Monday, June 25, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 60

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
60: April 1955 Part II

Aces High 1

"The Way It Was"★★★
Story by Irv Werstein
Art by George Evans

"The Outsider"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Wally Wood

"The Mascot"★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"The New C.O."★★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

A boy watches a modern jet zoom by at an air force base and asks his grandfather to tell him about air warfare way back in WWI. Gramps proceeds to give the lad a history of "The Way it Was," from the first planes used for observation to the deadly bombing runs, all of which developed at a rapid pace during the Great War.

"The Way it Was"
The first issue of Aces High opens with a lovely story. While there's no plot, the history lesson is fascinating and sets up the premise for the comic clearly, with great plane illustrations by Evans. This line of storytelling will lead, in about a decade, to Joe Kubert's classic work on Enemy Ace.

Lt. Tom Pomeroy is a new addition to the 37th Blue Blazes Aero Squadron in France and he finds that the other men treat him coldly because he's "The Outsider." One day, he returns from a solo mission to find the base under attack; he holds off a slew of German planes until his colleagues join him in the air and foil the assault. Now beloved by the other men, he soon finds himself giving a new arrival the same cold treatment he had received.

"The Outsider"
Another winner, with terrific art by Wally Wood, this story worked for me right up to the end, where I was disappointed that Pomeroy acted like just as big a jerk to the new guy as the others had acted toward him. Didn't he learn anything? What's the benefit of treating a new recruit badly? Not much of a message, if you ask me.

At an American air base in 1918 France, a dog named Prop is "The Mascot" for the men. When a flier takes off, the pooch won't leave the air strip until the flier returns. If the flier is thought lost, Prop's behavior predicts whether he will come back alive. When Art Hayes is lost in a cloud and forced to land and try to make his way back to base on foot, Prop waits for him, even though Germans are fast approaching. Prop is right again, Art makes it back alive, and the last men waiting for him make their escape.

Three good stories in a row signal promising things for Aces High! It's odd to see Krigstein drawing such a straightforward tale, but he does a decent job. His weakness tends to be human faces, and when there's no weird, expressionistic storytelling going on, that flaw is more evident, as it is here. Still, I love a good dog story and was happy to see Prop, the European cousin to our friend Pooch from the DC War Comics.

"The Mascot"
By May 1918, the U.S. air fighters over France had an unusual relationship with the German air fighters--they respected each other! This chivalrous behavior goes on until squad leader Mike Pepper is killed in battle. His replacement, Frank Worth, has a different attitude, and leads the men on a mission to wipe out as many planes and kill as many Germans as they can. Why the tough approach? "The New C.O." reveals to his men that, while they were playing games, the Germans had been attacking Allied troops on the ground elsewhere.

This is a harrowing story, where Carl Wessler, of all people, plays the reader's emotions like a fiddle. We hate Major Worth and later respect him. Davis's art is good but not as good as what we saw from Evans and Wood earlier in this issue; Wessler's story, however--and I can't believe I'm saying this--is the best of the four.--Jack

"The New C.O."
Peter: An editorial inside the first issue of Aces High informs us that this title is the result of a fan outcry for more World War I aerial dogfight stories. While I admit there were probably a few classics among those WWI tales found in Two-Fisted and Frontline, I'm not sure an entire title devoted to the subject is going to tread water. Case in point: issue #1. There's a samey-ness to all four stories. "The Way It Was" reads like an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the origins of dogfights. Grandpa sits down to tell Jimmy about his exploits as a pilot but succeeds only in putting the poor kid to sleep with his long-winded oratory. I swear "The Outsider" is the foundation for just about every Bob Kanigher DC war story ever written; all that's missing is the catch phrase. Pomeroy's cold shoulder to the new guy in the final panels is about as fake as it gets. Looks from some of the panels of "The Mascot" that Bernie Krigstein might have gotten a hand; the story is entertaining fluff, but fluff nonetheless. One of the best war stories I've read in a long time, "The New C.O." shows I may be wrong about there not being enough decent WWI tales to tell. Carl Wessler turns the usual gung-ho nonsense on its ear and has us rooting for "the bad guy" by the climax. An interesting turn after three narratives that accentuated the respect pilots had for each other. And Jack Davis's stuff has never looked this good. A "New Direction" classic.

