Thursday, January 19, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 78: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 63
April 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Syd Shores
Adventures into Terror 30

“They Fly By Night” (a: Bob Correa) ★★1/2

(r: Giant-Size Dracula #5)

“The Dead Don’t Sleep” (a: Al Eadah) 1/2

“The Man in the Shadows”

“Don’t Nod” (a: Sy Grudko) ★★★

“A Scream in the Night” (a: Vince Colletta) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #20)

John Burton and his wife take their son,Tom, on a trip to Hungary but at the inn where they stay, they are attacked by a vampire. Tom survives but both his parents die and are buried in a local cemetery. Tom grows up hating vampires, swearing some day to return to the village of Mirov to avenge the death of his parents and, once he’s a grown man, he does just that. He stays at the same inn and leaves his window open at night, hoping to attract the monsters. The bait is taken but Tom is horrified to see the vampires are his parents, come to convince their son to join them in undeath. Our final panel shows Tom walking towards the two vampires, but will he join them or stake them? “They Fly By Night” contains the first of four contributions to the Atlas catalogue by artist Bob Correa, an adequate and sometimes atmospheric penciler, known primarily as one of the initial artists on Dell’s popular Turok, Son of Stone.

In “The Dead Don’t Sleep,” the spirit world becomes quite tired of being disturbed by a local seer so they put an end to the medium's career. Almost a quasi-sequel to last issue’s “The Horrible House” in that Al Eadah resurrects the same ghosts that haunted that tale. A bank teller meets an exotic woman who has expensive taste and embezzles five grand to keep her happy. The money is lost at a roulette table and the dope discovers the girl is a con artist. He kills her and her partner in a lust-filled spree of violence. But who is “The Man in the Shadows” and why does this all seem like deja vu all over again? Never mind. The answer is not worth your trouble.

Communist tyrant Chung-Ku abhors the modern methods of genocide and asks his master assassin, Li-Po, to put aside the machine gun and perfect his sword skills. Li-Po does his master proud, crafting a weapon that leaves nary a hair out of place on the dead noggin. Unfortunately for Chung, all despots fall some day and, very soon, he becomes next in line for Li-Po’s blade. Chung talks his old friend into simulating the execution and allowing him to walk away just for old time’s sake. Li agrees and come the dreaded deadline, Chung swears he feels the blade fall but his head still sits upon his shoulders. Later that day, after escaping, Chung calls to thank the headsman, only to hear the warning, “Don’t Nod.” Perplexed, Chung turns his neck and loses his head. These “red scare” strips were usually pumped out by Stan, but he was busy with Menace about this time and I can’t see “The Man” not signing the splash, as was his wont. “Don’t Nod” has a steady pace, telling its story at just the right speed. Most of us know how this will end but the climactic panel, of Chung sans head (as ludicrous a concept it is), is a hoot. 

Wrapping up this issue is “A Scream in the Night,” the tale of Kent, a washed-up horror writer who stumbles onto a satanic cult in the forest and must swear (with his blood) never to tell a soul what he’s seen. Unable to control himself, Kent writes what he believes to be a dynamite story revolving around, what else?, a meeting of devil worshippers in the forest. The members of the cult don’t take this betrayal lightly and, through a series of events, have Kent committed to an asylum. 

Harry Anderson
Adventures into Weird Worlds 28

“Heads Will Roll” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★

“The Supreme Test” 1/2

“In the Bag!” (a: Doug Wildey) ★★1/2

“The Strange Shop!” (a: Ed Moline)

“From the Dead” (a: Sam Burlockoff) ★★1/2

In 16th-Century London, James Jurgens is in charge of hoisting, on poles, the severed heads of those convicted and executed. The Crown pays Jurgens a good salary to maintain the grisly poles, so when there is a downturn in violence in the city, the headsman has no problem accusing innocents of bad behavior in order to earn a living. One night, while admiring his handiwork, Jurgens hears the severed heads whispering to each other. As two guards pass, one of the heads screams out that a man is trying to burn the bridge down and, in the scuffle, Jurgens is beheaded. Soon, his noggin rests alongside those he accused. Though the climax is one hundred per cent predictable, the morbid sight of staked heads leaning against the rail of London Bridge makes “Heads Will Roll” a deliciously sick pleasure.

