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?


JP said...

The quality definitely begins to slip toward the end of Crime but I enjoy these James M. Cain type of stories so much that I don't easily tire of them. "Just Her Speed" is my favorite in this issue. The double twist is about as clever as you could want from an EC story. I agree about the quality of the Maniac at Large HBO adaptation. I think it's really fine and perfectly captures the atmosphere of the comic story. I also agree that some of these stories could be really text heavy but I enjoy this more now than I did when I was younger. It forces you to slow down and take in every panel in a way that very few comics then (or now) made you. Of course, it makes for more than a few hunchbacked characters to get those captions and word balloons in. Anyway, thanks for another great post. I've really enjoyed this series.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks, Jordan! We're having fun, too. Unlike Peter and probably Jose, I never read ALL of the EC comics till now. I had only read samples.