Monday, November 28, 2022

Batman in the 1980s Issue 67: March-April 1987

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

Batman #405

"Batman Year One, Chapter Two:
War is Declared"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli

Even though Lt. James Gordon is a hero for single-handedly disarming a crazed kidnapper, he's not making any friends in the office of the police commissioner, who prefers the "shoot first and ask questions later" approach of a cop named Branden. But Gotham City has another problem: bad guys are being attacked by the mysterious vigilante known as Batman, who is still learning the ropes but who shows great physical skill.

Crooked cop Flass personally witnesses Batman take down some drug dealers and soon Batman embarrasses the commissioner by showing up at his house during a fancy dinner and announcing that the days of corrupt politicians are nearly over. The commissioner assigns Gordon to catch Batman and the lieutenant interviews D.A. Harvey Dent, who seems to be a good choice for Batman's alter ego but who has an alibi for every time the vigilante has been active. A freak accident causes Gordon and Batman to cross paths and, when Batman makes a run for it, he is shot in the leg by a patrolman. Branden orders that an abandoned building where Batman is holed up be destroyed. Has the new hero been killed before his career really began?

I am loving this arc so much I hate to think it only lasts four issues. Obviously influenced by 1930s pulps in both script and art, "Year One" takes us back to the early days before Gordon gained the trust of Bats and vice versa. Mazzuchelli's art here brings to mind those early Bob Kane (or whoever Bob was paying off at the time) strips in Detective; there's a crudity to the penciling and inks that makes you believe the work was sitting in a DC vault for fifty years, gathering dust. Miller wisely omits Selina's story this issue and instead focuses on the corrupt police force and government. So much of this issue was "borrowed" by the Nolans for Batman Begins. Today's artists and writers could learn a few things from the sparseness of words and crudity of images in this series.

Jack: This is a superb issue of Batman, among the best we've read. I can't get a good handle on when it's supposed to take place, and maybe that's the point; DC seems to be resetting the Batman legend under new editor O'Neill. As Peter notes, the art is excellent and manages to evoke Kane's early work while updating it for the late 1980s. Miller's theme of how much violence is justified in a world with criminals at every level continues from The Dark Knight Returns but, as I wrote about the prior issue, it's delivered more subtly this time out. I was not reading comics anymore when this originally came out, so Mazzuchelli is new to me, and I'm lucky in that. I see from Wikipedia that he worked with O'Neill and Miller on Daredevil at Marvel, so it makes sense that he'd make the jump to DC and Batman with them.

Detective Comics #572

"The Doomsday Book"
Story by Mike W. Barr

Chapter One
Art by Alan Davis

Chapter Two
Art by Terry Beatty & Dick Giordano

Chapter Three:
"The Adventure of the Lost Adventure!"
Art by Carmine Infantino & Al Vey

Chapter Four:
"The Adventure of the Red Leech"
Art by E. R. Cruz

Chapter Five:
"God Save the Kingdom!"
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

Thomas Morgan walks into Slam Bradley's office and asks the P.I. to help him find his fiance, a woman who was kidnapped by the I.R.A. in London the day before. Morgan believes the terrorists have brought the girl to Gotham. Suddenly, a quartet of gunmen break in through Slam's office door and open fire on the two men. Bradley manages to get them out through the fire escape but they're cornered in the alley. Is this curtains for Slam Bradley?

Not so fast! Batman and Robin finally enter the scene and save the private dick's skin. Unfor-tunately, one of the I.R.A. thugs gets hold of Morgan and holds a pistol to his head. He backs out of the alley and into the night. Batman turns to Robin, sighs, and tells him they're heading for London. Meanwhile, Slam hits the cobblestones of Gotham, looking for the kidnapped girl. Through ace detective work, he tracks her to Gotham Island and rescues her. The girl introduces herself as Mary Watson and explains that Slam's new client gave the P.I. a phony name. His real name is Thomas Moriarty!

Meanwhile, in London, Ralph Dibny (aka the Elongated Man) is visiting 221B Baker Street, legendary home of the most famous detective of all time. Ralph's been told by Richard Waid, caretaker for the estate of the Dr. Watson, that he's discovered a long lost and unpublished Sherlock Holmes manuscript. When Ralph arrives, a gunman opens fire on the silhouette in 221B's window. Dibny stretches up to the flat and finds Waid in shock but otherwise unhurt; the old man mumbles something to EM about "Jean" and then passes out. 

