Thursday, September 1, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics Issue 68


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 53
October 1953 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Mystery Tales #16

“Wilfred Takes a… Wife!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

“How?” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

“Genuine Alligator” (a: Myron Fass) ★★1/2

“Bring Back My Feet” (a: Mac Pakula) ★

“There’s No Pleasing Some Gals!” (a: Sid Greene) ★1/2

Joseph Cragley always has the most beautiful plants at his nursery and his customers rave about his green thumb. His son, Wilfred, helps run the business and, one day, Wilfred pleads with his father to ask a pretty customer if she’ll be Wilfred’s wife. Since that is the custom in “the old country,” Wilfred sees no problem with the chore. Surprisingly, the woman says yes and promises to come back later to properly meet Wilfred. The reason she’s so willing is that she’s looking for a payday and the Cragley family looks ripe for the taking.

Unfortunately for pretty Mary Crane, it turns out that Wilfred is another of his father’s incredible creations — half-man, half-plant — and the courting ritual is that Wilfred feeds Mary to a giant Venus Fly Trap and she’s then regurgitated as a half-plant Mary Crane. Surprisingly enough, “Wilfred Takes a… Wife!” preceded Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers by a year or two, but a couple of the panels are very reminiscent of the film version’s “pod people.” “Wilfred Takes…!” is a bit on the goofy side and its climax isn’t very clear (the Fly Trap looks alternately as though it’s a separate organism and also as if it’s part of Wilfred himself), but it’s got energy and a typically creepy DiPreta polish.

In “How?,” Ben Brock is violently jealous of fellow inventor, Gilbert Meeker, who has conjured up “the pen that writes by itself,” a brilliant ballpoint that writes without ink. When Ben murders Meeker and plants a phony suicide note, written with one of Gilbert’s pens, the murderer discovers why it’s called “the pen that writes by itself!” 

Though the art in “Genuine Alligator” is genuinely horrid, the script works thanks to a big smattering of humor. Poor Elmer is nagged to death by his morbidly obese wife, Bertha, who wants absolutely everything she sets her sights on. Umbrella… dress… pearls… trip to Florida. It’s while taking that trip that Bertha finally goes too far, insisting, while they’re out on a boat, that she needs a genuine alligator bag. When Elmer utters an unfamiliar, “No!,” Bertha aims one at his kisser, misses, falls overboard, and becomes alligator food. The final panel raises the jocular tone even farther as we listen in on the two alligators having a similar argument about “human bags.”

Can a story be as dumb as its inept title? Yes, in the case of “Bring Back My Feet,” about Lise Glorio, a cabaret dancer who sets her sights on the big time but needs a wad of cash to bankroll her dreams. She marries the fabulously wealthy octogenarian Wi Pong (worth at least four million) after he promises to give her everything she wants provided she dress like an old-fashioned Chinese girl. Everything’s swell until Wi Pong has his men lug Lise down to his basement to crush her toes. Her feet are too big to fit into “Chinese slippers!” No, seriously! That’s how “Bring Back My Feet” leaves us, dangling, wanting more.

Pipsqueak science professor Roger Putnam discovers early that “There’s No Pleasin’ Some Gals!” when he tries, time and again, to get a date with gorgeous fellow teacher Karen Lewison. Unfortunately, Karen’s idea of the perfect man is a Neanderthal. Even after several months of hitting the barbells and buffing up, Roger can’t make time with the pretty blonde so… he becomes a caveman. Not sure whether our uncredited writer is hinting that too much pumping iron will lead to degeneration of the species but that’s clearly what the last panel (grass-skirted Roger, with club, pulling Karen down the stairs by her pony tail) seems to be saying. Like “Genuine Alligator,” “There’s No Pleasin’…” tries to inject some humor in its final panels but this time it doesn’t work.

Mystic #24

“The Gargoyle!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

”The Stranger from Space” (a: Gil Kane) ★★

“Another Man’s Shoes” (a: Joe Certa) ★

“His Wife Throws Things” ★

“How Many Times Can You Die?” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

Using Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as inspiration, “The Gargoyle” tells the plight of Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s bell-ringer and resident “freak.” Tortured by the people of Paris and struck deaf by the continuous ringing of the bells, Quasimodo finds peace only in the pretty maiden, Petite. But when Petite is savagely murdered, Quasimodo is dragged to the gallows and hung. Moments later, the true murderers show their face: the church’s gargoyles come to life and kill the hunchback’s accusers. Using the Hugo novel as a foundation is a good start (usually the scripter would dance around the source material), but “The Gargoyle” goes off the rails with its unexpected reveal. There’s no discussion beforehand that these statues might have some kind of life to them so the twist comes off as extremely random.

