Monday, January 15, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 103: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 88
October 1955 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #42
Cover by Carl Burgos

"From Out of the Smog!" (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) 
"The Creatures" (a: Tony DiPreta) ★★
"The Man Who Was Magic!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★1/2
"The Man in the Moon!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"They Vanish at Night" (a: John Tartaglione) ★★1/2

Creatures from another planet descend into Everywhere, USA, to conquer Earth but change their minds when they run into a pack of invaders from Saturn! Believing that the Sauturnians are much more powerful, they turn tail and blast off back to their planet, never realizing they've walked onto a movie set!

Daft, dopey and, worst of all, cliched, "From Out of the Smog!" is an ugly mess. The story begins with the mayor of the city in a meeting with a group of officials, commenting that the smog around them has worsened but there is no explanation for the dense pollution. If only the mayor had remembered that big-time Hollywood production filming right there on the edge of town. I don't need the GCD to inform me this is an Andru-Esposito hook-up; all I need to do is to have a look at those bug-eyed aliens. I'm still trying to figure out why I liked the duo's work on The Amazing Spider-Man in the early 1970s.

While ditching school one day, little Bobby Farmer finds a pair of odd little critters (picture the after-effects of a skunk/chipmunk mating) hanging out in his field of weeds. Remarking that they are cute but look dumb as a box of rocks, Bobby takes them in to show his father, who also thinks these might be the stupidest animals he's ever seen. Pop takes "The Creatures" to the local museum to gather info and eventually hands the moronic specimens over to the admittedly overstaffed facility for analysis.

The professors are amazed at just how empty-headed the Chipskunks seem to be but otherwise lose interest fairly quickly, eventually handing the anomalies over to the local zoo. There, the animals are ogled for a few weeks until the public also grow tired of the most amazing find in modern zoology. One night, the critters bust the lock on their cage and head back to Bobby Farmer's field, where their invisible spaceship is waiting. They blast off, still seeking a world with intelligent life. It's not a good sign when you can figure out the entire script based on the first two or three panels; the word "stupid" is used so many times, you know these little crumbcrunchers are going to be closet big-brains. Tony DiPreta's art continues to lose the unique sense the artist displayed in the first five years of Atlas SF/horror comics. DiPreta's pencils still rise above most of the Atlas bullpen but don't display that eccentric quality that set the artist apart from so many other Atlas hacks.

"The Man Who Was Magic!" is an amusing bit of fluff about a guy who goes hunting with his dog and gets lost in a cave, only to exit on the other end into Ancient Rome. While Nero is smitten by the man's flashlight and portable radio (which, inexplicably, picks up a Dodgers game nearly two thousand years before it happens!), our hapless hero just wants to get home before he's late for dinner. Some nice Mort Lawrence graphics as well. 

Jamie has an "imaginary" friend who shows up every time he spins the top his dad got him from "that funny little shop": a leprechaun who claims he lives on the moon and needs some super-seed in order to grow grass.  Jamie's only too happy to oblige, but this flies in the face of everything his father stands for. Something's got to give. "The Man in the Moon!" brings together two of the hoariest cliches in horror comics: "the imaginary friend" and the "borderline abusive father who just can't understand his son." While the abuse doesn't get much further than antique toy damage, Pop sure could use some counseling. Artist Ed Winiarski could use a few test brush strokes before committing to the panels. This art is abysmal.

Otto is in love with a storefront mannikin he's named Verna, so one day he steals her right out of the store window and takes her to the park. There, his conversation with the dummy is overheard by noted psychiatrist, Dr. Kent, who offers Otto and his plastic beau a place to stay at his mansion. Otto happily agrees to the shrink's cordiality and he and Verna move in. Dr. Kent marvels at Otto's obvious mental problems but, after a while, grows bored and attempts "shock treatment" to cure his fondness for faux female flesh. 