Extra! 1

"Dateline: Cayo Romano, Cuba!" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Camera!" ★1/2
Story by Colin Dawkins
Art by John Severin

"Holiday for MacDuff" ★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Dateline: Key West!" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Reporter, lover, macho man,
and .400 slugger
Ace reporter/muscleman/ daredevil/superhero Keith Michaels has been given the toughest assignment of his adventurous career: find former Nazi/current arms dealer Henry Gavell, who may have been kidnapped by Cuban rebels. The government is itching to find Gavell before the plot becomes news and Keith's editor wants to make it front-page before Uncle Sam can lower the boom. Intel puts Gavell on a remote island and, thanks to a sea plane, Michaels ventures to the rebel fortress and finds Gavell, who is being held prisoner. Our hero frees Gavell but, in an excruciatingly devilish twist, discovers that Gavell set up his own kidnapping to throw Uncle Sam off the trail. Keith takes Gavell in and democracy rules once again. "Dateline: Cayo Romano, Cuba!" is not a great intro for new series character Keith Michaels, who will star in ten high-energy adventures in the five issues of Extra!  For one thing, we know nothing of this guy's past; was he Marine commando, World War II sergeant, or just Yale Judo champ of 1942? Craig, who has always been a favorite of mine, is in deep "Steve Canyon mode" here not only in story but in art style. Even in a story set in the naive, golden age days of the 1950s, it's hard for me to fathom a reporter so important that he's able to get to the goods before the government; that he's so well-trained he's able to outfox a band of rebels; that this newspaper has enough dough to fly Keith all around the world for a story. I'll give Johnny another installment to flesh some things out; EC was obviously thinking about the future by introducing these series so late in the game.

Noted photog "Slick" Rampart has been sent to Geneva to cover a peace conference with his "Camera!" when an odd duck crosses his path, a fellow picture-taker who's changing bulbs faster than he can take the dang pics. Something rubs "Slick" the wrong way and so he tails the camera guy back to his hotel, where he discovers that the man's equipment is loaded with bullets. "Slick" alerts the local gendarmes and helps nab the would-be assassin before he can ventilate his target, a French General. If I had reservations about Keith Michaels's debut, I'm rolling my eyes at that of "Slick" Rampart, whose adventure is tantamount to a really bad '40s programmer (right down to the badly-choreographed fist fights and lame bad guy talk). Like Michaels, we'd better get used to this nonsense, as "Slick" will see an adventure in every issue (and a team-up with Michaels, as well!), It seems that, with the exception of Piracy and Aces High, the New Direction was down.

All newspaperman Jock MacDuff is looking for is a wee bit of peace, and possibly a stout ale from the pub now and then, but what he finds is still more danger and intrigue when he stumbles across "one of the world's greatest scientists" and his daughter hiding under assumed names on a tiny island. It's not long before Jock's instincts and great biceps come in handy as he must save the girl and her pop from enemy agents. Though we're told MacDuff's vocation is reporter, there's not really much of that skill in evidence here (other than the fact that his keen eye picks the scientist out of a line-up), only a skimpy plot and some fairly interesting caption-free panels where Jock goes toe-to-toe with the enemy agent. The caption-free panels are a godsend by the time we get there as Jock's Scottish brogue is annoying to say the least.

Fresh from his dangerous excursion in Cuba, Keith Michaels heads to Key West for some relaxation with his lovely gal-pal, Vicki. Keith's got one thing on his mind but, unfortunately for Vicki, it's not romance; the sometimes-reporter, most-times-brawler is dying to get his wet suit on and go spear-fishing. Michaels and Vicki attend a soirée at the home of Mr. Edson, the head of the Miami World Press Service, who invites Keith to join him on his boat the next day. While at the party, Keith runs into the daughter of Edson and her new beau, Rod Atkins, but the pair brush our hero off as if he was a nobody. Next day, while diving, Keith comes across a body and brings it on board. Mr. Edson identifies it as the PI he's hired to investigate his daughter's boyfriend. After springing an elaborate trap, Keith reveals he knew something was going on when he saw track marks on Atkins's arm and assumed the man was a narcotics trafficker. Bingo! Like "Holiday for MacDuff," there's not a lot of reporting or newspaper-oriented stuff to be found in "Dateline: Key West!" and, like the previous adventure, this is nothing more than a thread-bare plot laced with a skirmish or two. The only thing we're quite clear on is that Keith Michaels gets a lot of time off, has a very understanding editor, and lands a hell of a right hook while underwater. Not much to get excited about. -Peter

Jack: Overall, not a great issue, even with two stories by the great Johnny Craig. I like the way he uses blue and black for night scenes in the first story and I love his storytelling and kinetic art, mixing words and silent action. The second story has sharp Severin visuals but there's not much to the plot, while the third story is marred by that Scottish accent, despite stunning art by Crandall, who once again demonstrates his expertise at drawing a gorgeous gal. The last story, by Craig again, is a letdown, highlighted only by another girl in a bikini and a neat underwater spear gun battle.

