Monday, February 12, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 105: Atlas/ Marvel Horror and Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 90
November 1955 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #43
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Radioactive Man!" (a: John Romita) 
"The Test!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Will O' the Wisp" (a: Bob Powell) 1/2
"The Rival" (a: Werner Roth) 1/2
"Man Alone!" (a: Fred Kida) 1/2

After Frank Williams is rudely dumped by his gorgeous girl, Joyce Andrews, because he's not rich enough for her father's tastes, he loudly proclaims that he will somehow make a million bucks and come back to win the love of his life. 

When Frank reads that uranium prospecting is the new fad, he buys a Geiger counter and heads west to New Mexico but accidentally wanders onto White Sands during a nuke test. Frank survives the direct hit but, as a result of the high dose of radioactivity he absorbs, he becomes invisible. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Frank starts butting into secret boardroom meetings and overhears conversations about sure things on the stock market. Our hero then sinks his entire savings into those stocks and makes a million bucks.

Fat with pride and his incoming riches, Frank heads back to Joyce's place to ask her father yet again for her hand. When he knocks, a young man answers and, somewhat surprised, Frank asks if the Andrews have moved. The man explains that he is John Andrews and Frank scoffs, asking where Joyce is. Andrews asserts that he and his wife live alone, childless, and closes the door in Frank's face. The dejected Romeo sits on the porch stoop just as the paper boy tosses the latest edition his way.

Frank reads in amazement that the day is October 29, 1929, and the stock market has crashed! Not only did the blast make him invisible but it sent him back nearly thirty years! "The Radioactive Man!" is entertaining yet dopey.

First of all, it would probably come as a surprise how easy it is to roam the New Mexico desert while the government is testing the big one. You're telling me (Writer Carl Wessler! I'm looking at you!) that, post-blast, Frank went back to his hotel, snuck into several business offices, and (ostensibly) traveled the city streets without noticing 1920s automobiles or fashions or architecture or anything that would send up a red flag? And how the heck did our lead bozo know which businesses to frequent if the ones that would immediately come to mind probably didn't exist yet? But, hey, that last exposition-stuffed panel is a laugh-out-loud groaner.

"The Test" has a man buying a used car that turns out to be a rocket-ship. The previous owner was a nutty professor and made all kinds of "upgrades" to the auto. Our protagonist accidentally hits the wrong button and ends up on Mars, faced down by a hostile population. Silly but fun, with some nice Stallman graphics.

A schooner, The Thurston, happens upon peril after peril, only dodging annihilation through the help of another ship, the Nancy Ann. Once both ships make it back to Liverpool, Captain Austin heads over to the Nancy Ann to thank its crew for their assistance. When he boards the ship, he meets several old men playing cards, one of whom explains that the Nancy Ann hasn't left port in forty years! The men only meet there each night to play cards and pray for troubled ships on the high seas. I think it's probably Bob Powell's art that pushes my star rating for "Will O' the Wisp" up a bit, since the hook is one we've seen dozens of times before. Still, it's an entertaining version of an old warhorse. A few years before we'd have seen the rotting tars aboard the Nancy Ann.

Timothy can't seem to shake his office boss, Miss Kyle, who wants to manage every move the man makes, including his diet and his health. After several months of the treatment, Timothy decides to just go along with the treatment, but the arrival of his new secretary, the young and pretty Lila, leads to a change of heart. Lila is quite the specimen, not only possessing the features of a gorgeous blonde but also that of a top mathematician, able to do huge sums in her head. This is truly the way to a man's heart, thinks Timothy. But Miss Kyle objects, confronting the young blonde. Timothy laughs and reminds Miss Kyle that Lila is actually a robot but, according to the matronly hen, that's the problem: Lila is a younger robot than Miss Kyle! "The Rival!" is a lot like "The Radioactive Man" in that the story takes a big left turn into inanity at its climax. I can only imagine the bullpen writers (in this case, Paul S. Newman) were quickly running out of clever, non-violent twists and had to make do with just throwing anything at the wall and hoping it would stick.

