "Just Her Speed" is even better (though I could have done without the final word balloon that basically reiterates the punchline for those of us who didn't get it) and Krigstein treads the fine line between his cartoony style and the experimental. Jack Kamen is given an assignment unlike any other he's accepted before. "Oh, Peter, you're being sarcastic again," I hear you say but, no, I don't mean that Jack's broken out of his "guy who dreams of adultery and murdering his wife" rut but this time around Kamen busts out his rarely-used "old people" stencils and adds a certain . . . oh, never mind. It's a deadly dumb script illustrated with a modicum of style. But worse is the EC-version of a Hallmark Movie of the Week, "Good Boy," a serious-as-a-heart-attack condemnation of parenting in America (at least that's how I read it). It's a wonder we didn't see good boy Paul reading an issue of Tales from the Crypt between jobs. So, the 27th and final issue of Crime SuspenStories is just about as average as the 26 that came before it.

Jack: I liked it much better than you did, Peter. "Just Her Speed" is my favorite, with its race against the clock story reminding me of a Cornell Woolrich setup. Krigstein's art is back to form and the twist ending was a complete surprise. Though "Maniac at Large" is overwritten and almost seems like an illustrated short story, Evans does a nice job with it and the ending was not completely predictable. I loved the guy banging on the window in anger because his book was going to be overdue! Ingels carries the day with "Good Boy," which is a rare Wessler script that doesn't begin at the end of the story and then unfold in flashback. The dad shooting the son behind the door reminded me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Bugs and Thugs" from 1954, where Bugs throws a lighted match into a stove to prove that Rocky could not be hiding in there. I wonder if Wessler had the same thought? The timing is close. As for "Where There's Smoke . . .," the less said the better.

Panic #7

"Mel Padooka" ★★
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Bill Elder

"You Axed For It!" ★ 1/2
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Jack Davis

"Travel Posters" ★★
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Joe Orlando

"Them There Those" ★★ 1/2
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Wally Wood

Yeowch! Gulp! Ugh! Is it that time already for us to gulp down another tepid serving of Panic, the medicine that is the only officially sanctioned parody rag of MAD? Well yeah, I guess so!

Child abuse: the stuff of comedy!
("Mel Padooka")
“Mel Padooka”: Another comic strip lampoon by Bill Elder. Mendelsohn is no Harvey Kurtzman though, and even the rampant and usually reliable chicken fat seen here (and recycled endlessly throughout the rest of the issue) can’t help but feel off. Things don’t seem to really start going until the arrival of beloved orphan kid Lit-ul Marx, who Mel beats senseless for betting against him in his title-defending match against Hungry Humphrey Meatloaf, only for the smiling tot to turn around and hand the boxer his ass. Now that’s the stuff!

“You Axed for It!”: No, we did not. Neither did Jack Davis, who is seen here wading his way through the sewage of yet another laborious TV show parody.

You said it!
("Them There Those")
“Travel Posters”: Mendelsohn’s attempt to ape Harvey’s gimmicky fillers, which were hit-and-miss to begin with anyway. The main purpose of these six pages is to apparently have Joe Orlando stuff as many strained puns into solitary illustrations of various exotic locales as much as possible, and the effect is about as side-splitting as you would expect.

“Them There Those”: Mendelsohn finally seems to get his sea legs and manages to deliver a fairly compact and outré parody of the SF classic Them! Most of the jokes land pretty well here, like the dazed little girl turning out to be a member of the EC Fan-Addict Club and a lush to boot. My favorite component of the story is secret FBI agent K-9, who has the uncanny ability to disguise himself as a globe, a hat rack, and finally a giant shoe, among other things. It’s such a bizarre non sequitur in what is for the most part a straight parody, and I only wish that Mendelsohn had followed his instinct to be weirder for the rest of the issue. It might not have meant that the material would have been funnier, but it sure would have been more memorable.--Jose

Peter: There's really no sense breaking down the contents of Panic #7, though I will say that, for a title that had become the nadir of the EC line, this issue sees an absolute scraping of the bottom of the barrel. There's an almost desperate plea from writer Jack Mendelsohn to like some of his stand-up material but, try as I might, I couldn't muster even a half-hearted smile. So, rather than waste any more space, I'll simply point to the header atop the Russ Cochran/Gemstone reprinting of Panic as the perfect summation of the title:

Jack: As a glutton for punishment, I read every last word and every single gag in this issue and did not get a single smile, much less a laugh. Jack Mendelsohn may have had a long and successful career, but I doubt he'd hold up this issue of Panic as one of his stellar achievements. What a waste of Elder and Wood's talents. Between Panic and Mad, EC really wore out the TV show parodies. I get that early '50s TV was bad, but they really harp on it and it's just not funny.

