Thursday, October 27, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 72: Atlas/ Marvel Horror Comics


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 57
January 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror 27

“The Man Who Ran Away” (a: Al Luster) ★★1/2 

(r: Beware #3)

“The Screaming Man” (a: Bill Benulis & Jack Abel) 1/2

(r: Crypt of Shadows #4)

“The Big Story!”

(r: Crypt of Shadows #4)

“Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★1/2

(a: Dracula Lives #3)

“Pep Talk” (a: Paul Reinman) 1/2

Disdainful of the brain capacity of his fellow man,  Professor Barton invents a time machine and journeys one thousand years into the future to share his knowledge with elevated intellect. Problem is, Barton arrives in a civilization so far advanced that they put to death anyone who’s beneath them. Sayonara, Barton. The delicious irony of the climax of “The Man Who Ran Away” is never in doubt but Al Luster’s macabre delineations are what keep the blood flowing here. Luster chooses to portray Barton as the spitting image of Satan (with bad teeth) rather than the obligatory bespectacled, bald and obese brainiac.

In the witless “The Screaming Man,” two writing partners rent a spooky old castle on a cliff in order to draw inspiration for their terror tales. An awful smell from the basement beckons and they soon discover an abandoned well. One of the writers falls in and becomes a skeleton for some reason. Don’t dwell on these matters, Stan says. Even worse is “The Big Story!,” a 100% predictable groaner about a newspaperman who yearns for the big time so he causes a train derailment, unaware (until that expository final panel) that his visiting son is onboard. The panel of this upwardly-mobile reporter interviewing one of the dying victims is the apex of ludicrosity. 

The entertainment value of “Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble!” is 95% compliments of Chuck Winter’s gorgeous artwork. The tale, an updating of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, is as stuffy as the original, but an absolute feast for the eyes. As a dreary send-off this issue, we’re given “Pep Talk!,” which is essentially a three-page history of war on Earth and a few final panels as a twist - the history lesson is being given by a caveman in the future, one of the survivors of World War III, who’s urging his fellow Neanderthals to join him in battling his neighbors. The Reinman art, as always, is a plus.

"Fire Burn..."

Adventures into Weird Worlds 25

“The Men From Mars” (a: Bill Everett) ★★1/2

“Nightmare” (a: Joe Sinnott) 1/2

“A Million Light-Years Away” (a: Sam Kweskin) ★★

“Two Times Two” (a: Paul Reinman)

“The Mad Mamba” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★1/2

Henry wakes up one morning and imagines everyone around him is a green-skinned alien. His wife, his best friend, and his doctor all tell him the same thing: he’s having a hard time acclimating to a human skin! Very soon, the Martian invasion will be complete and Henry will understand all too well. Henry’s convinced they’re all monsters and he’s the last human left standing. But, once the climax rolls around, we all learn differently. With eccentric art from Bill Everett, “The Men From Mars” is a slightly above-average disguised-commie tale that has some genuinely unnerving moments. It’s only with the very last panel that we know Henry isn’t hallucinating it all.

In the three-page “Nightmare,” a man undergoing an operation has an out-of-body experience where he hallucinates everyone around him is a green-skinned alien (much like the aliens found in “The Men From Mars!”). He awakens to discover it was not a dream. Two green-skinned Martian invasion stories in one issue is perhaps one too many.

Ben Jarvis is an electronic whiz who helps build spaceships for travels to the the far ends of the galaxy. Ben wishes he could leave his mundane life and, just once, visit Mars or Saturn or…Uranus. When one of the crew members on a flight to Uranus is deemed unfit for duty, Ben is ecstatic to get the call to fill the void. The trip goes swimmingly and the crew land on the seventh planet and are accepted with open arms by the planet’s population. But the glee soon turns to boredom when Ben discovers that this race is so much more advanced than Earthlings, they’ve done away with unnecessary things like food, books, and labor. Once the journey is over, Ben is so glad to get back to his family and job.

“A Million Light-Years Away” is a tale of two stories, the first half being a gritty drama about a man who gladly leaves his family (in fact, telling both his wife and son he can’t stand them) for a big question mark, and the second part of the story has a lazy and maudlin wrap-up that erases the think piece that came before it. Ben’s predictable turn around in the final panels is almost vomit-inducing. 

