Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Hitchcock Project-Victor Wolfson Part Three: Malice Domestic [2.20]

by Jack Seabrook

Philip MacDonald's short story, "Malice Domestic," was first published in the October 1946 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The story begins as a writer named Carl Borden stops into a bar for a drink before meeting his wife Annette, who has been shopping. Among her purchases are The Rose-Grower's Handbook and a carton labeled "Killweed." They drive home and are met by G.B., a Giant Schnauser named after George Bernard Shaw. In the kitchen, Carl and Annette express feelings of unease regarding each other's recent behavior.

Carl spends the afternoon writing and, after dinner, takes the dog for a walk, but he begins to feel sick and is tended to by Parry, a neighbor. Dr. Wingate asks what Carl has been eating and takes him home. Ten days later, Carl has another attack of stomach cramps, convulsions, and vomiting. Dr. Wingate is summoned again and Carl feels better the next day, though the doctor insists on doing some tests before Carl has any more to eat. At the doctor's office, Carl learns that his sickness was caused by a large dose of arsenic. Angry at Dr. Wingate, Carl rejects any suggestion that Annette is responsible.

"Malice Domestic" was
first published here
At home, his wife serves him soup, which he reluctantly consumes. A week of good health follows, until Carl returns home one night after walking the dog to find Annette collapsed on the floor. He calls Dr. Wingate, who rushes over, but Carl's wife is dead. The doctor finds two coffee cups, one of which contains traces of arsenic, and concludes that Annette was overconfident, got distracted, and drank from the wrong cup. Wingate gives Carl a sedative and promises to keep the matter quiet. Three weeks later, Carl is heading to meet another woman in another city and remarks to his dog, "'I nearly took too much that second time!'"

The story is set in El Morro Beach, California, and Carl is said to be a writer "of some merit, mediocre sales, and--at least among the wordier critics--considerable reputation." His creativity with murder is outstanding and demonstrates a capacity for creating a fictional situation in real life. There is a suggestion of marital problems right at the start of the story, as Carl looks around "to see if his wife were in view" before ducking into a bar. Strangers see him and Annette as an ideal couple, but intimates are "vaguely unsure." This sense of unease creates doubt in the reader's mind about the couple's happiness.

Ralph Meeker as Carl Borden
The first hint of poison comes when Carl picks up Killweed that his wife had purchased; this is a distraction by the author, who tries to make the reader think Annette is the guilty party. Carl appears to be dissatisfied with his work, admitting to a friend that his book is "'tough sledding.'" Weeds poke through the gravel of Carl's driveway, symbolizing the problems in his marriage and justifying the purchase of weed killer. Even Carl's dog is unfriendly toward Annette but friendly toward Carl. Annette's dinners are said to be works of art, suggesting that the poisoning is not accidental, and Carl's first attack is attributed to nerves. Ten days pass between attacks and the fact that the second one is nearly fatal makes it seem unlikely to have been self-inflicted.

When Dr. Wingate suggests that Annette may have tried to poison her husband, Carl's anger and seeming devotion to his wife make him appear to be a loving husband, who refuses to think the worst of his spouse. Back at home, he reluctantly drinks the soup she offers him, suggesting that his love for her is greater than his fear of death. It is not surprising that Dr. Wingate blames Annette for her own demise, since Carl has plotted the story of her guilt so intricately in the preceding weeks. The surprise ending occurs in San Francisco, as Carl admits the truth to his dog--man's best friend and a companion certain not to repeat the secret.

Phyllis Thaxter as Annette Borden
"Malice Domestic" is a well-written short story that manipulates the reader from start to finish. The author, Philip MacDonald, was born in London around 1900 (sources vary on the date) and served in the British cavalry in WWI. He wrote mystery novels, including The List of Adrian Messenger (1960), short stories from 1930 to 1973, and screenplays from 1930 to 1954. He worked on adapting Rebecca from novel to screen for Hitchcock and wrote teleplays from 1955 to 1961, but he did not write any for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and this is his only story to be adapted for that show. One of his stories was later adapted for Thriller, a series for which he also wrote one teleplay. He died in 1980 and his papers are archived at the Online Archive of California.

Victor Wolfson adapted "Malice Domestic" for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the show aired on CBS on Sunday, February 10, 1957. Wolfson's teleplay makes several important changes to the story and serves as the basis for a satisfying and successful episode. The first scene of the short story is replaced by a scene at a fancy-dress dinner party, where Carl and Annette say goodbye to Lorna, a pretty young woman who is moving to San Francisco and leaving her dog with the Bordens. In the next scene, the dog shows a preference for Carl, as it does in the short story, but now the dog is a new arrival in the house. Since the first scene of the story has been deleted, there is no reference to weed killer or to Annette's gardening hobby. Instead, Annette is portrayed as an artist who has a home studio in which she makes clay pots.

Vinton Hayworth as Dr. Wingate
In subsequent scenes, Carl's poisoning episodes do not happen while he is out walking the dog, but rather at home, when he and Annette are having dinner with Perry, who is now a guest instead of a neighbor. Perry invites Annette to lunch and they eat together at a restaurant, suggesting to the viewer that they might be having an affair, something that is not in the short story. Carl does not go to Dr. Wingate's office; the doctor makes house calls. At one point, Lorna is again brought up when Annette mentions that she spoke with her by phone and plans to visit her in San Francisco. This helps keep Lorna in the viewer's mind, though her character does not appear (at least, not by name) in the short story.

