Thursday, February 21, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror! Issue 28

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 13 
January 1952

Suspense #13

"The Strange Man!"  (a: Joe Maneely) 
"When Willie Woke Up!" (a: Pete Morisi) 
"Speak to Me"  
"The Serpent" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"The Man Who Built the Ark" (a: Bill Walton) ★1/2

The Farrel Brothers freak show in Atlantic City has hit hard times. Seems no-one wants to see fat ladies and pincushion boys anymore; the Brothers need a new hook. So, brother Johnny grabs what's left of the cash and heads out on the road to find that next big... thing. He finds it in New Mexico and excitedly writes brother Ken a note to let him know the new attraction is on its way. As Ken is reading the note, the new attraction, the Man from Mars, enters his doorway and introduces himself. Just days later, the freak show is overflowing with paid customers, folk who are just dying to get a look at "The Strange Man!"

Soon after, the freak show muscleman is found dead, his blood drained, and Ken wonders what ever happened to his brother; the cards and letters abruptly ended. The speculation ends when a cop shows up at the tent to let Ken know Johnny's body has been found in New Mexico, and in the same condition as the recently departed muscleman. Ken confronts the Man from Mars, who confesses to the murders, a certain fondness for blood, aand the ability to morph into any person he desires (the only aspect of a Martian that can't change is the six fingers on each hand). Ken heads to the cops, and as the Martian warned, they think he's a loon and have him committed. No one will believe his story except his asylum doctor who, curiously, has six fingers on each hand. Another in the seemingly unending supply of carnival/circus/freak show tales, "The Strange Man" falls comfortably right in the middle in terms of quality. There's nothing terribly original here but at least we get to eye Joe Maneely's graphics while we wait for the totally predictable outcome.

In "When Willie Woke Up!," Willie can only escape his tormenting wife when he snoozes and magically brings forward a gorgeous gal who treats him like a million bucks. Willie's shrewish ball-and-chain catches on and wakes him every few minutes to end his little paradise, but the poor little man summons a gorilla who strangles Willie's wife and makes living a whole lot easier for Willie. In the equally disposable "Speak to Me," George Moreland wakes up one morning and notices his maid has packed his things and his wife is holding hands and talking about marriage with a man in the kitchen. If that's not enough to raise a man's ire, George can't get anyone to talk to him on the street or at the office. You'd think he was a ghost or something. Oh, well, that's because he is as George stares the utterly predictable proof right in the face in the final panel.

At the Connors Carnival (located just west of the Farrel Brothers Freak Show), strongman Bruno just can't understand why he can't get trapeze artist Simone to fall in love with him, but the girl spurns his every advance. Losing her patience and more than a little nervous that the situation could escalate, Simone sees serpent tamer, Lois, for her advice. Lois visits Bruno and tells him that if he doesn't stop the stalking, she'll feed him to Bobo, her pet boa. Deathly afraid of snakes, Bruno quickly agrees but the carnival magician has a better idea: he'll sell the muscleman a love potion for a hundred clams. Bruno spikes Simone's milk in her trailer and then heads for his own quarters to wait for the girl but he gets the surprise of his (short) life: turns out Bobo escaped his cage, visited Simone's trailer and downed all the milk on the table! "The Serpent"is like a good, quick joke with a funny punchline; who would name their boa Bobo? Since it's only four pages, I didn't mind Mike Sekowsky's crude doodles that much but I sure wouldn't want to take a second look.

The planet Arcturus is heading for a collision with Earth and only one man has the wealth and knowledge to provide an answer. Unfortunately, that man is Professor Mark, who also holds the Gold Cup for Most Selfish Man on Earth as he throws aside down his assistant's advice to aid his fellow scientists ("What? You know they expelled me from  their group because I refused to stop working on my zombie experiments!") and begins work on an ark that will carry him and a select few to another world. The ship is built and blasts off but experiences a hiccup (to put it mildly) at mid-journey when the controls freeze and the craft is thrown off course. Only Mark and his comrades are surprised when they make a landing on a gorgeously vegetated planet and claim it as their own. Only one problem: they've landed on Arcturus! It's safe to say that "The Man Who Built the Ark" is the only successful attempt at mixing the sub-genres of "Colliding Worlds" and "Scientist barred for immoral zombie experiments." The wild thing is that the zombie angle is brought up and then completely discarded; I thought for sure the Ark would have landed on a world full of the critters but, no, there's just the derision of his former colleagues. A bit of a stretch that the pilot (hand-picked as the best in the business) wouldn't recognize Arcturus, especially since it's supposed to be hurling towards Earth! But, whatever... excuse or revel in the inanities; "The Man Who Built the Ark" is goofy fun and Bill Walton contributes some nifty visuals.