The Commies kidnap scientist James Vance, who has invented a revolutionary new A-Bomb, one that dwarfs all those other 1950s devices. Once in Russia, Vance is told he’ll be tortured until he gives up the secret. Vance agrees to spill his guts once he’s had an aspirin for his headache. Holy cow, those Russians sure are dopes! The aspirin sets off a “chain reaction” in Vance’s atoms, transforming him into a human atom bomb. Moscow is reduced to rubble. 

“The Supreme Test” is another in a line of endless “red scare” thrillers designed to ease the worried minds of readers waiting for the big one to fall. “Never fear,” we hear Stan typing on his Smith-Corona, “America will always come through because we are the greater good. And besides we have bigger bombs!” What a wonderful country America is in the 1950s Atlas Universe, devising human bombs.

Carl wants to know what Joel has “In the Bag!” he’s carrying on his shoulder. Joel tells him he’s got a bag full of rocks but Carl insists that it’s the body of Melissa, Joel’s adulterous wife. Unaware of his wife’s infidelity, Joel takes one of the rocks out of his bag and kills Carl, puts the body in the sack, and heads home to have a talk with Melissa. It’s quick but effective and darkly humorous. The look on Melissa’s face, moving from smug to terrified in four successive panels, is priceless.

Cops can never find evidence of stolen property at the most popular pawn shop in town but that’s because the owner is Satan. The twist at the climax of “The Strange Shop!” is certainly not the most original but perhaps there might be a bit more surprise for the reader if the pawn shop owner didn’t have pointed ears and a satanic goatee from panel one.

In “From the Dead,” Charles Chute is paid to debunk fortune tellers and seers but runs into a brick wall known as Guirraini, a man whose pencil is used as an instrument of communication with the dead. Chute can’t prove the man is a phony and it drives him to murder. In the end, Chute gets the chair after Guirraini reaches out from the dead to force a confession note. 

Harry Anderson
Astonishing 32

“The Werewolf Takes a Wife” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★

”Arrival” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

“Her Other Face” (a: Chuck Miller)

“Initiation Fee!” (a: Mannie Banks)

“Double or Nothing” (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★1/2

While they’re busy having supper, a farmer and his three daughters are terrorized by a werewolf who huffs and puffs and blows their front door down. Thinking fast, the farmer makes a deal with the lycanthrope: if he leaves them be, he can stay in the house as long as he wants. The werewolf agrees and becomes immediately smitten with the farmer’s youngest daughter, Essie, who makes it quite evident that the affection is a two-way street. Essie finally gets the werewolf to propose to her and they live happily ever after at the farm, with Essie’s two vampire sisters bringing home enough victims for them all to eat. Silly beyond compare, “The Werewolf Takes a Wife” is goofy fun and does not take itself seriously for one second. This werewolf reclines on the couch and moans about the hard day he had. The cover advertises this one as “The Vampire Takes a Wife” (which is odd since the character depicted is awfully shaggy).

Professor Kurtz watches as a spaceship lands and out pops a handful of aliens. The space travelers discuss their upcoming invasion and then turn invisible in order to infiltrate the Earth society. Kurtz tries to get the top brass to listen to him but no one will believe him. He’s finally committed to an asylum and we see that the doctor in charge of Kurtz’s case turns invisible. Boring as hell, and loaded down with some truly awful artwork, “Arrival” uses one of the oldest reveals known to comic writers. And they’d use that hook many more times afterwards. 

    Con man Jeff marries Matilda for her millions but quickly tires of her homely face. He insists that his new wife get plastic surgery but she nixes that idea, claiming she’s already had a face lift and another might bring up bad memories. But Jeff is persistent and the surgery occurs; Matilda is beautiful until Jeff kisses her and her face cracks apart. Two layers down is Matilda’s real face, that of a vampire. Ludicrous horror story almost makes it into the “so bad it’s good” file but it’s not quirky enough. After “Her Other Face” pops up, Matilda magically sprouts fangs as if the first surgery hid those as well! When the surgeon refuses to put Matilda under the knife due to her protestations, Jeff simply triples his offer and the doc caves! Women’s lib has come far since 1954.

Carlton Jones (nicknamed “The Pusher” for his underworld dealings) has worked himself up the ladder in the community but he still can’t buy respect. He decides that joining clubs might do the trick but there’s one very exclusive club that won’t have him until he bullies its most famous member. Too late, he discovers he’s joined a “suicide club!” Filled with more limp scripting and dreadful art, “Initiation Fee!” is nothing more than talking head panels and stuffed expository balloons.