As EM is pondering the situation, yet another set of gunmen burst into the room and our hero is just able to condense himself into a small block and hide in a violin. The nattily-dressed leader of the gunsels announces himself as the grand-nephew of evil genius and Holmes nemesis, Professor Moriarty, here to destroy the manuscript. Dibs unwinds, does a bit of battle with the bad guys, and is sucker-punched into oblivion. Moriarty sets fire to the flat and exits stage left. Fortunately, Slam Bradley arrives with Mary Watson and they extinguish the fire, saving EM and Waid in the process. They find the manuscript and head for Ralph's hotel to peruse it for clues.

The document, entitled "The Adventure of the Red Leech," chronicles Professor Moriarty's attempts to murder the Queen of England, using the titular creature. Just in the nick of time, Sherlock Holmes thwarts the maniacal villain and saves England from tyranny. Moriarty, however, stays in the shadows and is not apprehended; Holmes knows he'll face his nemesis again in the near future.

Batman and Robin arrive at Ralph's hotel and the Dark Knight immediately reads the Holmes manuscript. The Caped Crusader deduces that the young Moriarty intends to finish what his uncle started one hundred years before. Batman learns that the royal family will be at a special event at the Grimsby Castle Museum that evening and the crew sets out to provide extra security. Meanwhile, Moriarty reveals the scope of his plan when he steals poison missiles from the military and points them at Grimsby Castle.

EM, Slam, Robin, and Mary arrive and engage in fisticuffs with the blokes, but Moriarty manages to launch a missile... with Robin and EM aboard! Dibs manages to disarm the missile and the weapon explodes shortly after he transforms into a parachute for Robin. Slam slams Moriarty. At Grimsby Castle, Batman detonates a bomb meant to kill the Queen and unmasks the chief of security as a traitor. As he's attempting to escape, the rapscallion is tripped up by none other than... Sherlock Holmes!

I've got a few quibbles but, overall, this jumbo story was a lot of fun. The obvious stand-out quality-wise is the Sherlock Holmes adventure, which nicely captures the atmosphere of the classic Conan Doyle stories. "The Red Leech," with its E.R. Cruz art, would have fit nicely in one of the 1970s DC mystery titles. The surrounding chapters are fine but pale, script-wise, and almost seem to have been written to complement the "unearthed manuscript." Art wise, we're given quite a few different styles and the jump from a Beatty (not my cup of tea) to an Infantino (definitely my cup of tea) is startling. I love the Davis/Neary work except for their Boy Wonder, who looks a little too goofy to me (check out the panel reproduced here, where Robin looks like a mutant). Their Batman is, on the other hand, noirish and imposing, so maybe the guys just don't dig Jason Todd. A nice, solid package, but let's have a moratorium on anniversaries and special events for a while. There seems to be some milestone to celebrate in Batman's history every six months now.

Jack: I didn't think I'd enjoy this issue as much as I did! I like Kaluta's cover and there's a thoughtful intro on the inside cover by Mike Barr. The first chapter gets things off to a slow start, but the story begins to warm up in chapter two, when Slam Bradley discovers just how many Irish bars there are in Gotham City. The art style change from Beatty and Giordano to Infantino and Vey was jarring and I never much liked Elongated Man, but the Sherlock Holmes chapter is terrific and its extra length was welcome.

In chapter five, I thought Moriarty's first appearance looked like Ramona Fradon stopped by the DC offices to contribute a panel. I enjoyed the interplay between Slam and Robin and I was very surprised to see the elderly Sherlock Holmes! The comic ends with a gorgeous new two-page spread by Dick Sprang, making this an above-average anniversary giant with multiple characters and creators.

Batman #406

"Batman Year One Chapter Three:
Black Dawn"
Story by Frank Miller
Art by David Mazzucchelli

Batman is trapped in a burning building that is surrounded by cops with orders to shoot to kill. Blocks away, Selina Kyle is awakened by the commotion and heads to see the excitement. Despite a bullet wound in his leg, Batman manages to outsmart the cops as the sun rises, in part by summoning a huge number of bats to fly from the Batcave to join him and confuse the police.

