Thursday, September 6, 2018

Journey Into Strange Tales Marvel/ Atlas Horror Issue 16

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part One
May-October 1949
Narrated by Peter Enfantino

So... what's the natural progression from EC Comics? Well, despite the fact that the EC blog still has a few weeks to go, I was itching to jump into another company and those Atlas titles have been beckoning me for years. Joe Maneely. Bill Everett. Gene Colan. John Romita. The list goes on and on. Just the covers alone would catch your attention and keep you rapt for hours. Originally, Jose and I would have covered Timely/Atlas/Marvel but then the Dungeons of Doom project languished (you can see our last installment here) and then morphed into a book project that might see the light of day at some point. I get bored really quick so I decided I'd tackle the monstrous Atlas project on my own (and, in the spirit of the 1950s' horror comics, I've changed the title but kept the numbering!). This could take years!

Unlike the EC blog, I won't be breaking down and commenting extensively on every single story in every single issue but rather accentuating the positive. At least that's the plan now (best laid plans and all), but seeing as how the first couple of years I cover are made up of only a handful of titles, don't be surprised if the rules are broken now and then. Each post will feature four issues (in chronological order), but that can change as well depending on energy and time (at one point in 1952, Atlas would flood the market with as many as thirteen monthly horror and sf titles!). Like our EC blog, I won't offer up an exhaustive history of the company--those have been written by better writers and more learned historians than myself--but now and then I'll point out some historical and trivial nuggets when they come to mind. For those of you desiring to dig in to the history of Timely/Atlas/Marvel, I've listed some excellent sources (most of which I steal from now and then) at the end of this post.

One slight bummer is that I don't have access to about fifteen issues from various titles at this point. That may change, though. A site I've frequented that was of immense help in filling in holes was More Than Heroes, a sort of hub for Atlas fans and a gateway to downloads of most of these hard-to-find gems. If I get my hands on those missing issues, have no fear; they will be covered at some point. For those who want to haunt your Marvel reprint titles for any of these yarns, I'll note the issue if there was a reprinting.

Like all the blogs we've done, the idea is to be interactive. Did I miss a title you feel warrants inclusion? Do you disagree with my choices for worst artists? Have any great memories associated with these funny books? Write in! Where artists are credited (on GCD), I've noted that and each story has been rated ( through ), even if not mentioned (for those of us who are completists). And now, on with the show...

Amazing Mysteries #32 (May, 1949)

“The Thing at Chugamung Cove!” ★
“The Menace from the Past” (art by Gene Colan) ★ 
“With Intent to Kill” ★★★

Like a lot of these 1940s'-1950s' Atlas titles (and comic books in general), Amazing Mysteries started life as another book, in this case Sub-Mariner Comics! Only the first two issues were horror-oriented, with the detective genre winning out after the 33rd issue. The entire enchilada was axed with #35. #32 was the first Marvel/Atlas/Timely comic book to feature horror stories and its cover must have been startling to fans who were haunting the stands looking for that elusive Sub-Mariner #32. Oddly enough, that eye-catching cover (the GCD indicates it might be the work of Martin Nodell) illustrates the text story rather than a featured tale!

In “With Intent to Kill,”  Lothario Charles Redmont has met his match in the lovely Jeannie Lockhart, but Jeannie has a deep, dark secret: she’s a very sick woman. One night, when the gorgeous blonde has one of her “incidents” and pulls a no-show at Charlie’s favorite spaghetti restaurant, the irate Redmond bursts into Jeannie’s apartment to find her there with another man. Our heroine tries to explain that the man is her doctor but Charlie is having none of it and ends their blossoming relationship with a slam of the door. Jeannie rapidly deteriorates and is given “ten more months to live,” while Charles finds it impossible to get the girl out of his brain. The only way to cleanse his memory of the beauty is, obviously, to kill her. He sets up plenty of alibis, sneaks into Jeannie’s room, and ventilates her, only to be surprised by the entrance of the girl’s doctor, who informs the cad that it was the unnamed illness, and not Charlie’s bullet, that rid the earth of an angel. Jeannie had died hours before!

My three-star rating is not based on the quality of this work but, rather, on the entertainment value it provides. There are wacky diversions and groan-worthy dialogue strewn throughout the nine pages narrated by host, “The Witness,” that can’t help but produce a smile on the face of even the most stubborn pre-code horror fan. Charlie’s roller coaster emotions regarding Jeannie are head scratching and the ding-dong-daddy-O dialogue (“Whales? Heck, Jeannie, I don’t bait for blubber! Mermaids — they’re my style! So how’s about flapping a flipper with your fisher boy?”) are laugh-out-loud loony. The art is hot and cold, with most panels laid out and drawn like 98% of all funny book strips of the late 1940s, very workmanlike and devoid of any originality or spark, and then there are instances dotted here and there with an almost Eisner-like flare.

