Thursday, January 24, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales/ Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 26

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 11 
November/December 1951

Mystic #5 (November 1951)

"The City That Vanished"(a: Jerry Robinson) ★1/2 
"It Creeps By Night!" (a: Hy Rosen) 
"The Face in the Picture" (a: Al Hartley) 
"Trapped!" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 

Entire cities are vanishing in thin air and Colonel Blake thinks he has the answer: an alien race, somewhere in the galaxy, is pulling our cities to their own world in order to conquer Earth one piece at a time. "The City That Vanished" is a totally loony yarn spiced with totally loony dialogue (when the Colonel’s girlfriend is confronted with a crater where her home town used to lie, she exclaims, “Oh, Ted, something awful has happened… I can feel it!”).

In "It Creeps By Night!," John is deadly afraid of cats but girlfriend Ellen comforts him with the fact that when he dies, he’ll be reincarnated as someone who isn’t afraid of cats! Now, John knows just what to do. He goes home, blows his own brains out, and is reincarnated… as a mouse (an adult one, at that). Who writes these things?

The pulse-pounding finale of "The Face on the Picture"

Paul’s a photographer but his wife, Clara, hates having her picture taken. Now Paul has fallen in love with gorgeous neighbor, Maila, who convinces Paul that Carla should be committed for her photographic phobia. Paul goes to his psychiatrist friend to get a writ of Habeus Loonyus but finds his buddy has been attacked by “creatures from the slime of creation” who have “found a way to enter our source orbit, disguised as humans!” The doc dies and Paul heads home, convinced his old lady is one of these creatures. When he explains the situation to Maila, the curiously-convinced babe tells Paul they should kill Clara before she kills them. The gullible sap beats his wife to death with a fireplace poker, only to discover that it’s actually Maila who’s the monster! "The Face in the Picture" is one fun bit of dopiness, with red herrings and major coincidences galore.

When Henry is offered a job at his girlfriend’s office, he has to see the company psychologist first to run through a set of mental tests. The doc shows Henry a cube and asks the man what he sees within. An astonished Henry sees a tiny man "Trapped!," who begs him to release him from his prison, and suddenly the whole world believes Henry to be batty. Deadly dull SF tale with bland art and half-witted scientific dialogue.

Suspense #11 (November 1951)

"In the Dead of Night" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 
"Haunted!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
"The Suitcase!" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"Harry's Hate" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"Behind the Door!" (a: Norman Steinberg) 

Walter meets a mysterious and exotically beautiful woman one night at the cemetery and strikes up a conversation with her about the dead. Katie says she believes the dead rise and co-exist with the living and Walter, smitten, does his best not to scoff. Later, when Walter meets Katie's father, the graveyard groundskeeper, he learns of a double-slaying near the cemetery and listens with interest as Katie's pop tells him that he's convinced the killings are the work of a vampire. Katie scolds her father and tells Walter not to pay attention but, a couple nights later, the old man is found dead in his cottage. The devastated  girl meets her new Beau at her father's graveside and embraces him, then falls to the ground as Walter goes back to his grave.

The unique finale of "In the Dead of Night"
Now and then, Hank Chapman can confound me with an interesting story amidst all the junk he pumped out and "In the Dead of Night" is one of those examples. Pete Tumlinson's art can be fabulous or by-the-numbers; his Katie is a tall, gorgeous brunette, who clearly looks like a vampiress. Obviously a red herring to throw us off the scent of Hank's twist finale, which is handled oddly. We never see Walter sink his fangs but we are to assume he's a vampire and he's killed Katie in the end. I like the ambiguity and I really like the atmosphere created by writer and artist.

"Haunted!" is a three-pager about a man who buys a haunted house but we discover, in the finale, that he's actually the one haunting the house. How he went about buying the place isn't discussed but we only have three pages after all. Nice splash by Maneely.  After a bank robbery goes awry and his co-horts are arrested, Maury Ryan has to get his tough babe wife out of town pronto so they head into the hills to stay at a cheap hotel. There, they hear from the locals that there's a hermit living in a mansion atop a hill who keeps all his money stashed in his house (and swears he'll blow any interlopers to kingdom come).