In the days that follow, Lt. Gordon follows up on his suspicions that Batman is Bruce Wayne while trying not to be too distracted by the sexy Sgt. Essen. Several weeks pass and Selina, inspired by Batman, has fashioned a cat costume for herself and sets out on a new career to replace prostitution. Bruce Wayne realizes he needs Jim Gordon on his side and Gordon is torn between his pregnant wife, his sexy partner, his loyalty to the force, and his suspicion that Batman is not a menace.

Peter: Gordon's despondent tone throughout is crushing and Miller (as usual, the genius at getting to the root of these characters) reminds us that the lieutenant is not the saint we think he is based on all those years of reading DC funny books. He's a man; he makes mistakes (E-S-S-E-N) and has fears and doubts. The latter are what seem to overtake him in this issue. How do you strive to be the best man you can be within a system so broken? How can this man of the law trust a vigilante? More important, why is the final image of the issue Gordon sitting on the edge of his bed, his pregnant wife sleeping, his hands cradling his service revolver?

Gordon and Essen, the original nighthawks!

Jack: I don't think he's contemplating suicide. I think he's weighing his duty to the force against what he suspects is a vigilante who is more honest than the police. I'm delighted that I've never read this four-part series before, since it's wonderful work by Miller and Mazzucchelli. I have to hand it to Denny O'Neill and Jenette Kahn for allowing this to appear in the regular Batman comic and not holding it for a special graphic novel. This will surely have influence on where the character goes in years to come and how he's handled. Won't it?

Davis & Neary
Detective Comics #573

"The Mad Hatter Flips His Lids!"
Story by Mike W. Barr
Art by Alan Davis & Paul Neary

After what must have been a three-month sentence in Arkham, the Mad Hatter is a free man and he's determined to make the most of his time. He sends a cryptic message to Batman and then begins a new crime spree. First off, he arrives at the Gotham City "Liars' Club" and sends around a hat for the members' valuables. Batman and Robin arrive, but the Hatter sets a fire and escapes in the excitement and chaos.

Using his detective skills (and a little help from Alfred), Bats deciphers Hatter's blueprint for crime and heads to the Gotham Sports Arena, where a good hockey player might accomplish a "hat trick." Sure enough, the Mad Hatter and his henchmen are already looting the box office. After a brief skirmish, the Dynamic Duo put the Hatter's men on ice but the evil genius once again escapes.

As a lure, Bruce Wayne calls his friend at Gotham Gazette and tells her he's "throwing his hat into the political ring" and running for councilman. To raise funds for his campaign, Wayne throws himself a bash and invites all his rich buddies. Like clockwork, the Hatter shows up and uses deadly buzzsaw straw hats to instill fear in the crowd. But Bruce and Jason head for the shadows and change into their work clothes. The Hatter escapes to the roof and pulls a gun on Batman, but our hero is too quick for his nemesis and gives him a solid right. The gun, however, goes off, hitting Robin.

Jack: Right now, Batman and Detective represent the two sides of Batman stories that I love: the gritty, noirish tales and the goofy, fun tales. Barr, Davis, and Neary are giving us stories that hearken back to the late '40s/early '50s Batman of Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang, filled with nutty villains, outrageous events, and giant props. The Mad Hatter is so crazy that I was wondering, right from the start, how the warden could parole him, since he's got no chance of being okay. The story was fun from start to finish, capped off by a surprise turn of events in the final panel.

Peter: Unlike Jack, I'm not a big fan of 1960s Batman but, like Jack, I can tolerate these lighter tales now and then. Actually, thanks to a whopper of a shock ending, this one isn't that light at all, is it? I would love to see Batman sit down with the city's judge and discuss what constitutes a fair sentence for these costumed baddies. I mean, seriously, each and every one of them must be charged with multiple counts of attempted murder and felony armed robbery, yet they're seemingly paroled every year or so (just in time for the Rogues Gallery Wheel of Fortune to stop on their respective names). It'll be interesting to see what Mike Barr has up his sleeve with Batman: Year Two, which begins in the following issue, but I have to say that the "Coming Next Issue" banner screaming "New Origin of Batman!" has me nervous. Ostensibly, the Jason Todd: Is He or Isn't He? twist will either wait or transport over to the Batman title. 