Professor Wendell Witt has discovered the secret of cloning and it’s going to make him a very rich man. The first thing he thinks of is duplicating diamonds and being the world’s most powerful man but fate pees on his cornflakes. The formula will only create doubles of living objects like rats and monkeys, so diamonds, greenbacks, and nice suits are out of the question. Wendell sighs and realizes he can still make a bundle by cloning himself, so he does just that. Unfortunately, the nutty professor didn’t wait long enough to see if there were any ill effects from the formula, and he finds out much too late that the clones turn jealous and violent. Wendell’s clone has something special planned for his big brother when he gets home. The art is a bit shaky (the professor’s head size seems to change from panel to panel) but the climactic twist is a good one. 

Sol Brodsky
Journey into Mystery 15

“Satan Can Wait” (a: Paul Reinman) ★★★1/2

(r: Vampire Tales #1)

“Till Death Do Us Part” (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★★1/2

(a: Vault of Evil #4)

“The Face That Followed” (a: Al Luster) 1/2

(r: Vault of Evil #4)

“Bewitched” (a: Mannie Banks) ★★

(r: Vampire Tales #2)

“The Man Who Was Nobody” (a: Ed Winiarski)

(r: Journey Into Mystery #8)

Danny is a friendly, hard-working chap with a lovely wife and great kids. He likes to pal around with his buddies at a bar on Friday nights and on this particular visit, the idea of true evil is debated. Is there a Satan? Danny scoffs at the thought, even though his friends keep open minds. At that moment, a stranger approaches the table and offers Danny one million dollars for his soul. Just for kicks, and to prove to his friends how silly the situation is, Danny signs the contract. Oddly enough, the stranger vanishes in thin air.

When he arrives at home, his wife meets him to give him the bad news that his father has died, leaving Danny a factory worth a quarter of a million. In short order, Danny becomes a workaholic, loses his family, and is told his fortune has reached one million dollars. Just at that moment, the stranger returns to inform Danny that the whole thing was a joke. Danny murders the man and heads out into the lightning storm, ready to pay up on his unholy pact. Though the climax is a bit of a letdown (honestly, the revelation that the man was actually Satan probably would have been anticlimactic as well), “Satan Can Wait” is a thoughtful and intelligent tale, filled with some very good dialogue (especially during the round table discussion between Danny and his bar buddies) and one of those rare “innocent” protagonists who doesn’t deserve the fate that’s handed to him. The final panel, of newly-minted murderer Danny heading out into the storm to meet whichever maker claims him, is very powerful: He walked into the raging night and a cloud, blacker than all the others, hovered low over him! Then Danny disappeared into the darkness… forever!

Herbert can’t stand his wife, the lusty adulterous trollop named Stella, but she knows all about his shady business dealings and has sent her lawyer the obligatory “Open upon my death” letter, so life moves on at a miserable clip. Finally, Herbert decides he’s had enough and jail be damned, he’s going to strangle his shrewish wife. Just then, an atomic bomb blast rips through the house (no, seriously!) and life on Earth changes. Herbert’s worst nightmare becomes true; he will spend eternity with Stella by his side. Literally, since the bomb grafted the two lovebirds into one body. “Till Death Do Us Part” has some great Carrabotta art, a wild twist, and a smile-inducing climax. 

In the simple “The Face That Followed,” convicted killer Tony Trent escapes prison and heads into the swamp, the dogs trailing just behind. Trent’s destination is a summer cottage in the fishing village of Bedford. There, beneath the floorboards, lies a quarter-million in cash. But first Trent must shake his posse. The con comes across a shack and enters, but is pulled up short by the sight of a shotgun pointed at his chest. The old man attached to the weapon explains that he knows who Trent is and the price for his silence is a quarter million. 

Knowing he’s facing an electric chair if he’s caught, Trent draws the old man a map leading to the cash and then gets a face full of buckshot. Dying, Trent promises the old man that he’ll see the con’s face until his dying day. The old codger buries Trent under his shack and heads out to his big payday. But, once he gets the green, the cops close in, sure the old man is Trent. Despite his protests, the police blast him full of holes and, once his body has been turned over, we see he has Trent’s face. The only surprise coming in the Paul S. Newman-scripted “The Face That Followed” is that Trent is dispatched so quickly and the story’s bad guy becomes the old shack owner. Al Luster’s graphics are suitably histrionic.

