Thursday, May 11, 2023

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 86: Atlas/ Marvel Horror


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 71
September 1954 
by Peter Enfantino

Mystery Tales 21

Cover by Harry Anderson

“The 13th Floor!” (a: Harry Anderson & John Forte) 1/2

(r: Dead of Night #7)

“Helen’s Hubby!” (a: Jay Scott Pike & Christopher Rule)

(r: Vault of Evil #16)

“Nothing!” (a: Tony DiPreta)

“Hate!” (a: Chuck Winter)

“It Walks Erect!” (a: Bob Powell) 1/2

(r: Weird Wonder Tales #7)

Hugh (who has a bad heart) gets some bad news from the family doctor about wife, Mary. Seems as though the damp has been playing havoc with her health and the doc says if the couple don’t get to a warmer climate fast, Mary is going to die. Oh, and it will be good for Hugh’s heart as well. Needing the extra dough to get them out of state as soon as possible, Hugh heads to the office for some overtime. Entering the elevator, he notices the attendant is not the usual guy. The elevator takes Hugh to “The 13th Floor!,” which is highly unusual since the building only has twelve stories. Exiting the elevator, Hugh enters an office and comes face-to-face with Death, who explains that Hugh is ready for that next step.

Hugh pleads with the Grim Reaper (who remains in shadow the entire strip) to let him return to life so that he can take care of the sickly Mary, and Death is sympathetic. Hugh is granted a reprieve but, Death warns him, he can’t come back for thirty years no matter what! Hugh smiles and leaves the office, entering the elevator just as he sees his wife exit and head for the office. Hugh sobs and realizes that Mary is dead and he won’t see her for three decades. A clever twist but there’s some truly sappy, almost romance comics-style writing that is hard to wade through: …his eyes reflected the love and tenderness of his inner selfthe concern that came to her then colored the overtones of her low voice… That sort of maudlin prose is not usually associated with the Atlas horror titles.

In the abysmal “Helen’s Hubby!,” a woman murders her rich husband but then must contact him through a seer when she realizes he forgot to sign the paperwork! Equally bad is “Nothing!,” about a con-man who answers an ad for a job at “Nothing, Incorporated” and is told the more nothing he sells, the more dough he earns. But as he hits the street and plies his wares, he begins to disappear. Nothing about “Nothing!” makes any sense.

A fortune teller sets into motion a deadly competition between salvage companies diving for the world’s largest pearl. The climactic twist of “Hate!,” where we discover that the old witch was setting the men up to be eaten by her pet giant clam, is extremely silly even for a funny book. The final story this issue, “It Walks Erect!,” only puts a cherry on top of what might be the five worst scripts assembled for a single Atlas horror issue. Doctor Nagan successfully transplants the lungs of an ape into a human being, so he heads down to Africa to hunt more gorillas (like any doctor would do).When the gorillas get wind of Nagan’s idea, they turn the tables on their hunter and transplant his head on the body of a gorilla. Like a gorilla would do. Sub-par art by the usually reliable Bob Powell. Avoid the mylar bag and slip Mystery Tales #21 into the back of the box with your coverless Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer comics.


Cover by Harry Anderson

“Pain!” (a: Tony DiPreta) 1/2

“It Happened ‘neath the Sphinx!” (a: Jack Katz) 1/2

“The Part Time Corpse” (a: Al Eadah) ★★1/2

“The Man Who Vanished” (a: Chuck Winter)

“The Unexpected!” (a: Ogden Whitney) ★★1/2

With his new gizmo, nutty scientist Ralph Emery proves that even trees and flowers can feel “Pain!” But when his psychiatrist buddy opines that Emery is a loon, Ralph takes an axe to him and ends up going to the chair. “Pain!” has an interesting concept and hook but the script meanders and finds itself in a predictable corner. Albert Darret has been attempting to murder his wife in every stop during their vacation. Something always intercedes, be it the police or just dumb luck. Elinor Darret must be the luckiest woman in the world. But now, beneath the Sphinx in Egypt, Albert will finally do the job just right. Then, just as the three-time loser gives Elinor a push over a steep ledge, the Sphinx comes to life and eats him. Why? I don’t know. “It Happened ‘neath the Sphinx!” is a real head-scratcher.

Dead at the ripe old age of 28, Jan Quill finds himself outside of his coffin, gazing at his tombstone. How could this happen? A robed figure approaches and explains to Jan that he is now a “The Part-Time Corpse,” with living privileges only on Tuesdays. Jan is beside himself with happiness and takes advantage of the situation by going out on the town every Tuesday night and drinking, carousing, and meeting women. Obviously, just because he’s dead doesn’t mean Jan can’t have a good time. Forget that musty odor and the fact that he wears the same clothes every time he goes out. He’s killing it with the dames.

