Thursday, October 17, 2019

Journey Into Strange Tales! Atlas/ Marvel Horror Issue 45

The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 30
October 1952 Part II

 Strange Tales #11

"The Devil and Donald Webster"
(a: Paul Reinman) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #3)
"Walking Ghost"
 (a: Mike Sekowsky & Bill Walton)  ★1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #3)
"Darkness" (a: Jim Mooney) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #3)
"O'Malley's Friend" (a: Gene Colan) 
(r: Beware #2)

Donald Webster really really really wants to kill his overbearing wife but he can't work up the nerve (and, besdies, she outweighs him 2-to-1). After another fight with Martha, Donald takes a walk in the park where he's confronted by a man who claims he's Satan and can take care of all of Donald's problems, providing he signs on the dotted line. Figuring his soul is a small price to pay for peace, Donald quickly agrees and then goes home to his wife. A gunshot from the bedroom startles our hapless hero and when he enters the room, there is Satan standing over the fresh corpse of Martha. The police arrest Donald for murder, he's found guilty, and executed. When he gets to Hell, he remarks to the devil that it really isn't that bad... until he sees Martha waiting for him! Here's another one that's been told a dozen different ways, but the difference with "The Devil and Donald Webster" (an obvious "homage" to Benét's "The Devil and Daniel Webster") is the nice Paul Reinman graphics and the sense of humor. Poor Donald Webster is one of those Atlas protagonists who is really an innocent and doesn't deserve the fate awaiting him. Not only is his wife a bully, but Satan gets his lumps in as well (" spineless, weak-kneed, jelly-boned mollycoddle!") to add to Donald's humiliation.

Si Mallory (aka "The Debunker") has a very popular radio show, wherein he travels from haunted house to haunted house, proving there is no such thing as the supernatural. This week, Si is entering the infamous Black Mansion, once owned by Algernon Black, a man whose jealousy drove him to murder and the caused the death of his beloved wife. Now, so the legends say, Algernon is the "Walking Ghost," doomed to pace the house's floors for eternity. Once inside, Si discovers human remains and the hanging skeleton of Algernon Black himself. Still broadcasting, he exits the building boasting of another successful debunking and scares away all his fans. Si is a walking corpse. "Walking Ghost" has another of those inexplicable climaxes that makes you shake your head and wonder if you missed a paragraph or two. There's no explanation for Si's appearance in the final panel; we're just supposed to gasp and say "How scary!" The sheriff's department in Black Mansion's area was obviously not up to standards since the three bodies had been left to molder for decades despite the house's ominous reputation! At least we get passable Sekowsky art.

Escaped convict Harry Remson hides aboard a freighter, fleeing the cops, when the ship hits a mine and he's thrown into the sea. Unconscious, he drifts and comes to on a small island. Though he's happy that he's alive and not rotting in a jail cell, he nonetheless becomes nervous about the lack of sun. He builds a fire and settles down, waiting for "Darkness" to lift, not realizing he's actually in the belly of a whale. Pretty dumb for a multitude of reasons (not the least of which is the fact that, as romantic a notion it is, you couldn't survive 24 hours inside a whale without air), "Darkness" is fun, disposable, lightweight fare with some decent Jim Mooney graphics.

St. Peter (disguised so that's he's not mobbed on the street) comes calling on the house of O'Malley and his wife, a couple so down on their luck they have exactly one piece of bread on their table for dinner that night. Regardless, O'Malley offers a seat and half of his bread to the stranger. Impressed, St. Peter grants O'Malley two wishes. His wishes are insanely offbeat (and he catches hell from his nonplussed wife) but pay off in spades when the devil comes calling to take O'Malley to hell. Not horror literature's most unique storyline, "O'Malley's Friend" almost seems based on an old Irish fable or something. Gene Colan continues to deliver jaw-dropping work. I wonder if it's dumb luck that he manages to catch decent stories to illustrate or if it's the fact that the writers knew Colan would deliver. Yeah, right, dumb luck. Attention should also be paid to the eye-catching Bill Everett cover, one which perfectly embodies what the pre-code horror genre was all about.