Come home, Don Heck.
All is forgiven.
Needing a cash fix quick, the couple head to the creepy old house and break in, confronting old man Flemming. No way will this old coot part with "The Suitcase" crammed full of greenbacks so bury ventilates him and grabs the trunk. Miles away they stop at a cabin and open the suitcase to find a time bomb. Blooooey! The art is the chief downfall of "The Suitcase" (Stallman's work begs the question, "Were there art standards for 1950s funny books?") but its story is none too fresh either. Writer Carl Wessler (who would become a .500 hitter during his stint on the EC All-Stars a few years later) peppers his dialogue with noir-inspired lines like "Once Billy and Joe start spilling, the law will start hunting..." but they come off as cornball and fake rather than realistic.

Every man's nightmare
Harry hates Lois but he loves her money and Lois can't stand the oily jerk, so the con-man/chemist whips up a batch of love potion and drugs the girl one day, assuring he'll be swimming in money in no time. Problem is, the drug works for only two weeks before the subject needs another dose (How Harry finds this out is anyone's guess; he just seems to know despite the fact that the drug is brand new!), so Harry has to keep Lois drinking to keep her fawning even after they're married. On the verge of getting Lois to sign over her billions to him, Harry perfects a formula that will ensure love forever (again, how he knows this is never explained) but the damn poodle knocks the vial to the floor and the spell on Lois wears out. She reveals to Harry that an hour before Mitzi broke the bottle of love potion, she poured a swig into harry's iced tea. Now the sap is head over heels with Lois and she's got him doing the dishes and vacuuming. Well, if nothing else, "Harry's Hate" provides us with our first peek at a lothario who happens to be a crack chemist as well. Why does the guy need Lois' fortune when he could make ten times that on his strange brew. And how is it that the elixir knows who its intended target is? Why doesn't Lois fall in love with the waiter at the restaurant or her garbage man?

"Behind the Door" waits stupidity. Eye surgeon, Dr. Brent, has a problem with the bottle but doesn't let it hamper his full plate. Stinking drunk, Brent operates on a man and leaves him blind but is not held accountable for his actions. Until later, when he's called to an address in the middle of the night on emergency and has his teeth kicked in by two thugs. Brent hightails it to the nearest dentist (who is working very late), busts through the waiting room door, and finds the two thugs who beat him. They'd been hired by the dentist to separate Brent from his teeth; the dentist is the patient who was blinded and now it's his turn to operate! The entire twist of "Behind the Door" relies on coincidences too extreme to be believable but at least it's got one great one-liner -- after Brent is exonerated of wrong-doing, his thought balloon exclaims, "Good! No one realizes I was drunk! This calls for a drink in celebration!" You gotta love dialogue like this!

Russ Heath
 Marvel Tales #104 (December 1951)

"Freddy's Friend!" (a: Russ Heath & Bill Everett) 
"Gateway to Horror"  (a: Basil Wolverton) 
"The Murder Mirror!" (a: Morris Weiss) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #9)
"I Saw Tomorrow!" (a: Norman Steinberg) 

Fred Walker comes home after a long day at work to find his wife, Helen, has invited in a massive robot who happened to knock at their door. But Tabor is no ordinary robot; this one can make every wish come true. Fred tests Tabor's gift-giving skills and finds them exemplary, so he decides to go whole his and order up gems and jewels and gold and the usual stuff greedy Atlas men desire. But there's one thing that nags Walker to the point of distraction: how does "Freddy's Friend" produce impossible products at the drop of a dime? How does he lay the pot of gold (along with the rainbow) at the feet of the Walkers? Tabor confesses that Freddy can learn the secret but he'd have to become a robot for a day, while Tabor would inhabit Freddy's body. Freddy agrees to the identity switch but discovers he's been conned when a trio of robots from another planet arrive to cart him away in his new body. Tabor had been diagnosed with mental disorders on his home planet of Algolia and the boys are here to collect him and take him back to the asylum. They don't even pay attention as Tabor tries to convince them he's really Freddy Walker.

