Thursday, September 5, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 42

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 27
September 1952 Part I

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #10

"The Ghoul!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
(r: Chamber of Chills #11)
"The Killers!"(a: Bernie Krigstein) 
(r: Monsters Unleashed #4)
"Too Old to Live" ★1/2
"Down in the Cellar" (a: Paul Cooper & Matt Fox) 
(r: Dead of Night #6)
"The Pit of Horror!" (a: Bill Everett) 
(r: Giant-Size Chillers #2)

Bosco Channey is hiding in a graveyard, trying to evade capture by the cops on a murder rap, when two officers sneak up and lay the cuffs on him. Incredibly, Bosco has been misidentified as "The Ghoul" who has been digging up graves in the cemetery and (presumably) eating corpses. Realizing that, once they get him back to the police station, the jig is up,   Bosco's brain starts working overtime. When the patrol car has a blow out, the killer takes advantage of some sleepy cops and a handy tire iron and makes his escape deep into the woods. Happening upon an old cabin, Bosco breaks in and terrorizes the old man who lives there. But, in the end, tables are turned when the dopey murderer finds out the owner of the cabin is the real ghoul! A juvenile script, predictable climax, and ugly art all combine to transform "The Ghoul" into an utterly disposable five pages. There's a very good interview with Vic Carrabotta in Alter Ego #58 and, judging by the samples reprinted, I'd have to say that Vic's work got much better in later years. He'll be with us on and off throughout the journey.

There's this dumpy science teacher in a "sleepy college" town who has a theory that everything is put on the Earth to be a killer of something else. The mongoose was put on Earth to keep the snake population down; spiders for flies; you get the idea. Said professor is contacted by local authorities when a vicious strain of giant fanged fish pop up in the nearby breeding pond (seems as though some mad scientists had been experimenting with things they didn't really understand!). His solution is to dump tons of poison into the lake and kill off the creatures but the egghead must have forgotten his own theory of nature when the corpses of the monsters are pushed aside by winged beasts that exit the pond and feast on mankind.

I can remember reading "The Killers" way back in the early 70s in Monsters Unleashed (probably my favorite Marvel b&w) and being very taken with that final panel. Now, seeing it in color, I'm even more impressed. Yep, Bernie Krigstein could do the cartoony thing at times but when he wanted to he could churn out some very impressive figures. Of course, the script relies on coincidences (the professor whose theory is proven in the end) and improbabilities (these two species of monsters seem to have been hatched full-grown overnight) but it's a marvelous monster tale and there weren't very many of those in the pages of Atlas titles in 1952.

"Too Old to Live" is an unremarkable tale of an old man in a rest home who envies the older man in the bed next to him (the oldest man in the "home for the aged" gets more attention) and decides to murder him, only to be disappointed when the dead man's twin brother moves in afterwards. "Down in the Cellar" is tedious and predictable (a bird killer who takes his spoils to a meek taxidermist and ends up being stuffed himself by tale's-end) but it gives us our first look at the work of Matt Fox, a remarkable and truly unique talent who came to comic books after working for the Weird Tales pulp in the 1940s. Fox only lends a hand to Paul Cooper's pencils but his style is bleeding all over the panels and makes the five-pager at least tolerable to look at.

Satan has had enough of his lazy imps. The little devils have taken to playing cards, reading Adventures Into Weird Worlds, and drinking, instead of giving the new recruits the business end of a trident. To help nip this nonsense in the bud, Beelzebub brings in an "efficiency expert" from Earth and, very soon, the imps are back to doing their boss's dirty work for him. As for Mr. Frost, the efficiency expert, he gets his chest of gold but some bad news from Satan as he's set to leave Hell. Seems Frost is about to die and Satan wants to keep him down in "The Pit of Horror!" for the rest of eternity! A very funny and exquisitely-illustrated change of pace.

 Amazing Detective #14

"The Weasel Returns!" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2
"Which is Witch?" (a: EJ Smalle) ★1/2
"Hands Off!" (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★1/2
"Drop Dead!" 
"The Mousetrap" (a: Hy Rosen) 

Aside from the opener, "The Weasel Returns!," the final issue published of Amazing Detective serves up a rancid meal of leftovers and stale scares. "Weasel" Diamond, a third-rate mobster is down to his final two hundred bucks but he tells his nagging wife that he's feeling lucky, so he takes the small bundle of greenbacks down to "Ticker" Slade's joint and lets it roll. After an incredible run of luck, "Weasel" exits "Ticker"'s place with two hundred large but there's no way "Ticker" is going to let that stand so he sends a couple of his goons after "Weasel" and they put a blackjack to his skull and leave him rotting on the pier. Later that evening, "Ticker" gets a visit from the ghost of "Weasel," who offers his murderer a chance to win back his dough legitimately. That's when we find out that he's got a bad "ticker." As with most of the stories Joe Sinnott illustrates, the script is not exactly fresh but, thanks entirely to Joe's fabulous doodling, we really don't care much. "Weasel" is a rarity for an Atlas character, a mobster we grow to like.

