Monday, March 25, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 108: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 93
December 1955 Part II
+ The Best Stories of 1955
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystic #42
Cover by Bill Everett

"The Man in the... Mummy Case" (a: Bill Benulis) 1/2
"Casting Problem" (a: John Forte) 
"Where on Earth?" (a: John Tartaglione) 
"At the Stroke of Midnight!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"One Who Lived" (a: Sid Greene) 

Mobster Luke Thomas and his goons have stolen precious gems in Egypt, but how will they smuggle the rocks back to the States? Luke gets a brainstorm: he'll have archaeologist Ahmed Al-Dur wrap him in bandages and ship him back to America in a mummy case. Al-Dur protests but gives in due to "so much armament" waved in his face, all the while promising the criminal that the tomb is cursed and he will pay dearly.

The body of a pharaoh is unceremoniously dumped in the pyramid and Luke, wrapped from head to toe, is carefully placed in the sarcophagus and loaded aboard a steamer bound for the States. All goes well until a nosy captain spies one of Thomas's henchmen bringing him food and demands to see the inside of the coffin. When the lid is opened, Thomas is gone, leaving only his bandages as evidence that he was ever there. Miles away, in Egypt, Thomas opens his eyes to find himself back in the pyramid, the cops waiting patiently.

Of course, if this were 1954, we know that Luke Thomas would be torn limb from limb by a vengeful pharaoh but, in 1955, his fate is quite boring and abrupt. That's some deadly curse the ancient Egyptians laid down: "defile the tomb and you'll get 10 to 15 years of hard labor." It's a pity that the climax is such a limp noodle, because the first four pages or so are actually intriguing and the whole story is nicely illustrated by Benulis. The splash evokes 1940s comic strips, with its named intro to all the characters.

In "Casting Problem," a Broadway director finds it impossible to cast the role of a "good fairy" in his new play, End in Sight, and the standstill is more than just a distraction to the producer and the rest of the cast. When a gorgeous brunette reads and fails, she tells Ellis, the egotistical director, that she was born to play the part and he's wrong to pass on her. "If I am," he explains, "I won't be there on opening night." Two weeks later, on opening night, the entire cast find themselves on a distant mountaintop. We know how they got there, but I imagine lots of little third-graders couldn't understand the abrupt finale, and would a "good fairy" teleport six innocent individuals (and one admittedly stuck-up nitwit) to a faraway mountain? Seems more like "wicked witch" territory to me.

Judith Barlow tests new military planes, much to the chagrin of her scientist husband, Lionel, and she manages to travel at the speed of light in her latest jet. Losing her bearings, Judith lands the craft and is immediately swarmed by a strange, foreign-speaking mob before she is taken to a palace and introduced to their king. In a quick ceremony, Judith is wed to the man on the throne and decides she needs to exit ASAP. She gets back in her plane and manages to land back at her point of origin. Her story is met with skepticism by her husband until the two are in a top-secret meeting to view footage shot on a rocket recently returned from Mars. And there's Judith!

As opposed to the pre-code era, I'm struck by just how much art has become my measuring stick of quality in the Atlas post-code comics. Tartaglione's graphics for "Where on Earth?" are striking and kept my interest, even when the story sputtered out. These funny book yarns concerning science crack me up (as a Monday-morning quarterback) and make me wonder just what we all believed in 1955. Was the world still flat? Judith seems to have absolutely no guidelines for testing her jet, breaking speed limits without blinking a lengthy eyelash and dressed in a very Vogue-ish pilot suit. Hubby Lionel's Mars footage arrives back on Earth in no time flat; in fact, only days after Judith so kindly posed on Mars.

After a bitter breakup with his girl, a young man travels to a coastal boarding house to chill out and forget about unrequited love. The owner introduces herself as Mrs. Perry and explains that she and her pilot husband have been married for twenty years and that they're just as much in love now as the day they met. She further explains that this night is August twelfth and there's a big storm raging outside. Mrs. Perry retires to her room. At exactly midnight, the door flies open and there, soaking wet, is Mr. Perry. After trying to engage the man in conversation and receiving nothing in return, our hapless protagonist knocks on Mrs. Perry's door to let her know hubby is home. 

