Thursday, October 3, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 44

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 29
October 1952 Part I

 Journey Into Mystery #3

"Hands Off!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"The Corpse!" (a: Mike Sekowsky & Sy Barry) 
"I Didn't See a Thing!" (a: Louis Zansky) 
"The Stroke of Midnight!" (a: Carmine Infantino) ★1/2

Eugene Varo believes himself a master craftsman of fake limbs. His boss, Perry Nugent, disagrees and tells Varo to come up with something more life-like or head for the unemployment line. Varo sits, dejected, pondering his fate, when a strange costumed character appears out of nowhere and explains to Eugene that he is from the past, here to purchase Varo's exquisite hands, which will be better appreciated centuries before (try to keep up here). Varo tells the apparition he can have the hands if the stranger will give them life long enough to strangle Nugent. The evil deed goes off without a hitch, Perry is throttled to death, but the police confiscate the hands and when the vision from the past reappears to claim his reward, he's not pleased to find Varo... empty handed. "Hands Off!" is a perfectly average little thriller with no distinctive features or twists. The final panel, of the handless Varo, is odd and bloodless. How odd is it that Bill Benulis handled art chores for two different scripts with the same title in back-to-back months (see September's Amazing Detective #14)?

Geologist John Saxton becomes convinced his fiancee, the gorgeous Barbara, is secretly in love with John's brother, Donald. He hires a PI to spy on the pair when they are alone and receives a less-than-glowing record of what they have to say to each other. Furious, John decides to kill the couple and, seeing how he's a geologist, it's a certainty John would have a really cool way of puling off the evil deed. The spiteful rock lover weakens the "shale ledge" that hangs over a local picnic spot and then invites the would-be lovers to lunch. He sends them on their way and gives his brother a pistol, urging him to teach Barbara how to shot. Just before he's leaving for the murder scene, John inexplicably stops to read the rest of the PI's word-for-word account and discovers that there was no affair at all; the whole thing has been a hideous misunderstanding! Racing to the picnic grounds, John screams out, alerting his brother not to fire the pistol, but the shout brings the ledge down on John. The End! I've had lots of bad things to say about Mike Sekowsky's art, but his work on "The Corpse" is not too bad at all; there are some genuinely atmospheric panels to be found here and there. The script is contrived (but let's be honest... most of these these scripts are) but, like "Hands Off!," I found the ride enjoyable.

The one-note joke of "I Didn't See a Thing" is teased in the title. A murderer hides in a bar from the ghosts of his victims. When the spirits show up at the tavern, the killer asks the bartender (over and over and over and...) if he sees the spooks and the bartender keeps replying "I don't see a thing." After the ghosts string their killer up in the courtyard, we see a sign in the barkeep's window revealing that he's blind. Louis Zansky joins the mob of generic 1950s artists we'll have to wade through to get to the good stuff.

Ebeneezer Grimm (think "Scrooge"), a miserly and cold-hearted banker, holds the town in the palm of his hand and he's not above evicting old women when they're late on their mortgage payments. That's exactly what happens to old Widow Brown, and Grimm delivers his own form of eviction right to the widow's face. A few minutes later, as she's leaving, the poor old woman is struck and killed by a truck but the incident means nothing to the evil banker. Upon reaching his bank, he sees the loveliest girl he's ever seen and becomes immediately smitten, going so far as to loan the young lady five hundred dollars. Hoping to take this relationship a bit farther, Grimm heads out to the girl's place and suggests a country drive. A storm leaves the pair stranded in an old abandoned shack and, very soon, Grimm discovers the lovely lass is not exactly who (or what) he thought she was. "The Stroke of Midnight" wins "Best-of-Issue" award but it's more for its snazzy Infantino art than for its stale plot (though the final twist is clever). The 1950s surely was home to more heartless bankers than the Wall Street of the 21st Century!