Every planet in the galaxy wants peace; every planet that is except for the world behind the “cosmic curtain,” Rroosskkaa. While the Rruusskkaan president stalls the peace talks, his number one scientist is working on an invention that will fabricate a huge Rruusskkaan army that will destroy all the other planets in the galaxy. One very smart Rruusskkyy egghead comes up with a “Duplicator-Ray” that, yep, duplicates the entire population several times over. Unfortunately, the extra weight “drops the planet out of its orbit” and Rrusskkyy is destroyed. 

“Two Times Two: is another wearying Red Scare story that isn’t signed by Stan but sure smells like a commie-hating soapbox set up by “The Man.” The extremes are laughable and the climax, where a child watches the planet blaze out and mistakes it for a shooting star, is a blatant rip-off of the final panels of Gaines/Feldstein story, “Home to Stay” (from Weird Fantasy #13, May 1952). As noted several times before, the 1950s must have been a nerve-wracking era indeed, but these exaggerated Russian Monster tales do not age well.

Assistant to the brightest dance manager in the world, Lola Britton is jealous of her boss, Jolie Martin. When a chance comes up to fly with Jolie to Haiti and learn exotic dance routines, Lola accepts and plots a coup against Jolie. She’ll sketch the dances and costumes, then break off on her own to become a solo sensation. As she’s leaving from the dance exhibition, Lola insults an old witch but the woman seems unfazed and invites Lola back to the graveyard for some really top secret dance moves. Not the brightest star on Broadway, Lola accepts. Some ghoulish shenanigans from artist Joe Maneely elevate “The Mad Mamba,” despite a weak script.

"The Mad Mamba"

Astonishing 29

“The Immortal” (a: Russ Heath) ★★1/2

“They Cover the Earth” (a: Gene Colan) ★★1/2

“The Man Who Sent Himself” (a: Bob Fujitani)

“Anyone Up There?” (a: Bill Benulis) ★★★

“The Visible Man” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

The visually vibrant and gloriously goofy “The Immortal” begins with astronaut Jan Calso bemoaning the fact that space travel has been abruptly canceled since it was discovered that a round-trip to Mars would take 350 years and most men don’t live that long. Fortuitously though, Calso passes scientist Dr. Henry in the hall; the egghead is looking for the man in charge of the space program to let him know that he, the great Dr. Henry, has concocted an immortality serum. What are the chances the one man looking for immortality on the base should meet his savior at just that moment? Henry explains that the serum is almost ready to use but lacks one “essential” ingredient… But before the brilliant scientist can finish his sentence, Calso inexplicably blasts the professor with a ray-gun to keep anyone else from benefiting from this wonder drug. 

Calso wastes no time hopping into his rocket ship, injecting himself with the formula, and heading for Mars. Sure enough, it takes him 175 years to get to Mars and he spends approximately three minutes on its surface before heading back into his ship, monsters gaining on him. Nevertheless, he arrives back on Earth, 175 years later, happy that he’s the only human being to have achieved space travel. His glee is short-lived when he encounters a technician on the landing pad who informs him that not only is space travel an every day occurrence but that a short cut through the fourth dimension enables travelers to land on Mars in less than a month. Oh yeah, and everyone in the world is immortal now, thanks to the writings of super-genius Dr. Henry. Once Henry’s peers discovered the “one essential the serum lacked” was a man’s will to live, immortality was a snap. Depressed, Jan Calso crumbles to dust. 

A good twist ending to “The Immortal,” but there’s some obviously silly trappings here. Already mentioned is Henry’s murder just after he tells Calso there’s this one flaw in the system… Wouldn’t Calso have thought it essential to discover what that flaw was before injecting himself with whatsis juice? And was the astronaut’s plan the whole time to endure this awful journey only to snap one photo for proof and then head on back home? And, finally, I get that space travel was still a ways in the future but a little research tells me that Mars is 144 million miles from Earth and my calculator tells me that for Calso’s ship to take 175 years to arrive at the Red Planet, he would have to average 95 miles an hour. That seems like a inordinately leisurely pace for a rocket ship.