 Uncanny Tales #3

"The Tin Cup" (a: Don Perlin & Abe Simon) ★1/2
(r: Uncanny Tales #8)
"He Died Screaming" (a: Jack Keller) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #16)
"Crazy" (a: Jerry Robinson) ★1/2
(r: Where Monsters Dwell #34)
"Escape... To What?" 
(r: Uncanny Tales #8)
"The Slave" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
(r: Dead of Night #8)

Every day, passersby drop coins into "The Tin Cup" belonging to Carl, the one-eyed, legless beggar on the corner. If the charitable strangers only knew that the handicaps were a ruse, that Carl makes himself up and straps himself into a truss every morning in order to pull off the ultimate con, they might not be so giving. One day, a thug follows Carl back to his apartment and robs him. Carl chases the robber into a subway station, where a fist fight leads to the pair falling in front of an approaching train. The thief is killed but Carl miraculously survives despite the loss of one of his eyes and both legs. Very soon, Carl returns to his familiar post on the corner, holding out his tin cup.

"The Tin Cup" features one of the most mature scripts yet presented in the Atlas horror titles; it is, in fact, more representative of the kind of material EC became famous for at the time. Carl's ironic fate is chilling stuff, indeed; so nasty in fact that you almost feel sympathy for the con man despite his past sins. It's interesting that the uncredited writer doesn't dwell on the identity of the mystery man who follows Carl back to his room to roll him. Did the stranger guess that Carl was a phony? "The Tin Cup" also features quite good graphics from (what I would call) an unlikely source: Don Perlin, whose Werewolf By Night issues had... issues. Here, though, Perlin (with help from inker Abe Simon) perfectly captures the squalor of New York City.

Getting money out of entrepreneur Andrew Malvern was like talking to a wall. Even his daughter can't get a word out of the old man when she asks for a blessing for her upcoming wedding. Only Andrew's lovely chiquita, Ola, can elicit more than a shrug and a dismissal. When Ola tells Andrew her visa is expiring and she wants to go back to Brazil (with Malvern and all his money in tow), the skinflint heads to his home vault to withdraw his life savings. When he hears voices, the tightwad closes the vault door, forgetting it only opens from the outside. As his screams for help fall on deaf ears, the people waiting for him leave, remarking that there's no reason to wait around and talk to the walls. "He Died Screaming" is unremarkable but for the character of Ola, whose various pet names for Malvern are hilarious:

"Beesiness! I do not understand about these things! But you are so smart, my enchillado!"
"It's more wonderful to be with you, Ola! You're the only one who doesn't ask me for anything... the only one who loves me for myself alone... and not for my money!"
"That's true, my cucaracho!"

After a man leaves the scene after committing a hit-and-run, he wonders why the people in the town are staring at him so funny until he's pulled from the car by an angry mob and sees his victim lying across the front grill. Famed Batman artist Jerry Robinson takes a stab at this oft-told twist and his final panel, of the man on the grill, is pretty nasty stuff. I know I've seen this trick before (a few times on TV, obviously inspired by the Chante Mallard case), but I'm not sure whether it had been used prior to the publication of "Crazy!" If not, props to Stan Lee for coming up with such a clever reveal.

Not so clever is "Escape... To What?," wherein mobster Lukey ventilates his partner Eddie Rodak in order to inherit both halves of a nice haul. The fight overturns a lamp, which ignites the room in flames. Evidently, Lukey dies and goes to hell (I think) and then must pass eternity on a loop, from murder to hell over and over and...  Last up is "The Slave," a so-so adventure about a murderer hiding out in a Peruvian village, robbing the graves of the dead for their valuables, and paying the ultimate price for his sins. Ed Winiarski's scratchy doodles are really hard on the eyes.

 Spellbound #8

"The Last Mile" 
"Z-Z-Z-P!" (a: Russ Heath) 
"The Man Who Hated Children" (a: Howie Post) 
"Shock Treatment!" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
"The Operation" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

In "The Last Mile," a death row inmate manages to steal a spoon and dig his way into the next cell... which happens to be where they keep the electric chair. Outlandish concept (this guy manages to dig through concrete with his spoon faster than if he had an excavator!) and an ironic (if extremely silly) twist ending save this from being a bore.

