Thursday, May 2, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 33

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 18
April 1952 Part I

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #10

"The Undertaker" (a: Fred Kida) 
"The Thing in the Cellar" (a: Harry Lazarus) ★1/2
"The Old Man" (a: George Tuska) 
"Blood on the Moon" (a" Dick Ayers) 
"The Man Who Didn't Exist!" (a: Werner Roth) 

No one knows how "The Undertaker," Cyrus Scroggins can bury the dead for free but we know ol' Cyrus has discovered a serum that enslaves the spirit of the corpse and he uses the ghosts to steal valuables from their families. Writer Hank Chapman sews together several elements from old horror stories and crafts a tedious story almost impossible to finish, replete with lazy art by Fred Kida (who has done better); Cyrus resembles a cackling old witch in every panel he's involved with, as if he's had some disabling stroke.

Dog breeders Myra and Jim suspect there may be something untoward about the only surviving pup of a new litter. Sure enough, the whelp begins growing at an alarming rate and soon begins feeding on anything nearby. An unusual tale of werewolfism with a stark, disquieting art job by Harry Lazarus. Though werewolf are a dime a dozen in the pre-codes, "The Thing in the Cellar" has a little something different to keep us turning those pages.

Unfortunately, "The Thing in the Cellar" is the only ray of light offered this issue as the final three stories are all awful. "The Old Man" is a silly "Let's Go Get Those Commies" quickie about a booking agent who runs into an old man in a bar who turns out to be a drummer from the Revolutionary War who's off to Moscow to spread independence. "Blood on the Moon" is a Dick Ayers-illustrated tale of a London werewolf that only strikes when the moon has the appearance of dripping blood. A local hood wants to take advantage of the superstitious bobbies and begins a streak of robbing and killing. His partner turns out to be the monster and, for some loony reason at the 11th hour, a vampire makes an appearance in the guise of a giant bat. Here, Ayers apes Will Eisner's unique style but ports over none of Eisner's intelligent choreography. In "The Man Who Didn't Exist!," a census taker is given a pen by a strange man, a pen that has a unique power. Every time the census man writes a name down, that person disappears and all traces of his history vanish. Of course, the joke's on the clumsy taker when a co-worker borrows the pen. Goofy tale makes not a whit of sense; the magical old man tells the census taker that the vanished will enter the "realm of nothing" and add to "our ranks of thousands" and then disappears from the story before explaining what this elaborate scheme grants him.

 Astonishing #12

"The Torture Chamber" (a: Gene Colan) ★1/2
"Date With Death!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Horror Show!" (a: Sy Grudko) ★1/2
"The Man Who Was Afraid!" (a: Tom Gill) 
"A Playmate for Susan" (a: Bill Everett) 

Eric Grimm is the most popular horror writer in the world, but his publisher has just delivered some sobering news: the public wants something new. No more werewolves, mummies, or vampires. This throws Eric into a bit of a tizzy and he slumps in front of the wax monsters he uses for inspiration. Suddenly, an idea hits him and he heads out the door, recruiting a hobo to come to Eric’s house at midnight and visiting his favorite antique store for some necessities. When the hobo arrives, Eric locks him into a giant box, starts a mechanism that lowers daggers from the ceiling of the cube, and begins to write as the vagrant screams in terror. Once the man has fainted, the bestseller releases him and goes back to his writing, but the wax monsters have become jealous (!) and lock their master into “The Torture Chamber.” Or has Eric Grimm’s mind finally snapped? At first read, this is a bit on the silly side. Second go round, it’s still silly… but there’s the hint of deception at the climax. Could writer Stan Lee actually have delivered a scary story with a subtle second layer? No, you’re right, Stan probably meat it to be a wax monster climax, but Gene Colan does his best to nudge us down that other side street, with his frightening final images of Eric in the dark.

A man has a “Date With Death” when he runs into the Grim Reaper in the park and, for some reason, believes that if he flies to Alaska, he can elude that fateful day. He can’t. George and Grace (Burns and Allen?) settle down for a comfortable evening in front of the boob tube to watch the “Horror Show,” a weekly variety program devoted to hats and scares. This week, the host creates a monster, but the creature gets loose and cuts a path of destruction through the town, eventually right to George and Gracie’s living room! The climax is quite a letdown (the monster emerges from the screen rather than through the front door, obscuring the device that was holding the plot together through the previous pages), but the story itself is a clever one, obviously borrowing heavily from Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, but also serving as a quasi-sequel to "Horror on Channel 15" (from Mystery Tales #1), “Horror Show” follows the action from the other side of the screen in this installment. There’s a genuine tension in the pages that lead up that disappointing finale.

Millionaire Barry Trevor has an obsession with germs and takes his wife and son off on a sea cruise to escape “the plague” of the city. Of course, once in the Tropics, the crew comes down with Bubonic plague and is wiped out, leaving Barry to fend for himself. Commandeering a small boat, he heads to a small nearby island where he discovers… a leper colony! Absolutely ludicrous in the extreme, “The Man Who Was Afraid” contains more (I assume) unintentional humor than a dozen of these Atlas horrors, as in this dialogue delivered by Barry to one of the crewmen toting the rich man’s luggage:

“Be careful, you fool, that box contains my cold tablets and nasal sprays!”