"The Weasel Returns"
"Which is Witch?" is the deadly dumb tale of Paul, who must choose between Charmaine or Rita but, thankfully, is helped along by the fact that one of them is a witch. The only positive I take from this one is the almost casual way Paul handles that one of his girls wears a big black coned hat and rides a broom. Just as bad is "Hands Off!," about a manners-free tourist who can't keep his hands off the exhibits at a Pompeii museum. In the end, the exhibits get their revenge on the boor when the volcano erupts and traps him in the museum. The usual Benulis magic is muted by the heavy Jack Abel inks (never a good thing).

The professor of "Drop Dead!," espouses a theory that the mind can change matter and learns that anything he says comes true. Why this practice suddenly comes to fruition for the egghead is anyone's guess but, of course, it comes back to haunt him in the end with a slip of his tongue. Dopiest of all this issue has to be "The Mousetrap," about a poor schmuck whose goal in life is to "build a better mousetrap so that the world will beat a path" to his doorstep. We hear that saying so many times that we know it has to play into the big "shock" at tale's end and, sure enough, it does. No explanation is given as to what exactly the inventor hopes to accomplish with his eight-foot mousetrap.

 Astonishing #17

"The Werewolf of Wilmach!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Giant-Size Werewolf #2)
"I Can't Move" (a: George Roussos) 
"Tomb With a View" (a: Bill LaCava) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #11)
"Drive of Death" ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #2)
"The Hiding Place!" (a: Marty Elkin) 

Rugged sailor Kessel uses the rumor that a werewolf is haunting a small European village in order to rob the town's banker. When the robbery goes bad and the banker is killed, Kessel attempts to pin the werewolf tag on the town idiot but then gets a big surprise when the simpleton is the werewolf! I like the DiPreta work in "The Werewolf of Wilmach!" more than the story but must admit that the script contains a few more interesting turns than the usual werewolf tale in these parts.

"I Can't Move" is basically a three-page build-up to a one-page punchline. Burt Wallace watches as a man is brutally murdered but doesn't lift a finger. When the police arrive and suspect him of the crime, Burt insists he can't move from the spot he's standing in. As they tear him away from the spot, remarking that Burt must be insane thinking he's holding up the building he's standing next to, Burt allows how he's doing just that. And the building collapses on all of them. No real logic to this one but good for a snicker. In "Tomb with a View," a grave-robber finds competition to be stiff so he takes a freighter to India where, he's heard, the dead are left to root in the open with their valuables. Too late, he discovers the real secret: the "burial grounds" are infested with vultures. Awful script, awful art.

Rod Wilson is putting pedal to the metal, opening his new car up on the road, when he accidentally runs a man down. Knowing he'll be locked away for life, Rod dumps the corpse and his car in a lake and thumbs a ride into town. But the car that stops to pick him up looks remarkably like the one he just dumped. And, too late, he realizes, the guy at the wheel looks more than a little dead. "Drive of Death" is predictable right from the first panel but the final panel is nicely ambiguous. Did Rod escape the car when he initially dumped it in the lake or did he sink to the bottom as well?

In our last tale this issue, "The Hiding Place!," professor Neil Ward has perfected the shrinking potion he's been working on for decades, and now only an antidote stands between him and fame and fortune. Unfortunately, Neil is saddled with a shrewish (but rich) wife, Verna, who suspects something's going on between her husband and his "slip" of a lab aide, Arlene. Verna's right, of course, and so it's really not a surprise when she comes banging on the lab door while Neil and his aide are "experimenting." Neil talks his lover into taking some of the shrinking potion (you know, the one that hasn't got an antidote?) and pops her into a glass on his lab table. Verna enters, sees there's no one but Neil about and apologizes, asking her hubby to drive her home. Crisis averted, Verna medicated in bed at home, Neil rushes back to the lab to find a note from his "fraternity pal," informing him he borrowed the glass on the lab table to take to a beer party.

With perhaps the stupidest (or, depending on how many beers you've been drinking, hilarious) "shock" ending in Atlas history, "The Hiding Place!" is an exercise in "Even I could write a comic book script!" Professor Ward's motives for his shrinking potion are not even discussed (making things big in the funny books usually meant "more food" or "bigger soldiers" but smaller?) and Arlene has to be the most dim-witted girlfriend in the world to readily agree to be reduced to the size of an atom without even a "Hang on, Neil, how are you going to unshrink me?" But the best moment of all is the note informing the dopey Prof that his buddy couldn't find a glass in the whole university so he came to the lab to borrow a glass that might have had some kind of toxin in it. If this wasn't "decorated" by Marty Elkin, "The Hiding Place!" might even have fit into that "So bad it's good" class but, as it is, it's just bad.