Next Week . . .
Will The Losers stay afloat?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Stanley Ellin Part Four: The Day of the Bullet [5.20]

by Jack Seabrook

Stanley Ellin's short story, "The Day of the Bullet," was first published in the October 1959 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. Told in the first person by an unnamed narrator, the story begins with his assertion that the day in question was a turning point in the life of his best friend when they were boys together in Brooklyn in 1923. The narrator's family was moving to Manhattan the next day, so the day in question was fraught with emotion and the sense of an ending.

In the present, the narrator is eating breakfast with his wife when he sees a newspaper headline reporting the death of racket boss Ignace Kovacs, who was shot to death in his car, a bag of golf clubs on the seat next to him. The narrator tells his wife that Kovacs was his next door neighbor and best friend in 1923 when they lived in Bath Beach, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, where the story's author was also born. In a flashback, he tells of Mr. Rose, who lived in a large house at the end of their block. Once, while playing around by Rose's fancy car, Rose caught Iggy by the arm and shook him, causing Iggy to threaten to tell his father, whom he idolized.

"The Day of the Bullet"
was first published here
One day, the boys went to the Dyker Heights golf course to fish for golf balls in the water hazard. They witnessed Rose beat up another man and dump him in the water. The narrator wanted to flee, but Iggy insisted on trying to help the victim, who chased the boys away. Iggy decided to tell the police, but they were strangely unmoved by his story. Mr. Rose and Iggy's father were brought in and Rose denied the incident. To Iggy's shock, his father seemed nervous and did not stick up for Iggy. Rose told Iggy to come to his house for odd jobs and gave the boy a five-dollar bill. Thirty-five years later, the narrator understands that that was the day when Iggy switched loyalties from his father to Mr. Rose and set out on a life of crime that would end decades later with his violent death.

The title of the story refers to the day in 1923 when the narrator says that the bullet was figuratively fired that would reach its target decades later. The narrator believes that each person has "one day of destiny" and the lives of the two boys went in different directions: the narrator is shown to be happily married, while his friend became a criminal. Ellin paints a vivid picture of 1923 Brooklyn as it seemed to a 12-year-old boy, where the most wealthy and powerful man in the neighborhood was a gangster made rich by bootlegging during Prohibition.

Barry Gordon as Iggy
Iggy, the narrator's best friend, was always "full of mischief" but worshipped his father, a trolley car conductor and Sunday afternoon baseball star. The narrator leaves Iggy behind, moving up in the world and across the river to Manhattan, while Iggy stays in the more working-class borough of Brooklyn. Ellin uses symbolism when he shows that the boys have to climb over landfill to reach the golf course, which smells bad; the beating they witness is a visual demonstration of the festering garbage buried underneath the green expanse of the course. Iggy, "small and skinny," identifies with the man who is beaten and it is not clear whether Iggy wants to help the man and report the incident to the police out of charitable instincts or from a desire for revenge. The narrator, who grows up to be a solid citizen, wants to leave and not get involved, but Iggy insists on checking on the wounded man and reporting the crime to the authorities.

Iggy is confronted by a series of surprises that make him re-evaluate his core beliefs:
  1. The beaten man does not appreciate the boys' concern and tells them to go away. 
  2. The police are not concerned about the crime, especially after they learn of Rose's involvement. 
  3. Mr. Rose arrives at the police station calm and in control of the situation. 
  4. Iggy's father is visibly nervous and does not support his son. 
Glenn Walken as Clete
After Rose offers to pay Iggy to do odd jobs and gives him money, it is not surprising that the boy turns on his father and transfers his loyalty to Rose. "The Day of the Bullet" is a story of the transition from childhood to adulthood. The boys are twelve years old, on the cusp of puberty and at an age where they begin to be responsible for their own moral choices. The narrator is lucky in that he is removed from the neighborhood and thus avoids having to choose between a good and an evil life. Iggy has seen how the world of men operates and does not have the internal strength or moral character to resist pursuing a life of crime, despite having tried to act honorably when confronted with a dilemma.

John Craven as Clete as an adult
"The Day of the Bullet" is a brilliant, elegiac story that was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Short Story of the Year but lost to Roald Dahl's "The Landlady." It was quickly bought and adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, airing on CBS on Valentine's Day, Sunday, February 14, 1960. The teleplay is by Bill S. Ballinger and is a Valentine to the viewers, a classic episode of the series.

