Thursday, February 2, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 79: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 64
April 1954 Part II
by Peter Enfantino

Marvel Tales 122

“The Baby Sitter” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“Keep Out” (a: Al Gordon & Joe Kubert) ★★★

“The Last Gesture!” ★★★

“The Glasses!” ★★★

“The Man Without a Body”

George is a horrible husband and an even worse step-father, so when his call to “The Baby Sitter” is intercepted by aliens from space, he gets what’s coming to him. Awful science fiction sit-com. A bile-spewing congressman in the far future wants every alien who has immigrated to Earth sent back to their own planet. In the midst of all this hate comes a man from another planet who’s landed his ship here to see what all the fuss is about and whether this is a world he’d like to live in. After listening to the congressman’s speeches, he turns the tables and reminds the politician that aliens landed here centuries before and now just about every earthling came from another land. “Keep Out” gets very preachy and talky towards its climax but the build-up is strong and reminds those of us living in the 21st Century that the more things change… The story features a rare Atlas appearance by one of comics’ greatest artists, Joe Kubert. Here he’s only adding inks to Al Gordon’s pencils but the Kubert pizzazz is all over “Keep Out.”

The aim of Commissar Vasilovitch is to wipe out all rebel dogs from the streets of Moscow. Brought before him is gardener Martin Wlodarczyk, reputed to be the leader of the “swine” who dare to question Russian order. Martin is tortured but he won’t give up the names of his fellow rebels and death seems imminent. Then Vasilovitch gets word that his boss, Fydor Gogoltov, will be paying a visit soon to Moscow and he is a flower fanatic. Gardener Martin wins a reprieve and promises a gala festival for the Russian VIP. 

With all the flowers arranged and Gogoltov about to land at the airport, Vasilovitch executes the gardener and prepares to take all credit. Alas, the gardener gets the last laugh all the way from the grave, as when Gogoltov does a fly-over of the flower arrangement, he hits the roof and orders Vasilovitch imprisoned. The garden has been arranged in the shape and colors of the American flag! “The Last Gesture” almost seems like a parody of Stan’s “red scare” evangelism; it’s over the top like most of the “dirty Russkie” bilge but pushes us through, setting us up for the hilarious final images. The uncredited art is raw and scratchy but perfect for the topic.

Donning 3-D glasses, a man can see evil creatures from another dimension but when they steal “The Glasses,” they can see him as well. Delightful four-page farce with some hilarious creature art. In the finale, “The Man Without a Body,” Eric is in love with Lola but (and this is an age-old story) she won’t marry the dope/genius until he makes a million bucks. With love on his mind, Eric quickly invents a machine that separates his soul from his body, which enables him to do things we’d all like to do such as sit in on secret board meetings and find out if the Rocky Martin fight tonight is fixed. But, of course, Lola is smarter than her scientifically-brilliant beau and, after she gets one more big tip, she burns Eric’s body and runs away with her real boyfriend. Utterly predictable and ridiculous.

Mystic 29

“The Couple Next Door” (a: Vince Coletta) ★★

“No Exit” (a: Jack Abel) ★★★

“The Unseen” (a: Sheldon Moldoff) ★★★

“Rest in Peace” (a: Tony Mortellaro)

“It Happened in the Lab” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★

In “The Couple Next Door!,” Bill is tired of the rut he and his wife are stuck in and he proposes that they air out their dirty laundry in an attempt to right the ship. Unfortunately, his wife Carol ‘fesses up that she’s a vampire. Some striking Colletta work here (Carol is a stunner) but the final twist is a little hard to buy.

Despite the fact that there seems to be a wall all around Manhattan and no one can leave, Charlie Dannan is no one’s fool. He’ll get out if it kills him, so he hijacks a small plane and flies off. As a handful of scientists watch Charlie’s plane vanish in the sky, they try to work out how they will tell the population that New York has been “stolen” by Martians for study! “No Exit” is a cute idea executed well, with the final panel, that of Charlie’s ship floating in space above the giant rock heading for Mars, a howler.

Mark is just a nobody jet mechanic who has a crush on Celia, but it’s obvious she only has eyes for ace pilot Barry, who’s about to be the first man ever to “break the time barrier!” So Mark decides to hop in the plane and be the big hero. It all goes well until he lands and no one can see him. He’s become a ghost in our world and every year he comes back to the field where he landed the plane and wonders what would have happened had he gotten the girl.

