Thursday, June 23, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 63


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 48
August 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #22

“The Mad Beasts” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

“Son of a Freak” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2

“In One Ear…” (a: Joe Maneely) ★

“I Can’t Close My Eyes!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Built Another Rat-Trap!” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★

Moto, the world’s only two-headed man, is tired of being gaped at and ridiculed but then what do you expect, since Moto’s the lead act in a freak show? One night, by chance, he’s told by a man that his sister has two heads. Overjoyed, Moto meets and courts Emma, the world’s only two-headed woman. The two (four?) are married but, quickly, Moto realizes that Emma is a bit bi-polar, pinballing between just fine and eating the family cat. Moto realizes that a regular family life is now out of the question but, just as he’s about to give up, Emma becomes pregnant. All hopes for a “normal” child are dashed when the baby is born with one head but two bodies!

“Son of a Freak” is a nasty, mean-spirited piece of WTF?, but it’s undeniably entertaining in a squirmy kind of way. Some of the captions are wink-wink hilarious (Visions of what his children would look like formed inside both of Moto’s heads…) as is the transformation Emma undergoes after her wedding. When Moto and Emma had a chance to consummate their nuptials is anyone’s guess since the poor guy is tossing chains around his bride right out of the gate. Reinman’s art is perfectly sleazy, very rough around the edges, with the whole thing resembling a very low-budget exploitation flick from the 1960s. Dangerous and subversive!

Equally head-scratching is the Stan Lee’-scripted “In One Ear…,” wherein Gilby Crumshaw confounds those around him by wearing a heavy scarf around his neck even when it’s a sweltering day. Turns out Gilby’s hiding an extra pair of ears on his neck (no, seriously!). Now, Gilby’s intending to do something about this and to that end, he robs and murders innocent folk in an effort to save money for an operation. Once he gets enough in the piggy bank, he takes the dough to the renowned ear-neck surgeon, Dr. Leopold Neisen, who assures him that the amount is just right. Noticing the black armband around the Doc’s arm, Gilby (who has, remember, spent the last who-knows-how-long murdering innocent folk) gives the man his condolences and is assured the death in the family will not affect the operation. Gilby goes under but, while the Doc is prepping, he’s approached by a ghost who whispers in his ear. Gilby wakes up and discovers the Doc has removed his regular set of ears and left his lower pair. Turns out the ghost was the Doc’s brother, you guessed it, murdered by Gilby the week before. By this time in the Atlas history, Stan was clearly running out of inspiration and was going back to the “extra set of…” well two or three too many times. 

“The Mad Beasts,” despite its obvious highlight of Heath art, is the confusing, weakly plotted story of a prison warden who keeps his worst convicts in cages and, of course, the punishment is reversed by the climax of the story. In “I Can’t Close My Eyes!,” a sadistic Baron can’t get to sleep at night and offers a reward to the man who makes the perfect bed. The woodworkers all fail and they are put to death. Later, their spirits arise and the trio make a bed of nails sure to put the Baron to sleep. 

Wanna-be hunter, Hugo Hardy, has tons of mounted heads in his den but not the courage to actually earn those trophies. He buys them. Then the rats begin to show up around Hugo’s estate and the lightbulb goes on over Hugo’s head. At first he shoots them with his pistol but that fast becomes boring so Hugo begins fashioning torture traps such as guillotines and nooses. His collection of rat-tails, mounted on the den wall, soon number in the hundreds. The little mongrels suddenly disappear and Hugo suspects he’s killed them all. Little does he know, the giant rodents are holding secret meetings and crafting their own torture devices, soon to be put to the test.

In the vein of “Son of a Freak…,” but not nearly as much fun, is “Built Another Rat-Trap!,” which wastes its first three pages with unnecessary expository and cliched motivations but turns up the wack-factor to ten with its depictions of the rats building a giant cage in which to trap their own prey. Out-loud laughter was ignited by the panel of a particularly industrious vermin laboring over the trap door to Hugo’s cage!