Then he meets Ellen and falls madly in love. Ellen reciprocates and, before too long, Jan is resentful that he’s a one-day-a-week guy. He goes to the robed figure and begs for a couple more days a week so that he can maintain a marriage and maybe some undead kids. The shadowy agent refuses. So Jan makes it his mission to find a way to change his vacation schedule. In a book of black magic, Jan finds the potion he needs, whips it up, and tosses it at his one-time savior at their next meeting. The robe falls away and Jan discovers the “man” is really Ellen, who had loved his corpse from afar and decided to bring him back so that she could find love as well.

“The Part-Time Corpse” is full-on goofy but wildly imaginative. Not all the pieces fit right (at one point, it’s mentioned that Jan has rented an apartment but I’m wondering where he’s getting the dough for that and all the wild Tuesday night carousing he’s up to), but the heart is there. You feel sympathy for Jan while at the same time wondering why he’s not rotting, and if he has to dig his way out and back into his grave every Tuesday. 

In the one-dimensional “The Man Who Vanished,” Abner Grinn invents a time machine but after a publicity-seeking reporter jumps in and is never seen again, Abner is arrested for murder. Meanwhile, five hundred years in the future, the reporter is now the “guest” of strange green aliens.

Clyde is a grade-A psychology student but a lousy gambler. Now, he owes some mobsters twenty grand and they’re going to collect in blood if Clyde can’t pony up. His rich Aunt Helen refuses to loan her nephew the dough (reminding him, conveniently, that he is her sole heir and will receive her millions when she kicks off) but later, while Clyde is discussing his problems with his dorm partner Richard, a crime major, Abner concocts what he thinks is the perfect murder. He asks Richard to bring a package up to Aunt Helen but use the flat key so as not to disturb her. He then calls his Aunt, disguises his voice, and tells her he’s coming up to strangle her. When Richard opens the door, Aunt Helen backs away and falls out the window and lands on Clyde, killing him. Even the perfect crime can be upended by “The Unexpected!” A cliched strip that checks all the boxes, but a funny climax and some striking art by Ogden Whitney (particularly the splash, which depicts a skeletal hand placing a bet) provide at least a bit of entertainment.

Uncanny Tales 24

Cover by Harry Anderson

“Who’s Who?” (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★★

“Death!” (a: Myron Fass) ★★★

“Wish You Were Here!” (a: Mannie Banks) ★★★

“The Last Man!” (a: Ed Moline) 1/2

“Escape!” (a: Jerry Grandenetti) ★★

Esteemed plastic surgeon Dr. John Blake has everything he could want… except for the wife of his assistant, Tom Kent. Blake and Mrs. Kent carry on an affair but, enough is enough, something’s got to be done. Blake gets Kent drunk and then performs plastic surgery on both he and Kent, switching faces! Problem is, Mrs. Kent still wants her John Blake! “Who’s Who?” is a ludicrous medical fantasy (Kent successfully sculpts his own face without the luxury of anesthesia!), redeemed partially by Robert Q. Sale’s grungy graphics. 

Anna loves her dying husband, Jan, so much that she would do anything to keep him alive, including visiting all the witches and black magic practitioners in the area but it’s all for not. Her ex-beau, Karl, still smarting from Anna choosing another, begins circling the home like a vulture. He tells Anna that “Death!” will come to her door the next morning and she must surrender Jan. The next morning, sure enough, a robed figure appears at the door, enters, and approaches Jan’s bed. But Anna refuses to give up without a fight and buries a dagger in the figure’s back. Just then, the real Grim Reaper enters and takes Karl’s robed corpse away. A very effective little chiller; the climactic twist is not 100% unexpected but handled well nonetheless. Perhaps the best graphics Myron Fass ever delivered to the Atlas horror comics.

In the charming “Wish You Were Here!,” a chance encounter with an 1880s stagecoach on a 1954 street convinces a lonely postcard collector that he needs to board that carriage the next time it comes through. Decent visuals is the only thing that saves “The Last Man!” from the scrap heap. George Jason joins a “Last Man” club (the members gather and toast the fallen as their comrades die) and quickly becomes “The Last Man!” 

Convict Wally Judd manages to “Escape!” in the coffin carrying a dead cellmate. But once he gets on the outside, Wally can’t keep from screwing up. He robs a grocery store and the manager tosses red pepper in Wally’s eyes. Unable to drive his getaway car, he grabs the first man who crosses his path and tosses him into the driver’s seat. Though the man protests that he can’t drive, Wally’s revolver is intimidating and he does the best he can. They get a couple miles down the road and sail over a cliff. As he’s dying, Wally regains his eyesight and looks over at the man in the driver’s seat. A sign reading “I Am Blind” hangs around his neck. Wally just can’t buy a break.

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Grant said...

These stories are so full of scheming wives (and husbands) that "The 13th Floor Hugh" immediately had me imagining Mary FAKING her physical condition (unlike Hugh) just so she could lure him someplace in the middle of nowhere. Probably with her boyfriend waiting to kill him.
I wouldn't have expected a real tear-jerker instead. But as you say, at the very least that's original.

Jeremy Roby said...

I did not realize until reading your review that the protagonist for that gorilla story is THE Dr. Nagan that Steve Gerber resurrected in Defenders #21. Talk about a deep cut!