In the anemic "Man Alone!" the first manned expedition to Mars comes up against an unfriendly band of locals but can do nothing to root them out. They only appear as hazy images in the distance. So the men board their ship to return to Earth to report the planet is hostile and cannot be settled, not realizing that the Martian sand storms create mirages. The Martians don't exist! There's not much about "Man Alone!" that makes sense, especially the fact that one of the crew, an old duffer, gets left behind on Mars and seems to be happy about it. Just wait until he attempts to build a salad.-Peter

Journey Into Mystery #28
Cover by Carl Burgos

"They Wouldn't Believe Him!" (a: Pete Tumlinson) 
"The Last Chance" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"The Hole in the Ground!" (a: Bob Brown) 1/2
"Jigsaw!" (a: Doug Wildey) 
"The Survivor!" (a: Dave Berg) 1/2

Three thousand years in the future, beautiful Plora avoids an arranged marriage with aged, myopic Everest by taking a "time-vacation" into the past (1955) and finding fame and fortune as a movie star. But Everest is not one to give up, so he searches through time for his intended and finally finds her in 1955, evidently about to tie the knot. 

No one present at the wedding will believe Everest's claims and so he pulls out his "disintegrator," a device that can "pulverize" stone into sand and aims the gizmo at a nearby wall. Unfortunately for Everest, nothing happens and he's carted off to a looney bin. Plora can only thank her lucky stars that Ev is blind as a bat and tried to "pulverize" a cardboard wall. 

"They Wouldn't Believe Him!" has a couple of sly twists that brought a smile to the face of this seasoned comic strip vet, and the art is pretty good. Again, Tumlinson has a very Ditko-esque style to his work, but at the same time adding a layer of detail that Ditko's panels sometimes lack. It's very hard, post-code, to find something "charming" that also comes off as original, and "They Wouldn't Believe Him!" is just about the best science fiction yarn we've come across so far.

War will come to the land unless King Roland marries the daughter of the neighboring kingdom... but she's so darn plain! Wizards and witches have their best go at it but none can make Princess Alicia desirable to Roland. Then a simple sorcerer's apprentice weaves a spell on the girl and... voila!... Princess Marilyn. Roland loves the results and immediately agrees to marry, but war breaks out between the two kingdoms days later when Alicia runs off with the apprentice. "The Last Chance" is a definite change of pace, but one that is very welcome. Paul Reinman's art evokes the classic "Black Knight" art of Joe Maneely from a few years before. The story is breezy and the climax is a giggler. Well done.

A haphazard and silly script dooms "The Hole in the Ground," a story about renting agent Mr. Post who rents a building out to nothing but "healthy-looking young couples with above average intelligence" and then lowers the boom when all the flats are rented. Post lowers steel plates over the windows and locks all the doors in preparation for blasting off to another dimension, where the good-looking couples will be studied. But, thanks to a very bright puppy, one couple makes it off the "ship" and comes back to lower the boom right back on Mr. Post (or so it seems since the story ends almost in mid-scene). 

Perry waits for his wife as she browses a thrift store and spies a "One Dollar Grab Box." Thinking he'll show his wife that any money spent in the store is a waste, he buys it (no, I wasn't really aligned with the thinking there, either) and takes it home. When Perry opens the box, he discovers hundreds of puzzle pieces. One day, while Perry is off work, he decides to assemble the puzzle but is amazed to see the pieces don't want to stay down on the table. 

Undeterred, the man grabs a hammer and nails the pieces to his dinner table. The last piece won't stay still no matter what, so he grabs his wife and heads down to his plant, where he utilizes a giant press to stomp the "Jigsaw" down. Once the picture has been assembled, Perry and his wife agree that they were not the people the puzzle was meant for and toss the box in the trash. The Doug Wildey art and Perry's escalating obsession with piecing the jigsaw together make the story at least passable.

In the finale, three men board a boat to escape the outbreak of war. Unfortunately, a typhoon hits their ship and two of the men drown; "The Survivor!" washes ashore on a tiny deserted island. He awakens, hearing tiny voices, and is amazed to see a band of extremely small people. They all become fast friends and the tiny folk invite the survivor to live with them in their "paradise," but excitement turns to terror when he discovers their home is a small cave in the side of a mountain and he has claustrophobia. Can the survivor conquer his fear and join his teensy weensy buddies in Eden? Dave Berg's art looks like a throwback to the 1940s, sketchy but effective. Despite the obvious cribbing done here  (Gulliver also gets a shout out inn this month's Journey Into Unknown Worlds), I found "The Survivor!" to be yet another light and breezy winner. In fact, most of this issue's stories have a comfortable feel to them. In this case, it's a winning formula.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #39
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Escape to Nowhere" (a: Gene Colan) 
"The New Gimmick!" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2
"The Red World!" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2
"Under His Hat!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Mystery That Couldn't Be Solved!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