Doomsday arrives in the form of a mass invasion of ants, swarming over every country in the world, killing thousands with their fatal bites and eating up all food supplies. Scientists concoct a plan to destroy the insects in three stages: feed the ants food on the first day and then follow up with two doses of poisoned food. The ants, the theory goes, will bring the poison back to their nests and infect the entire colony. The plan works but it’s soon discovered that all the food in the world (yes, even those tins of pork and beans) has been consumed by the little bastards and mankind is doomed. But an unknown savior from the sky begins dropping food parcels and the starving masses greedily wolf them down. Bad news: the Martians have the same three-stage plan our scientists did. Another great twist ending, some really nice Colan art and “They Cover the Earth” is an oddity: an ant-invasion strip that, for the most part, avoids showing the little critters.

Bad art and script sink “The Man Who Sent Himself,” about a dope who discovers a way to send himself through space and time using his TV set. Unfortunately, his overbearing mother-in-law dooms him by turning off the set while the would-be genius is making his trip. Much better is “Anyone Up There?” A scientist discovers a race of beings living fifteen miles below the surface and invents a contraption that allows him and his assistant to visit. They make the long journey and exit into a fabulous subterranean world where grotesque creatures walk the streets of a utopian city. Alas, the paradise is reduced to ruins and the entire underground populace destroyed when an accidental “pressure leak” from above occurs. Sadly, the scientists return to their lab and dwell on the catastrophe, hoping that the civilization that lives miles above them on the surface world never attempts a similar expedition. Clever, clever twist and some dynamite Benulis art make this a top-notch Atlas SF tale.

The final tale, “The Visible Man” is a talky and boring time-travel saga made slightly more bearable by some nice Joe Sinnott work. It’s official: Sinnott is really good.

Menace 9

“Kill Me a Monster” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

“Blood Relation” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“The Fangs of the Wolf” (a: Bill Everett) 1/2

(r: Vampire Tales #1)

“Symphony in Death” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“The Walking Dead” (a: John Forte)

A hitman discovers he’s been given contracts on aliens who disguise themselves as human. When the tables turn and the hunter becomes the hunted, the assassin has nowhere to turn. Paul Reinman seems to have been heavily influenced by Gene Colan before penciling “Kill Me a Monster.” Ed Winiiarski contributes a truly dreadful four pages of artwork to “Blood Relation,” a piece that looks as though it had been held back since 1949. A young man searches for the father he never knew and when he finds him, the pop is a vampire. Bottom of the barrel.

Since childhood, Kenneth Long has had an irrational hatred for dogs; he shoots any cur that walks past him. Then, when Kenneth is bitten in the arm by a wolf in the forest, he begins transforming, growing fur across his arm. The family doctor has no choice but to amputate and the threat of werewolfism disappears. At least it’s assumed the danger has passed. Then, several years later, Kenneth buys a huge estate and has it stocked with wild dogs. He hires a hunter and gives the man one job: kill any mongrel that the man sees. Though this is probably all down to bad timing, Kenneth’s lycanthropy returns, his employee mistakes him for a wild dog, and shoots him dead. What to make of a high concept horror story like “Fangs of the Wolf,” a remarkably lame-brained werewolf tale with so-so Everett graphics? The script seems as though it’s stitched together from several discarded drafts and then greenlit due to the impending deadline. No reason is given for the lapse in Kenneth’s curse; it just appears magically years after it seemed to be cured.

A heartless music critic steals the work of an unknown musician but pays the price in the end when the victim returns to steal the thief’s soul. At least I think that’s what happens in the final panel of “Symphony in Death.” Joe Maneely must have been scratching his head at that climax just as much as the readers, but Joe is a professional and so delivers yet another sharp set of panels. “The Walking Dead” chronicles a hungry zombie who rises from the grave and attacks an old man in his own living room. The old guy turns out to be pretty smart though and he tricks the zombie into entering his own private crematorium (no, seriously!), where he was just getting ready to incinerate his recently dead wife. Can it get any more random than that?

In Two Weeks...
Twenty more ghoulish pre-code tales!

1 comment:

Grant said...

I can't think of the other title, but "Two Times Two" is the second Atlas story I know of that isn't satisfied killing off that government itself, but evidently gets a kick out of killing ALL of "Rroosskkaa." I think there's a word for that.