Monday, April 29, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 154: November 1974

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 274

"Home is the Hero!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

"Last Mission"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: After 29 days of fighting in Italy, Easy Co. finally gets a break and Sgt. Rock decides to go for a motorcycle ride to clear his head. Of course, he immediately encounters a German attack on a U.S. jeep. Rock quickly dispatches the enemy soldiers and finds what's left of the jeep, along with an American M.P. who is still handcuffed to the corpse of a prisoner he was transporting.

Tony Lewis, the prisoner, had sworn to Jerry Baker, his captor, that he would never be taken alive back to the States to stand trial for murder. Rock and Baker head off through the woods and Baker guns down some Nazis they meet along the way. The duo come upon the town of Trescia, where Baker's parents still live, and he and Rock surprise the old folks with a visit. Rock quickly realizes that his companion is really Tony, the murderer, not Baker, the M.P., but decides to keep quiet until the parental visit ends. Tony disappears outside while Rock is inside with the parents, but the killer quickly returns to announce that a Nazi tank is approaching the town.

Rock and Tony meet the Nazi tank outside of town and Tony loses his life after successfully destroying the machine with a grenade. Rock carries Tony's body back to town, promising to tell the military brass of the dead man's heroism.

"Home is the Hero!"
There's nothing particularly surprising in "Home is the Hero!" and the art by Evans is sub-par, but the story is exciting and the end satisfying. I've said before that it's unusual for the story to outshine the art, but that's the case with this entry in the Sgt. Rock series.

American planes are bombing Berlin in October 1944, and the flak being shot from below is heavy, but one particular plane's crew knows that their pilot will get them back from this mission, as he has done 23 times before. The "California Cowboys," as they have been nicknamed, make it back to base in England safely; they are apprehensive about their 25th and "Last Mission," yet confident that their skipper will see to it that they return home to California. The flight gets underway and they successfully bomb their Berlin target, but flak from below is again heavy as they turn to head back to base. The plane avoids flak and German planes, but the entire crew is killed and the plane disappears in the English Channel. Exactly thirty years later, in 1974, the plane is found in a remote area of California, its crew still at their posts!

Is this supposed to be a Weird War Tale? It was going along well until that wacky last panel. Estrada's art is, well, Estrada's art, though this was a reasonably exciting story and he did his best with it. Still, how did a plane that crashed in the English Channel end up in California thirty years later? I searched online and found no story even close to this, so what it really needs at the end is a skeleton in a pilot's uniform telling us that it was inexplicable.

"Last Mission"
Peter: I wasn't keen on either adventure this issue. "Home is the Hero!" highlights a cliche I've frankly had enough of: the murderer/racist/thug/hippy who seems lost to good judgment and being a decent person, then meets Sgt. Rock and becomes an upstanding citizen (albeit usually a dead upstanding citizen) and the hero of WWII. "Last Mission" is more of a vignette designed to deliver a shocking final panel. Problem is, the last look isn't that shocking and Estrada's art only makes me think of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Not that I'm complaining, but where did Glanzman's USS Stevens series get to?

Weird War Tales 31

"Death Waits Twice"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Franc Reyes

"The Story of a Real Dogface!"
Story by Arnold Drake
Art by Bill Draut

Story by David Vern
Art by Alex Niño

Peter: When Sgt. Scully hears Duni read his tarot cards and predict death at dawn for both of them, the Sarge scoffs but, come sun-up, Scully fakes drowning to avoid boarding a landing craft with Duni. Sure enough, the craft is blown sky high and Duni is killed. Suddenly, the Sarge believes he'll die at dawn... but which dawn? The next few days become a living nightmare for Scully as he avoids any engagement at dawn. In the end, fate finally catches up with the doomed man when he least expects it. I liked Franc Reyes's art (it reminds me a lot of Frank Brunner's work), but the script for "Death Waits Twice" is padded and lacking any suspense whatsoever. We know this rat is going to get his eventually, so why drag it out? I find it odd that the story's host, Death, uses the derogatory "Japs," in his opening monologue. Does Big Bob mean to infer that Death is racist as well?

"Death Waits Twice"

December 1976 can't get here fast enough
("The Story of a Real Dogface!")
Sgt. Crawford loved being a dog instructor and treated the canines with love and respect. He hoped that, when he died, he would be reincarnated as either a dog, a butterfly, or an Osmond Brother. One soldier who did not share the Sarge's love for animals was the sadistic Snell, who believed a good kicking was what dogs and dames needed to keep them in line. The two clash repeatedly and then, one night, Snell "accidentally" shoots Crawford on patrol, killing him. Snell becomes Sergeant and inherits Crawford's duties as K-9 instructor. One of the dogs has puppies and the runt of the litter is nicknamed "Sarge" (no way! could it be?) and grows up to be a fierce G.I. dog. When Snell beats the animal, it tears out his throat and flees. Knowing the dog will be put to death, the kindly Corporal Mann finds him and shoots him. At that very moment, a cocoon falls from a tree into Mann's hand and he remembers what Sgt. Crawford once told him.

In both script and art departments, "The Story of a Real Dogface!" is easily the worst story of 1974. Maudlin to the extreme and filled with stock characters, "Dogface"could be one of the most predictable DC war stories we've yet encountered. Bill Draut's art is drab and unexciting, with no style of its own; it's simply there to fill six pages. The finale, "Doomsday!," concerns the planet Xeres and its upcoming apocalypse. The story is a bit confusing and ends with a groaner of a twist, but I can enjoy anything with the eccentric doodlings of Alex Niño. Not sure why author David Vern felt the need to use the pseudonym of Coram Nobis--to distinguish this from his more "serious" work in the pulps? Reed would go on to write a few Batman stories in the late 1970s as well.

Jack: Another weak issue of Weird War Tales. The trend toward more graphic depictions of violence continues in "Death Waits Twice"; I thought the art was mediocre (I don't see a resemblance to Frank Brunner's style, but I haven't seen any of Brunner's work in a long time). We know from the start what's going to happen and have to read to the end to learn how it will take place. I love neither Arnold Drake's writing style nor Bill Draut's art style, so "The Story of a Real Dogface!" did nothing for me, and I agree that it's a terrible narrative with a corny attempt at a "circle of life" conclusion. As for "Doomsday!," I usually like Niño's art but this example seemed very muddled and the art is overly busy to no clear purpose. The twist is as old as they come. If only we could get some Kirby in here!

Our Fighting Forces 151

"Kill Me with Wagner!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry

Jack: As the Losers await the arrival of the Free French Maquis to help guide them toward the objective of their mission, Nazis search the woods for our heroes but only succeed in capturing Gunner, who is taken to a house where a Nazi called the Major interrupts his reverie of playing Wagner (badly) on the piano to torture Gunner when the American refuses to divulge more than name, rank, and serial number.

The mission of the Losers is to rescue a famous, female concert pianist named Emma Klein and they must also rescue Gunner in the bargain. The Major is also looking for Ms. Klein and knows that finding her must be Gunner's objective. The Nazis don't know what Emma looks like, so the Major lines up a series of women and insists that Gunner reveal whether any of them is the woman they seek. Just as Nazis are about to start shooting the women one by one, the Losers burst in and save the day. As the Major dies, he hears beautiful piano music and sees that Emma Klein is none other than the housemaid who has been cleaning up around him for some time. Allied forces shell the town and flatten it; the Losers escape with the aid of the Free French and Emma Klein thanks them for saving her life.