A fun fantasy frolic with lots of delightful segments, guaranteed to raise a smile in between stories of rotting zombies and vampire beauties, with fabulous art by two funny book titans; their styles seamlessly mesh. I love the series of escalating wishes Freddy gives to Tabor, including polka-dotted paint, a pail of steam, a three-footed fish, and "sky hooks" (they allow you to catch hold of clouds!). All the while, Helen seems to have a laissez faire attitude to the goings-on. Except for the dark climax, this is a perfect children's fable.

Sam and Vic are searching for the "famous Benson lode," a vein of silver that's supposed to be worth a fortune, located in the Nevada desert. They hire a small "jeeplane" (yes, a combo jeep/plane) and land near the hill where the silver is rumored to be, but are surprised to see a small shack at the base of the crag. They're invited in by a friendly old prospector for coffee, but it's soon apparent this old-timer is not what he appears to be when Sam's face starts to melt. Vic follows suit and, while his body begins to gain weight, the prospector confesses he's part of an invasion from the underground (again, like so many other classic Atlas SF invasion stories, we're not given a reason why this race wants to leave the comfort of their own domain to take over a world filled with smog and polluted rivers) and Sam and Vic have ingested a potion that increases the weight of flesh. Vic still has some power left so he tackles the old guy and turns tables by dumping the potion down the prospector's gullet. The alien's face melts, revealing a gorilla-like appearance below the synthetic flesh.

Knowing they only have moments before the invasion begins, Vic drags the really heavy Sam out the door, sets a dynamite charge just as the monsters are filing out of the mine shaft, and lets go with some prime "Blorite" explosions! Their lust for silver cured, the boys climb into their jeeplane and head home. Another whacko Wolverton presentation, "Gateway to Horror" is fun stuff, with lots of the standard Basil elements. There's not so much a story but a series of events, seemingly created by a  couple guys (perhaps Stan and Basil) throwing out ideas and then using all of them. Sam's melting face comes from out of nowhere; it's not only jarring but it's exhilarating because you have no idea what could happen next; kids (and their funny book-loving parents) must have eaten this stuff up like candy. No one does melting face like Basil Wolverton

A salty old sea dog enters a bar and Charlie takes an immediate interest in the trunk the old guy's lugging around with him. That night, Charlie steals into the swabbies room, knives him, and takes the chest back to his own room. When the lock is broken, the contents of the trunk are revealed to be: a dirty old mirror! As Charlie is about to incur seven years of bad luck, the mirror speaks to him and promises wealth beyond the man's dreams. And Charlie's wishes are answered; jewels begin to fill the  trunk to overflowing. Charlie's landlord gets wise to the murder and theft and wants a cut, but the creature from the mirror steps out and puts a knife in the man's back. His screams are heard from below and the police arrive quickly; Charlie pleads with "The Murder Mirror!" but to no avail and he's hauled away to prison. A really really really old plot is given a few new interesting twists (once the misshapen creature exits the mirror, it attains Charlie's appearance) but is virtually unreadable due to the rough, ugly art by Morris Weiss. I thought for sure when the old sailor enters the bar with the trunk high upon one shoulder, we were going to get one of those "second head hidden in the basket" tricks but, no, the uncredited writer dipped into another pool.

"I Saw Tomorrow" is a dumb four-pager about Peter Marsden, a scientist who perfects a time machine and then travels five thousand years into the future to discover robots have killed off man and have created their own civilization. Since the robots wander around murmuring "Marsden was the first. He created us!," you'd think a big brain like Marsden would catch on pretty quick but, no, he doesn't't realize that he is the manufacturer of man's downfall until he gets back to the lab in present day and his machine reaches out to throttle him. There are a couple of amusing looney bits here (why is it that, when Marsden is heading for the future, they show him passing Saturn and a comet in outer space?) and Steinberg's art is crude in almost underground fashion but the "twist" is a surprise to no one but Marsden himself.