Adventures into Weird Worlds #21

“What Happened in the Cave?” (a: Myron Fass) ★★★

“The Devil to Pay!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

“The Plunderer!” (a: John Romita) ★★

“The Little Soldiers” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Romanoff’s Rumor!” (a: John Forte & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Something is killing the good people of a small mountain town, something that craves the warmth and just wants to get out of the cold. The sheriff has gotten together a posse after the Petersons, God-fearin’ old folk, are found “mashed and battered” in their little house. The trail of footprints leads right to a dark cave and, before the sheriff can do anything more, a panicked posse member tosses dynamite in the cave and blows it to hell. The sheriff opines that whoever was in the cave “is finished.” Not so, says the giant green bug man who climbs out of a hole within the cave.

An honest-to-goodness low-budget monster movie done the Atlas way. I kept waiting for the reveal to be a bear or an escaped mental patient or a Commie but no, our uncredited scripter saves the day by making the killer an antenna-headed BEM, one of a race of such creatures living in the core of the Earth. “What Happened in the Cave?” generates a good amount of legitimate suspense in the same way some of those aforementioned low-budget drive-in flicks of the 1950s managed to wrassle up.

Adolf Hitler goes to hell and the devil tells him he has a special temperature just waiting for him. Hitler insists he doesn’t belong here as he did many good deeds on Earth but no one alive on Earth will stand up for him because “they have it out for” the poor guy. Satan agrees to Hitler’s terms: if he can find one man in history that will vouch for him, Hitler goes free. Hitler climbs a long ladder and, along the way, runs into Alexander the Great, Caesar, and Napoleon, but none of them will give ‘dolf the time of day. Exasperated, the former German hero claims there is one person still on Earth that knows he’s a good guy. But when Adolf Hitler calls for Joe Stalin, he’s told Joe has left the building. The devil laughs and asks Hitler, “Who you think you been talking to?”  

“The Devil to Pay!” is like a long, elaborate joke that would be lost on just about anyone today but must have been a real hoot to the young boys and girls of 1953. Odd that Carl Wessler wrote this one, rather than Commie-baiting Stan, but I assume the “Joe Stalin in Hell” stories should start appearing regularly very soon. I like the Kweskin art, even if it is scratchy and rough; seems to favor this type of tale.

"The Plunderer"
Zor, “The Plunderer,” and his crew land on what appears to be a deserted planet full of uranium. The men begin to dig but quickly discover that the planet is far from desolate. At only three pages, “The Plunderer” doesn’t do much harm and has a nice sheen attached to it thanks to Mr. Romita. In “The Little Soldiers,” a grunt working with molten lead shoves his troublesome supervisor in a vat of the stuff and then molds the infected lead into toy soldiers. The little warriors rise up for revenge. Awful, awful art and an unimaginative script make this the worst story of the month.

Igor Romanoff tries his darnedest but he can’t get any Americans to buy into Communism, so he and his pinko friends decide to start a rumor that Earth will be invaded by Mars. Their (skewed) reasoning is that Americans will turn against their way of life if they feel threatened. Igor begins whispering in strange ears on the subway, the street corner, in the diner, anywhere he can, but the result is always the same: laughter or general indifference. When the Commie Club reconvenes, the Reds compare notes but are interrupted when Igor begins to crumble into sand. His buddies and their headquarters follow. Outside the city limits, the Martians discuss the good work they did, squelching the invasion talk and then head back to Mars to prepare for the real deal. The twist is a good one and the Forte/Fox art is ideal but the script for “Romanoff’s Rumor” is yet another tiring commie tirade. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, blind them with Bolshevik.

