Thursday, March 16, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 82: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 67
June 1954 Part I
by Peter Enfantino

Adventures into Weird Worlds 30 
Cover by Carl Burgos

“I Saw the Vampire” (a: Manny Stallman) 1/2

“The Worm Turns” (a: Bill Walton)

“Inside is Ty” (a: Seymour Moskowitz) ★★★

“The Impatient Ghost” (a: Dan Soprano)

“When Worlds Meet” (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★★1/2

While walking home from work one evening, a man steps into the wrong alleyway and witnesses a vampire drinking the blood of his victim. The monster flees but the dying man cries out in pain. Our main protagonist spends a page wrestling with his conscience before deciding that, if he goes to the police, the vampire will stalk and kill him. So he runs back to his apartment and spends three more pages wondering what might happen, when he hears a scuffle downstairs, a woman’s scream, and heavy boots coming up the stairs. His door is flung open and there stands… the victim! “I Saw the Vampire” has a predictable script and, for the most part, rough pencils by Stallman. But there are flashes of… no, not brilliance, but cool. The panel of the man with his back to the door as he’s just gotten home is a creepy image. The rest is not so creepy.

Bill Walton’s art makes “The Worm Turns” almost unreadable but the script doesn’t help either. Joe is tired of his wife, May (you know, the one who hides a box of money somewhere in the house), calling him a “worm,” so he finally gets up the nerve and kills her, burying her body in the basement. That night, Joe is surrounded by millions of worms crawling from May’s corpse; he heads down into the cellar where he trips and cracks his head open. The cops find his body days later, and we discover it was yarn from May’s scarf that was “attacking” Joe. Right. “The Impatient Ghost” sees Sir Edward Eton moving into a lovely new British cottage but haunted by the titular spirit. In the end, it turns out the spook is Eton himself. He dies of a heart attack and his ghost finally “catches up with him.” 

Alex Karnoff has been Professor Widmire’s assistant/gopher/bone-digger/coffee-maker out in the Arizona desert for months now, and the suspense of what’s going on inside the strange pyramid-like structure the egghead built is driving Alex nuts. Whenever he knocks on the door and hands the Prof another pile of bones and asks what’s inside the building. “Inside is Ty!” is the repeated reply. One day, while digging bones, Alex watches as lightning strikes the top of Widmire’s structure and the building catches fire. 

    Realizing this is finally when he’ll get to learn the origin of “Ty,” Alex scurries to help his boss extinguish the flames. But when he requests a face-to-face with the mysterious “Ty,” Alex is denied and the long Arizona days finally crack him. He plants his shovel in the scientist’s cranium and heads toward the workshop. But just as he gets to the door, the building collapses and there stands “Ty!” A reconstructed and (for some reason) resurrected Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton! The creature reaches down and squeezes the life out of Alex and then cradles the Professor in its little T. Rex arms, heading off to “take care of the professor… the way the professor took care of him!” Whatever that last line means, “Inside is Ty!” is wacky fun, the kind of simple-minded yet strangely clever entertainment that could only come out of a comic book. Seymour Moskowitz’s art reminds me of Russ Heath if inked by Ralph Reese; nothing clunky or scratchy here.

After scientists have at last perfected space travel and a rocket is built and prepped to blast off, Earth receives a message from Mars: “Let’s do lunch!” The very next day, a similar message comes from Venus. This is too good to be true! Think of all the incredible data that could be derived from a meeting between three worlds. So word goes out to both planets that separate Earth emissaries will meet their astronauts on the moon. Martians, being the suspicious type, have plan B: if the Earthlings turn out to be treacherous, lying dogs, Martian ships will drop bombs on Earth. 

The big day comes and, like it will, things go tits up. Our ship experiences some malfunctions and cannot take off. Inadvertently, the Martian ship lands close to the Venusians and a really big case of mistaken identity occurs. Mars takes an immediate dislike to Venus and they blast each other with ray guns. The dying Martian makes it back to his ship in time to get off one message to his superiors: “These Earth people are ugly! We can’t work with them! Earth must be destroyed!” And so it is.