The first time arsenic is mentioned is when Dr. Wingate suggests that Annette poisoned Carl's food, as in the story. In the TV show, the arsenic comes from a different source; Carl compliments Annette on a vase that she has made, commenting on its translucent green color. Annette admits that she uses a copper glaze and, after she walks out of the room, Carl sees that the glaze contains arsenic. Annette's hobby still provides an excuse for using the poison, but in the TV version she is an artist rather than a gardener. Annette's collapse also happens differently in the TV version. In the story, Carl returns from walking the dog to find her dead on the floor. In the TV show, they are getting ready to go on a much-needed vacation. Carl takes bags and sports equipment out to the car and comes back inside the house to find Annette on the floor.

Ralph Clanton as Perry
The biggest change from story to show occurs in the final scene. In the story, Carl is talking to his dog as he drives to meet a woman in San Francisco. In the TV version, this conversation begins with a tight close up on Carl's face before the camera pulls back to show him sitting in the front seat of his car with the dog in the middle and Lorna in the passenger seat. This time, Carl announces that he almost took too much poison and Lorna hears him and understands what he means. Having introduced her in the show's first scene and reminded viewers of her midway through, her participation in the last scene puts a different cast on some of the events of the story and introduces a level of complicity to her character. In retrospect, one may assume that the dog responded to Carl because it already knew him from time he had spent with Lorna. In adapting MacDonald's story for the small screen, Victor Wolfson made improvements, compressing the time of certain events and creating a parallel structure that makes for a more satisfying twist ending.

"Malice Domestic" was one of three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by John Meredyth Lucas (1919-2002), a writer and director who worked mostly in television from the early 1950s to the early 1980s. He also directed episodes of Star Trek and Night Gallery. He grew up in the movie business and wrote a memoir called Eighty Years in Hollywood; his stepfather was film director Michael Curtiz.

Lili Kardell as Lorna
Ralph Meeker (1920-1988) stars as Carl; he was born Ralph Rathgeber and served in the Navy in WWII. He started on Broadway after the war in 1946 and was on screen for thirty years, from 1950 to 1980, appearing both in film and on TV. Key roles include Kiss Me Deadly and Paths of Glory (1957), as well as the TV movie, The Night Stalker (1972). He appeared on The Outer Limits and in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Revenge."

Phyllis Thaxter (1919-2012) co-stars as Annette. She was a fine actress who deserves more attention than she has received. Born in Maine, Thaxter started out on Broadway in 1939 and made her first film in 1944, with her first TV appearance coming in 1953. Among her nine appearances on the Hitchcock show are "The Five-Forty Eight," in which she also plays a mentally unstable woman, and "The Long Silence," where she lies in bed, unable to speak and in great danger. She also appeared on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and she played Ma Kent in Superman (1978). She continued to appear on TV until 1992.

In smaller roles:
  • Vinton Hayworth (1906-1970) as Dr. Wingate; he started on radio in the 1920s, moved into movies in the 1930s, and then began a long TV career in the 1940s. He was the president of AFTRA from 1951 to 1954 and the uncle of both Rita Hayworth and Ginger Rogers. He was a regular on I Dream of Jeannie from 1968 to 1970 and may be seen in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Night of the Execution."
  • Ralph Clanton (1914-2002) as Perry; his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1983 and included seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (including "Dip in the Pool") and three episodes of Thriller.
  • Lili Kardell (1936-1987) as Lorna; she was born in Stockholm and appeared on TV from 1956 to 1983. She was also in two films. She dated both James Dean and Troy Donahue.

Watch "Malice Domestic" online here or buy the DVD here.



Galactic Central, 

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001. 


MacDonald, Philip. "Malice Domestic." Fifty Best Mysteries. Ed. Eleanor Sullivan. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1991. 73-87.

"Malice Domestic." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 2, episode 20, CBS, 10 Feb. 1957. 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 

In two weeks: Our series on Victor Wolfson concludes with a look at "The Ikon of Elijah," starring Oscar Homolka and Sam Jaffe!

Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss Alfred Hitchcock Presents here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "A Night with the Boys" here!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 58: December 1985-January 1986 + The Best of 1985


The Dark Knight in the 1980s
by Jack Seabrook &
Peter Enfantino

Batman #390

"Women Dark and Dangerous"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

Why is Batman so attracted to "Women Dark and Dangerous"? His big smooch with Nocturna ends and he tells her he can't accept her stealing, even from Gotham's rich. Out in the red rain, Catwoman sees another victim of the Night-Slayer, who is killing masked henchmen. Catwoman thinks she'll be blamed for the murders and vows to solve them herself. Nocturna tells her minions who's picking them off; she heads back to the observatory in her hot air balloon, followed by Catwoman.

The various subplots move forward just a bit before Catwoman confronts Nocturna and Robin appears to defend his surrogate mother. Catwoman backhands the Boy Blunder and she and Nocturna are about the have a catfight when the Caped Crusader appears on the scene and goes at it with Catwoman until she is struck by lightning and falls into his arms. Is Selina alive or dead? 