Next Week...
Can Creepy pull off an
All-Robots Issue?
Don't hold your breath!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 74: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 59
February 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Terror 28

“Cry Werewolf” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

“The Men in the Morgue” (a: Gene Colan) 1/2

(r: Chamber of Chills #23)

“Insane” (a: Al Eadah) ★★

“The Smasher” (a: Myron Fass)

“Half-Man” (a: John Forte) ★★★

Hungarian soldier Jan Scheering becomes convinced that Hadjeck, his bunk-mate, is a werewolf but the rest of his fellow servicemen laugh at Scheering’s accusations. When Jan can take it no more, he drives a stake into Hadjeck’’s heart and watches as the man turns into a wolf and back again before dying. When his act is discovered, Jan is hauled out into the courtyard and shot, dying before witnessing the entire troop transform into werewolves. “Cry Werewolf” might be a tad predictable, but at least we have Joltin’ Joe’s comfortable graphics to see us through the journey. Our uncredited scripter throws in a seldom used method (the wooden stake!) for dispatching a lycanthrope.

In “The Men in the Morgue,” a pair of thieves rob a shop and then shoot a man in front of a morgue. Later, when the cops are searching for them, the murderers decide the morgue is a great place to hide. Too late, they discover their victim was the brother of the morgue attendant.

Phil Jones is accused of being the “Vampire Killer” and hauled off to jail. Once a jury finds him guilty, he’s “given precedence” and will be executed the very next morning. Strapped to the chair, Phil is suddenly set free and told it was all a mistake; the real “Vampire Killer” has just been caught. But Phil is now “Insane” and he heads out onto the streets for easy prey, convinced he’s really a vampire. Hideous Eadah art sinks what would otherwise be a very readable story; Phil’s descent from average good guy with a wife and kid into a slobbering maniac is portrayed vividly and sympathetically.

Al Eadah is Frazetta compared to Myron Fass and “The Smasher” provides visual proof of that boast. Hank Girard is a crane operator obsessed with smashing down walls with one “boink,” and no safety-minded supervisor is standing in his way. So Hank disposes of the pesky super, but then later regrets his rash decision as ghostly hands operate his crane, using Hank as a wrecking ball. Deliriously stupid, “The Smasher” contains one of the most exaggerated uses of the evil co-worker cliche and, as noted, some of the ugliest penciling to be found in the Atlas pre-codes.

A nutty professor creates a “Half-Man” and nicknames him “Andy” (short for Android), but tells his creation he’s left a very important part out of his body. The professor is not forthcoming, which leaves his creation curious. In any event, the Prof. sends Andy out to enjoy life amongst humans. His first day, the android is hit by a car and then hit on by a gorgeous dame at a party. Not knowing what to make of the woman’s advances, Andy slugs her and the Prof. must make apologies for his pupil’s strange behavior. Unfortunately, the gal doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “No!” and returns the next day to declare undying love for the hunk of metal. After the poor girl is rebuffed again, she decides to exit out the back door and down fifty stories, all while Andy laughs his head off.

The wacky Prof makes good with the police but then runs afoul of Andy when he, once again, refuses to elaborate on the robot’s “missing part.” Andy strangles his creator and then breaks into the freezer, discovering a box containing a beating red thing. Placing it in his chest, Andy realizes he was in love with the dead dame, becomes dismayed, and throws himself off the roof. “Half-Man” is a funny and clever little tale that contains some sly dialogue (“And now, Andy, put these on! They’re clothes I had tailor-made for you! Incidentally… hee-hee, that’s the tailor’s flesh you’re wearing!”) and double-entendres. Through most of the narrative, my filthy mind is imagining just what part of Andy the crazy doc left off. Of course, when I learn it’s just his heart, I’m disappointed.

Adventures into Weird Worlds 26

“Good-Bye Earth” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★

“The Robot That Hated” (a: Al Eadah) ★★★

“The Edge of Madness” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★★

“Menace from Mars!” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“The Dead” (a: Dick Ayers) ★★★1/2

To his chagrin, Harry Burns discovers his perfect world of job, wife, and children is a front. He’s actually the lead scout for an invasion of Earth by the planet of Sirius. At first, Harry refuses to believe the stranger who approaches him and informs him of his Sirian past but, gradually, the truth overwhelms him. Knowing his Earthling memory will soon be wiped away and his Sirian identity restored, Harry sits and details the planned invasion on paper before it’s too late. “Good-Bye Earth” has a downright depressing scenario; Harry seems like a very decent guy who will, very soon, become the foundation of an invasion that will, doubtless, cause the death of his wife and children. And his only out is a confession that probably won’t be believed.