With its very last tale, “When Worlds Meet,” Adventures Into Weird Worlds delivers a deliciously dark and pessimistic tale of the future that doesn’t let up in the end, sentencing doomsday to a world that, for once, didn’t actually deserve it. The planetary mix-up is pure poetry and Sinnott’s joyous, happy Earthling faces put the perfect bow on the apocalyptic package.

Astonishing 33
Cover by Carl Burgos

“Once a Werewolf” (a: Sid Greene) ★★★

(r: Chamber of Chills #17)

“Point of View” (a: Al Carreno)

(r: Vault of Evil #23)

“Til Death Do Us Part” (a: Sheldon Moldoff) ★★

“The Evil Eye” (a: Pablo Ferro)

(r: Vault of Evil #19)

“I Ain’t Got No Body” (a: Chuck Winter) 1/2

(r: Tomb of Darkness #15)

Finding true love with a human woman, Franz decides to give up his birthright but his werewolf brethren show him that leaving the club is not an option. “Once a Werewolf” has some sharp Sid Greene graphics (although Greene’s werewolves wouldn’t frighten a pre-teen Atlas reader) and a shocking final panel where we learn the fate of Franz after his buddies have gotten through with him.

In “Point of View” a grumpy lab janitor accidentally stumbles upon a serum that shrinks humans to doll-sized (yep, just like in Dr. Cyclops) and pours the stuff on the scientists who’ve treated him like dirt. The inexplicable climax (as he’s about to squash the tiny professors, a giant hand comes through the roof and squashes him) is not the only problem with this one. The art is dreadful; for no apparent reason, the janitor has long pointed fingernails and jagged teeth.

Dancing girl Terry Gabbard catches the eye of a rich Maharajah and, seeing how Terry’s favorite color is green, she quickly accepts the wealthy man’s proposal. Once they move back to the Maharajah’s palace in Salustan, Terry calls her ex-boyfriend, Mike, and talks him into flying to the palace to knock off her hubby. Once the deed is done, Terry feeds Mike to the tigers and awaits her inheritance. Alas, the dopey dancer never looked at the fine print on her wedding vow. “Till Death Do Us Part” has an Atlas rarity: an honest-to-goodness bitch of a protagonist. Terry is one mean-spirited and black-hearted dame, who has no problem sticking around and watching while her pet tigers lunch on Mike.

A witch walks through a village, the populace cursing her for “The Evil Eye” they say she wields. She doesn’t believe them until she looks in a mirror and dies from the plague. Inexplicable but mercifully short. In the equally weak “I Ain’t Got No Body,” a down-on-his-luck vagrant agrees to help a scientist with his personality switcher gizmo in order to get to the egghead’s gorgeous wife. Bad idea. 

Journey into Mystery 16
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Vampire Tale” (a: Doug Wildey)

(r: Monsters Unleashed #1)

“Man Alone!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #10)

“The Man Who Wasn’t” (a: Bill Walton)

(r: Where Monsters Dwell #30)

“The Vultures” (a: Mannie Banks) ★★

(r: Tomb of Darkness #10)

“The Question!” (a: Vic Carrabotta)

(r: Journey Into Mystery #12)

A man comes to town, bandaged from head to toe, and murders a man he claims was a vampire. When he’s put on trial for murder, no one will believe his “Vampire Tale” until he unrolls his bandaging and reveals a rotting corpse beneath, a past victim of the bloodsucker. Pretty silly stuff; for instance, the man is wearing the same bandages and trousers he wore months before when he staked the vampire. What jail allows this? Yes, I know it’s only a comic story…

The Chinese Red Secret Police train and then install a spy named Husu Ko in the hills of North Korea but the training session has gone too well and Husu Ko becomes a homicidal killer. “Man Alone!” is a rare “red scare” tale that actually provides a jolt. The transformation of Husu Ko is frightening as is the rough art of Al Eadah (contributing what might be his finest Atlas work); the climax is EC-worthy grim.