Peter: There a lot going on in this issue and most of it is a/ confusing, or b/ just dumb. In the first category, we have the red rain and now hail falling on a Gotham that doesn't seem remotely alarmed by this phenomenon. I know this is a city that deals with Mister Freeze, Hugo Strange, and a boatload of other pseudo-supernatural hijinks, but you'd think maybe someone might be alarmed.

Batman's continued use of a wheel of fortune for his romantic interests grows more ludicrous every issue. Now we get the brilliantly scripted sequence where the Dark Knight warns Catwoman to stay away from Nocturna because she's not the bad person Selina thinks she is... well, until Selina is struck by lightning and Bats immediately shifts gears. It's tiring.

Jack: What is even more tiring is Tom Mandrake's amateurish art. There was one panel depicting Catwoman that reminded me of those reader drawings that they would sometimes print in the letters columns. The subplots are as dumb as ever; this time, Vickie Vale falls into the arms of a muscular hunk and Batman spies on them through a picture window.

Detective Comics #557

"Still Beating"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

Batman rushes Selina Kyle to a hospital after she's struck by lightning and then sits by her bedside, waiting for any kind of news as to her condition. Meanwhile, the red rain and hail continue to fall.

Robin returns to the Batcave after expressing his fear that the world is going to end and the big guy tells him not to worry; if it's the end of the world, he won't die alone (now that's a peppy speech for an eight-year-old sidekick!). The Boy Wonder Mach II gets to the cave just in time to receive a message from the JLA--tell Bats to be ready for action in re: the bizarre weather. Robin tells J'Onn J'Onzz his boss will be ready when called upon.

Somehow, Nocturna survived the earthquake (in Bats #390) and has gotten word to her masked henchmen that if Night-Slayer is looking for her, she can be found at the observatory. Sure enough, NS breaks into the Masked Bandits clubhouse and demands to know where his ex is located. Once he's done some damage, the boys cough up her location and the deranged phantom heads into the night to settle a score.

Back at the hospital, Selina has arisen from her deep sleep, obviously mentally imbalanced since she's quoting passages from Erich Segal's Love Story. Batman declares this month's undying love for her, laughably telling Selina he could never love Nocturna because she's... get this... a thief! Robin stands guard at the observatory and, as a superhero is wont to do, he swears out loud (to no one in particular) that he'll protect his mother, Nocturna. Night-Slayer giggles and tells the kid he's done for.

Peter: This has got to be the most maudlin and disposable script of the year (I didn't say worst-- for that, scroll to the bottom). Batman's hospital antics are so unlike him. Attacking the doctor (with cocked fist) because the guy is skirting around an answer is conduct unbecoming a member of the JLA. And then admitting to the doc that he's in love with the bedridden bad girl? Yeah, I know, he's facing a crisis and it's taking such a toll on him. The woman he loved, disposed of, ignored, and belittled, is back on top of the Wayne 500. My eyes are sore from all the rolling. Just about every line of dialogue is cringe worthy.

Having never read any of the DC funny books of the 1980s save a random Bats or 'tec here and there, I have no idea if this red rain nonsense is leading to something like a massive cosmic crossover. Nocturna seems to be more wrapped up in it than anyone else. I sure hope Doug doesn't grant Catwoman super-powers via that lightning bolt. Thank the comic gods that, at the very least, we have the Colan/Smith art to ogle. Imagine if this thing were penciled by Mandrake.

Jack: I had the same feeling as I read this story. The Colan/Smith art is fantastic and really pulls the weak narrative along with it. The doctor in the first scene is a classic Colan nerd, with glasses slightly askew. The whole story is basically recap and setup made bearable by terrific graphics. Oh, and how hard could it have been for Night-Slayer to figure out where Nocturna was staying?

"Zen and the Art of Dying II: 
The Pursuit of Wisdom"
Story by Joey Cavalieri
Art by Jerome Moore & Bruce Patterson

Green Arrow and Onyx have their backs against the wall, but they're doing their best against the guards of the monastery. The leader, Lars, gets the better of Onyx and drags her away to a secret chamber. He explains that he's been looking for the Master's key to the box that holds the Book of the Ages and he thinks he knows now where that key is being held. He grabs Onyx's headdress and, lo and behold, undoes the key that lurks within. Green Arrow storms in but he's too late to keep Lars from opening the box. The book evaporates to dust and Lars becomes a skeleton.

Peter: That climactic twist would have been a humdinger if it hadn't been for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Good trick, that, with Lars's skeleton remaining upright. The battle seemed very anticlimactic, as if Joey had got us there and remembered he only had a few pages to wrap it all up. The Moore/Patterson art is more than serviceable; it actually showcases some great choreography. It's just all too rushed.

Jack: We're not used to such stellar art in the backup features, are we? I wasn't entirely clear what happened in this story but it sure looks great. For once, they might have stretched it out a bit longer. As it is, GA zipped over to the monastery and, before you know it, skeleton man appeared! I'll bet that next issue GA is back in the slums, dealing with social problems.