Ballinger’s script for the TV show follows Ellin’s short story closely, with a few small changes and one big change. The film opens with establishing shots of New York City skyscrapers to set the scene, then we see a man walking down a city sidewalk and buying a newspaper at a newsstand. Gone is the story’s opening narration and gone is the scene at the breakfast table between the narrator and his wife; in fact, "The Day of the Bullet" is an unusual episode in that it features not a single female character. Why did Ballinger choose to alter the opening in this way? The reason will not become apparent until the end of the show.

Dennis Patrick as Mr. Rose
The newspaper’s headline reads, "Brooklyn Rackets Boss Shot to Death," and the voice over narration briefly tells us that the man on the street is remembering events of thirty-five years ago as the scene dissolves to 1925. Ballinger takes each scene from the story and turns narrative passages into dialogue, showing us the incident at Mr. Rose’s house with his car rather than describing it. The story's unnamed narrator is given the name of Cletus (Clete) Vine, and we see him and Iggy outside the shop window as Iggy admires the golf club on display inside. Iggy's love for his father is shown in a scene where the man, having come from a baseball game at the park and still in uniform, talks with the boys and tells Iggy that it’s important not to be scared after Iggy confirms that his father would protect him from a bully.

The musical cues in this episode are particularly good, with the strains of what sounds like "Someday My Prince Will Come" audible on the soundtrack during the two scenes between Iggy and his father. In the scene at the golf club, the story's references to landfill and malodorous smell are removed, but Ballinger lifts entire passages of dialogue directly from Ellin's tale, nearly word for word. There is a nice shot at the police station, looking up at the desk sergeant from the boys' point of view, and the show ends with a beautifully shot scene as the boys walk home down a dark, Brooklyn sidewalk, past a row of identical stoops; the setting recalls the settings of Fritz Lang’s great, mid-1940s films with Edward G. Robinson, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street. The flashback ends with Iggy running off alone in tears, calling back to Clete, "You’ll see!" several times.

There is a dissolve back to the present and a close up of the newspaper with "Ignace (Iggy) Kovacs" highlighted above the headline. This is why Ballinger changed the opening scene: the revelation of the relationship between the dead racket boss and the boy in the flashback was uncertain till this moment, and there was some question throughout the flashback as to which of the boys grew up to be a racketeer. Voice over narration ties the events from thirty-five years ago to the murder the night before, and the show comes to an end.

"The Day of the Bullet" is another example of a great short story that translates beautifully to the small screen, where the script is brought to life by expert direction and great performances by the cast members, especially Barry Gordon as Iggy.

Biff Elliott as Iggy's father
The show was directed by Norman Lloyd (1914- ), the actor/director/ producer with the Hitchcock connection who directed twenty-two episodes of the television series. Though not credited on screen, it is Lloyd’s voice we hear giving the voice over narration at the beginning and end of this episode.

Bill S. Ballinger (1912-1980) wrote the teleplay, which (like the short story on which it was based) was nominated for but did not win an Edgar Award. Ballinger began writing for radio in the 1930s and 1940s, then wrote for television from 1949 to 1975, penning seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as an episode of The Outer Limits and two episodes of The Night Stalker. He also wrote many crime novels from 1948 to 1975. There is an excellent website here devoted to the man and his work.

Giving a hyperkinetic performance as Iggy is Barry Gordon (1948- ), a child actor who also had success at a very young age as a singer. Gordon went on to a long career as both a character actor and a voice actor and he was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1988 to 1995. His screen career began in 1956 and continues today, and he was seen in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and one each of Thriller and The Night Stalker.

Harry Landers as Joe, the chauffeur
His best friend Clete is played by Glenn Walken (1945- ), whose TV career ran from 1952 to 1974 and whose last credit was a small role in Apocalypse Now. His brother is the actor, Christopher Walken.

Dennis Patrick (1918-2002) plays the menacing Mr. Rose; he was a busy TV actor who was on screen from 1949 to 1994 and who was seen in three episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Last Escape."

Iggy’s father, whose feet turn out to be made of clay, is played by Biff Elliott (1923-2012), who started out on TV in 1950 and whose first film credit was as Mike Hammer in I, the Jury (1953). Elliott appeared on screen through 1986 and was on Alfred Hitchcock Presents five times, including "A Crime for Mothers." He also appeared on Star Trek. There is a website about his career here.

In smaller roles:

Harry Landers (1921-2017) as Joe, the chauffeur who menaces the boys in Mr. Rose's driveway; he was also in "Breakdown" and was on screen from 1947 to 1991, usually playing bit parts.

