Thursday, October 13, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 71: Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 56
December 1953 Part II
+ The 20 Best From 1953
by Peter Enfantino

Marvel Tales #119

“When the Mummies Rise” (a: Russ Heath) ★★★

“Collector’s Item!” (a: John Forte) ★★

“They Gave Him a Grave” (a: Larry Woromay) ★★1/2

“The New Life” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“They Can’t Burn Blackie” (a: Mac Pakula) ★★

Now pay attention as this is complicated and important and I don’t have the time nor inclination to repeat myself. Eight thousand years ago, Earth was invaded by a vicious race of aliens known as the Ferus. Not finding anyone intelligent enough to conquer, the Ferus bandage themselves a la the mummies and bury themselves in the Egyptian deserts. One Feru warrior, Katan, flies to Mt. Everest where he awaits what the prophets call a “great raging of the elements.” At that time, he’ll blow his magic horn or burn some tana leaves and that’s “When the Mummies Rise!” 

Fast-forward to 1952 and Katan gets his message from the gods and alerts his bandaged brethren that it’s time to awaken. The Ferus rise and fly to the Arizona desert where they can regroup and make their battle plans. Alas, the Ferus are in the wrong place at the wrong time and the world domination plot is foiled by an A-Bomb test. This is one goofy sf/fantasy tale, but that only makes it more enjoyable. Why in the world would an invasion armada decide to postpone an easy conquest because their intended victims are “backward?” Don’t you want to take charge with as little casualties as possible? And then there’s the excuse of leaving the Egyptian desert to fly across the world to Arizona because “no Earth man can spy on us while we make our plans!” There’s not much logic going on but that’s okay; where else can you get a mummy/alien invasion mash-up?

Zorna loves diamond rings. She’s got a real racket going: she convinces men to propose to her, then, once she gets the ring, she murders them and buries the bodies in her basement. But killing dozens of men can be tiring and now Zorna has vowed the next ring she gets will be the biggest diamond she can find. A happy coincidence then that Frederick is buying just that ring when Zorna lays her eyes on the bauble. It’s not long before Frederick is popping the question but this is one ring (and man) Zorna will wish she never laid eyes on. “Collector’s Item!” is really dumb (how do you get away with murdering dozens of men without a sniff of suspicion on the part of the local constabulary?) but John Forte’s enthusiastic art is infectious (and he knows his way around a lovely lady).

Duke and Bull rob a bank and almost make it out with no trouble, but it turns out Duke isn’t all that smart and he parked the getaway car in front of a hydrant. They steal a cop car and engage in a high speed chase and shootout, wherein Duke is badly wounded. The boys make their getaway, deep into the forest, opting to dig a big hole to hide their booty. Bull decides to kill two birds with one stone by burying the dying Duke along with the loot. He plans to come back in one year when the heat is off; that year is filled with nightmares about dead partner Duke spending all the bank money. After six months, Bull has had enough and heads back to the magic forest to recover his ill-gotten gains. But, once the dirt is uncovered, Bull finds his nightmares have come true. There’s no logical explanation for the climactic twist to “They Gave Him a Grave” but, to be fair, there usually isn’t a good reason for most of this stuff. That last panel, of Duke’s skeleton decked out in tux and top hat, with a blonde skeleton lying beside him, is just irrational, goofy fun.

George has been slaving his life away, working on an assembly line. Then, when he gets home at night he has to listen to wife, Lena, tell him he’a nothing and won’t accomplish diddly. But George shows everyone when he invents a “life-selector” machine, a gizmo that makes every person what they’ve always wanted to be. Problem is, Lena can’t keep her mouth shut and, very soon, the government comes calling at George’s door, wanting a piece of the new toy. George, even after entering his own machine and granted “The New Life,” is miserable once again. 

Sitting on death row, awaiting his date with the executioner, convicted mass murderer Blackie Radburn is given an odd alternative to frying in the chair: his sentence will be commuted if he volunteers to fly in a rocket ship to a newly-discovered planet which seems to be zigging and zagging  towards Earth. Blackie volunteers and the ship blasts off but Blackie learns he can’t escape fate when he lands on an electrified planet! “They Can’t Burn Blackie” has yet another wildly illogical plot but the twist is cute.

