Thursday, August 8, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 40

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 25
August 1952 Part I

 Journey Into Mystery #2

"The Scarecrow" (a: Russ Heath) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #1)
"Don't Look!" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #1)
"How Clumsy Can Ya Be?" (a: Howard Post) 
(r: Vault of Evil #2)
"Thru the Door" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #2)
"The Hiding Place" (a: Gene Colan) 

Tired of being called "The Scarecrow" on account of his puny physique, Tim Blake visits a magic shop and buys a potion guaranteed to give him massive muscles. The shopkeeper tries to sell Tim the antidote but the Scarecrow ain't hearing nothing about going back. Tim takes the potion and, sure enough, awakens with a strong-man body and an all-new attitude. He heads right out into this new world to find the big bullies who'd made his life a nightmare and evens the score very quickly. But all is not a bed of roses for Tim when he discovers his muscles won't stop growing and he becomes too heavy to support. First his bed collapses, then he falls through the floors of his building. Even the ground won't halt his fall and we exit poor Tim Blake, falling into the "bowels of the Earth."

A Charles Atlas ad gone dreadfully wrong, "The Scarecrow" is a quite funny cautionary tale about being happy with what you've got. At least I think it is, but then our uncredited writer piles on the derision so thick how could we not feel empathy for Mr. Skin and Bones, even when he's bustin' heads and cornerin' dames?  Russ seems to be in on the joke as well since his art here almost looks like it would be at home in MAD. Sadly, "The Scarecrow" is the only good thing about this sophomore effort. Four very sub-par efforts follow.

In "Don't Look!,"a crazy old man attempts to sell the patent to a mirror that enables the owner to see into the future. But is the man crazy? And is he old? Lawyer Harold Whitney ("It's funny how old he looks, and yet it's not real age! He's a young guy made old by insanity!") takes advantage of the situation by stealing  the mirror and having the loon committed to an asylum. But Whitney finds that some things in the future are inevitable and inescapable. EC did these time-travel thingies so much better. "How Clumsy Can Ya Be?" is a clumsy rip-off of Robert Bloch's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has some of the most amateurish art we've seen so far. More awful art awaits the reader of "Thru the Door," a dopey tale of a fight manager who tries to steal his client’s girl and then discovers the dame is a vampire. Why? Who knows? A wildly random reveal. Lastly, Gene Colan enlivens "The Hiding Place" a tad but the story is weak. Ann and Paul murder Ann’s hubby, Jeb, and hide the body. They head for a costume party but, in the end, it turns out Jeb’s risen from the grave and in Paul’s costume!

 Marvel Tales #108

"The Terrible Tunnel" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Guillotine" (a: John Romita) 
"Pain in the Neck" 
"Horror in the Moonlight!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Hate!" (a: Bill LaCava) 

Sadistic mining supervisor Steve Brill has pushed and prodded his men with beatings and promises of worse if the job isn't done in time. After one of the men is shot by Brill in an altercation, the survivors work out a plan for a sweet revenge involving a switch in the direction they dig. I love Bill Everett's art, always have, but sometimes his male protagonists look like Popeye's buddy, Bluto, and in "The Terrible Tunnel," it's tough to tell the guys apart. That does not diminish the enjoyment of this strip one bit though. It's a funny, clever little revenge yarn.

"The Terrible Tunnel"
Like Bill Everett, John Romita can seemingly take the sparsest crumb of a story and make it into something worthwhile. With "The Guillotine," Jazzy Johnny almost does it again. George Katt makes his living buying curios low and selling them high to  collectors. When George stumbles onto the infamous "Red Blade," he knows he can make a fortune off the ancient guillotine. Only a hesitant dealer and his old hound dog and in George's way. As I mentioned, there's not much thought put into this one (and the climax is pretty dull despite the sharpness of the blade) from any party other than John Romita.

The final three aren't much better, but at least "Horror in the Moonlight" gives us a second dose of Bill Everett. A man follows his wife to a graveyard where he discovers she's a vampire. That's all there is to "Horror in the Moonlight" (which is just about devoid of any word-clutter) but it's a treat to look at nonetheless. Bill manages to squeeze a boatload of atmosphere into three measly pages. In "Pain the Neck" (a phrase that befits this groaner), our heroine Gale knows she could be a Broadway star if only her worthless hubby, Tony, had a bit of moola for funding. But Tony is content to make his pretty scarves and live the life of a Bohemian. When a Broadway producer plants the seed in her mind, Gale poisons Tony for his insurance money but the artsy Tony proves he can really be a "Pain in the Neck" in the end. Little surprise in a story that telecasts its "twist" in its title and a catchphrase that's repeated every couple of panels. The uncredited art is awful.

Finally, we have the dirge known as "Hate!" Greedy Agnes is attempting to drive her sister, Ellen, loony in order to gain both halves of the family estate, but the laugh's on Agnes when she pushes her sis too hard. I've liked some of Bill LaCava's work thus far but "Hate!" is probably not one of his credits he highlighted on his Curriculum Vitae and, even by 1952, the "greedy heirs" plot was growing mold.