MAD 22

"The Child!" ★1/2
"The Boy!" ★
"The Young Artist!" ★
"The Commercial Artist!" ★1/2
"The Old Pro (Mole)!" (reprint)
"Senility!" ★
Stories by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

According to Frank Jacobs, in his "Incomplete History of MAD Comics" (found in the magazine-sized reprints published by EC in 1999), by 1955 "Harvey Kurtzman was running out of steam." The all-Elder "Special Art Issue" is a result of Harvey's burn-out, a very unfunny parody of Bill Elder's career beginning as a toddler scrawling in chicken-fat and culminating in a reprinting of "Mole" (from #2). Perhaps, years before, this might have been an imaginative skewering of a funny funny book artist but all that sticks out here is how guffaw-free the material is. Some of the faux ads point to the direction the magazine is heading very soon; perhaps it was only a matter of time before the KurtzElder team ran out of steam anyway (Elder would be MIA in the final comic-sized issue). 
-Melvin Enfantino

Jack: Hard as it is to believe, here we have an entire issue of MAD done by Kurtzman and Elder, who were (in my opinion) the premier MAD writer/artist team, with nary a laugh. The first three sections are painfully unfunny, while the section about Elder as commercial artist raises a few tepid smiles for some of the fake ads. Worst of all is that the issue is capped off with a reprint. I guess that readers would plunk down a dime for anything EC put out with MAD on the cover, but this issue is a complete misfire.

Next Week in Star Spangled DC War Stories #133
Could this be the return of . . .
Captain Storm?


Desperately needed for an upcoming project. If you have scans for the following Atlas comic books, or can make us a scan, please contact us:

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
Journey Into Unknown Worlds  #38 (3rd issue), 9, 10, and 48
Mystery Tales #4, 8, 11, 12, 21, 42, 43, 49, and 51
Mystic #13
Spellbound #14
Suspense #26 and 28

See your name in lights on this very website!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-John Cheever Part One: The Five-Forty-Eight [6.5]

by Jack Seabrook

Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Cheever (1912-1982) is widely acknowledged as a "master of the short story"[1] whose fiction often focused on the "'rich suburban communities of Westchester and Connecticut.'"[2] His stories were published from the 1930s until his death in 1982 and The Stories of John Cheever, a large collection that was published in 1978, won a Pulitzer Prize. In its sixth season, Alfred Hitchcock Presents adapted two of Cheever's stories, the first of which to air was "The Five-Forty-Eight," originally published in The New Yorker on April 10, 1954.

"The Five-Forty-Eight"
was first published here
As the story begins, a Manhattan businessman named Blake steps out of the elevator at 5:18 p.m. and sees Miss Dent, a woman who looks at him with loathing. She follows him down the street in the rain and he sees her reflection in a store window. Thinking she means him harm, he ducks into a men's bar and recalls that she had been hired as his secretary. She had thanked him for giving her a chance, since work had been hard to find after an eight-month stay in the hospital. One night, she invited him home and he took advantage of her; he had her fired the next day.

Leaving the bar, he boards the 5:48 train and sees familiar faces, though his own quarrels with his wife have made his friends and neighbors less cordial. The train gets underway and Miss Dent appears and sits next to Blake. She tells him that she has been ill and unable to get another job; he must talk with her or she will kill him with a pistol she carries. The train makes its way toward Shady Hill and Miss Dent gives Blake a letter; he reads it and sees the depths of her despair and mental instability. At the Shady Hill stop, they disembark and she holds him at gunpoint as the crowd of commuters disperses. They walk to a coal yard near the station and she makes him lie down and put his face in the dirt. Satisfied, she walks away, leaving him to make his way home alone.

Phyllis Thaxter as Miss Dent
"The Five-Forty-Eight" has received critical attention and is a rewarding subject for study. Early in the story, Blake looks in a store window to avoid turning around to see if Miss Dent is following him. He sees what had been a domestic display but we are told that "the flowers were dead and the cups were empty and the guests had not come." Blake "saw a clear reflection of himself," and the author compares the bleak domestic scene with the heartless, disliked businessman, who thinks of himself as "an insignificant man," not worthy of pursuit.

His recollection of his first sight of Miss Dent (even her name suggests that she is damaged) demonstrates his cruelty and his sense of superiority: her "dress was simple, her figure was not much, one of her stockings was crooked." When he goes home with her, he thinks that her room "seemed to him like a closet." His taking advantage of her is inferred: "When he put on his clothes again, an hour or so later, she was weeping." In his role as her boss at the office, he has power over her. The cruelty he shows to Miss Dent is mirrored by the cruelty he has shown his wife at home; he recalls thinking that his spouse had lost the "physical charms that had been her only attraction" and he refused to speak to her for two weeks.

Zachary Scott as Blake
The pistol that Miss Dent carries is an equalizer, leveling the power relationship between her and Blake. She is mentally disturbed, but it is not clear if her mental problems are organic or whether they are a reaction to her treatment at the hands of men like him. During her conversation with Blake on the train, she quotes from the twenty-eighth chapter of Job, implicitly aligning herself with the Old Testament prophet who could not understand why such great misfortune had been heaped upon him. Miss Dent asks Blake, "'if there are people in the world who represent evil, is it our duty to exterminate them?'"