Shadow of the Batman #1

"...By Death's Eerie Light!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #469, May 1977)

"The Origin of Dr. Phosphorus"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #469, May 1977)

"The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #470, June 1977)

"Hell Park"
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #274, November 1979)

Jack: For $1.75, readers could pick up this 44-page reprint comic, which featured a new wraparound cover by Marshall Rogers. Inside were the first two issues of the Englehart/Rogers Batman run from 1977, along with a House of Mystery reprint that Rogers drew in 1979. Looking back at our review of the Batman stories, it seems we were fairly impressed but not blown away.

Batman #391

"Death Comes As An End!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Mandrake

As the red rainstorm rages with the fury of a typhoon, Robin battles the Night-Slayer at the base of the rocky tower whose summit now houses the observatory where Nocturna waits for her former lover. Robin's efforts fail! At the hospital, Batman tries to explain to the ailing Selina Kyle that he loves her rather than Nocturna, but Selina knows better. Robin radios Batman to tell him to rush to the observatory and, after the Caped Crusader leaves, Selina struggles from her bed and departs as well, after knocking a few orderlies to the floor.

The Night-Slayer approaches a morose Nocturna as Robin steals a hang glider and takes to the skies in order to reach his surrogate mother in time. Batman starts the long climb up the rocky tower with the same objective. The Night-Slayer stabs Nocturna and, as Robin leaps into action to save the woman, the sight of her surrogate son gives her the will to fight her attacker. Batman appears in the nick of time and is also stabbed by the knife-happy Night-Slayer.

Robin tucks the unconscious Nocturna into the basket of a hot air balloon and Catwoman shows up, having traveled to the observatory by helicopter. The combination of the chopper blowing up and a big lightning strike crack the observatory structure in two, allowing Robin to send Nocturna skyward in the hot air balloon. The Night-Slayer appears on the verge of taking another one of Catwoman's nine lives when Batman intervenes, and the fighting foursome fall from the top of the rocky tower to the waters below. The story ends with Batman, Robin, and Catwoman safe on the beach, the Night-Slayer in custody, and Nocturna nowhere to be found, her hot air balloon ripped apart by the howling red typhoon.

Peter: This arc just got worse and worse with each successive chapter.  At least "Still Beating" had the Colan touch; Tom Mandrake is clearly no Colan. Doug seems to have no idea where he wants to take this; did he really think his readers wanted to spend page after page on Batman/Catwoman/Nocturna pathos? The hospital scene is a dilly... Batman sounds like he's already married Selina. "Um, no dear, of course I don't love Nocturna. No, I mean it. Not even a bit. It's you I've always loved. Well, you're right, I've never trusted you enough to tell you I'm Bruce Wayne, but that's neither here nor there." 

The climax is the height of ludicrosity. As the entire observatory "peels" around them, the principals never bat an eyelash and keep up their fistfights. Nocturna with several knife wounds in her heart, Batman a bleeding abdomen, and Catwoman still reeling from a lightning strike. Ya'd never know it from all the action going on. And then Selina and Night-Slayer survive a hundred-plus foot fall from the cliff. This is the pits.

Jack: This might have been a decent read if Colan had drawn it, but it was just beyond Mandrake's abilities. Moench has been leaning a bit hard on the idea of Batman falling in love with bad girls and those girls seemingly dying--didn't Catwoman almost die just a few issues ago? I don't know if the whole red rain thing is connected to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, but I hope we find out soon. I read Crisis in the trade paperback years ago but I don't know if it was referenced in the regular DC comics at the time. I did have to smile when Robin told Batman he couldn't die because the JLA and the Outsiders need him!

Detective Comics #558

"Strange Loves"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gene Colan & Bob Smith

As if the crazy red rain and inclement weather weren't enough, the observatory guard who was bewitched by Nocturna returns to find both observatory and Nocturna vanished from the face of the earth. Robin attempts to calm the man but he clocks the Boy Wonder and wanders away into the night, mumbling about finding the dark, pale woman.

Meanwhile, Batman has dropped Selina off at the hospital and dragged Night Slayer into Police HQ. There, he hands the unconscious lunatic to Gotham's finest but finds he has to rev up his internal engine again, despite his wounds, when NS tries to escape. Job done, the Dark Knight heads back to the observatory to check on the Boy Wonder.

He finds Robin in the midst of flooding waters, clinging to a tree limb. He rescues the boy and is told about the wacky watchman. The dynamic duo head back into Gotham to search for the man. They find him at the top of the city's tallest building, where Nocturna's balloon had become lodged. When the woman is nowhere to be found, the guard becomes further unhinged and pulls his revolver with suicide in mind. Before he can pull the trigger, a strong wind whips the balloon gondola into the man, who falls to his death. It's up to Harvey Bullock to inform the man's wife of his death.

Peter: But for that final page, a genuinely sweet and sorrow-filled three panels, "Strange Loves" is just as weird a mishmash of tripe, cliches, and pretension as the last few chapters of this dumpster fire. I'm repeating myself ad nauseam when I complain about Doug's miserable, syrupy dialogue but, seriously, who writes this: "Love became mystery and newness... something that needed darkness to thrive... even danger... the threat of vulnerability... of something precious deeply ventured in the dark" without winking at himself in the mirror now and then, maybe even blowing himself a kiss?

