Monday, July 9, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 61

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
Issue 61: May 1955

Johnny Craig
M.D. 1

"The Fight for Life"★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

"Janie Some Day"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by George Evans

"To Fill the Bill"★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Antidote"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

From ancient times till only recently, illness was treated in the dark, as medical knowledge grew in fits and starts. Today (that is, 1955) the friendly doctor knows how to take good care of you.

George Evans gives
"Janie Some Day" crazy eyes
Yes, that's about all there is to "The Fight for Life," a six-page history of medicine illustrated by (of all people) Graham Ingels, who does his best to make things interesting. There's only so much one can do with such a dry topic.

The kids on the playground call her "Janie Some Day," because the six-year-old gal has had both legs in a cast since birth due to congenital osteomyelitis, a bone infection. The nice doctor cures one leg and the cast comes off, but the other one has to be amputated. Janie fears she'll need a wooden leg, but instead she is fitted with a modern prosthetic and now she can run and play with the other kids.

Seriously, did Bill Gaines really think this would sell? Who would buy this comic? Young doctors-to-be? George Evans can draw just about anything and, like Ingels in the first story, he gives it the old college try, but the subject is just not one I really want to read about in comic book form, and I'm a guy who likes adult-themed graphic novels.

Which is it? Bobby or Jimmy?
"To Fill the Bill"
When Jim Saunders pays the bills each month, he ignores Dr. Bennett's bill because he knows the doctor will always come when he's called. Little Bobby, who suddenly becomes Little Jimmy in the middle of one panel, swallows a safety pin and dear old Dad uses the tried and true method of pounding on his back. A call is made to Dr. Bennett, who races to the Saunders' apartment, where Bobby cannot breathe. The doc realizes right away that (just like on Baywatch!) an emergency tracheotomy is called for and, before you know it, the heroic doc uses a kitchen knife to open an airway and a pair of tweezers to extract the safety pin. Jim sheepishly tries to pay the doctor, who gallantly refuses money for now, understanding the family's financial situation.

What a load of hooey! I think Dr. Bennett should have told the Saunders family to pound sand and let little Bobby (or is it Jimmy?) pass on to the next world. That would have been better than making us suffer through six pages of Joe Orlando's art, which is not exactly pleasing to the eye. How did he get so good in the 15 years or so between this and when he started drawing Cain for House of Mystery?

A riveting panel from the "appendectomy sequence"
in "The Antidote"
It's been a long day for Dr. Anders, but he still has to meet with a neurosurgeon who's coming in from out of town to do brain surgery. Danny Borden's parents insist that Dr. Anders see their son, who (it turns out) has appendicitis and needs emergency surgery. Anders agrees to participate and the boy is saved. When the neurosurgeon finally arrives, he tells Anders that the brain surgery can go forward at eight a.m. There's no reason to delay removing the tumor--from the brain of Anders's wife!

Reed Crandall to the rescue! His fine art keeps the story interesting enough that the final twist is a welcome surprise. If this first issue of M.D. is a harbinger of the next four, it's going to be a tough read, but the art is at least bearable, for the most part, though I wish Johnny Craig had done more than just draw that fine cover.--Jack

"The Fight for Life"
Peter: The first issue of M.D. opens with a (ostensibly unintentionally) hilarious travelogue of pain through the ages that makes this reader wonder if "The Fight for Life" (with its cavemen who speak almost Shakespearean English) was, instead, scheduled for MAD! My favorite bit (reprinted here) is the Polynesian form of doctoring, which isn't that far from the methods practiced by my GP. "The Antidote" has a nice twist in its tail but, otherwise, the contents of M.D. #1 are universally silly, dated, and boring. "To Fill the Bill" is a monologue on paying bills and "Janie Some Day" is a nauseatingly maudlin precursor to the hospital dramas we grew up with on TV. Obviously, the prevailing sentiment in Bill Gaines's office was that funny books based on "professions" were going to be the next big thing. Thankfully, M.D. and Psychoanalysis proved otherwise or, fersure fersure, we'd have gotten Two-Fisted Plumbing Tales, Stock Exchange SuspenStories, and Tales from the Mailroom.

