Thursday, May 30, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 35

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 20
May 1952 

 Suspense #18

"The Cozy Coffin!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
"The Joke" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
"Creep, Hands, Creep" (a: George Roussos) 
"The Man I'm Gonna Kill" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"Escape From Death" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Stay Away! (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The River!" (a: Manny Stallman) 

Neil can't wait for his rich old uncle to drop dead and leave him loaded down with millions of bucks (gee, where have we heard that before?) and a telegram bidding him to visit said uncle has Neil hopping a plane for the French Riviera. When he arrives at his uncle's castle, he finds the old coot sleeping in a coffin. The old man allows how it's the most comfortable way to sleep and he insists Neil should try it. Wanting to please the old man, Neil relaxes in "the Cozy Coffin!" and promptly falls asleep. When he awakens the next morning, he discovers he can't move. In fact, his uncle tells him, he's dead! Nice Joe Maneely art can't save this puzzler and its nonsensical climax.

When his friends play a really nasty joke on him, Eddie keeps it festering inside for ten years until it finally comes out in a blaze of violence. Jay Scott Pike has a very rough, very amateurish style that I'm sure I won't warm up to in the near future but there are a couple of standout panels in "The Joke" that keep the tale from tanking. Eddie wallops one of his friend in the head with a big rock and you can almost feel the blow through the page.

Nifty Mead has two very clumsy hands and they've landed him in the stir for a long visit. If only he could have a pair of hands that didn't fumble and bumble, he'd be a force to reckon with, he reckons. Luckily for Nifty, Big Boy Angus, the world's craftiest pickpocket (and owner of the steadiest hands in the biz) is due to be fried and Nifty has been given a job in the jail morgue. Once Big Boy has his shot of voltage and is wheeled into the morgue, Nifty skins the corpse's hands and slides them on like gloves. Suddenly, the bumbler can do anything, including busting out of the pokey. Our dopey hero is winged on the way out but his hands drag him free and Nifty soon finds himself in the prison cemetery, where Big Boy is waiting to reclaim his hands. "Creep, Hands, Creep" doesn't seem to know what to do with its premise, which is a variation on an old theme: the hands with life of their own. Oddly, Nifty's new gloves seem to last even though a layer of skin would probably dry up in a matter of days, if not several hours. It's also unclear whether Nifty is always earring his new skin or if he keeps it hidden in his pocket and takes it out for special occasions. George Roussos's art is very noir-ish here and cartoony there, but it does the job well enough.

"The Man I'm Gonna Kill"
"The Man I'm Gonna Kill" is a cliched (and not very well-illustrated) tale of a man who kills his identical twin and then steps into his place in life, only to find that the brother's wife had plans to kill her husband. The outcome is obvious from the get-go. Elk Diamond, murderer and "one of New York's most notorious criminals," is put to death by electric chair but, later that night, his corpse is resurrected as a"human torch." His new boss, Dr. Orgesky, has given Elk a second chance at life and has promised that, if Orgesky can use Diamond's new body as a tool to rob banks for one month, he'll give Diamond a human form once again. Diamond goes on a holdup spree, using his unique incendiary powers to gain access to anything the Doc desires, and amasses millions in loot. The Doc isn't satisfied though and Elk overhears his master explaining that he won't fulfill his end of the bargain until Elk has made him the richest man in the world. Elk loses his temper and reduces the Doc to ashes but, ironically, finds the same fate when he's struck by lightning.

"Escape From Death"
I wanted to like "Escape From Death" a whole lot more than I did. It's a unique kind of story for the Atlas mags but it's also a bit of a throwback (the most obvious nod being Marvel's own Human Torch of the Golden Age); unfortunately, it's just too short; there's barely enough time to set the plot up before it's time to burn everything to the ground. What, ferinstance, is the Doc's master plan, only hinted at? An army of super torch-soldiers? The conquest of Earth by fire? All we gather from what we're given is that the professor is a nut and he likes money. I've got a feeling this is a Stan Lee creation. Stallman's art, further, makes this look just like a hero strip. A near-miss.

Nelson, a washed-up has-been archeologist will do anything to discover the fabled City of the Dead in the Valley of Tuzo... even murder! Once the bone-digger gets a helpful clue as to the whereabouts (see the panel to the left), he discovers a strange old man who promises to lead him to the City... for a price! Nelson agrees to whatever the man is asking and is led into a fabulous treasure-filled cave hidden behind a few well-placed boulders. Unfortunately for Nelson, the old man reveals he is one of the residents of the City of the Dead and his price for the discovery is... Nelson's life. "Stay Away" is a fun little bit of nonsense, with some giggle-inducing dialogue (when a colleague questions why an old man like Nelson should be allowed on the trip, our hero chimes in: "I can still take notes!") and one of Bernie Krigstein's more cartoony art jobs. And, in the final story this issue, "The River," murderer Cain Denis flees from the hounds and forces a ferryman to take him across an eerie river. Of course, the ferryman turns out to be Charon, Hell's most famous skipper. Yes, it's a bit on the obvious side, but Many Stallman's feisty art for the reveal raises my rating at least a half-star.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #6

"My Brother... The Ghoul" (a: George Roussos) 
(r: Dead of Night #1)
"Step Right into the... House of Horror" 
(a: Jim Mooney) ★1/2
(r: Dead of Night #1)
"The Wooden Man" 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #10)
"The Ghost Still Walks" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Dead of Night #1)
"He Dwells in a Dungeon"
(r: Dead of Night #1)