At the story's climax, she guides him to a terrible place near the railroad station, where he sees "a rat take its head out of a paper bag." She tells him that she dreams of "'picnics and heaven and the brotherhood of man'" and says that "'I want to help you'" before she makes him put his face in the dirt. "He fell forward in the filth . . . He stretched out on the ground, weeping." Miss Dent forces Blake to his lowest point before "he raise[s] himself out of the dust" and walks home. Is this a resurrection? Is Blake a phoenix rising from the ashes? Will he change his behavior and live a good life? The story ends without telling us. One of the many fascinating things about "The Five-Forty-Eight" is that its characters have a life before the story starts and they have a life after it ends. We get small hints about their lives before but we are left to ponder the course of their lives after.

The story's title, "The Five-Forty-Eight," refers to the train Blake and Miss Dent ride. It is a commuter train that runs every day at the same time, and the banal situation of people going home from work at the end of the day is contrasted with the deep emotion and dramatic confrontation between the two characters whose lives intersect briefly. Perhaps the saddest moment in the story is when Blake reads the letter that Miss Dent wrote to him but never mailed. It begins, "Dear Husband," and those two words tell us a great deal about her state of mind. One may assume she was a virgin before their one night stand; seduced and abandoned, possibly even pregnant, she took a very traditional approach and thought of Blake as her spouse because they had slept together. She tells him that she has been very sick and has not been outside for two weeks--did she have a miscarriage? Cheever's characters are so full of life that many readings are possible.

Penny Edwards as Miss Smith
The producers of Alfred Hitchcock Presents took on a challenge when they bought the rights to adapt Cheever's story for the small screen. They made an excellent choice by selecting Charlotte Armstrong (1905-1969) to write the teleplay. Born in Michigan, Armstrong had been writing mysteries since 1942 and addressed "the injustice that the wealthy and powerful often inflict upon the less fortunate."[3] An article on her work is titled, in part, "The Mean Streets of the Suburbs, the Kindness of Strangers." As a woman and a former office worker, she was an inspired selection for this task.

The TV version follows the plot of the story but Armstrong's script makes some alterations that help increase the story's dramatic effect. The show opens as Blake walks out of his office and says goodnight to Miss Smith, a buxom blond who has replaced Miss Dent as his secretary. We have yet to meet Miss Dent, but the comparison between the meek brunette and the beautiful blond says something about Blake's hiring decisions.

When he exits the elevator in the lobby, where the story begins, Miss Dent approaches him and speaks to him, whereas in the story he sees her following him. In the show, he does not speak and only responds to her by touching his hat and walking around her.  Cheever's woman has a look of "loathing and purpose," but on screen, Miss Dent's appeal to Blake is more in the nature of pleading. Even the clothing choices serve to define the characters: Blake has a hat, coat, and scarf on, protecting him from the elements, while Miss Dent wears a two-piece cloth suit, carries her raincoat, and wears no hat--her hair is blown by the cold wind and she is in too much of a hurry to put on her coat.

Blake sees Miss Dent reflected in the window
Director John Brahm uses a reverse tracking shot to follow Blake and Miss Dent as they rush along the busy sidewalk, the camera moving backwards to keep pace with them as he strides confidently forward and she is buffeted by the other bodies. Oddly enough, the two of them are walking against the flow of the crowd.

Instead of seeing her reflection in a store window, Blake sees Miss Dent's reflection in the window of a coffee shop right before he ducks into a "Men's Bar" that has a neon sign above the door that reads, "Ladies Not Admitted." From the bar, he turns and sees her through a glass window in the bar door, watching him: he is safe in the company of men while she, as a woman, is left out in the cold. After a quick stock shot of the exterior of what looks like Penn Station in 1960, there is a dissolve to the interior of the train. A man named Watkins sits next to Blake for a moment but is relieved to be summoned to another seat by a woman named Mrs. Compton; their brief dialogue establishes that Blake is not well-liked by his neighbors. The train scenes and the theme of the unhappy businessman recall the Twilight Zone episode, "A Stop at Willoughby," which aired on May 6, 1960, less than six months before "The Five-Forty-Eight" premiered on NBC on Tuesday, October 25, 1960.

Miss Dent is shut out of the bar

Brahm creates a sense of motion as the train moves along through the night, with images passing by outside the windows and appropriate train sounds that include the rumble of the wheels and signals clanging. Armstrong lifts dialogue right from Cheever's story and uses it in her script, supplementing it with new dialogue when necessary to replace narration. There is a well-composed shot of Blake and Miss Dent when she first reveals her gun: he is larger in the picture, but he is trying to push himself against the right side of the frame, while she is smaller but has unexpected power over him due to the firearm.