“The Thing at Chugamung Cove!” (members of the St. Stengel family transform into frog creatures on their 25th birthday) is obviously “inspired” by Lovecraft but amazingly pedestrian with uninspired art and unfocused story. All his life, Phillip’s been a rotten, spoiled monster, killing his pets, assaulting childhood chums and, later in life, ruining his business partner. Now, Justice has come for Phillip. "The Menace from the Past" is way too wordy, but then that may be a plus since it crowds out the very early, very by-the-numbers Gene Colan art. There’s no indication here of the master that Colan would become in decades to follow.

“The Thing at Chugamung Cove!”

Amazing Mysteries #33 (July 1949)

“The Thing in the Vault!”  (a: Bill Everett?) ★★★
“Terror in the Tomb”  
“The Monster That Prowled!” (a: Gene Colan)  

Two foolish American archaeologists choose to ignore the superstitions surrounding a Hungarian castle and unleash the terror of the three Horhaga brothers — all vampires! Despite evidence of nightly village feedings, the two explorers won’t give in to old wives’ tales and continue their excavations. A local Van Helsing-like doctor tracks two of the Horhagas to their lair and stakes them but misses out on the third, whose coffin and resting body has been loaded into a freighter by the glory-seeking archaeologists. Months later, the abandoned freighter is sighted by a ship near England and destroyed but the coffin surfaces, floating towards shore. Eleven pages of sheer delight, “The Thing in the Vault” is a well-written, suspenseful little yarn with above-average (for the times, at least) art and dialogue that doesn’t drown those visuals. The  explorers, Crane and Mencken, are more villainous than the Horhagas (who look very Nosferatu-ish with their bald domes and snappy dress), ignoring villagers and vampire hunters alike in their pursuit for glory. GCD credits Bill Everett with a question mark on the art chores but my untrained eye definitely picks up at least traces of Bill here and there.

Bill Everett?

"Terror in the Tomb" stars yet another archaeologist who ignores ancient warnings. Charles LeFoux releases the “ghost soul” of the “Witch Queen, queen of the darkness beyond,” and must pay the ultimate price to save his gorgeous young fiancĂ©’s soul.

"The Monster That Prowled" by Colan

“World-famed ethnologist” Sir Geoffrey Horton is cursed by a Wattage witch doctor and transformed into an ape in "The Monster That Prowled." Horton's best friend and colleague, James Creighton, takes him back to England to seek a cure but the Horton-Thing wreaks havoc across the continent.
This was the last horror-themed issue of Amazing Mysteries and, with #34, the title shifted its focus to true crime stories; it survived two more issues and was then put to rest in January 1950.

Some nice atmospheric art from "The Thing in the Vault"

Marvel Tales #93 (August 1949)

“The Haunted Room”  (a: Gene Colan) ★★
“The Gool Strikes!” ★★
“Step Into the Mirror of Madness!” ★★
“Beware of the Cat!” ★★
“The Man Who Fled From the Future!”  (a: Gene Colan) 1/2

Though the very first issue of Marvel Comics is one of the most famous and sought-after funny books (debuting The Human Torch, Ka-Zar, and Sub-Mariner and currently fetching somewhere near half a million for a decent copy), the powers-that-be at Timely decided the title Marvel Mystery Comics would jump off the stands more fiercely and so, after a quick logo change, it stayed for a further 92 issues, spotlighting the WWII (and post-war) adventures of the Torch, Namor, and Captain America. The Mystery was dropped with #93 and the series continued until it was axed with #159 in August, 1957.

Norman Raine, journalist of the supernatural, comes to the inn of Varno Kadarik to investigate strange goings-on in "The Haunted Room." Seems everyone who has stayed in this particular room has died and Raine wants to know if there’s an evil presence responsible. The writer sets himself up in the room and records every occurrence, including a couple of werewolf sightings. In the end, Raine is murdered by the innkeeper’s wife, who is secretly a lycanthrope. A la one of those fabulously creaky HP Lovecraft stories, Raine keeps writing even while he’s about to be eaten by a wolf and poor Varno doesn’t even know his spouse sprouts fangs every full moon. Oddly, the second werewolf (who shows up at the inn door) is not explained.

"Could you kindly wait until I finish writing
before you tear my throat out?"

The Gool was no fool
A giant blind monster climbs its way up from the center of the Earth to wreak havoc on mankind before curtailing his plans for unknown reasons. Possibly the first “giant monster on the loose” comic story, “The Gool Strikes” is a charming little sci-fi adventure with some interesting scientific notions (the Gool, though blind, “senses” there’s another race miles above him and then somehow finds the materials and builds a “mole-thing” vehicle to drill its way to us) and some typical egghead dialogue. Though the last panel promises a sequel (“The Mark of the Gool”), none was delivered.

In “Step Into the Mirror of Madness!,” Camille D’Amico becomes obsessed with a strange mirror in a curio shop in Milan, but the shopkeeper refuses to sell, so Camille convinces her cuckolded husband, Pietro, to murder the man. Once she gets the mirror home, Camille discovers she’s unlocked the gates to hell, and the devil himself has claimed her as his bride. Some nice graphics (especially Camille’s tour through hell) punch up a recycled plot.

