Monday, October 29, 2018

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 69

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
69: October 1955 Part II

Aces High 4

"The Green Kids" ★★1/2
Story by Jack Oleck?
Art by George Evans

"The Good Luck Piece" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"The Novice and the Ace" ★★★
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Wally Wood

"Home Again" ★★1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Jack Davis

Major Joseph Caswell is sick to death of watching as "The Green Kids," new pilots assigned to his squad, are shot down day in and day out. The academy gives the kids five hours of training and then spits them out for fighting. Pleas (and later insults) to his CO help not one bit and Caswell must change his style of fighting to protect those youngsters around him and salvage the squad. When Colonel Ross is reassigned, Caswell welcomes the chance to change the way things are done from the top down but he quickly discovers that he's just another cog in the wheel like his predecessor. Weeks later, Ross makes a return visit and Caswell, now apologetic and understanding, stands in shock as Ross introduces his traveling companions: three captured German pilots who had a mere three hours of training! "The Green Kids" is a strange one, almost as though it's unfinished. It's got a clear climax, to be sure, but it almost feels like one that's leading to a page eight that never comes. To be sure, George Evans's work is dynamite, an absolute joy to look at, with elaborate detail (check out the little notations on Caswell's wing on the splash) and characters that seem to live and breathe.

"The Good Luck Piece"
World War I pilots were a notoriously superstitious bunch, and Pete and Buddy were no exceptions. Pete had his blue garter and Buddy his stuffed teddy bear, Hap, and "The Good Luck Piece" seemed to do the trick, keeping the boys from feeling the sensation of heading downward. On a particularly grueling mission, Hap is injured and a gorgeous Red Cross volunteer offers to do a bit of operating to keep any more innards from spilling. As the girl is inserting the needle, Pete comes in and excitedly tells Buddy that they need to get into their Spads and hit the air as a "flight of D. VIIs" is heading their way to strafe the airfield.

The boys head out and, on the way, Pete asks Buddy where Hap is hiding and, when Buddy tells him, Pete insists he go back in for the good luck charm. No way are they flying without it. When Buddy tells him he's going up regardless, Pete gives him a killer right and lays his friend out. When he comes to, the squadron is already in the air but Buddy manages to catch up quickly. Pete's plane is ambushed and he's killed but Buddy avenges him, sending Pete's killers to hell in little pieces. Buddy lands and muses that he'll never believe in good luck charms again as it surely didn't do his best friend any good, until he looks down and sees Pete's blue garter wrapped around his hand. A twist climax like the one presented in "The Good Luck Piece" runs the risk of being maudlin but the final reveal is a poignant one. Wessler creates two genuinely likable characters who seem intelligent but hang their chances of survival on inanimate objects. Bernie Krigstein comes through, avoiding the cartoony style that creeps in from time to time (his Red Cross volunteer is a real sweetheart), although I will say those panels are starting to get really crowded with Fokkers and Spads.

More Krigstein!

The aces of Squadron 9 like to think they're burly he-men but something new has them heading back to base just as soon as they can. That something is the German Pfalz, decorated with 26 kills. Our boys are aces, but with only five kills apiece, they're barely aces and this new threat scares the bejesus out of them. Along comes the new kid, Pierce, who claims that within a week he'll have more "kills" than all the men combined. No amount of bullying takes this boy off his grandstand and so, the next day, the rest of the men head up into the clouds to see what this kid can do. It's a pretty easy day until the Pfalz arrives and Pierce decides to take him on. The other boys, knowing all too well that Pierce will probably end up as emblem #27, head back to the base.

"The Novice and the Ace"
They're not proud of their behavior but, they reason, they're still alive. Imagine their surprise when they hear motors and head outside to the tarmac to see the Pfalz landing, followed by Pierce's Spad. Almost speechless to a man, they approach Pierce, who has ordered the German pilot out of his cockpit, and ask him how he did it. He tells them he only threw a couple shots over the ace's head and that was enough. The German pilot, who's just a kid, allows how he actually didn't shoot down 26 planes, he merely put the emblems up to fool the enemy. Pierce shows the boys his own plane, decorated with 30 little German crosses, and admits that what's good for the goose . . .. A humorous tale thrown in, now and then, is a nice change of pace to all the killing and bloodshed, and "The Novice and the Ace" is just the right blend of drama and comedy for my taste. Carl Wessler seems to have found his niche, obviously a well-researched one, with these WWI tales filled with rich and detailed dialogue and flawed but likable characters. Wessler penned tons of stories for the Atlas horror anthologies until Gaines and Feldstein lured him to EC and then, after the collapse in 1955, the writer returned to the Atlas bullpen, writing reams more for Astonishing, Mystic, Worlds of Fantasy, and the other fantasy/horror/sf titles.