“The Unseen” is a melancholy little melodrama, marred only by a clunky expository and some possible scientific anomalies (is it possible that Mark and Co. should break the sound  rather than time barrier?), with a truly sympathetic and likable lead character. Compound the fact that Mark isn’t around to bask in the glow of his aerial victory with Celia’s closing remarks, five years after the fact, that Mark was really the man she loved. It’s a heartbreaker.

“Rest in Peace” is thoroughly unenjoyable trash about an abusive door-to-door salesman who gets his in the end when he doesn’t answer a knock on his own door. Much better is our final story this issue, “It Happened in the Lab.” Dr. Gregor has deemed it important that he create a “Fly-Man” to control the world’s fly population and use them as a military weapon. Just think of all the uses: we can send hordes of the winged pests into the Kremlin to bother the Russkies… we can utilize them as soldiers of war… well, Gregor is sure there are thousands of other reasons. Anyway, he steals body parts from graves to build his Fly-Man and once he shoots thousands of volts through the thing, it arises to do Gregor’s bidding. The nutty professor sends his Lord of the Flies out to round up millions of his little friends and bring them back to the lab to map out their strategy. 

Alas, something goes wrong with the Fly-Man’s obedience skills and he doesn’t come back. Just as Gregor is about to give up and concoct a way to kill his wayward Flynkenstein Monster, the thing comes back and destroys the lab. Gregor’s assistant calls the cops and when the police arrive, they find Gregor, his arms torn off! “It Happened in the Lab” could only be devised as a funny book story, a tale stuffed with absurdity and laugh-out-loud nonsense and yet played so straight. The Fly-Man’s brain is a glass bowl filled with thousands of buzzing flies! Our unsung writer doesn’t even stop to explain how that works or why his man grows fly-fur or why Gregor bothers concocting a fly-mask for his critter. All of these questions would be very valid if we weren’t dealing with a 1950s horror comic; the fact that these plot holes exist only adds to my glee while reading these five pages of insanity. Oh, to be a fly on the wall (pun very much intended) when artist Pete Tumlinson got his copy of the script.

Spellbound 21

“The Face of Death” (a: John Forte) 1/2

“The Night Caller” (a: Bill Walton)

“Too Bad, Ben” (a: Vic Carrabotta)

“Men from the Morgue” (a: Les Zakarin & Bob Bean)

“Listen, Slave” (a: Dick Ayers) ★★

Frank has been assigned to write a series of newspaper articles on the supernatural, but tonight’s seance, where the medium winds up dead, has Frank worried. A paper listing the names of four people appears on Frank’s typewriter out of nowhere and the reporter learns the first three are now dead and Frank’s name is last. “The Face of Death” has a somnambulant pace and a ridiculous pay-off. 

Murderer Lon Berry is involved in a serious car wreck but manages to walk away unscathed. He hoofs it to a nearby house where he intends to hold up until the heat is off but the house seems to be haunted by ghosts. “The Night Caller” is a dismal affair that falls back on the “they’re not the ghosts, he is!” cliche.

Two-time loser Ben is convinced that the third time is a charm, so he’s staking out a bank full of green. Too bad the teller turns out to be Molly, Ben’s steady girl. This knocks him for a loop and the guard gets the drop on Ben. Ironically, the bank manager tells Molly she did so well triggering the alarm that she’ll get a reward. “Too Bad, Ben” contains some really inane dialogue peppered by tough guy lingo but the icing on the cake is that Stan (or whoever edited these things) felt the need to explain each bit of rough language to the reader. Ben seems just as surprised by Molly’s vocation as we are, but his ignorance is glossed over.

“Men From the Morgue” come to take Charlie away despite his protestations. The cadaverous men claim Charlie died the night before at the hands of his wife. It’s all just a misunderstanding in the end, since they got the date wrong. They’ll be back tomorrow night. Really awful bottom-of-the-barrel drivel with barely professional artwork. “Listen, Slave” is the best story this issue by default rather than by virtue of quality. Dr. Kraus develops a serum that increases the size of his brain and he fast becomes the world’s smartest man. But, of course, Kraus decides that using this unlimited grey matter for the good of the people wouldn’t be profitable enough so he goes with Plan B: world domination. Problem is, his serum enlarges his brain to goofy proportions, eliminating the rest of his body. Poor Dr. Kraus is left with no vocal functions and therefore cannot use his superior knowledge to transform the population into mind-controlled slaves.  Way too talky and the Ayers art is just professional enough to get the ideas across and no more.