Astonishing #26

“I Died Too Often” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“As Different as Day and Night” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“Monkey Face!” (a: Sid Greene) ★

“Scared Out of His Shadow!” (a: Louis Ravelli) ★1/2

“Come In and Meet the Folks!” (a: John Forte) ★★★

“I Died Too Often” is badly-written nonsense about a man who witnesses a cat’s death and learns he’s inherited the feline’s remaining eight lives. When he decides to use one of those lives to kill his boss, he’s transformed into a cat and attacked by the boss’s hound. There’s no reasoning given for the twist but then the out-of-left-field revelation is on par with the bland build-up. Bob Fujitani seems to have taken little inspiration from the script.

To make a couple extra bucks, rooming house landlady Emma Higgins rents one of her rooms to two men, the creepy Mr. Jellicoe during the day and the handsome Mr. Bancroft at night. When Ms. Higgins finds blood in the room, she naturally suspects Jellicoe is the dastardly fiend who’s murdered six women, but it turns out Mr. Bancroft has been reading Robert Louis Stevenson in his spare time. “As Different as Day and Night” is capped by a predictable finale, but I find Chuck Winters’s art so unsettling that the script becomes almost irrelevant. “Monkey Face!” is a lame three-pager about a hood cursed with a simian’s features. After a botched bank robbery, the mutt makes a deal with Satan to change his looks and the devil, always the joker, gives him an ape’s body.

Poor meek Percy Merriweather notices his shadow begins acting independently and, very soon, Percy finds himself witness to murder. “Scared Out of Hs Shadow!” is built on a too-familiar plot device but if there’s a saving grace, it’s the work of artist Louis Ravielli who, like Chuck Winter, almost seems to be a man two decades before his time with his scratchy, underground style. This was the first of only five Atlas horror appearances by Ravielli, after which he worked primarily for I.W. and Avon.

As he carries his wife’s corpse into the bathroom, Mark remembers how he came to meet the lovely Dolores and how mysterious she was about her family. Denying Mark the chance to meet them until after they were married, Dolores builds suspicion in her betrothed until one night, it all explodes. Mark witnesses his wife with a broom and a cauldron and suddenly believes he’s married into a coven. He beats Dolores to death with a candlestick and then swallows poison to avoid the inevitable witch’s curse. After Mark slumps to the floor, the in-laws enter the house and we discover they’re actually hillbillies. Hilarious, and entirely unexpected (especially after the brutal splash), the finale for “Come In and Meet the Folks!” saves what otherwise would have been a sub-par issue of Astonishing

Journey into Mystery #11

“The Hidden Vampires” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“The New Look” (a: Dan Loprino) ★★

(r: Monsters on the Prowl #18)

“If the Coat Fits” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★★

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #17)

“Meet the Dead” (a: Don Perlin) ★★1/2

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #15)

“The Other Face” (r: George Tuska) ★

(r: Vault of Evil #6)

"The Hidden Vampires"
The small Hungarian village of Rovato has become plagued by vampires but no one seems to know how to root the creatures out. Rovato’s mayor calls for the help of super vampire-hunter Jan Mazerok, but when the would-be Van Helsing arrives, the townsfolk complain that he’s a bit old and weak. Nevertheless, the wizened Mazerok unleashes a secret weapon from his black case and the starved mosquitoes head right for the blood-rich vampires. Granted, the twist is silly but there are a few interesting flourishes here and there in “The Hidden Vampires.” The family of blood-suckers hides in plain sight amongst the population, disguised as villagers, and discuss their plight at the dinner table! DiPreta’s vampires hardly bare their fangs and have wonderful cat’s eyes.

In the three-page “The New Look,” homely Eric goes to Nina the Witch for a handsome face. Nina calls on Satan, who grants Eric his wish but, as with most devilish bargains, Eric doesn’t emerge a happy man even with his new face. Some nice, Ghastly-esque pencils from Dan Loprino. The other short-short this issue (a 4-pager), “Meet the Dead” is a routine fortune teller thriller about a man who tracks his wife to a seance and then breaks it up just when the spooky stuff is starting. The surprising finale and some good Perlin graphics make this an easy read. The final story this issue, “The Other Face,” is a really bad revenge drama about a man who finds out his wife is having an affair with a plastic surgeon. The couple plan to murder him but he gets the upper hand first. A really dumb climax, lots of cornball dialogue, and some dreadful Tuska art easily make this the worst of the issue.