Dr. Wright comes to the Home for the Aged, looking for an inmate to test his new youth serum on, but his number one option, Adam, refuses to be a guinea pig. When Wright checks Adam’s charts, he discovers the man has been a resident of the home for over one hundred years. Holding the patient down, Wright injects the serum into the struggling old man. Adam explains that once he reaches “his age of youth,” it will trigger an invasion of Earth. Sure enough, once the medication completes its work, Adam is a young Martian and space ships begin their assault. “The Man Who Wasn’t” is a messy concoction of bad science fiction and plodding art. Have the Martian ships (which bear a remarkable similarity to George Pal’s creations) been hanging out down at the wrecking yard for a hundred years, just waiting for Adam’s return to youth by any means possible? At what point would the little green men throw up their flippers, admit the invasion was a lark, and head back home? That’s the story I want to see.

In “The Vultures,” three sons wait for what seems like years for their father to die and leave them his fortune. Only their sister spends time and cares for the old man and when the time finally comes and the last will is read, the boys are outraged by their father’s actions. There’s a clever twist at the climax involving the old man’s funeral and it’s unique that, in the end, it’s revealed that the girl genuinely loved her father but there’s entirely too much familiarity to the script. In the cliched finale, “The Question!,” electronics whiz Paul Jessup creates a mechanical brain and then asks the machine when his wife will die. “In ten minutes,” answers the machine. Hoping to prevent the catastrophe, Paul heads home, only to find his wife in the arms of another man. So he shoots her. 

Journey into Unknown Worlds 28
Cover by Harry Anderson

“The Creature!” (a: Pete Tumlinson) ★★★

“The Missing Men!” (a: Ed Winiarski)

“Brain Wash” (a: Bill Savage)

“The Corpse Lives!” (a: Seymour Moskowitz) 1/2

“The Vampires’ Master!” (a: Al Eadah) ★★★

A space explorer dreams of the farm he’ll be buying once he gets back from his latest mission: investigating a new world. He lands in a lovely wooded area and is then blasted by shotgun-wielding farm hicks. Of course, he’s landed on Earth and is twelve feet tall compared to the humans around him. Every once in a blue moon, Stan and Atlas would strive to do a science fiction tale with “brains” a la EC Comics. With “The Creature!,” the company succeeds most of the way but the climactic reveal is just a variant of the twist we’ve seen dozens of times already. Pete Tumlinson’s art has that feel of an Al Williamson/EC classic.

“The Missing Men!” involves an agency that murders vagrants and sell their bodies to science for dissection. Less said the better. Equally bad is this month’s “red scare” drama, “Brain Wash,” about a rebel within the Iron Curtain who uses hypnosis to force members of the KGB to commit suicide. It sounds much better on paper than is actually realized.

Biographer Vincent Dufrac becomes obsessed with Baron Emile de Sevigny, a man who mysteriously died years before, and decides the only way he can learn the truth is to go right to the source. Dufrac digs up de Sevigny’s grave and discovers that it’s empty. At that moment, the writer looks up to see de Sevigny himself staring down at him. The dead man explains that he’s actually a vampire and is honored to be the subject of Dufrac’s next book; he’d be delighted to help in any way he can. The two men return to Dufrac’s flat, where de Sevigny confesses he’s murdered 85 innocent people to keep himself “alive.” Dufrac runs the vampire through with a hot poker and explains to the dying vampire that he, Dufrac, was one of deSevigny’s victims. “The Corpse Lives!” is the type of story that, if you read it a second time, fails the “fairness test” miserably. The whole lead-up to the revenge is a cheat; Dufrac does not act like a ghost (why would a spook bother physically digging up a grave?) nor does he behave as if he knows the dead man is a vampire.