Frank can't stand his brother, Eric, and the chief reason might be that Eric stands to gain the most from their family inheritance. Luckily for Frank, Eric is a nut for exotic curios and the native blow-gun with the poisoned darts gives the conniving Frank a bright idea. With one "Z-Z-Z-P!," all his troubles will be gone. Unfortunately, no one told Frank "which end holds the poison!" We are seeing way too little of favorite Russ Heath in the pages of Atlas lately and this little fable, stuffed with talking head panels, does not quench my thirst one bit. Hugo Brown is "The Man Who Hated Children," a grouch so impatient with the youngsters that he tosses errant baseballs into the sewer just to hear the little monsters squeal. When ground is broken for a new playground right across the street from Hugo, he orders his wife to pack her things so they can move far from the city. This doesn't sit well the Missus and she shows her displeasure in a very uncomfortable fashion. Silly yarn with very bad art; poor Mrs. Brown (with her Marty Feldman eyes) is done no favors at all.

Criminal mastermind Ellis Porter has concocted the perfect way to get away with murder. First he drives rival mobster Big Boy Corelli onto the tracks of an oncoming train and then, set for his inevitable arrest and trial for Corelli's murder, he begins taking larger and larger doses of voltage in a make-shift electric chair. Just after Porter has built up to a tolerance for heavy electric jolts, the cops throw together enough evidence for an arrest and nab Porter. The cocky hood is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death... by hanging. "Shock Treatment!" is overly wordy and ridiculous nonsense (there must be an easier way to get away with murder), with atmospheric graphics from Ayers and Bache, who are fast moving up my quality ladder.

Kurt Lager is a master criminal, wealthy beyond anyone's dreams, but he's ugly as all hell and he's decided to end it all with a bullet to the brain. Just in time, his bodyguard enters with startling news: he's heard about a master surgeon who can fix gnarled limbs and transform his patients into brand new citizens. Lager grabs his shield and hoofs it to the doc's place but the MD is naturally hesitant to operate on a wanted felon. The hunchbacked killer warns the medic that his family and his dog will all be killed if he doesn't sterilize his scalpels and get to work. With no alternatives, the doc labors for hours and finally emerges to let the bodyguard know he's finished but that he doesn't think it went well because... (as Lager's muscle checks out his boss's new look) he's a tree surgeon! This could be one of the stupidest (but, make no mistake, laugh-out-loud funniest) climaxes we've yet seen, and I loved it! Joe Sinnott's art (as usual) plays a part in my pleasure but there are also some silly touches that can't help but make me smile (like the bodyguard relating that he's just overheard a conversation between two men on the street about a master surgeon just before his boss is about to ventilate himself -- talk about timing!). Sinnott's finale, a glimpse of the Lager-Thing writing in the operating room, is priceless.

 Suspense #23

"Molu's Secret!" (a: Carmine Infantino) ★1/2
"Death and Mr. Marko" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Vampire, Beware!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
"The Return Trip" (a: Cal Massey) ★1/2
"The Man in Black" (a: Sy Grudko) 
"The Ugly Man" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Skin-Deep" (a: Syd Shores) 

Bum Squinty Williams heads to Africa after discovering that shrunken heads are all the rage. With dollars dancing in his noggin, Squinty hops a freighter and strikes a deal with head-shrinking natives to provide him with lots of little heads. Unfortunately, native Molu decides that Squinty's head should be the first to be shrunken. Really nice art is the highlight of both "Molu's Secret" and "Death and Mr. Marko." Carmine affects an almost Bernie Krigstein view on matters, especially in the killer final panel.