 Marvel Tales #109

"When the Vampire Strikes" (a: Syd Shores) 
"The House of Skulls" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2
"A Sight for Sore Eyes" (a: Don Perlin & Abe Simon) 
"The Cave of Death" (a: Stan Goldberg) 
"The Dragon" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Two reporters investigate an asylum that's had more than a few inmates confessing they're vampires. One of the loons explains to the journalists that his "people" have come over to America from Hungary because of a shortage of good blood. The reporters balk at the man's story so he sprouts his wings for effect and is staked for his troubles. Turns out the two newsmen are vampires sent by the bloodsucker bigwigs to keep the big mouths quiet about the ongoing invasion. "When the Vampire Strikes" has an obligatory right-out-of-left-field climax that, nonetheless, you can see coming a mile away, but Syd Shores' animated graphics are a hoot.

"The House of Skulls" relates the story of an archaeologist who's given free reign to witness human sacrifices to the Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, but then discovers at the last moment he's to be the final offering. Fabulous Joe Sinnott art and an interesting variation on the old "doomed archaeologist" chestnut, capped with a truly unique finale (the adventurer continues to narrate the story even after his death). But the selling-point is definitely Joltin' Joe's dynamic vision.

The art duo of Don Perlin and Abe Simon team up to produce some truly ugly art for "A Sight for Sore Eyes," a really dumb short about a nearsighted crook who steals a formula to cure his malady, only to discover the formula has only been tested on bats. So, naturally, the last panel sees the dimwit transformed into a bat! Perlin would go on to contribute more really bad art to Marvel's Werewolf by Night in the mid-1970s. Equally moronic is "The Cave of Death," about an escaped con who hides in a hole and starves himself until he's small enough to squeeze out the back way. After fasting for a week (and losing what looks like three-quarters of his body weight), the oaf discovers he's not strong enough to climb back out. Amateurish art and script.

Bill Lang, an American tourist in China finds a nice distraction in Lola Crews, the gorgeous woman he meets on a tour bus. The lady informs him that most of the sights they'll see are fake, staged by the tourist companies to keep Americans interested, but the last stop on the tour proves to be most interesting indeed. Steeping into the "Dragon Worshippers den," the pair get separated from the rest of the tour and stumble upon a room filled with occult idols. Bill soon discovers why Lola was so quick to make friends: she's actually a dragon! A fun, nicely-illustrated romp with a vicious finale (poor Bill ends up in a flaming pot), that doesn't overstay its welcome.

 Adventures Into Weird Worlds #11

"The Other Man" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"Ghost in the House!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2
"Help!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Alien!" (a: Marty Elkin) 
"Twanng!" (a: Larry Woromay) 

Bookseller George Bartok finds the diary of Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde) in a bargain stack (39-cent books!) and convinces himself that he can attain power and fortune if he simply follows the recipe for the formula that brought out Jekyll's alter ego. He brews the potion and becomes a hairy beast, heading out into the night to murder and rob anyone who crosses his path. Fleeing back to the bookstore with the police on his trail, Bartok downs the antidote and transforms back into his kindly old self just in time for the cops to bang on his door. He answers with a smile but is blown to bits by gunfire. When he asks the constables how they knew he was Mr. Hyde, they point out the fact that he hasn't become another person, only grown another face on the back of his head. Amazingly dumb and random (how would Jekyll's notes end up at a half-price bookstore and when did Hyde have the time to put his thoughts down on paper?), "The Other Man" also sports some of the weakest Tony DiPreta I've seen so far; very rushed and almost unfinished.

"Ghost in the House"
"Ghost in the House" is a silly short-short about a scoffer invited to a seance who makes a scene and then regrets it when the swami opens upon a conversation with the dead. Maneely is aces as always but I wish Stan hadn't used him on so many shorter pieces. Much better is "Help!," in which two antagonistic trappers end up... trapped... and facing a very nasty surprise. Winiarski's art is pretty rough, but it just seems to mesh with the nasty script. The final panel brings a great big smile.