"Home Again"
Mechanic Ryan is assigned to a French squadron but flying (not fixing) is what he had in mind, so he goes to great lengths to prove himself to his Colonel. During a mission, Ryan steals a Spad and takes to the sky, shooting down two Germans and earning himself wings. When the Colonel tells his men that orders are to capture one of the new model German Albatross fighter planes, the boys sigh and vow they'll do their best but it's Ryan who accidentally crashes his plane behind enemy lines and discovers that he's a hop, skip, and a jump from the airfield stashing all the new planes! Throwing caution to the wind, Ryan saunters down the tarmac, hops in the lead plane and revs her up. Expecting to be shot down at any second, he takes off and discovers the rest of the German squadron following (rather than firing on) him. The planes land at the French base and Ryan is given the keys to the kingdom. Like "The Novice and the Ace," "Home Again" is chock full of funny moments; in fact, it resembles nothing so much as a Jerry Lewis flick with its "right place, right time" scene and its goofball lead character. The Jack Davis panel of Ryan, mouth agape, with a squad of Germans blindly following him, is comedic gold. -Peter

Jack- Evans's plane work in "The Green Kids" is superb and the story is well-told and compassionate but holds no surprises. I'm not as fond of Krigstein as you are, Peter, so I thought the art in "The Good Luck Piece" was uneven, though the tale held some excitement. The unexpectedly light tone of "The Novice and the Ace" was a relief, as you point out, and Wood is his usual stalwart self. As for "Home Again," it was told well enough to overcome my initial difficulty with taking it at all seriously in the face of the Jack Davis art.

Extra! 4

"Dateline: New York City"★★★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Steve Rampart"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by John Severin

"Geri Hamilton"★★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

"Dateline: Rio Para"★★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Keith Michaels accidentally bumps into a bank robber as the man is escaping with his loot across a city sidewalk. The bandit's mask slips as he takes a shot at Michaels, who gets a glimpse of his face. Michaels is brought down to the station, where he pores over mug shots and identifies the crook as Eddie Broder; Keith turns down the offer of a bodyguard, even though he is the only man who can identify the bank robber.

"Dateline: New York City"
Broder telephones Michaels and asks for a meeting, but when Michaels arrives at the meeting place, Broder takes another shot at the ace reporter, who is saved by a bullet-proof windshield. Michaels now cannot avoid a police bodyguard and he has become the story, which means that other reporters follow him all over town. Broder narrowly misses running Keith over with a car and later comes after him in a restaurant. Thinking himself safe in the privacy of his own office, Michaels sees Broder climb in through the window and shoot him right in the chest; unfazed, Keith grabs Broder as he tries to escape and knocks him out, serving him up to the police. Good thing Michaels was wearing a bullet-proof vest!

It's no secret that I love Johnny Craig's work, and I thoroughly enjoyed "Dateline: New York City." I'll admit that it's a bit silly to have Broder following Michaels all over the Big Apple taking pot shots at him, but Craig's style of storytelling is so cheerful and breezy that I am always happy to take the ride. His characters and situations are a bit old-fashioned, but what fun!

"Steve Rampart"
Treasury agent "Steve Rampart" is on vacation in Mexico, happily taking photographs of the local sights and women, until his camera is stolen. Determined to find his missing film, he gets another camera and retraces his steps, taking the same shots all over again. This does not go unnoticed by a house full of smugglers, who grab Rampart and take him out into the hills, where he is presumably killed. His death is front page news. A week later, the smugglers take a group of displaced persons to the U.S. by night but are unpleasantly surprised when one of them turns out to be Steve Rampart, with a seven-day growth of beard, who breaks up the ring--it seems the man sent out to kill him was also a U.S. agent.

Simple and straightforward, with sharp art by John Severin, this Steve Rampart tale is another satisfying read. I did not think for a moment that Steve was dead but I wasn't sure how he got out of that tight spot. Like Craig's Keith Michaels in the first story, Steve has an eye for the ladies, allowing the artist free rein to populate the panels with pretty girls.

"Geri Hamilton"
Reporter "Geri Hamilton" is assigned to meet a train at a spot where it will take on water. On the train is an FBI agent escorting a bank robber named Mart Dannon who has never been photographed. At the meeting spot, Geri sees the two men, Dannon and the agent, pitch over the rail and down a hill by the tracks, handcuffed together. They disappear from sight but Geri borrows a horse and heads off into the dark woods after them. She finds one man, now separated from the other; he claims to be the FBI agent but she holds him at gunpoint because she has no way of telling for sure.

Soon enough, they find the other man, who also says he's not Dannon. The horse runs off and the three spend the next two days marching trough the woods with Geri unable to sleep for fear that the criminal will take her gun. Eventually, she falls asleep; the bank robber beats up the FBI agent and holds him and Geri at gunpoint. She reveals her strategy when she tells him that she removed the bullets from her gun, assuming that the crook would make a play for it. The agent overpowers the bad guy and Geri admits that she lied about the gun--the bullets were in it all along. At least now she can get some sleep!

I love Reed Crandall's work and, while the first two stories in this issue focused on men who loved women, this time the perspective is switched and a woman is the heroine. Not surprisingly, she does not go around ogling the beefcake! The story is another fun, tense one, with another reporter going well beyond the usual typewriter and copy room and encountering unexpected danger.

"Dateline: Rio Para"
Keith Michaels takes a ride toward the South Atlantic on the coastal freighter Empress to interview a muscular crewman named Condon, the only man who survived two prior shipwrecks on other ships in the same line. Condon denies any involvement but, when the ship sinks, he is ready to join others on the lifeboat, already in a life vest. Michaels, Condon, and the other inhabitants of the lifeboat wash over a dangerous reef and land on a remote coast in Brazil, where they await rescue. Keith accuses Condon of being the man to sink three ships and Condon knocks him out; Michaels awakens back on board a ship, where he learns that Condon is innocent and the guilty party has been apprehended.