Hugo is technically not a ghoul (he doesn't eat corpses), but he's not a very nice guy either. He digs up freshly dug graves to steal valuables and has no attack of conscience for the deed. His brother, identical twin Julius, however is appalled when he finds out what Hugo has been up to. It's very easy to figure out when Hugo accidentally puts a pickaxe into his foot while digging one night and the pain is felt clear across town in Julius's toes as well. You see, what one feels, so does the other. When the cops chase Hugo back to the flat, he frames Julius for the crime and and smiles while the trial unfolds. Found guilty, Julius is sentenced to the electric chair but, when the switch is pulled, it's Hugo who fries and Julius walks away a free man. Identical twins were as common as scheming husbands in the 1950s and "M Brother... the Ghoul" is not one of the best documents of the phenomena. No one explains why Julius survives the voltage since both brothers felt the pickaxe in the intro. His final proclamation, after riding the lightning and living to tell the story, is laugh-out-loud funny:

"Release me, gentlemen! The guilty one is dead...My Brother, the Ghoul!"

Yeah, right, Bob. Give him another zap!

"Step Right Into..."

"Step Right Into the... House of Horror" and meet a debunker who visits a "haunted house" to uncover the reasons why the house won't sell and then becomes part of the house of horror. Purely predictable with a bit of a luster added thanks to Jim Mooney's nice visuals. Nut job Laura falls in love with a ventriloquist named Ventro but the guy won't put aside his dummy for two seconds to give her a squeeze. The poor girl is getting frustrated so she (literally) takes matters in her own hands and discovers the horrible truth about "The Wooden Man." Well, it's a surprise to Laura but we horror buffs saw it coming a mile away because most of us have seen "The Glass Eye," an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Based on the John Keir Cross story of the same name, published in the 1940s, and obviously read by Stan and the gang. Still, I give points for the sheer creep factor of the art.

"The Ghost Still Walks"
It's that exact creep factor that elevates "The Ghost Still Walks" (a quite nonsensical title, no?), a goofy tale of a fraternity hazing gone deadly. Joe Sinnott knows his way around a rotting corpse and he delights in offering up proof here and there. The story itself has been told several times before, but we're not here to read this one. Just look at the panels! Last up is"He Dwells in a Dungeon," wherein a scheming babe marries into money but then discovers she must take care of her brother-in-law, a hunchbacked half-wit her husband keeps locked in the cellar. No freak's gonna steal this wench's inheritance, so she grabs a gun and slips down into the basement to thin out the family tree. Unfortunately, she doesn't think to turn on the lights and she kills her husband instead. Strictly by-the-numbers with average, unspectacular visuals.

 Amazing Detective #12

"The Man Who Shrunk" (a: Martin Rosenthal) 
"Harrigan's Wake!" (a: George Roussos) 
"The Eerie Escape" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"What in the World" (a: Jim Mooney) 
"The Cat's Meow!" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 

Detective Jim Kirby is enjoying an off-night in front of the tube, watching a variety show featuring The Great Moru and his "living dolls." Suddenly, Kirby recognizes a couple of the dolls from Missing Persons reports as members of an acrobatic troop. Realizing his story would be greeted with derision, Kirby begins an investigation into the mysterious Moru, discovering that the showman is actually the disgraced scientist, Dr. Marcus, who was thrown out of his Scientist Country Club for working on a serum to shrink human beings. Ransacking the professor's estate, Kirby is startled by the wacky Prof., who pulls a gun on the cop and injects him with little people juice.

Kirby gets off a firm right cross and the dopey doc goes down; the flatfoot shrinks down to the size of a flea and takes shelter in the egghead's beard. Shrinking even smaller, Kirby finds himself slipping into Moru's bloodstream but is delighted to find out the serum only lasts a few minutes. He grows right back up to Big Boy size and leaves his former hideout a bloody mess. Though nothing that will pop up on the annual Best-Of list, "The Man Who Shrunk" is an amiable bit of gibberish, with some distracting art from Martin Rosenthal, who had a brief association with Wally Wood (working on romance comics published by Fox) in the late 1940s.

Two awful shorts follow. In "Harrigan's Wake!," a mob boss decides the only way to find out who his true friends are is to fake his own death and see who comes to his service, but the only attendees are the unfortunates he's rubbed out over the years. "The Eerie Escape" sees con, Slimey, dreaming about transforming into a rodent and escaping from the stir. A fellow inmate grants him the wish but, once he's a little rat instead of a big rat, he discovers why the stranger granted him his wish: the guy's really a large cat! No, seriously! "The Eerie Escape" is not only one incredibly ludicrous read, but it also contains the worst Krigstein art I've ever seen; as if Bernie thought "Why bother?"

Three  "criminal czars" plot the takeover of Earth by stealing large quantities of A-Bombs and "germ-bombs" and hiding them in a remote, camouflaged area. At that very moment, coincidentally, three aliens, cast out of their world for heinous crimes, speed in their spaceship towards Earth. Even though the mob bosses consider their plan foolproof, the Feds surprise them and haul them off to the pokey. En route, the bad guys get free and head for their secret stash. But, ho ho, the G-Men were playing possum and had arranged for the escape so that they could track the Dons back to their ammo dump. Coincidentally, at that moment, the three aliens arrive just outside the armory and happen upon their three Earthling counterparts. They zap there three astonished mafia hoods and assume their identities just in time for the Feds to show up and blast them. Well, of course, with a lot of these funny book horror/SF tales, you have to throw logic out with the first panel or you're going to be in trouble. "What in the World" almost seems to have been written with tongue firmly in cheek so it's a lot easier to accept the Holy-Toledo! coincidences that riddle the text. Jim Mooney gives us classic one-eyed frog aliens to keep our mind off the silly plot (the Feds sure are taking a leap of faith that the three hoods won't gun them down when they "escape"), but the finale doesn't so much surprise as fizzle.