Panic 8

"Irving Oops" ★
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Will Elder

"Carmen" 0
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Joe Orlando

"Panic Peeks Into Some Old Underpaints" 1/2★
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Jack Davis

"Gone with the Widow" ★
Story by Jack Mendelsohn
Art by Wally Wood

Guess who drew short straw yet again? My thesaurus only goes so far and I believe I've dried up every possible variation on the word "awful" but here we go anyway. I'm just not sure why even Bill Elder can't work up enough enthusiasm to fake his way through a seven-page strip when he's been (half-) responsible for several out-and-out comedy classics over at that other rag. "Irving Oops" is dreadful (there ya go, that's another word for "awful"), boring, lifeless crap and, doubtless, Al knew it. Just like he knew that "Carmen" was embarrassingly bad (I assume that's publisher Gaines as our emcee, Melvin Kross) but moved it along anyway. "Carmen," by the way, receives a rare 0 score from me. How rare? I've never used it. "Underpaints" is no better, nor is "Gone with the Widow," the hilarious movie send-up we've been begging for. Scarlip O'Hare and Rhett Buttons gives you a mere taste of just how rib-tickling this parody is. But, no wait, there's more . . .

Four issues more to be dreadfully, awfully, horribly, odiferously exact. -Peter

In this case, one panel will have
to be worth a thousand words

Jack: "Irving Oops" makes me think about how hard it is to pull off an effective parody. Bill Elder's work with Harvey Kurtzman is hilarious, but he can't bring life to a Jack Mendelsohn script. Since I've never read "Alley Oop," the jokes fall flat for me. It seems that parody only works when the reader is familiar with the subject being parodied. At least "Carmen" has a quick reference to Stan Freberg's "John and Marsha" routine, so I got a smile thinking about that. Joe Orlando does draw a good-looking Carmen. The parody of classic paintings was surprising because I've never seen Jack Davis draw seriously before. I guess he was able to do more than the usual style he made his living at for decades. As for "Gone with the Widow," Wally Wood's art is gorgeous, and of course his Scarlip is a knockout, but this time even with knowledge of the story being parodied it wasn't a tiny bit funny.

Piracy 4

"Pirate Master" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"By the Book" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

"The Sheba" ★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

"Inheritance" ★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

No one is feared on the seven seas like Captain Satan, the "Pirate Master," a man so devoid of kindness even his scurvy crew fears him. Satan and his men attack and board a merchant vessel and murder every one on board save a couple of women stored below deck during the journey. As Captain Satan prepares to unveil the potentially-valuable cargo, two of his men wonder what could possess a man to be so heartless and cruel. What indeed? Well, luckily we get to see into Satan's mind and what we see makes his cruelty understandable. In his past life, Satan was blacksmith Juniper Dell, who did everything he could to keep his wife, Viola, content and comfortable but nothing was good enough for his vicious mother-in-law, who henpecked Juniper into leaving home. While musing on the docks,  the morose young man is shanghaied and becomes a pirate under the notorious Captain Ambrose Cates, who takes a shine to young Juniper. A year later, Cates is fatally wounded and turns the ship's wheel over to his apprentice, who quickly earns the fear, if not respect, of the crew. Finally coming out of his daydream, Satan watches as the two women are brought up from below and . . . suddenly, Juniper is confronted with wife and mom-in-law. Mom wastes no time in reminding her good-for-nothing son-in-law who's boss and Juniper finds himself aboard the merchant ship, heading back home to his blacksmith job, the laughter of his former crew receding in the distance.

Every pirate's nightmare

A bit of a change of pace from the usual Piracy tale; well, actually the first three-quarters are just like the usual Piracy tale, rip-roaring and bloody, with fierce battles and inhumanity abounding. Then comes the about-face in the final panels, a hilarious and startling swerve into something akin to a MAD parody. Yes, the twist of Juniper/Satan's past catching up to him is predictable, but our uncredited tale-spinner does a great job of making the sudden infusion of humor work after such a violent build-up. Reed Crandall was born to draw pirates; that much is obvious.

The fact that Midshipman David Price does everything "By the Book" is driving the rest of the crew of the Troy, an American ship fighting in the War of 1812, crazy. To Price, it all comes down to the regulations listed in his Maritime Manual but, to his comrades, there's no time for rules during engagement and the book should go the way of the used coffee grounds. When a chance to sink a British ship comes, Price leads a band of brave men in a rowboat armed with a single mine to blow the Macedonian to kingdom come (or United Kingdom come). The smoke that allowed the little rowboat to approach the Brits without being seen lifts and the Macedonian opens fire on the men. Price grabs the mine, leaps into the water, and manages to attach the explosive to the ship before being fatally shot. The British ship seriously compromised, the longboat returns to the Troy and Midshipman Price's book is tossed into the deep to sink with his brave body. A rousing sea tale with a bittersweet finale (nothing maudlin about that climax), "By the Book" proves that even Carl Wessler was being bitten by the "novelty bug" that was bringing out the best in writers who had seen better days (or had yet to see good days, for that matter); most of these guys were probably sick to death of horror, crime, and shock tales and something fresh like Piracy was infusing them with new ideas. George Evans, like Reed Crandall, is ideally suited to the genre.

