Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Hitchcock Project-Arthur A. Ross Part Six: Thanatos Palace Hotel [10.15]

by Jack Seabrook

French author Andre Maurois (1885-1967) was born Emile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog. He joined the French Army during WWI and published his first book in 1918. He went on to write many books and stories under the pseudonym Andre Maurois and he was elected to the Academie francaise in 1938 before serving in the French Army once again during WWII. He legally changed his name to Andre Maurois in 1947, choosing to be known officially by the name under which he had become famous.

One of the places his writing was published was the Parisian literary newspaper Candide, which was published on a weekly basis between 1924 and 1944. A story by Maurois entitled "Thanatos Palace Hotel" was published on the paper's front page in the issue dated December 16, 1937. It appears that the story was first published in English in the February 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine as "Suicide Hotel"; the editor's note in the digest credits Ernest Rubin of Arlington, Virginia, with bringing the story to their attention and "supplying the original text."

As the story begins, Jean Monnier, a young, French stockbroker working in New York City, is upset to learn that a stock in which he invested heavily has sustained significant losses. His troubles mount when he goes home and his wife leaves him. He receives a letter from the Thanatos Palace Hotel in New Mexico, whose director, Henry Boerstecher, writes that they offer to satisfy their customer's desire to commit suicide at a reasonable rate and without pain or difficulty. He even promises to "eliminate all moral responsibility" for those "who would be troubled by legitimate religious scruples" by using an "ingenious method." The service costs but $300.

"Thanatos Palace Hotel"
was first published here
Monnier takes the long train trip to Deeming, New Mexico, on the border with Mexico, and checks into the hotel. He fills out some forms and meets Boerstecher, the manager, who explains that the hotel's location in the lawless borderlands prevents any problem with the authorities. Monnier mentions that he was "'brought up in the church'" and Boerstecher assures him that there will be "'no question of suicide...'"

That evening, at dinner, Monnier is seated next to Clara Kirby-Shaw, a pretty young woman who shares the sad tale that brought her to the same hotel. She encourages him to look on the bright side and, the next morning, he thinks: "How great to be alive!" They spend a happy day together and, by its end, they are "locked in each other's arms." That evening, Monnier tells Boerstecher that he has changed his mind about wanting to die and plans to leave the next day with Clara.

Boerstecher agrees to refund part of the $300 fee and, as soon as Monnier leaves his office, orders his subordinate to "'supply the gas'" to Monnier's room later that night. Clara arrives and accepts compliments on a "'job well done,'" along with $20. She leaves the office and Boerstecher "crossed a name from his ledger."

In Greek mythology, Thanatos was the personification of death so, in the short story by Maurois, the Thanatos Palace Hotel is a place of lies and murder, masquerading as a place that fulfills the desires of those in despair. Another French writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote that Hell is other people, and in "Thanatos Palace Hotel" one can find ample evidence to support that premise. Boerstecher, the hotel manager, plays God, replacing the god that Monnier claims to believe in with a more vengeful god, one who plays with the guest's emotions before having him killed.

Clara Kirby-Shaw may be cruelest of all, though, since she pretends to fall in love with a despairing man for a fee and she seems to do this repeatedly as part of her job. It seems clear that the loss of a woman (his wife) was what drove Monnier to thoughts of suicide, and it is the promise of new love with Clara that restores his sense of hope. This illusion of love turns out to be worth only twenty dollars in the end. The story's conclusion is bleak; Monnier is happy because he believes in a falsehood and will now be killed at his peak moment of happiness. Boerstecher does not seem to think he is committing an evil act, however, and believes that the murder of Monnier is simply a matter of providing a service that was bought and paid for. Monnier's religious misgivings require special handling by the hotel manager, who takes steps to ensure that his client will not die thinking that he is committing suicide.

Angie Dickinson as Ariane Shaw
In his book on Andre Maurois, Jack Kolbert calls "Thanatos Palace Hotel" "one of his most powerful works ... a ludicrous tale situated in a strangely convincing setting ..."  Arthur A. Ross adapted the short story for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and the episode was broadcast on NBC on Monday, February 1, 1965. To anyone familiar with the short story, the TV show contains many surprises.

It begins as the camera pans up the side of a tall city building; a sign on the ground level appears to say "Securities," which is consistent with the story's beginning in a New York City office dealing in stocks. A man stands on a ledge high above the street with a crowd observing from below; we see one well-dressed man in particular looking up attentively. The distraught man on the ledge jumps and is saved by a safety net held by firemen. The well-dressed man looks on as the jumper is taken away in an ambulance. The entire sequence is staged without dialogue and establishes the main character as suicidal, suggesting financial ruin as the cause and introducing the mysterious observer. This replaces the first scene of the short story, where Monnier learns of his misfortune while at the office. There is no indication that he has a wife, so the loss of love is not presented as a motivating factor for his attempt at suicide.

In the next scene, we learn that the jumper's name is Robert Manners, and he sits alone in his suburban home, looking out the window plaintively. The well-dressed man from the crowd lets himself into Manners's house and identifies himself as J. Smith of the Thanatos Palace Hotel. He makes the sales pitch for the hotel in person and this scene replaces the letter from the hotel manager that is featured in the story. Manners is unreceptive and doubts Smith's sincerity; the price for the hotel's service has risen since the story was written in the 1930s and now stands at $1000. Bartlett Robinson plays Smith and is wonderfully smooth as he makes his pitch; Steven Hill as Manners underplays his role here and throughout the episode, seeming mired in depression.

Steven Hill as Robert Manners
We next see Manners arrive at the hotel by car as three men dressed in black ride alongside the vehicle on horseback. Their black cowboy outfits and the suspenseful music on the soundtrack suggest that they are menacing figures, but no comparable characters appear in the short story. The hotel itself is nondescript and resembles a motel in the American Southwest. Manners immediately sees a beautiful woman sitting outside, paining a picture; romantic music plays on the soundtrack and there is a sense that she will be his love interest.

Borchter introduces himself as the hotel's general manager and he, like the riders, is dressed in Western wear. The detailed scene-setting in the short story is replaced by visual clues to the hotel's location, though no specific town or state is ever mentioned. Also gone is the story's discussion of Monnier's religious scruples; here, Manners is reassured by Borchter that he will be killed in his sleep and that he will be able to sleep once he is relaxed.

The scene shifts to Manners and the beautiful woman, Ariane Shaw, at dinner together in the hotel. The music is romantic and there is a white tablecloth and candles, so it is immediately apparent that the two are being set up to become romantically involved with each other. Manners asks Shaw whose chair he has taken and they discuss the process followed at the hotel. She has been there six months and admits that she is among several guests who have extended their stay by working in exchange for room and board. This is a major change from the short story, since Manners realizes immediately that Shaw is an employee and that he is not her first boyfriend at the hotel. The surprise ending of the story is no longer possible, forcing Arthur A. Ross to take the events in a much different direction.