Jim Reynolds regrets buying an old house because his wife keeps telling him to fix this and that, which interrupts his attempts at resting. When she asks him to hang a tire swing from a tree limb for Junior, Jim finds a coil of rope in the basement. He tosses one end over the limb but, to his surprise, it stands straight up in the air, just like a rope used by an Indian fakir!

Jim decides to give climbing the rope a try and, sure enough, at the top he disappears into a parallel world, where he discovers that anyone working too hard is captured by the Executioners, who punish those who burn up too much energy! Jim manages to escape and climb down the rope back into his own world, where his wife's requests no longer seem so annoying.

A story drawn by Gene Colan is just what I needed to clear away the Atlas blahs! We can all empathize with Jim, who just wants to take a little rest but keeps having to do odd jobs around the house. I'm not sure I would've been so quick to climb the rope, or to keep climbing after my head popped into a parallel world but thank goodness Jim was able to get away and back to his own spot. The Colan art is excellent and the panel I've reproduced here reminds me of the sort of thing he'd be doing in the Marvel superhero comics in about a decade.

TV scriptwriter Rodney Wharton is having a heck of a time coming up with a new teleplay to satisfy George King, the producer of a science fiction TV show. King keeps asking for "The New Gimmick," insisting that no one would believe a story about people living on the moon, since everyone knows it's incompatible with life.

Unable to write a script that will satisfy King, Rodney misses the deadline and is fired when the live show does not air as scheduled. After the furor dies down, King is a passenger on the first rocket to the moon. He plans to take movies of what he finds there, but he's shocked when he arrives and meets Rodney and his beautiful Martian wife. Rodney explains that he's been trying to convince TV producers that the moon is inhabited, and now King can provide the proof.

"The New Gimmick!" is a fun little story made palatable by appropriate art by Bob Forgione and Jack Abel. It's not the first time we've seen a story set in the TV business, and the ending is quite predictable, but the art is good enough that it's an enjoyable ride.

The crew on the first rocket ship to Mars passes the time by speculating about whether anyone had been there before. Did Jules Verne write his book after a real trip? How did Jonathan Swift imagine satellites revolving around Mars if he never saw them? Certain they're just having fun, they arrive on "The Red World!" only to be welcomed by a horde of tiny folks who cry out, "'Gulliver! Gulliver! You've Come Back!'"

If Jules Verne or Jonathan Swift really went to Mars, why are the little people welcoming back Gulliver? Mort Lawrence's art continues to disappoint, looking stiff and posed.

In a small village in the year 1827, Mr. Gregor is able to work wonders by simply rubbing his hat. An out of work man and his wife get a home, a hungry woman's cupboard is full of food, a lost child is found. The villagers begin to wonder what's "Under His Hat!" and want to pull it off to see, but Gregor never removes it. Finally, a dying woman's last wish is that the only gentleman in town show her respect by taking off his hat. Gregor clears the room, removes his hat for the woman, and reveals a halo.

In last month's issue of Marvel Tales, we had "It is Forbidden to Look," which ended with an old gent revealing that he's an angel. And now we have the same surprise ending. Did the editors at Atlas think no one would notice? The authors of this blog are as bald as Mr. Gregor, but I can assure you that we're not hiding halos.

In the future, the first spaceship is launched and carries monkeys; scientists plan to study the effects of space travel on the creatures when they return. When the spaceship returns, the scientists are shocked to find it empty! After a second trip yields the same result, the scientists conclude that space travel causes disintegration and would thus be fatal for humans.

Meanwhile, on a planet far out in space, aliens plan an attack on Earth but, when they realize that the monkeys they captured have limited intelligence, they call off the attack. They are certain that, if monkeys could build a spaceship and fly into space, Earthlings must have ingenious weapons to attack any ships that approach. The attack is called off and the scientists on Earth never know that the two spaceflights saved the planet from alien invasion.

