Thursday, June 9, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 62


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 47
July 1953 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Menace #5

“Zombie!” (a: Bill Everett) ★★★★

(r: Tales of the Zombie #1)

“Crack-Down!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“Nightmare!” (a: George Tuska) ★★

(r: Tales of the Zombie #2)

“Rocket Ship!” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★1/2

A nameless “Zombie!” rises from the grave to do a sadistic slob’s bidding but the rat pushes the dead man too far when he sends him after a gorgeous young lady. The zombie ignores his duty, comes back to the man’s shack and murders him, proving the power of love is stronger than voodoo. The girl was the zombie’s daughter!

There really isn’t much to the story (other than the very effective twist ending) that we haven’t seen countless times before from various publishers but is “Zombie!” deemed a classic because of the Tales of the Zombie title that ran 10 issues (and an annual) back in 1973-75? Of course, Bill Everett’s art has quite a bit to do with the story’s legs; the monster isn’t some ghoulish thing with dripping entrails, he’s more like a sleepy Frankenstein’s Monster (Everett’s splash is a master class in quiet horror). I’m a bit biased towards “Zombie!” as the rebooted character (christened Simon Garth in Roy Thomas’s rewrite two decades later) would become my favorite of the 1970s Marvel Monster/Heroes. Still, Bill Everett’s “Zombie!” would have been a classic even if Roy had not had the brilliance to see something special in a forgotten monster.

Senator Cobb is coming to Midville to “conduct a Senate investigation” of crime in the city. Mob boss Ace Harrow has put the word on the street: no crime until the Senator has left the building. Mouse Cooley is not the smartest hood in Midville so, despite a beating from Ace’s hoods, Mouse decides to roll a rich stranger outside his favorite bar. No problem, figures Mouse, no way Ace discovers it’s him. Then Mouse gets called before the subcommittee and realizes his victim is Senator Cobb! Predictable is a very good adjective to stick on “Crack-Down!,” but it’s not a total failure. It has some great art by Maneely and contains a good sampling of what was going on in crime funny books of the day. Lots of Cagney-esque tough talk and right crosses.

When Hunk Gillem murdered Tom Britton, he never imagined his nights would be filled with such horrible nightmares; no peace or sleep at all. Every night, the same vision: he’s chased into the cemetery and falls against Britton’s tombstone, where the dead man rises from the grave and pours acid on Hunk’s face. At just that moment, he awakens in a cold sweat. His favorite bartender tells Tom he has the perfect cure and hands the man a vial of dark liquid to take before bedtime. Hunk downs the liquid and falls fast asleep but the same dream invades his brain. The next morning, he confronts the bartender only to discover the tapster is Satan himself and that last night’s “Nightmare!” really happened. Other than the Satan cameo, this is pretty predictable fodder, but I have no complaints about George Tuska’s art, which is very effective in spots. I always wonder how these guys, reduced to skulls, can still talk. And how is it that Hunk has no idea what’s going on when he has no eyeballs? That might be my first clue.

In the distant future of 2005, the world has become over-populated thanks to the “200-year pill” handed out back in 1964. Now, rocket man Harvey Kent is Earth’s only hope. Harvey builds a multi-billion dollar “Rocket Ship!” (the first of a vast fleet that will bring millions of Earthlings to another world), assembles a skeleton crew, and heads for Venus for some reconnaissance. The trip goes swimmingly but Harvey runs into a bump in the road when he exits the ship and crumbles to dust. Venus has poisonous air. A particularly harrowing climax to a gorgeous space opera. Russ Heath’s galaxy is a thing of beauty. I’m not sure I would have set events so closely to present day (this incredible future was less than fifty years away) but that’s immaterial. This is an incredibly gloomy prediction that’s really not too far off the mark. For one issue, at least, Stan’s grand experiment really does distance itself from its sister titles.

Mystery Tales

“The Invisible Woman!” (a: Tony DiPreta)  ★★1/2

“Booby Trap” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★1/2

“The Sure Thing!” (a: Ross Andru) ★★

“The Death of a Miser!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★

“The Lucky Stiff!” (a: George Oleson) ★

Frank is a brilliantly evil genius. He’s taken advantage of the fact that there’s an invisible woman striking fear into the hearts of the city’s population to map out a plan to kill his wife and elope with his secretary, Claire. “The Invisible Woman” murders, it seems, at random and then disappears into thin air. Trust has hit rock bottom. Frank begins throwing suspicion on his wife and creates a mob out of his neighbors. They storm Frank’s house and lynch his wife. One month later, Frank and Claire are honeymooning at the Grand Canyon when Frank feels a phantom push at his back and, as he’s falling to his death, realizes he’s just married the real invisible woman!