When a plague of vampires descends on Hungary, sheep herder Armal discovers his eyes have the power of destruction. One careful stare at a bloodsucker by Armal and the creature is reduced to dust. No one, including Armal, has an explanation but, very soon, Armal is a hero to his country. He also, very quickly, becomes as rich and arrogant as any celebrity in Europe, refusing to blast vampires unless paid a king’s ransom. Then one day, Armal is told of a “king of the vampires” and challenges the creature to a “duel,” only to discover this king has no eyes! A loony idea that somehow works its magic and keeps you turning those pages. I love Al Eadah’s art here; it’s got that heavily inked, shadowy noir look to it and Al’s vampires are creatures to fear rather than snicker at.

Marvel Tales 124
Cover by Harry Anderson

“Behind the Door!” (a: John Forte) ★★★

“He Waits at the Tombstone!” (a: Joe Maneely) ★★

“The Man with Wings!” (a: George Roussos) ★★

“A Box Is a Box!” (a: Sy Moskowitz) ★★

“He Died Too Soon!” (a: Sid Greene) ★★

Felix has grown frustrated with his father, who keeps himself locked in a basement dungeon and refuses to let his son see him. Felix is about to be married but his fiancé refuses to go through with the nuptials until she and her parents meet the elusive dad. At the end of his rope, Felix drugs his dad one night and breaks down the dungeon door, only to be horrified by the sight of his dad… the centaur! The sight is too much for Felix and he shoots himself in the head. Pop Horse wakes up, spends a few remorseful seconds in honor of his fallen son, and then rides off into the sunset, bound for “the land of centaurs.”

“Behind the Door!” is gloriously goofy, a genuine WTF? with a twist that I guarantee no one would see coming (except you, because I spoiled it!). It’s beyond belief that Felix could live for 25-30 years (however old this character is) in the same house as his father and not have known the big secret. And, seriously, if fiancé Anna won’t commit just because pop is playing hard to get, what kind of wife would she be anyway?

Harry Dalton has been waiting to plug Craig Torrance since Craig stole Harry’s dame, Lola, ten years ago in Panama. Now Lola and Craig are happily married and Harry wants fifty thousand in cash or things will get dicey. Evidently, Harry has no intention of letting Craig live since, after the man delivers the aforementioned big green bundle, Harry ventilates him. But, on his way to get Lola, Harry runs into what appears to be a walking corpse… Craig! So he pumps him full of lead yet again. What gives? Don’t ask. The reveal at the climax of “He Waits at the Tombstone” is silly to the extreme (hint: there was more than one Torrance brother!) and almost wastes the talents of the great Joe Maneely.

Birdbrain Professor Horatio is sure he's only a few steps away from perfecting flight but the wings he’s testing just don’t make the grade. Finally, he finds the perfect formula and soars like an eagle. In fact, he makes friends with an eagle who saves him when his wings give way. Problem is, the bird now considers Horatio its mate. “The Man With Wings!” is a harmless bit of nonsense that might actually bring a smile to even the most hardened of Atlas readers. Pay close attention to the savior eagle, which is larger than Horatio himself!

In “A Box is a Box!,” Professor Langdon stumbles across a box from the future but, even given a million dollars in government money, can’t figure out what the hell it is. After exhausting all possibilities, Langdon and his crack team of eggheads throw up their hands just as a mother and her son appear out of thin air to retrieve the boy’s box, which he identifies as a pencil sharpener. Larry is accidentally taken by Death too soon but the Reaper gives him a chance to pick a new body as reparation. Larry doesn’t choose wisely. “He Died Too Soon” is an out-and-out rip-off of the classic Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with the added twist that Death and his right hand man deal Larry a losing hand (almost like a devil’s bargain yarn) after they’ve made the fatal mistake. Why give the poor sap a second chance if you’re going to screw him over?

In Two Weeks...
The second part of June offers up
three bonafide classics of horror!

1 comment:

Grant said...

"The Vampires' Master" sounds unusual at least. Are there many stories where the vampire hunter (or whatever) becomes very mercenary, or becomes famous and lets it go to his head?