Clegg Hoyt as the desk sergeant
John Craven (1916-1995) as the adult Clete, who is seen in the opening and closing scenes with the newspaper; he was in the original Broadway cast of Our Town and he was on screen from 1937 to 1970, appearing in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

Clegg Hoyt (1910-1967) plays the desk sergeant at the police station; his brief career on screen spanned the years from 1955 to 1967 and he was on the Hitchcock show four times, as well as on Thriller and The Twilight Zone.

David Fresco (1909-1997) plays the man who gets beaten up on the golf course; he was on screen from 1946 to 1997 and may be seen in no less than 12 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Gloating Place."

David Fresco as the golf course victim
Sam Gilman (1915-1985) plays the cop who brings the boys to see the sergeant; his career is most interesting. He started out as a comic book artist for Marvel and Centaur from 1939 to 1942, drawing a text illustration for Marvel Comics #1. He then served in World War Two. On returning to civilian life, he became an actor and befriended Marlon Brando. He moved to Hollywood and got his first role in Brando’s film, The Men (1950). He went on to a career on screen that lasted until 1983 and he may be seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Insomnia." He was also on Thriller.

Sam Gilman
The beautiful photography in "The Day of the Bullet" is the work of Neal Beckner (1906-1972), who worked his way up in Hollywood as a member of film camera crews starting in 1930, eventually becoming a TV director of photography by 1956. He had this role for 26 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in seasons five through seven, and "The Day of the Bullet" was the first to air. He also was the cinematographer for a handful of films in the early 1960s.

Finally, the fine selection of musical cues (something that could be a distraction on the Hitchcock series, especially in early years) was the work of Frederick Herbert (1909-1966), who was the music supervisor for 59 episodes in seasons four through six.

"The Day of the Bullet" is available on DVD here or may be viewed online for free here. Read the Genre Snaps review here.

"The Day of the Bullet." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 20, CBS, 14 Feb. 1960.
Ellin, Stanley. "The Day of the Bullet." The Specialty of the House, Mysterious Press, 1979.
The FictionMags Index.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Grand Comics Database,
"Neal Beckner." British Film Institute,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. "Galactic Central." Galactic Central,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 May 2018,

In two weeks: Our series on Stanley Ellin concludes with "You Can’t Be a Little Girl All Your Life," starring Dick York!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 130: September 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 164

"Remittance Man!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Dan Spiegle

"White Devil . . .Yellow Devil!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth

Peter: "On a wild jungle island . . . (in) the South Pacific," evil Japanese Colonel Tanaka searches for the "Remittance Man!," a brave civilian who's hidden himself in a cave and is transmitting important info to the Allies. Tanaka discovers the location of the cave and has it bombed. Thinking no one could survive the explosion, Tanaka congratulates himself on a job well done and  informs his higher-ups that they are free to send ships through an important waterway. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Unknown Soldier accepts orders to impersonate the dead remittance man and deliver one last important message. When messages are intercepted by the Japanese, Tanaka flips his lid and sets traps all over the island for our undercover hero. US is too smart for these dopey soldiers and, with the help of the real remittance man (who wasn't dead but just buried under tons of rubble), the important radio transmission is sent and Tanaka and his men are eliminated. "Remittance Man!" isn't a great story but it holds the interest and, more importantly, Dan Spiegle's art looks a heck of a lot better here than in the previous issue. I question why the Unknown Soldier feels the need to don a disguise to hide in a cave from the Japanese. Why not do the job with or without bandages? Since no one even knew who the remittance man was or what he looked like, who's going to recognize our hero sans a get-up?

"Remittance Man!"

"White Devil . . . Yellow Devil!"
Toshiro has been taught by his commander that the Americans are the white devils, monsters who do not kill for honor but for "souvenirs." While on a patrol, Toshiro is jumped by an American soldier, who holds up just before plunging a knife into his heart. The G.I. is taken aback by Toshiro's youth and promises to tend to his wounds after he's escorted him back to a prison camp. One of Toshiro's comrades sneaks up behind the G.I. and kills him. Later that night, Toshiro buries the G.I. but is shot and killed. A simple synopsis does not do justice to this nicely-written and gorgeously-illustrated war tale, one that sees Big Bob shake off the dust and get down to business for the first time in a long time. Toth's stark visuals are one-of-a-kind and instantly recognizable; his art tells so much more of the story than the captions and word balloons can hope to. "White Devil . . . Yellow Devil!" is an installment in a new series of vignettes under the heading, "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War" and, if the first tale is any indication, we're in for some good reading.