Though there’s not a lick of sense to found here (there’s never a reason given for Claire’s rampage of murder, and I would think Frank would try to avoid any questions from the authorities by waiting more than thirty days to re-marry!), I still found “The Invisible Woman” to be thoroughly enjoyable fluff. And DiPreta’s art is perfectly apt for the tone.

In the year 2958, Mars has invaded and conquered Earth and made slaves out of mankind. As the aliens begin a systematic annihilation of humans, a handful of scientists get together and set the perfect “Booby Trap.” The twist is predictable but who cares when you’ve got Joe Sinnott behind the curtain, illustrating some great lizard-like Martians.

Down on his luck and needing some dough, Al Mortell rolls a man in an alley and is forced to kill him. The guy has a ticket on an ocean liner so Al decides to take a trip. While on board, Al notices a strange man in black (kinda looks like the guy he killed, don’t it?) standing on deck, but puts that to the side and plots a get-rich-quick scheme. The boat management is running a pool and the person who comes closest to guessing the amount of time it takes for the liner to get from point A to point B wins five grand. 

A lightbulb goes on over Al’s head; he picks a longer travel time than anyone else and then throws himself overboard to slow the ship. As he calls out for help to the only man on deck (that man in black who looks kinda familiar), his pleas are ignored by the ghost of the man Al killed in the alley! The best thing I can say about “The Sure Thing!” is that Ross Andru contributes some decent art, very Colan-ish. “The Death of a Miser!” is a very silly variation on the “old man who hides a treasure in his house full of junk” trope. Our hapless protagonist kills the titular hoarder for his fortune and when the cops show, he grabs a newspaper from a stack and hits the road, trying to look natural. Unfortunately for this dope, he grabbed a paper with the headline, “Abe Lincoln Assassinated.”

Burt is smitten with Lisa but her dad is an undertaker and Burt has a thing about dead bodies. Eventually, Lisa’s pop’s urgings for Burt to find work before he dates Lisa are heeded and Burt becomes the new undertaker on the block. But things go sour the first night he runs the shop solo when the dead come back to life. Screaming, he heads upstairs to Lisa and her dad, who calm the man and tell him death is not to be feared. They both grab Burt and jump from the window to the ground far below. There’s no sense whatsoever to “The Lucky Stiff!” I know because I re-read the final page three times searching for something I missed. It ain’t there. 


“Zombie in the Streets” (a: John Buscema) ★★1/2

(r: Dead of Night #7)

“Dorothy’s Doll” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

(r: Vault of Evil #14)

“The Honeymooners” (a: Tony Mortellaro) ★

(r: Vault of Evil #16)

“Homicide” (Bill Savage & Ross Andru) ★★★

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #6)

“The Ghost Comes Back!” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache) ★

(r: Crypt of Shadows #13)

Psychiatrist  Arnold Hoyt has a big problem on his hands: his gorgeous wife, Evalina, has her eyes on that mink stole and Hoyt is tapped. His solution is to inject his top-secret formula into freshly-dead John Riordan, who had only recently been hanged for murder, and resuscitate the man as a zombie slave. Now, you’d expect Hoyt to use his zombie to rob banks like all the other Atlas mad scientist/love-struck old guys but, no, the mad doctor has Riordan murder his patients one-by-one and bring their bodies back to the office. There, Hoyt strips them of their wallets and then sells their bodies to scientists!

After killing off most of his clients (and yet not receiving one visit from the cops!), he’s down to his final card and still shy 716 bucks of his $10,000 goal. He hands the address card to Riordan, sends him on his way, and then realizes he’s given Evalina’s card to the zombie (she was a patient of his before they married but evidently Hoyt is such a good file-keeper that he’s updated her address). Hoyt rushes home to find the monster has yet to carry out his task. From out of the shadows comes Riordan, who admits he’s going to have to kill his master because he, himself, has fallen in love with Evalina. 

Wacked-out scripts always seem to be the most fun and “Zombie in the Streets” is four bourbon tumblers full of goofiness. At no point does common sense enter the equation here. Hoyt is obviously a genius (the guy can raise the dead and I’d call that pretty smart) but he continually makes the wrong decisions. Wouldn’t it have been easier to either a/ send Riordan to a rich guy’s house or b/ rob a jewelry store? Better yet, have your zombie steal the mink coat! Instead, this poor genius/dope is killing paupers (there’s a panel where Hoyt pulls $32 from a wallet). I want to see the sequel where Riordan professes love to Evalina.