Barry Atwater as Borchter
Manners argues that Shaw must not want to die because she has been at the hotel for six months. After he departs, Shaw tells Borchter that Manners will "'be ready in three days at the most'" and asks him, "'Have I ever failed you before?'" She appears to be scared of the manager, who is presented as a menacing figure.

Later, Manners and Shaw walk away from the hotel together but are prevented from going too far by the black-garbed riders, who demand a pass to allow the couple to walk in the hills that surround the compound. Physical escape is prevented and Manners tells Shaw that they are prisoners. Manners probes Shaw, asking if she is "'the one they've sent to kill me,'" but she denies it, insisting that she has played that role before but he is different. She tells Manners that "'You could be my will to live.'" In the TV show, as opposed to the short story, Manners and the viewer know that Shaw is a hotel employee whose job is to be a companion to men awaiting death; the mystery in the TV version comes from the question of whether she will help Shaw escape or ensure his demise.

Borchter meets with Shaw and says he cannot wait too long for Manners to die. Shaw denies a personal attachment to the new guest and says that she needs another day. Borchter insists that he has never forced anyone to do anything. Shaw mentions that Manners likes horseback riding and Borchter writes her a pass to explore the nearby hills, noting that Manners's room is reserved for another guest the day after tomorrow.

Manners and Shaw use their pass and ride on horseback into the hills. Borchter sends the riders out after them. Meanwhile, Shaw and Manners dismount and she makes a speech about how she has bought more time for herself by agreeing to be a companion to many men. She tells Manners that he is the first man to bring her happiness. They ride off again, not knowing that the riders are in pursuit. The episode drags a bit here, as suspenseful music is used to try to enliven what appear to be filler shots of people riding around on horseback. Ostensibly, Manners plans to escape, but this never seems likely, since he and Shaw are outnumbered and stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Bartlett Robinson as J. Smith
Shaw tells Manners that no one can escape because, if they did, they would publicize what happens at the Thanatos Palace Hotel and threaten its survival. She says that Borchter may try to kill him that night with lethal gas piped through the vents in his bedroom. The scene then shifts to Manners being examined by a doctor for pain in his rib area from when he wheeled his horse. The doctor puts wide strips of tape over his ribs and prescribes a sedative. That night, Manners is alone in his room and uses the tape to cover the air vents in the baseboard. He pretends to swallow the sedative when a nurse brings it to him.

Next morning, a maid strips the sheets from the bed and Borchter enters and removes the tape from the vents. He tells Manners that he did not need to cover them: "'If you'd let me know you were so unresolved, I would never have given the instructions,'" says the hotel manager. Unlike Boerstecher, the manager's counterpart in the short story, whose actions are always consistent, Borchter in the TV version is duplicitous: he presents one face to the guests while working behind the scenes to ensure turnover.

Manners approaches Shaw with a new escape plan, asking her to gather the other guests who have been there a long time so they can all pretend to go on a picnic and then overpower the guards. After Shaw speaks to some of the other guests, there is a cut to a group of hotel residents heading off on horseback with Borchter's approval. The group reaches a clearing and they all dismount. Manners is shocked to learn that no one else wants to escape the Thanatos Palace Hotel: Shaw claims that she could not tell anyone the real reason he wanted them to come along. Manners confronts the group and the other guests are angry at him. They still want to die and are outraged that he would presume otherwise. He appeals to Shaw to escape with him, when suddenly a noose is thrown around his neck and he is hoisted up over a tree limb by a guard on horseback. Borchter rides up and tells Shaw that this is what Manners really wanted. We see the lower legs and feet of the hanged man as the rest of the people depart on horseback; at the start of the episode, our first view of Manners was also of his lower legs, as he stood on the building ledge about to jump.

The end of Robert Manners!
In adapting the short story for the small screen, Arthur A. Ross expands it greatly while still keeping the basic framework intact. The story seems too slight to justify the hour length, however, and some scenes feel like filler, while the decision to remove the short story's surprise ending and replace it with the question of whether Shaw is sincere when she tells Manners that she sees him differently than the others is less effective than the unexpected betrayal at the end of the original story. The number of scenes involving horses suggests that the TV version was crafted to capitalize on the popularity of Westerns at the time, but it seems somewhat forced in the context of this story.

"Thanatos Palace Hotel" was directed by Laslo Benedek (1905-1992), the Hungarian-born director who also directed "The Evil of Adelaide Winters," which also featured a teleplay by Arthur A. Ross. Benedek started his film career in Germany in the late 1920s but fled when the Nazis took over in the early 1930s and eventually made his way to Hollywood. He worked his way up through the ranks and was a director from 1944 to 1977, moving into TV in 1953. His films included Death of a Salesman (1951) and The Wild One (1953), and he directed episodes of Thriller and The Outer Limits. Later in life, he taught in college film programs.

Starring as Ariane Shaw is Angie Dickinson (1931- ), whose fame meant that she received top billing over the main character. Born Angeline Brown, she acted in film and on TV from 1954 to 2009 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This is one of two Alfred Hitchcock Hours in which she appeared. She was featured in Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo (1959) and she starred in the TV series Police Woman from 1974 to 1978.

Steven Hill (1922-2016) plays Robert Manners. Born Solomon Krakovsky (or Berg), he was trained at the Actors Studio and was on screen from 1949 to 2000. He was in two other episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "Enough Rope for Two," and starred in the first season of Mission: Impossible (1966-1967). He is best-remembered today for his starring role on the TV series Law and Order from 1990 to 2000. In "Thanatos Palace Hotel," Hill underplays his role and never shows a change in personality, unlike the character in the short story who goes from depressed to happy. Presumably, Hill's character is trying to conceal his real emotions from Borchter, but the decision to play his scenes in a monotone, staring off into space, removes any passion the character might have had. He never seems like a man who has decided to cherish life enough to attempt escape.

Is this Henry Willis, famous stuntman?
More successful is Barry Atwater (1918-1978), here credited as G.B. Atwater, who plays Borchter as a menacing figure. Born Garrett Atwater, he was on screen from 1954 to 1978 and appeared in all of the major science fiction and fantasy shows, including The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Night Gallery. He was seen on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice. His most memorable role is that of the vampire in the TV movie, The Night Stalker (1972).

Bartlett Robinson (1912-1986) is memorable in his brief appearance as Mr. J. Smith. He was on radio from the 1930s and was one of the voices of Perry Mason; he started acting on TV in 1949 and on film in 1956. He did a large amount of TV work until 1982 and was seen on Thriller, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits. He made 11 appearances on the Hitchcock show, including "Bad Actor."

The rest of the cast is made up of bit players who do not make much of an impression in the episode. Most notable is Henry Willis (1921-1994), billed as First Cowboy, who was a busy stuntman in Hollywood for decades, mostly in Westerns. I suspect he does much of the riding in this episode and he probably doubles for Steven Hill in the first scene, when Manners falls from the tall office building and lands in the fireman's net.