Professor Carl Sandstrom has spent his life working on a machine that will contact Mars and, at long last, he's done it! With his nose buried deep in the machinery, Sandstrom doesn't notice how his young assistant, Don, and the Prof.'s wife, Alice, have been working on other experiments in each other's arms. When Sandstorm tells Don to notify the scientific world that his Martian correspondent, Murrhr, will be making an appearance in the egghead's lab, Don gets wise and calls the looney bin to send over a couple of men in white coats to haul the obviously goofy scientist away. As the door closes behind the attendants and the restrained Sandstrom, Murrhr makes his debut in the lab and demonstrates why the Martians really want to immigrate to Earth.

"The Alien" is dopey fun, with a smile-ear-to-ear climax. Early in the tale, Don and Sandstrom listen to the voice from Mars and mentally envision Murrhr and, amazingly, they both concoct the same image! The best line comes from Don, after the Professor begs him to bring some "doubting colleagues" to Murrhr's debut: "I'll bring them here to see the Martian appearance... even if I have to use force!"

The final tale this issue, "Twanng!" chronicles the sad life of Hector, a "shmoe" who works at a carnival (what Hector does is never actually documented) and has a monster crush on the gorgeous Sonja (who, likewise, doesn't serve a purpose other than beauty and plot development). When the gorgeous gal falls for hunk knife-thrower, Rocco, Hector sees red and devises a murderous plan involving a special knife that Rocco has banned from his carnival show. Hector corners Rocco in his tent one night and, despite pleas from Rocco, sends the blade a-flyin'. Very soon, the dope discovers why the knife-man doesn't use that blade in his act: it's a "boomerang knife!" Why in the world anyone (aside from James Bond's buddy, Q) craft such a weapon, and perhaps more importantly, why would Rocco keep it around? Larry Woromay's art probably isn't everyone's cup of tea (and, most times, that would include me) but, here, the exaggerated nature of the plot and the carnival surroundings actually work in its cartoony favor.

 Journey Into Unknown Worlds #13

"Witch Woman" 
(a: Carmine Infantino & Sy Barry) ★1/2
"The Thing in the Graveyard" (a: Jack Keller) ★1/2
"It Waits in the Box" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"The Bookworms" (a: Ed Robbins) 

Lon Stuart and his sister, June, inherit the estate which once belonged to the infamous Judge Silas Stuart, witch-hunter extraordinaire. The lace is a bit musty and can use a tidying up but the pair explore and stumble upon a secret room in the basement which holds the Judge's diaries. Lon becomes obsessed with the tome and learns that one of the witches the Judge burned at the stake leveled a curse at him with her dying breath. As he wraps up another exciting chapter in the diary, a voice startles him and he looks up to see a gorgeous brunette in the doorway. Soaking wet, the girl, who introduces herself as Carol Arden, asks Lon if she can borrow his fire and, after some casual conversation, he invites her to stay the night.

Carol and Lon become close very quickly and, just like that, June is delighted to hear her stuffy brother is getting hitched. Just as the good news is announced, Carol falls ill and is confined to bed-rest. After reading the Judge's diary, June becomes convinced that Carol is the "Witch Woman" who cursed her ancestor. Lon is understandably doubtful until June collapses after a mere touch of Carol's hand. Reading further in the diary, Lon discovers the only way to save June from a certain death is to kill Carol so, deciding his sister's life means more, he strangles his fiancé. Curse nullified, right? Not quite.

"Witch Woman" is a very enjoyable little mystery and it very much reminds me of the type of material DC was running in the early 1950s in House of Mystery. There's a supernatural threat. Or is there? Carol acknowledges she thinks June's theory about her true identity is correct and willingly dies for her lover's sister but there is no manifestation of her occult powers whatsoever. It can all be explained away by coincidence and superstition, along with Lon's heightened tension and what he read in the Judge's diary. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the relationship between June and Lon in Act I seems to be a little bit more... involved... than mere sister and brother. Again, this story feels like nothing else being published in the Atlas titles at the time (save for the last panel "twist"), and that feeling is multiplied by Carmine Infantino's very DC-esque artwork. It's got almost a cozy feel to it. A nice, calm, ultra-unviolent little gem.