Evil genius John Feder creates “The Robot That Hated” and uses him to destroy everyone who has ever slighted him. Tuned into Feder’s every emotion, the moment his master feels anger the robot goes on a rampage. Unfortunately for the mad ding-dong, the robot can also feel love and it squeezes the egghead to death in an affectionate moment. Taken seriously, “The Robot That Hated” is a laughable bit of nonsense but, taken with tongue-in-cheek… it’s a laughable bit of nonsense, I guess. It never ceases to amaze me that these Evil Atlas Scientists (and John Feder looks like no professor we’ve encountered before) waste their time on a project with such a small scope. At least the tin man isn’t used for robbing banks this time out. Al Eadah is in fine Ghastly-esque form here.

Lizette Remy awakens every night from a sleep choked with nightmares of a cyclopean creature “whose bones are sometimes found in chalk-cliffs” (whatever that means) and not even the romantic murmurings of her beau, Paul (“As long as the sun sets, we can never find happiness, my darling… and the sun will always set!”), can set her mind at ease. Sleepless nights continue until Lizette runs, screaming mad, onto a nearby cliff and witnesses a sight that drives her into a tepid delirium: Paul, fused together with her nighttime cyclops, fighting for Lizette’s very soul! “The Edge of Madness” is four pages of sheer lunatic refreshment, a narrative chorus of Shakespearean insights and Freudian inner conflicts. There’s no real reason given for why this one-eyed demon is stalking Lizette nor why it suddenly becomes flesh and blood for its climactic battle but, as I’ve said many times before, that’s a welcome omission. Only DiPreta could have illustrated this “Madness!”

Lefty Morton refuses to join the draft and fight Martians so he and two of his dopey buddies hijack a rocket ship and fly to Mars to offer up Earth’s weaknesses to the aliens (“So we’ll land on Mars an’ warn them that the Earth is preparin’ for war! They’ll reward us for that… an’ we’ll be doin’ our duty as communists…”). Once there, however, he finds an audience unwilling to listen and the three stooges are put to work digging ditches until they’re dead. A very silly sci-fi quickie (with a hilariously placed Red Scare dig that comes from out of the blue) enlivened by some choice Chuck Winter graphics.

Hal Jennings returns from a long vacation to discover “The Dead” have risen from their graves and moved into the houses of the living. That applies to the home where Hal and his family reside as well, and Hal discovers his deceased Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Frank have sequestered themselves upstairs in little Timmy’s room. What to do? The corpses are not violent but they refuse to leave; in death, Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Frank have become what they were in life: pesky relatives. Finally, Hal rounds up some of the heartier and courageous men of the village and the group confront the living corpses, telling them they are not wanted and should return to their eternal resting places. With frowns, the dead turn their heels, pass the graveyard, and head out of town. But where have they gone to? Is this just a regional event? And, as Hal’s wife exclaims, “I’m afraid! Because wherever they went… they’re waiting for us! All of us will go to them some day, and… good heavens… then what will they do to us?”

Though I’d have preferred a DiPreta sheen to what Dick Ayers comes up with, I think “The Dead” is a magnificently melancholy melodrama, built on a simple foundation but imbued with a deep sense of dread. Why did these bodies rise from their graves to march home to relatives? The ambiguity is maddening but delicious. “The Dead” is very similar to the French TV series, Les Revenants. One of the all-around best issues of AIWW.

Astonishing 30

“The Eyes” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★

“The Rulers of Earth” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★1/2

“The Death of Me” (a: Al Carreno) ★★

“The Future of Oswald Flush!” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“Until You Are… Dead!” (a: Tony DiPreta)

No one seems to know what to do about the giant killer eyeballs that have risen from the sea to terrorize coastal towns. One look at the big eyes and humans are reduced to puddles of water! Jerry King, editor of the Daily Herald, is pondering his latest editorial when a man bursts in, explaining that he knows what the creatures really are. Jerry follows the man back to a cemetery and witnesses a ghoulish scene: the eyes dig their way into fresh graves and rob the corpses of the peepers. Jerry almost tosses his cookies but keeps his wits about him long enough to make it back to his girlfriend’s place.

There, Jerry tells the peculiar saga to the girl with the gorgeous gams, who exclaims that the light bulbs in her lamps are too bright. “Eureka,” screams the frazzled editor, “That’s it. The eyeballs would be sensitive to bright light!’ And so the residents of all coastal villages are equipped with flashlights and the invasion is averted. For now. At a special party for the local hero, Jerry King, the news broadcast breaks in with the story of a massive robbery of sunglasses. That last bit is true, by the way. 