Last, and in a race to be least, is "The Cat's Meow!," about a woman who believes her husband, a dabbler in black magic, is changing into a mouse to give her a heart attack. Her therapist is, to say the least, skeptical until the husband is found with a broken neck and the only clue is a sprung mouse trap. Mike Sekowsky's fans are legion (his DC work is highly-regarded) but I am not among those legion, I'm sorry to say. Sekowsky's art is just too cartoony and average for my tastes. There are no flares nor moments of inspiration to be found here. Just your average (or perhaps below-average) 1950s funny book art.

Low-grade Krigstein

 Spellbound #3

"The Thing Behind the Wall" (a: Ogden Whitney) ★1/2
"The Worm" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2
"The Flat Man" 
"Crazy Glass" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"X" (a: Cal Massey) 

With World War II approaching, the dying Mrs. Miles makes Nana promise she'll hide her little Johnny from the war department. Never mind that Johnny is a pre-teen; Mrs. Miles is convinced this war will last forever. So, with the death of Mrs. Miles and the promise of a fortune laid out before her in the will, Nana takes Johnny into the basement and bricks him up, leaving just enough space for air and food. Johnny wants meat but Nana insists that she doesn't have the budget for anything more than carrots. Years pass, the war ends, and Nana tears down the brick wall to free Johnny and is shocked to see he's turned into a ghostly beast, more hungry for meat than ever before. Here's a weird one for you. "The Thing Behind the Wall" has got a very sleazy vibe to it, and that's not even taking into account that Johnny had no sanitary facilities behind that wall. Ogden Whitney's art is just fine here, adding even more unease to the proceedings. We're never told exactly how Johnny came about his transformation (obviously, his hair and nails are longer but he's also grown fangs ) but the story is such a short one, it doesn't matter anyway.

Poor, meek Casper has to put up with his older brother, Hugo, and his mockery. Since Hugo is the elder, he inherited the family fortune and now rules over Casper like a slave-driver. Tired of being "The Worm," Casper conspires with Hugo's wife, Violet, and buys rat poison for his brother's nightly rum-drinking ritual. Hugo drops dead immediately after drinking the laced rum and Violent pulls a gun, informing Casper she's going to call the police and inherit the fortune herself but Casper has other ideas. He strangles Violet but a bullet grazes his forehead, knocking him out. The poor schlepp awakens to a couple of cops pouring rum down his throat to resuscitate him. Casper only gets a taste but that's enough to paralyze him and he's buried alive. Boy, oh boy, funeral arrangements were made so much easier back in the 1950s. Even though he gets a mere smidgen of the poison, Casper maintains his shroud all through the autopsy, the embalming, the funeral service, and the burial without making a sound. And, sure, this stuff will paralyze you but nothing is said about it masking the breathing. Well, anyway... this here's a Stan Lee script (we know cuz he signed it), not one of his better ones I hasten to add, and I suspect Stan whipped it up on a lunch break while scripting the adventures of Hedy Hollywood and Kid Colt Outlaw.

The narrator of "The Flat Man" isn't your average hood. Nope, this guy has spent the last seven years perfecting a pill that will make him "The Flat Man!," a being so thin he'll be able to slip under bank vault doors and make away with loads of booty. There's only one catch to this miracle drug: it lasts six hours and then brain-boy must take another pill to decompress him or he'll die (of what, we're not told). So, our quasi-scientific genius pops his pill, becomes "The Flat Man," and robs the local bank of millions. He hops back into his getaway car after spending five hours in the vault and heads back to his apartment to take his antidote, only to discover his throat is too thin to swallow the pill! Incredibly dopey and yet undeniably a fun read, "The Flat Man" is the absolute definition of a guilty pleasure (but let's not confuse this with "The Flat Man," about a guy who survives a run-in with a steamroller, that appeared a few years later in Superior's Journey Into Fear #19, a story that was vastly... um, superior to this one). All the while I was wondering why this guy, smart enough to craft a pill that can change the entire structure of one's body, wouldn't think of every pitfall and concoct a liquid antidote. Also, how does his heart survive the transformation (I won't be rude enough to bring up the fate of his other organs) and wouldn't he notice the constriction of his throat when he tries to breathe? Well, don't be a worrywart like me and just enjoy some fiction that doesn't force you to think.

Two short-shorts finish off this issue. The first, "Crazy Glass" is a weak tale about a carnival worker who discovers a face looking back at him through the new distorting glass in the Hall of Mirrors. The art is average but the story is an oft-told one.  A bit better is "X," wherein a businessman blackmails his two partners by sending them letters, threatening to make secrets public and signing it "X." The two men kill themselves but our protagonist is not far behind when he gets a similar letter. Who was the sender? Perhaps the best bit about this quickie is the fact that we never find out.

 Mystic #8

"We Meet At Midnight!" (a: Paul Reinman) 
(r: Dead of Night #4)
"Sorry... Mr. Hopkins!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
(r: Fear #21)
"House for Sale" (a: Dick Ayers) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #11)
"The Burning Flame" (a: Gil Kane) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #11)
"A Monster Among Us" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #29)

Hugo Blore has been avoided, mocked, and ridiculed his whole life because he’s less than handsome. After reading up on the occult, Hugo travels to Egypt to learn the secret of the Sphinx. The first half of "We Meet at Midnight" builds suspense, but it leads to a disappointing climax. Paul Reinman's art is crude but it continues to grow on me for some odd reason.