If we hold our breath and squint real hard,
this kind of looks like '40s-era Kirby...
With this issue, Jack Kirby takes over writing and art duties on the Losers and, like so much of Kirby's mid-'70s work at DC, it's a mixed bag. I like that the story is full-length, as this allows more plot development to occur, but Kirby's writing and, especially, his pencils are hard to take. The inks by D. Bruce Berry, like those of other Kirby inkers of the era, such as Mike Royer, make me wonder whether these artists were so intimidated by the King's reputation that they failed to take the opportunity to improve upon what must have been very sketchy pencils. There are brief echoes of '40s/'50s Kirby in the story, but that's about it--comics like this (which were all too common) make me wonder how Kirby can be considered an all-time great in the comics field. He just did so much bad work!

Peter: As feared, Jack "The King" Kirby has jettisoned everything Big Bob and John Severin accomplished with this series and put his own brand upon it. Gone is the wonderful dialogue (replaced with such scintillating nuggets as "Right now, I'd rather be in charge of a company latrine!" and "Pull in that gun butt!... or I'll clean this place up... with you!"). Gone is the fabulous, detailed art (replaced with Kirby's "everything looks like a square rock" style). Gone are the subplots (not one mention of Ona). Gone is the fun. Ironically, The King puts down on paper exactly what The Losers will be during his tenure. He exclaims that "The losers don't have to speak like Patton or act like film cheapies to put themselves across," a proclamation directly in contrast to our first encounter with Jack's version of The Losers. Kirby's going to be around a while (12 issues) before he jumps ship and destroys Captain America over at Marvel just the same way he killed this once-glorious strip, so settle in and be patient with my grumpiness and we'll see if we can't survive together.

Next Week...
Oh Yeah!!!

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Eight: Arthur [5.1]

by Jack Seabrook

After "Sylvia," James P. Cavanagh wrote the teleplay for "The Festive Season," then wrote no teleplays for season four of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He came roaring back with the script for the opening show of season five, a classic tale of macabre humor directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on a 1948 short story by Arthur Williams called "Being a Murderer Myself."

The story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed man (one can assume he is meant to be Arthur Williams, the pseudonymous author), who tells the reader that he is as interested in how a murder is committed as he is in who committed it and why. Remarking that some murderers get away with the crime and arguing that they can be "quite normal," he admits to having killed his former girlfriend, Susan, who had spurned him and married a man named Stanley Braithwaite. After tiring of Stanley's "insensitiveness," Susan returned to the narrator, who no longer cared for her. He tells the reader that he made his poultry farm in South Africa "self-supporting" by using "labor-saving devices" and that he runs it alone; he cares more for his 3000 chickens than he did for Susan and he found her presence unbearable.

Laurence Harvey as Arthur
Thinking, "'Really, I could wring her neck!'" he strangled her but was not affected by his deed. He disposed of her body "in the manner I had been stimulated to devise when reading of the difficulties other murderers had experienced in this regard." Police Sergeant Theron showed up about three weeks later and inquired as to her whereabouts. Though the narrator calls Theron "an alert and intelligent policeman," the officer was no match for the narrator, who said he was unaware that the newspapers had appealed for help when Susan disappeared and who explained that he and Susan quarreled and she stormed out, leaving her suitcase behind. Theron examined the contents of the suitcase and left.

About a week later, the sergeant returned with a constable and Inspector Liebensberg from the Johannesburg C.I.D. The narrator took the policemen on a tour of the house and farm, proud of all the devices he uses to raise his chickens, after which they left. Another week passed, and the narrator decided to taunt the police by pretending to run away, hiding for three days in a nearby cave, passing the time by reading detective novels. He returned home to find the police searching his house and farm and he told them that he went looking for Susan himself and got lost. He was taken to the police station for questioning and an attempt by the police to trick him into admitting guilt by claiming that the body had been found fell flat. The exhaustive search yielded no trace of Susan's body and, eventually, the police gave up.

Hazel Court as Helen
That Christmas, the narrator sent Theron "a brace of cockerels"; months later, Theron left to join the Rhodesian Police and the narrator hired a new housekeeper, explaining to the reader that Susan's body was ground up and mixed into meal that was fed to the chickens. He explains in great detail how every last bit of the woman was turned into chicken feed and that the chickens that feasted on it grew into "fine pullets and cockerels." He disposed of every bit of her and then got rid of every chicken that had fed on her remains, though he claims this is just a story he made up as "an ardent student of detective fiction." His new housekeeper, Ann Lissen, has fallen in love with him and he finds this "tiresome." He is "most eager to rear especially good stock next season" and the story ends with the implication that Ann will be his next victim.

The narrator of "Being a Murderer Myself" believes himself to be extraordinarily clever and charming. He thinks of himself as "quite normal" and not a "cold-blooded brute," yet his act is horrible. He criticizes the "insensitiveness" and "egoism" of Susan's husband, Stanley Braithwaite, yet the narrator's own crime and boastfulness demonstrate that he shares those faults. Pretending to listen to Susan while she "chattered away," the narrator indirectly reveals that he had been thinking about murder before Susan's arrival and that he had planned a way to dispose of a body without being detected; in a sense, her role is to supply the body to test his thesis. Despite the fact that South Africa had become independent from Great Britain in 1931, nearly two decades before this story was published, the narrator is understated and very British in his approach to crime. The story is fascinating mainly due to the charm of its narrator and the suspense created by wondering how he disposed of the body, though the narrative runs out of steam once he reveals his method; the details are rather disgusting and go on too long.

"Being a Murderer Myself"
was first published here
The author of the story, who uses the pseudonym of Arthur Williams, was discovered by Julian Symons to be a South African named Peter Barry Way (1917-1969), who never published another story. His tale may be based on a celebrated murder case from 1924, when a chicken farmer in Sussex, England, by the name of Norman Thorne murdered his pregnant former girlfriend and buried her dismembered body under the chicken run. He told the police that she had never arrived at his farm, but when they found her suitcase he claimed that she had actually come to visit and hanged herself while he was out. When he returned and found her dead, he grew afraid, cut up her body, and buried it. His story was not successful in preventing a jury from finding him guilty, and he was hanged.

It seems likely that Way read of this case and decided to come up with a method by which the killer could have escaped the hangman's noose. A 2006 book called Chickenfeed was also based on the Thorne case.

Critics of the short story have noted that there is some similarity in theme to Lord Dunsany's short story, "Two Bottles of Relish" (1932), in which a man murders a woman and there is a suggestion that the body was never found because he ate it a bit at a time. Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" (1953) followed Way's tale by five years and features a woman who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then cooks the murder weapon and feeds it to the police investigating the crime.

Patrick Macnee as Sgt. Theron
Hitchcock had directed the television adaptation of "Lamb to the Slaughter" and it aired to great acclaim in April 1958, so it is no surprise that when James P. Cavanagh adapted "Being a Murderer Myself" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the great director jumped at the chance to direct it. The show was rehearsed and filmed over a three-day period from July 7, 1959, to July 9, 1959, and it was retitled "Arthur," after the name of the pseudonymous author of the short story who narrates it as if it were true.

"Arthur" is an outstanding black comedy, with a great script that improves upon its source, fine acting by all concerned, and direction that emphasizes the subject's black humor. The show opens with Arthur holding a chicken and standing in front of a roomful of chickens at his "poultry farm in New Zealand" (the location has been changed for no discernible reason). He addresses the camera and the audience directly, then speaks to the chicken and pats it before holding it down, out of view, and strangling it. The fowl lets out a final cluck as it dies, a sound that will be repeated later in the episode at a key moment. Instead of taking the story's narration and turning it into action or dialogue, Cavanagh takes the unusual step in "Arthur" of having the main character speak directly to the viewer, just as he speaks directly to the reader in the short story.