Mystic #25

“A Fella Needs a Zombie” (a: Paul Reinman) 1/2

“Revolt of the Robots” (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) ★★

(r: Journey Into Mystery #13)

“Have You Ever Seen a Huge, Black Vampire” (a: John Romita) ★★

(r: Giant-Size Chillers #1)

“The Couple Next Door” (a: Al Eadah)

(r: Giant-Size Chillers #2)

“The Toy Train” (a: Robert Q. Sale)

(r: Chamber of Chills #12)

Ziggy pulls a jewel heist back in the States and leaves one man dead. The cops are hot on his trail so he hops a boat to Haiti, where he lives comfortably on his spoils until a Mr. Cato comes knocking at Ziggy’s door. Cato knows all about the big man’s checkered past and he wants lots of dough to keep his mouth shut. Ziggy spends the next week trying to devise a foolproof way of killing Cato and the answer comes in a sleazy little bar. Ziggy overhears two men talking about a ceremony to raise the dead and, suddenly, Zig knows “A Fella Needs a Zombie.” As usual, mistakes are made and Ziggy gets his just desserts in the end when the zombie he raises turns out to be Mr. Cato, who had died of the fever a few days before. One of the most humorous aspects of some of these tales is the willingness on the part of the protagonist to believe in the unbelievable. Ziggy noses in on a conversation about voodoo and immediately thinks, “That’s it! I’ll use a zombie!”

In a future where robots have become thinking machines, one man, Philip Evans, leads the charge for destroying all robots. As Evans predicted, the robots begin revolting, attacking and killing their masters, with worldwide domination their goal. Luckily, Philip Evans has planned for just such a day and crafted “robot sensors,” automatons who seek out and eliminate robots. There’s a clunky twist in the finale of “Revolt of the Robots” that’s easy to predict from the get-go, and the pace is much too slow, but the Andru/Esposito art is some of the pair’s better work in the Atlas pre-code horror titles.

In the silly Stan-Lee scripted “Have You Ever Seen a Huge, Black Vampire,” a remote Austrian village is infested with vampires and the townsfolk hire a constable to destroy the bloodsuckers. The chief erects huge fences, around the cemetery, issues a gun and ax to each villager and then, exhausted, heads home to his coffin for some rest. Even worse is “The Couple Next Door,” about a woman who always has to own something bigger than what the Jones’s got and keeps her hubby working day and night in order to feed her frenzy. 

Little Teddy lives with his sadistic Uncle Jonas, who beats the child and forbids any toys or play time. A spirit comes one night and gives Teddy “The Toy Train.” When Uncle Jonas finds out about it, he beats Teddy and commences to dismantle the train set. Instead, the train runs Uncle Jonas down. The End. There’s a very nasty, queasy edge to “The Toy Train” that sets it apart from most Atlas pre-codes; the panel of Teddy receiving his beating (blackened eye and all) might seem like pushing the boundaries, but comes off more as sleazy exploitation. Robert Sale’s art is cartoony, exaggerated, and ugly. This is a vile five pages.

Spellbound #18

“When the Martians Strike!” (a: Gil Evans) ★★1/2

“Sleep, My Love!” (a: Jim Mooney)

“The Weaker Sex!” (a: Dick Ayers) 1/2

“The City” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★★★

“Terror in Time” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

With the Martian invasion only days away and weapons useless against the coming armada, inventor Percival Q. Perry tries to sell the Army on his inflatable balloon idea. Percy is sure the balloon is the trick but the brass throw the brain out on his rear and await doomsday. Not one to take no for an answer, Percy grabs a small plane, flies up to Earth’s atmosphere, and inflates a balloon the size of Earth. Once Percy releases the big ball, the Martians are tricked into firing on the faux Earth. The released gases destroy the Martian invasion and assure Earth of another day. “When the Martians Strike!” is a fun and fanciful little SF/fantasy tale and, if taken as such, very enjoyable. What gave me a huge smile was, obviously, the Earth-sized balloon, but also the Army’s “Radar Lingo-Translator” which bounces off the enemy’s “pulses” and translates their radio messages. Nice trick that.