Though The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was the first to dramatize "Thanatos Palace Hotel," it was far from the last. An Internet search reveals the following other adaptations:
  • a 1969 West German version called "Palace Hotel," running 70 minutes
  • a 1973 French TV movie running 60 minutes
  • another French TV version that aired November 14, 1979, on Cinema 16
  • a 1985 Mexican version called "Thanatos" that ran 17 minutes
  • a 2006 version from the former Soviet republic of Georgia that ran 37 minutes
  • either one or two Australian versions that are listed as "in production"; one may run 16 minutes and one may be called Last Chance Hotel
Quite a long life for a short story from a French weekly newspaper in 1937!

Read the original French version here or read an English translation here, and watch the Hitchcock version online here. Thanks to Peter Enfantino for providing a scan of the editor's note from EQMM!

The FictionMags Index,
Kolbert, Jack. The Worlds of André Maurois. Susquehanna University Press, 1985.
Maurois, Andre. “Thanatos Palace Hotel.” Great Short Tales of Mystery and Terror, Reader's Digest Association, 1982, pp. 346–359.
Maurois, Andre. “Thanatos-Palace Hotel.” Candide, 16 Dec. 1937.
Queen, Ellery. “Editor's Note (Suicide Hotel).” Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Feb. 1952.
“Thanatos Palace Hotel.” The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, season 10, episode 15, NBC, 1 Feb. 1965.
Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

In two weeks: Our series on Arthur A. Ross comes to an end with "Wally the Beard," starring Larry Blyden!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma's latest Hitchcock podcast as he reviews the first-season episode, "The Cheney Vase" here!

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Warren Report Issue 15: November 1967-January 1968 + The Best of 1964-1967

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

Eerie #12 (November 1967)

"The Masque of the Red Death"
Story by Edgar Allan Poe
Adaptation Uncredited (Archie Goodwin?)
Art by Tom Sutton

Story Uncredited (Archie Goodwin?)
Art by Jeff Jones

"... Nor Custom, Stale ..."
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

Story Uncredited (Archie Goodwin?)
Art by Joe Orlando

"Portrait of Satan"
Story Uncredited (Archie Goodwin?)
Art by Ric Estrada

"The Past Master"
Story by Robert Bloch
Adaptation by Craig Tennis
Art by Al McWilliams
(Reprinted from Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror. Pyramid Books, 1966)

Prince Prospero has welded shut the doors of his castle in order to keep out the plague. After six months, he invites his guests to a masked ball, but an unwanted visitor appears and kills the host before spreading the plague to all within the castle walls.

The wordless sequence from
"The Masque of the Red Death"

The GCD puts a question mark after crediting this Poe adaptation to Archie Goodwin, and it may be that the magazine's former editor had written a pile of stories and left them behind before he departed. In any case, "The Masque of the Red Death" is a solid piece of work in which Tom Sutton's panels (and especially, lettering) remind me somewhat of the work of Jerry Grandenetti. He does not go over the top and there is a particularly effective sequence of several wordless panels that follow the ghostly visitor through a series of colored chambers, though in this case a color comic might have been more effective in depicting the hue change from room to room.

An experimental page from "Vampyrus!"
Kaiser and Rising hack their way through a Central American jungle, intent on finding the Temple of Ardisis where, legend has it, a fortune in gold is hidden. Bats circling overhead lead them to the source and Kaiser is bitten; soon enough, he reveals that he's been turned into a vampire and must stay to guard the temple treasure along with Rising, his next victim.

"Vampyrus!" is yet another variation on the vampire tale, but this time it is enlivened considerably by the fine art of Jeff Jones, who experiments with omitting backgrounds and panel borders and succeeds in making the tired tale more interesting than it should be.

An English doctor named Peter falls in love with his mysterious, amnesiac patient, Elaine. While planning their honeymoon and seeking an exotic destination, they visit the travel agency of Arai Kushni; while there, Elaine is strangely affected by a poster of the Temple of Life in Sumaria, so they book passage to the Middle Eastern land. Peter and Elaine travel by ship to Sumaria, then across the desert by camel until they reach the village of Ranuma. That night, Peter awakens to find Elaine gone, and he trails her to the Temple of Life, where he observes bodies being cremated by hooded figures. He rescues Elaine from being the next victim, carrying her into the desert and walking until he collapses. He is later awakened by the travel agent, Kushni, who explains that Elaine was among those who would have died long ago were it not for the annual visit to the temple to undergo restoration. Years later, an elderly Peter still searches for a way to bring his wife back to life, though she's now a skeleton.

"... Nor Custom, Stale ..."
"... Nor Custom, Stale ..." is a bit of a quote from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and refers to the title queen's ageless beauty; Johnny Craig is a very good writer of comic book stories and this appropriate title might have made some monster kids seek out its source. The writer/artist is in great form here, with the story, captions, and dialogue (for once, in Eerie) being up to the level of the art. I suspected the ending long before it came but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the tale.

It's 1931, and Maurice and Antoine manage to "Escape!" from Devil's Island and make their way to the Amazon River, where a native guide named Ramon warns them of a dangerous anaconda snake. Antoine attacks the snake with an axe and then spends an hour cruelly torturing it with a knife, ignoring Ramon's look of hatred--the natives believe the giant snakes are gods. As the trio cross the river, Antoine shoves Maurice off the raft and into the water, where he is consumed by hungry piranhas. The raft reaches land and soon Antoine finds where he buried a fortune. He is about to shoot and kill Ramon when he is bitten by a deadly scorpion and begs the native to save him. Ramon replies that he can only save one part of the white man and performs a ritual; later, Antoine awakens to find that his spirit has been transferred into the body of a giant Anaconda--and Ramon pins his body to the ground with a large knife.


Joe Orlando is never our favorite artist here at the Warren Report, but this goofy story features some panels where he seems to be channeling Jack Davis. The end, which is completely nuts, is kind of fun, especially the panel (reproduced here) where Antoine's head is inexplicably still human at the end of his new snake body.

Jerry Hacker, a commercial artist, is working so hard that he has no time for his wife or for the serious painting he'd prefer to be doing. he says he'd sell his soul  to the Devil for the chance to do something worthwhile, and--Poof!--the Devil appears, ready to bargain. Jerry offers to paint a "Portrait of Satan!" and, if the Devil is satisfied, he will grant Jerry success. The artist has to deal with a difficult subject who likes the room temperature very hot, but in the end a suitable portrait is produced. Jerry admits that he put his heart and soul into his work, so the Devil gleefully claims his usual fee.

"Portrait of Satan!"
Have we seen another "sell your soul to the Devil" story up to now in either of the Warren mags? If not, I wonder how they resisted this tired old tale. The end is a bit confusing and Ric Estrada's art looks like water colors minus the colors; it's rather different than the more cartoony pages we'll see from him several years' hence at DC. His page layouts and oddly-shaped panels seem to show a Colan influence.