 Mystic #6

"The Eye of Doom" (a: Basil Wolverton) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #1)
"Nothing" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2 
(r: Vault of Evil #21)
"The Old Lady's Son" (a: Vernon Henkel) 
(r: Beware #5)
"She Wouldn't Stay Dead!" (a: Bill LaCava) ★1/2 
(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

Spaceman Hoyt Gilpin returns from Venus with a strange tale for the scientist who greets him: his partner, Lon Ullrich, had been attacked and absorbed by giant eyeballs. Naturally, his tale is met with doubt, until he opens his knapsack and reveals the giant orb within. The thing absorbs Ullrich and then the scientist. As with most of Wolverton’s comic book stories, the script is secondary to the fabulously eccentric art. An argument could be made (and I’m sure I’m not the first to make it) that the underground comix “style” was created by Wolverton. One glance at "The Eye of Doom," or any of his pre-code work, could convince even the most staunchest naysayers. Wolverton may be one of the most aped horror/science fiction artists of the 1950s (the other being, of course, Graham Ingels). The absurdity of floating eyeballs that suck humans into their innards is pushed aside by how cool these absurdities look when rendered by Basil. Imagine Don Heck or even Jack Kirby attempting this stunt. Wouldn’t work.

No one knows why brilliant scientist Richard Phillips has stepped out onto his ledge and threatened to jump until he tells his sad, but fantastic, tale: Dick has created a time machine and, on his first trip, he sets the dials on his wayback machine to ten years in the past. Of course, he’s a bit confused when he gets to 1941 and he finds… nothing. Literally nothing. No wildlife, no flora, no civilization. Thinking he’s set the dial way too far back and arrived at the dawn of time, Dick guides his gizmo back to his present-day laboratory, only to discover the error he made was to set the dial to ten years in the future! Knowing there’s nothing to look forward to, Richard Phillips steps off the ledge. Though it’s a bit predictable, “Nothing” is still an enjoyable little bit of fluff with nice art from Golden Age regular, Manny Stallman.

Gorgeous “entrepreneur” Lily Wells answers an interesting want ad from an old woman looking for a companion. Hoping to latch onto a rich old spinster she can get rid of in the near future, Lily interviews with the kindly old woman, Mrs. Mason, and quickly receives the job. Once she gets out to the creepy estate, Lily begins to endear herself to Mrs. Mason, who tells the girl that she’ll really like her son when he comes home. Now the dollar signs are flashing and Lily does everything she can to earn the old woman’s trust. Things begin to get spooky though when one of the villagers stops by and warns Lily she’s the fourth girl to answer Mrs. Mason’s ad and the first three vanished into thin air! And, Holy Hannah, how about those mysterious exsanguinated animals found on the moors? The poor, conniving con artist finds out what’s going on when "The Old Lady’s Son" finally comes home. There’s no mystery to speak of and the climax is anything but a surprise but it’s a nice touch that we never actually see the son (only his shadow); we only hear the carnage.

Walter can’t stand his nagging wife, Amanda, so when she has a massive heart attack and dies, he’s relieved rather than somber. The twist, though, is that Amanda is “reincarnated” into Walter’s favorite statuette, the beautiful Jolie. Lacking Amanda’s awful singing voice and constant nagging, Jolie quickly becomes a wonderful companion to Walter, despite the obvious height difference, but Walter soon feels the need for more than just companionship and falls in love with the gorgeous Elaine. Too late, Walter discovers his landlord accidentally broke Jolie into a million pieces at the exact time Walter met Elaine! It’s crystal clear, once they’re married and Elaine gains that singing voice, that Amanda’s soul is on a multi-body tour. Goofy and all over the map, “She Wouldn’t Stay Dead” is a delightful little romp highlighted by the final panel wherein the frustrated Walter sits, face in hands, thinking, “The rest of my life with this! I’ll go nuts!”

 Astonishing #8

"The Hanging Terror" (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2 
"The Man Eater!" (a: Norman Steinberg) 
"Behind the Wall" ★1/2 
"The Finger" (a: Fred Kida) 

Behind one of the coolest and most graphic covers this side of EC (not only is this guy being drowned... not only is there a group of ghouls as witnesses... but there are lobsters heading for his soft parts!) lie four tales of varying quality. Shall we?

It's 1942. An odd phenomenon has been spotted by noted astronomer Dr. Albert Bell: a square satellite hovering between the Earth and the moon. Even more ominous is the fact that "The Hanging Terror" is man-made! Is it an invasion from space or, as the military believes, the Russians setting themselves up to become rulers of the world by launching the first space battleship? The army convinces Bell and a group of elite specialists to build a canon that can blow the warship from space. It takes "all the atomic power in our reserve stock" plus all of England's supply of U-235 to build a seventy-ton cannon shell but the job is finished and a huge cannon is crafted to propel the bomb into space.