Arthur strangles a chicken

The scene dissolves to a roasted chicken being removed from the oven, and Arthur begins to talk about Helen (Susan in the short story) as he eats the bird. There is another dissolve to a flashback, in which Helen tells Arthur that she has fallen for Stanley and cannot marry Arthur. Now the story's narrative becomes dialogue between Arthur and Helen; they snipe at each other cruelly but civilly until she leaves. Sergeant Theron visits Arthur, who shows off his new grinder for mixing chicken feed, among his other labor-saving devices; a year has passed since the prior scene. After the policeman leaves, Arthur enters his house to find that Helen has returned. We witness how annoyed he becomes with her as he narrates the scene in voice over, and his motive for the murder that follows seems to be her sloppiness: she piles dirty dishes in the sink and puts out cigarettes in a ceramic dish. Arthur tells her: "'I like my life the way it is now and I won't have any changes.'" After she accidentally knocks a ceramic pitcher off the tea table and it smashes on the floor, Arthur comes up behind her and strangles her; like the chicken he strangled in the first scene, her face is out of view as she is killed and she emits a cluck that sounds just like that of the dying chicken.

Arthur strangles a woman

Theron visits, as he does in the story, and here Cavanagh invents more dialogue to replace the story's narration. The sergeant returns with Liebenberg and dialogue is interspersed with Arthur's voice over narration to move the tale along. The following scene, where Arthur pretends to run away and hides in the cave, is accomplished visually with voice over narration. He returns home to find the police searching his farm but, sadly, the budget must not have allowed Hitchcock to film thousands of hens running wild and interfering with the search, a scene that would have prefigured The Birds by several years. Instead of going to the police station, as he does in the story, Arthur is questioned in his home, and the constable's lame attempt to trick him by claiming that the body has been found occurs there.

Robert Douglas as
Inspector Liebensberg
After the policemen have left, more narration tells us that it is now Christmas, and we see Arthur placing two chickens in a basket to give to Sergeant Theron. In the final scene, Arthur once again speaks directly to the camera, as he did in the opening scene. He explains that the chickens he gave to the sergeant were raised on special feed made in his new mill, and it is clear--though unsaid--that he ground up the unfortunate Helen. He switches on the mill and smiles as the screen fades to black.

Cavanagh wisely omits the last section of the short story, in which the narrator explains in detail how he disposed of the body, not to mention the hiring of the housekeeper and his plans for her demise. The ending of the TV show is subtler and more effective. In effect, "Arthur" takes the premise of "Lamb to the Slaughter" one step further--there, the murder weapon was fed to the police, while here, the victim is fed to chickens, which are given to the police to consume.

Donald Spoto wrote that "Arthur" is "brusquely directed ... and the first Hitchcock production with a blunt and angry violence exercised against a female protagonist." He calls Strangers on a Train (1951) the exception to this rule but argues that it was "remarkably faithful to the novel," suggesting that the violence in "Arthur" is attributable to a change in Hitchcock's on-screen treatment of women, However, "Arthur" is "remarkably faithful" to the short story on which it is based, and I don't think that Spoto is convincing in his argument that it marks a turning point from the sort of worship of women displayed in Hitchcock's famous films of the mid-1950s to the abuse of women that would be displayed in films starting with Psycho (1960).

Barry Harvey
Steve Mamber is more on target when he notes that, like another episode directed by Hitchcock, "One More Mile to Go," "Arthur" deals with the problem of how to get rid of a body. One interesting aspect of the main character that is present in both the story and the TV film is his avowed interest in detective stories; in both story and TV show he refers to Crippen, saying "'My best plan, of course, was to make Crippen's mistake, and run away'" right before he heads to the cave for a three-day period of hiding. Harvey Hawley Crippen (1862-1910) was an American doctor who was hanged for the murder of his wife; he fled after being interviewed by police, who found the corpse after he left. Arthur, in his effort to taunt the police, pretends to run away, correctly predicting that the police would suspect him even more and search his farm, but this time the examination of the grounds yields no corpse.

The central role of Arthur is played to perfection by Laurence Harvey (1928-1973), who was born Laruschka Stikne in Lithuania but who, like the narrator of "Being a Murderer Myself," grew up in South Africa. He moved to England in 1946 and had a career on screen from 1950 to 1973. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show, but he was also on Night Gallery and is best remembered for two films: Room at the Top (1959) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). A biography of Harvey, Reach for the Top, was published in 2003.

British beauty Hazel Court (1926-2008) portrays the unfortunate Helen Braithwaite; her career on screen lasted from 1944 to 1981 and included roles in such classic horror films as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). This was one of four appearances she made on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Crocodile Case," and she was also seen on The Twilight Zone and Thriller. Her autobiography is titled, Hazel Court--Horror Queen.

Another British actor, Robert Douglas (1909-1999) appears as Inspector Liebenberg. Born Robert Finlayson, he acted on screen from 1931 to 1982 and was also seen in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "The Impromptu Murder." From 1960 to 1982, he was a busy director of episodic television, including directing four episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

In the final shot, Arthur reveals how he disposed of the body.
Sergeant John Theron is played by Patrick Macnee (1922-2015), who served in the Royal Navy in WWII and whose career on screen stretched from 1938 to 2003. He was in one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, but he will forever be remembered for his long-running role as John Steed on The Avengers and, later, The New Avengers. He wrote an autobiography called Blind in One Ear: The Avenger Returns and a website devoted to him is here.

Finally, Barry Harvey plays Constable Barry; he does not have many credits in his short screen career from 1955 to 1961, but he did appear in eight episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole."

Read "Being a Murderer Myself" for free online here and watch "Arthur" for free online here or buy the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps take on this episode here. The story appears to have been adapted for radio under its original title, "Being a Murderer Myself," on BBC Radio on January 18, 2014; however, I have been unable to find a recording. There were five episodes of this series, and the publicity materials say that the stories were deemed too gruesome for the original TV show, despite the fact that two of the stories were, in fact, adapted for the original TV show! Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that the tales were collected in the anthology, Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV (1957).

"Arthur." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 5, episode 1, CBS, 27 Sept. 1959.
Galactic Central,
Giblin, Gary. Alfred Hitchcock's London: A Reference Guide to Locations. Bear Manor, 2019.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.
Mamber, Steve. "The Television Films of Alfred Hitchcock." pp. 3–4,
Spoto, Donald. The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: the Dark Side of Genius. Collins, 1983.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,
Williams, Arthur. "Being a Murderer Myself." Best of the Best Detective Stories, edited by David C. Cooke, Dutton, 1960, pp. 58–74.

In two weeks: Coming, Mama, starring Eileen Heckart and Don DeFore!

Listen to the podcast, Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents, here, as Al Sjoerdsma discusses "The Long Shot."

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 6: May/June 1966

The Critical Guide to 
the Warren Illustrated Magazines
by Uncle Jack
& Cousin Peter

Eerie #3 (May 1966)

"Soul of Horror!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Angelo Torres

"The Lighthouse!" ★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Al Williamson

"Room with a View!" ★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Monsterwork!" ★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Rocco Mastroserio

"Under the Skin!" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Jerry Grandenetti and Joe Orlando

"The Monument!" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"Full Fathom Fright" ★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gene Colan

Peter reads Eerie as Jack looks on
("Soul of Horror!")
Caught red-handed performing a black magic ritual, Simon Hectate confronts an angry mob out to silence his weird incantations once and for all. When he refuses to end his sorcery, the enraged mob murders him and covers up the crime. Miles away, at the Catlett farm, the Mrs. births a brand new baby boy, Lemuel, but dies of shock while looking into the child's eyes for the first time. Over time, Lemuel grows at a rapid pace and shows intelligence unheard of for such a young child. The man who brought him into the world (and our narrator), Dr. Locke keeps an eye on Lemuel and his father, who seems to grow years older every time the doc passes by the farm. Eventually, the senior Catlett dies and, soon after, all the men who killed Simon Hectate die in mysterious ways. Locke goes out to question the now ten-year-old (but a strapping man in appearance) Lemuel and catches him mid-incantation, reading from one of Hectate's old tomes. Lemuel admits that he is Simon incarnated and allows how his body might die but his evil spirit will be forever reincarnated. A fight ensues and Dr. Locke kills Lemuel, leaving his body to burn in the shack. When he gets home, he discovers his wife has given birth to... a new Simon Hectate.