A naked man appears out of the sea on the New Jersey coast to a couple on a dinner date; the stranger hypnotizes the male diner and takes his clothes. The stranger then goes here and there, arranging to buy (by any means possible) many of the world's great paintings. One thing leads to another and the stranger reveals that he's a traveler from 1000 years in the future who has come back in time to rescue the masterpieces before the coming war. He takes off in his ship, which is shaped like a floating silver ball, but it is mistaken for a Soviet weapon and blasted out of the sky. The attack starts the war the stranger had mentioned.

"The Past Master" may be a reprint from a book I've never heard of, but it's more creative than 99 percent of the stories we've read in the Warren mags, undoubtedly because it's based on a story by Robert Bloch. I think Al McWilliams is a terrific artist and, though the ending is predictable, I'm not sure how obvious it would've been to readers at the time.
"I screamed till I thought I'd hemorrhage
or something."--"The Past Master"

I also want to mention the cover by Dan Adkins; it's a nice swipe of a still from The Mummy's Hand but Adkins uses Karloff's face for the mummy rather than that of Tom Tyler.-Jack

Peter-I love Tom Sutton's stuff but his work on "The Masque of the Red Death" is a little too ... busy. It's like reading one of those MAD Magazine parodies where something's going on in every corner of the panel and you ... just ...can't ... concentrate! "Vampyrus!" is typically silly "doomed explorers" nonsense. For a temple that's been hidden for 450 years, it sure is out in the open, isn't it? Johnny Craig's  "... Nor Custom, Stale ..." is the one gem in a bucket of swill, a story so good it's almost unfathomable how it got here. It starts out like an old RKO suspense flick then morphs into some weird low-budget horror before leaving us with one heck of a spooky send-off. Nothing else in this issue shows much life. Joe Orlando's awful art is a constant in the good times and the bad. Good news is that this is Orlando's final contribution to the Warren zines, as he jumps ship to take the reins of DC's mystery line. The only interesting aspect of the numbingly bad ("I got it! Everybody loves a good 'deal with the devil' story!") "Portrait of Satan!" is that it gives us a look at just how bad Ric Estrada's penciling was seven years before he became one of Big Bob Kanigher's favorite cartoonists. I wouldn't have been able to identify this as Ric Estrada if you'd have given me five free letters and a vowel. That leaves Robert Bloch's "The Past Master" (which originally appeared in Bluebook, January 1955), a fun little time travel jaunt that's capped off by one of the master's trademark zingers, but suffers from Al McWilliams's by-the-numbers art. It almost looks like a newspaper strip cobbled together; no excitement whatsoever.

Creepy #18 (January 1968)

"Mountain of the Monster Gods!" 
Story by Ron White
Art by Roger Brand

"The Rescue of the Morning Maid!" 
Story by Raymond Marais
Art by Pat Boyette and Rocco Mastroserio

"Act, Three!" 
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Footsteps of Frankenstein"
(Reprinted from Eerie #2, March 1966)

"Out of Her Head!" ★1/2
Story by Clark Dimond and Terry Bisson
Art by Jack Sparling

"Mountain of the Monster Gods!"
Famed explorers, Sinclair and Carl Madison, have spent their lives in the discoveries of antiquities and forgotten worlds but this may be their most amazing find: a mountain rumored by natives to contain sacred sculptures crafted eons ago. But Carl is tired of living in brother Sinclair's shadow and, once the cave entrance has been found and dynamited, Carl ventilates Sinclair and drops his body down a cliff. When Carl enters the cave, he discovers a staircase that leads to a large door. Once through the entryway, the murderer finds a macabre cavern of monsters rising from a black goo. Carl panics and begins firing at the things but the worst is yet to come: Sinclair has risen from the grave! Backing away from his dead brother, Carl falls into the goo and watches helplessly as Sinclair dives in after him. The two rise, metamorphosed into a new monster god.

Roger Brand proves that last issue's "The Haunted Sky" was no fluke; the artist delivers another black-and-white nightmare world in "Mountain of the Monster Gods!" Yes, it's a plot nugget we've seen a gazillion times before, but it's the graphics that save this from being just another jealous archaeologist yarn. I'm glad Ron White offers no explanation for the secret of the cave or what exactly the Carl/Sinclair thing is; it's one of those occasions when I prefer to be kept in the dark. It is odd, though, that a cave full of monsters has been closed up for centuries and its occupants have been doing ... what? That final panel, of the thing rising from the muck, is a classic image. I assume Ron White is the same Ron Whyte who wrote the awful "Big Change" back in Eerie #11; I further assume he changed his name to begin a new career after that cow flop landed. Ironically though, this is the last work either White or Whyte will do for Warren.

"Mountain of the Monster Gods!"

"The Rescue of the Morning Maid!"
Twenty-plus years ago, I wrote the following synopsis of "The Rescue of the Morning Maid!": A young girl is held hostage by an old witch in a nightmare world where everything is decrepit. The girl is rescued by a malformed creature who lures the old woman to her death. As bare-bones as that description might be, I find I can't add much more to a story that really defies description. Time will tell but, as I recall, it stands as the weirdest and most unconventional strip ever to run in a Warren magazine. Rocco Mastroserio and (an uncredited) Pat Boyette must have scratched their collective heads at a script so vague and eccentric and then delivered a queasy nightmare unlike any seen before; the locale seems to shift from other-dimensional to Brooklyn slum in successive panels. That's one of the delights of "Morning Maid": you have no idea where these gentlemen are taking you but you can't stop turning those pages.

"The Rescue of the Morning Maid!"

"Act, Three!"
Poor Lottie Gardner! A beautiful movie star like Lottie married to fellow screen idol, Barry Morton, and the guy's werewolf! Lucky for Lottie that Dr. Schneider has been hired by Barry to find a cure. And Dr. Schneider (or Spider ... or Slider ... or whatever variation Lottie manages) is very close to a cure. In the meantime, Lottie has to keep Barry chained to a wall in the basement lest he rip her gorgeous flesh to ribbons. Finally, Schneider whips up a formula and races over to the couple's mansion to deliver the good news.

Lottie spurns the doc's subtle come-ons, demands a sedative for her frayed nerves, and Schneider delivers, before moving downstairs to inject his patient with the cure for lycanthropy. Barry is overjoyed until he discovers that the jealous doc has given Lottie a lycanthropic cocktail and, after Schneider locks the two up in the basement, the idol of millions turns into a werewolf herself.

"Act, Three!" has a cute and funny script with the usual Johnny Craig flourishes. Lottie looks every bit the vain '60s movie star and her continual evisceration of Schneider is laugh-out-loud funny. Craig's werewolves aren't exactly the most frightening creatures on Earth but their cuddliness actually works well with the light tone of the story.