Fred and Dorothy Bartlett can only prey that their deathly sick one-year-old daughter, Dorothy, makes it through the night. Aching with grief, Fred runs from the house and finds himself in front of the toy store where he’s bought so many of little Dorothy’s delights. Fred is taken aback by a figure in the store window, a doll that looks exactly like Dorothy. Even though it empties his wallet, he buys the toy and brings it home to show his wife. They put the doll in Dorothy’s crib with her and tuck her in for the night. Later, Death comes and takes the lookalike, leaving a suddenly healthier Dorothy in her crib. Though Death’s final monologue teeters on the maudlin, “”Dorothy’s Doll” is an effective 4-pager with some genuinely creepy art from Gentleman Gene.

There’s nothing creepy about “The Honeymooners,” a deadly dumb comedy about Karl, who comes to a small village and wins the heart of Stella, a girl who is “as a daughter” to every man in town. Though Karl swears he will make Stella the happiest woman in the world, the people of the village worry. Then, on their wedding night, Stella’s father walks past the home of “The Honeymooners” and watches in terror as Karl strangles Stella. When Karl answers the pounding on the door, he explains to his father-in-law that he’s actually a zombie and he’s just made Stella his zombie bride. 

Jim makes sure the town bum won’t be bothering him anymore by putting an axe in the vagrant’s head. While he’s hiding the body, Bill makes an ill-timed visit and witnesses the carnage. Jim levels his shotgun at his friend and tells him two murder charges are worth the same as one in their state. Bill promises to keep his yap shut but, to be on the safe side, Jim has his buddy hold the axe and smear blood on his clothes. The men then dump the bum’s body in the cellar and promise each other they’ll stay mum. After Bill leaves, Jim calls the police to report a body in his cellar. Darkly humorous and gorgeously illustrated by Savage and Andru (not much Andru shows through Savage’s pencils and that’s a good thing), ”Homicide” is that rarity: a satisfying four-pager. Standout is the panel where we see the axe imbedded in the vagrant’s skull but we don’t see the man’s head. The gore is simulated but that’s certainly enough.

Last up is the anemic “The Ghost Comes Back!,” with kindly old Julia held hostage by a violent escaped convict who demands money or he’ll crush her bones to make his bread. Julia explains she hasn’t a penny in the house but her twenty-years dead husband returns every year on this night, and he might have a buck or two. The criminal scoffs until he sees a dark figure shambling across the yard, clad in a sailor’s outfit and seaweed head to toe. Screaming, the thief races from the house and the sea captain enters the house, telling his wife he’s growing tired of the day-to-day grind of sailing. The twist is cute but doesn’t hold water once you start thinking back to the panels that preceded. The weak script and iffy art send “The Ghost Comes Back!” to a watery grave.

Strange Tales #20

“The Man Who Couldn't Be Punished” (Fred Kida) ★★★

“He Swallowed It Up” (Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“Wilbur" (Sid Greene) ★

“Keep Your Eye on Junior” (Ed Moline & Sheldon Moldoff) ★★★

"The World I Lost!” (John Forte) ★★

In the year 1990, capital punishment and prisons have been abolished. Criminals are punished by the deduction of years from the life of the convicted, doled out by mechanical brains known as "life-subtractors." Blackie Nolan's entire gang has been arrested over the years and turned into old men by the life-subtractors but Blackie's convinced he's found a way to cheat the system. Somehow (don't ask 'cuz the uncredited writer ain't tellin’), Blackie has run across a formula that will make him immune to prosecution and the carrying out of a sentence. 

To test his formula, Blackie robs a bank, turns over the loot to his boys, and waits for the heat to show. When he's zapped by the life-subtractors nothing happens but, having been convicted and served his sentence, he's a free man and he carries out robbery after robbery. A special "congressmen-calculator" session (a group of mechanical noggins in glass jars) is held and a solution is agreed upon: since Blackie is obviously one of the smartest men in the world, he's made a vice-president calculator. A rare political statement (outside of the Russkie-rants) in an Atlas comic book. I’ve not read any Philip K. Dick, but people I know swear by the writer and tell me I'm missing out. I have seen several film adaptations of his short stories and, based on that, I have to believe that out there somewhere exists a Dick story just like this one.