Archie pulled inspiration from various sources (just as Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines did years before) and it's pretty clear he'd been cramming on Lovecraft about this time as "Soul of Horror!" has that distinct Dunwich/Innsmouth vibe without being overly plagiaristic. A nice touch is the business with the blackbirds (legend says the birds shriek and caw when they catch a departing soul but remain quiet when the soul is still free... so there's not a lot of shrieking going on in this tale) and Angelo's art is atmospheric, not relying on movie stills this time around. What's not discussed is the child that is "hijacked" by Simon's spirit, a baby that might have grown up to be an okay kid had a demon not stolen its body. Where is that baby's soul? I'm meandering. Good story, good art!

"The Lighthouse!"
Literary agent Roger Culp must make his way out to "The Lighthouse!" where his number one writer, Eric Standish, makes his home. On foot through the thick fog, Roger encounters a pretty young girl looking for a man named Matthew Frye. The woman tells the agent she'll lead him up to the lighthouse with her lantern but she soon disappears and Culp finds himself slipping and falling off a precipice, hanging on for dear life. His screams bring Standish running from the lighthouse and he is saved from a horrible death. Inside the lighthouse, Roger relates his tale to a clearly-disturbed Standish, who then tells his tale: eighty years before, Eric's grandfather, Matthew Frye, had been the lighthouse keeper and had fallen down drunk on the job, allowing a schooner to wreck on the rocks below. One sole survivor climbed the rocks, a pretty young girl, and confronted the keeper. Frye throws the girl from the top of the lighthouse.

As Standish finishes his story, the men hear a racket downstairs and see the approaching figure of the young girl, who bursts in and launches herself at Eric. Both fall to the rocks below. The next day, Eric's body is discovered on the beach, entangled with the girl, dead for eighty years. A whole lot of Gothic goin' on here, with a bit of the "sins of the fathers" thrown in. That panel of the first body being thrown from the lighthouse is very vague; in fact, you could also interpret that the girl threw Matthew Frye Sr. to his death as the grandfather's fate is never actually disclosed. And everything Matthew/Eric tells us in the flashback is supposedly based on notes he found in the lighthouse. Why would Matthew Sr. confess to the murder? Bewildering. Williamson's art is fine; the final panel in particular is a chiller.

"Room With a View!"
A traveler requests a room one dark and stormy night at a rundown inn. Only one room available and that's the one no one wants to stay in. "Poppycock," says the traveler, "Give me the key and I'll take my chances." Of course, this being a magazine called Eerie, we know there's definitely something on the horizon for this wayfarer. When he gets to his room, he unpacks and catches a glance of himself in the wall mirror, only to gaze upon what looks to be a sorcerer behind him. Swirling around, he finds the room empty. Musing that it might be the hard day's travel wearing on his brain, the man gets into bed but can't get the face from the mirror out of his mind. He tiptoes to the mirror and turns on the light to find a cast of ghoulish characters, including the sorcerer, in the mirror behind him. As he continues to gaze, the creatures surround and reach for him. He grabs a chair, with the intent to shatter the mirror... Downstairs the innkeeper hears a loud scream and rushes upstairs to find the room empty save the traveler's suitcase, but when he looks into the mirror he beholds the true fate of his guest.

Let me just say what a pleasure it is to see Steve Ditko's mastery added to an already stellar bullpen. "Room with a View!" has both feet in what you might call Ditkoland, with sorcerers and gorgeous-but-a-bit-off gals and ghouls that hang on a precipice between silly and scary. Archie gives Steve a meaty script to work with (sure, it's got a few plot holes, but...) and could you see anyone but Ditko doing this script? I love Steve's 4-color work (obvious high points would be The Amazing Spider-Man and The Creeper, but you could also point a finger at his Charlton work as well... The Question anyone?) but this black-and-white work he'll do for Warren (16 stories all together) is insanely good stuff. We'll discuss his true Warren masterpiece in two weeks. How's that for a tease?

Just as he's cutting a body down from the gallows, hunchback Otto decides he's had just about enough of this body-stealing stuff and he's going to tell Dr. von Reich that it's time he found another ghoul to get him his bodies. When he gets to von Reich's castle, the doctor is ready to operate on the Frankenstein-like monster he's got on his table. He scoffs at Otto's complaints about the long hours and dirty work and gets to the business of putting this freshly dead brain into the monster's skull. Otto complains yet again about the doctor's promises to fix his hump and the mad scientist sighs and exclaims that his assistant is right. Time to fix that pesky hump. He chains Otto to the dungeon wall and then throws the electrical switch that brings the monster to life. The creature bursts its bonds and heads towards Otto, while the smirking von Reich tells him that this is how his hump gets fixed. At the last second, the creature spins around and heads for the doc, while Otto explains that the brain came from his brother, who was blamed for Otto's crimes. Yep, "Monsterwork!" is incredibly silly but it still brought a dopey smile to my face and the twist is a good one (it'll make you go back and re-read that splash, I guarantee), so what's not to like? Mastroserio's pencils are up and down; his lab interiors are detailed and noirish but the final panels make the marauding beast as frightening as Milton the Monster.

"Under the Skin!"
Leo Ernst was once the reigning horror king until Eric Stavros and his magical make-up bag took Hollywood by storm. Now, Leo begs Eric for his secrets only to be readily dismissed. Desperate, Ernst peeks in on Stavros as he tries out new make-ups and discovers the big star keeps a notebook. Convinced the diary is his way to recapture the spotlight, Ernst murders his adversary and shows up to the studio the next day in full monster mode. Even though the crew is shocked and saddened by the death of Eric Stavros, money talks and the buzz begins about Leo's second coming as a monster movie star. After the take is over, however, the star can't seem to get his make-up off and his screams draw the cast to his dressing room, where Ernst has ripped his face off.

"The Monument"
Gruesome chiller, proving Archie Goodwin was hitting a lot of base hits and doubles if not home runs (those will come, though), despite the monstrous workload. "Under the Skin!" features some above-average contributions from Jerry Grandenetti on pencils (at least the GCD claims this is Jerry ghosting) and Joe Orlando on inks. Well, this is above average for those two guys. Orlando is our current whipping boy and Grandenetti felt our ire week in and week out when we surveyed the DC horror comics a few years ago. They're both going to be around for a while so this is not the last you'll hear about my discomfort at seeing their "artwork." But that last panel is a humdinger.

Evan Slater's architecture firm is going belly up due to a lack of exciting ideas. Slater orders his crew to come up with something fast but then stumbles on something in his office. One of his assistants had been cleaning out old files and came across some stunning designs drawn decades before by the now-retired Charles Langton Colt. Slater begs Colt to design a perfect house for his firm but Colt wants no part of it, citing old age and oncoming death. Slater appeals to Colt's ego, telling him that the building can be the old man's shrine, "The Monument" to his genius. Colt happily agrees and begins work. Of course, this being an Eerie script, Slater kills Colt after the house is built and moves onto the house himself, not realizing that the dodgy old rooster had built his bed as his final resting place, complete with automatic embalmer.