Timothy Hopkins has had enough of his overbearing wife and boss but it’s not until he meets the beautiful carnival fortune teller that he does anything about it. Bill Everett’s art is the only thing that keeps the reader turning the pages of "Sorry... Mr. Hopkins!," and the “shock” ending is given away on the splash.

"A Monster Among Us"
A pair of real groaners follow: In "House for Sale," we enter the “Old Keystone Manor,” rumored to be haunted, sitting unsold for years. Can a brave salesman get the wheels rolling by spending a night in the house? A tedious story weighed down by some of that Dick Ayers "magic" (is it just me or does Ayers' style look like it's doing it's best to crawl from the cellar of the 1940s and doing a lousy job of it?) that I can't get enough of.  In "The Burning Flame," a bum steals the candlesticks from a corpse’s viewing and then can’t get rid of the candles when the cops are on his tail. Early Gil Kane is unrecognizable from the work he’d do several years later.

The best story by default is the finale, "A Monster Among Us." Bullying fisherman, Dan Harper, is tired of the legends of a sea monster that can take the shape of anything it likes, and is determined to show his crew there’s no such thing as monsters. Not much in the way of surprise here but Sinnott’s pre-code horror work is always a plus.

 Mystery Tales #2

"This Corpse Is Mine" 
"The Crawling Horror" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"He Went for a Train-Ride" (a: Bernie Krigstein)  
"The Gold Gorilla!" 
"The Rat Race" (a: Bill Everett) 

A heartless mortician won't give anyone in the village a break, not even the poorest of the poor. One night, as he's embalming the richest man in town, he hears a noise in the back room and discovers a vampire and a werewolf battling over a fresh corpse. At first, the mortician believes it's a pair of townfolk trying to scare him, but soon he discovers these creatures are the real deal. "This Corpse Is Mine" is not only deadly dumb but it's a meanderer. The mortician is so rotten and evil, he becomes a joke rather than a character and the monster showdown is tossed in almost as an after-thought when the writer couldn't come up with anything better.

Despondent after the death of his wife from a deadly virus, Dr. Frank Carson makes a vow over her casket to discover a way to destroy bacteria and other small things. In order to rid the world of microscopic bugs, Carson must first make the tiny pests larger, and that's where he fumbles the ball. The Vitamin B-1 and Caffeine shots he administers make the little monsters grow and grow and grow until they've burst their beakers and come after the mad scientist himself. Carson realizes the closer they get to him, the more sick he will become so he resolves to burn the house, the monsters, and himself to ashes. Alas, as the fire eats away at his body, he watches as the one surviving bug, now ten times the size of the house, trots away from the fire. This month's fare had been running average to below-average, so let's all thank Ogden Whitney and our nameless scripter for bringing "The Crawling Horror" to print. No, there's not much in the way of originality here; we're talking about your basic mad scientist plot (though, to be fair, this one only has good intentions in mind). What elevates "The Crawling Horror" is its fun-factor and a pretty grisly climax. Dr. Carson, knowing he's about to die, continues his narration for our benefit: My flesh crackled and cooked as the fire seared into my body! But I managed to get to the cellar window, and as I melted into death in that inferno, I... saw... a really big 1950s bug-monster!

The creepy climax of "The Crawling Horror"

Neither "He Went for a Train-Ride or "The Gold Gorilla" make a whit of sense. Both have unexplained twists that lead to unsatisfactory climaxes. The former is about a man who steps onto the wrong subway train and steps out thirty years in the future. Everything is changed, including his wife, but there's no possible explanation for the phenomena. The conductor looks like a ghoul and the train itself is littered with detritus. Why? "The Gold Gorilla" follows two fortune hunters in the African jungle, who happen upon a rare golden gorilla and kidnap it from its mother. The larger gorilla falls into a trap and the hunters set off with their booty. Halfway to civilization, one bad guy does in the other bad guy and then hops a plane, where he meets a fetching babe named Maura. He asks the gorgeous dame to party with him in Miami but, once they've checked into their hotel rooms, Maura comes up to visit... and turns into a gorilla. As predictable as this outcome is, the reveal still comes from far left field since we're never let in on the fact that the mama gorilla has morphing powers.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Tompson isolates himself in an old estate with cages of rats, all in order to determine... well, something. The professor runs all sorts of sadistic experiments on the little furry creatures but one large rodent catches the egghead's eye. This one is "almost human" in its intelligence. The big rat begins sabotaging the Prof.'s tests, so Tompson decides to kill it, but can't help making one more experiment out of the execution. He pours poison on a hunk of bread and then prepares to watch the outcome through a window in another room but the rat proves to be even more intelligent than imagined. The little furry ball swipes the keys and locks the Prof. in the room and then sits on the window sill, waiting for the inevitable. There's a real nasty edge to Dr. Tompson, perhaps because we're never told exactly what these experiments will prove; they just seem to be exercises in masochism and the challenge this smart rat brings seems to elevate the nastiness. We've seen mad scientists before, but this guy gets off on the pain he puts his subjects through. Bill Everett gives the Doc a suitably insane grin (almost Joker-esque) and devises a fabulous last look at the doomed

Astonishing #13

"The Three Feathers" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"Ghoul's Gold" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Death Watch" (a: Cal Massey) 
"The House on the Hill" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"Helen's Husband" (a: Ogden Whitney) ★1/2