Unrepentant hoodlum Slug Mears has been left in charge of a pre-teen named Susan, who sits in a shack all day and wishes for a playmate. Slug robs a toy store and, just before gunning down the shop-owner, grabs a doll off the shelf to keep the kid quiet. His choice turns out to be a bad one. Equal parts scary and sleazy, “A Playmate for Susan” appears years before the similar Twilight Zone episode starring Talky Tina, but this one is actually much creepier. Lots of hints as to the origin of the doll, but no answers are given and, in this case, that’s the right choice. Who is the doll? Why does the toy shop owner die with a smile on his face? Why does a strange vapor trail lead from the shop to Slug’s shack? What does he see when the doll loses its temper?  Where will the two girls, one made of plastic, go now that they are free? What a fabulously freaky fable!

 Marvel Tales #106

"The Monster" (a: Paul Reinman) ★1/2
"Don't Turn Around!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
"Two is a Crowd!" (a: Allen Bellman) 
"The Grinning Skull!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Dead of Night!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2

Horror movie director Ralph Murdock is tired of of the same ol' same ol' dull monster pic, so he grabs hold of his stars and crew and flies them all out to Castle Frankenstein for some atmosphere. The scene is set for star "Boris" to enter as the monster, but even Ralph isn't ready for how realistic the make-up is -- that is, until the monster shambles all the way into the scene, dragging Boris' dead body behind him! As the crew runs screaming from the castle, Ralph (ever the artiste) keeps the camera rolling to get as much footage as he can (as Milius once said, after all, "Pain is temporary, film is forever!"). When the monster grabs the director and pulls him into the swamp, Murdock's last thought is how pissed he is that no one is catching this scene on film! What begins as yet another cliched Hollywood monster tale evolves into a sly, winking put-on, capped with a laugh-out-loud final panel. Reinman liberally uses Universal's version of the monster, which shows how little the studio was paying attention in those days. I assume the company's later diligent defense of their trademarked make-up is the reason why this gem has never been reprinted.

Tough goon Harry kills an undertaker and then goes looking for a hideout. "One-Eye" Garcia recommends someone who can help but there's a catch. "Don't Turn Around" and look at his face. But, of course, Harry can't help himself and he turns around to face... the undertaker. Nonsensical bit of fluff with the usual nice job by Bill. In "Two is a Crowd," George Kills his wife and walls her up in the cellar, but still can't get rid of her. Dreary, derivative script and excruciatingly bad art by Bellman (who's been floating my boat lately but takes two steps back here).

A sadistic diamond importer has a native's head chopped off for insubordination and is then haunted by "The Grinning Skull." We've seen this same "vengeance on the heartless hunter" story before (probably by scribe Hank Chapman), but at least the art chores were handled by the able-bodied Bill Everett, who portrays the nasty importer as a toothless cousin of Bluto (not to mention, a twin to Slug Mears in "A Playmate for Susan"). In the finale, "The Dead of Night," cemetery watchman Saul Hopkins sneaks back into the graveyard at night  to rob newly-dug graves of their valuables, but he struggles with the vicious moles that tear into the coffins and steal away with the bodies! When the richest man in town dies and is buried, Saul digs him up and watches in horror as the vicious creatures drag the corpse (adorned with priceless rings!) deep into their tunnel. Saul ain't gonna let this stand and he follows the critters down into the hole to get his stolen booty back. Bad idea, Saul! Though "The Dead of Night" is incredibly dumb (these moles travel in hordes and can dig a hole into a grave in a matter of minutes!) but also very creepy and works well evoking a claustrophobic atmosphere.

"The Grinning Skull!"

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #5

"Don't Bury Me Deep!" (a: Bill Everett) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #6)
"Where?" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #26)
"The Terrible Trunk" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Vault of Evil #8)
"You're Going to Die Yesterday" (a: Gerald Altman) 
(r: Uncanny Tales #6)
"I Crawl Through Graves" 
(a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
(r:Vault of Evil #17)

The whole town was under the grip of the Macombers family, owners of the casket factory, especially Charles Beecher, the local undertaker. Beecher can't wait for the matriarch of the Macumbers to shuffle off and line Beecher's pockets with the riches needed to get out of this ghost town. At last, the old man dies and his body is brought to Beecher's parlor for preparation. Alas, the old man is not cooperating and he sit-up in his coffin, very much alive. Beecher's not taking this lying down, however, and he slams the lid on the coffin and listens to the old man pound wildly for two days straight. Once the pounding has stopped, Beecher tales a look, but trips and falls into the casket, its lid closing with a dull thud. The next day, at the funeral, the pallbearers hear a mad beating from inside the box but agree the old man should have died years before and go about their business.