Frazetta at the toy shop?
Brothers Burt and Sam Caine, sea divers, hire out to an eccentric old coot who claims there's a sunken ship full of treasure at the bottom of the sea and he's hiring the Caines to bring it up. Good old-fashioned greed takes over and the brothers kill the old man, figuring to take what they imagine to be millions in gold for themselves. What's really down there in that treasure chest is a demon, just itching to be free so it can feed. The thing bites Sam before Burt can kill it but the wound becomes infected and Sam transforms into a demon, attacking his brother. Burt discovers that water triggers the transformation and is forced to dispatch his brother but once he gets to shore, he's hospitalized and then institutionalized. His therapy includes hot baths. Uh-oh.

Both "The Monument" and "Full Fathom Fright" have ho-hum scripts centering around the greed of man, but both also have some dy-no-mite graphics. Like Ditko, Toth and Colan both excel in the black-and-white medium. Evan Slater's demise is deliciously grim. Colan can't hope to match that incredible sea demon Frazetta conjures on the cover, but he gives it the old college try Speaking of the cover, is it just me or does it look like Colorforms owes Frank Frazetta a bit of dough for "inspiring" their artists when creating Colossus Rex for their Outer Space Men toy line? Overall, one of the more satisfying complete Warren issues thus far. -Peter

Jack-I agree completely. Of course, the art is always better than the writing, but this issue was very good overall. I was glad to see Torres open the issue with strong work, and I thought "Soul of Horror!" was well-told and had a horrible ending. I've always liked spooky stories about lighthouses, so the Williamson entry was satisfying, and I agree that it's great to see Ditko in such fine form with "Room With a View!" I thought Rocco Mastroserio was very impressive at the start of "Monsterwork!" but his art wavered a bit as the pages went on and I thought the conclusion came out of left field. I was pleasantly surprised by the Grandenetti tale and my confusion over just what Orlando did or didn't do continues to grow. Is this art better because Joe inked it or was he involved at all? Alex Toth's work continues to amaze me and, in one panel, I saw that he used overlapping word balloons to demonstrate how repetitive the exclamations of various characters were. Was anybody else doing that? Finally, Colan's page designs are wonderfully creative, with oddly shaped, interlocking panels that allow him to expand or contract the size of the image as needed to tell the story. Overall, a very enjoyable mag.

Creepy #9 (June 1966)

"Dark Kingdom!"★★★
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Gray Morrow

"The Castle on the Moor!"★★1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Adam Link's Vengeance!"
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Joe Orlando

Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Dan Adkins and Wally Wood

"The Coffin of Dracula"★★
Part II
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Reed Crandall

"Out of Time"★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Alex Toth

"The Spirit of the Thing!"★★★1/2
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Steve Ditko

"Dark Kingdom!"
In 500 B.C., the mighty Spartan warrior, Argos, has been defeated in battle and taken into custody aboard a slave ship. Ignoring the warnings of other prisoners that he will never escape, he leaps from the ship and swims to shore, where he is soon attacked by giant, bat-like monsters. He defeats them, only to have a figure cloaked in black tell him that there is no escape. Argos does not give up, besting a beautiful woman who turns into a huge snake and fighting off skeletal soldiers. Soon, the Lord of the Underworld reveals that Argos is in Hades, having been nearly killed on the field of battle. Argos still will not relent, and he makes a mighty effort to climb up sheer rock walls to a light above, escaping the hand of Hades himself clutching at his back. The next thing he knows, Argos awakens on the field of battle, having been left for dead. Two soldiers help him up and remark on the giant, skeletal hand print burned into his back.

Archie Goodwin and Gray Morrow combine to open this issue of Creepy with an exciting tale, far from the Universal monster "tributes" of which we're already growing weary. The story is well-plotted and the conclusion makes sense, even if the supposedly surprising twist at the end (the hand print) isn't particularly interesting. Here, the journey is what matters, not the destination.

"The Castle on the Moor!" has fallen on hard times, so Lord Everleigh has to give tours to visitors to keep it going. When one tour group is stuck there for dinner due to an injured coach driver, a busybody named Mrs. Hill goes where she was told not to go and ends up dead in the tower, victim of the lord's son, who happens to be a werewolf. The hungry, mad son goes on a rampage and kills all but two of the visitors and his own father before he is dispatched with a silver bullet. Miss Creighton, one of the surviving duo, is relieved until the other survivor, Mr. Wayne, reveals that he is a ghoul and plans to eat all of the dead folks, saving her for dessert.

"The Castle on the Moor!"

Sheesh! I'm a big fan of Johnny Craig (or Jay Taycee, as he is credited here) and always like to see that he writes and draws his own stories, but this one is a clunker. I groaned inwardly when it was revealed that there was a werewolf on the loose, but I give Craig credit for drawing a pretty spiffy lycanthrope. The twist ending, however, is another matter. Everyone else is dead--surprise! I'm a ghoul! It just didn't work for me, and Craig's art, which can be a little shaky in his lesser efforts, is not quite up to the standard he set at EC.

"Adam Link's Vengeance!"
Adam Link survived his fall off a high cliff, but all that's left of him is a head, a partial torso, and an arm. Will "Adam Link's Vengeance!" give him the necessary strength to crawl 48 hours to an isolated cabin and call for help? Yes it will! With the aid of Tom Link, he returns to the lab and creates a new, super-sized body for himself, then he goes seeking Hillory, who sends out Eve for a knock-down, drag-out bout with Adam. Adam knocks her block off and frightens Hillory, who falls off a cliff to his death.

This stinker of a story is credited to Joe Orlando and Eando Binder. The GCD tells us it's really Otto Binder we have to blame for the writing, but I am pretty darn sure Jerry Grandenetti is once again ghosting for Orlando, providing at the very least the pencils for this story. We've seen enough of Jerry's work in the last several years to recognize his trademark shaky big letters and black mask-like shadowing around the eyes. Take a look at the page reproduced here and see if you agree. The mystery of who really drew this mess is the most interesting thing about it.

Wood? Adkins? Who cares!
Allan Wallace is a comic book artist whose work is getting the best of him. He keeps drawing himself in terrible peril and his psychiatrist is only interested in getting paid. Finally, Allan is so "Overworked!" that he disappears into his art, though his editors just think he's late again with his deadline.

In an interview in Comic Book Artist #7, Dan Adkins says that, around this time, Wally Wood was doing art breakdowns and Adkins was doing tight pencils, with either Adkins or another artist doing the inks. It sure looks like Wood's work to me, but perhaps that's the whole point. Adkins says Wood gave him credit because Steranko walked into Wood's apartment and saw Adkins working on the story. The tale is appealing to comic fans but it never really goes anywhere; it does, however, give Wood (Adkins?) the opportunity to draw scenes from many of the genres in which Wood excelled, such as science fiction, swordplay, and Gothic horror. Oh, and gorgeous women!

"The Castle of Dracula"
Harker, Van Helsing, and Seward find a vampire in a cave at the coast. They stake the fiend while it lies in "The Coffin of Dracula," but Lord Varney escapes, possessed by Dracula's spirit. Determined to find his resting place before daylight, the trio make their way to the imposing Castle Varney, where they discover Mina, barely hanging on to her life. The doctors transfuse Harker's blood into her body to save her, when suddenly Varney/Dracula appears. Harker smacks him in the face with a cross and hangs onto the back of the Count's horse-drawn carriage as the fiend tries to make his escape. A wild ride along the edge of a cliff ends in the carriage falling over the side and the Count, fortunately, dies with a sharp piece of wood in his heart, his coffin sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Not much better than part one, this Dracula ripoff hits all of the usual notes but falls flat. I like the use of the name Varney, which shows some knowledge of vampire story history, but Crandall's heart doesn't seem to be in it this time around and the story is unoriginal.