"Out of Her Head!"
Two young couples grow bored of the party they're attending and one of the men suggests they visit the "old Carraway mansion," long rumored to be haunted since a Civil War officer caught Rachel Carraway, his fiancé, in the arms of another man and separated her head from her body. Now, according to legend, Rachel haunts the halls of the house until she can find a head for her shoulders.The quartet arrive at the house and Andrea, the liveliest of the group, goes off in search of mirth. She decides to wrap herself in a cloth and impersonate Rachel Carraway but the joke's on her when the Real McCoy arrives and liberates Andrea's empty noggin from the rest of her body. I'm not a big fan of Jack Sparling's work but this is about the best I've seen, rivaling some of his DC Mystery work from a year or two after "Out of Her Head!" appeared. In fact, save for the extra grue at the tale's end, that's exactly what "Head" looks like: a House of Mystery highlight.

"Out of Her Head!"

The morning maid is rescued again!
Story for story, this is easily the best Warren issue yet, but my perception may be clouded by nostalgia, as I fondly remember my father laying down the coins for this one at Rexall's in Santa Clara, CA, while I was the ripe old age of six and it scared the wits out of me. Rexall's was like Disneyland to me; they had the Eerie pubs, FM, Castle of Frankenstein, and all the Marvels and DCs you could load into mom's cart. I'm constantly bemoaning (to any poor soul who'll listen) that today's kids are glued to their video games because they have no other outlets for their imagination like we did in those glorious, paper-filled days. Several of this issue's panels still give me the creeps: Andrea's smiling face atop the bones of Rachel; the old hag and terrible fate of the young "Morning Maid," and the Carl/Sinclair thing rising from the ooze. I've probably read this issue ten times over the last fifty years and it never loses its luster. Hard to believe this near-flawless package was delivered on the eve of destruction. Oh, and hats off to cover artist Vic Prezio, who delivers a cover filled with truly original horror and... oops!-Peter

Jack-I had never read this issue before and don't have the same nostalgic attachment that you do, Peter, so I was not impressed. "Act, Three!" features a fresh approach to a tired topic, with the self-absorbed movie star and her werewolf husband both acting like jerks and the nebbishy, love-struck doctor serving them their just desserts. "The Rescue of the Morning Maid!" has a good story and decent art and is mostly notable for being something different. I thought both art and story in "Mountain of the Monster Gods!" were about at fan-level and, I thought "Out of Her Head!" had awful art to match a bad story, with an incomprehensible finish. I thought the gal was decapitated by a tree limb as she rode on the trunk of a car, but the telling is so poorly done that it's hard to be certain. I looked at it again and Sparling's art makes it look like the full moon knocked off her noggin, which then mysteriously appeared on the skeleton inside the house. As I said, incomprehensible.



Best Script: Archie Goodwin, "Collector's Edition" (Creepy #12)
Best Art: Steve Ditko, "Collector's Edition"
Best All-Around Story: "Collector's Edition"
Best Cover: Frank Frazetta, Creepy #4 ->
Worst Story: Archie Goodwin/Hector Castellon, "Hitch-Hike Horror" (Eerie #7)

The Ten Best Stories

1 "Collector's Edition"
2 "Rescue of the Morning Maid" (Creepy #18)
3 "A Matter of Routine" (Eerie #5)
4 "Overworked" (Creepy #11)
5 "Sands That Change" (Creepy #16)
6 "Werewolf" (Creepy #1)
7 "Aftermath" (Blazing Combat #1)
8 "Hatchet Man" (Eerie #4)
9 "U-Boat" (Blazing Combat #3)
10 "The Spirit of the Thing" (Creepy #9)


Best Script: Archie Goodwin, "Hot Spell!" (Creepy 7)
Best Art: Reed Crandall, "Thermopylae!" (Blazing Combat 4)
Best All-Around Story: "Monster Rally!" (Creepy 4)
Best Cover: Frank Frazetta, Creepy 7
Worst Story: Ron Parker/Manny Stallman, "The Black Death!" (Creepy 11)

The Ten Best Stories

1 "Monster Rally"
"Enemy" (Blazing Combat 1)
3 "Hot Spell!"
4 "The Trench!" (Blazing Combat 4)
5 "Collector's Edition!"
6 "The Defense Rests!" (Eerie 7)
7 "Demon Sword!" (Eerie 8)
8 "House of Fiends!" (Eerie 10)
9 "Berenice!" (Eerie 11)
10 "Act, Three!" (Creepy 18)

"But it's been forty years and no one will know!"

Next Week ...
After reading the latest Losers installment,
Peter tries to convince Jack that no one will
miss them if they abandon their post.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 41

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 26
August 1952 Part II

 Uncanny Tales #2

"The Monster Maker" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Skin-Deep" (a: Fred Kida) ★1/2
"The Man Who Believed in Ghosts" 
(a: Paul Reinman) 
"Skeleton in the Closet" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Man Who Melted" (a: Ed Smalle) 

Zorrel is one of the most famous artists in the history of mankind, a genius of sculpting. But, after the parting words of the daughter of an art critic, Zorrel begins to question why he's only sculpted works of horror. Tired of being known only as "The Monster Maker," he immediately immerses himself in the construction of a goddess, a work of such beauty it makes him sob. Problem is, Zorrel quickly realizes he's fallen in love with the stone babe and he needs to bring it to life somehow. Haunting libraries, museums, and private book dealers, Zorrel finally stoops to murder to get an ancient tome of spells and incantations. The crazed artist draws a circle on the floor and says the necessary words needed to make his beauty forever his but the transformation isn't quite what he'd expected. Well, thanks to Venus, we know that Bill Everett could sketch a hot dame in his sleep and the gorgeous woman of stone is certainly no exception but, happily, Bill is given something worthwhile to dress this time around. The script is witty and the twist is a good one.

Oliver only wants to work on his skin grafting experiments in the cellar but darn if his old lady, Agnes, won't let him alone. Keeps up with that "two heads are better than one" nonsense, insisting she can be a great Ygor to Oliver's Dr. Frankenstein. Why, Agnes even interrupts Oliver while he's grave-robbing! But the final straw comes when Agnes tosses out that foul, stinky stuff that was hanging on the clothes line, a deed that breaks the camel's back. That awful-smelling stuff was the skin Oliver had lifted from a corpse, beautiful flesh that the would-be scientist intended to graft onto his own face in order to beautify himself. Oliver snaps, puts Agnes under and does a little experimenting on his wife.

"Skin-Deep" is another perfect example of why we wade through the muck of bad illustrations and countless variations on the embezzling adulterer who gets his in the end; there's gold in them that pages. There's something very skeazy about "Skin-Deep" right from the get-go, where Agnes chides Oliver for sneaking off to the cemetery without her:

Agnes: So this is what you're up to, Oliver!
Oliver: Agnes! What're you doing here?
Agnes: I followed you, Oliver! I want to help you with your experiment! Why don't you let me? You know that two heads are better than one, and...
Oliver: Not when one of the heads belongs to you! I've told you a thousand times to quit pestering me! I don't want your help!