The therapy works and Otto suddenly sees Verna for what she is, taking her back to the department store. The sudden reappearance of Verna causes quite a stir, especially since another dummy has magically returned to its perch just across the street. Dr. Kent is astonished to see that mannikin is... Otto! "They Vanish at Night!" doesn't make a whole lot of sense (how come Otto can speak but Verna remains mute and stiff as a board?), but it's got some  charm to it and I like the stylish art. With the departing or muting of several of the classic Atlas artists, some of the "lesser" pencilers became the stars; so it is with John Tartaglione, who obviously uses Hollywood stills for reference (Otto = Dean Martin/Tony Curtis and Verna is a dead ringer for Kim Novak).-Peter

Journey Into Mystery #27
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Man Who Stopped Time!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"It Happened on Mars" (a: John Tartaglione) 
"The Masterpiece!" (a: John Severin) 
"The Man Who Changed!" (a: Jay Scott Pike) 
"The Train That Wasn't There!" (a: Bob Powell) 

After Nancy dumps him for another man, George goes into a funk and heads back to the jewelry store to return the engagement ring he'd bought the ungrateful b***h. No dice, says the store owner, who gestures toward the "No Refunds" sign over his shoulder. The man extends store credit in exchange for the ring. 

George picks a stopwatch that has magical powers; any time he hits the stop button, everything (and everyone) around him freezes. In one of the oddest decisions in Atlas history, George decides to go back to Nancy's house and stop time until she misses the plane she's catching to meet Mr. Right. Nancy freezes, but by the time the plane has flown, George has aged many years and Nancy doesn't want him anyway! 

You see... for every second George freezes, he ages a year... or something along those lines. There's not much sense to be made of "The Man Who Stopped Time!" It's never made clear how far the scope of George's powers goes. Is there an invisible barrier? If a car or plane enters the "restricted zone," does the vehicle freeze? He's freezing Nancy but not the plane she's rushing to catch, so time goes on across town, but not where Nancy lives? Worse, we're never told that George is aging until the final panel. That's a cheat in my book.

Earth sends a squadron of men to Mars to conquer the planet for immigration reasons. It's expected that the Martians will be ugly, savage beasts, but it's just the opposite; they're a race of ol' softies. Especially the gorgeous Kee-La, who catches the eye of Commander Jordan, who decides right then and there to dump his girl back on Earth and be the first earthling to colonize Mars. "It Happened on Mars" is a sappy, unremarkable hunk of space opera, redeemed only by the graphics of John T.

An artist is caught in the act of vandalizing the final work of his long-dead inspiration, the remarkable Millard! Once he's calmed down, the hack explains to the (very patient) guards that he's been making a living off of forgeries of Millard's classics and the fact that he can't sell any of his own original works is driving him nuts. When a shady art dealer offers him half a million to find an original Millard out there in the world, our dopey artist fires up his easel but lacks the necessary oomph to add the finishing touches. Luckily, the painting is finished and signed... by the great Millard! 

Though the script for "The Masterpiece!" is certainly no masterpiece (the ethics of the main character are never questioned by any of the supporting cast and it's odd that Millard's ghost would think it a good idea to promote fraud), the first appearance of EC veteran John Severin in the Atlas SF/horror titles is a cause for celebration. Severin isn't given much to do (it's all talking heads), but he still leaves his unique style on the pages. Alas, "Jovial" John was used sparingly on the horror books (only six stories in all), so we'll have to savor each morsel.

Poor Jane, the waitress all her co-workers call "Plain," never gets a Valentine's Day card. That all changes when her knight in shining armor (disguised as a hobo with empty pockets) walks into the diner and orders the "special." Jane hasn't the heart to turn him away, so she pays for his meal and even gives the tramp thirty bucks to go clean himself up. And oh, how he does! Now, every year on Valentine's Day, Jane gets a card from St. Valentine. Sappy and crappy, "The Man Who Changed!" has no business appearing in these pages. 

Real estate agent George Brace witnesses a bizarre occurrence at Golden Knolls Estate: "The Train That Wasn't There!" At exactly 9:21 that evening, a ghostly engine and its two cars fly through the woods free of track. "That's odd," muses Brace, "I've been real estate king here for years and I never noticed a ghostly train before. I shall investigate!" And investigate he does. After some digging, Brace discovers that the chooglin' haunt is the property of the long-dead John Benton, would-be railroad czar, whose plan for riches was stalled by the selfish, thieving ways of Chad Carter, a rival rail king.