The romance angle is awful, as always. Batman and Catwoman go back and forth endlessly about whether they love each other, whether Batman loves Nocturna, whether they belong together, on and on and on. Somebody please swoop in and get us back to when these two were arch enemies, rather than cutesy-pie fifth-graders. And is this red rain thing a part of Crisis? I never read that "mega-series" back in the day and don't, for one second, think I'm going to read it now. All signs seem to point that way.

Jack: By my calculations, the last person to make a successful trip via hot air balloon in a storm was named Professor Marvel. I had thought the Nocturna saga was over with the last issue of Batman, but nope, here we go again--and she's nowhere to be found! I had forgotten about the security guard. Leave it to Gene Colan to make this interesting reading.

"Believe Everything I Hear"
Story by Dean Traven
Art by Trevor Von Eeden & Dell Barras

Green Arrow gets a garbled tip from a wounded source and spends the day traveling around town looking for a drug shipment. He eventually finds the junk down at the dock.

Peter: A quick and harmless one-and-done with some decent but not spectacular art by Trevor Von Eeden. I like the more humorous tone writer Dean Traven brings to Green Arrow. In one scene, Ollie is accused of being a "pre-vert" when he offers to buy a young boy an ice cream. Oliver looks right at us, sighs, and wonders if Ambush Bug ever has days like this.

Jack: Who's Ambush Bug? I completely agree with you about this story--decent art but not the best we've seen from von Eeden; some humorous moments, but nothing special.

Shadow of the Batman #2

"The Dead Yet Live"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #471, August 1977)

"I Am the Batman!"
(Reprinted from Detective Comics #472, September 1977)

"A Canterbury Tail"
(Reprinted from Weird War Tales #51, March 1977)

Jack: Englehart and Austin produced superb Batman stories in Detective 471 & 472, some of the best we've ever read. We ended our coverage of DC War Comics with the December 1976 issues, so we never read "A Canterbury Tail," which features more great art by Rogers and Austin to illustrate a post-apocalyptic story in which dogs have replaced humans in England and they are attacked by giant bugs.



Best Script: Doug Moench, "Just as Night Follows Day..." 
(Batman #383)
Best Art: Colan/Alcala, "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best All-Around Story: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Worst Script: "The Spider's Ninth Leg" (Detective Comics #550)
Worst Art: Pat Broderick/Bob Smith, "Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock" (Detective Comics #549)
Best Cover: Gene Colan/Dick Giordano, Detective Comics #556 >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Just as Night Follows Day..."
2 "Night Olympics" (Green Arrow backup, Detective #549-550)
3 "Port Passed" (Detective #554)
4 "Hill's Descent" (Detective #546)
5 "Returning Reflections" (Detective #555)


Best Script: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best Art: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Best All-Around Story: "Just as Night Follows Day..."
Worst Script: "Beasts A-Prowl" (Detective 548)
Worst Art: Todd Mandrake, "Black Mask: Losing Face" (Batman 386)
Best Cover: Rick Hoberg/Dick Giordano, Batman 381 >

The Five Best Stories

1 "Bedtime Stories" (Batman 379)
2 "Hill's Descent"
3 "Just as Night Follows Day..."
4 "Broken Dates" (Batman 384)
5 "Port Passed"

Next Week...
A Weird Children Issue?
What... aren't all children weird?

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 65


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 50
September 1953 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror #23

“The Invisible World” (a: George Roussos) ★1/2

“The Cannibals” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) ★★★

“If I Had the Wings Of…” (a: Al Luster) ★★1/2

“The Ghost Walks” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

“The Cowards Meet” (a: Larry Woromay) ★1/2

Lab assistant George Corliss discovers an entire world living on a microscope slide. As he zooms in on the world, he comes across a beautiful girl in peril. Remembering that (on the other side of the lab, mind you), his boss, the professor has invented a machine that shrinks items down to a microscopic size, George grabs a gun and heads for his little crush. The love-starved egghead arrives just in time, fending off a coup in Micronesia! The girl is none other than Princess Hydma and she falls immediately in love with her savior. George is in heaven until the city starts flooding and he remembers he’s actually on a slide. Jumping back up to regular size, he tries to stop Professor Clutens from doing any more damage but the old timer just keeps cleaning away. Enraged, George strangles the old coot and then tries to figure out how to relocate Micronesia.

I’m not sure why I should consider this any sillier than the stories populated by female werewolves but “The Invisible World” just seems to have an enormous amount of logic problems that stick out like a square basketball. For instance, how does George shrink down on a machine across the room from the microscope slide and then enter that world? And why is it that he suddenly reverts back to regular size just because it pops into his head? The strangling of Professor Clutens is a bit extreme as well! If the story was engaging though, I think its logic faults could easily be dismissed.

Captain Mason’s ship goes down and only three survivors (including the Cap) make it to the lifeboat. When Jenkins and Bob ask the Captain what they’re going to do, he answers that there’s an island nearby but it’s full of cannibals and he’s not partial to being eaten alive. The next land is a thousand miles away. They begin drifting. With water and food running out, Bob goes a little nuts and jumps overboard, immediately scooped up by a nearby shark. Days pass, Jenkins dies, and the boat drifts into a shipping lane, with the Captain eventually rescued by a passing boat. When he’s asked how he survived so many days at sea without food and why he didn’t stop at the first island, the Captain “answers only the second question.”