The two protagonists defy all the usual cliches, delivering hilarious dialogue ("Why in blazes can't women learn to keep their noses out of a man's business? Let Agnes find her own hobby... skin grafting is mine and I want to work on it alone!") courtesy of writer Hank Chapman. The climax, in which the gleeful Agnes rises from the operating table with that actual "second head" grafted to her neck, drew a chuckle from me while the panel of the hanging skin pushed Atlas a bit further into the waters that other publishers such as Harvey and Avon were already swimming.

Eddie Briggs has boatloads of money but he's always been known to the townsfolk as a "ragpicker." When Eddie decides he's sick of the label and wants to enter high society, he dumps all his lowly friends and takes up with snoots like the Van Desses, a family who own a huge mansion on the hill. One day, Briggs is summoned up to the Van Dess estate and wooed by the lovely Barbara Van Dess, who makes no bones about wanting to make Briggs her man. Eddie figures what the hell and pops the question and is shocked when Barbara agrees. After a quickie ceremony, the couple head back to the mansion where Barbara's brother, Nevil, greets the newlyweds and tells Eddie all about their ancestor,  Sir Roger Van Dess ("We'd call him a bio-physicist these days, I guess!") and then takes the confused Briggs into the cellar to meet the "rest of the family." Downstairs, Eddie finds his joy turn to sickness when the rest of the clan turn out to be some of "Sir Roger's premature experiments!," a horde of two-headed, four-armed, and/or tentacled beasties. Eddie flees upstairs, only to find his blushing bride is one of the freaks! Like "Skin-Deep," "Skeleton in the Closet" is an outlandish and thoroughly enjoyable farce, capped by a fabulous climax that takes full advantage of Manny Stallman's skills as an artist. Barbara's invitation to naughtiness ("Come in, darling... take off your flesh... and make yourself comfortable... I already have!") could only have been delivered in the pre-Wertham days of funny books!

"The Man Who Believed in Ghosts" is a nicely-illustrated quickie about a man who lives near a cemetery and constantly sees spirits rising from the graves. "The Man Who Melted" is a very funny four-pager about an absent-minded professor who concocts a formula (that enables the body to melt) to commit the perfect crime (murdering his wife) but, after the deed is done and he's a puddle on the floor, he remembers he never invented an antidote! I'm not all that familiar with Ed Smalle's work (his one contribution to the EC Universe, "Diminishing Returns," in Haunt of Fear #8 was hardly memorable) but I'm hoping we'll see more of it on this journey, as his Golden Age style fits in perfectly with the better Atlas artists. This could be the single best Atlas horror comic we've run across of the 128 I've dissected so far.

"The Man Who Believed in Ghosts!"

 Suspense #21

"The Ghost of Grimm Towers!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"No Escape!" (a: Dan Soprano) 
"The Horrible Hog" (a: Carl Hubbell) 
"The Graveyard Ghoul!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Secret" 
"Terror at Midnight" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Up From the Grave!" 
(a: Edwin Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 

There's only one thing that frightens Barnaby Grimm and that's a ghost. Problem is, Grimm Towers is stinkin' with them and the old coot is losing his marbles. He calls his nephew, Carter, and threatens to take him out of his will if Carter doesn't come live with him. Once Carter gets to the Towers though, a great idea comes to his wicked noggin and, before tooling, he begins cutting eye-holes in sheets and haunting his Uncle's bed chambers. Barnaby howls like a madman and takes a header through his bedroom window to the rocks below. Servant Meadows stumbles into the scene at the wrong time and he's soon keeping Barnaby company in the surf. Carter heads off to bed but is awakened in the morning by the clammy hands of the ghosts of Barnaby and Meadows. Nothing surprising, suspenseful, shocking, nor frightening to be seen in the six pages that make up "The Ghost of Grimm Towers!," a melting pot of several different genre cliches.

An Old West villain gets thrown in the pokey and sits waiting for the hangman. He's told by everyone around him that there's "No Escape," but he's not listening. He makes his getaway but doesn't realize until too late that the jail is in the middle of the desert. Rough, but effective, art by newcomer Dan Soprano and a neat twist. Paul Baldwin works the family that lives on his pig farm like slaves but, as we Atlas fans know, the bad guys always get it in the end. "The Horrible Hog" is an exaggerated and predictable mess, with sub-par art by Carl Hubbell. When every other panel accentuates phrases like "the only way I like to see a pig is tied and roasted on the table with an apple in its mouth," you can pretty much figure where we're going to land in the end.

"The Graveyard Ghoul" has been terrorizing the local cemeteries, digging up remains and pilfering valuables including those treasured gold teeth. Detective Corby has made it his life's work to hunt down and kill all ghouls and this particular grave-robber has managed to crawl right under Corby's skin and do the tango. At last a break in the case leads Corby and his ghoul-squad to Sunnyside Cemetery, where they encounter the shovel-packing ghoul about to unearth another treasure trove. Corby unloads his service revolver into the fiend, ventilating him until he's near-unrecognizable. But when Corby turns the corpse over, he does recognize him... as his pop! "The Graveyard Ghoul" is a story so monumental in its stupidity that it's hard not to like. Detective Corby and his men discuss ghouls in a blasé manner, as if they were just an annoying part of 1950s life, with Corby's dialogue about the breeding habits of men who rob graves being a particularly hilarious bit of fun:

Cop 1: Hey, Corby, why do you get so excited about ghouls all the time?
Cop 2: Yeah, it's just an old grave messed up!
Corby: You fools! They've got to be wiped out, all of them, because they breed children that are ghouls!

The reveal is telegraphed all the way, thanks to said emphasis on Corby's hatred of ghouls who sire other ghouls, but his tears and the shocked exclamation, "DAD!" are worth turning those pages for.

Helen Roy joins the local Lonely Hearts Club to find her a rich man she can marry and then murder. She eyes a good-looking bearded gentleman named George and weaves her web around him, roping him in very quickly. Once the couple is married and moved into George's mansion, Helen lets all pretenses fall and explains she's only after her new hubby's dough. George lets on he has a secret as well: he weds and murders women just like his idol, Bluebeard! "The Secret" manages to take one of those hoary old warhorses and ties it up with a nice twist we didn't see coming (well, we sorta kinda knew George was more than he let on but the reveal is still a pleasant one).

Peter Morgan brings his new Hungarian bride, Eva, up to his mountain cabin for a little hunting vacation but the girl is not pleased with the surroundings. Peter heads off into the woods anyway and meets up with the mysterious Myra, who loves the outdoors and seduces Morgan wth her exotic beauty and charm. Meanwhile, Morgan's "prize sheep" are being slaughtered by a wolf, an animal Myra convinces Peter is not human. The love-struck dope adds Hungarian and werewolf together and comes up with Eva. He shoots his new bride but then gets the shock of his life when he discovers the monster is actually (suh-prize!!!) Myra!  The star of "Terror at Midnight" is certainly not the cliched plot nor the expected "twist" in its tail. Nope, the real star here is Manny Stallman, who manages to make a werewolf story readable without actually showing the monster.