Albert dresses up asa demon and spooks his old grandma in order to inherit her riches but he (and his co-conspirator wife, Jane) is in for a big surprise when the will is read: the old woman has let only a "treasure box" for Albert. When the nonplussed murderers get homeland open the box, they discover it houses only a large dart adorned with three feathers. Irritated, Albert grips the dart and suddenly has the urge to murder his wife. Once he stabs Jane to death, Albert heads out into the street and confesses his crime to the first cop he stumbles into, insisting the dart made him do it. Investigating the crime scene, a skeptical detective pulls the murder weapon from Jane's back and questions Albert's sanity... just before he plunges the dart into his partner. I'm giving "The Three Feathers" an extra star for its obscure climax and nothing more (especially not for the awful art), but also recognizing the fact that the story is so poorly written that perhaps the "hows" and "whys" were left vague because writer Hank Chapman had no idea how to finish his story.

"The Three Feathers"

In "Ghoul's Gold," the police become suspicious when a morgue attendant makes repeated visits to a gold merchant. Where could this incredible source of gold be located? Characters in this story actually mutter lines like: "I wonder where he gets (the gold). Where can a morgue attendant get so much gold?"  And yes, it leads to the inevitable reveal. Nice Cal Massey art adorns "The Death Watch," about a reporter waiting for an old tycoon to die. Snooping around the rich man's mansion, the newshound runs into a startlingly beautiful girl and begs her for a kiss. The girl delivers one that literally takes his breath away. Encounters with Death (male or female version) are dime-a-dozen in the old comics but "The Death Watch" is an easy enough read and, as noted, boasts nice visuals.

"The House on the Hill" could very well be the worst Atlas horror story of 1952 -- at least I hope it is, and that I won't have to read something even worse. A noted lecturer on aspects of the human brain, Dr. Cranston is invited to the castle of a Dr. Morse to give a lecture to a small gathering of enthusiasts. When he gets there, he's greeted by two very strange people and told the lecture is off but Cranston is welcome to stay the night. After settling in, Cranston gets the creeps from the eerie paintings on the bedroom wall and decides he's going to exit stage left as soon as he can. Coming down the stairs, he's privy to a conversation between the creepy couple, detailing how they intend to dissect Cranston's brain. The terrified professor manages to escape and is rescued on the road by a hooded figure, who claims to be the real Dr. Morse, explaining that Cranston went to the wrong house! Morse takes Cranston home where he introduces him to Mrs. Morse and lifts his own hood, revealing the crazed madman who was going to carve Cranston up over at the other house! Morse explains that he and his wife are dead and they haunt the house, looking for innocent bystanders to behead. Absolute drivel, with a story that goes nowhere slowly and art that just might remind you of that sketch on your refrigerator done by sweet six-year-old Ellie Mae in Kindergarten. Oh yes, it's that bad!

Better, but not by much, is the final story this issue, "Helen's Husband," about a poor slob who marries an old woman to get her riches. The idiot murders his wife one night and prepares to bury her in the family cemetery but she rises from the bed and explains her slightly shocked husband that she's been dead for centuries but she has to rise now and then to feed on her latest husband. Ogden Whitney is rising to the mid-level of Atlas artists, not good enough to be up there with Heath and Everett but not with the dismal dregs of Sekowsky and Carrabotta.

In Two Weeks...

Monday, May 27, 2019

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 156: January 1975

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Weird War Tales 33

"Pride of the Master Race"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Jess Jodloman

"My Spirit... Your Executioner!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jack Sparling

"The Great Brain Robbery!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bernard Baily

Peter: Nazi Helmut Streicher fancies himself a German Superman until he's thrust to the front of the line, tucks tail, and runs. His CO, being a kind heart, refuses to report Streicher for cowardice (and a sure death by firing squad) and, instead, transfers him to grave-digging duty. Done with his digging duties, the ego-driven Nazi is once more transferred to the front where he, once more, shows his true colors and abandons his comrades for a conveniently-placed, abandoned abbey. There he meets an old monk who promises Streicher the glory and fame he wants so badly in exchange for his soul (hmmm... is this your average monk?). Exiting the abbey, Streicher enters the conflict again but, this time, with a glorious need to do battle. He races up a Russian-held hill to destroy a tank but is killed in the process. The monk accompanies Streicher's spirit to his funeral and promises all of Germany will know of his brave deed. But Satan always has his last laugh as Streicher's statue is unveiled, reading "Sacred to the memory of an unknown soldier of the Third Reich." Jack Oleck pitches a rare fastball at the end of "Pride of the Master Race," one I didn't see coming, but the rest of his script is the same old "Satan's Deal" nonsense. It's only eight pages but it feels thrice the length and we're never really sure what Streicher's motives are (he keeps making his way back to the front even though he's a coward--he shouldn't mind grave-digging detail). Jodloman's art is pretty creepy; Orlando should have had Jess on more Lovecraftian stories a la Tom Sutton.

"Pride of the Master Race"

"The Great Brain Robbery!"
"My Spirit... Your Executioner!" is even worse. At least we had some interesting visuals to gaze at in the opener, whereas here we're dealing with Jack Sparling's doodles. The story, such as it is, deals with a WWI G.I. who leaves his buddy to die and then meets up with the buddy's vengeful spirit years later during the Battle of the Bulge. It's by-the-numbers and surprise-free.