A fairly harrowing tale of the sea, “The Cannibals” sees Benulis and Abel contributing some very good graphics again after a few missteps in quality. Bob’s descent into madness, where he mistakes a shark for the dog he lost at sea, is particularly memorable. The final panel, with the Captain sporting a full beard after only a few days, reminds one just how different the 1950s were. 

Professor Harmon is obsessed with flying but, unlike most people, the egghead wants to do the flying on his own, sans airplanes. To reach those lofty heights, the Prof has injected himself with vulture hormones and orders his gorgeous wife to drive him to their remote cabin. Seven days later, she returns to see how things went. Not very good. Harmon is one of those Atlas characters you root for even though you know he’s not quite balanced; he’s got a babe of a wife (who doesn’t even have a guy on the side or a huge insurance policy out on her dopy hubby) but the face of a caveman and some delusional goals. Why a vulture? Why not a sparrow or raven or woodpecker? The final panel of "If I Had the Wings Of...", where Harmon emerges from the shadows to give Stan Lee inspiration years later, is the answer.

Actor Jay Anton is starring in a new version of Hamlet and, while on stage one night, is visited by the ghost of his father, who claims he was murdered by Jay’s new step-father. Now dad can’t rest until Jay brings him justice, so the thespian guns down his step-father in cold blood. Unfortunately, the police arrive and Jay is killed while escaping. Back at the graveyard, Jay Sr. reveals that he’s just a dead actor’s ghost who gets a kick out of screwing with the living. “The Ghost Walks” delivers more evidence that Tony DiPreta was either on the downward slope of his career or forced to hurry as his work here looks sketchy at best. The script is a hoot though and that reveal is one of the (intentionally) most funny twists we’ve seen in some time. The final story, “The Cowards Meet,” is a short-short about two Parisian journalists who challenge each other to a duel, only to give in to cowardice and commit suicide the night before. Larry Woromay’s art has a nice Jack Davis-esque style to it but the script is skeletal.

Adventures into Weird Worlds #22

“The Vampire’s Partner!” (a: George Roussos) ★★

“The Man Who Lost an Elevator” (a: Russ Heath) ★★1/2

“The New Boy” (a: Bill Walton)  ★

“Out of My Life” (a: Bob Fujitani)  ★

“Keeper of Cats” (a: George Oleson)  ★1/2

Roco the Ragman makes a partnership with a vampire; Roco helps the blood-sucker gain entrance to the house and then he gets to steal the clothes after the home-owner is drained dry. The partnership works until Roco’s house is full of rags and he loses enthusiasm. The vampire decides Roco will be his latest victim but the ragman has a big surprise for his former partner… he’s actually made of rags! The script, by Carl Wessler, for “The Vampire’s Partner!” makes absolutely not one lick of sense but it’s undeniably amiable and goofy enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded of pre-code horror scholars.

Jeff Haycox loves the hotel elevator he tends and operates but not all the folks at the hotel are fans. Mob-connected Mr. Garrot says it’s not fast enough and if he has anything to say about it, the hotel will replace it with one of those new-fangled speed demons. One day, while Jeff is tending to the elevator motor, the mob comes gunning for Garrot and he flies into the lobby, ordering Jeff to fire up the willing engine. Kindly old Jeff explains it’s not safe but Garrot cold-cocks him and hijacks the cage. The elevator flies up and through the roof. Jeff sits on the stoop of the hotel, moaning to anyone that will listen that he’s “The Man Who Lost an Elevator.” Like “The Vampire’s Partner,” the script for “Elevator” doesn’t go to the top floor but it’s very charming and Russ Heath’s graphics are very precise and refined. It’s a comedy noir.

“The New Boy” and “Out of My Life!” are short but deadly doses of dumb. Gorillas dress their intelligent little son as a human and send him off to school in “The New Boy,” but the kid knows nothing about numbers so he ends up in the dunce chair. “Out of My Life” is a cheat from the start: old guy and a beauty are having dinner… thought balloons trick reader into thinking she’s his girl and she’s dumping him for a younger guy… turns out the chick is his daughter and she’s getting married. Bob Fujitani obviously thought Boris Karloff was the perfect model for his drama. What this soap opera is doing in a comic called Adventures Into Weird Worlds is anyone’s guess.

An old hag with a strawberry birth-mark on her face is forced to steal milk from grocery stores to feed the hundreds of feral cats she keeps in her apartment. One day, she’s arrested for shoplifting and sentenced to a week in jail. The old woman pleads with the female guard to visit her apartment and feed her cats but the woman refuses. After four days, the cats are insane from hunger and throw themselves at the window pane, escaping to the street below. Some “fantastic instinct” leads them to the jail, where they release their master, the hag, and lock the guard in a cell. The next morning, a detective arrives to re-arrest the old woman but finds nothing but the feral cats, led by one with a strawberry mark on its face. “Keeper of Cats” is the kind of nonsense story that filled the pages of Harvey horror comics. The old woman’s transformation isn’t explained nor is the reason why she couldn’t simply have changed into a cat to avoid jail in the first place. The saving grace, if there can be such a thing in a strip this bad, is the sequence where the feral cats break free and answer their master’s call, much like what Willard would do a decade later in Ratman’s Notebooks.