Harry Anderson
Strange Tales 27

“The Poor Old Man” (a: John Forte) ★★★

“The Cask in the Cave” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

“Progress!” (a: Harry Anderson) ★★

“The Garden of Death!“ (a: Vern Henkel)

“Suffocation” (a: Tony DiPreta) 1/2

An old man accidentally conjures up the devil, who tells him he’ll grant him one wish for free and it won’t cost him his soul. “The Poor Old Man” scoffs but Satan reassures him he’s on the level so the man asks for the love of a good woman. John, the old man, gets that in no time flat but, in the end, Satan comes calling as he always does. Bittersweet little fantasy where a really good guy gets one year of the high life and remains a sweet and caring individual. His choice, the big climactic reveal, is genuinely sad and most Atlas characters would opt selfishly, but not John.

When Baron Teufel’s daughter needs a transfusion of a rare blood type, he makes a bargain with a vampire to save the girl. The vampire donates several quarts of his blood and the Baron opens a mountaintop “winery,” stocked with casks of blood. Nonsensical fluff is nicely illustrated by Joe Sinnott but “The Cask in the Cave” climaxes with a maddening head-scratcher. In “Progress!,” old man Scudder fights off the advances of the city men who want to raise his house and build a freeway through his land. Scudder uses weaponry and explosives that would have made Patton smile but to no avail; the town builds a tunnel instead, and Scudder is its first roadkill.

“The Garden of Death!” is three pages better devoted to advertisements. The Grim Reaper is despondent, believing man has decided to quit warring, so he grows mushrooms (as in clouds) in his garden. A preach with no reach. Meanwhile, Tony DiPreta does what he can for a dreary and lifeless script known as “Suffocation.” Vivian and George Cramm lock Viv’s millionaire aunt in a closet until she dies of suffocation. The evil couple get their millions but then discover they’re constantly feeling stifled and claustrophobic. In the end, the police find them dead, suffocated, in the middle of a perfectly large room. Yawn.

Uncanny Tales 19

“More Than Human” (a: Mort Lawrence)

“The Empty World” (a: Ed Moline) 1/2

“Timber!” (a: Sy Grudko) ★★

“Aftermath!” 1/2

“The Man Who Died Again!” (a: Dick Briefer)

A man stumbles onto a race of mutant beings who can regenerate lost limbs and pack ray-guns to eliminate their enemies. “More Than Human” has a scattershot and harebrained narrative that gets foggier with each successive page. Just days before he’s scheduled to fly to Mars, Professor Crews begins seeing green gremlins everywhere he looks. His psychiatrist tells him he’s overworked and to simply ignore the little men. The advice works until Crews gets to Mars and discovers the little green gremlins everywhere. Like “More Than Human,” “The Empty World” is both vacuous and needlessly complicated at the same time.

Blah Briefer
Lumberjack Pierre lives to terrorize accountant, Bruce, but the old guy has had just about enough and his brain is hatching a revenge plot involving the cry of “Timber!” Goofy yarn with some nifty cartoony art by Sy Grudko. Pierre is a dead ringer for Popeye’s buddy, Bluto. “Aftermath!” is a three-pager about the beginning of life on Earth and how the flesh-eating dinosaurs were finally bested by the cunning of man. Whoops! No, this is actually about life after World War III, as witnessed by the cheesy exposition in the final panel. Hydrogen bombs created a second wave of dinosaurs? 

In the final yarn of an abysmal issue of Uncanny Tales, mobster Tom Frazer pays a scientist to create an exact robot replica of himself to sit in the electric chair at the time of his execution. Problem is, the electricity doesn’t kill the robot and he comes back from the grave to kill the humans who put him eight feet under. “The Man Who Died Again!” is strictly amateur hour and that includes the uncharacteristically dreadful Dick Briefer artwork.

In Two Weeks...
The Grand Experiment Ends
with a Whimper.

1 comment:

John said...

These were a great series of comics!