George Tuska/Joe Maneely
 Adventures Into Terror #7 (December 1951)

"The Thing That Grew!" (a: Harry Lazarus) 
(r: Vault of Evil #1)
"Going... Down!"(a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #2)
"The Two Were Alone!" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"Where Monsters Dwell" (a: Basil Wolverton) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #1; Curse of the Weird #3)
"Joe..." (a: Hy Rosen) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #4)

Noted scientist Joshua Borglum rents a creepy old mansion to work on his experiment, creating a lifeform out of nothing. 
He has little success until an accident spills a bit of Borglum's blood on the slide and the organism laps it up and begins to grow. And grow. And grow. To appease its blood lust, the thing slithers out of the lab and begins absorbing unlucky locals. Borglum finally sees the error of his ways and leads the thing to the ocean, where it absorbs its creator and then sinks into the water.

"The Thing That Grew!" features one of those overworked big-brains who know they have to create something but they just don't know what. And, here, we're never told exactly what Borglum is cooking up and why "this discovery can change the course of civilization!" Nor are we shown what the Thing is feasting on during its midnight treks (oddly, the splash features a scene of a man being eaten by the Thing before Borglum's eyes but nothing of the sort happens within the body of the story). The mad scientist's argument with the blob is a gem ("So this is why you leave the house at night!") and Lazarus' visuals are, at least, easy on the eye.

"Going...Down!" and "The Two Were Alone!" are silly short-shorts but both have at least one thing about them worth mentioning. The former, about a would-be robber's ride in a deadly elevator, features art by Joe Maneely (which is always worth turning pages to) and the latter, wherein two people meet on a train platform amidst rumors there's a mad killer loose nearby, is a rare instance of transvestism. Otherwise, both are skippable. The only thing interesting about "Joe..." (which isn't much better than the other two, even at double the length), about a guy who has an invisible follower who grants his every wish, is that no explanation is given for the poltergeist. It's just committing every heinous act Joe blurts out at people who annoy him.

Joe Maneely is "Going... Down!"

As with most Basil Wolverton-illustrated tales, the story becomes an afterthought (if not a nuisance) when compared to the artwork. "Where Monsters Dwell" is no exception. The story of a newspaper editor who interviews the genius scientist, Leon Korber, about a ray the doc has invented that allows us to see into a "hybrid sphere located between the third and fourth dimensions." Before the hack can complete his scoffing, the mad scientist turns the ray on him and he's transported to the "hybrid sphere" where everything is distorted and grotesque. Very soon, that includes our intrepid reporter as his features become malformed and drippy. He encounters other victims of Korea and a slew of monsters before he's able to jump back into the ray and turn the tables on his tormentor. The final panel shows our hero pondering whether he should take a chance, opening the ray and allowing the other victims to return, or if they be better off in their new home.

What indeed?
There's nothing new script-wise (we've seen the base elements several times before) but Wolverton's exaggerated (and yet, not really cartoony, is it?) humans and inconceivable creatures carry the day yet again. Wolverton obviously loved the melty look as he graces both the reporter here and Sam and Vic in "Gateway to Horror" with skin that slides down the bone. It's almost as though Wolverton's characters live in a similar parallel universe where everything is a desert and open Lovecraftian dimensions just happen. Oddly enough, this story was not reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell, Marvel's premier reprint title of the 1970s, but rather in Crypt of Shadows #1 (January 1973).

In Two Weeks...
My picks for the Ten Best Horror/SF
Atlas Tales published in 1949-1951

1 comment:

Jack Seabrook said...

Best cover this time around goes to Marvel Tales! I love the Wolverton weirdness as well.