"Dateline: Rio Para" has the usual elements needed to make a good story, including strong art by Craig and a confrontation between the reporter and a man who seems guilty, but it's a bit abbreviated at six pages and seems to rush to a conclusion. Girl reporter Ruth Hastings is just window dressing.-Jack

Peter: "New York City" has more great, manly Craig art but the script is a whole lot of blah. The real story is why the other reporters treat this like a big story. This is New York City, not Akron; surely, there's something more important happening in Manhattan? The rest of the issue follows suit: great art, ho-hum and unbelievable scripts. This is supposed to be an exciting and suspenseful funny book, correct? The only suspense I had reading this book was wondering why Geri Hamilton didn't just kiss the two men and find out which one was the bad guy.

Valor 4

Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Know-Nothing"★★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"The Taste of Freedom"★★
Story Uncredited
Art by Graham Ingels

"A Knight's Dream"★★★1/2
Story Uncredited
Art by Reed Crandall

Aging, bent over, and half blind, former Roman Centurion Marcus Hostus picks up scraps of food in alleys and thinks back to his younger days when he was a hero in battle, leading soldiers as they beat back rebellious slaves near the Via Appinilli. Once, he met an old man and his grandson and became greedy for their treasure to the point of letting them be killed by rebels. He buried the treasure and from then on fought for his hidden wealth, not for the glory of Rome. He even turned down an annual stipend from the government when it was offered to him. One day, a soldier finds him and tells him that the government has decided to give him the stipend he turned down long ago. He is shown a statue of himself and, to his dismay, he learns that they dug beneath it and found his long-hidden treasure, which will now go into the coffers of the empire!


We complain about Joe Orlando's art for EC, especially in its later years, but his style seems right for "Gratitude," a reasonably interesting story with a twist ending that is not much of a shock. The only thing that puzzled me was why Marcus waited so long to reap the fruits of his hidden treasure. Why not dig up a bauble now and then and avoid scavenging through the alleys for food?

One night in 1745, Englishman John Venner enters the cottage of old Brian Macnice and announces that he is taking the old man at gunpoint and using him as a guide to travel to Stirling Castle to kill Bonnie Prince Charlie in order to prevent the prince from pursuing his quest to take Scotland back from England. Venner and Macnice travel for days and nights across the Scottish countryside, with Venner passing the time by asking Macnice questions about Scottish history, questions that elicit nary a single correct answer from "The Know-Nothing." They reach the River Forth and take a ferry across, but Macnice informs Venner that he pulled the stopcock and the ferry is sinking, along with Venner's cart full of gunpowder that was supposed to blow up the castle. Venner can't swim and Macnice has the last laugh as he heads for shore.

"The Know-Nothing"

Krigstein outdoes himself in this charming mix of history lesson and character study, and the journey across the Scottish countryside is beautifully rendered. This is one of my favorite EC stories by Krigstein to date.

"The Taste of Freedom"
During the Italian Renaissance, the cruel Borgias ruled the city of Perugia. The townsfolk constantly sought ways to wipe out their masters, but the Borgias hired food-tasters to avoid ingesting poisoned meat or wine. After a while, the Borgias decide to commandeer one of their enemies to be their food-taster, certain that their enemies would not kill one of their own. The food-taster has the last laugh when he takes small doses of poison each day to build up immunity. When the poisoned cup of wine finally comes, be is able to tolerate a taste but the Borgias are wiped out.

Ghastly's art is rather stodgy and the story is run of the mill, but it's always nice to see the cruel and powerful brought low, as they are in "The Taste of Freedom."

"A Knight's Dream"
In the time of the Crusades, young Martin, son of Gaunt, impresses Baron John with his fighting skills and is taken on as the man's squire. They travel to the Saracen stronghold of Acre, where a pitched battled outside the city walls leads to a challenge: Saladin will send a champion against Baron John in a one on one fight. During the struggle, Saladin tells his man to shoot an arrow into John's heart if it looks like he's winning; Martin witnesses this treachery and rides in front, taking the fatal arrow in his own chest. On his death bed, Martin is made a knight by John.

Ending a superb issue of Valor, Reed Crandall's art on "A Knight's Dream" continues to impress me. I am not sure I buy the story of Saladin's treachery, since it doesn't square with what I've read of Saladin, but the story is a stirring one. I'm sorry there is just one issue to go in this excellent series.-Jack

Peter: With its fourth issue, Valor remains neck and neck with Piracy for Best New Direction title, thanks to four very solid dramas, the strongest of which has to be "The Know-Nothing." The story almost reads like one of those lengthy story-jokes that make you laugh out loud and think at the same time. I actually chuckled several times as Venner escalated his insults about the old Scot (dolt, dumbbell, blockhead, etc.) and never saw the twist coming. A delight from start to finish, as was the rest of the issue. Not that it's just suddenly struck me, but I'm not sure I've mentioned how impressed I am that the average EC comic book takes at least twice as long to read as any of the books by the other publishers we read on our various blogs. Each story is dense with words (yes, I know we've mentioned that it's not always a good trait, but . . .), a sign that the EC writers really cared for their craft.