After that, we get "The Thing in the Graveyard," a dreary little suspenser cobbled together from dozens of other dreary suspensers. Graveyard worker Harry Carson persuades widow Wilma Sontag (who stands to gain quite a lot of dough thanks to her dead son's insurance policy) to marry and, of course, his demeanor changes once he's got the poor old woman in his web. The joke's on Harry when Wilma receives the settlement and spends every penny on a nice full-size soldier monument for her son's grave. Harry snaps and tries to kill his wife but his son-in-law's statue comes to life to prevent the act. Cliched script and weak Jack Keller art. A bit better is "The Bookworms," about a married couple who kill off a rich aunt to inherit her fortune but get only a valuable dictionary for their troubles. They sell the volume to a book dealer, thinking they've put one over on the old man, and the final panel shows the dealer emptying the book of its contents: dozens of one-thousand dollar bills! Ed Robbins has a scratchy, rough style a la Tony Di Preta and here it works just fine.

A sea Captain receives odd orders from a strange customer: the man pays the Captain to haul aboard a large crate and hands him an envelope with explicit instructions that the missive not be opened until the boat is 1000 miles out to sea. Unbeknownst to the seaman, the stranger commits suicide as soon as the craft is out of sight. As always happens in the Atlas Universe, things go awry. Two of the crewmen get wind of the "valuable" crate and open it up just as the Captain decides that maybe a hundred miles offshore is far enough to open the envelope. Inside is a note explaining that the crate contains a creature ("spawned as a result of atom bomb tests") that could potentially destroy all life on Earth; the crate must be dumped in the middle of the ocean in an attempt to drown the thing or mankind is doomed. The Captain finishes the note just as the multi-limbed beastie bursts in and kills him. The rest of the crew follow and the beast then settles in for its trip to whatever port the ship drifts into.

What a fabulously fun adventure story, an honest-to-gosh Lovecraftian monster saga during a time when Atlas was sticking to vampires, witches, and werewolves for their villains. All that would change, of course, the following year when Hollywood would create the "giant monster" genre with such blockbusters as The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Them, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. "It Waits in the Box" more resembles The Thing from Another World (which had been released the year before) than anything else, with its claustrophobic and isolated setting. Give props to the uncredited writer (Stan? Hank?) for getting in on the ground floor of the atom bomb fallout scare, and don't forget Manny Stallman's imaginative art (the monster is nothing but a multitude of hands seemingly joined together somewhere). A deliciously creepy read, with a decidedly downbeat climax.

 Astonishing #18

"Jack the Ripper" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
(r: Dead of Night #6)
"Vampire at the Window" (a: Hy Rosen) ★1/2
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #2)
"Man with a Tail" (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #8)
"The Sweet Old Ladies" (a: Dick Ayers) 
(r: Giant-Size Dracula #2)
"The Last Kkrul" (a: John Romita) 
(r: Uncanny Tales #6)

A very average issue of Astonishing leads off with "Jack the Ripper," about a non-believer from America who heads to England to debunk the theory that Jack the Ripper still walks and is responsible for a new series of murders. The man discovers the cemetery where Jack was buried and becomes the latest fatality. Tony DiPreta's art at least keeps the pages turning but the script is not very original.

Reginald Rudley is convinced there's a "Vampire at the Window," and hires a PI to protect him. The gumshoe heads to Rudley's flat and faces the blood-sucker, but the detective then reveals to the terrified man that he's a vampire as well. Mercifully short. Larry Woromay is assigned a project that best suits his talents, yet again, with the silly "Man with a Tail." Benjy is born with a mouse's tail but soon makes the extra appendage work for him in a life of crime. When he's lifting wallets at a carnival one day, he meets the gorgeous Tigrina, who's delighted to make his acquaintance. Benji changes his mind though when Tigrina reveals she's a catwoman and her favorite snack is mice. Woromay has an interesting cartoony style that would only work with well with certain plots; the script is not that interesting and the reveal is expected but the snazzy visuals are a definite plus.