The old woman explains that the plane Mr. Perry was piloting crashed into the nearby waters ten years ago tonight and that he's visited her every year since like clockwork. He watches as the grey-haired loon hugs her husband and then says goodbye as he heads back into the storm. Chuckling and admitting there might be something to this "love" nonsense after all, our unnamed protagonist dons his coat and heads out into the pitch black, hoping to find true romance before he trips and falls off the cliff into the sea. "At the Stroke of Midnight!" is pure syrupy garbage, with a plot device used hundreds of times and ugly artwork by Ed Winiarski. The dope doesn't even explain why he's heading out in the middle of the night rather than waiting for morning and Mrs. Perry's sumptuous ham and eggs breakfast. Maybe our hero thought this was the pre-code version where he's sacrificed by the septuagenarian to insure her hubby comes back next year?

Paul S. Newman is responsible for the inane "One Who Lived." After the testing of an atomic bomb, a man emerges from one of the test buildings seemingly unharmed. He exclaims that his wife is still in the building, but when the emergency crew enters the building, they find only a test dummy. The victim is taken to a nearby site, where he is tested for radiation sickness but, amazingly, he seems okay. He continues to crow about his "wife" back in the house, but the brass chalk it up to bomb fever. When the "top medical officer of the army" arrives to interview the man, they discover his cabin empty and, upon further research, they find the real identity of the survivor. He was a test dummy! So, if the effect of an atomic bomb is that window dummies come to life, how come the Mrs. remains plastic? And where did our mystery man go off to? Back to the Mrs.? Did the human being effect only last a few hours and he returned to his artificial world? Seriously, these are questions I need answered.-Peter

Spellbound #25
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Want Ad" (a: Joe Orlando) 
"The Storm!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"The Hired Man!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Look Into My Eyes!" (a: Bob Brown) 
"The Frozen Food!" (a: John Forte) 

Tad Tone, visitor from the future, has lost his co-pilot and the time machine he rode in to get to 1955 requires two operators. The advertising editor of the newspaper Tad visits balks at the man's proposed "Wanted: Dude to help me get back to 2955" ad and tells him he's a fruitcake. Not even a trip out to see the time machine  convinces the newspaper man.

Tad resigns himself to a life stuck in a primitive society and leaves the office, dropping a news clipping as does so. The editor takes one look at the dateline of 2955 and finally believes Tad. Well, that makes sense. This dope won't swallow the big contraption hidden in the woods but he's sold on a newspaper clipping that could easily be fabricated. Time machines are always a pain in the butt; too many rules. Like when Tad and his traveling companion, Bek, first exit the gizmo and Tad says "Let's meet back here in six hours so we can get back to the future and make dinner on time!" Huh? Doesn't the machine have a knob that dumps you any time you want? How can these guys ever be late? 

This was the first contribution to the Atlas science fiction/horror comics by former EC legend, Joe Orlando. The script for "Want Ad" doesn't allow Joe to display the usual creepiness he's famous for (Jack and I covered Orlando's output for both the EC and DC mystery lines years ago), but there's still some nice work and, hey, at least it ain't Winiarski. Orlando will illustrate a total of 37 stories for the Atlas titles.

Teenage Larry Beale finds it difficult serving under his own father on the Baltimore, all the more because the old man forces his crew to carry lucky amulets to ward off disaster. But Larry's outlook changes drastically after the Baltimore is dashed by "The Storm!" More feel-good schmaltz from Carl Wessler and the "House of Ideas." 

Despite (or maybe because of) her husband's protests, boarding house landlord Eva Simpson hires a handyman to help cook, clean, and wash up after her boarders. The stranger agrees to be paid upon completion of his work, but that's the catch: the work is never-ending. No, seriously, that's the hook of "The Hired Man!" The poor schmuck doesn't put an apple in Eva's mouth and cook her for the guests or vacuum up the rug with her bloody skeleton or anything cool like that. He simply shrugs, smiles, and readies himself for a life of hard work and no pay simply because he said he'd wait for his remuneration. The pits. Speaking of the pits, the one-two punch of Ayers and Winiarski back-to-back reminds me that I'd be better off reading these things without my glasses on.

The wasteland of bad scripts and even worse art continues with "Look Into My Eyes," about a losing pitcher who takes a hypnotism course (the Marvel School of Mesmerism) and then puts a spell on opposing batters. From there, it's a no-lose season until he faces the final hitter in the seventh game of the World Series. Turns out this hitter is the guy who invented the Marvel School! Another Carl Wessler loser. Oh, and Ayers... Winiarski... Brown... three strikes, this reader is out.

Henry Prewitt has a really big problem. Every night he fills the freezer in the basement with frozen food and every morning the food has disappeared. Henry's convinced that his wife Martha is stealing "The Frozen Food!" but the poor woman only weeps and cries out her innocence time and again. Something has to be done so, one night, Henry camps out in the basement to see if he can nab the perpetrator. Long after midnight, Henry awakens to hear a strange sound coming from the locker. He opens the freezer and finds his food missing again but the bottom of the contraption partly open.