Ralph Durkin discovers his wife is a witch so he guns her down but, with her dying breath, the old crone curses Ralph with sleepless nights. Should he fall asleep at night, she’ll claim him. So Ralph takes jobs that allow him to stay up at night and sleep during the day. Unfortunately, his final job, as a stoker on a freighter, lands him in the Arctic, where the nights are six months long. “Sleep, My Love!” is a daft and incoherent loser that almost seems to be made up of two discarded scripts.

Whipped husband Mike Benson has had enough of his wife’s gallivanting around town and frequent women’s meetings; now his daughter is acting up as well. When Mike loses his job to a woman, he suddenly sees the light: women are taking over the world! Hard to tell if “The Weaker Sex!” is satirical or misogynistic, as the actions of its characters are befuddling and exaggerated (wife Clara is a shrewish bully and daughter Alice is a nasty little brat), so what little clever commentary there might be is hidden by ridiculous behavior.

“The City” flourishes, populated by happy, smiling people, until one day when the bombs fall. Most dig their way underground, bringing their massive weapons with them, and continue the foolish war from below. Some survivors build spaceships and blast off to “more livable planets in space” while the war continues unabated. Generations later, a space ship lands atop the burned-out rubble, descendants of those original space travelers back to explore the dead planet. Even while pumping out the one-sided and silly “red scare” strips, Stan Lee would let one or two thought-provoking science fiction tales sneak through. “The City” is neither silly nor propaganda but, rather, a bleak and nihilistic wake-up call.

Gonar is messing around with black magic when he is hurled 250 years into the past. He takes advantage of his vast knowledge of history and becomes a seer to the villagers around him but it’s only a matter of time before those same villagers accuse Gonar of witchcraft and hang him. I’m not a big fan of Al Eadah’s work, it’s entirely too chaotic and amateurish for my tastes, but with “Terror in Time,” Eadah hits a nice Ghastly-like vibe. The climactic panel of Gonar’s body, in shadow, hanging from the gallows, is also quite stark and effective.

Strange Tales #24

“The Things in the Coffins” ( a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

“Mission to Mars!” (a: Ed Goldfarb) ★★

“Russia!” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★★1/2

“Come In!” (a: Vic Carrabotta)

“The Fat Man” (a: Bob Fujitani)

Joe Grey takes a high-paying job at a rundown cemetery and notices that none of the tombstones have markings. Who’s paying for the upkeep on this ratty hunk of real estate? Curiosity gets the best of Joe and he digs up one of the graves, only to discover a long shining metal tube. Prying the capsule open, he unwittingly unleashes a horde of Plutonian aliens, buried 10,000 years before and jonesing for an invasion. A goofy little bit of nonsense (who’s signing the checks?) that is 100% entertaining because of Joe Sinnott’s grimy visuals. Like Romita and Colan, Sinnott was so perfectly fitted to the horror genre thanks to his use of shadows and distinguishing facial features.

If you found a coverless, tattered copy of Strange Tales #24 and read "Russia," you'd swear you stumbled onto a ratty copy of one of EC's "New Direction" titles (right down to the offbeat art of Kweskin). Recounting the fall of Russian tsar Nicholas II (and his seemingly immortal adviser, Rasputin), but veering off into "what if" territory after the slaughter of the entire family at the hands of the Bolsheviks in 1917. In this version, Anastasia is saved from the slaughter by an admiring soldier named Ivan Korovsky, who then spirits her away to safety and semi-happiness until the pair are hunted down by the Bolsheviks. Ivan is murdered and Anastasia escapes, only to die soon after from an unknown malady. The last thing she sees as she lay dying in bed is Rasputin, calling out "...let harm come to me... and Russia will be ruined.”