"Molu's Secret"
Joe Sinnott has an equally important part in the success of "Marko," but there's a nice, twisty script as well. Silas Marko is on trial for the killin' of ol' Doc Ford. "Open and shut case of moyda," I hear ya say, but there are some exterminating circumstances involved. Fer' instance, did ya know that Silas and the Doc happened upon the crashin' of one of them UFOs? Or that the aliens what debarked said spaceship infected the duo with Martian rot, a disease developed to wipe out mankind and leave the Earth ripe for Martian pickin'? Didn't think so. No one believes Silas until he's sentenced to hang and the hangman shows up with what can only be described as Martian rot! I am loving Joe Sinnott's work in the Atlas horror titles (I've probably said that one too many times, but...), and it's a doggone dirty shame that Joe pretty much gave up the penciling to become The King's inker. Granted, that position paid off well later on (though, knowing Marvel, not in the monetary sense) but, for now, I'll enjoy Joe's moody, grimy, downright chilling graphics in these little horror stories.

"Mr. Marko"
More great art awaits in "Vampire, Beware!," in which a wax museum proprietor, sick of fading business, sails to Hungary to seek out real vampires to inject new blood in the business. Unfortunately, for Willie, the vampires have the same idea about humans. Bill Everett was always capable of juggling horror and humor and his skull-faced blood-drinkers are both chilling and somehow a tad on the jocular side.

Professor Norge builds a rocket ship and blasts off for the moon with assistant Lyon in tow. For his part, Lyon is jealous of the fame and fortune that will come for Norge and decides to off the egghead just after they land. Lyon takes a walking tour of the lunar landscape and then calls Earth to inform them that the kindly Professor has met with an accident, requesting instructions for "The Return Trip.". The radio voice informs Lyon he'll go down in history but, alas, Norge was the only man in the world who knew how to fly the ship! Clever twist and some very nice art by Cal Massey; almost Wally Wood-ian at times. There's a really insightful interview with Massey in Alter Ego #105, covering his days with Atlas before he quit comics to enter the advertising biz.

Track gambler Benny the Tout is forced into betting money on a "sure thing"by notorious hood, Go-Away Garrison, but on the way back from the window he meets "The Man in Black," an alien sent to extinguish Earth. Benny tricks the spaceman into betting the Earth's fate on a horse and wins but ends up in the stir on trumped up charges. Hard to get through the hip-with-it dialogue found in the endlessly boring pages of "The Man in Black":

Go-Away: Because you are a character who is always nice to me, I am in a good way to turn a large bundle of do-re-mi your way!

Benny: I am indeed grateful, but I wish no part of your sure thing! All you can get me is a large bundle of time in stir!

Sy Grudko's art falls firmly into that generic, unimaginative slot populated by the Howie Posts and Jack Kellers. It's neither memorable nor horrible; it's just there.

"The Ugly Man"
Brilliant (but ugly) scientist Ignatz Nopply can create an army of zombies, turn men into werewolves, and converse with the dead, all in his spare time, but he can't win over the lovely woman who dines at his favorite restaurant. When the woman tells Ignatz she wouldn't date him if he was the last man on Earth, the brilliant (but ugly) scientist whips up a new potion to prove the woman wrong. "The Ugly Man" is a fun quickie with a humorous twist and the usual spiffy Maneely work. The finale, "Skin-Deep" is hardly worth discussing aside from Syd Shores' fine penciling. Joy Hastings is an up-and-comer in Hollywood who'll step on anyone to achieve superstardom, but when tragedy strikes her movie set in Africa, Joy is left to fend for herself against the vicious natives. The "twist" is telecast pages before the final panel and the six-page length feels more like sixty. Yawn.

Mystic #13

"In the Dark" (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) 
"The Man with the Knife!" ★1/2
"The Wrong Guy" 
"The Trap That Jack Built!" (a: Louis Zansky) ★1/2

Super Russkie spy Kurt Ravec (well, we're actually never told  his country of origin, but this is 1950s Atlas, so...) has been enlisted to break into the lab holding the plans for the new American "atom weapon." Luckily, the plant is located next to a graveyard so his men are able to dig their way through the dead and into the wall of the facility. Ravec makes the trek (across strangely placed bones and coffins -- didn't the workers think to clear the detritus out?) through the tunnel and into the lab where he photographs the schematics and then makes his way back to the tunnel opening.