"Horror in the Moonlight"

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #9

"Locked Up" (a: Carmine Infantino) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #4)
"Do Not Feed" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #16)
"Too Much TV" (a: Bill Benulis)  
"Alone" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #13)
"The Last Laugh" (a: George Roussos) 
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #8)

William is the town outcast; he's been accused of outrageous activity... like transforming into a werewolf, sucking blood like a vampire and, perhaps most egregious of all, keeping his father locked in a cellar dungeon! But gorgeous Margie ignores all that because she's keen of William and wants to be part of his life. Bill admits that Margie is easy on the eye and they begin a relationship that ultimately (and some would say predictably) ends up with the beauty visiting her beau's run-down estate. There she confronts William about his checkered rep and the flustered young man denies growing hair or fangs at night but owns up to having a dad in the wine cellar. Margie flings insults his way and tells her she never wants to see him again. William hangs his head and stomps downstairs to bear his soul to his father... a talking ape.

Let's get one thing out in the open right now: my three-star rating is awarded only for the sheer goofiness of "Locked Up," a terror tale that defies any coherent synopsis. Why good-looking William has a giant talking gorilla for a dad is anyone's guess (old reliable Hank Chapman is the author of this alternate classic and I'll assume he had no explanations for the twisted turn of events) but the missing panel explaining that William's mother was vacationing in the jungles of Africa when she happened upon a really good-looking gorilla who asked her to marry him would only ruin the WTF? of the story's finale. The dialogue, as well, is just too much fun to ignore (as you can see in the panels reprinted to the right):

In the end, poor William is a misunderstood young man who lives in a spider-webbed and decaying mansion, with only his gorilla pop to bide the time with. The much-maligned Carmine Infantino does just fine here; his work at this point in his career (looking nothing like mid-70s Infantino) closely resembles that of the Kirby/Ayers stuff that would grace the pages of Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense half a decade later.

A museum guard develops an irrational and intense hate for the curator of the facility's aquarium, Dr. Heiden, and schemes to destroy Heiden's pet octopus. "Do Not Feed" has a very predictable twist (Heiden is, in reality, the star octopus' mate) but, like "Locked Up," that goofy surprise is not explained and, also like "Locked Up," the "mystery" works to the story's advantage. I'm really taking a shine to Tony DiPreta's crude and scratchy art; weird, since those attributes usually turn me off (see: any art by Myron Fass or Dick Ayers). His depiction of Heiden, the human octopus, has a goofy charm.

"Too Much TV" is Stan's three-page cautionary tale about a woman who spends too much time in front of the idiot box. The Broadway star of "Alone" has had enough of his suffocating throng of fans and only wishes for some solo time. He gets it and then immediately wishes he had the throng back. Finally, Charlie is driving brother Leo crazy with his practical jokes and gags but Leo gets "The Last Laugh" when his brother pushes him too far. We've seen this story way too many times and George Roussos' art is bland and lifeless.

 Astonishing #16

"I Prowl at Night!" (a: Syd Shores) 
"Terror in Jimmy's House" ★1/2
(a: Edwin Goldfarb & Bob Baer)
"The Miser" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"Don't Make a Ghoul of Yourself!" 
(a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache)

Parven Gabora, a Budapest werewolf tears the throat out of a country farmer and then transforms back into a man. Disgusted by his actions, Gabora wanders onto a road and is hit by a car, driven by American embassy worker, Allan Hart. The wreck leaves Hart on an operating table and, he soon discovers, his life was saved by the blood of the dying Gabora. Of course, since this is an Atlas horror story, the events take a sinister turn. Hart soon finds himself changing and, after a bit of research and interviews with Gabora's neighbors, discovers he's infected with the blood of a werewolf. Not wanting to hurt his beloved wife, Louise, Allan flees to a secluded cabin but his wife tracks him down just as the moon is full and Allan is transforming. Quickly, he locks himself into a room and makes it through the night without harming his wife. The next morning, while heading to the hospital for a cure, the couple wreck their car and find themselves in that nasty situation again. Allan dies before he can warn the doctors of the tainted blood flowing from his veins into Louise.

"I Prowl at Night" is a simple, but effective, yarn heavy on the pathos and light on the hairy monster moments. I thought it a nice change for Hart to infected by a blood transfusion rather than the cliched attack by the monster. This is another of those rare occasions where an innocent Atlas protagonist has something nasty happen to him (and that can also be said of Louise's fate as well). Allan's only thought is that his wife be spared any fallout from his bad luck (in fact, just before the couple crash their car, Allan concludes that only suicide will keep Louise safe). Syd Shores contributes nice, atmospheric work, especially in the Allan transformation scene where the full-out facial change is minimized to maximize the pain of the metamorphosis. A solid monster story.