"The Know-Nothing"

Next Week in Star Spangled #142 . . .
Sink your teeth into a bloody Weird War Tale!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Hitchcock Project-Bernard C. Schoenfeld Part Six: The Percentage [3.14]

by Jack Seabrook

Big Eddie Scarsi's beautiful blonde girlfriend, Fay, stares at his broken combination "color TV, FM radio and hi-fi phonograph." Though he is rich and has everything a man could want, Eddie is bothered by something. He rose to power in the Syndicate by "knowing how to figure the percentage." Organized crime is big business now and Eddie is in line for promotion to the position of "big boss." "The percentage meant everybody owed you something and you owed nothing to anybody." Eddie only owes one debt, to a little guy he can't find named Pete Wladek.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Sergeant Eddie Scarsi lost his nerve and froze; Pete Wladek had seen it happen, kept his head and kept everyone alive. Eddie got a medal and Pete never said a word, and to this day Eddie thinks he owes Pete a debt that must be repaid. The blonde is disappointed that Eddie called a different repair outfit to fix the broken TV set, because the last repairman was a handsome Swede.

Alex Nicol as Eddie
Eddie is shocked when the new TV repairman walks in and says, "'Hello, Sarge'"--it's Pete, who has followed Eddie's career with interest and who changed his last name to Walters, got married, learned a trade on the G.I. Bill, and bought a ranch house in Queens. Eddie is determined to pay his debt but Pete is only there to fix the TV. Pete tells Eddie to forget about the incident on patrol. Eddie tries to give Pete money but Pete says he has all he wants. Eddie suggests setting Pete up in a crooked TV repair business, but Pete says he does not want to be a boss. Eddie even offers to pay off the mortgage on Pete's house, but Pete says he is fine.

Seeing Eddie's desperation, Pete finally suggests that they go out for a nice dinner to impress Pete's wife, Louise. At dinner, Louise shows an unhealthy interest in Eddie but he resists, not wanting to be deeper in debt to Pete by taking the man's wife. Days later, Louise calls Eddie and asks him to meet her, but instead Eddie throws a party for the couple. Even then, Louise tries to edge Eddie into the bedroom.

Nita Talbot as Louise
Unable to pay his debt to Pete to his own satisfaction, Eddie begins to get sloppy with his business and people begin to notice. Paranoia sets in as he becomes haunted by the number nine. Finally, Louise calls Eddie, frantic, claiming to be afraid of a sex maniac who has been preying on women in her neighborhood. Pete is working the night shift and she begs Eddie to come over and keep her company. Eddie agrees, hoping to "even up the percentage," and goes to Pete's house, where Louise welcomes him in "a sleazy negligee" and hands him a drink. She asks him to put his hands on her, but she did not mean for him to "put them on her throat." Eddie kills Louise and feels better than he has in a long time; "the percentage was right again" since he had killed Pete's tramp of a wife. The only thing Eddie did not expect was "the intruder," who slipped in the back door while Eddie was busy killing Louise. The intruder shoots and kills Eddie who realizes, at the last moment, that the gun "looked just like the figure 9."

"The Percentage," by David Alexander, is 9/10 of a good story, but the ending is a letdown. The intruder comes out of nowhere and kills Eddie for no reason. It would have been better to end the story with Eddie killing Louise, thinking that he had done Pete a favor. Eddie is a successful mobster who has a preoccupation that no one knows, one that is all in his head. The man he thinks he owes a debt to wants nothing from him, and Eddie cannot understand that Pete is satisfied with the life of a working man, but he does realize that Louise is not worthy of her husband. His solution is one that only a gangster would think made sense.

Don Keefer as Pete
What did Bernard C. Schoenfeld do when confronted with this unnecessary twist ending? Why, he replaced it with something even more unexpected. Did it work? Let's examine the TV version of "The Percentage" to see. First of all, Schoenfeld removes much of the story's buildup that establishes Eddie's problem, instead suggesting it in a short bit of dialogue where Fay asks him what's wrong. She suggests that Eddie called a repair shop way out in Queens, even though he lives in Manhattan, because he is embarrassed at having broken the TV set when he tried to fix it. However, when Pete the repairman arrives, Eddie is not surprised at all to see his old Army buddy. In fact, Eddie called that particular shop in order to get Pete to come to his apartment! Eddie tells Pete that he has been looking for him with the help of detectives and finally tracked him down. Schoenfeld removes the unlikely coincidence of having Pete turn up at Eddie's door, yet having Eddie break his own TV set in order to get Pete to visit seems inconsistent with the personality of a successful mobster.

Carol Mathews as Fay
Fay is friendly with Pete, who tells her that he and Eddie were in Korea together. This seems like another pointless change, since the actors who play Eddie and Pete were both born in 1916 and would surely have been of age to have fought together near the end of World War Two. Unlike Pete in the story, this Pete does not own a home, which will become important at the show's climax. The TV show eliminates Eddie's growing phobia about the number nine, something that is no loss, but the biggest surprise comes at the end, when Louise calls Eddie at night and asks him to come over to her house. There is no mention of a sex maniac and, when Eddie strangles Louise, she screams, alerting her neighbors in the apartment building. Before Eddie can make his escape, neighbors knock at the door and Pete enters to find his wife dead. There is no intruder and Eddie is not killed. Eddie tells Pete that they are even now, but when a policeman appears, Pete says that Eddie killed Louise.

Walter Woolf King as Eddie's boss
This might be a suitable place to end the show, but it seems that no episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents can end without a twist. Here, the twist is completely new to the story and it is ineffective. After Pete tells the policeman that Eddie killed his wife, there is a dissolve to a scene where we see Fay sitting alone in her apartment, wearing pants and eyeglasses and reading a book. She seems utterly unlike the character we saw all through the episode, a glamorous woman dating a successful gangster. Pete enters and tells her that Eddie has just killed Louise and things will be alright from now on, and they kiss! This final scene is nearly incomprehensible, suggesting that Pete and Fay are completely different people than we've been led to believe.