Henry climbs in and discovers a long passageway down into the Earth (walking through pitch black, I should add!), where he stumbles upon a race of small critters eating his vittles. They spy the intruder but, rather than drop their spare ribs and munch on Henry, the creatures telepathically thank their benefactor for his "donations" and urge him to stay. Henry agrees but adds that he must first take care of a few things up on the surface. 

When Henry climbs back up to the basement, he finds his wife crying and declaring love for her missing husband. Henry decides that love is more important than Swanson Frozen Dinners and remains with Martha, swearing he's through handing out free food. A pretty dopey tale, one which illustrates how dry the idea pool was in the bullpen but is entertaining and elicits at least a couple of chuckles. John Forte's graphics end the issue on a high note, but this is still one mediocre comic book.-Peter

Strange Stories of Suspense #6
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Illusion!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"The Totem!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"Power!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"I Dare You to Look!" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 1/2
"The Third Arm!" (a: Paul Reinman) 1/2

An astronomer predicts that a comet will hit Earth but no one will believe him. Knowing doomsday is imminent, the scientist digs a hole in the ground and lowers a capsule large enough to hold one man. He then waits for the inevitable. Two days after the comet destroys life on Earth, the man exits his sanctuary and wanders from town to town looking for life. 

He stumbles on a small town filled with people, but the crowd disappears as he approaches, a figment of his imagination. A really good science fiction tale that borrows heavily from SF fare of the time (chiefly When Worlds Collide) but avoids sappiness and, incredibly enough, a happy ending. That ending (our protagonist discussing his new life with a therapist, a man we presume is another mirage, but it turns out the astronomer is "The Illusion!") makes no sense whatsoever, but it doesn't torpedo a good read.

Four fortune seekers invite the wrath of the Alaskan gods when they steal an Eskimo's golden totem pole. "The Totem!" is made up of equal parts "old standard" (this plot was used virtually every month by every comics company churning out horror comics in the 1950s) and charming visuals. I love Bill Everett's graphics, so Stan didn't even have to put captions and word balloons in the story to make it work out just fine.

For an example of what happens when you don't have an artist of Bill Everett's capabilities to enliven a bad script, look no further than "Power," the tale of a poor yokel who inadvertently conjures up evil spirits with his divining rod. This stuff is as indigestible as moldy oatmeal, with its near-indecipherable doodles by Ed Winiarski; it's the comic art equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. 

Stephen Adams has a fanciful imagination and tells whoppers now and then, but Percival Crane sees the exaggerations as out-and-out lies and thinks his adversary should be punished. Sure enough, the CCA Puritan Council lets Adams know that if he doesn't keep on the straight and narrow, he'll be sitting on the ducking stool. Next day, the best storyteller in Massachusetts is telling the good folk of the town that the council and Percival are afraid of him and that they'll let him do as he pleases. 

Unfortunately, the same Percival Crane is within earshot and fetches some councilmen to give chase to the lyin' fool. Stephen ducks into a tree hollow and emerges later to tell the story of a future metropolis where buggies travel without the aid of horses. To prove he's telling the truth, he beckons Crane to follow him and, sure enough, they exit through a manhole cover to see present-day America. Percival promises to back Stephen's story when they get back to town, but the final panel reveals that the council is having none of it. "I Dare You to Look!" turns out to be a pretty funny tale and Robert Q. Sale (an artist we don't tout much here) turns in a job that's oddly reminiscent of the detailed work of Krenkel, Williamson, and Frazetta.

Johnny Evans has a secret he'd like to get out in the open but he doesn't like people, so there's no one around to tell it to. Then, one moonlit night, after Johnny has hit the skids and hangs out in Hobo Town, he finds a man who's willing to listen to his fantastic tale. You see, Johnny was a rotten, vicious type (think, maybe, closing the door in a girl scout's face when she's selling cookies), but he was also an adventurer and his goal was to find the bottom of the supposedly bottomless lake near his home town. 

So Johnny rents a diving bell and cusses out his crew (just to add a cherry on the top of Rotten Johnny, Johnny Rotten) just before hitting the water. Down... down... down he goes until he hits solid ground. But there's something missing outside his little porthole... water! Somehow, Johnny's diving bell has landed inside an underwater cavern (good trick, that), but that won't stop the cold-blooded explorer from stepping outside the contraption and investigating. It's not long before he's accosted by a band of three-armed creatures calling themselves "The Bad Ones of the Earth" and told that this is where he belongs, amidst the rottenest souls on the planet.