After mugger Joey Quinn commits murder, he runs down the wrong alley and hits a dead end. Suddenly, he is transported to the 17th century, where a conjurer named Isaiah Curtin says they will trade places. Thrilled at being able to escape a murder rap, Quinn agrees, and Curtin disappears into the future. Just then, angry villagers knock at the door and, before you know it, Quinn is being burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft!

Toth's atmospheric work on "Out of Time" resembles a woodcut

If the end of the story weren't so darn obvious from page three (of six in all), I would give this story more than two and a half stars. Once again, Alex Toth's art is stunning. In "Out of Time," he uses blacks so effectively that each page is a joy to view. Also in this issue, and reproduced at the end of this post, is a one-page bio of Toth in which he admits to being influenced by none other than one of our favorite targets, Frank Robbins! Also on that page is a piece of fan art by young Bernie Wrightson.

"The Spirit of the Thing!"
What strange creature climbs the stairs of a Greenwich Village rooming house late one night and enters the attic room of university student Michael Rogers? Why did screams ensue, and why did it sound like there was a great struggle? Worst of all, why did the other denizens of the rooming house enter Rogers's room to find him near death? The student tells a strange story of having been hypnotized by Professor Jerome, who separated Rogers's spirit from his body so that he wandered through a shadowy half-world before returning to find the professor dead and the professor's spirit in possession of the student's body! Doomed to wander the spirit world, Rogers's ghost visits the graveyard and inhabits the decomposing and already-buried body of Professor Jerome, clawing his way out of the ground and making his way to the attic room, where he battles the professor to the death. Rogers re-inhabits his own body and dies, leaving Professor Jerome's spirit to wander forever more.

Perhaps my own purple prose gives a hint as to how much I enjoyed "The Spirit of the Thing!," in which Ditko borrows liberally from his own work at Marvel on Dr. Strange and brings Goodwin's story to life. The art is superb and makes this the most exciting, entertaining tale in an up and down issue. I preferred Eerie #3 to Creepy #9, but the Toth and Ditko stories at the end sure improved the issue for me.-Jack

A Frazetta PSA from Creepy #9
Peter-I've been labeled a tough grader when it comes to attaching a star-rating to the stories we read. Safe to say, I've read thousands of illustrated horror stories in my lifetime (and these Warrens have been perused several times each over the years), and the cliched, padded, and predictable never cease to shorten my patience. Four-star ratings are very rare in my book (as you recall, I only awarded 79 first prizes to EC over its entire run), so sue me if you disagree. The very first four-star rated story, in my estimation, for Warren is the Goodwin/Wood/Adkins collab, "Overworked!" This masterpiece contains a lot of in-jokes and perhaps an autobiographical touch or two, since Goodwin was writing the majority of the stories for Creepy and must have felt quite Overworked. Several of the panels are iconic (the giant creature in the woods, the babe and her BEM, etc.), and the script is imbued with a sense of humor (the therapist who keeps subtly asking for his client's overdue payment) that, more than anything, brings to mind the similar Feldstein/Gaines "inside stories." No one drew beautiful women like Wally Wood (even if Adkins seems to have lent more than a helping hand). Oh, and don't worry, there will be more four-star chills to come!

"The Spirit of the Thing!"  has the same kind of other-worldly art that made Ditko’s Dr. Strange a fan favorite, and an ultra-clever and intricately-plotted script. "Out of Time" is a tad too predictable for my tastes but at least it's given a nice Toth coat of paint. "The Castle on the Moor!" is an atmospheric but text-heavy Gothic which crashes and burns with its incredibly lame twist climax. Still, Johnny Craig's werewolf  is surprisingly effective (I say that because we're not used to horror monsters from Mr. Craig, are we?). Do I really have to comment on "Adam Link"? Okay, it's awful. And not in a fun/awful way, as the last chapter seemed to be. This was a chore to read. Part II of "Coffin of Dracula" brings the extended thriller to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Archie's doing a good job bringing the "classic monsters" into the Warren mags and applying novel twists rather than retreading the same old schtick. On the Creepy Fan Club Page, we get a bio of maestro Toth (whose mug shot makes him look like Mickey Spillane's twin) and some fan art from a 17-year-old Berni Wrightson. We'll have a little more to say about that guy in a few years' time!

Next Week...
With the arrival of Kirby to the DC war titles
The Losers finally lives up to its title!

And in two weeks...
We bid a fond farewell to
Warren's bold experiment!

From Creepy #9

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 32

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 17
March 1952 Part II

 Spellbound #1

"The Stuffed Shirt" 
"Step Into My Coffin" (a: Martin Rosenthal) 
"The Eye That Never Closed!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"The Man with Two Faces" (a: George Roussos) ★1/2
"Horror of Crag Island" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 

Welcome to the first issue of Spellbound and Atlas' 14th genre title; Spellbound will last 34 issues (through June 1957) and feature some standout covers. This one, for instance, has a lot of drama going on. Talons reach for a terrified man in a coffin while a gorgeous dame enters through a trap door. What the heck is going on? Could "Step Into My Coffin" be as tantalizing as its teaser?

Hunchback taxidermist Eric Dunton hires a new assistant, a handsome young stud named Rocco, and immediately regrets the decision when Eric's girlfriend, Helen, and Rocco start giving each other "the eye!" Unfortunately for Eric, Rocco is giving Helen more than just the eye and he stumbles in on them while they're making love and laughing about Rocco's embezzling skills. Eric strangles Helen and mounts Rocco on the wall in the basement and then gives himself up to the police. Atlas moral #326: Hunchbacks are not the brightest bulbs in the cabin and the gorgeous dames that take their money and spurn their love are equally dim-witted. "The Stuffed Shirt" is nothing more than a build-up to a "shock," but you'd have to be just as dim as Eric and Helen not to see the twist coming from the word "go" since Eric is a taxidermist! EC was infamous for these kinds of stories (the butcher's wife who arranges her husbands pieces in the shop window, etc.) that exist only for the "ironic" kill. Best lines of dialogue come in panel one, when Rocco meets his new employer for the first time:

Rocco: The employment agency sent me! They said you needed an assistant!
Eric: What are you staring at me like that for? Didn't you ever see a hunchback before?

"No" is the answer to my opening question regarding this issue's fabulous cover. No, "Step Into My Coffin," a bad "Premature Burial" rip-off can't hold a candle to Sol Brodsky's nightmarish scene. It's a dreary, badly-illustrated snoozer about a couple facing bankruptcy who try to pull off the husband's faked death for insurance money. As is often the case with women born under the Atlas sign, our heroine is actually two-timing this dope and lets him rot in his coffin after she collects the dough. My least favorite Atlas horror artist is Dick Ayers but I would probably give a fair shake to an Ayers-illustrated tale of terror if it had a decent story. Alas, "The Eye That Never Closed," a bottom-of-the-barrel scraper about a man who kills his uncle and then must live with his (literally) cock-eyed curse, is not that story, so I don't have to figure out ways of recommending a story with awful art just yet. This is truly wretched stuff, in both plot (a rip-off of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart") and art, with Ayers contorting the protagonist's body in all manner of unfortunate poses (in the panel at left, the dope almost seems to be fencing without an epee). For Atlas' horror line to mature and flourish, it would have to sever ties with its poorly-illustrated past and, clearly, the company wasn't ready just yet.

In "The Man With Two Faces," a handsome hold-up man is having a hard time making a living since anyone he holds up will remember his gorgeous face. His solution is murder but that's getting to be too much work. While mulling his future as a successful crook, he breaks into a rich doctor's house and, while admiring the doc's expensive paintings, ends up staring down the barrel of a .45. He gets the drop on the doctor but the old man makes him a bargain: he'll give the gangster masks to disguise his handsome face if he'll leave him and his paintings alone. Masks in hand, our heartless protagonist kills the doctor and heads out the door to test out one of the masks. It doesn't go well. Another boring mess in what is shaping up to be one of the single worst Atlas horror comics I've yet read.

