Thursday, January 5, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 77: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 62
March 1954 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Men’s Adventures 26

“Midnight in the Morgue” (a: Dick Ayers & Ernie Bache)

(r: Chambers of Chills #20)

“I Walked on the Moon” (a: Gene Colan) ★★★

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #17)

“The Burning Sands” (a: Gil Evans) ★★

(r: Kid Colt Outlaw #213)

“Gorilla Man” (a: Robert Q. Sale) 1/2

(r: Chamber of Chills #23)

Fleeing from the police after his latest job, a hit man hides out at “Midnight in the Morgue,” but very soon regrets his decision. The “twist” at the climax (the corpse on the slab is the guy he just rubbed out) makes no sense whatsoever and the art is unremarkable. Ernie Bache would become a decent penciler several years later when he became a mainstay at Charlton.

Since they were kids, King Philips and Lance Tate have hated each other and competed to become the best at whatever they strive for, be it sports, women, or business. Now, unbeknownst to each other, the two secretly build rockets in order to be the first to step on the moon. Even on the moon, the pair can’t halt their hatred for each other and it leads to a mutual downfall. Though “I Walked on the Moon” contains a mountain of ludicrosity (how, for instance, does a pair of spaceships leave Earth’s gravity without notice?), the story is still top-notch and Colan’s art effectively conveys the hatred the two men feel for each other. The climax is (pun intended) chilling.

Wild West outlaw Cabe manages to outrun the posse hard on his trail but he can’t outrun the heat. After running out of water, Cabe pulls up to water hole after water hole, only to discover they are all mirages. He dies inches from what he believes is just another mirage but is, in fact, real water. The art on “The Burning Sands” is a bit rough (and the plot wouldn’t make Zane Grey take notice) but a western mingling with pre-code Atlas horror is a rarity and so a welcome sight. In the final offering this issue, Ken is haunted by dreams of a “Gorilla Man” deep in darkest Africa. Knowing he can never rest until he confronts this creature, Ken heads to Kenya to exorcise his demons. A hilarious concept (a recurring nightmare convinces this guy that the only way to sanity is to dump his job, wife, and civilization and seek out what might be a myth) and raw, sketchy artwork, but I must admit the final panels, where Ken defeats his nightmare only to discover he’s become the Gorilla Man: Next Generation, are very effective.

Mystery Tales

“The Lonely Dungeon” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“Into the Fourth Dimension” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

“Up!” (a: Vince Colletta) ★★1/2

“The Graveyard!” (a: Dick Ayers) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #15)

“Missing Persons! (a: Werner Roth)

(r: Chamber of Chills #13)

Radio personality Burt Regan has made a career out of discussing the Frankenstein’s Monster but now some new evidence has Burt convinced the Monster was only a legend. Then Burt gets a call from Austria, land of Frankenstein, and a man tells him that he knows all the secrets. So Burt flies to Austria and discovers the truth: Frankenstein didn’t create the monster… it was vice versa! “The Lonely Dungeon” is a mess, with the narrative going all over the place and arriving at an unsatisfying disclosure.

Thirteen years after Jupiter invades Earth, the two sides have reached a stalemate. When Earth comes up with a new weapon, Jupiter finds a machine to counteract it. What can be done? On both planets, scientists are told to give up all activity but that pertaining to making bigger bombs. Meanwhile, Horace, a genius egghead is working on a time machine that will bring “the past into the present” and is tossed into prison for defying military orders. 

The Jupiterians send spies down to steal Earth’s military secrets and the outer space dopes steal Horace’s tinker-toy and hoof it back to their planet. They flip the switch and all the wars that were ever fought are played out on Jupiter. Earth wins. “Into the Fourth Dimension” has some great Colan art but the script is muddled and not very cohesive. The purpose of concocting a gizmo that can bring everything from the past into the present is never explored; I have to believe if this scientist was that smart, he must have figured what the ramifications would be. 

