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

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Quiddity99 said...

Don't think I've had a chance to comment on the New Direction era yet. I viewed the run as a whole as very hit or miss. Piracy was quite good, particular the first few issues and I generally found Valor of fairly good quality as well. Impact was also pretty good, like a watered down version of Shock. Master Race of course was one of the best stories EC would ever publish. I know you haven't hit it yet, but Incredible Science Fiction had some strong work as well, including Jack Davis finally trying his hand at some sci-fi stories.

On the other hand, Extra I come to for Johnny Craig's art, but nothing else. I don't think I've bothered to read more than a few of the stories even though he was always a good quality writer in the horror comics. M.D. is rarely above mediocre. Aces High I have the full collection of but haven't ever read beyond the opening story. Should do so someday as I typically was a fan of George Evans's stories in Two Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat. Psychoanalysis I've likewise never bothered with. An entire comic with material that dry and all Kamen art? Staying far away.

Soon EC will be forced to buckle under and join the Comics Code, so we have even more watered down material coming up unfortunately. Hope you guys cover the Picto Fiction stories someday where we'll finally have some strong quality work again.

Still hoping you guys will cover Warren after finishing EC although your upcoming project makes me think you'll be going in another direction...

Jack Seabrook said...

Our current schedule has us posting our last EC post on New Year's Eve and that one will cover the Picto-Fiction. After that, we'll do Warren together and Peter will be going solo on his Atlas horror comics project. Lots to read!