There’s some striking Mannie Banks visuals in “Bewitched,” but the script is microwaved. It’s that old chestnut about beautiful Prudence in 17th Century Salem, who refuses to marry the old neighbor, Caleb, so he rats her out as a witch to the town elders. The woman is set to be hanged but through a series of misadventures she escapes. The climactic showdown between Caleb and Prudence reveals that innocent Prudence was an authentic broom-rider the whole time. That reveal had been done to death already by 1954.

In “The Man Who Was Nobody,” Greg Garlan applies for a passport only to discover every trace of his past has been wiped out. No birth certificate, no school records, no work papers. There’s no explanation except that… you guessed it, Greg is actually an undercover  Martian, sent to worm his way into society and report back to his bosses. 

Harry Anderson
Journey into Unknown Worlds 26

“The Haunted House” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★

“Unharmed” (a: Bob McCarty) 1/2

“It Floats in Space” (a: Bill Savage) ★★★

“The Hiding Place” (a: Seymour Moskowitz) ★★

“Betrayal” (a: Bob Forgione) 1/2

A paranormal expert named Ben is hired by a man to rid his house of his father’s ghost. The man’s mother wants no part of it and she inserts herself into every nook and cranny in order to delay Ben’s findings. After much research, the specter is traced to the property’s well; it’s there that Ben finds the skeleton of the elder Anderson, a hatchet embedded in its skull. Ben brings the bones up and dissolves them in lime, thus releasing the spirit into the “other side.” Unhappy that her secret has been unearthed, Mrs. Anderson buries a hatchet in Ben’s head and dumps his body down the same well. Now Ben’s ghost haunts the Anderson place and a new paranormal expert is hired. “The Haunted House” is a clever, violent little gem that contains more creepy Tumlinson work; Anderson’s ghost is not your jolly, happy spook. The only thing that jumped out at me in terms of a reality check would be Ben’s ignorance of the fact that a murder had been committed and that the police should be called in. The axe in the skull might have been a red flag to me.

Physicist Eric Sands receives a “Make-a-Martian” kit from an unknown source for his birthday. Thinking the gift a joke, he builds the miniature robot but then is amazed that the thing can't be destroyed. When an A-Bomb test on the base is announced, Eric has a brilliant idea and hides the little android in one of the test buildings. The Martian survives the blast “Unharmed,” and radios Mars that the best weapon Earth has is like a peashooter compared to Martian arms. “It is safe to attack!” Suffering greatly from the unexciting pencils of Bob McCarty, “Unharmed” is a generic “menace from Mars” yarn that can’t work up much enthusiasm.

A spaceship comes across a derelict craft in the middle of nowhere and boards it, finding one crew member dead, with an expression of pure fright on his face. A journal tells the story of the ship’s captain coming across the frozen body of an escaped criminal (recognizable by the etched “x” in his forehead) and bringing it on board. The “corpse” thaws and comes to life, with the escaped con telling the captain to turn the ship away from Earth. He’s not going home. Unfortunately, the craft runs out of fuel and the two men starve. So, why the frozen fear on the captain’s body and where is the fugitive? The extremely ridiculous final panel of “It Floats in Space” explains those two mysteries. Otherwise, this is an imaginative space opera, with some (literally) chilling scenes provided by Bill Savage. But why does the ship’s captain man his controls in a suit and tie?

A jewel thief hides in a freshly dug grave and discovers, to his horror, that a funeral is about to take place and a coffin is being lowered down on him. The choice is: scream and lose the jewels to the authorities or keep quiet and spend eternity in “The Hiding Place” with his beautiful treasure. Guess which choice he opts for. In the loopy final tale, “Betrayal,” aliens from the planet Torz kidnap and torture Howard and Laura and try to make them reveal earth’s weapon capabilities. Howard’s all for the torture route but Laura gives in lickety-split since the lead alien is a dreamboat. After the girl spills the beans, the Torzians kill Howard and whisk Laura back to their planet, where they take their “itchy suits” off, revealing ant-like beings. Laura isn’t thrilled. At one point, Howard actually calls the alien captain a “brutal swine!”

In Just Two Weeks...
More Twisted Tumlinson Terror!


Grant said...

Never mind that blowing up Moscow will have the same effect no matter who's doing it, including one single scientist. Anyone who's seen FAIL-SAFE knows that.

Nequam said...

I always find it fun when I recognize a probable source story for a comic, and "In the Bag!" appears to be a loose (and as usual, unauthorized) adaptation of John Collier's 1942 story "De Mortuis", which got an actual adaptation on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (as you blogged about elsewhere on the site!).

Jack Seabrook said...

I like those Harry Anderson covers. Who was he? Did he do any interiors?