Note the frame composition

The picture then dissolves into an extended flashback sequence that is much longer than the brief sequence in the story. We see Blake and Miss Dent working late together at the office. He invites her to dinner and we see them walking along the sidewalk on the same set used for the climactic scene of "The Day of the Bullet," where Iggy runs off past the line of stone stoops with curved handrails, yelling, "You'll see!"

The same set as in "The Day of the Bullet"

Miss Dent invites Blake to her apartment and he checks his watch and remarks that he has 45 minutes till his next train. He measures his life by the train timetable! They go into her apartment and she tells him that she is alone and lonely in New York City. They drink Scotch and dance to a record she puts on the turntable. After they sit on the couch and talk, she demonstrates her vulnerability and happiness at the situation through silent gestures and movements. He toasts, "'Here's to--something or other,'" showing that their time together is less significant to him than it is to her, then puts an arm around her and pulls her mouth to his in a sudden kiss. She is concerned that he will miss his train, but he tells her, "'There's always another train.'" Careful viewers will recall that this line was said to him earlier in the show by the bartender in the men's bar and Blake had replied that he'd heard that line before. He did not reveal then that he was the one who said it to his vulnerable secretary three months earlier and that now she was pursuing him through the streets of Manhattan.

After a fadeout, the picture fades back in and it's the next day at the office. Armstrong once again dramatizes an event that was told briefly through narration in Cheever's story, and Brahm stages the scene brilliantly. Miss Dent sits at her desk, typing, when Blake enters and is brusque with her. We see him in his office through plate glass double doors that separate his office space from the outer office area where Miss Dent sits; we can see him arguing with a man named Johnson but we can't hear what is being said. Johnson then comes out and tells Miss Dent that she is fired. She is distraught and questions this decision. The shot is set up so that we see Miss Dent and Johnson speaking in the foreground while at the same time we can see Blake sitting at his desk in the background, through the glass doors. She insists on going into his office to talk to him and there are two quick close-ups, one of her and one of Johnson, that mask Blake's exit out a back door, so when Miss Dent rushes in he's already gone and all we see is a coat hanger swinging on a hook; he grabbed his coat and ran in order to avoid her.

Another great frame composition

The long flashback ends and the screen dissolves to Miss Dent and Blake on the train. She tells him that she knew he was married and would have understood and not told his wife; this is an addition to the story. Armstrong removes all of the biblical quotations from Job but follows the rest of the events closely. When Brahm has the camera pull back from the tight two shot to show the rest of the people in the train car, we see how the intense drama between these two people is separate and apart from the uneventful daily trip of the rest of the commuters, who are unaware of what's going on among them. There is a very nice shot of Blake and Miss Dent's reflection in the train window, and soon the train arrives at Shady Hill, where the action once again shifts back to the outside world. Other commuters are met by their happy spouses and everyone disperses, leaving the unhappy couple of Blake and Miss Dent alone on the platform. All of his neighbors have abandoned him, just as he abandoned Miss Dent.

Reflected in the train window

Left alone on the platform

She guides him out of the light of the station and over to a siding area where sit a couple of old, abandoned train cars. The final confrontation takes place and it is essentially a soliloquy for Miss Dent; after they disembark from the train, Blake never speaks again. The scene is played beautifully by Phyllis Thaxter as Miss Dent, but does it work dramatically as the conclusion to a TV show? It certainly works on the page, where Cheever narrates as Blake watches Miss Dent walk away before he "got to his feet and picked up his hat from the ground where it had fallen and walked home." In the TV show, she turns and walks away and he lifts his face from the dirt as the picture fades out. I find this to be a disappointing finish to a thrilling drama and perhaps some sort of voice over narration might have helped. In any case, "The Five-Forty-Eight" is a brilliant adaptation of a classic short story, with a fine script, inventive direction, and a standout performance by the leading lady.

The abandoned siding

John Brahm (1893-1982) was born in Germany and brought some of the expressionism of that country's late silent film period to his work in Hollywood. He began directing films in 1936 and his best work is thought to be on display in The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945). He began directing for television in 1952 and he would direct a large number of TV shows in the next 15 years, including episodes of Thriller, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone. He directed ten half-hour Hitchcock shows and five hour ones; "A Night with the Boys" and "Murder Case" are good examples of his work.

Giving her all as Miss Dent is Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2002), an actress who started out on Broadway before moving to film in 1944 and TV in 1953. In addition to roles on Thriller and The Twilight Zone, she appeared in nine episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "The Long Silence." Later in her career, she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978) and her last screen role came in 1992.

The caddish Blake is played perfectly by Zachary Scott (1914-1965), who had played a similarly despicable character in Mildred Pierce (1945). Like Thaxter, his career began on Broadway before he moved into film in 1944 and TV in 1950. His career ended early, at the age of 51, when he died of a brain tumor. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show.