Best for last! Little Eddie Nolan likes to play in graveyards and this particular peccadillo proves to be Eddie's undoing one night when he's startled by the spirit of some supernatural being and falls into the open grave dug for the local witch who will be buried there the following day. Eddie's legs are pulverized and he's confined to his bed but his artistic skills take an upswing. Using clay from the witch's grave, Eddie sculpts objects and then destroys them. Magically, the same fate befalls the real-life object Eddie has sculpted! After the Eiffel Tower falls, Eddie becomes enraged over radio reports of an upcoming World War III and sculpts the globe. "Up From the Grave!" is a wacky, wild little ride, made all the more fun by its writer's evasion of the more typical funny book story paths. No explanation is given as to why the dead witch has picked Eddie to be her vessel for Armageddon nor why the kid goes from sweet to surly (other than, possibly, losing the use of both legs); it's just a given. The final image, of Eddie tossing his new masterpiece against the wall, is a humdinger. I love these dark endings.

Out of the blue, Stan Lee decides Suspense needs a letters page, dubbed "Suspense Sanctuary." Odd in that this was the only title in the eleven Atlas horror books to run a LOC page but I assume it's down to two reasons: 1/ EC was having quite a bit of success with their letters pages and fan club; and 2/ Suspense had the largest page count per issue ("52 Suspense-Packed Pages!") and could spare the extra space for mail. See the bottom of the page for a reprinting of this landmark occasion.

 Strange Tales #9

"Blind Date" (a: Mike Sekowsky) ★1/2
(r: Beware #2)
"The Strange Game" (a: Marty Elkin) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #3)
"The Man From Mars" (a: Bob Fujitani) 
(r: Beware #2)
"Drink Deep, Vampire" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
(r: Dracula Lives #2)
"The Voice of Doom!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
(r: Beware #2)

Obnoxious twit Mac Farrand muscles into the front seat of a car belonging to a gorgeous redhead and then regrets it when he finds out she's... death! Hokey plot coupled with horrid graphics sinks "Blind Date," but the first story is a gem compared to "The Strange Game." "Crooked card-sharp" Lou Beltram stumbles into a poker game where the antes are large letters rather than greenbacks. Lou is amused, but can't pass up an opportunity to play, so he sits in on a few hands and loses several letters but then leaves when he grows frightened. Leaving the table with only the letter "H," Lou tells his poker comrades they'll never collect from him but, that evening at midnight, Lou ends up losing more than dough. A really, really silly plot line and generic, almost lifeless graphics (Elkin's work looks like crude Ditko).

"The Man From Mars" is a silly three-pager about a good-for-nothing who absolutely has to see the new Martian movie and steps into what he thinks is a publicity stunt (a rocket ship parked outside the theater) and ends up seeing the real Mars. Absolutely no thought went into this filler (written and signed by Stan). In "Drink Deep, Vampire," Hungarian cemetery watchman Karl has hit upon a fabulous money-making scheme. The police are starting to crack down on the nightly attacks by vampires, so Karl goes to vampire leader Gorlac with a proposition: he'll provide the creatures with bottles of blood every night if they pay him handsomely. The nightly transaction goes well until the vampires grow weak and pallid. They know something's up so, one night, Gorlac rises from his coffin an hour early and spies Karl draining one of Gorlac's comrades of blood. Karl's been recycling! Very funny little bit of nonsense (almost like a MAD story) with great matter-of-fact dialogue by the monsters and fabulous art by Joe Sinnott.

Mr. Hendrix, publisher of Horror Publications, Inc. has had enough of the complaints of his lazy staff and installed listening devices into each room in the building. He then begins to fire of each worker who badmouths him. Then one day he hears a voice speaking to him from the system, telling him he's going to die. "The Voice of Doom" hasn't much story to recommend, with a typical anti-climax, but the pop art-esque graphics are dazzling and garish, quite unlike anything Atlas had published before (and Bill Benulis will top himself next issue). According to Wikipedia, Benulis retired from comics in the mid-1950s and became a Postal Letter Carrier for nearly forty years! Most of his work appeared in the Atlas horror and war titles, so we'll have quite a bit of the man's talent to enjoy ahead of us. Hendrix is a dead ringer (sans mustache) for another famous publisher,  J. Jonah Jameson

 Spellbound #6

"The Man Who Couldn't Be Killed!" 
(a: Bernie Krigstein)  
"The Dirty Dog" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2
"The Things in the Dark" (a: Mike Sekowsky) 
"Close Your Eyes" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2

Ever since he was a kid, "Lucky" Larno has escaped death. He played with matches as a kid and torched his entire apartment complex but emerged without a single burn. In his teen years, "Lucky" gained an appreciation for robbery and other anti-social activities and was amazed when a policeman's bullets couldn't find their target despite being fired at point blank range! A guardian angel, perhaps? When "Lucky" ascends to mob boss, Nutsy, one of his simple-minded thugs offers to buy the boss's guardian angel for a cool grand. Laughing it off, "Lucky" agrees and brags to his other boys how he ripped the poor bugger off. But what "Lucky" doesn't know is that the guardian angel acknowledges the business deal and, very quickly, "Lucky" discovers he's not bullet-proof anymore!

More fabulous Krigstein art (Bernie's getting closer and closer to the dynamic style he'd put to good use a few years later over at EC) and a wry sense of humor make "The Man Who Couldn't Be Killed" extremely enjoyable. Particularly well done is the dialogue between "Lucky" and Nutsy when the boss takes the doofus for his hard-earned wages

"Lucky": Look! Can't you see her? She's a big beautiful dame, dressed in white -- an' she's carryin' a magic wand! She's always protecting me from harm and death! See her, behind me?

Nutsy: Gee! I think I see her! Gosh, she's a looker all right! I wish I had a dame like that looking after me.

You have to chuckle when the angel appears in the final frames and she looks just the way "Lucky" described her!

Washed-up ventriloquist Charlie Frost takes to rolling bums in cemeteries and is on the verge of suicide when a newspaper headline catches his eye. Eccentric millionaire Wilbur Stark vows to leave his entire fortune to his army of dogs. This gets Charlie to thinking he could sell a "talking" dog to Frost for some large coin. Charlie nabs a mutt from the cemetery, rehearses his ventriloquist act on the dog and then heads to Wilbur Stark's mansion. Stark, at first, balks at the idea of paying for a "flea-bitten hound," until he hears the dog talk and he happily gives Charlie five hundred bucks. As Charlie is leaving the Frost mansion, "The Dirty Dog" sighs and tells the dope he could have gotten "fifty thousand dollars for a dog like me!" Other than a quick act of violence to open the story (when Charlie murders a bum in the cemetery), this is a good-natured rib-tickler, punctuated by an A+ final panel. I'm still trying to figure out why I like Tony DiPreta's art so much when it's crude and (almost) as generic as a dozen other Atlas artists of the time. There's just something about it I haven't been able to put my finger on yet, but I'm sure the epiphany will come. Please be patient in the meantime.