But, as usual, loose lips sink ships and the Russkies get wind of our super-bullet and send their agents to steal the weapon and transport it to (the military was right!) their huge pillbox. They turn the cannon on Earth, with America firmly in their sights, and pull the trigger. Ka-blooey! The space station is destroyed since the Americans knew the dirty Commies would steal the cannon and turn it on us. The world is safe once again! So, there's an odd one for ya. Not that Atlas wasn't in the "We hate Commies!" game that most comic book publishers used to boost sales but this is a story set in 1942, years before the Russians became our arch-enemies. Dr. Bell certainly gives in quickly to the military's idea that the satellite is of Russian construction; none of the usual "mankind has not reached these levels of science yet!" protestations.Still, the yarn is a good one, far-fetched as it is (my favorite bit is the final panel, which explains that the story was "fully explained in the little fire-scorched book" found, ostensibly floating in space!), and provides a lot of smiles and giggles.

A farmer and his wife are the first victims of "The Man-Eater," (actually it should be Man-Eaters, since there are two of the galoots) a menace from space that kills and then devours every one of its victims. It's not long before thousands of people nationwide have been picked to the bone and the public is not being patient with law enforcement. Why can't these things be tracked and killed? Well, very soon we discover why; the monsters can also shape-shift into any human they desire. They could be your next-door neighbor, your school teacher, your butcher, or even your ex-wife (especially your ex-wife)... there's no telling what disguise they'll take next. On a Florida-bound bus, a gorgeous woman is seated and , all around her, the other passengers question her identity. Could a woman as beautiful as this even exist? Luckily, Phil, the "company cop" boards the bus and promises the passengers their safety. But, when the lights go out, the monster's true identity is learned!

The puzzling final sequence of
"The Man-Eater"
"The Man-Eater" starts out promisingly but finishes on a somewhat anti-climactic note, as if the writer was cruising along with some fabulous epic and then realized he had four panels to wrap this thing up. Trouble is, it's not wrapped up. The narrative goes from nation-wide plague to the silly bus twist (and we all know who the monster really is the second Company Phil steps on board) and leaves us without closure. And whatever happened to Man-Eater #2? I have to say though, I really dig Norman Steinberg's art; there's some very graphic stuff here and his drooling creatures are definitely an E-ticket

Sam has had to live in misery for years with his wife and her brother, constantly nagging him and never lifting a finger to help. Then, Sam gets a bright idea on how to get rid of at least half the problem. He decides to brick up the septic tank in his basement and his brother-in-law will never be missed if he should become part of the construction. Sam gives the big dope a fatal clop on the head and dumps him in the drink but then fate plays a trick on Sam; his usually shrewish wife has decided to come home early and brought some workers with her. She's going to surprise Sam for his birthday!  Sam has no other choice than to join the corpse in the muck and keep quiet as the brick is laid over his head.

"Behind the Wall"
"Behind the Wall" is the typical "shrewish wife-mousey husband" nonsense but it does actually wrap up with a stellar climax. Alas, if you take a gander at the (uncredited) artist's work, you'll know that the basement isn't the only thing that smells bad. Last, but certainly least, this issue is "The Finger," a SF tale about a creature from another dimension that gets its finger stuck in a trap. Other than a decent, very Ditko-esque, showing by Fred Kida, this one is a six-page slog barely worth the effort.

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #1

"The Walking Death" (a: Russ Heath)
"The Mad Man" (a: Sol Brodsky)
"The Terrible Tree" (a: John Tartaglione)
"The World That Vanished" (a: George Tuska)

Unfortunately, this is one of the few Atlas comic books I have no access to. If and when that oversight is rectified, AIWW #1 will be covered in a future post and this disclaimer will be replaced by some pithy comments.

In Two Weeks...
the first four-star classic of 1952!


Glowworm said...

I know a website (not a perfect one mind you) that has a lot of the issues of Atlas/Marvel horror comics. However, a lot of the downloads have some stories missing. I checked to see if the issue you couldn't find was there--unfortunately--it only has one story in it--and it's in black and white and in Spanish! However, I have learned that you can actually make requests to the site and ask for reuploads and corrections.

Peter Enfantino said...

Is the website you're speaking of More Than Heroes?

Jack Seabrook said...

Best cover goes to Astonishing, perhaps because Bill Everett is nowhere to be found!

Glowworm said...

No, Peter, the website in question is called readcomiconline.

Peter Enfantino said...

Yes, I've seen that one as well. I think the missing Atlas comics correspond on both those sites, unfortunately, but I believe they'll be up at some point while I'm still doing the blog.

Anonymous said...

"Behind the Wall" sounds a bit like a simpler and less subtle version of John Collier's classic short story "Back for Christmas," though I'm not sure the similarity rises to the "perhaps, ah, 'inspired' by" level. / Denny Lien