The story ends there with no questions answered. I don't pretend to understand what the hell writer Carl Wessler is trying say here but it grabbed my attention nonetheless. Hard to believe Stan Lee approved of a story that lacks a zombie, giant monster, or a message any pre-teen could understand. Yeah, Stan dug giving a good kick in the ass to the commies even in the early fifties but usually the boot was worn by Captain America, not a 17-year old Russian girl.

After atomic wars have left the world a barren wasteland, Earth sends out an SOS to other planets and hears back from Mars. A group of Earth’s finest men, all bearing the “gift of diplomacy and training,” are selected to be our emissaries and sent on a “Mission to Mars!” Immediately, Johnny begins to wear on the other six men, with his constant pranks and one-liners, and when the men get to Mars, the captain tells Johnny to keep his trap shut, lest he offend the Martian government. Turns out, the Martians turn a cold shoulder to the dour sextet and gravitate to Johnny; seems the Martians love a good joke. Goldfarb’s art is perfect for this space opera but the script is predictable and silly. Why would our top brass send a man like Johnny, with what appears to be no special talent other than a gift for the punchline, into space?


“Come In!” is a silly three-pager about a draftee who stops in at a fortune teller to see whether he will die in combat. The seer assures him he will not and the young man, pleased with the message, steps out of the old woman’s tent and into the path of a bulldozer. Truly wretched Carrabotta graphics.  

In the finale, “The Fat Man,” a ship’s cook named “Cookie” (what else?) collects as much food as he can while the ship sinks and then manages to latch on to a life raft. Bill and Alec, two of his fellow crewmen gravitate towards the boat and the trio drift for days, without food or water. Well, Cookie has plenty of food but he won’t share. 

Alec and Bill grow weary and thin but Cookie keeps his portly figure. At last, an island is spotted and they land, greeted by friendly natives. Bill warns that many of the natives in these islands are cannibals; "watch your step!” When a huge feast is promised, Cookie beams with visions of roast pig and “fowl galore,” but the other two survivors just want off the little island. The natives present a boat to Alec and Bill but demand that Cookie stay. That’s okay with him, he’s hungry, but Cookie’s demeanor shifts when he discovers he’s to be the feast. “Others too skinny,” grunts the chief. 

Decidedly un-PC, “The Fat Man” is a story that would never see print in today’s climate of hurt feelings and specialty groups but, beyond its obvious stereotyping, “The Fat Man” shouldn’t have seen print because it’s an awful story, a variation on an old trope that should have been taken out to sea and sunk with an anchor ‘round its neck years before. Cookie’s obsession with food, to the detriment of everything else including his own safety, is eye-rollingly ludicrous and exaggerated for the sake of the (also predictable) punchline.

Uncanny Tales #15

“Escape From Mars” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★

“The Man Who Saw Death!” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“Who Called?” (a: Al Eadah)

“Phooey on Phoonga” (a: Ross Andru) ★★★1/2

“Home Sweet Home” (a: Myron Fass)

Every September on over-populated Mars, there’s a lottery held that will determine the few Martians who will leave in a ship for the beautiful and lush planet Earth. Cinda and her husband, Spiro, have already been stealing food from their starving neighbors so murder is only a means to an end. With lottery tickets in hand, the couple happily board the ship and blast off for the new paradise. As their Ark nears the Earth’s atmosphere, they see the ships in front of theirs exploding.

        Just then a voice comes on over the loudspeaker, proclaiming the riders of the spaceship as the “lucky ones,” brave souls sacrificing themselves as part of the “new plan for Mars.” Below, on Earth, crowds watch in awe as the sky lights up with shooting stars. By the end of 1953, it seems as though every funny book had to have a story about Mars. Most were cliched and not worth the paper they were printed on but some, like “Escape From Mars,” were grim and witty and certainly worthy of our four-color attention.