Not only is the script for "The Percentage" problematic, the direction is lackluster and the acting, for the most part, is unimpressive. James Neilsen (1909-1979) directs the show; he worked mostly in television from 1953 to 1973 and also made movies in the late 1950s and 1960s, often for Disney. He directed twelve episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Help Wanted."

Fay in a more studious moment
Alex Nicol (1916-2001) stars as Eddie. He was trained in the Actors Studio and spent his career playing character roles on TV and film from 1950 to 1976. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show; he was also seen on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Schoenfeld renamed his character Eddie Slovak and one reviewer on IMDb pointed out that Private Eddie Slovik was the only U.S. soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War; he was put to death near the end of World War Two. Perhaps this is why Schoenfeld also changed the war that the men were in together to the Korean War.

Nita Talbot (1930- ) receives second billing for her role as Louise. She chews the scenery and makes the most of her part as a tramp, but her character is strictly one note. Born Anita Sokol in New York City, Talbot was a busy actor, appearing in movies and many TV episodes from 1949 to 1997. Her only other role on Alfred Hitchcock Presents came in "Maria."

Lillian O'Malley
as a neighbor
The episode's best performance comes from Don Keefer (1916-2014) as Pete. Keefer was a founding member of the Actors Studio who got his start on Broadway in the 1940s before moving to the small screen in 1947 and the big screen in 1951. His career on TV and in film lasted till 1997 and included three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Night Gallery. He was the man who was turned into a jack in the box in The Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life."

Carole Mathews (1920-2014) portrays Fay. Born Jean Deifel, she was crowned "Miss Chicago" in 1938 and went on the be in movies from 1935 to 1962 and on TV from 1950 to 1978. This was one of her two appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In smaller roles:
  • Walter Woolf King (1899-1984) as Eddie's boss in the mob; he started out on Broadway in 1919, worked in radio, and was seen in many movies and TV shows from 1930 to 1977, including A Night at the Opera (1935), Swiss Miss (1938), and Go West (1940). He was in five episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "Our Cook's a Treasure," from season one, and "Isabel," from season nine.
  • Lillian O'Malley (1892-1976) as one of the neighbors who comes to the door after Louise is killed; she had bit parts in no less than eight episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), as well as five episodes of Thriller and one of The Twilight Zone. She seems to have made a career out of playing maids, nurses, housekeepers, and neighbors.
David Alexander (1907-1973), who wrote the short story, was a newspaperman turned freelance writer whose first novel was Murder in Black and White (1951). He wrote about 16 novels and one short story collection, Hangman's Dozen (1961). His series characters were Bart Hardin, Tommy Twotoes, and Marty Lane. He also wrote a racing column and the FictionMags Index lists a couple of dozen short stories under his byline. Bill Pronzini wrote that he was better at short stories than novels, but "The Percentage" does not seem to be a good example of that skill. Only two of his stories and one of his novels have been adapted for the screen.

The story appeared in the April 1957 issue of Manhunt and has not been reprinted as far as I can tell, but the TV show, which first aired on CBS on Sunday, January 5, 1958, is available on DVD here or may be viewed for free online here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here to see that I was not the only one puzzled by the conclusion to this episode.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a copy of the short story! A fun postscript: this issue of Manhunt was the subject of an obscenity trial, and the court, writing in 1960, commented that: "The six stories . . . do not have even the slightest redeeming social significance or importance. Nor do they have any claim whatever to literary merit."

Alexander, David. “The Percentage.” Manhunt, Apr. 1957.
“David Alexander.” Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2003.
The FictionMags Index,
“Flying Eagle Publications, Inc. v. United States of America.” 273 F.2d 799, 21 Jan. 1960,
Galactic Central. Galactic Central,
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
“The Percentage.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 3, episode 14, CBS, 5 Jan. 1958.
Pronzini, Bill. A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review: DAVID ALEXANDER – Hangman's Dozen.,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Oct. 2018,

In two weeks: Listen, Listen . . . . . ! starring Edgar Stehli!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 141: September 1973

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

G.I. Combat 164

"Siren Song!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Aegean Eagle!"
Story and Art by George Evans

Peter: Stuck in Yugoslavia, the men of the Haunted Tank have got to find a way to get back to the front and that salvation may have come in the form of a freighter docked at a ruined shipyard. The Captain, Dimitri Stavros, immediately agrees to get the boys back home and has a crane load the tank on board the massive ship. Quite a relief to Gus, who's been patching the Jeb with excess wires and scrap metal pulled from various sources, but the going was getting tough. The men relax once on the ship and prepare for a long journey. Very quickly, Jeb realizes the boat is not heading to Italy and he confronts Stavros, who admits that he's taking them all to Greece. Years before, the Nazis sunk Stavros's first ship, killing his wife and infant son and, by collaborating with the enemy, he's discovered which sub was responsible. Now that he has an honest-to-goodness tank on board, he's sailing to the waters the sub patrols. The ship reaches the zone and, sure enough, the U-boat spots them and puts a torpedo in its side. As the boat is sinking, the Jeb gives it all it's got, blasting those *%$#ing Nazis past hell and right to Cleveland! The surviving Nazis try to surrender but Stavros is having none of that and he stitches the lot of them with MG fire. The boys make it to shore but Stavros decides he'd rather join his wife in Davey Jones's locker and sinks to the bottom. Now, how to get a tank in from deep waters?