“The Stranger From Space” features a very silly story about a Martian who lands on Earth and recruits a scientist to head back home with him in his spaceship. It’s only on the journey back that the creature reveals that he likes his meat fresh. Unlikely an alien would travel a gazillion light years for one meal but it, at the very least, lets us have one last look at Gil Kane during the pre-code era. This is not the Kane we know from the Marvel hero comics but rather a Kane whose style closely resembles Basil Wolverton. No nose shading in sight.

Janitor Baner Marsh covets the life of his boss, Richard Kingston… women, wine, and lots of money. One night, while out walking, Abner stumbles upon the shop of an old witch (yep, they have shops in the city!) and figures it won’t hurt to give it a try. After telling the old crone he wants to switch lives with Kingston, Abner finds his wish granted. But the glee is cut short when he finds out Kingston wears a toupee, his wife wants a divorce, and his company is bankrupt. What else could happen? Turns out Kingston hired someone to kill him! “Another Man’s Shoes” is too long, too boring, and too cliched.

Orman is in bad shape because “His Wife Throws Things.” Unfortunately, we have to look in on the dope when his wife is throwing plates at him. There’s really nothing here to see in this inane three-pager. A fairly dismal issue of Mystic comes to a welcome end with “How Many Times Can You Die?” Herbert is planning to murder his wife (so that he can live happily ever after with the minx who works with him at the office) but he keeps dreaming that every fashion of murder ends with a similar execution for himself. Finally, he decides to drown the old bat since, he surmises, the law can’t execute him by drowning. But when he manages to get his wife out into the middle of the lake in a rowboat, she pushes him first, confessing she’d heard him talking in his sleep. I’ve a soft spot for Tony DiPreta’s crude doodling but I must admit that this is not Tony Di’s finest hour.

Strange Tales #23

“Welcome to Pluto” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★★

“The Man who Knew Everything!" (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“White on Black!” (a: Louis Ravielli) ★★1/2

“The Beginning!” (a: Ed Goldfarb) ★★

“Can You Picture This?” (a: Gil Evans) ★★

"Mr. World-Wide" Winner Bruto is a nasty fella, the kind who will push professors on the street and kick the crutch out from a child. Since he's the world's most muscled man, no one can stand up to the ill-tempered and egocentric meathead. Then one day a space ship lands at his house and out pops a one-eyed green alien, bearing an invitation from his Emperor Groot of Pluto. Groot dares Bruto to compete in the Mr. Universe contest being held back at the tiny planet (well, it was a planet in 1953) and, never one to dodge a dare, Bruto obliges. Once on Pluto, Bruto discovers that he has to wage hand-to-hand combat with the other participants, aliens from each of the planets. After vanquishing all comers, Bruto is crowned Mr. Universe and taken away to be prepared for a banquet. Yeah, you've read some variant of this before (probably several times) but Joe Sinnott's almost Wolverton-esque pencils and the strip's genuinely funny beats make this something special. Wertham must have spit his martini across the bar when he saw that final panel.

Mr. Maxton’s staff take advantage of the poor flustered newspaper publisher but when Maxton has a nervous breakdown and the office goes on a two-week party, the man knows things will have to change. That’s why Maxton hires Hugo Steel, “The Man Who Knows Everything!” Within days, Hugo has whipped the office into shape but the staff is not happy and, during yet another office party, the men get drunk and head into Steel’s office to rough him up. Unfortunately for these buffoons, Hugo is actually a robot and he kills his attackers before shorting out. Robots had become such an integral part of these SF stories that it was tough for the writers to find something original to do with them. Unfortunately, the reader knows right off the bat that Steel (!) is probably full of nuts and bolts.