People all around the globe are mysteriously disappearing into thin air. Professor Kester believes there is a alternate dimension where people exactly like those on our Earth are trying to port themselves over into our world. When the vanished appear, perfectly healthy but not forthcoming on their whereabouts during their disappearance, Kester’s theory is that the beings from Earth-B are replacing us one by one. Harry, owner of a new and used clothing store has a strange visitor one night, who asks if he can pawn a coat of his for a short time. Harry quickly agrees, despite the warnings of wife Sarah, and the stranger’s parting words are a warning not to try the coat on. 

Harry, knowing a good set of threads when he sees it, promptly slides the coat on and disappears right before his wife’s astonished eyes. Seconds later, Harry returns and convinces his wife to try on the coat. The next day, Harry and Sarah open up the shop just like normal but things really aren’t normal anymore. The knee-jerk reaction to “If the Coat Fits” is that it’s a well-written rip-off of Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers but, believe it or not, that classic wouldn’t be published until the following year. I’m not sure writer Jack Oleck was going for the same “Red Scare” analogy Finney had in mind for the victims of his pod people but it can certainly be inferred. Pushing aside the subtle undertones for a moment, “If the Coat Fits”  succeeds as a very tense and intelligent terror tale, with gorgeous work by Russ Heath.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #21

“The Most Hated Man in the World” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“What’s Going On Here?” (a: Chuck Winter) ★1/2

“Someone Isn’t There” (a: Bob McCarty) ★★

“Modern Art” (a: Don Rico) ★1/2

“The Dead of Winter” (a: Mike Sekowsky & Matt Fox) ★★1/2

Who is Galen Tor? He’s “The Most Hated Man in the World?” To discover why there is a statue erected in every city on Earth in the year 2160, we’d have to go back 200 years to a time when the world was on the brink of global war. Every nation built up its arms and the United States was no different. For a bomb that could destroy all of America’s enemies, the military turned to scientist Galen Tor, who had perfected an explosive “100 times more powerful than the biggest hydrogen bomb!” All that was needed to trigger the device was an infra-red beam. 

"Someone Isn't There"
Galen stalls the army but, in the meantime, Earth is invaded by Martians, hoping to find a nice world to vacation on. Earth’s nations become allies but still Galen will not turn over his bomb. Instead, he offers it to the aliens, who jump at the chance to take it back to Mars to study. Galen boards the ship, leaving behind a population screaming for his hide, and then detonates the bomb when the UFO is deep into space. No one on Earth knows the true events and Galen becomes the Benedict Arnold of the 22nd Century. Joe Sinnott immediately makes every story 100% better but “The Most Hated…” also has a sly sense of humor and is immensely entertaining.

In “What’s Going On Here?,” a family is terrorized by a giant outside their home. The giant attempts to feed them with a big spoon, takes their clothes off, and tucks them into bed. I’m asking “What’s Going On Here?” that a two-panel joke somehow got stretched into four pages of tedium. Equally silly is the issue’s other short-short, “Modern Art.” Museum trustee Jason Peters is outraged when he discovers a wall of abstract art in a building associated with Rembrandts and Gainsboroughs. When he confronts the curator with his complaints, he’s told the museum is only changing with the times and then shows Turner his third eye. 

"The Dead of Winter"
A trio of adventurers decide they’re going to climb the infamous Changura mountain and no “holy season” will stop them. They ventilate the monk who guards the sacred path to the mountain but then encounter a vengeful spirit halfway up the climb. One by one, the murderers are dealt with. We’ve seen the plot of “Someone Isn’t There” before but Bob McCarty has a blast visualizing the events (McCarty’s style is very similar to that of Jack Davis) and the sadism of the men is almost amusing. 