Journey into Mystery #12

“A Night in Dragmoor Castle!!” (a: Al Eadah) ★

“A Witch in Love” (a: Dick Briefer) ★★

“All About Mars” (a: Pablo Ferro) ★★

“The Sight of the Ghost!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★★

“The Strange Boy” (a: Ed Goldfarb) ★

A cad talks a sweet young maid who works up at Dragmoor Castle into leaving the back door open for him so that he can steal a few paintings off the walls. Turns out the house is filled with ghosts and the cast of spooks includes the pretty maid. “A Night in Dragmoor Castle” is an absolute drag and seems like a story that might have been
on the shelf for years. A simple-minded witch falls in love with the town statue and begs her sisters to transform her into a beautiful mortal woman for just a few hours, not knowing the stone cannot give love. “A Witch in Love” is charming but doesn’t have much meat on the bone.

Willy Gregg is the ugliest man on Earth; women and children run in fear from Willy. But the last laugh is Willy Gregg’s when he invents a rocket that can take him to Mars. There, Willy is confident the Martians will not scamper nor scorn. Meanwhile, famous plastic surgeon Doctor Bralt mixes something with something and his hospital is reduced to ashes, patients included. Knowing he’ll go to jail for life, he flees to Willy’s place and begs the budget scientist to take him to Mars. As payment, he’ll make Willy the handsomest man on Mars. Willy bites, goes under the scalpel and, weeks later, the pair head for Mars. But the welcome is anything but warm when Willy disembarks. Much like back on Earth, the natives hightail it in the other direction. The doc explains to Willie that on Mars, his handsomeness is ugly. This guy can’t win! "All About Mars" is three pages of enjoyable silliness and some stark, Jack Davis-esque art from Pablo Ferro, who would only stick around long enough to contribute three times to the Atlas horror titles and then disappear from comics altogether.

Joe Harvey, a ghost in good standing for over one hundred years, comes across a boy trapped in a pit and must find someone to rescue him. Problem is, “The Sight of the Ghost” leaves everyone he encounters shaking with fear and turning tail. Then Joe manages to find a trio of good-hearted citizens who listen to his story and then follow him to the boy. Child rescued and brought safely home, the three wander off happily, leaving Joe alone to ponder the kindness in mankind. What Joe Harvey doesn’t see is the eventual destination of the three good samaritans: the county’s insane asylum. A wonderfully entertaining and imaginative fantasy tale, “The Sight of the Ghost” is nicely illustrated and full of interesting twists. A well-deserved break from vampires and werewolves.

“The Strange Boy” is a tedious and overlong fantasy about a boy rescued from a burning building and taken in by a greedy old couple who see only dollar signs in the form of a young child. Turns out the kid is the child of aliens and they show up at the story’s climax to claim their son and give the couple what they deserve.

Journey into Unknown Worlds #22

“The Death House” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★

“Two Frightened People!” (a: Hy Rosen) ★

“Davey and His Dame” (a: Cal Massey) ★★

“The Devil’s Day Off!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★1/2

“Too Timid to Live” (a: John Forte & Matt Fox) ★1/2

Joey is waiting for his execution day in “The Death House” and hears about a mystic who can transport a man into the future. Escaping prison, Joey hunts down the mystic and forces the man to send him into a safer future. But the joke’s on Joey when he “lands” in the future… on the day he’s to be executed! Clever wrap-up and some solid Heath work.

In “Two Frightened People!,” a young couple become stranded in a remote Balkan village known for its werewolves. In the end though, they discover the threat is imagined, which is a relief since the couple are vampires. Golddigger Catherine spends the last of her money to vacation at a seaside hotel, hoping to attract a rich, attractive sucker. The man she finds is David, who quickly takes a liking to the pretty blonde and promises to take her to the paradise where he keeps his wealth. Turns out Davey has this locker… “Davey and His Dame” is corny to the max but the twist is not expected and Cal Massey’s panels are gorgeously choreographed, like a B-movie set at the beach.

“The Devil’s Day Off” is a three-page bit of commie claptrap courtesy of Stan Lee. Satan takes a holiday on Earth, is captured by Russkies, put on a rack, and returns to Hell a satisfied man. From now on, “every human who comes (to Hades) is to be sent up to the Communists for a few days! Then they’ll know what hell really is!” It bears repeating that Joe Maneely is wasted on these short-shorts but he really is the only redeeming feature to this tale.

The same can be said of “Too Timid to Live,” with the unique artwork of Forte and Fox. Casper Little has had sand kicked in his face all his life and he just takes it. That includes eating a field full of crap from wife Dora. When Casper discovers Dora has a man on the side, he suddenly becomes a take-charge guy by chopping her up and stuffing her in a suitcase. There’s no rhyme or reason to the shifts of “Too Timid to Love”; Dora’s murder is handled off-panel and, other than becoming a murderer, Casper seems as meek at the climax as he was at the opening.