Well, they always save the best for last, don't they? And while "Horror of Crag Island" would never be mistaken for a Tale from the Crypt, it does have some nice touches that save it from being just as bland as the four stories preceding it. Eliot Larch discovers that the island owned by Old Man Hubbard contains a huge amount of gold and Eliot is bound and determined to get the crazy old lech to sell him his property. But Hubbard is not interested in Larch's offers; in fact, the only thing that stirs the old guy's blood is a black cat that crosses their path. This guy is super-superstitious! The light bulb goes off over Larch's head and faster than you can say "Scooby-Doo!," he's in a ghost get-up and haunting the poor old-timer. The plan backfires on Larch though, when Hubbard warns the sailor who brings him his supplies every month that the island is haunted and the sailor assures he'll warn all other boats to keep their distance. In rapid succession, Larch's disguise spooks the old man, he falls from a cliff and dies, and Larch's boat is struck by lightning and burnt to a crisp, leaving the dope with a couple weeks of supplies. No boat will come ashore, despite Eliot's flares, and he dies of hunger atop the largest mass of gold this side of a rapper's mouth. Though, as I said, it's not a great strip, it succeeds at a low entertainment level, which is just fine sometimes (especially given the rest of the contents of Issue #1), and the final two panels, which feature Eliot dying of hunger while a vulture (who flew in straight out of a Mad strip) looks on, are aces ("I ate all the food Hubbard had in the house... I even ate the black cat...")!

 Mystic #7

"The Tomb" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #11)
"Out of the Night" (a: Jim Mooney) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #8)
"The Man Who Made a Wish!" (a: Vernon Henkel) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #8)
"Beware... The Bees!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2
(r: Chamber of Chills #12)
"The Thinking Machines!" (a: Werner Roth) 

Silas Worth is a crotchety old millionaire who is so convinced that his nephew and wife are vultures, waiting around for the old man’s death, that he fakes his own death in order to “rise from the dead” to see their disappointment. Problem is, Silas does too good a job of killing himself. "The Tomb" is a ho-hum story enlivened by early Colan art; atmospheric, but almost unrecognizable from the classic work Colan did for Marvel in the 1960s.

Much better is "Out of the Night," wherein writer Lee Duncan heads for his cabin, away from the sweltering city, but can’t seem to find the peace necessary for cranking out a story. A very ugly bug keeps buzzing at Lee’s screened window, night after night, but the strange thing is, it keeps getting bigger. Lee decides that’s his story angle: writer encounters growing bug, the bug becomes huge, breaks through the screen and kills the writer working on a story for Mystic Magazine! Cute gimmick and nice Mooney art, with a nasty climax.  I can vividly remember reading this story for the first time as an 11-year-old, in 1973, when it was the cover story for Journey Into Mystery #8, and constantly checking my window to make sure it was tightly shut!

The rest of the issue, alas, lacks the spark found in "Out of the Night." In the weak "The Man Who Made a Wish!," Clarence Hopkins is sick of being poor so he makes a pact with the devil for ten thousand bucks (this was the 1950s). Problem is, he’s contracted a rare disease and he’s being paid the ten grand for donating his body to science! Next up, "Beware... the Bees!" finds money-hungry Casper Green slaving for a beekeeper who’s working on a formula to offset the side effects of a bee sting. Dreaming of dollar signs, Casper steals the formula and drinks it, leading to some un-bee-lievable and groan-worthy changes. Werner Roth's visuals are just about the only reason to turn the pages on "The Thinking Machines!" In the near-future, machines destroy the human race and the last man on Earth climbs a high mountain to get away from the killers. An interesting build-up but the story falls flat with its weak climax.

"The Thinking Machines!"

 Suspense #16 (Spring 1952)

"Alone in the Dark" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2
(r: Dead of Night #8)
"My Coffin is Crowded" 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #15)
"The Place" (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★1/2
"The Corpse" (a: Frank Sieminski) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #8)
"Backstage Madness" (a: Ogden Whitney) ★1/2
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #33)

Poor little Donnie Dugan, left alone with his Uncle Claude while mummy and daddy go to the movies. Usually, Donnie's parents lock him in his room so Uncle Claude won't disturb him but they must have forgotten tonight because the heavy footsteps outside his door alert little Donnie that danger is near. Ever since he can remember, Donnie has been terrified of his Uncle Claude; that may be due to the horrifying fairy tales the man tells him. Now, Uncle Claude enters the room, pulls out a long blade, and tells Donnie he's going to kill him at the stroke of midnight. Mummy and daddy hurry home but, just before they enter the house, they hear screams from upstairs and hurry up.

They find poor Claude, ripped to shreds, and their darling little werewolf standing above the corpse. "If only he'd been a vampire like us!," exclaims Pop. "Alone in the Dark" has a nice suspenseful build-up but a silly pay-off. Even though this is a funny book and probably wouldn't venture into such territory, the manner in which Uncle Claude comes to Donnie's room and croons "You're all alone tonight... with me!" subtly implies Claude may be a pedophile. Of course, the inane final panel, where the parents chastise Donnie for feasting on his uncle because they were planning on drinking him dry themselves, begs several questions. If Claude knew the family was a bit off, why did he stay? Why did mom and dad leave the little wolf with someone they knew to be dangerous? Am I dissecting this silliness too much? Fair point.

Gus is offered a bizarre way of getting out of the stir: smuggled out in a coffin next to a dead guy! Since Gus, a lifer, was in on the Crenshaw payroll heist, he knows where the loot is buried and the outsider wants half for Gus's freedom. As soon as the coffin is buried, the stranger will dig it up and Gus will be a free man. Despite his aversion to corpses, Gus agrees and the deal is done. Now, Gus lays six feet under, waiting to hear those first tell-tale scraping noises. Getting antsy, Gus lights a match and discovers the guy in the box with him is -- surprise! -- the smuggler! Even though the climax of "My Coffin is Crowded" can be seen from afar, it's still quite effective (though you will wonder why the guy was in the coffin in the first place since he was supposed to be someone located outside the prison) and the final panel, of Gus screaming from his coffin, is a keeper. The plot for this was ripped off for an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour called "Final Escape" a decade later.

In another dimension (or on another world... or in a dream... or...), your crimes are punishable by banishment to "The Place." What is "the place?" Well, that's the question that plagues good citizen John, so much so that John finds it hard to do his work at the food bank. When the aching becomes too much, John sets fire to his load of grain and is sentenced, at last, to "the place." The gates are closed and John falls through space and time until he lands on... Earth! What might have been an interesting premise is nipped in the bud by its own brevity (only four pages) and, thus, too many unanswered questions (where in the solar system is the world John originally comes from?). The presence of a science fiction tale in the middle of four horror stories is a bit startling. Will Atlas continue to cross-pollinate? "The Corpse" is a quickie about a sailor who murders one of his comrades for millions in gold sunken to the bottom of the sea. When he dives down to get the bounty, his air hose becomes tangled in... the dead man's corpse! Some nice Frank Sieminski art livens the cliched proceedings.

Actor Philip Carleton is sick and tired of being typecast in plays about monsters. He's also extremely jealous of the success of fellow actor Gary Benton. A golden opportunity, in the guise of the play "The Ghoul of Gravesend," arises and Philip talks Gary into taking the juicy lead role, knowing that Benton "becomes" his character. The plan is that Carleton will goad his buddy into murdering his co-star and then all the prime roles will be his for the taking! But Gary Benton gets so into his role that he strangles Philip! Ogden Whitney's style is about as "pulpy" as they come but it certainly does the trick.