Abrasive scientist Simon Knight has been working on a super-duper lens that should make it easier to count the blades of grass on Venus (“if there is grass on Venus!”). Right about the same time, reports come in of UFOs causing trouble nearby (scorching crops and kidnapping pretty blondes, that sort of thing), but Knight is having none of that. No such thing as aliens, says the egghead. He finally gets his lens installed in the most powerful telescope in the world, aims it at Venus, and… nothing. The damn planet isn’t even there! With a little adjustment to the right though, the Professor zeroes in on a scene of utter chaos: bug-eyed monsters looting and pillaging in a town that looks awfully familiar. Too late, the multi-diploma’d dope realizes the telescope is catching a scene from the next town over! “The Man Who Saw Death!” is a really dumb sci-fi tale, one that leaves so many questions unanswered (for instance, how does this big-brain not realize he has the telescope pointed in the wrong direction and why would a man of science be so dead set against believing in life on other planets?) but that’s okay because I really didn’t need a sixth page of expository. Next…

Ulp, not one bit better is “Who Called?,” a horror story set in (what else?) a remote European village under siege by a brutal vampire killer. At each murder scene, there are two constants: a note that reads “He called… and I came” and the same black cat. Authorities are perplexed, so amateur sleuth Stefan suggests that all the cats in the village be slaughtered (!) and that might nip the killer in the bud. One night, while out hunting felines, Stefan comes across the cat that’s been spotted at each crime and gives chase, crying out “Here, Kitty!” All of a sudden, a female vampire descends from the sky and attacks Stefan, confessing her name is Kitty and he called her. Oh boy. I wanted to see the deleted panel of Kitty penning her little notes.

Tired of the comical way humans view aliens, General Phoonga of Pluto decides it’s a good time to invade Earth. But his own people don’t feel the same way and they let him know it with protests and banners reading, “Phooey on Phoonga!” Undeterred, Phoonga has a massive military built up and the militia blasts off for Earth. It’s only when Earth fights back that Phoonga realizes he might not be the military genius he thought he was. Tail tucked between his legs, Phoonga orders a complete retreat back to Pluto. Unfortunately for the General, the pacifists he left behind have taken up arms and they blast the General out of the sky, hoping for a new, more peaceful life for Pluto. 

At first, “Phooey…” seemed like yet another thinly-veiled critical commentary on the bloodthirsty Russkies but, as the satire unfolds, it becomes more clear that the tale is an anti-war message directed at all earthlings. Ross Andru’s art is fabulous and that might be due to the fact that human characters are kept to a bare minimum and the Plutonians are a wild reptilian concoction. The dialogue is crisp and very funny, as when Phoonga tells his armada: “Alert all space ships to take battle stations! We’ll swoop down without warning! It’ll be easy! The stupid humans will think we’re advertising breakfast cereal!”

Finally, “Home Sweet Home” is the utterly dreadful tale of a spaceship hijacking, adorned with the equally dreadful art of Myron Fass, who seemingly never understood the dramatics of a well-choreographed panel. The scenes depicted could have just as easily been dramatized with stick figures.


1 “Zombie” (Menace #5)

2 “They Crawl by Night”

 (Journey Into Unknown Worlds #15)

3 “The Little Monster” 

(Mystery Tales #15)

4 “Boris and the Bomb” 

(Strange Tales #18)

5 “If the Coat Fits” 

(Journey Into Mystery #11)

6 “The City” (Spellbound #18)

7 “The Strange Children” 

(Adventures Into Terror #19)

8 “Marion’s Murderer” 

(Mystery Tales #14)

9 “Help Wanted” (Mystic #19)

10 “Phooey on Phoonga” 

(Uncanny Tales #15)

11 “You Can’t Kill Me” 

(Strange Tales #16)

12 “The Last Flying Saucer” 

(Strange Tales #21)

13 “The Man Who Came Back To Life” (Uncanny Tales #10)

14 “The Long Wait” 

(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #19)

15 “Son of Rasputin” (Journey Into Unknown Worlds #20)

16 “Rocket Ship” (Menace #5)

17 “The Perfect Planet” (Mystic #23)

18 “The Men Who Fly” (Uncanny Tales #5)

19 “Only a Rose” (Spellbound #16)

20 “The Iron Head” (Astonishing #22)

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1 comment:

Grant said...

"As long as it isn't ------- who controls the government, I don't care who else does."

That sounds more familiar every four years.