"Siren Song!"
Not a great Haunted Tank installment in either script or art department (but especially in the art department), "Siren Song!" is, hopefully, just a means of getting us to a better story. It's a lot like the Sgt. Rock story line going on over in Our Army at War in that the boys are not where they're supposed to be and they're doing whatever they can to get there but they seem to stumble onto various adventures on the way. Stavros is cut from the same cloth as the two warring Slavs from last issue. Lots of people in World War II had use for a good tank, it seems. Now, how the heck is Archie going to address the fact that the Haunted Tank is stuck quite a ways from shore (atop the semi-sunken freighter) with no visible way of getting it on terra firma? Oh, and though I'm not enamored with this particular chapter, I will go out on a limb and say that Archie is still pointing us in the right direction. These multi-part stories are so much more enjoyable than the scattershot one-and-dones we used to have to deal with.

"Siren Song!"

"The Aegean Eagle!"
The bottom-half of this issue's double-bill is George Evans's "The Aegean Eagle!," a bio of the famed German World War I ace, Rudolf von Eschwege. As is the problem with a lot of these docu-dramas, the pace is slow and the writing has a history lesson vibe to it. George Evans seems to have had an easy time sliding back into these aviation stories after such a long lay-off. His air battles are still crisp but, as Jack mentioned recently, his characters have lost a bit of their luster.

Jack: So they have, Peter, so they have. It's jarring to read Evans's EC work from 1955 and then to read his DC work from 1973. The guy still knew his way around a WWI plane but the quality of the art sharply deteriorated in the nearly two decades between companies. In the wake of Joe Kubert's work on Enemy Ace in the '60s, Evans in 1973 looks pretty weak. Not as weak as Sam Glanzman, though, whose chicken scratching on the Haunted Tank makes me want to tear out what little hair I have left. Goodwin's story is not very good but it is dragged down immeasurably by the Glanzman art, just as Stavros's boat is dragged down into the briny deep.

Our Army at War 260

"Hell's Island!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Big Man, Little Man"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Jack: On an island somewhere in the Pacific, Sgt. Rock and the rest of the wounded men from the destroyed hospital ship find themselves under fire from Japanese soldiers until Rock runs toward the guns and tosses a grenade. Shot in the shoulder, he is patched up by a pretty nurse and manages to disarm the lone Japanese survivor before he can toss a grenade of his own.

The enemy soldier is shocked to learn that Americans are not the murderers he was told they are. Rock heads off into the jungle to try to find a way to reconnect with Allied troops and discovers that other wounded men have followed him to help support him. After Rock shoots a sniper out of a tree, the men see that Allied ships are coming in for a landing. Unfortunately, Japanese guns are hidden behind a waterfall and they are shooting at the ships. Rock and his comrades swim under water and then scale the side of the cliff to get a good vantage point from which to toss grenades into the machine gun nest.

"Hell's Island!"
The Allies land safely and everyone heads back to where the nurse tends to the rest of the wounded, only to find that wives and children of enemy soldiers have holed up in a cave on a cliff, afraid to come out and be massacred by the murderous Americans. Rock and his men begin to climb the cliff with the captured Japanese soldier but see that the terrified women and children are starting to leap to their deaths rather than be tortured and killed by the Americans. Rock prevails upon the Japanese soldier to call to the scared folks and tell them the truth, but the man is shot down by a Japanese officer who is in the cave, fanning the flames of fear. The angry Japanese emerge from the cave and throw the officer to his death. Rock is finally able to leave "Hell's Island!" and can get back to the Western front and the combat happy Joes of Easy Company.

It should be clear from the time it took to summarize this story that it's not your run of the mill Rock tale. Kanigher takes things in a dark direction with the innocent Japanese civilians throwing themselves off the cliff to their death and, as usual, Heath is up to the challenge. This has been a great continuing story!

"Big Man, Little Man"
Nbutto, chief of the Watusi, kills a lion with his spear, while nearby, pygmies kill an elephant. The tall Watusi hate the short pygmies and chase them away from a watering hole so that the Watusi cattle can drink. The Watusi burn the pygmy village to the ground but, in return, the pygmies ambush the Watusi and kill them with poisoned arrows aimed from above in the dense canopy of trees. Nbutto is the last to go and the pygmies plan to retake their watering hole and rebuild their village.

"Big Man, Little Man" features enjoyable art by Frank Thorne and a simple lesson in how cleverness and preparation can make up for a difference in size, but overall it seems out of place in Our Army at War.

Peter: The Rock this issue is a sequel within an arc, a tough thing to pull off at times, but Big Bob lands the plane nicely. A patented RK sequence (and that's a compliment, before you pelt me with K-rations) is the one in which the Japanese wives grab up their children and begin flinging themselves from a high cliff (something that actually happened) rather than let "the butchers" get to them. It's a horrifying moment in the midst of a lot of gung-ho gunplay and killer sharks and the like, but it does remind me that Big Bob can inject a rather somber tone to his work (even the non-"Gallery" stuff) when he's in the mood. Speaking of "Bob Kanigher's Gallery of War," this issue's felt a bit weak to me but that may be due to the fact that it seems overly familiar.

"Hell's Island!"