“White on Black!” and “Can You Picture This?” feature lead protagonists with the same vocation: photography. Both get into trouble with their field of expertise. On May 3rd, 1975, the world goes completely “White on Black!,” all colors cease to exist. Only outer space photographer Howie Darp knows what’s going on. Seems Howie went on an expedition to the planet Zoonga (yes, that Zoonga), stole one of the Zoongans’ fancy cameras and took a picture of Earth from space. When Howie got back to his darkroom and developed the pic, everything went pear-shaped. Howie is convinced that if he takes another pic from space and overexposes the negative (or something like that), the world will go back to normal. Unfortunately, for Howie, his experiment doesn’t work and the entire world goes… blank! A fanciful idea, not fully explored (and there’s that silly Zoonga-set middle act), but an effective final panel nonetheless.

“Can You Picture This?” takes a much simpler view of the art of film developing. Cheesecake shutter-bug Harry discovers that when he mixes a batch of weird chemicals together, his photos come to life… literally. So, Harry is basking in the attention of glamour models but his shrewish wife, Sophie, knows there’s something untoward going on in her hubby’s darkroom. When she overhears Harry explaining his new magic to his boss, Sophie gives it a try, unaware that Harry had been snapping photos of man-eating lions on a special assignment. As with “White on Black!,” “Can You Picture This?” has a great twist ending; it’s a shame we have to read the build-up.

Finally, in “The Beginning!,” two dopey eggheads take their life-long debate, whether man is descended from apes or microscopic organism, to a new level by injecting themselves with a serum that will devolve them. Turns out they were both right. The eye-catching creature art of Ed Goldfarb (above) is the highlight here.

Uncanny Tales #13

“The Man Who Was Scared Out of His Skin!” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

“Where There’s Smoke” (a: Jerry Robinson) ★★

“Open Wider, Please!” (a: Bob Fujitani) ★

“Are You a Weakling?” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★1/2

“Meet Mr. Jones!” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

After successfully finishing a job, hitman Danny is involved in a nasty car wreck and dies on the operating table. The surgeon is able to bring him back around but the assassin is never quite the same. Thinking a job will get him his wits back, Danny shoots Big Al Coots dead but the mobster has cops protecting him and Danny is chased into a neighboring cemetery. There, all the spirits of the men he killed come to take Danny to the land of the dead. Even Joe Sinnott’s sharp art can’t mask that the script for “The Man Who Was Scared Out of His Skin!” stinks. This might have been a very good thriller had the obvious connection, that Danny has crossed over into “the other side,” been explored to its fullest.

Roger inherits his uncle’s half of the cigar factory he owned with his partner, Stephan. That’s not good enough for Roger, who expected to inherit the old man’s millions in cash. To add insult to injury, the uncle has stipulated that Roger draws a salary only as long as he contributes to the business. Working is not Roger’s style so he takes a lot of long lunches and spends most of his wages on broads and booze. When his till runs dry, Roger begins embezzling funds from the company. Stephan finds out and threatens to go to the police, so Roger murders the man and burns his body in the basement furnace. Bad idea. The final reveal is a cute one but the obvious draw for “Where There’s Smoke” is the work of Jerry Robinson, who still shows a little bit of that magic here and there. This was Robinson’s 11th (and final) Atlas pre-code horror strip.

The dentist in “Open Wider, Please!” has worked out a deal with a local hood; the thug brings the dentist “patients” he’s been paid to rub out and the doc does his best. He’s undone in the end when the cops find out the latest fatality had dentures. Really rough Fujitani graphics. In “Are You a Weakling?,” Charles Connors tires of being the foil for office tough guy, Russo, so he takes the Charles Atlas course for muscling up. Once he’s the big guy, he starts picking on Russo. No real supernatural or horror element present in this one. Finally, we “Meet Mr. Jones!” Davy (of the Locker) Jones, that is. Two divers find a treasure at the bottom of the Caribbean and both start planning the big double cross at just about the same time. Like “Are You a Weakling?,” there’s not much in the way of suspense or thrills to be found in “Meet Mr. Jones!,” but we can always count on Russ Heath for quality undersea adventures.

In Two Weeks!


Grant said...

MCU movie fans would be surprised to see the name "Groot" going back this far.
Of course, the plant creature of that name also goes back this far, in one of these Marvel-Atlas stories.

Peter Enfantino said...


There are a couple other familiar "faces" and names coming up in the post-code horror/sf comics that would make MCU fans smile.