In supporting roles:
  • Irene Windust (1921-1999) as Mrs. Compton, the gossipy woman on the train who likes Blake's wife but can never find much to say to him; she had a brief screen career from 1958 to 1963 but managed to appear in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Blessington Method."

Irene Windust and Raymond Bailey

  • Raymond Bailey (1904-1980) as Mr. Watkins, who sits briefly with Blake but then moves to sit with Mrs. Compton; he was on screen from 1939 to 1975 and appeared in 11 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Backward, Turn Backward." He had a regular role on The Beverly Hillbillies as Mr. Drysdale from 1962 to 1971.
  • Penny Edwards (1928-1998) as Blake's new secretary, Miss Smith; her screen career lasted from 1947 to 1961 and she was also in "The Blessington Method" with Irene Windust.

Charles Davis

  • Charles Davis (1925-2009) as Johnson, who fires Miss Dent in the flashback; he was on screen from 1951 to 1987 and he was in seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "I Killed the Count."

Paul Gordon
  • Paul Gordon (1916-2010) as the bartender in the flashback; he was on screen from 1959 to 1969 and played bartenders in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Man from the South."
  • Joseph Hamilton (1899-1965) as the train conductor; he was on screen from 1954 to 1965 and may be seen in five episodes of the Hitchcock show.

Joseph Hamilton

John Cheever's story may be read for free online here. The Hitchcock show may be viewed for free online here or may be ordered here on DVD. The story was remade in 1979 for PBS and that DVD is available here.

If IMDb is to be believed, "The Five-Forty-Eight" had been adapted for television in 1955 and broadcast live on March 7th of that year as part of the series Robert Montgomery Presents. The title of the episode was "A Matter of Dignity" but the summary shows it was the same story as "The Five-Forty-Eight." What is surprising about this entry is the alleged identity of the actor playing Blake: John Cheever himself! I have not been able to find any corroboration for this credit, though, and the episode appears to be lost.


[1] "John Cheever."

[2] Ibid.

[3] "Charlotte Armstrong."


"Charlotte Armstrong." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003. Contemporary Authors Online, http://link.galegroup .com/apps/doc/H1000003000/CA u=lawr69060&sid=CA&xid= bd5286ca. Accessed 10 June 2018.

Cheever, John. "The Five-Forty-Eight." The Stories of John Cheever, Knopf, 1978, pp. 236–247.
The FictionMags Index.
"The Five-Forty-Eight." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 6, episode 5, NBC, 25 Oct. 1960.
Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
"John Cheever." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Contemporary Authors Online, Accessed 10 June 2018.
"The Last Word: The Mean Streets of the Suburbs, the Kindness of Stran...", 29 June 2013, 542u870u0570u55k/.
"The New Yorker April 10, 1954 Issue." The New Yorker, The New Yorker,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 June 2018,

In two weeks: Our short series on John Cheever concludes with "O Youth and Beauty," starring Gary Merrill and Patricia Breslin!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 132: November 1972

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Star Spangled War Stories 165

"Witness for a Coward"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Sparling

"General Oliver O. Howard"
Story and Art by Norman Maurer

"The Vengeance of Horus"
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Lt. John Devers stands accused of desertion, a crime that will cost him his life before a firing squad at dawn, but the Unknown Soldier is convinced Devers is innocent. Problem is, the only "Witness for a Coward" is the Black Eagle, Nazi Colonel Heinz Lutzen, and Lutzen is safely behind enemy lines. Knowing he has only hours to save Devers's life, US sneaks behind the lines in disguise and convinces Lutzen (at gunpoint) to accompany him back to the base to testify for Devers. Though Lutzen is understandably hesitant to leave his comfortable desk, the two head out into the freezing night and narrowly avoid capture to arrive at the last second to delay the execution. Lutzen's testimony clears Devers of all charges and, though the Black Eagle is taken prisoner, US allows the Nazi to steal away into the night.

Is this fear? Hunger?
Even though its last-second stay of execution is hokey beyond belief (US and Lutzen literally drive their jeep right into the courtyard as the firing squad is "Ready . . . Aim . . ." ing!) "Witness" is not a bad story at all, thanks to some interesting twists and turns. After spending some time with US and seeing how determined he is to save the life of a "nobody," simply because it's the right thing to do, Lutzen develops a respect for our hero and even helps him to achieve his goal. It's nice to see Bob Haney suggesting that, even among mass-murderers, there is still some honor and respect. The final escape is predictable but still handled very nicely. And then there's that Sparling artwork. Oh my. Editor Joe hints at upcoming changes but, alas, a different artist is not one of them. We're stuck with Sparling for two more years.