"Beware of the Cat!"
In 19th-Century China, the most eligible bachelor in the village, Chi-Mi, decides to take Lotus Flower as his bride, but the lovely Sano has other ideas. She visits her mother, the banished witch who lives in a nearby mountain cave, who sends her shape-shifting feline off to bewitch Chi-Mi. A change of pace, “Beware of the Cat” is like an ancient fable, with its gentle story-telling and pleasant art. It’s a bit too long and the attention wanders at times but a charmer all the same.

A doctor (whose face is kept in shadow) comes upon the bleeding and exhausted Arnold Borgasia, who tells of a strange experiment with a local scientist, an egghead who claims he can bring the dead to life. Though the story is filled with such scientific oddities as time travel, the man believes Borgasia’s tale. In the end, we discover that the mystery man is the doctor who was conducting experiments on Borgasia and proves his theories correct (no surprise if you read the story’s title). Overlong and padded with silly dialogue, this one suffers most from Gene Colan’s hot-and-cold artwork (the same goes for "The Haunted Room") which runs the gamut from scratchy and almost illegible to atmospheric and sleek. 52 pages and no cover price increase! Oh, those were the days!

Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 (October 1949)
“The Frozen Ghost!” 
“The Thing in the Swamps!” ★★
“The Tomb of Terror” 

By 1949, superheroes had become old hat and a dying breed. Captain America's circulation had plunged and Marvel was desperate so... why not Captain America's Weird Tales? Well, the public let Marvel know why not and the experiment only lasted two issues (the title was put on a four-year hiatus and returned as simply Captain America, but the title was axed after only three more issues in September 1954). The first story in each of the two issues stars Cap in a non-horror tale (although the Red Skull could be a pretty frightening chap when he wanted to be), with the adventure this issue titled "The Red Skull Strikes Again."

In “The Frozen Ghost!,” reporter Jack Davis is sent by his editor to investigate a series of killings, purportedly the work of an ice monster. When Jack gets held up at the train station, he queries a stranger about the murders and discovers that the monster is real! Yet another “reporter sent to investigate happens upon the creature itself” snoozer. There’s no explanation why the thing would want to eliminate Davis (all of his previous killings were of townsfolk who’d done the man wrong) but halfway through we know just what the “twist” will be.

John Vandiver has a really big problem: his family has been cursed by a swamp monster and all the Vandiver males become werewolves (or something looking like werewolves) on their thirtieth birthdays, and tomorrow is John’s birthday! He goes to see psychiatrist Paul Townslee to see if the problem is all in his head. Unfortunately for John, it’s all too real. Though “The Thing in the Swamps!” would never pass for great storytelling (or even mediocre storytelling), it’s still a lot of fun in an Ed Wood-ian way. There are so many goofy twists and turns that I defy you not to smile a few times. In a wordy flashback, the ghost explains his curse as he’s sinking below the murky swamp water:

Forever after… the oldest son of your family will disappear on his thirtieth birthday! He will become a doomed thing, a horrible monster… condemned to dwell for a year in the filthy waters of this marsh… going forth only to kill! At the end of the year, he will resume his normal guise and return, hopelessly insane! Mark you well, Vandiver… this is the curse of a dying man! It shall come true…ugh…

All that, made up on the fly, while the poor guy is drinking alligator wiz.

Not to be confused with "Terror in the Tomb" from Amazing Mysteries #33 a few months before, “The Tomb of Terror” concerns the 40th Egyptian expedition of 1948... which winds up just as the first 39 did: absent a few archaeologists. This is really bad, with a threadbare script and below-average (even for early Marvel) art.


Bell, Blake and Michael J. Vassallo. The Secret History of Marvel Comics (Fantagraphics, 2013).
Daniels, Les. Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades (Abrams, 1991).
Sadowski, Greg. Four Color Fear (Fantagraphics, 2010). * Though Sadowski doesn't include any Atlas reprints in his volume, his listing of the company's pre-code horror titles was essential in my research.
The Atlas Tales website.
Dr. Michael J. Vassallo's essential Timely-Atlas-Comics blog.

In two weeks...


Jack Seabrook said...

Great start to a new series! I can’t wait to see where this takes you!

Tom Stein said...

I have all the back issues of the Scream Factory and Bare Bones, and I'm glad to see you back at it again, Peter!

andydecker said...

I missed the start. Hm. Serves me right to only look up the blog on Mondays :-)

I read only a few of those tales, on some blog or other. But frankly after the second tale I needed a break. To have to review whole issues though is hard work. I will read it.

Peter Enfantino said...

I think you know which looney bin this will take me to.

Thanks for tuning in. The Best of the Scream Factory will be out from CD Publications sometime next month!

Thanks for showing up. Without you, things might get boring around here. Behind the scenes nugget: I've actually finished the first 16 posts of Atlas (about 85 funny books) and my enthusiasm has not waned. I'm afraid, though, you might get tired of the words "atmospheric" and "dopey," at least until my Book of Synonyms arrives from Amazon.