“He Swallowed It Up” is the entertaining, if more than a bit outlandish, tale of two rival carnival acts vying for the “World’s Greatest Sword Swallower” crown. The two compete in a game of macabre oneupmanship that doesn’t end well (for swallower or the reader). The climax is more than a bit foggy but Gene Colan’s art is gorgeous. With his dear Uncle Phineas dead, Tony shows up at the reading of the will the same time as his cousin, Wayne, to discover their uncle left them one-third each of one million dollars, with the remainder to go to a mysterious “Wilbur,” a friend Phineas brought back from a trip to Africa and who has stayed on at the estate. The will stipulates (as all wills seemingly do) that if one or more of the parties die, then the will shall be divvied up by survivors. Tony helps Wayne take a header off a high cliff and then heads back to the mansion to take care of “Wilbur,” only to discover that his uncle’s buddy is a lion! Pedestrian art by Sid Greene and the 300th variation on the “vulture relative” storyline sinks this one fast.

A new governess must keep an eye on Junior, son of a world-famous scientist, to keep him from playing with a very realistic diorama of a small village upstairs in the attic. Seems the scientist has been up to some strange experiments and he doesn’t want his impetuous imp to ruin them. The poor nanny takes her eye off the ball for one second and the little monster dumps a glass of water on the village. Halfway around the world, thousands are killed by a freak flood in a small Chinese village. Eccentricity ofttimes leads to entertainment and “Keep Your Eye on Junior” is a perfect example. In three pages, the reader is presented with an impossible situation and, basically, told to just wing it. No reasoning is given for the diorama, outside of a comment made by the scientists’s wife (“In a way, the mechanism can be considered a sort of toy!”), nor explanation made for the disaster. Any explanation would be pat and silly anyway. Remove that expository and you have a really good mystery. The Moline/Moldoff team do a bang-up job of imitating Ghastly Graham Ingels in several spots here.

Adam Tyler, a scientist who specializes in atomic power (but never seems to do anything about it) spends his days worrying about the destruction of mankind should the wrong party latch onto his “discoveries.” Adam does what every man in his position who has questions would do: he builds a time machine to travel far into the future to see what calamities face man. At some point, Adam blacks out on the journey and wakes up hundreds of years in the future to find the world populated by radiation-mutated freaks. The creatures chase Adam into the jungle and bash his time machine to bits. But, luckily for Adam, the editors of Strange Tales will give him a second chance next issue. Laughable science mixes with cliched dialogue and outcomes. I love how this dopey scientist (from 1953, mind you) just whips up a time machine in the space of two panels, no testing at all, and jumps in for a ride. If he can solve the space/time continuum on his coffee break, can’t he crack smaller problems like world peace with one arm tied behind his back? The two-parter seems to have become a trend in the Atlas horror titles around this time. 

Uncanny Tales

“The Mark of Death” (a: John Romita) ★★1/2

“Murder Will Out!” (a: Sam Burlockoff) ★★

“Call for Luther Kane” (a: Myron Fass) ★★

“Money Mad!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2

“The Man Who Came Back to Life” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★1/2

John is invited by friend, Richard, to join an ultra-secret club known as “the Glowing Circle.” When Richard travels with his friend to the “clubhouse,” he learns that the initiation fee to the club is murder. When Richard sees a man on the street with a glowing circle on his back, he must plunge a dagger in the victim and bring back the glowing circle to the members.

That night, John is taken by two shadowy characters to a street near his home and shown the proposed victim who, sure enough, has a glowing circle on his back. John kills the man and steals the symbol but when he turns the corpse over he is shocked to discover it’s Richard. When he takes the circle back to the clubhouse, he is introduced to the other members, all ghosts of men Richard had had murdered! John is told he must die to join and he refuses, but the decision is out of his hands as he leaves the building with a glowing circle blazing across his back. A very peculiar little tale of dread, “The Mark of Death” might have been influenced by the real-life shenanigans of the Hell-Fire Club. The denouement is a bit confusing as, it’s assumed, John knew his co-members were all men he had killed so why would he trust them?

In “Murder Will Out!” (a title that makes very little sense), a man believes that a lorelei lives on a nearby beach. The thing takes the shape of his gorgeous wife and, in the end, tricks him into murdering her. Newcomer Sam Burlockoff delivers a solid graphic buffet; his girls are babelicious and his monsters are fairly creepy. Burlockoff will make only two appearances in the Atlas horror titles and then head off to war comics at DC. A medium soaks his victims for every penny, promising to produce the spirits of their dear departed until one man comes to the door and asks to speak to Luther Kane. When the charlatan whips out the usual phony floating face, the visitor balks, calling the seer a fraud. As he’s strangling the medium, he reveals that he, himself, is the spirit of Luther Kane. “Call For Luther Kane” has a recycled plot and punchline but some nifty visuals from Myron Fass; possibly Fass’s best work for Atlas.