 Astonishing #11

"The Last of Mr. Mordeaux" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #16)
"Freak" (a: Bill Walton) 
"Reign of Terror" (a: Sy Grudko) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #18)
"The Hound Dog" (a: Myron Fass) ★1/2
"The Day Harrington Died" (a: Bob Fujitani) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #18)

Booted out of his fancy country club for questionable aristocracy, Mr. Mordeaux vows to visit the town where the Bordeaux Castle is located, and bring back proof of his royal blood. When he gets there, all he finds is a pack of torch-bearing villagers, ready to burn a cursed Mordeaux at the stake! Finally reaching the family castle, Mordeaux discovers his long-missing family in the depths of the basement. A fabulous Lovecraftian tale, "The Last of Mr. Mordeaux" is dripping with atmosphere and a suitably creepy art job by Master Sinnott (Mordeaux has almost-impossibly bug eyes and no eyebrows befitting a doomed Lovecraft protagonist).

In "Freak," Colonel David, "the world's smallest midget," grows tired of circus life and hungers for a normal size. His prayers are answered when he happens upon a newspaper piece on a scientist who's working on an experimental drug designed to make cells grow faster. The Colonel holds a gun on the doc and forces him to test the serum on the suddenly-aggressive dwarf. The drug works too well and soon David returns to the circus as "the world's tallest giant." There's a sleazy ooze to this one and the art isn't great; it never ceases to amaze me how calm and cool Atlas protagonists can turn on a dime and become gangsters. Even worse is "Reign of Terror," a ludicrous yarn about a criminal who somehow eludes capture despite being seen numerous times in the act. The final panel reveals the shocking secret: he has another face on the back of his head! This "shocking development" would be used at least a half-dozen times throughout the years by Atlas and its competitors and, I've got to say, the other five + have got to be better than this. I believe this is artist Sy Grudko's debut on the Atlas horror charts (though the essential site AtlasTales thinks Sy might have had a hand in some of the crime stories published in Justice), but we'll only see a few credits for Grudko in the future. His style is very reminiscent of a whole lot of other hacks (think Dick Ayers) who pumped out work in the 1950s.

A grumpy old woman gets off on killing canines but one of her victims turns the tables and begins haunting her. But for the nasty business of the woman poisoning the mutts, "The Hound Dog" could have easily fit into one of the Atlas humor rags of the time (especially with its cute climax, where the woman finds out the dead dog has six ghost puppies!). In the closing story, "The Day Harrington Died," Hugo has been planning the murder of his diamond partner, Jim Harrington for quite a while but the perfect opportunity has not arisen. Until now. While on the "jungle island of Seakomo," Hugo steals the ruby from the statue of the fearsome god, Valulu, and pins the crime on Harrington. The natives come to call, find the ruby on the terrified man, and sacrifice poor Jim. Satisfied he's got the biz to himself, Hugo celebrates... until the actual Valulu pays a visit. It's a typical jungle revenge yarn (and there are hundreds of those to come along the path), and Bob Fujitani's art is workman-like, but for the abrupt and delightfully creepy two panels revealing Valulu.

Adventures into Weird Worlds #4

"The Village Graveyard" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Giant-Size Chillers #1)
"The Man Who Lost His Head" (a: Tom Gill) ★1/2
"The Passenger" (a: Martin Rosenthal)
"The Miser" (a: Bill LaCava)
"The Face of Death" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
(r: The Bill Everett Archives #2. Fantagraphics, 2013)

Adventures Into Weird Worlds #4 is one of the dozen or so Atlas issues I don't have access to, but I was able to read three of the five stories via reprintings. When I do get hold of a genuine WW4, I'll read and report on the remaining stories.

Wealthy Carl Dekker has heard the secret of eternal life is buried beneath an old house in a desolate village and he means to own that house. Once inside to inspect, Carl is confronted by a ghoulish specter but he believes it to be the work of the local superstitious peasants who are against Dekker's plan of leveling the old house. Later, another spirit materializes in front of him, but this time it's a radiant, gorgeous ghost who convinces Carl he can have her love and eternal life if he abandons his plan. Intrigued, Carl orders the workmen to halt their excavation and leave and then the beautiful spirit shows the arrogant millionaire exactly how he can "live" forever. "The Village Graveyard" doesn't have much of a story (we've seen the war between the pompous rich and the angry dead before) but what it does possess is an eye-popping display of visuals courtesy of the wondrous Russ Heath, who can make anything readable. One thing that bugged me throughout the story is that we never hear exactly what Dekker's plan is. Sure, he tells us he's going to tear down the house and clean out the accompanying cemetery, but then what? A spa/resort? A private bungalow?

Clyde Harding, a bloodthirsty hunter heads up into the hills to get himself a bear head for his study but he comes across a much better prize, a giant alien creature that appears to be lining itself up in the hunter's sights. Then the tables are flipped and the creature nails Clyde and takes him back to his spaceship, where Clyde sees several human heads in boxes. Yep, you guessed it! The monster is a head hunter as well and Clyde Harding is "The Man Who Lost HIs Head!" Some groovy graphics from Tom Gill, an artist I'd not heard of before and quick research shows that Gill was the co-creator of Atlas short-lived western title, Red Warrior (January-December 1951), but is known primarily for his long run on Dell's The Lone Ranger. Gill's alien creature is pretty creepy (although the writer asks for "tentacles" and Gill delivers claws) and that final panel is a doozy!

The final story of Weird Worlds #4 I have access to, "The Face of Death," is the deliciously dopey tale of Donald Drake, beleaguered but rock solid handsome, who is trapped in a town dying of plague. People are literally dying all around him and he decides the best thing to do is go home, shut his doors and windows, and keep the riffraff out. His buddy, Hank, tells him he's a fool; if death wants to find him, it'll find him. Drake assures Hank he'll be fine and heads home but, two panels later in real time, Don is bored and decides to throw a party, inviting only friends he knows aren't infected (despite the fact that both he and Hank were inside a room with a couple dozen dead or dying!). The get-together is a real wing-ding but the highlight of the evening is when Hank and Don meet a gate-crasher named Marcia, a woman so beautiful the plague is forgotten instantly. Hank and Don immediately vie for the girl's attention but it's the host who wins out and gets the victory kiss. Smooch over, Don grabs for his throat, turns green, and falls to the floor. Marcia reveals herself to be death!!!!

Oh, ho, never saw that one coming, did you? "The Face of Death" has two attributes to recommend it (and little else): it's illustrated by the incredible Bill Everett and possesses a sly tongue-in-cheek atmosphere (at least I'm hoping that was the aim of the writer) and some hilarious dialogue. Donald Drake spends two pages telling his buddy, Hank, and the reader that he's terrified of death ("the very thought of death was a frightening, formidable thing!" -- "Just the very thought of death scares the wits out of me") and has to "lock himself in his house till this horrible epidemic is over." So what does he do to ease his nerves? He throws a party! The panel of Don, on the phone inviting "people I know who haven't been exposed to the plague," is funnier than anything I ever read in EC's Panic! Wasn't Don in the same room we were in on that splash page? But my favorite line of dialogue comes from the gorgeous Miss Death herself, as she explains her arrival to the horndogs, Don and Hank:

"Hello -- You're Donald Drake, aren't you? I'm Marcia Lane... I guess you don't know me, and I wasn't invited, but... well, gee... I saw your lights and  I... I haven't been to a party for so long, what with the plague and all..."

More fabulous Heath from
"The Village Graveyard"

In Two Weeks...
Susan gets a playmate and we get...
a four-star story!