There’s some kind of story hiding in “The Dead of Winter” but don’t strain yourself. A thief stumbles onto a town with a deep, dark secret. Something about ages-old people kept on ice and resurrected every so often, but never mind that. Matt Fox is involved with the visuals and Fox can make even the most indecipherable mess at least interesting. His style melded with the blandness of Mike Sekowsky’s is truly an odd soufflé. For instance, in the splash, our main protagonist’s body seems to be heading towards us but his legs are going in the opposite direction.

Marvel Tales #117

“Terror in the North!” (a: Don Perlin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” (a: Gil Kane) ★1/2

(r: Uncanny Tales #5)

“Red Tape!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

“Uncle Gideon’s Gold” (a: Louis Ravielli) ★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #10)

“Jerry’s New Job” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

(r: Chamber of Chills #8)

"I Wait in the Dungeon"
A small French village is terrorized by a killer wolf. Some of the townsfolk claim the animal is a werewolf but hunter Marsh is no superstitious fool. He claims the beast is a simple timber wolf, protecting its cubs and he’s the man to kill it. By the end of the journey, when Marsh faces the wolf, he’s both right and wrong. There’s some nice Don Perlin artwork (very reminiscent of that of Russ Heath) on “Terror in the North,” but the script is very slow and never really works up the suspense a terror tale needs to succeed.

Dentist Simon Tulliver refuses to use ether on his patients because, after all, “A Little Pain Never Hurt Anybody!” His wife Martha, who doubles as his assistant, constantly pesters Simon to show pity on his patients but a penny saved… One night, Simon arrives home and catches Martha with her old friend (and brain surgeon) John Bainbridge in the parlor; John is attempting a coup on Simon’s “property” and Simon will have none of it. The enraged tooth-man knocks Bainbridge to the floor and attempts to strangle him but is stricken by one of his occasional fainting spells and passes out. Simon awakens on an operating table, with Bainbridge assuring him everything will be just fine as soon as he removes the small clot on the brain that’s causing Simon’s spells. But one thing… John doesn’t use anesthesia… after all…

“Red Tape” is a silly and unfocused “red menace” tale set in a prison camp that is partially redeemed by its jolting Sam Kweskin visuals. Louis Ravielli’s work on “Uncle Gideon’s Gold” is equally stark and creepy but the script, alas, is just as disappointing as “Red Tape.” Bert Rogan wants all his Uncle Gideon’s gold but the miser ain’t talking as to the whereabouts of said stash, so Bert is forced to torture him until he’s forthcoming. Bert gets his answer but it proves to be his downfall. 

Jerry Johnson lands a swell new job, one that pays a fortune to do pert near nothing. All he has to do is a bit of gophering for his boss, Mr. Eblis, but after a while Jerry grows suspicious of the company he works for. What exactly does this business export? And why do they write up million-dollar contracts for only seven years of service? Jerry overhears a conversation between Eblis and one of his underlings and convinces himself he’s working for the Russians. Rather than present his case to the police, Jerry decides to confront Eblis with his suspicions and blackmail the man for a cool million. Eblis laughs the story off and tells Jerry he’s sorry but he’s going to have to get rid of him. Eblis isn’t a Russian spy, he’s the devil! A very cute idea, with a surprise twist you may see coming if you pay attention to the clues, with some typically fanciful DiPreta art. “Jerry’s New Job” marked Tony DiPreta’s 50th contribution to the Atlas pre-codes.

In Two Weeks...
The Fabulous Mr. Fox!

1 comment:

Grant said...

I'm a little surprised by the description of "Romanoff's Rumor." Maybe a lot of it is the usual Communist scare stuff, but it sounds like he almost become an accidental good guy by warning about an invasion (no matter how little good it does).