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!


Anonymous said...

I love Valor, but the nasty slurs about Saladin in “A Knight’s Dream” have always annoyed me a lot. Saladin was, by 20th and 21st century standards, probably the closest thing to a good person to rule any of the armies that fought in the Crusades. When the Crusaders had conquered Jerusalem a century earlier at the climax of the First Crusade, they had engaged in widespread rapine and slaughter. When Saladin re-conquered the city shortly before the events of the Siege of Acre, he showed extraordinary mercy to the Christian inhabitants. I believe that the closest thing he ever did to anything brutal occurred when Richard the Lionhearted unnecessarily massacred all of his Moslem captives after the siege that is the setting for this story. Saladin retaliated by executing his Christian prisoners — probably a necessity under the circumstances. He was neither treacherous nor coward and the unnamed writer was seems like a jingoistic bigot for slurring him so; the writer of the Crusades story in the previous issue was infinitely more fair to him.

While I’m criticizing a sixty-year old comic book written for kids for historical inaccuracy, I might as well add that, according to Christopher Hibbert’s deservedly famous “The Borgia and Their Enemies,” the Borgias were generally well-liked by the people whom they ruled. Like most Italian nobles or their day, they certainly had their flaws (for example, Cesare had poor Lucrezia’s husband, whom she apparently quite liked, assassinated because he was in the process of switching allegiances from the young man’s father), but they seem to have focused their more unsavory misdeeds upon social equals, and they were quite popular with the commoners in Cesare’s realm.

I have really enjoyed your trip through EC, and will miss it when you finish in a few weeks.



Grant said...

I'm a little surprised that the heroism the centurion is famous for involves stopping a slave revolt. It's very REALISTIC, but entertainment about the Roman Empire seems to gloss over things like that, except for biblical films and ones about Spartacus. So it's a little surprising in a comic.
(Unless of course his big comeuppance had something to do with those slaves, and it doesn't.)

Anonymous said...

That’s an interesting point. The slave rebellion element is particularly weird in context: for some reason the writer set the story in the sixth century during Emperor Justinian’s Gothic War. The centurion is a soldier in the army of the real-life General Belisarius. At that time Rome and the sections of modern day Italy near it had been ruled by Goths for over 50 years — the most famous ruler of the period being Theodoric the Ostrogoth. The Gothic War was an opportunistic effort by Justinian to take advantage of disputes among Theoderic’s successors, who lacked his ability to maintain the kind of unity that would discourage interference from Constantinople, where Justinian lived and from which the Roman Empire was governed. Justinian inserted himself into the dispute, and temporarily incorporated the City of Rome back into the empire. The “barbarians” that the Roman army was fighting were essentially the same kind of people as the people in the Roman army itself, and there was no widespread servile revolt to put down. Rome had declined substantially from its glory days, the Roman army from the East was the invading party, and the war, at least as described by Justinian’s semi-official historian historian Procopius, was pretty much a match between armies organized by people we would think of as rival aristocratic rulers fighting over territory; neither side would have encouraged or benefited from a slave uprising. The art and the Spartacus-like uprising make the story look as though it was set four to six hundred years earlier.

Another weird thing is that the centurion is a pagan. The whole region was heavily Christian at the time. The Empire was ruled by staunch believers in what we now call Catholicism, which had been the official religion of the Empire for about 150 years. The Goths themselves tended to be Arian Christians, and most of the inhabitants of Rome itself were not, but in sixth century Italy that didn’t really cause much day to day conflict between rulers and ruled. While sixth century Roman soldiers were said to be prone to Mithraism, that was essentially a monotheistic religion along the lines of Christianity; it would be very odd indeed for a centurion to be a pagan at this time.

All in all, kind of a mishmash, but the use of the word Roman is accurate. The emperors considered themselves to be and described themselves as the rulers of the Roman Empire for 1000 years after Rome itself ceased to be part of the Empire. Westerners started calling it the Byzantine Empire much later.

— Best,

Jack Seabrook said...

I don't want to interrupt this high-level discussion, but I'm comforted that I was right about Saladin. Thanks for adding to our knowledge of "Roman" history!

Anonymous said...

You were totally right about Saladin, Jack! Richard the Lionhearted was a bit of a jerk, though.

— Jim