Just then, two scientists enter the lab and Ravec is forced to hide in a "hole in the wall" which, unfortunately for our Soviet friend, is the barrel of America's new super weapon! Even though I'm a curmudgeon when it comes to these anti-Russia tales (though I guess the sentiment is starting to become contemporary again, isn't it?), "In the Dark" is a thoroughly enjoyable little yarn with engaging graphics by Dick Ayers and a laugh-out-loud finale. As I sarcastically noted in the synopsis, it is odd that Ravec encounters complete skeletons and coffins on his claustrophobic crawl to the lab. And that claustrophobia comes right off the page.

"The Man with the Knife" is a cute short-short about a gangster boss who is taken to a washed-up heart surgeon after being ventilated in a street fight. The boss' henchmen force the old man to operate despite his protests but everything works out in the end. As the men are loading their boss into their car, one of the thugs asks the doc why his license was revoked. The old-timer admits that he could be absent-minded at times as we see, back in the lab, the beating heart of the mobster on the doc's work table! GCD posits a theory that the artist for "The Man with the Knife" is Mannie Banks and, based on his other work, I think that's a very good guess. On the opposite side of quality in the short-short department is "The Wrong Guy," about a hard-headed bruiser who loves to create troubles while he's behind the wheel. His wife constantly warns someday he'll pick the wrong guy to bully and, whatcha know?, she's right. The dope beats up a truck driver and then tosses his stogie at him, unaware the guy is driving a truck filled with TNT. Thank goodness we brought our trucking standards up since the 1950s.

"The House That Jack Built" is a ludicrous piece of nonsense about a sailor who has a near-death experience and then swears off water for the rest of his life. No boat ride, no baths, ostensibly no toilets. The gruff Tar then begins a life of robbery and murder in order to build himself a dream house under a crypt... just in time for the Mississippi to overflow its banks and drown the rat. Stories with extreme behavior such as Jack's aversion to any kind of water usually lose me quickly. The finale, "Checkmate," has tolerable art but a head-scratcher of a climax. Chess expert, Herb Grollin,  is perplexed when a professor's robot beats Herb at a chess tournament. Infuriated and embarrassed, Herb breaks into the Prof.'s lab at night to see what makes the tin can tick. He finds nothing untoward besides nuts, bolts, and wiring, but the Professor's entrance forces Herb to commit murder. Enraged he destroys the robot and then collapses dead, the victim of living chess pieces (??). Well, I think that's what happens. You be the judge as the entire page is reprinted here, but the left turn away from the robot to sentient rooks and kings makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Next Issue:
Another Horrific Heaping Helping of


Nequam said...

Regarding various stories:
Urban legend collector/researcher Jan Harold Brunvand mentions this story in his book Curses! Broiled Again when discussing a 1986 Ann Landers account of a drunk driver hitting an 8-year-old girl and driving home with her stuck in the grille. To quote Mr. Brunvand:

"The day after most of the discussion appeared in my column (in late March 1987), Professor Malcolm K. Shuman of the Museum of Geoscience at Louisana in Baton Rouge wrote. He remembers reading a story very similar to the legend while browsing through the comic-book collection of a younger cousin some thirty years ago ('ca. 1953, give or take a couple of years')."

The description of the comic story that follows is definitely "Crazy", although Brunvand does not give the title of the story or the comic it was in. (Presumably he didn't know at the time.)

"The Last Mile" sounds like a steal from Harvey Kurtzman's "Mole!" from MAD #2.

"The Man in Black"'s lingo sounds less like it's supposed to be hepcat and more like the writer (Stan Lee?) decided to try their hand at Damon Runyon.

Grant said...

I can't help liking that comment in the "In The Dark" review about the "sentiment starting to become contemporary." In fact, this has been a big week for the new cold war attitude, but I won't go into that.

Peter Enfantino said...

Nor will I, Grant. I try to remain mum when it comes to politics (well, contemporary politics, that is) but I assume my semi-sorta sarcastic remarks about Stan's preoccupation with "those damn Russkies" might give my views away.