Horus takes wing
"Gen. Oliver O. Howard" is a mercifully short bio of the Civil War General with excruciatingly bad visuals by Norman Maurer. It's the kind of art you'd see on a cereal box, devoid of anything resembling style or definition. "The Vengeance of Horus," which reboots the myth of the battle between gods Seth and Horus, might have worked better as a springboard for one of those cosmic epics in the pages of The Avengers rather than a DC War book, but the art's not bad.

Jack: Two years of Jack Sparling on Unknown Soldier? Quite a come down from Joe Kubert. I liked the lead story, too, and thought it was pretty exciting. I've seen worse examples of Jack Sparling's work. Maurer's art is not much better on the General Howard story, though the tale of a military man who kept going even after he had been shot twice in the same arm is stirring. "The Vengeance of Horus" is four pages of wackiness, as Marais and Estrada shove as much Egyptian mythology as they can into a limited space. It ends up seeming more like a superhero story than a war story.

Neal Adams
Weird War Tales 8

"The Avenging Grave"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
Story Uncredited
Art by Steve Harper and Neal Adams

"Duel of the Dead"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Tony DeZuniga

Peter: Sadistic German Lt. Otto Strasser gave orders to slaughter dozens of helpless French soldiers in WWI. Now, as a major, the Nazi leads his men over the same ground that holds the rotting corpses of those slain French soldiers. Strasser vows to his men that "the dead never return," but perhaps he's not entirely correct as the French corpses rise from their resting place for revenge. "The Avenging Grave" has some great art from DeZuniga but a threadbare "script" that holds no surprises. It's just too much like so many "the dead will rise" funny book stories to elicit more of a response than "meh!" I do like that the story signals a change in the direction of the title. Yes, some of the stories in the previous issues took their shoes off and dipped their toes in the supernatural water, but this story wades right out there. No doubt about it, this is a Weird war tale. It's just not very good.

The Golem rises from his stand in a Prague village and avenges the vicious murders of the town's Jews at the hands of the Nazis. "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" suffers from a case of overkill in that the Golem legend has been used for many comic horror stories (not to mention as the basis of a Marvel character) and so there's not much new ground to be tilled. Having said that, the story has some very nice Harper/Adams art and a really sadistic bent to it (the Golem rises to protect but only after most of the villagers have been herded into a church and burned alive--how about some of that protection here?!) that won me over and so I'd give it a thumbs-up.

Yet another sadistic German, this time Fokker pilot Hans Kessler, revels in the blood on his hands. Kessler not only enjoys shooting down enemy aces but landing after their demise and removing their heads for his trophy wall. One afternoon, Kessler shoots down an English pilot and lands for his souvenir only to get the surprise of his life: the corpse's fingers seem to have a life of their own and mow down the bloodthirsty ace. "Duel of the Dead" ends this issue's obvious message that only the Germans had a hankering for killing and mayhem. The end twist has been used before in one of the war titles (and probably by Big Bob), but I wasn't ready for it and it surprised me a bit. As with Big Bob's "Gallery of War" feature, I get the feeling Weird War really gave the writer a longer leash to tell more violent stories than those used in the other four titles which, because of their continuing cast members, could be constricting. This first real issue of WWT isn't all that great (though the art is top-notch), but it's certainly more entertaining than the pablum we were served in the first seven numbers.

Jack: The best thing about this issue is the cover by Neal Adams! I was excited to see the all-new contents and the art by DeZuniga, whom I remember fondly from his work on the Marvel black and white magazines. I also like seeing Joe Orlando sign on as editor, signifying that this is now a horror book rather than a war book. That said, the three stories are mediocre and the art not much better than that. I see very little of Neal Adams in the second tale and this is hardly DeZuniga's best work. The violence is definitely greater than what we're used to, though. I look forward to seeing what next issue brings!

Our Army at War 251

"The Iron Major"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Deserter!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Jack: The Nazis are shelling a seaside village, so headquarters orders Rock to get Easy Co. out of there right away! They march out of the village and, on a rooftop, "The Iron Major" stops a sniper from killing Rock with a long-distance shot. Recalling his prior meeting with Rock, the Iron Major says he wants to confront his nemesis face to face. Easy Co. decides to mount a rear-guard action and go back to the village, attacking by surprise from the sea. They succeed in defeating some of the Nazis but soon Rock comes face to face with the Iron Major, and hand to hand combat ensues; one of those hands is made of iron! Rock bests the major but refuses to shoot him point blank, leaving open the possibility of a future meeting.

"The Iron Major"
Kanigher does a decent job of bringing back the Iron Major, but I would've liked a little more information about where and when this story tales place. That's often a problem with the Sgt. Rock series--are they in Italy? North Africa? France? And what year is it, anyway? The U.S. troops weren't in Europe all that long during WWII but Rock and his men seem like they've been there 20 years or so to judge by the number of adventures they've had. In any case, Heath really shines in this story and, as usual, I liked the wordless sequence where the men sneak up on the Nazis from the sea.