“The Eyes” is unashamedly goofy, asking us to please not judge it on its literary merits. I can certainly do that now and then when the material is entertaining and “The Eyes” is, without a doubt, entertaining and imaginative. No origin for the monsters is given nor is one needed. These are eyeballs that rob graves to pad their numbers. What other explanation do you need? “The Eyes” is also the inspiration for the wild and gory Joe Maneely cover, which clearly demonstrates that Stan was keeping an eye on his competition.

In the 27th Century, aliens from another world invade and become “The Rulers of Earth.” The people look to their strong and wise leader for guidance but the man seems to be following the credo of “looking out for number one,” and advises his fellow man to bow to the aliens’ subjugation and willingly become their slaves. But, once the takeover is complete, the leader shows his ace card and mankind is free again. Upbeat science fiction tale with some sharp graphics by Sinnott. “The Death of Me” concerns an old man who swears he’ll outlive the relatives who gather like vultures, waiting for the big day when the will is read. Unfortunately, in the end, the man is the last one standing and finds he cannot die. There are some genuinely creepy moments in “The Death of Me” (especially that moody splash, worthy of EC Comics) but the story is just too much old news.

Oswald Flush can’t take the nagging of his wife, mother-in-law and credit-grabbing boss, so he builds a time machine to escape to the future where he finds… a future version of his wife, mother-in-law, and boss. “The Future of Oswald Flush” is as annoying and cliched as a 1950s sit-com, complete with loud, obnoxious characters. In “Until You Are… Dead!,” Killer Ryan (his birth name, I assume) ventilates a pair of innocent bystanders while robbing a bank. Fearing the gas chamber once the cops nail him, Killer does what any other dumb goon would do: he kidnaps a world-famous scientist and coerces him into concocting an antidote to the gas pumped into the death chamber. The egghead complies with the request and then is murdered for his trouble. The police do indeed arrest Killer and he’s soon sitting strapped to the chair in the gas chamber. He pops the antidote pill (which the authorities are kind enough to let Killer hang onto while he’s in prison) but notices the warning label at the last second which notifies Killer that he can now only exist breathing in the gas. If he leaves the chamber and breathes in fresh air, he’s a dead man. Tedious and (to put it mildly) unbelievable, “Until You Are… Dead” is the antithesis of “The Eyes,” a virtually unreadable waste of paper.

Journey into Mystery 14

“The Slug!” (a: Russ Heath) ★★

“Where the Vampire Flies” (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★★

“The Man Who Owned a World” (a: Vic Carrabotta & Jack Abel) 1/2

“The Right Bait” (a: Vic Carrabotta) 1/2

“The Star Men!” (a: Dick Ayers) ★★★

Night after night, Frank has horrific nightmares of a huge slug. The images and lack of sleep are driving the man to the brink of insanity. And that’s just what Frank’s greedy brother, Moss, wants to accelerate in order to inherit all of Frank’s wealth. Turns out Moss is a master of hypnotism and he’s creating the nightmares in Frank’s head but, in the end, the nightmare becomes reality. Russ Heath perfectly captures the oncoming madness in Frank’s darkened eyes and gaunt features. If only the script was something a little more original. 

Harry has managed to stay married for seven years without his gorgeous wife, Jenny, discovering he’s a vampire. Once a week, Harry must become a giant bat, seek out a victim, and get back into bed without the wife finding out. Of course, Jenny has the same problem because she’s a vampire too! Though the final panel of “Where the Vampire Flies” is a groaner, I really like Robert Q. Sale’s atmospheric art; Sale avoids the cliched “count in a cape” trope and concocts a fearsome bat-creature instead. 

Abusive step-father George hijacks a large parcel addressed to his step-son and, upon opening, discovers it’s a toy from the future. The game allows its owner to create a world within a fish bowl. George decides to use the tool to gain revenge upon all those who have kept him down in his life but, of course, the toy backfires and traps George in the make-believe world. With an unfocused and confusing script and awful art, “The Man Who Owned a World” is a story best skipped. In “The Right Bait,” a bloodthirsty big game hunter (is there any other kind?) discovers a cave full of treasure but the booty comes with a high price. Back-to-back Carrabotta is not a formula for success.