In “Up!,” two pilots spar over which one will get to test a brand new super-speed jet and murder determines the winner. Vince Colletta’s art is hot and cold here (the splash looks a lot like Bob Powell’s work), but the twist at the climax is a nice, nasty reveal. Two poachers shoot a bull elephant and then follow him to the legendary elephant’s graveyard, seeking a treasure trove of ivory. Alas, too late they discover they’ve been following an apparition into a valley of quicksand. “The Graveyard” has the kernel of an interesting story but then doesn’t follow through. Worse, the Dick Ayers art is headache-inducing. In the equally weak finale, a barfly spends his evenings giving other customers at the tavern his view on the case of the “Missing Persons!” This guy’s convinced that aliens are kidnapping innocent bystanders and sending them to Mars for study. One of the customers takes offense and orders the bum to give him proof. The man gets his proof but, of course, in the “startling” reveal, we discover he’s actually one of the Martians!

Mystic 28

“Not Dead Enough” (a: Vince Coletta) ★★★

“Too Human” (a: Doug Wildey) ★★

“The Truth About the Flying Dutchman” (a: Vic Carrabotta)

“The Terrible Triangle”

“Forbidden!” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★★

Rich and miserable, Jonas McAllister misses his long-dead first wife, Martha, and can’t stand his money-grubbing second wife, Sheila. Unbeknownst to Jonas, Sheila is plotting with her boyfriend to off her hubby and inherit his millions. In order to push Mr. Moneybags over the edge, the evil Sheila is projecting footage of her predecessor in front of the weak-willed Jonas, with Martha beseeching her beloved to join her in death. Eventually, Jonas decides death is a better option than life with Sheila, and downs the poison she’s left for him. Jonas dies but Martha’s image hangs around even after the projector is shut down. Sheila and her lover die of gas inhalation.

Though we all know where “Not Dead Enough” is going (the old “the ghost is real” trick has been done to death [pardon the pun]), Vinnie Colletta’s stunning snapshots of Martha (in particular, that gorgeous splash) keep us turning pages even through the predictability. Now that I think of it, where did Sheila get 8mm footage of Martha gallivanting in a transparent dress? Never mind, I can push that bit of incredulity to the side and enjoy the show.

Android Number 40 is miserable being a slave for humans; he strives to be human. The chance eludes him until Professor Kindler purchases Number 40 and tells the robot he won’t have to do menial chores ever again. In fact, the Professor wants to conduct an experiment to determine if he can make an android behave like a human. He tells Number 40 to “create something out of (his) own imagination” and a few days later, our synthetic hero is summoning his master to the lab to show him his new creation: an android to do all of Number 40’s chores for him! The egghead comments that he might have made Number 40 “Too Human!” A human trafficker learns “The Truth About the Flying Dutchman” after a storm sinks the boat on which he was carrying a dozen men. Vic Carrabotta’s penciling makes just about any story unbearable but when the artist is given a ho-hum script, the outcome is unreadable as well.

Even statues can become lonely, or at least that’s the moral of the laughable “The Terrible Triangle.” Pathetic Joan falls in love with a statue at the museum; Fred notices Joan’s awkward conversations with said stone man and talks her into an instant romance. Sculpture-man takes it personal and beats Fred’s brains in. Atlas tales are renowned for their silly concepts (I’d have quit this project ages ago had the writers not come up with some of their loony ideas) but “The Terrible Triangle” compounds its inanity with lifeless prose (Without family, without friends… her evenings drag endlessly… like incurable slow-motion toothaches) and stilted dialogue.

Years after the “Hydrogen War” of 1980, a race of green-skinned mutants appears on Earth and is immediately faced with racism and hatred. “Muties” are hung in the streets for speaking with “normal” humans. Enter the Muties’ biggest defender, genius scientist Alex Ross, who is not just speaking up for the green-skins because he’s a passionate proponent of human rights, but because his main squeeze, Mala, is a mutie! But Mala realizes that Alex will lose his job and become a pariah if he continues with their relationship so she unselfishly ends their romance.

Twenty years later, Alex is still haunted by his loss when he stumbles on a formula that can allow him to go green and be with his long-lost love. He triggers a hydrogen blast (!) and is struck with a “fog of hydro radiation,” effectively turning him into a skinny, non-lethal version of The Hulk. He quickly calls Mala to meet him in the “usual spot” and rushes out to begin his life anew. Unfortunately, Mala had the same idea and entered a test program to transform muties into normals. She’s white and, as she turns her back on her astonished ex, lets Alex know she “could never love, or marry, a mutie!”