Mystery Tales #4

"The Drink of Death!" (a: George Roussos) 
"Come to My Funeral!" (a: George Roussos) 
"The Black Book" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"Two New Eyes" (a: Allen Bellman) ★1/2
"The Hot Seat" (a: Bob Fujitani) 

Anthony Garboldi was once the most revered wine expert in all of Monte Sant Angelo but, unbeknownst to his fans, Anthony has lost his taste buds with old age. When the scurrilous (and very wealthy) Benito Fagioli moves to the little Italian village, he takes an immediate shine to Garboldi's beautiful daughter, Maria, and asks for her hand in marriage. Anthony refuses but, when Fagioli discovers the truth about Garboldi's dead taste buds, the evil millionaire uses blackmail in an attempt to win the favors of lovely Maria. Threats don't work so Fagioli invites the entire town to the ceremony of "The Drink of Death" to prove Garboldi can't tell wine from water; seven glasses are set before our beleaguered hero and only one contains wine, with the remaining six holding a deadly poison. Choose the wrong glass and Anthony will lose more than just his patrons. Luckily, Garboldi had worked up a friendship with the cockroaches, rats, and spiders that lived in the corners of his house and, with his help, he dashes the plans of Benito Fagioli.

Say this for Hank Chapman... he could sure write a nutty tale when he wanted. "The Drink of Death" contains two sub-plots, but the one that will catch and hold the Atlas reader's interest is definitely not the one about a pro man protecting his lovely little Maria. The weird thing is that Hank doesn't dwell much on Garboldi's strange powers, with just a few remarks from Maria about her "disturbed" pop and his love for all wildlife, but delivers a hilarious final panel wherein the sacrificed roaches and spiders circle the tainted goblets. Roussos isn't given much heavy lifting but his scratchy style befits the atmosphere. Roussos also delivers the graphics for the inane follow-up, "Come to My Funeral!," about a hardened criminal on the run from the cops who hides out in a casket in a funeral parlor. The final panel where the dope is being cremated has been done to death. Hilariously, the thug shoots the funeral director but the ceremony goes on as scheduled the next day with nary a word about the murder!

Book binder Jacques Garde is sick and tired of that sleazy leather salesman, Burt, sniffing around Jacques' gorgeous wife, Ilsa. Sure, Jacques is a tad on the homely side (actually, he's a sharp-toothed hunchback!) but Ilsa is his woman and he'll kill anyone who tries to take her away from him. Burt comes 'round and drops off his latest sample books and then parades the new snake tattoo he's had etched into his own chest, goading Jacques and enticing Ilsa. The whole affair escalates when Garde catches the Mrs. in the arms of Burt and exacts a fitting punishment: he decorates Burt's sample book with... Burt's new tattoo! "The Black Book" (surely one of the most over-used titles in the Atlas catalog) is deliciously sleazy and mean-spirited, with a finale worthy of EC (point of fact, it's very reminiscent of the finale of the justifiably-infamous "Poetic Justice") and Vic Carrabotta design swimming in sweat and bad manners. Oddly enough, Ilsa is hardly a "catch"; she's a bit on the portly side and, depending on which panel you gaze at, possibly a decade or two older than her macho beau.

Blind since birth, Paul Marlow participates in a new experiment and receives "Two New Eyes!" Unfortunately, he receives the organs from a dead insane zookeeper (never a good combination) and wakes up to discover everyone around him (including his wife) has the head of an animal. Not really sure what the (uncredited) writer is getting at here since it's left up in the air -- does Marlow live in a world where everyone has a beastly noggin or is it the result of the loan from the dead nut? If nothing else, Allen Bellman has a steady pencil and (unlike Mssrs. Roussos and Carrabotta) doesn't overdo the inks.

The final tale, "The Hot Seat," stars Bill White as a greedy husband who wants to kill his crippled wife, Elaine, so he rigs her electric wheelchair to give her a fatal zap while he's on a business trip. When Bill's best friend, Hal, sends the telegram he was hoping for, he races home but is run over by a truck while crossing the street. In the final panels, we learn that Bill is paralyzed from the knockdown but the bright side is that Hal saved Elaine's wheelchair and now Bill can use it. Does Bill sit in "The Hot Seat" or does he own up and fry in an altogether different type of hot seat?

Next Issue!
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