Carter steals Benton's plans and surveys a line to run through Golden Knolls; Benton loses everything, dying a penniless pauper. But before he dies, he curses Carter, swearing he'll hear the ghostly whistle every night for the rest of his life. Years later, facing bankruptcy, Carter tries to sell off Golden Knolls, but there are no takers for the haunted estate. "The Train That Wasn't There!" is an enjoyable bit of fantasy fluff, with more thought put into its script than any other yarn this issue. The (uncredited) writer manages to hold our interest throughout despite employing horror cliche #237 (the ghostly train) and the limitations of a five-page strip. And it certainly helps that the penciling chores went to the talented Mr. Powell. The arrival of the CCA pretty much abolished anything resembling menace in these Atlas stories, except the subtle presence of danger found in any panel Powell creates.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #38
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Who Speaks to Sorcerers!" (a: John Severin) ★1/2
"The Martians" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★★
"But Don't Go Near the Water!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★★1/2
"The Man Who Changed Things!" (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) 
"The Green Man!" (a: John Forte) ★★

A wayward traveler breaks down in a driving storm and seeks shelter in a small village in the woods. Unfortunately, the townsfolk do not cotton to the stranger and chase him back into the forest. He walks three miles to the next town and stops in a pub for a frosty ale.

He mentions the odd event to the tavern keeper and the man tells him that there is no nearby village. Just then, a customer pipes up that there's a local legend about a group of sorcerers that lived in a small village in the woods. One night, the wizards were visited by a man from the future and the entire town disappeared. "So that's why I haven't aged in three hundred years!" says our traveler. The hook of "Who Speaks to Sorcerers!" is a mess. If this traveler is three hundred years old, then how was he a man from the future and what was he doing driving a car? None of the climax makes much sense but, like "The Masterpiece!" in JIM, we've got Severin's wonderful graphics (especially that creepy splash) to hold our attention.

In the one note joke, "The Martians," a museum tour guide suddenly stumbles upon an exhibit featuring a Martian spacecraft. No one in the museum has an answer, so the tour guide assumes it must be a hoax. It's not.

Donna's mom tells her she can play outside, "But Don't Go Near the Water!" That small pond Donna likes to hang around has a steep drop and can be dangerous, but that's where her friend Alice lives. Alice looks just like Donna and understands the girl like no one else. Despite Mom's warnings, Donna continues to sneak out and lie by the water to talk to her friend, until her father comes and strictly forbids it. "It's only your reflection," sighs Pop. Inside the pond, the exact same thing happens to Alice. It's a simple but effective twist.

Carl Elern is a serious scientist slaving away over experiments at a tire manufacturer instead of studying his personal theory of time flaws. Carl heads home and naps in his La-Z-Boy®, dreaming of a prehistoric world that he can screw up. While there, Carl does fun things like destroy wheat and bean helpless ducks with rocks. This results in a time flaw that allows ants to grow to human size and control the world. When Carl awakens, he puts his serious studying to the side and returns to his job at the tire company. "The Man Who Changed Things!" makes me want to go back to the dawn of time to eliminate this over-used plot. The fact that Carl has fallen asleep is never in question, so why does the (uncredited) scripter treat it as a surprise in the climax?

A scientific tinkerer grabs his wife and young daughter and boards a homemade spacecraft, blasting off for the great unknown. Unfortunately, the ship crashes on an uncharted planet and the would-be egghead spends twenty years trying to fix the vehicle for a return trip. During that time, he encounters a race of green people who befriend him and help him with his chores. The man's daughter, Ella, has grown into a vivacious blonde who falls in love with one of the green men. To remain with her beau, she sabotages all of her father's work. In the end, the brilliant nebbish finally fixes his tin can and blasts off back to Earth, unaware that his precocious teenager has remained behind.