Our Fighting Forces 144

"The Lost Mission"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by John Severin

Story and Art by Tom Sutton

Jack: As the monkeys take off through the jungle canopy with their stolen jewels, the Losers observe a group of Nazis machine-gunning a British patrol and do some shooting of their own to destroy the Nazis. The sole British survivor tells the Losers about "The Lost Mission," involving a raft loaded with TNT that was going to be used to destroy a Nazi fort farther down the river. The Losers find the raft and, after killing more marauding Nazis, they sail it down the river until they see the fort. That night, the Nazis blow up what they think is the TNT-laden raft but the Losers surprise them by launching the TNT on logs and destroying the fort. After hours of wandering, the Losers come across another fort, this one manned by dead members of the French Foreign Legion and by one very live Major Fouchet, who welcomes them to Fort Fini!

"The Lost Mission"
Zowie! This was an action-packed story beautifully illustrated by John Severin. Kanigher must not have been paid by the word, because the number of wordless sequences continues to grow. Two entire pages are told without any captions or word balloons, and the chatter is kept to a minimum elsewhere. I like it and think it shows real storytelling talent on the part of the artist.

Henri Trudeau is a French soldier who survives the long, horrible battle of Verdun only to find himself alone in a trench as several German soldiers approach. Filled with rage at how his beautiful land has been turned to so much "Dirt!" by the prolonged fighting, he becomes a one-man killing machine, shooting and bayoneting the enemy until he himself is killed.

Archie Goodwin's first issue as editor of Our Fighting Forces features great art by the old pro, John Severin, and pretty decent art by the up-and-comer, Tom Sutton, who also wrote this short back up story. It is over-written and the captions take some time to slog through, but I like to see new blood among the ranks of the creative folks at DC.

Peter: I don't know about you but I can't wait to dig into each new installment of "The Losers." It's such a great feeling to love your work now and then and the Kanigher/Severin duo are continuing to not only keep my attention but surprise me as well. Severin's art is fantastic, much of it displayed without the cumbersome word balloons or captions. Whereas Rock's recent "road trip" has been rocky, our underdog team just keeps right on rolling through outlandish adventures. Perhaps I'm not being fair comparing the two series as I expect Rock to maintain a level of "reality" (the Sarge's seemingly-impervious skin notwithstanding), whereas "The Losers" is a military version of DC's The Metal Men, superheroes who get the job done despite tripping over their two left feet. Like Alex Toth, Tom Sutton has a very distinct style, one that drew me in at an early age and still mesmerizes me. Unlike Toth, Sutton was pigeon-holed in one genre because he was so good at that genre and fans tend to forget he excelled at just about anything he put a pencil to, including war comics. "Dirt!" proves he was also a master scripter as well.

"The Lost Mission"

Star Spangled War Stories 173

"No Holds Barred!"
Story by Frank Robbins
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Kill!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne

Peter: In an effort to get behind enemy lines in Japan and destroy their crucial submarine re-fueling base, the Unknown Soldier must impersonate Der Deutsche Angel, a German fighter who's set for a match against Japan's premier Sumo wrestler, Nikomo the Mountain. All goes well until US gets in the ring with the gargantuan Sumo and realizes that, even with the cheater drug he's dropped into Nikomo's tea, this may be the US's final mission! With some help from an undercover Japanese spy, US pins the Mountain to the mat and blows up the gas tanks for good measure. The script for "No Holds Barred!," while just as comical and outlandish as the previous installment, at least contains some excitement and surprises. The art, though, is hideous, and will doubtless remain so throughout Sparling's tenure.

His C.O. didn't have the heart to tell US
that wrestling isn't real.

"The Kill!"
Lt. Jimmy Green is set for his last WWI mission ever and all his comrades tell him to take it easy and avoid a big fight but, simultaneously, Major Vorst is itching to get his 50th kill, a number which will tie him with the legendary Hans von Hammer. The two collide in combat but the outcome is not what either had hoped for. "The Kill!" is the weakest "Gallery of War" yet, with Bog Bob falling back on all his worst tendencies and cliches. The pilot who talks to his plane; the "split screen" trick, showing the aces on either side doing and saying just about the same thing at the same time; and the least experienced pilot overcoming massive odds to triumph over the killer ace. Enemy Ace, the Hammer of Hell, and Steve Savage, Balloon Buster, both make cameos but neither actually shows his face. Frank Thorne's art does the job, certainly better than Jack Sparling, but his layouts lack originality and fall back on the typical dogfight choreography.

Jack: That panel you reproduce is one example of an almost Ross Andru-like style used by Thorne here to draw the pilot's face, and any artist who draws like Ross Andru does not impress me. The story was a bore. "No Holds Barred!" opens with a neat photo collage organized around the Japanese war flag (I think Kubert does these) but I agree with you about Sparling's art. It could be worse, though; Robbins could be drawing instead of writing! He's a better writer than he is an artist and the story breezes by quickly but it's nothing special.

George Evans
Weird War Tales 17

"Dead Man's Hands"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"A Gun Named Marie!"
Story by Michael J. Pellowski and E. Nelson Bridwell
Art by Ernie Chua

Peter: Colonel Victor Bretaine has built a reputation as a relentless ace, a pilot who manages to get the kill no matter the odds. If only his comrades knew that Bretaine does not subscribe to the theory that aces are honorable; he's just as apt to shoot down a German pilot whose guns have stalled or is retreating. Only one thing eludes the great Colonel and that's the beautiful Denise, who has no interest in the much-older Bretaine. The ruthless pilot holds his pride above everything else and, suddenly, after the arrival of the young gun, Lt. Andre Voison, Bretaine is not the talk of the base.