Though the script is uncredited, it sure feels like a Stan preachie. Sure, the “love your fellow man for what’s on the inside, not on the outside” message is delivered as subtly as cement shoes, but it must be remembered this message was delivered over sixty years ago when it wasn’t hip to call out racism. I won’t go overboard and award Stan with the MLK statue for 1953 since “Forbidden!” isn’t too far removed from Atlas comics that featured Captain America fighting buck-toothed “Japs” on a monthly basis. End of rant.

“Forbidden!” finds a comfortable zone somewhere between maudlin and overbearing and tells an interesting story with an ironic twist. Ironic in that Alex has spent his entire life trying to become equal with the “lower class” Mala, only to find his lovely girl has become one with the intolerant majority. That final panel, of the now-emerald Alex, pondering a life of loneliness and prejudice is truly tragic. A decade later, of course, Stan would help create entire universes with mutants.

Spellbound 20

“The Last Man” (a: Bob Powell) ★★★

“The Mongrel”/“The Mongrel’s Revenge” 1/2

“The Things!” ★★

“He Waits in the Dark” (a: Carl Hubbell) 1/2

“The Man with the Bomb!”

The last man on Earth lies wounded and dying of thirst in a small town in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Martians have been watching from afar the massive destruction wrought by the sudden outbreak of volcanic eruptions across our planet. Though they never visit a place they aren’t welcome or invited to, the Martians decide to search Earth for any life. They discover our hapless titular character and approach the building to give aid but come up short, reading a sign above the door. They turn their green tails around and head back to their ship, with “The Last Man” on Earth dying below the sign that reads “White Men Only.” A preachy that doesn’t slam its message home, “The Last Man” simply delivers the twist with a final line, “…with him, all humanity died… as they had lived… without knowing!” Though EC would address racism and intolerance on almost a monthly basis, the other publishers tended to stay away from that minefield, obviously not wanting to alienate what was at that time a good portion of their audience. Well done.

Next up is an odd one: a two-part five-pager about a crafty dog who turns the tables on its abusive master. Multiple chapters in a story would become the norm for Atlas/Marvel in the 1960s with their Jack Kirby giant monster epics, but those were 10+ pages; “The Mongrel”/The Mongrel’s Revenge” totals only five pages and the first part ends after two pages with the teaser, “… but then that’s another story!” A real puzzler. The GCD guesses the art might be by Manny Stallman and that seems like a good bet to me. 

Astronaut Rickey comes back to Earth after 22 years on planet Delta. He’s brought all sorts of minerals and plant life for scientists to examine but what the eggheads really want to dissect is the two living blob-like things Ricky seems so attached to. Despite his protests, Ricky’s “friends” are prodded and poked and, when nothing comes from the exams, placed in a zoo for humans to gawk at. Then, one day, one of ”The Things” grabs a gun off a security guard and kills its partner and then itself. Just before Ricky ends his own life, he writes a letter explaining that the two creatures were his wife and daughter. Interstellar sex in a 1950s funny book! Perhaps Ricky might have had a more understanding audience if he’d have explained the relationship he had with the two blobs before they all offed themselves.

Since no one on Earth trusts him, Satan can no longer find anyone to take him up on his deals. He decides to give one single man whatever he wants without asking for anything, thinking the guy will spread the word that the devil isn’t such a bad dude after all. Unfortunately, for Satan, the man he offers the deal to is a priest. “He Waits in the Dark” starts out, oddly, as a science fiction tale (an alien visiting Earth asks a scientist how Earth became such a peaceful place after centuries of war) and then morphs into a horror story. Nicely illustrated by Carl Hubbell. In the vacuous “The Man With a Bomb!,” a dictator cracks under pressure after his wife commits suicide and blows himself up with a bomb. The climactic twist is beyond silly.