"Murder Will Out"
The world’s stingiest man, Hiram Higgins, has the world’s strongest vault built in his house. As one of the builders claims, “once that door closes, an atom bomb couldn’t open it!” As he’s filling it up with the stacks of his green, the door closes and Hiram is trapped inside forever. A well that Stan Lee loved to come back to, over and over, was the cold-hearted miser like that in “Money Mad!,” and that well was running dry, believe me. A shame to waste Joe Maneely on sub-par stuff like this.

In the deceptively simple “The Man Who Came Back to Life,” circus strongman Mr. Strongo has become irritated with the scientist who keeps bothering his pretty sister, Alice, who travels with the circus. Mr. Strongo’s act is to lift great weights with one hand and then, in the grand finale, break the barbell in half over his knee. For some reason, Professor Matloff has gotten it into his head that Alice will marry him and Strong tells him if he comes near his sister again, he’ll break him in half. At that moment, three bells sound, a tradition that signals Strongo to the stage. 

That night, the creepy egghead comes back into the circus lot with his equally creepy assistant. They stab Strongo to death and kidnap Alice, taking her back to Matloff’s nearby laboratory. There, he tells Alice that he’s a genius and he’s about to prove to her that she was making a big mistake, spurning his advances, by bringing her dead brother back to life. Matloff dumps Strongo’s body into a huge vault of chemicals and, shortly thereafter, the strongman rises. Alice begs her brother to free her but, as Matloff tells her, the big guy only has ears for the nutty professor. Just then, three bells chime and somewhere deep in the chalky brain of the dead muscleman, “a dim memory is stirred!” Strong lifts up the scientist with one hand and brings him down over his knee, busting him in half.

Words cannot express the glory of that final panel, with halves of Matloff heading off in opposite directions and the great, chalky white Strongo lifting his arms to the heavens as if basking in the applause. Matloff’s obsession with Alice is never really explained, nor is the idea that watching her brother rise from the dead will make Alice fall madly in love with the little goof, but reality is just a technicality that gets in our way sometimes. Yep, circus acts are about as common as penny-pinchers in the Atlas horror comics, but “The Man Who Came Back to Life” is something special. 

In Two Weeks...
Russ Heath is the
perfect fit for fear!


Nequam said...

"The Sure Thing!" seems to be a near-exact copy of Roald Dahl's "A Dip in the Pool" except that the witness to the man throwing himself overboard is not a ghost but a live person who, unfortunately, has been known to "see things". It was published in The New Yorker not long before this issue came out. You already covered the Alfred Hitchcock Presents adaptation...

Jack Seabrook said...

Is it even remotely possible that these stories are as much fun to read as your capsule summaries and comments?

Quiddity99 said...

The alien for "Booby Trap" looks like it was taken directly from the famous EC sci-fi story "The Aliens" drawn by Al Williamson. One of my favorite EC sci-fi stories; I'd recognize that alien anywhere.

Anonymous said...

For decades , my general impression of the Atlas Horror titles was based on the reprints that showed up in the back pages of The Living Mummy and Morbius comics, GIANT-SIZE DRACULA, GIANT-SIZE WEREWOLF, etc — and it wasn’t good. Kinda dumb, not-very-scary stories with weak and/or ugly art (except for the rare Heath, Everett or Maneely job). It wasn’t until Marvel got around to putting out ‘Masterworks’ editions of STRANGE TALES, SUSPENSE, ASTONISHING, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY and especially MENACE that I realized Marvel COULDN’T have reprinted most of the ‘Good Stuff’ back in the Code-approved 70s, it was way too gnarly!

I just wish that more of these comics could be made available in affordable reprints. The stuff in the Masterworks volumes was apparently just the tip of the iceberg.

Interesting that MYSTIC 21 is packed with art by future Marvel Super-stars — 20 years later, they’d be drawing The Avengers, Daredevil, Sgt. Fury and Spider-man…


Peter Enfantino said...

b. t. -

You and me both when it comes to the Atlas reprints in the Marvel titles of the 70s. I was about 11-12 at the time and got a kick out of some of the twists but none of that stuff scared me.

The really dark stuff, usually found in the pre-code Strange or Journey Into Mystery (iirc) wasn't reprinted in the 70s. I wonder if that's because Roy didn't want to test the boundaries of the "new code" or it might just have been laziness. As I say (probably too many times) in upcoming posts, reading these pre-codes has really opened my eyes to the talents of Joe Maneely, Bill Benulis, and Joe Sinnott, as well as given me an appreciation for the cartoony work of Tony DiPreta.

Grant said...

I feel the same way about those reprints.
One funny thing is that x amount of the COVERS got updated, so you see the characters in those trendy early ' 70s clothes and hairstyles.