A G.I. POW is killed during a liberation effort, but scientists labor hard to salvage his brain... and then transplant it into the body of the dead concentration camp commandant! Why? So the Army can send the German/American hybrid deep undercover to learn all the Nazi secrets (think the Unknown Soldier taken to its next, most ridiculous level!). All goes great, our hero tips the Army off to a huge Nazi ambush, but then he runs into an old friend from the camp who, naturally, mistakes him for the commandant and shoots him in cold blood. "The Great Brain Robbery" is supremely dumb but it's undeniably entertaining and it's got a great kicker in the tail. Bernard Bailey's art is like a weird hybrid as well; almost a cross-breeding of 1950s' generic with 1970s' Spanish. It doesn't always work.

Jack: I gave Baily points because he was a Golden Age artist, but "The Great Brain Robbery!" is far-fetched and the art looks awkward. I also dislike Sparling's art for the most part, though the lines in "My Spirit... Your Executioner!" are cleaner than those of Jodloman in "Pride of the Master Race." The Oleck tale isn't bad, it's just a bit confusing and, while I find the art muddy, the scenes of carnage are fairly impressive.

Our Fighting Forces 152

"A Small Place in Hell!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry

Jack: The Losers mistakenly get dropped off in the wrong town, and instead of a town that has been cleared of enemy soldiers they find themselves smack dab in the middle of "A Small Place in Hell!" Nazis to the left of them, Nazis to the right of them, what are a group of misfits to do except hide in a bombed-out house until they're discovered, then try to shoot their way out. Finally, American firepower and troops arrive to save the day, led by General Patton himself, who tells our heroes that they're losers but they did a fine job.

I'll say one thing for '70s Kirby comics--they don't take long to read and there's not a lot of dialogue. What there is is a lot of gunfire. And I mean a lot. All of the characters look pretty much alike and there's very little plot but just about non-stop action. It's not the worst thing I've ever read, but it's far from good.

Those freewheelin' '70s!
("A Small Place in Hell!")
Peter: Just pure drivel. It might seem like I have a problem with anything Kirby did in the mid-1970s (and you would be right) but it's not just his presence here but what that presence means in the scheme of things. This was a massively entertaining, well-written series before the "King"'s arrival and now it's detritus. There's seemingly no path, no destination for these Losers (and some would argue that's the point with these characters), as Jack has jettisoned any traces of past story lines. That really pisses me off. And how about the "stunning" art on this strip? To a man, the Losers all look like a variation on Ben Grimm (well, except for Johnny Cloud, who Jack has seen fit to color RED since, after all, he's a Native American), so it's extremely hard to differentiate without reading those word balloons. And with Kirby scripting, you really think I'm going to read any of this goulash?

If you get a chance, read the "Mail Call" (reprinted far below) from this issue. Mailroom guy (or whatever they called the guy who would open mail and then respond to it on the letters page) introduces himself and then goes on quite a bit about how little he knows about... anything. It's by far the most entertaining writing in this comic book.

Our Army at War 276

"A Bullet for Rock!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Evans

Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Sgt. Rock has a recurring nightmare that he is killed by "A Bullet for Rock!" yet when awake, he goes out on patrol with a new recruit two nights in a row and they are killed. The third night he ventures out alone and is saved from death when Little Sure Shot shows up and pushes him out of the way of gunfire. Little Sure Shot is killed (or so Rock thinks) and the sergeant carries him to a first aid station, where he turns out to be alive.

"A Bullet for Rock!"
Compared to Kirby's story this month, Kanigher's tale is War and Peace, but that doesn't mean it's particularly good. When Rock thinks Little Sure Shot is dead, he carries him back to the men of Easy Co. but threatens to shoot anyone who stops him from taking the soldier to be buried. This seemed bizarre to me; wouldn't the men have stopped him to take a look? Would Rock really shoot his own men? Then he carries the body over hill and dale, shooting enemies left and right, and ends up at a first aid station, insisting that the soldier be given a proper burial. None of it makes much sense, and Evans's art isn't all that great, either. The most exciting sequence comes when a plane attacks, which is right in Evans's wheelhouse.

A German pilot blasts a town to "Rubble!" but when his plane is damaged he is forced to parachute down to the same town, where the angry residents kill him.

Kanigher's story is the best of all we read in this dreadful month of DC War Comics. I'd criticize Ric Estrada's art if it weren't for a two-page bio of the artist that tells about his fascinating life.

Peter: Didn't we just get one of these "Sgt. Rock must train a green recruit who will die before his very eyes" stories last month? And the month before? More than ever before, it feels as though Big Bob had lost his way with this series. The script is nothing more than a retread of past adventures; very little for the supporting cast to do. George Evans's art is adequate but George lacks the dynamics of Heath so the battle action comes off as stale and lifeless. As for Big Bob's Gallery of War this issue, I confess I didn't get the point of "Rubble!" Is it Kanigher attempting to cash in on the Night of the Living Dead craze? Maybe it's something deeper I'm just not smart enough to understand, but it comes off as nothing more than dopey to this here funny book fan.

Next Week...
More Colan Magic!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-James P. Cavanagh Part Ten: A Jury of Her Peers [7.12]

by Jack Seabrook

James P. Cavanagh's teleplay for "A Jury of Her Peers" is based on a one-act play by Susan Glaspell entitled Trifles, which was first performed on August 8, 1916, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. As the play opens, five people enter the abandoned farmhouse of John Wright, where Lewis Hale, a neighboring farmer, explains how he stopped by the morning before and found Mrs. Wright sitting in her rocking chair. She told Hale that her husband was dead in their bed upstairs, having "'died of a rope round his neck.'" The Wrights had been asleep in bed together when someone "'slipped a rope round his neck and strangled him,'" but his wife did not wake up.