Marvel Tales #118

“Moon Madness” (a: Russ Heath) ★1/2

“Typhoid” ★1/2

“Noah” (a: Hy Rosen) ★★

“The Magic Word” (a: Dick Briefer) ★★

“When a World Went Mad!” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

In "Moon Madness," newspaper tycoon Amos Benton believes if he can become the first man on the moon, he’ll grow even richer by laying claim to all the minerals and precious stones found there. Benton hires a squad of “tough guys” to man the ship. Only problem is that the American government is building a rocket ship at the same time and Benton needs a couple months time to stall. He instructs his reporters to flood his own newspapers with wild stories, of werewolves on the moon and spaceships filled with lycanthropes landing on Earth 200 years before, to build dissatisfaction amongst the public towards the budding space program. The “fake news” works and Benton and his specially selected crew land on the moon ahead of schedule. Too late, Benton discovers his fake news about ancient explorers was actually right on the money when his crew doff their faux earthling disguise.

A greedy couple attempt to make a killing off a “Typhoid” outbreak in Chicago. The dopes bilk an insurance company and then inadvertently expose themselves to an actual typhoid victim on their way out of town. 

Nezra gathers together male and female of every species on a rocket ship and prepares to take off for parts unknown when Torus, the king of the world, demands an audience. Torus tells Nezra that his latter-day version of “Noah” is silly and that his expert weathermen have promised that no floods are on the way. Nezra blasts off and years later, remembers Earth before the great drought destroyed all life. 

An arrogant magician travels to India to discover the secret of levitation. He witnesses the great Rashu levitate without aid of wires and demands to know the secret. When Rashu refuses, the magician threatens bodily harm until the old man relents and tells him the secret incantation. The American showman utters the phrase and, sure enough, begins drifting upward but, too late, realizes he doesn’t have “The Magic Word” to get him back down to Earth. Some nice Briefer art and a clever finale.

Scientist Jordan Craig has invented a formula for immortality and believes it the greatest gift he can give mankind. His wife, Sue, is convinced that if man believes himself immortal, all social restraints will drop by the wayside and atomic war will be inevitable. Jordan poo-poohs his wife’s naysaying and hands out vaccines willy-nilly. Soon, the whole world is inoculated against death and, as Sue forecast, the bombs begin dropping soon after. For some strange reason known only to our uncredited writer, the radiation from the bombs devolves mankind back to his apish beginnings. Jordan whips up an antidote with the hope the vaccine will bring things back to normal but the Neanderthals are not hip to the hypo and, after discovering Sue is now a monkey-girl, Jordan is resigned to being the last man on Earth who doesn’t say, “Yikee Yak Bom Yakeedak!” The usual great Colan work but the script is as unfocused as Jordan Craig’s endgame.

Menace #7

“Fresh Out of Flesh!” (a: Syd Shores) ★★

“The Planet of Living Death” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★

“The Witch in the Woods” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

“Your Name is Frankenstein!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

Glenn Towers is tasked with hunting down the fifteen thousand Mark IV androids that went rogue and plan to conquer mankind. Armed with his electronic robot detector and fire-gun, Towers manages to eliminate 14,999 of the robots in very little time but that one final humanoid is proving to be elusive. One night at dinner, Glenn’s detector starts buzzing and he realizes his wife is the final piece in the puzzle. After attempting to burn his wife alive (he doesn’t have the guts to shoot her down with his fire-gun so he lights the house on fire!), the undercover dope begins to melt and discovers that he is the hidden android! Stan’s script is predictable but entertaining, but Syd Shores’ work is so obviously weaker than his three fellow artists this issue that “Flesh Out of Flesh!” sticks out like a sore steel thumb.

After dipping too much into his special brew, spaceman Derk Collin forces his ship, “The Space Queen,” and all aboard into a treacherous landing on planet Osirus, aka “The Planet of Living Death.” When the crew disembark, they are met by a pair of creepy locals, emissaries of the snake-like Osirusians. The creatures explain that they will fix the “Space Queen” and see the Earthlings off safely if they will share the secret of atomic energy. If the crew refuses, they will die painfully. Knowing he’s going to be court-martialed back on Earth, Derk makes a deal with the Osirusians to save his own skin, but the pact might as well have been with the devil. Hilarious climactic twist and some super-duper Heath outer space graphics. Collin is one of the sleaziest villains Atlas has showcased, morphing from simple alcoholic screw-up to dangerous would-be rapist in two pages time.

In “The Witch in the Woods,” a father scolds his son for reading horror comic books (Uncanny Tales!) and offers up an alternative: fairy tales. But after reading Hansel and Gretel out loud, the man decides comic books might not be so bad after all. "Your Name is Frankenstein!" and you only want to make friends but your big, strong arms keep getting you into more mischief. After accidentally setting a house on fire and nearly killing the occupants, the Monster decides that suicide is the answer and he enters a bog, never to return. Stan adds melancholy and sympathy to the usual old Atlas Frankenstein Monster mash, as if that wasn’t Shelley’s intent in the first place. Joe Maneely is an artistic genius and has very few peers in the Atlas horror universe but his Monster looks like a bobblehead.

In Just Two Weeks...
Could it be?
Yet another ant-infested plantation?