The boy sits on his farm, staring up at the sky, imagining he hears a voice beckoning from the stars. The voice is insistent and walks the boy through the building of a rocket ship. His parents worry about him but assume this is just a phase, so they allow him to build the “contraption.” Ship built, the boy blasts off into space and lands on a distant planet, where he’s met by a smiling man who explains that he is a “planet monitor.” The alien asks the boy several questions and informs him that he’s determining whether Earth is ready for space travel. Based on the boy’s answers, the alien deems Earth’s people too dangerous for space and sends the boy back home. With his memory wiped, the boy wonders why he ever built the rocket ship. A fanciful and sweet little SF tale, “The Star Men” very much resembles the work of Ray Bradbury. Our young protagonist is never given a name, simply labelled “the boy.” This is an example of the good work Dick Ayers could hand in, given a solid script and some inspiration. 

Journey into Unknown Worlds 24

“Earth” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★★

“The Mummy Lives!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★

“Getaway!” (a: Dick Ayers) ★★★

“The Specimen” (a: Chuck Winter) ★★

“The Voice From Venus” (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★★1/2

After a ten-year mission to Mars, the two surviving members of a space expedition can’t wait to get back to “Earth” and her lush green forests and non-synthetic air. Alas, once they arrive, the men are quarantined aboard the ship due to the Martian disease they’ve carried back with them. The doctors can give no time frame for freedom and, realizing they could be experiencing Earth through a porthole for the rest of their lives, the two men commit suicide. 

Unsparingly grim and sobering, “Earth” is surely one of the best written (and gorgeously rendered) science fiction yarns Atlas published in the pre-code era. There are no wild giant bug-men on Mars and most of the fatalities are handled “off-panel” with very little fanfare. The dialogue is crisp and realistic, void of any histrionics or lengthy expositories. When the climactic decision is reached, both men sum up their feelings by remembering a fellow crew member who had committed suicide due to the loneliness of ten years on a distant planet (“Maybe Tate was right after all…”). At this point in the Atlas journey, stories were allotted three, four, or five pages but “Earth” justifiably rates a sixth page. 

Perhaps Stan realized we’d need a breather after such a downer so he slotted “The Mummy Lives!” in the follow-up spot. A giant mummy named Ma-Tuk is discovered in an Egyptian tomb and expedition member Roger Kilgorn unearths the secret that makes him the mummy’s master. A lot of mummy-murders ensue and Kilgorn becomes a worldwide celebrity but, it turns out, Ma-Tuk is a woman and she’s looking for the perfect mate. Roger qualifies. It’s all pretty silly (evident from the first panel is Ma-Tuk’s sizable breasts!) but Tony DiPreta, while doubtless having a laugh at his drawing table, gives “The Mummy Lives!” a comical angle that’s most appreciated.

A group of space pirates, led by Mongo and Crummy, terrorize the galaxy with their rape and pillaging of unfortunate travelers. Mongo gets a tip on a ship full of “atomic capsules” that will pass nearby in the Milky Spaceway and, as everyone knows, “the commies on planet Mars would give plenty for a load of that stuff!” The cargo ship turns out to be loaded with dozens of space police and Mongo is forced to eject from his ship to what he believes is a nearby asteroid. Unlucky for the pirate, it’s not an asteroid but a comet and he’s got seconds to live. Tongue firmly in cheek, the writer of “Getaway!” delivers a hilarious send-up of the genre and is gifted with some of the best art Dick Ayers ever delivered to the Atlas offices.

In “The Specimen,” a professor treks deep into a swamp known for its dense population of arachnids, seeking the mythical “Emperor Spider,” but the creature finds him first. A good deal of tension caused by the creepily-illustrated spiders is evaporated by the silly final panel of a giant spider placing the professor in a big glass jar. Chuck Winter could always be counted on for sleazy and unnerving graphics. In the finale, “The Voice From Venus,” two space travelers hear a siren calling from one of Venus’s moons and become obsessed with what they believe to be a creature of Marilyn Monroe qualities. When the spaceship crashes on the moon, the surviving astronaut, Harry, meets up with the love of his life, which tuns out to be a giant crab. Driven mad, Harry runs off into the darkness to think things over. After several days, Harry decides that the company of a talking female crab is better than being alone. Like Chuck Winter, Robert Q. Sale’s rough and ready artwork predicts the same kind of scratchy and sometimes downright ugly qualities inherent in the underground comix of the 1960s and 70s.

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