George Henderson, the county attorney, and Harry Peters, the sheriff, ignore the area around the kitchen, certain that it contains "'nothing important'" and that "'women are used to worrying over trifles,'" and criticize the mess that was left behind when Mrs. Wright was taken away. "'You're convinced that there was nothing important here--nothing that would point to any motive,'" says Henderson to Peters, and the men go upstairs to search the bedroom for clues.

The short story, "A Jury of Her Peers,"
was first published here.
Left on their own downstairs, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale wonder if Mrs. Wright is guilty of killing her husband and notice that she had been working on a quilt. The men come downstairs and laugh about the women's concerns before going outside. Mrs. Hale notices that the quilt shows signs of Mrs. Wright's having been nervous when she was working on it, so Mrs. Hale removes some stitches to destroy the evidence.

Mrs. Peters finds an empty bird cage with a broken door, and Mrs. Hale remarks on how lonesome the Wright house must have been. Mrs. Hale compares Mrs. Wright to a bird--"'real sweet and pretty, but kind of timid'"--and opens a box from the sewing basket to discover a bird, its neck broken. As the men return, Mrs. Hale hides the box under pieces of the quilt. The women say nothing of the bird and the men again leave the room, unable to find any evidence to suggest a motive. The women talk about Mrs. Wright's life with her husband and the men return, puzzled at their inability to establish a motive for the strange crime and unaware of the bird which had had its neck wrung just as Mr. Wright's neck had been wrung. After the men go outside to continue their investigation, Mrs. Hale stuffs the box containing the dead bird into her pocket. The men return, still mocking the women for worrying over trifles.

Susan Glaspell, the author of the play, revised it into short story form and it was published as such in a magazine called Every Week on March 5, 1917, with a new title: "A Jury of Her Peers." The play was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents by James P. Cavanagh and aired under the short story's title on NBC on Tuesday, December 26, 1961. The TV show is stunning, a great adaptation that improves upon its source with a brilliant script, outstanding direction, and superb acting all working together to spellbinding effect.

Ann Harding as Sarah Hale
The show begins as a horse-drawn carriage pulls up in front of a small farmhouse on a snowy evening. A shot of a lantern hanging below the carriage and the creaking of the carriage itself tell us that the story takes place long ago, before cars and electricity were common in remote areas. Jim Hale enters the farmhouse and the camera pans over a stack of dirty dishes in the sink before slowly zooming in to focus on Mrs. Wright, haggard and shivering in her rocking chair. Cavanagh has taken the scene referred to in the play as having happened the morning before and made it the first scene of the show; instead of morning, it is night.

As they discuss Jim's suggestion that John Wright share in his telephone party line, the dialogue begins to demonstrate how isolated Mrs. Wright is from her neighbors. She sends Jim upstairs to see John but does not reveal that her husband is dead. Director Robert Florey's camera work and shot selection are brilliant; when Jim goes upstairs, there is an overhead shot of Mrs. Wright that emphasizes her isolation and also shows the quilt, foreshadowing its later importance.

Frances Reid as Mary Peters
Rather than claiming that her husband was strangled while she slept next to him, she explains that "'I found him like that when I came back from feeding the chickens this morning.'" Jim realizes that she has been sitting alone in the house all day while her husband was lying dead upstairs. Jim offers to take her to his house and she accepts; the scene then shifts to the Hale home, where Jim leaves to meet the sheriff and his wife Sarah is left with Mrs. Wright. The contrast between the Wright house and the Hale house is shocking--it is still lit with gas, but has modern furniture, drapes, and a Christmas tree, along with festive holiday decorations. The house seems like a place from another world, underscoring the misery of the life Mrs. Wright had been leading.

Mrs. Wright is concerned that her husband (even though he is dead) will be taken away from the farm, "'the only thing he ever really cared about,'" and Sarah asks her why she married the man. The next day, Henderson and Peters discuss Mrs. Wright's behavior as they watch her through a window in an adjoining room--the lawyer thinks she is putting on an act but the sheriff doubts it, and they plan to search her farmhouse to look for evidence pointing to a motive for the murder.

Philip Bourneuf as George Henderson
We now see Mary Peters and Sarah Hale together for the first time. Sheriff Hale asks his wife to accompany him and Henderson to the Wright farmhouse to bring back anything Mrs. Wright needs, and Sarah offers to go with her. At the farmhouse, the men go upstairs while the women stay downstairs; Cavanagh follows the action of the play generally but expands the scenes and dialogue, using lines from the original here and there but modernizing the expressions. The women find the dead canary, then there is a new scene upstairs in the bedroom, where Henderson puts the rope around Hale's neck to try to figure out how the murder was committed. Throughout the episode, Cavanagh has expanded the stage play by adding scenes both upstairs at the Wright house and also in two rooms at the Hale house.

The dialogue makes it clear what has happened, as Mary tells Sarah: "'He killed her bird. That's what made her angry.'" Mary realizes that this represents the motive the men seek and Sarah decides to hide it; dialogue between the women then focuses on Sarah arguing that Mrs. Wright's crime was justified while Mary struggles with the idea of helping conceal the motive. In a sense, this portion of the TV show represents the deliberation of the "jury of her peers" that quietly decides the fate of Mrs. Wright. This section is much expanded from the play, as Sarah tells Mary she has no idea what Mrs. Wright's isolated, miserable life must have been like with her husband, "'a cold, harsh man.'"