More Toth!

Jack: I wonder if Col. Tanaka knows Col. Hakawa, that practical joker of the Pacific Theater? No matter, Haney and Spiegle give us a decent story that doesn't get very exciting but isn't bad, either. The Kanigher/Toth tale fits well into the late Vietnam-era mood of 1972 DC War Comics in that it shows the point of view of soldiers from both sides and demonstrates acts of mercy and cruelty. Toth does nice work with a wordless sequence and muted colors suggesting night action.

Our Army at War 249

"The Luck of Easy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Wing Man"
Story and Art by Wally Wood

Jack: As they make their way through Italy, Rock and Easy Co. meet an Italian peasant who pulls his very pregnant wife in a cart, intent on having her deliver their baby at the farm home from which they fled when the Nazis came. Easy Co. is going the same direction, so they accompany the couple, wiping out Nazis along the way. When they arrive at the farm, the men of Easy Co. must hold off approaching Nazi soldiers as the couple wait inside their small home for the baby to arrive. Rock single-handedly returns a live potato masher and wipes out the enemy just as the baby is born.

"The Luck of Easy!" is a dull entry in the Easy Co. series, with little to generate excitement in story or art. There is virtually no suspense created and the plot moves from one battle to another until Rock executes his usual heroics at the end to save the day.

"The Luck of Easy!"

"Wing Man"
During WWII, the fliers of the R.A.F. are shooting down enemy planes left and right, but "Wing Man" Archie Pyke does not have a single German kill to his name. He is very good at sticking to his leader plane and protecting it, but he laments the fact that he never gets to shoot anyone down himself. Finally, he shoots a jet out of the sky in order to protect his leader, finally proving his mettle.

It's such a pleasure to see Wally Wood back drawing war comics after all these years that I can forgive the fact that his story is a bit perfunctory. His DC work in the '70s never reached the heights of his EC work in the '50s, but he's still one of the all-time greats in my book.

Peter: I'd have never pegged Wally Wood as the man responsible for "Wing Man," but then this was nearly two decades after his stint at EC and styles change.Woody still has the chops, even in the script-writing department; "Wing Man" is a bit deeper than the usual gung-ho pilot filler tale. Our hero manages to save the day through dumb luck rather than a last-second elevation of skills; that's a refreshing change of pace. The Rock tale is an amiable piece of fluff with a beautiful coat of Heath paint to make it shine.

G.I. Combat 155

"The Long Journey"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"Ashcan Alley!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #67, March 1958)

Peter: Stuck in icy Russia, the men of the Jeb Stuart must depend on the help of a few friendly Commies to get their hides back to the front in one piece. Trouble is, the ghostly General who has given his name to his descendant and to the Haunted Tank has already told Commander Jeb that they won't make it back in one piece! After a particularly nasty village battle, in which they befriend a one-armed Russian freedom fighter named Gorki, the boys find that the only way they'll make it back home is by hiding the tank. They dismantle the Jeb and transport her, via horse and wagon, back to the front. A direct sequel to last issue's adventure (a facet of the "recent" installments of some of these series I'm digging--now let's get Rock in line, Big Bob!), "The Long Journey" is a decent page-turner with plenty of action and pathos. Maybe I'm getting used to it, but Sam Glanzman's art isn't as annoying as it's been in the past. Sure, his G.I.s have a few too many freckles, but I can live with that.

"The Long Journey"

A navy frogman finds that dodging mines and enemy subs in "Ashcan Alley!" is a little more difficult than avoiding bowling balls (seriously!) back home. I like these underwater adventures as they mix things up a bit and take us away from the same ol' battlefield drama. Problem is, so many of these are just the same ol' underwater pinball, where one frogman manages to outwit the entire German sea force and come out the other end with all limbs intact. Our hero this time out sidesteps mines, E-boats, depth charges, torpedoes, and a particularly soft Nazi flipperman. At least it's got the Kubert sheen.

"Ashcan Alley!"

Jack: It's not bad enough to suffer through 14 pages of Sam Glanzman's attempt to draw the Haunted Tank, but do we have to read Bob Kanigher's attempt to mimic Russians trying to speak English? "No time bury dead" is one of the choice sentences, making the Russian peasants sound like the Frankenstein monster. The backup story looks much better, with smooth Kubert art but, as Peter points out, you read one frogman story, you've read 'em all. Bob Haney uses the term "ashcan alley" seven times, including the title, but it felt more like seventy.

Next Week . . .
The Final Crime!