"Dead Man's Hands"
Jealous of the lieutenant's quick ascension to #1 Stud (and the affection Denise shows toward the younger man), the Colonel assigns Voison to a suicide mission to get him out of the way. The plane returns after the mission but Voison is dead in the cockpit and an accident sees Bretaine lose both hands. An emergency operation leads to the Colonel having the "Dead Man's Hands" grafted onto his stumps and he immediately wants to return to the skies for more kills to prove his machismo to Denise. But while the Colonel is making the same suicide mission that killed Voison, his hands turn against him and his Spad crashes into a gas tank, killing him.

Ouch! Another piece of evidence in my case to prove Bob Kanigher should not have been writing horror stories, even those with military elements. What an original idea: hands of the dead man come to life to act out revenge. And the unusually long (for WWT, at least) story length doesn't help much either. There's a lot of wheel spinning and padding in this one. Some months ago, Jack and I had some disagreement over whether George Evans had lost his touch and this is the first time I'd have to agree with Jack's assessment. There's way too much sketchiness and clunky looking characters, something I'd not seen much of in Evans's previous work.

"A Gun Named Marie!"
The second story, "A Gun Named Marie!," is even worse. A G.I. names his gun Marie (ergo the title!) and then watches his buddies fall right and left while his rifle magically keeps him alive. In the end, our hero is finally killed but the Nazi who shoots him picks up Marie and gets a bullet for his troubles. "Nein! It was empty!" he gasps out while dying but, unfortunately for the Ratzi, he didn't have the early tip-off we had when the G.I. told his buddies that        " 'Empty' guns have a way of turnin' on you when you least expect it!" Ernie Chan's art is passable but I've seen him do much better work. Not one of the better issues of Weird War Tales.

Jack: A terrific cover, though, don't you think? I'm in complete agreement with your assessment of this disappointing issue. Kanigher's story is as old as they come and Evans's art is running on fumes. The Chua (Chan) tale has also been told before and his art is not holding up well against some of the other Filipino artists we've been seeing lately in the pages of this comic.

G.I. War Tales 3

"Split-Second Target"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #55, March 1958)

"The G.I. Who Replaced Himself!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #38, October 1956)

"The Last Wave!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War 47, July 1957)

"Split-Second Target"
Jack: Ever since boot camp, when his instructor told him to take his time and squeeze the trigger of his rifle slowly to ensure accurate shooting, Andy has been thinking of the man's advice to go slow. Once he's a marine, he finds that, in real battle, he often has to try to hit a "Split-Second Target." Andy shoots down a Japanese Zero before he even makes it to shore, where he and his buddy Marty encounter a sniper in the jungle. Andy shoots the sniper out of his hiding place in a tree and Marty comments on his rifle skills. After Andy shoots another sniper hiding in the bushes, he and Marty are forced to dive underwater when enemy guns attack at a stream. Marty takes care of the problem with a well-placed grenade and the next thing Andy knows, a tank is bearing down on him. One more grenade and he and Marty are safe--for now.

It's such a pleasure to see classic Kubert art from 1958 in this exciting reprint story that opens the second issue of G.I. War Tales. The narrative almost veers into familiar Kanigher territory with the repetition of similar incidents, but Kubert's fine work and a good sense of fun keep it entertaining.

"The G.I. Who Replaced Himself"
Private Dan Webb aims his rocket-launcher at an enemy tank but is unable to fire when a shell knocks him out. When he comes to, he finds that his unit is moving out and fresh troops are taking their place. He becomes "The G.I. Who Replaced Himself!" when he joins the ranks of the new troops, who are short one bazooka man. More tanks attack and this time Dan is able to hang on and destroy them with his big gun.

More classic art from the '50s! This time it's courtesy of Russ Heath, who gives Kubert a run for his money in six pages of tank-blasting thrills. As with the prior story, the gimmick does not get in the way of the action.

"The Last Wave!"
Private Joe Blaine's initial disappointment at not being part of the first wave of troops to attack the beach quickly dissipates when he finds that there are still a few Nazi stragglers left to kill. Turns out being part of "The Last Wave!" isn't so bad after all!

Mort Drucker's gritty, photo-realistic style puts the perfect capper on this issue, which features three great examples of DC War comics at their best. Issues like this one, even though it's all reprints, remind us that, among all of the mediocre art by the Ross Andrus and Sam Glanzmans, DC could put out some really fine comic pages when they wanted to.

Peter: I really liked the camaraderie between the two G.I.s in "Split-Second Target"; the strip's almost like an intelligent Gunner and Sarge (if that's possible) and it manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of Big Bob's 1950s scripts (notice I said most). The other two stories are blahsville, but I can't argue with the quality of the art in all three. Kubert, Heath, and Drucker never fail to elicit smiles from this DC War veteran. What stands out the most about the two new reprint titles is a lack of cohesion; there's no theme, so I assume someone in the DC bullpen (Kubert? Kanigher?) simply grabbed old stories that would fit in the allotted space (although publishing the final three panels of "Split-Second" at the top of a page of text begs the question of whether these guys even cared if they fit!) rather than tales that shared a common thread.

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