Strange Tales

“The Last Stop” (a: Gene Colan) ★★

“Guinea Pig” (a: Jack Katz) ★★★

“A Grave Mistake" (a: Tony DiPreta)

“To the Stars!” (a: Carmine Infantino & Gil Kane) ★★

“It Could Be You” (a: Vic Carrabotta) 1/2

In “The Last Stop,” skid row bum Eddie explains to his drunken buddy why he must take his own life. Before he was a drunkard, he was a happily married family man but then his wife and kids were in the wrong place at the wrong time during a mob hit and all three were gunned down. “But everyone has it bad! No reason to off yourself!,” reasons the buddy. “I was the hitman!,” sighs Eddie. Ya got me there. 

The guinea pigs Dr. Henkel sends into space always come back with a mean disposition but how can Henkel learn why if he can’t have a conversation with the experiment? The mad doctor tosses his assistant, Milo, into the next rocket and blasts it off to space. Turns out the residents of Planet XYX have got our number; they’re intercepting the ships and injecting the occupants with a formula designed to spread fear and violence throughout Earth. It’s only now, with Milo as the “Guinea Pig,” that XYX will get its wish. A fun space opera with some weird and gooey monsters courtesy of Jack Katz.

In the dopey “A Grave Mistake,” a mobster runs a con game down at the local cemetery, forcing workers to strike and stacking the corpses high. It all comes to a very predictable end when the unburied dead strike back. “To the Stars!,” about Earth’s first trip to outer space and the brave explorers who man the ship, comes off more maudlin than magical; it’s like Weird Science-lite. The Infantino/Kane art, for the most part, is wasted on talking heads. In the finale, a faceless passerby witnesses a man being tortured and tries to set him free, only to be captured by tentacled aliens who are attempting to extract information from their hostage. Who is the passerby? “It Could Be You!” 

Uncanny Tales

“One Second Till Doom!” (a: John Forte) ★★

“The Last Vampire” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“One Little Man” (a: Al Eadah)

“The Machine Age” (a: Vince Colletta) ★★★1/2

“The Face in the Mirror” (a: Bob Powell) ★★

Clockmaker Pierre Colbert is worried that when he dies, no one will remember him, so he makes it his life’s goal to create something people will talk about forever. But Pierre’s shrewish wife can’t help but remind her hubby that she thinks he’s a zero, not a hero, and that he’ll never create anything other than a nuisance. The town council looks to Pierre to create a new clock for the village square but Pierre’s construction, that of an axeman dropping his tool on father time, meets with derision. And, fresh with new material to abuse her spouse with, Pierre’s wife pipes up one too many times. John Forte’s art on “One Second Till Doom!” is crisp and evocative but the script is overly-complicated and filled with the usual cliches.

“The Last Vampire” doesn’t even have good art to carry it. It’s the truly awful story of the last vampire on earth who discovers a female vampire while out hunting. He proposes to her but it turns out she’s human and part of a “vampire-hunters” group and, just like that, there are no vampires on earth. In the abysmal “One Little Man,” Nazi scientist Eric Richter senses the Reich’s days are numbered and flees to Africa, where he continues work on his doomsday device. One day, a sandstorm picks him up and deposits him deep in the desert without water. After days in the heat, Richter crawls over a sand dune and beholds a harem of lovely ladies. Believing it to be a mirage, Richter rolls over and dies without learning the truth: the girls are part of a Hollywood film production. Hilarious that our unknown scripter thought that a few days in the desert heat could rot your teeth down to jagged stumps.

The last man on Earth has all the comforts “The Machine Age” has afforded him except companionship. With nothing to look forward to but “perfection,” the man swallows a pill and learns happiness at last in death. With striking visuals from Vinnie Colletta (in spots, very reminiscent of Wally Wood’s work), “The Machine Age” is unusually pessimistic. Though some might say, the hope is granted with the final pill. In the finale, Zelda, an up-and-coming film actress uses voodoo to make herself Hollywood’s most beautiful woman. But her newfound fame comes with a price: she can never see her reflection in a mirror or the spell will be broken. After becoming Hollywood’s biggest star, the temptation is too great and Zelda takes a gander. The mirror cracks and then so does her face. “The Face in the Mirror” is an adequate riff on “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

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1 comment:

Grant said...

"The Machine Age" sounds a little like "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury, with the machines communicating with someone who isn't there. I know that that became an E.C. story, but maybe someone here was using the idea of it more loosely?