"Terror in Jimmy's House" concerns little Janie, left alone during the day while her dad is at work, who is contacted and befriended by "Kol," a beast from the center of the Earth. Dad comes home one day early and witnesses the monster snuggling up with Janie; he goes ballistic (being a caring dad and all) and forbids his girl ever to see the giant-snorkeled beastie. Janie throws a tantrum and falls down the stairs, leaving her pop swearing vengeance on the monster that started this all. Said creature shows up and revitalizes his little buddy but dad doesn't notice as he unloads his pistol into the hairy beast. Janie smiles and tells her dad she can't wait for him and Kol to become pals. Maudlin tale has nothing to highlight other than the bizarre Goldfarb/Baer alien design (think gorilla with air duct hoses for a nose).

"The Miser"
Jonas Cragee is "The Miser," a man so in love with money that he steals shoelaces from the bums in the park to sell at thrift stores, finds no shame in stealing pennies from children and, perhaps most egregious, eats for free at the local shelter. One day, he overhears the shelter supervisor turn down a sizable donation and becomes curious as to how the man keeps the poor fed and housed. Breaking in, Cragee discovers the supervisor has the legendary Greek "horn of plenty," a magical device that grants the owner anything he wants in huge portions. Cragee steals the device but runs into trouble when he wishes for gold and coins aplenty without knowing how to shut the gizmo off. He drowns in a sea of riches. Pre-EC Bernie Krigstein's art is so obviously different from any other artist who worked at Atlas (save, perhaps, Gene Colan) that it's surprising he found so much work at the House of Stan. The story itself isn't all that great, relying on the cliched heavy who will go to any extremes (some pretty silly) to attain his goal. The final story this issue, "Don't Make a Ghoul of Yourself!" is a silly little bit of nonsense about a man who stumbles across a ghoul in a graveyard and spares his life in exchange for a wish. Yes, "Don't Make a Ghoul..." adds a new spin on an old cliche but it's still four pages of bad art punctuated with a very obvious twist.

Adventures Into Terror #11

"Dead Man's Escape!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
(r: Fear #9)
"Under the Knife!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Creatures on the Loose #18)
"He Who Laughs Last, Gets the Horselaugh" 
(a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel)
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #16)
"Ed's Young Wife!" (a: Ben Brown & David Gantz) 
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #19)
"Island of Horror" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2
(r: Monsters on the Prowl #17)

Prisoner Paris is intent on getting off the heretofore inescapable Dry Tortugas prison island and the only way to get off the island is to play dead in a sack. Since there's no room on the tiny island to bury the dead, the warden has the bodies tied up in a sack and dumped in the surrounding waters to serve as fish food. Paris tells the warden he'd rather not be digging the new well and would rather be the island's morgue attendant; the warden quickly agrees since there's not a lot of men lining up to handle the corpses. Paris hides himself in a body bag and waits to be tossed but, unfortunately for the dopey con, dumping methods are changed and his sack goes in the well... where the brand new octopus waits for food. "Dead Man's Escape!" is a variation on a very old plot line but at least it throws us an interesting curve. The octopus in the well method of body disposal seems a bit, oh I don't know, outrageous but if the warden was able to bypass all the rules and regulations, who am I to argue?

The short-short "Under the Knife!" is about a man having open-heart surgery who hallucinates he's in a boat on the River Styx, chased by a man clad in a mask. When he comes to, he discovers the surgeon working on him is the man in the mask. Nonsensical in the extreme, "Under the Knife!" might have represented something "deep" to its writer, but to its reader it's just a head-scratcher and nothing more. Joe has had it playing the horse's-ass (literally) to Eddie in their vaudeville act on TV and, when Eddie refuses to switch, Joe plonks him over the head and dumps his body in the river. Later, at the station, the horse costume comes alive and tramples Joe. Yes, it's just that simple, with no nuances or interesting twists or turns. This could very well be the stupidest idea realized in 1952 (hey, there's a lot of time left in the Atlas era so I won't make any rash proclamations like "Worst of All Time" just yet). 'Nuff Said.

An architect falls madly in love with the wife of his client and he and the smoldering redhead plan the demise of the old man. Unfortunately, the best laid plans... "Ed's Young Wife!" (an interesting choice for story title) takes one of the oldest twists in the book (the architect sabotages the old man's breaks but, at the last second, the wife takes the car) and does absolutely nothing with it. I was almost surprised at not being surprised. "Island of Horror" takes Best-of-Issue honors thanks mostly to Joe Sinnott's brilliant art. A cut-throat reporter investigates a series of grisly waterfront murders and their connection to an expedition to the legendary "City of Heads." A truly grisly climax (even if the reveal stretches the boundaries of what a simple face mask can hide), with the only downside being a preponderance of text. Interesting to note that when the story got reprinted in 1972, Code restrictions necessitated a title change to the tamer "Island of Fear!"

"Island of Horror"

Don't listen to Kovacs...
Come back in two weeks and we'll
discuss six more volumes of horror!

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