Ben has always hated "The Sheba," a ship he helped build with his father; the massive construct of wood seems always out to harm the poor young man. When the Sheba breaks its constraints at the shipyard and mows down Ben's father, Ben vows one day to destroy her. Meeting the love of his life, Ivy, seems to put destruction to the back of Ben's mind but, when one of the ship's pulleys breaks loose and cracks Ben across the skull, he stands on the verge of sanity and once again makes the destruction of the Sheba his top priority. His captain puts Ben ashore at a tiny island so that he can hop another boat to make it back to Ivy but, months later, it's the Sheba that arrives to pick him up. Ben steals onto the ship in the dark of night and sets her adrift; he watches in glee as the Sheba wrecks on a nearby reef and sinks with all crew aboard. But when Ben makes it back to his beloved Ivy, he realizes the torture he was subjected to by a hunk of wood has not ended . . . Ivy boarded the Sheba and took her to the island to see Ben. Another good, solid six pages of sea-faring adventure, though the climax is a bit predictable and I'd question Ben's seesawing sanity; one moment he's lucid, the next he's a raving maniac. Graham (difficult not to type "Ghastly!") proves again that switching genres was no problem but it might have helped that "The Sheba" was just one rising sea-corpse away from being a Tale from the Crypt.

Count Charles Devigny rules his French war frigate, the Bon St. Louis, with an iron hand and only his brother, Emile, is sympathetic to the complaints of the "common" crew. That's what the crew thinks, at least, but at night Emile reports the murmurs of mutiny to his brother, effectively playing double spy. Charles, we come to discover, was granted the family power and wealth while Emile stands penniless and jealous. If Emile can somehow talk the men into a mutiny and Charles is out of the way, Emile is next in line for the "Inheritance." The crafty dog talks the men into murdering the entire crew but finds his victory is short-lived when the Bon St. Louis docks at Cherbourg just after the Bastille has been stormed. Having ascended to Count, Emile is put on trial and sent to the guillotine. Not really a tale of piracy but close enough I guess, "Inheritance" is another well-written and exciting tale à la Shock SuspenStories. Krigstein seems to be finding his sea legs after a rough, cartoony start last issue; the human beings are not as exaggerated. I continue to be impressed with this title, which has already ascended (maybe by process of elimination, but still . . .) to the top of the New Direction books. -Peter

Jack: It's good to know that even a feared pirate had an overbearing mother-in-law! I began to suspect the identity of the passengers in "Pirate Master" around page five but the end was still very funny. "By the Book" demonstrates some thrilling and unexpected heroism, while I found "The Sheba" rather dull and note that Ghastly is still being assigned the quasi-horror stories. Krigstein's technical skill continues to lag behind his cinematic imagination in "Inheritance," though I did like the final panel, where Emile is being guillotined.

MAD 23

"Gopo Gossum!"★★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Scenes We'd . . . Like to See!"★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Ripup's Believe It Or Don't!"★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Barefoot Nocountessa!"★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

Back from a trip to the big city, "Gopo Gossum!" tells all his friends in the swamp that they need to stop standing around making great puns and start thinking about politics. Before you know it, political parties abound, as do caricatures of political leaders of the time. The natural end of all this is an atomic explosion, witnessed by four very familiar Disney animals passing by through the woods.

"Gopo Gossum!"

Reading this story not long after suffering through an issue of Panic really shows how much Harvey Kurtzman meant to the success of MAD. The story is very funny and a perfect (and loving) parody of the great Pogo strip, right down to Wally Wood signing it "Walt Wood." This is witty, intelligent, clever writing and great comic art.

"Scenes We'd . . . Like to See!"
In "Scenes We'd . . . Like to See!" a series of typical movie scenes are presented then repeated in a more likely fashion. A couple kiss passionately but get slobber all over their faces. Two swordsmen fight and one is killed with a well-placed thrust. A western hero does not arrive in time to save a fort, some Nazis prevail, a detective gets shot instead of talked to death.