In 480 B.C., King Leonidas of Sparta must protect the pass at Thermopylae from the assault of Persian King Xerxes and his army. A young Greek soldier named Nicias becomes "The Deserter!" and runs from battle when things get too hot, but the wise words of an old blind man he meets spur him to return to the fight, and he becomes the last Greek slain.

"The Deserter!"
A great big bare*bones welcome to Alfredo Alcala, an artist we loved in our DC horror series! This is a stirring piece of history, well-told by Kanigher and well-illustrated by Alcala. I do hope we get more history lessons if they're as good as this one!

Peter: I love that we got another showdown between Rock and the Iron Major (who first appeared way back in OA #158, September 1965 and was sequelized in #165, March 1966) but, truthfully, wasn't that a bit anticlimactic? A lot of build-up and then Rock simply embarrasses the poor Major. I want a re-re-rematch! The art by Russ is simply stunning; I'm going to have a hard time picking which of his jobs this year was the best but this is up there for sure. The guy just kept getting better and better. Speaking of which . . . gentlemen and nerds, I give you Alfredo Alcala for the first time in a DC war title! Anyone who read our blog on the DC mystery titles knows that Alcala is my all-time favorite artist and I have no shortage of synonyms for "great" in my treasure box to be used. This was the only war story Alcala contributed to appear outside of Weird War (where he would place 25 jobs); only natural since AA's style suited the supernatural. Good stuff on the way!

G.I. Combat 156

"Beyond Hell"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Crowded Coffin"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: The boys of the Jeb Stuart find themselves in a precarious pickle: their generator is shot and there are no open auto stores in the middle of the desert. The General is not much help either, throwing out his usual abstract mumbo-jumbo and then heading back to purgatory until the next adventure. Luckily, the crew stumble upon a dried-up oasis that happens to be where Rommel buried all his spare tank parts in case they were needed. Once they weather a sand storm and replace that generator, it's a good day. This is what we in grade school would have called a higgledy-piggledy story, bouncing to and fro but lacking anything remotely resembling a plot. The boys are stuck again, the General is his usual unhelpful self and, seriously, talk about finding your needle in a haystack. Jeb remembers someone saying Rommel had a cache out in the desert and (whattya know!) they're sitting right on top of it! The saving grace for "Beyond Hell" might be Sam's art which, if not on a level with Russ Heath (though that splash looks mighty Heath-ian), seems to be leveling out and steering away from the scratchy USS Stevens-style art. One interesting aspect of the script (and there's just the one, unfortunately) is that the rest of the crew see the General's ghost for a moment. They laugh it off as a mirage but maybe this is a sign of things to come.

A nice Eisner-esque, Heath-ian
splash from Sam Glanzman

A German U-Boat and an American sub face off in a deadly sea battle. The U-Boat gets the upper hand and sinks the sub but the Americans don't give up so easily and attempt a take-over of the Nazi ship. Heavy casualties mount during the hand-to-hand combat inside but the U-Boat's fate is decided when an American destroyer fires on and sinks the sub. The men on board sink to the bottom of the ocean and await their fate. "The Crowded Coffin" is just as powerful as the first entry in "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War" ("White Devil . . . Yellow Devil" back in Star Spangled #164), with only Frank Thorne's crude art as a bit of a drawback. The image of an American calming a panicked young Nazi while doom seeps in around them is particularly stirring; it's almost as though Big Bob felt unleashed with this new series and decided to tell those deeper stories he always wanted to tell while chained to Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch. I mentioned Frank Thorne's artwork being a bit of a minus but it's not horrible, just very average, a la Glanzman. I must say that, though I've always been a pessimist, I like the direction the DC War titles are taking at this time and I hope they only get grittier.

The bleak, but stirring, conclusion to
"The Crowded Coffin"

Jack: It was surprising that the rest of the tank crew was able to see the ghost, wasn't it? After all these years of Jeb being the only one with the gift of sight, suddenly the other guys witness the general, but don't believe what they see! Will this trend continue or was Kanigher just being forgetful? I thought Glanzman's art was okay except when he tried to draw human faces, which seems to have been his weakness. Fortunately, there are many panels with only machinery. I expected more from Frank Thorne than we get in the backup story, but I guess if there's no redhead in a chain mail bikini in the tale then his heart's just not in it! The story was ironic and downbeat but I didn't find it terribly interesting.


Desperately needed for an upcoming project. If you have scans for the following Atlas comic books, or can make us a scan, please contact us:

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1,4, and 23
Journey Into Unknown Worlds  #38 (3rd issue), 9, 10, and 48
Mystery Tales #4, 8, 11, 12, 21, 42, 43, 49, and 51
Mystic #13
Spellbound #14
Suspense #26 and 28

See your name in lights on this very website!

Next Week in EC Issue 60 . . .
The Aces are High!

How Peter and Jack spent the early '70s.