The first part of "The Mystery That Couldn't Be Solved!" is pretty good, with strong art by Sinnott. The second suffers from the chronic Atlas problem of how to end a story, and Sinnott's aliens look terrible.-Jack

Marvel Tales #140
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Man Without Fear" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2
"The Man Who Followed!" (a: Gene Colan) 
"The Wings!" (a: John Forte) 
"Who Goes There?" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"In the Dark!" (a: Mort Lawrence) 

Paul Abbot opens his front door to see four Martians, but rather than being afraid, he and his wife invite them in and serve refreshments. The Martians tell Paul that they'll bring him back to Mars by order of King Kaaz; Paul takes the whole thing quite well and enjoys riding in their spaceship to the red planet. On Mars, King Kaaz is surprised at this "Man Without Fear" and decides that his confidence must come from having a secret weapon to repel an invasion. The king apologizes and sends Paul back to Earth, where his wife delivers some unexpected news: tomorrow is Halloween, not today, and the Martians were not trick-or-treaters!

This isn't all that different from "The Mystery That Couldn't Be Solved" in this month's Journey to Unknown Worlds; this time, the Martian invasion is foiled because King Kaaz reads too much into Paul's devil-may-care attitude. As in the prior story, Sinnott's art is strong, but the story is predictable and too long, even at five pages.

A WWI German soldier named Eric Roeder arrives at the front, bragging about his marksmanship, but as soon as there's an attack, he runs and hides. Eric is soon arrested as a deserter and sentenced to face a firing squad, but he escapes and gets a ride in a passing car. The driver keeps repeating the sentence, "It's your turn next!" Eric gets the creeps and switches to a freight car, but "The Man Who Followed!" appears and repeats the unsettling sentence.

Eric leaps out of the train car into a river and is rescued by the same man, saying the same thing. Eric makes it to Berlin, where a restaurant waiter is the same man once again. Finally, the soldier loses himself in the crowd at an amusement park but, when the creepy man appears, Eric ducks into the back of a booth. He does not know it's a shooting gallery, where Eric is quickly shot to death by soldiers; he was executed by a firing squad after all!

I hope this month's double serving of Gene Colan stories marks the start of a new trend. I love his inky style and found myself enjoying this tale. For once, I did not know how it would end and read the last three panels without glancing ahead to the finale.

As he rises through the clouds toward Heaven, a dead man recalls his misspent life. Others called him "Mr. Smart" because he always managed to avoid being arrested, though the term was used sarcastically because "'the fool never lived right.'" As the man wonders how he'll find acceptance in heaven, he spies a pair of wings and a robe, lying unused on a cloud. Donning the outfit, he ascends to Heaven, only to find the other angels laughing at him and backing away. He looks down to see that the robe he put on is in tatters.

I admit that I didn't really understand the surprise ending of "The Wings." Why is the robe in tatters? Is it supposed to reflect the man's unworthy spirit? And since when do angels mock people?

Mr. Brant is the top astronomer but he discounts any and all reports of flying saucers. When a reliable witness draws a sketch of a creature in the atmosphere and it's published in the newspapers, members of the public frantically demand that Brant answer the question, "Who Goes There?" Insisting that nothing exists beyond the watery atmosphere, Brant is revealed to be speaking within a bubble dome that covers the undersea city of Atlantis.

Anyone reading this story knows that the twist ending will show that Brant is wrong, but most would probably expect it to be that he's living on another planet and the alien visitors are from Earth. In this case, it ends a bit differently, but I'm not sure it's any better.

The 10:15 train heads into a tunnel as usual, but it never comes out! Not in this world, at least. After hours "In the Dark!" it emerges on another world, where little, pink people with antennae complain about the constant sunshine and their 30-minute work days. The train passengers like it there so much that they want to stay, all except the conductor, who insists on turning the train around and heading home. When he arrives, no one believes his story about having visited another world until all of the little, pink people disembark!

Mort Lawrence's art seems to be getting worse with each passing month. This is the umpteenth story we've read where people unexpectedly end up traveling to another world, but at least it had a minor surprise at the end--I thought the train would be empty and did not expect to see all of the aliens get off.-Jack

Next Week...
Yet Another Annual Helps Us
Keep Our Minds Off the "New" Stuff!

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