Two more dull and overworked plots sink the final stories. On the lam, a murderous drifter stumbles into the small village of Driftfalls and discovers a house full of old women. The con man worms his way in but discovers that "The Sweet Old Ladies" are actually a coven of witches. Perhaps the most disappointing of the quintet this issue, "The Last Kkrul" chronicles the exploits of a creature who climbs out of the "bowels of the Earth" after a huge storm and, through symbiosis, takes on the form of a hunter out with his pals. Like "It Waits in the Box," "The Last Kkrul" relies on The Thing From Another World for its inspiration but, unlike that previous story, "Kkrul" never musters anything to keep the reader's attention past the dazzling Romita visuals (the panel reprinted here is supremely creepy!).

Adventures Into Terror #12

"Horror in the Graveyard" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #11)
"The Hangman's Noose" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
(r: Vault of Evil #5)
"The Little Pests" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #5)
"The 13th Floor" (a: Dick Ayers) 
(r: Dead of Night #5)
"The Man Who Cried Ghost" (a: Ed Robbins) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #10)

When his car breaks down near a graveyard, Peter Morrison is set upon by three zombies and, in order to save his own life, must promise he'll bring three of his friends back to the cemetery as sacrifices. Morrison keeps his end of the bargain but his three buddies, now zombies, are hungry. Still a year away from his stint at EC, Bernie Krigstein was adapting his style from sketchy and amateurish to the sketchy and distinctive that made him a legend. Krigstein's zombies are both frightening and playful at the same time; not many artists could have pulled that off. The story's not half bad either; Morrison is a sympathetic character forced into making a deal with three devils and he meets a nasty end for his betrayals.

Ed Winiarski adds a whole heapin' helpin' of scratchy and ugly art to "The Hangman's Noose," a very silly crime drama starring Abner Slocum as the penny-pinching partner to rope magnate Clyde Dean. Dean draws the ire of his partner when it's revealed he's been using inferior material to make the company's rope. When Clyde strong-arms the cheapskate, Abner smacks him upside the head with a crowbar and stages a suicide, using the company's finest rope for "The Hangman's Noose." Slocum grabs a cop to discover the body but is amazed to find Dean quite alive and sporting the faulty noose, made with the very inferior material Clyde had been complaining about! In "The Little Pests," George Harper offs his wife and dumps her body in the local  pond. He then reports her missing and moves his girlfriend in after a respectable amount of time has passed. New squeeze, Stella, complains about the dreadful mosquito infestation to the local council and then the murderous couple receive good news shortly thereafter: the old pond will be drained to get rid of "The Little Pests!" Both "The Hangman's Nose" and "The Little Pests" would probably have fit comfortably in one of Atlas's crime titles of the day (Crime Can't Win, Crime Exposed, Crime Must Lose) had not the entire crime line been dumped very recently.

Bart Creel has the scare of his life when a ghoul comes into his building and demands to rent "The 13th Floor!" Despite his protests that there is no thirteenth floor, the creep threatens Creel's life if no contract is presented. Sensing he can make a lot of money off this weirdo, Creel has the papers drawn up and accepts the payment. He's astonished to discover, when deliveries are made and more weirdos head up in the elevator, that there apparently is a 13th floor in the building. When Bart demands to be shown the offices, his strange tenant warns that the floor exists only for ghouls but Creel is adamant. It doesn't end well for Bert Creel. An imaginative little horror-fantasy that begs the reader not to stop and think about the plot holes (just what are the ghouls doing on the 13th floor that they shouldn't be doing, say, in a graveyard?) and just enjoy the goofiness. Again, I'm finding myself entertained by this early Dick Ayers work; garish but simple. The finale, "The Man Who Cried Ghost," sees a graveyard worker who loves to call the police with fake reports of marauding ghosts. He pulls the stunt one too many times when... you guessed it!... the real ghosts come to haul him away.

In Two Weeks...
More Everett Chills!

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