Though "The Green Man!" is about as dumb as these strips get, I actually enjoyed myself. Laughing every two or three panels helped. Our unnamed science prodigy blasts off from Earth with no space suits but manages to pack enough tools and materials to build a dome on the planet that provides air for the family of three for twenty years. Pity he didn't pack laundry detergent, since the guy wears the same blue suit throughout the story! The inside of that dome must reek!-Peter

Marvel Tales #139
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Nothing Man!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 
"Danger from Nowhere!" (a: Ross Andru & Mike Esposito) 
"The Sleeper!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"The Talking Box!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Unseen Audience!" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2

Mark Dunston is a chemist who dreams of becoming a famous boxer. One day, he spills an anti-virus powder on himself and becomes invisible! "The Nothing Man!" signs up with a boxing agent and is a sensation, since he can hit opponents in the boxing ring and they can't see him. As middleweight champion of the world, Mark gets a swelled head and thinks he's above the law, so he speeds off in his car doing 90 m.p.h. The cops give chase, so he turns invisible and runs into a building that is nearing the end of construction. The next morning, he wakes up in a jail cell--the new building was a prison!

What an idiotic ending! It's bad enough that a scientist is so fixated on being a boxer that he uses the miracle of invisibility to succeed in the ring, but concluding the story in such a silly way is mind-boggling. I wonder if the writer came up with the ending first and then wrote a story to get there, or if he just started writing a story about an invisible boxer and had to come up with a way to wrap it up on page five. Either way, it's a flop.

Test pilot Jeff Dunn is determined to break the sound barrier, but when he does, he hears voices discussing an invasion of England, the U.S., and Canada. Back on the ground, he reports the "Danger from Nowhere!" to his superior officer and says that foreigners are planning an invasion! Jeff is sent back up with a tape recorder and, after getting the voices on tape, Washington, DC bigwigs are alerted and the allied nations mobilize to await the invasion. When it doesn't come, Jeff heads back up with a movie camera and gets the plotters on film. Representatives of the allied nations gather to watch the movie--and see Napoleon plotting an invasion. Jeff''s plane flew so fast that it recorded early 19th century history!

Raise your hand if you didn't see that one coming. If you've been reading Atlas comics for more than five minutes and failed to predict an ending like this, shame on you! Of course, Napoleon never planned to invade the U.S. or Canada as far as I know, but never mind. The art by Andru and Esposito just makes everything worse.

Little Kimmy (male) has a guardian soldier who stands on a shelf in his bedroom, keeping watch over :The Sleeper!" by night. Kimmy gets to sleep with the soldier when he's been a good boy. Several night in a row, his parents put the soldier on a shelf and find it in Kimmy's bed in the morning; they scold the lad for getting up at night to fetch the toy against their wishes. Kimmy insists he did no such thing, so one night his dad sits in his room and awakens to a remarkable sight--a full sized soldier placing the toy soldier on Kimmy's pillow, telling it that it may sleep with its "guardian giant"!

At least I got a chuckle out of the last panel. I feel like we had a very similar twist in another story recently. The Benulis art is sub-par and we all knew that Kimmy wasn't getting up at night to grab the toy soldier. The only good thing about the twist is that it's so dumb I did not predict it.

Every Spring, Og and his fellow cavemen follow the Old One into the cave to listen to the words recorded long ago on "The Talking Box," warning them of the dangers of war and urging them to peace. The recording always gets stuck on the word "peace" and the cavemen, not knowing what it means, chant "peace" as they head off to their annual war on a nearby tribe.

Again I have to wonder: did Rod Serling read Atlas comics and recall some of their stories for The Twilight Zone? Then again, "The Old Man in the Cave" was based on a 1962 story by Henry Slesar, so perhaps Slesar was a closet Atlas fan? One thing is certain: the Winiarski art stinks.

Les Norton is a lowly roustabout at a circus who aspires to be a clown. Given the chance, he fails to make anyone laugh. That night, still in costume, he walks into the center ring of the tent and a bright light illuminates him. Music fills the air and he puts on a hilarious performance for "The Unseen Audience!" Les slinks off, thinking himself a failure, not knowing that aliens from outer space were watching. They were so entertained that they decide there can be peace between their planet and ours!

A poor issue of Marvel Tales ends with a decent story that is well drawn by Dick Ayers. His ringmaster's face looks like it was drawn by Al Capp and the aliens don't look like every other alien in Atlas Comics.-Jack

Mystery Tales #34
Cover by Carl Burgos (?) and Sol Brodsky (?)