Yes, that is the Man From Planet X!
One of those artists most responsible for generic graphics was Mike Sekowsky, whose work is fully on display in "The Things in the Dark." Prescott is an aerodynamic genius but he's been wasting his time designing airplanes for American Aero, instead of building his dream vehicle, a rocketship that will take him to Venus! His daydreaming gets him fired but the world's richest man, Hubert Fielding, is interested in funding Prescott's crazy dream. Just as the project is coming to fruition, Fielding is murdered and some strange creatures show up at Prescott's job site, informing the big brain that Earth is a violent world and its people are not welcome in space. The aliens vaporize the rocket and, when Prescott threatens to go to the police, its maker as well. The story is by-the-numbers 1950s UFO paranoia with little to no charm and then there's that awful art to contend with. I swear Sekowsky could have made a straight line ugly.

Last up is "Close Your Eyes," a groaner with a cliched script and sub-par Manny Stallman art. Fred is planning on killing his brother, Hector, so that he'll inherit the family business (specializing in "glass eyes and fake teeth") and keep buxom wife, Ann, in minks and chocolates. Hector gets wind of the plan and threatens to change his will so Fred opens his brother's skull with a poker. But Hector's adage of "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" comes true before the story's final curtain. The climax is a bit murky (we see the poker heading for Fred's eye but we don't see who hurled it) but then so is Manny's design (the colorist does Stallman no favors either by overdosing on the reds and greens); the only entertainment value here is watching Ann get porkier by the panel!

 Mystic #11

"Death and Tommy Norton" (a: John Romita) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #7)
"Horror in the City" (a: Werner Roth) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #7)
"Not Flesh and Blood!" (a: Myron Fass) 
(r: Vault of Evil #7)
"The Black Gloves" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #7)

Little Tommy Norton inherits a boatload of money when his parents die but the boy is in grave danger when his guardians decide a little boy shouldn't be so rich. Luckily, Tommy has an army of toy soldiers looking out for him. "Death and Tommy Norton" has great art by Johnny Romita and a (deliciously) sadistic edge to it. The storyline is similar to one used by Davis Grubb in his short story, "The Siege of 318."

Just as he’s wishing for the perfect girl, Perry Dedd has one rush right into his waiting arms, claiming she’s being chased by a race of underground monsters. Perry doesn’t believe the girl until the creatures show up and his life becomes a screaming nightmare. "Horror in the City" contains such laugh-out-loud dialogue as:

Gorgeous Girl: They’re after me! The things! Please… You must help me! They’ll kill!
Perry: Hey! You’re beautiful!

"The Black Gloves"
While a series of robot-monster murders is shocking the city, Lester Caval informs his partner, Howard Walton, that he knows Walton has been cooking the books and is going to the cops unless the dough is returned. Howard concocts a plan involving the robot-monster, but the scheme backfires in the end. No rhythm or rhyme to any of "Not Flesh and Blood!"; just a series of incidents that barely relate to one another. Myron Fass' unattractive art adds nothing to the proceedings.

In the finale, "The Black Gloves," a landlord is convinced that the gentleman renting one of his rooms is the mad killer terrorizing the city. Why won’t the stranger ever doff his black gloves? Why doesn’t he eat? Why does he keep strange hours? Imaginative (if more than a tad wacky) final expository attempts to answer all those questions.


Journey Into Unknown Worlds #12

"The Last Voice You Hear" (a: George Roussos) ★1/2
"The Terrible Truth!" (a:Edwin Goldfarb & Bob Baer) 
"Tick Tock" 
"The Perfect Mate" (a: Marty Elkin) 
"Water, Water Everywhere!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 

Karl is the premier radio sound effects man in the nation and his effects strike terror in the listener. What's his secret? Karl goes to extremes for his art, not letting something silly as murder get in his way. When his boss sends him to a graveyard to get the sounds of a "coffin that's been sealed a long time," Karl decides to revisit an old friend, Charley Fullmar, the man he strangled years before. But our protagonist discovers that the dead don't lie down for sound recorders. More scratchy art from George Roussos and a head-scratcher of a climax (Charley murders Karl then gleefully listens to the playback, looking none the worse despite being dead for years) doom "The Last Voice You Hear."

"The Terrible Truth"
Edward Burton has a terrible curse: he can't help but tell the truth! It gets him fired from his job, his friends ostracize him, and his wife leaves him. A dream shows him what a mess the world would be if everyone told the truth, punctuated by a nuclear war. Rummaging through the wreckage of a dead world for something to eat, Burton attacks a man for his food and as the man's knife slides into Edward's stomach, he realizes he's not dreaming. "The Terrible Truth" is terrible and I'm telling you the truth. Its stumbling narrative crawls towards a climax that makes no sense at all (but it features some swell 1950s commie bad guys).

Carlo spends all his time perfecting the perfect timepiece, one that will never have to be wound, while ignoring his family, friends, and his true love. At last he creates the perfect clock but, for Carlo, it's too late. He dies of old age. "Tick Tock" is an interesting story in that it has no real villain; Carlo is selfish but his drive is not fueled by greed or desire for power. He simply wants to build the perfect clock. A new husband is smitten over his bride but when they get back to their love nest and she takes off her make-up, he realizes she might not be "The Perfect Mate." That's okay, he explains, as he removes his head, no one's perfect. A dopey short-short with some pretty bad writing (It may be true that beauty is only skin-deep, but take away the skin and what have you got?) and weak graphics.

Last up is "Water, Water Everywhere!," featuring the unique talents of Bernie Krigstein. Logan, a protection boss, puts muscle on an antique dealer who has no money to pay. The timid dealer hands over a new treasure just secured from the Orient: pills that transform anything into water. Just drop one in and the object turns to liquid. Seeing this as a perfect way to get rid of his partner, Logan heads to the man's house and the two have a drink. Logan pulls a switcheroo, dropping poison in his partner's drink and an Oriental pill in his own, but then has the surprise his life when he discovers the pill does its job too well. A fairly predictable climax (the dealer did say the concoction would turn everything into water, after all), but it's a treat seeing Krigstein (still in pre-EC days) work his magic.

Krigstein strikes again!

Self-promotion department: Listen up! There's lots of us out there doing this stuff for the fun of it rather than for the almighty buck. One of us is Justin Marriott. Justin adds to the multitude of interesting magazines he publishes with the first issue of Monster Maniacs (available here), a potpourri of pieces about monster magazines and comics of days passed. Included in the premiere issue is an interview with Peter Normanton (editor of the late, lamented From the Tomb), a fond look back at For Monsters Only (which I have very fond memories of), a review of the recent Jim Warren biography, and a long piece on the 25 best horror stories published by Atlas in their first three years written by yours truly. Justin has really done the material (Atlas's material, not mine) justice and this is a venture we should fully support. While you're at it, check out the other zines in JM's stable: Pulp Horror, Hot Lead, Men of Violence, Paperback Fanatic, and Sleazy Reader.

Sample Page from MM #1

In Two Weeks...
Behold more Everett awesomeness
and we'll draw the curtain on Amazing Detective