This sort of thing would become more prevalent as MAD continued, with endless (nine pages, in this case) comparisons of the way things are with the way the MAD staff would like to see them. It's funny enough, just not outstanding, and I get tired of Jack Davis quickly.

Do you remember the newspaper strip, "Ripup's Believe It Or Don't!"? Sure you do! It had fascinating facts about unusual folks, such as Galusha Sturdley, the tallest man in the world, and Joseph Stalin of Russia, who was really born in the Bronx.

At three pages, this is just the right length. Wood imitates the Ripley's drawing style perfectly and the "facts" are just absurd enough to be funny and to seem reminiscent of the real strip's panels.

Harry Drawers stands in a cemetery in the pouring rain, recounting the story of "The Barefoot Nocountessa!" Harry was sent by a Hollywood mogul to bring her back from Spain. Men fought over her because of her beauty and, eventually, one killed her.

I've never seen The Barefoot Contessa, so this is kind of foreign to me, but I can appreciate Jack Davis's takes on Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Sinatra. It's all pretty funny and puts a fitting capper on an above-average issue of MAD.--Jack

"The Barefoot Nocountessa!"

Melvin Enfantino: The final issue of funny book MAD is a mixed-bag. On one hand, "The Barefoot Nocountessa!" is proof that Harvey had had enough of movie parodies and was just cruising while, on the other, "Gopo Gossum!" was just as much proof that Kurtzman could probably continue satirizing comic strips and make readers guffaw until he ran out of material. "Gopo" is chock full of hilarious little nuances (like the little guy who spouts gibberish, including "NBCTV" and the polliwog in a glass who notes how nice the art is) and fourth-wall breakers but, curiously, is missing the Elder section of KurtzElder. Wally is perfectly suited for swamp creatures, anyhow. "Ripups's Believe It or Don't" is a knee-slapping collection of silliness and startling facts (5+3-2=7248 has always been debated at our EC Club meetings) but "Scenes We'd . . . Like to See!" is monotonous and a chore to get through. Obviously, it was popular, though, since it became a regular feature in the zine-sized MAD, which debuted its new 68-page, magazine-sized, two-bits cover-priced incarnation in July 1955. Goodbye, MAD, we'll miss ya. But wait, in the words of Gopo Gossum, "You ain't heard the worst!" We're stuck with Panic for four more issues!

Next Week . . .
Will Jeb Stuart get to meet
his ghostly ancestor on the other side?


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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andydecker said...

It is kind of endearing that Gaines thought comics about doctors and psychoanalysis could fill the gap of Tales of the Crypt.

Okay, doctors I kind of understand. How long did Marcus Welby ran as a sydicated newspaper strip?

But shrinks? Sounds like an idea from the bottom of the bottle.

Anonymous said...

With the end of Mad's run, you have finished covering all of my favorite EC comics other than Valor, but, inspired by your efforts, I am reading Piracy and Aces High along with you. I missed both of these titles when I was a kid, and I must say that I'm sorry I did, because they're both very good indeed. I'm reading Piracy in black and white because there's no available EC Archives volume yet, but Amazon recently made it available for pre-order, so I plan to read all of these stories again in 2019 when the gorgeous color set does come out. I read the five issues of Aces High in the EC Archives version over the past few weeks. The quality of Piracy is actually higher than that of Valor, and really all three books were quite good; along with Incredible Science Fiction, they add up to a very high quality slate for the New Direction.

The problem is that MD, Psychoanalysis, and Extra all sound terrible from your descriptions, and I know Panic was terrible from the personal experience of having read a couple of its terrible issues many years ago. Apart from "Master Race", which Krigstein had done earlier for a New Trend title, Impact was a big disappointment to me. So five out of nine of the titles from the post-Mad era weren't up to snuff. That's a big drop-off from the New Trend, but since I happen not to like the horror titles, it's not quite as big a drop-off for me as it must have been for the Fan Addicts who were primarily around for the horror and sci-fi titles.

-- Jim

Jack Seabrook said...

Andy, you're eight that doctors provide a good subject for comics, but the first issue of MD was awful! I can't explain Psychoanalysis and wonder if the topic was more novel in the mid-'50s.

Jim, I love that our posts have inspired you to read something you haven't read before! I agree that Panic is dreadful and Piracy (so far) is a lot of fun.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, guys!

Peter Enfantino said...

You might want to wait for 2019 to read those Piracys in the Archives but Russ Cochran issued the whole set in color about twenty years ago and they're probably fairly affordable on eBay.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter. I hadn't realized that.

-- Jim