"No Turning Back!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"It Is Forbidden to Look" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2
"The Box That Wouldn't Open!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Magic Spell!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"Somebody's Watching!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2

After being hit by a car, a man loses his memory, but that doesn't stop him from falling in love with Doris, a nurse at the hospital where he's a patient. He makes a few odd comments that suggest he's an alien, and this is confirmed when a Martian enters his room one night and attacks him. In the fight, the man receives another blow to his head, and his memory returns. His name is Chaney Ord and he's a Martian scout, sent to mingle with Earthlings and report back on their weapons and defenses. Now that he's in love with Doris, he knows that he must return to Mars and try to keep them from invading Earth. Doris watches as his ship heads back to the Red Planet.

"No Turning Back!" mixes the old cliche about how one bonk on the head causes memory loss and another makes it come back; this is something that always makes me think of Abbott and Costello movies. The story isn't bad, but at five pages there's only so much plot that can be developed. Were the art better, I'd suggest that it could have benefited from being longer but, as it is, the best thing about it is the last couple of panels, where a wistful Doris and Chaney both wish that he could've stayed on Earth and not regained his memory.

Paul Parker shows kindness to an old man sleeping on a park bench and brings him home to live with Paul and his family, even though they don't have much money. The grateful old man begins writing letters to his boss and, before you know it, the Parkers are winning every contest they enter and accumulating cash and prizes! They soon get greedy and the old man leaves, but their luck turns bad and their daughter, Ruthie, is hospitalized with an illness that doesn't get better and that drains their savings. Paul searches for Mr. Ellers, the old man, and welcomes him back. Ruthie gets well and Ellers reveals to the little girl that he's an angel.

"It is Forbidden to Look" is better than it sounds, partly due to the art by Mort Lawrence and partly due to the straightforward storytelling. The title refers to an admonishment by Ellers to the Parkers about not opening his suitcase; on the last page, it turns out that it contains his angel wings. No explanation is given as to why an angel is sleeping on a park bench and about to be arrested for vagrancy as the story opens.

One night, Andrew Kovack steals a box from a rich man's house. For the next thirty years, he tries everything he can think to get inside "The Box That Wouldn't Open!" Finally, one night, someone steals it from, him and Andrew is relieved. Now another man struggles to open the box!

Like a poorly told fable with bad art, this story makes me wish this issue was "The Comic Book That Wouldn't Open!"

King Horace may have ruled Lichtenforst 450 years ago, but pretty Eloise wouldn't marry him because she was in love with handsome Baron von Gorling. Everything the king does to try to break up the couple fails; even Loriston, the court magician, has no power greater than their love. The exasperated king challenges the baron to a duel with lances and, as they ride toward each other, Loriston casts "The Magic Spell!" and the kingdom disappears. In the present, museum guards hear a clatter one night and discover a dent in the king's armor and a lance on the floor that mysteriously was removed from a locked cabinet. Baron von Gorling and Lady Eloise stand side by side.

I have no idea what happened at the end of this story. It was going along well enough until the magic spell was cast, then one of those incomprehensible Atlas twist endings was thrust upon us poor readers. At least John Forte's art is good; he's like a poor man's Hal Foster.

When a series of flying saucers are spotted, the head of the Defense Dept. ensures that "Somebody's Watching!" He fears an invasion that could bring an end to the abolishment of warfare and the use of atomic energy for peaceful ends. When a photo is taken of one of the saucers, it reveals the words, "U.S. Air Force." The Martian defense chief hopes the visitors are friendly!

Atlas twist #18: the main characters are from another planet and the visitors from space are Earthlings. Yawn. Carrabotta does his best with the art but the story is uninspired.-Jack

Next Week...
Meet Leopard Boy!


Nequam said...

"No explanation is given as to why an angel is sleeping on a park bench and about to be arrested for vagrancy as the story opens."

A Secret Test of Character, of course!

Jack Seabrook said...

Of course!

Grant said...

I'm sentimental about those later stories with nothing resembling menace (as Peter puts it), because they were the main thing in those countless reprint comics like "Where Monsters Dwell" and "Where Creatures Roam." SOME genuinely dark stories appeared in them, but mainly the other thing. So I couldn't help being a little glad to see the "aliens tricked out of invading" cliche at the very start of this review.
I definitely wouldn't want them all like that, though.