The climax is pretty predictable, but I liked the fact that the writer spent the first five pages studying the Beecher character (a treat we're not often granted in these six- and seven-pagers), giving us an appreciation, and even sympathy, for the undertaker before he does his dirty deed. Bill Everett's fabulous visuals (reminiscent of Wolverton's here) are perfect for this type of story; that splash is gorgeous and Everett's bulbous-eyed undertaker is a wonderful character (think Abe Vigoda).

In "Where?,"a man wanders the village of Rakusc in a state of amnesia, when an eerie hearse driver pulls up and tries to coax the man into the vehicle. Frightened, the man runs away and stumbles onto a poster proclaiming tonight "the night of the vampire." The hearse driver returns, midnight strikes, and the amnesiac vampire returns to his crypt for another year. Nice Maneely art distracts from a script  that not only cheats  but leaves a few details to the imagination (like, ferinstance, why is the vampire amnesiac and has it only happened this year?).

Hoodlum Harry Deevers is on the lam from the cops and ducks into an auction house. Before he knows it, he's bid on and won a useless old trunk. Just in time, as it turns out, since the cops have found Harry and he dumps the loot into the trunk and asks the auction house owner to ship the box to Harry's boss, Mr. Pinelli. When Harry gets to Pinelli's, the Don is a bit peeved since the trunk arrived empty. A scuffle ensues and the mob boss trips and falls into the trunk and disappears. Harry, being more of a conman than a thinker, immediately imagines ways he can dough on this phenomenon but never gets a chance when he himself stumbles into "The Terrible Trunk."

Bottom-of-the barrel drivel closes out this issue. In "You're Going to Die Yesterday," Tom Milo is so smart, he's built a time-machine, but so dumb he's a bank clerk. But never mind that, Tom has an intense hatred for co-worker Ben Keen, so much so that the scientific teller is planning to take a trip into the past to murder Ben's dad so he'll never be born! Instead of, I don't know, patenting the machine and making so much money he could buy the bank and fire Ben. So, the dope takes the trip but, instead of killing Ben's dad, he kills his own pop. "I Crawl Through Graves" is a nonsensical quickie about a grave-robber who steals the wrong jewels from the wrong corpse.

Adventures Into Terror #9

"The Dark Dungeon" (a: Ogden Whitney) 
"Second Floor Rear!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
"Ghouls Rush In" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Off With His Head" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Talking Corpse" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

Jerome waits, hand and foot, on his rich uncle for years, hoping the old crow will kick the bucket and leave Jerome his millions. The young man grows tired of slaving and helps his uncle to an early grave via the old man’s vicious dogs, kept hungry in the basement. Soon after, Jerome inherits the estate, a strange hooded figure comes knocking, telling Jerome he knows all that happened. “The Dark Dungeon” is a disjointed, completely boring read, with by-the-numbers art by Ogden Whitney.

Much better is “Second Floor Rear!,” a creepy little ditty about a nosy landlady who snoops around the room of a tenant who’s bringing rolls of carpet home with him at night. Looking through the keyhole, she discovers the man has smuggled some of his friends in with him. Outraged, she opens the door and is shocked to discover the other men are made of straw, but then further shocked when the straw men come for her! An eerie, disquieting tale with a very disappointing climax. The final panel has the landlady confronted by her tenant, who reveals himself to be one of the straw men. Or at least I think that’s what’s going on as the message is a bit vague. Still, the creep factor is high and the art, by Bernie Krigstein, is disquieting as well.

Two really dumb quickies follow that pleasurable experience. “Ghouls Rush in” is, essentially, “The Dead of Night” (from Marvel Tales #106) minus the moles and any semblance of quality. This one finds a ghoul being dragged down into a hole by rats and the final panel, inexplicably, reveals the man has turned into a giant rat. Why? I don’t know. Awful Dick Ayers art. “Off With HIs Head” is no better. An executioner with bad dreams and then finds his own head in a basket when he runs into Death.

Joe Sinnott is the star of the final story this issue, “Talking Corpse,” about a fake swami who bilks a naive man hoping to contact his dead sister. The man discovers the seer is a phoney and promises to contact the authorities but is shot dead before he can do so. At that point, the bust of his dead sister, used to fool him, comes to life and kills the swami. No explanation is given as to why the statue has deadly, otherworldly properties (or why it sprouts tentacles) but sometimes the illustrations are just good enough to get us through the pages and this is one of those cases.

Next Issue...
You'll meet best-selling author,
Mr. Morbid!


Jack Seabrook said...

My favorite cover this time is Astonishing!

Peter Enfantino said...

Probably the best of a tame bunch this time out!

Anonymous said...

"The Dead of Night" sounds like a one-to-one direct swipe of Henry Kuttner's classic nasty WEIRD TALES story "The Graveyard Rats" (except that Kuttner, as the title suggests, used unusually large rats where the comic book story used moles).

I suppose the trope could be recycled endlessly, with other plagarists coming up with "The Graveyard Armadillos," "The Graveyard Ocelots," "The Graveyard Wombats," and so on, but maybe enough was enough twice.

Denny Lien

Peter Enfantino said...

Good catch that. I'm sure we'll see the idea "borrowed" several more times on this journey! Thanks for reading!