Robert Bray as Sheriff Peters
Mary says she "'can't lie'" but when the men return and mockingly ask the women if they are still discussing Mrs. Wright's quilt, Mary quietly makes a decision and conceals the evidence. In a clever bit of dialogue, Henderson says patronizingly that the women have been "'trying to make up their minds about a real important problem...was she going to quilt it or knot it?'" The camera cuts from one character to another and we, the audience, know the double meaning of his words: the women wrestle with their dilemma and the men are oblivious to their moral struggle; we see Mary silently conclude what she must do and then she puts the evidence in her bag, thus choosing to impede her husband's investigation in the service of a higher form of justice.

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation of Trifles is superb, but it was not the first time that Glaspell's play had been filmed, either under its original title or under the revised title used for the short story. A short film called Trifles was released in 1930, starring Jason Robards, Sr., as Henderson. There were then four television adaptations under the title "A Jury of Her Peers": on Fireside Theatre (July 24, 1951); on Omnibus (November 8, 1953); on a Canadian series called Shoestring Theater (May 22, 1960); and finally on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (December 26, 1961). The story was again made into a short film in 1980 as "A Jury of Her Peers," and it was filmed again as Trifles in 2009. According to IMDb, yet another short film of Trifles was in production as recently as 2017. The play and short story have also become staples of the school curriculum and the play has been performed many times on stage. There is quite a bit written about it online and it seems to be assigned regularly to students as an essay topic.

June Walker as Mrs. Wright
Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) was born in Iowa and was famous in her day as an author of over fifty short stories, nine novels, and fourteen plays. Though Trifles is her most famous work, she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1931 for a play called Alison's House, co-founded the Provincetown Players, and encouraged the playwright Eugene O'Neill when he was getting his start. Glaspell also worked as a reporter in Des Moines, Iowa, when she was younger, and one story she covered involved the 1900 murder of John Hossack, who was "struck twice in the head with an axe while he was sleeping." His wife said she was also sleeping and awoke when she heard a strange sound. She was arrested during her husband's funeral and a trial resulted in a guilty verdict, though this was later overturned on appeal and a second trial ended in a hung jury. Sixteen years later, in her play Trifles, Glaspell used her memories of the Hossack case to examine the relationship between men and women. She gives the wife a motive for killing her husband, allows women to solve the mystery without men's help, and lets them choose between revealing what they have deduced or keeping quiet.

Robert Florey (1900-1979), who does such a wonderful job of translating Cavanagh's script into moving pictures, was born in Paris, France, and came to Hollywood in 1921, where he began as an assistant director and soon was promoted to director, making films from 1927 to 1951. Some of his best-known movies are The Cocoanuts (1927), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), and The Beast With Five Fingers (1946). He switched to television in 1951 and worked in that medium until 1964, directing episodes of The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits, as well as five episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Changing Heart."

Ray Teal as Jim Hale
Playing Sarah Hale and receiving top billing in the cast is Ann Harding (1902-1981), who made her Broadway debut in 1921 and who was on screen from 1929 to 1965. This was her only appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Frances Reid (1914-2010) plays the morally-conflicted Mary Peters. She was onscreen from 1937 to 2009 and also appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. She mostly worked on TV, rather than in film, and her longest role was on the soap opera, The Days of Our Lives, where she appeared from 1965 to 2009.

Frances Reid's husband, Philip Bourneuf (1908-1979), plays George Henderson, the prosecuting attorney. A founding member of the Actor's Studio, Bourneuf had a long career on Broadway and was on screen from 1944 to 1976. He appeared in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), he was on Thriller, and he was seen in three episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "A Dip in the Pool."

Robert Bray (1917-1983) plays Sheriff Peters. On screen from 1946 to 1968, he was seen in Bus Stop (1956) and on The Twilight Zone, as well as appearing in five episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Not the Running Type." His most famous role was on the TV show Lassie, from 1964 to 1968.

The moment of truth!
The long-suffering Mrs. Wright is portrayed by June Walker (1901-1966) who, at age sixty, appears considerably older than her character, who is supposed to be about 37 years old (having married at age 17 and remained married for 20 years). Walker also had a long career on Broadway and was on screen from 1917 to 1964. She was seen on the Hitchcock show three times, and her last acting credit is for her role in the hour-long episode, "Return of Verge Likens."

Finally, Ray Teal (1902-1976) plays Jim Hale, Sarah's husband. He appeared in countless films between 1937 and 1970 and was often seen on TV between 1953 and 1974. He had a recurring role on Bonanza from 1960 to 1972, was on The Twilight Zone and Thriller, and can be seen in eight episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."

Read Susan Glaspell's play, Trifles, for free online here, or read her short story, "A Jury of Her Peers" for free online here. Watch the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version here. It is not yet available on DVD.

“A Jury of Her Peers.” Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 12, NBC, 26 Dec. 1961.
Glaspell, Susan. “A Jury of Her Peers.” Annenberg Learner,
Glaspell, Susan. “Trifles.” Trifles - a One-Act Play by Susan Glaspell,
R, Darrien, and Poe. “A Jury of Her Peers The Hossack Murder.” GradeSaver,
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Galactic Central,
The FictionMags Index,
The International Susan Glaspell Society,
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our series on James P. Cavanagh ends with "Where Beauty Lies," starring George Nader and Cloris Leachman!

Listen to two great podcasts on Alfred Hitchcock Presents:

Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents (website here)

Good Evening: An Alfred Hitchcock Presents Podcast (website here)

Both are highly recommended!