Johnny ain't goin' for that and hops back into his diving bell, his only souvenir being a glove dropped by one of the multi-armed monsters. He gives the order (perhaps a bit more courteously) to hoist him up. But when he emerges, his hair is a shock of white and he's muttering nonsense to himself. Two weeks later, just home from the hospital, Johnny is the victim of a burglary, but the only item taken is the glove! Back in the present, Johnny admits it's a far-fetched tale and if he had the glove maybe someone would believe him. His new friend pulls back his own coat and asks if the glove looks like the one on his third arm.

"The Third Arm" is the victim of another haphazard script that makes little sense. The fact that Johnny is one of the worst human beings on Earth is lost on me since all I witness are some semi-harsh words ("Cut the chatter and do as I say!") used around his associates. If that's all it takes to damn one's soul to Hell, I've probably got six extra arms on the way.-Peter

Strange Tales #41
Cover by Joe Maneely & Carl Burgos

"The Riddle of the Skull" (a: Fred Kida) 1/2
"The Fishman" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Strange Stick" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"They Won't Believe" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Man in the Dark" (a: Joe Orlando) 

A trio of scientists puzzle over "The Riddle of the Skull," wondering why we only use a quarter of our brain. If skulls could talk, the scientists would learn of an advanced civilization that created an idyllic society on a distant planet millions of years ago. When a group of people rebelled, they were sent into space, destined for a rehabilitation planet. Instead, they smashed the ship's controls and ended up on Earth, where they met cavemen and began to breed with them. Eventually, evolution led to modern civilization.

Fred Kida's art is pretty sketchy except for the last panel on page two, which looks like it could be a swipe from an Alex Raymond page. There isn't really any story and the end is unclear--is the unused three-quarters of the human brain supposed to be a remnant of the advanced brain of the alien civilization?

During a raging storm at the water's edge, Dr. Bondy tells his fellow yacht club members the strange story of Peter Maher, "The Fishman." Bondy met Peter when Peter was a boy and learned that he was only happy in or on the sea. Peter grew up feeling called by the depths and began to explore the undersea world by means of an aqualung, but he wanted more.

Dr. Bondy does research and becomes convinced that the gill slits seen in the human embryo could be restored to function through surgery. Before the doctor could operate, Peter disappeared for six months. Unbeknownst to Bondy, Peter met and fell in love with a beautiful blonde named Elsa, but she refused his offer of marriage and could not tell him why. After she disappeared, Peter discovered her in the depths of the ocean and realized that she could breathe under water through her gills. Peter went back and let Dr. Bondy operate on him so that he could stay underwater and breathe. Unfortunately, Elsa also visited the doctor and had him surgically close her gill slits so she could be with the man she loved. Dr. Bondy laments that she and Peter never met, unaware that his operations prevented them from being together.

This is the first story I've given a four-star rating to since I joined Peter on this journey. It may only be five pages long, but it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and they all make sense. The technique of having Dr. Bondy narrate the story is clever, as is the interlude that tells the reader a key piece of information that is unknown to the doctor and that makes the climax tragic. Best of all is the art by Bill Everett, who returns to his Sub-Mariner roots and draws the undersea panels with multiple lines going across them to suggest the murky depths. The blue/black coloring of these panels only adds to the effect. I don't think the Sub Mariner ever had a teen sidekick, but if he did, Peter would fit the bill.

A lost little boy named Larry is located by means of "The Strange Stick," a divining rod in the possession of a young man. He overcomes skeptics by having the rod locate Captain Kidd's treasure and is challenged to prove the stick's power in front of top scientists. It rises and points at the moon, where the young man reports that Earthlings have yet to develop advanced powers.

Yet again, the payoff to an Atlas story is that the main character is from outer space. Yawn.

Curt Calders is supposed to draw industrial designs for the near future (1959) but he insists on drawing them for the not so near future (1980). His boss and his father both tell him to get his head out of the clouds, so when Curt goes for a walk and stumbles onto Hope Street the way it will look in 1980, he is certain that "They Won't Believe" him, and he's right. He goes back to Hope St. in 1980 and sees a doctor, thinking that he'll get a report to show his father that he's not crazy. Instead, Curt does not come home, and the next day his parents receive a letter in the mail from a doctor, postmarked October 1980!

The best part about these stories set in a future that is now our past is comparing what the creators in 1955 envisioned for 1980. Smaller cars, yes; atomic powered cars, no. Solar power for heating houses, yes; cosmic ray selection bands, no. The Dick Ayers art is fine, but nothing special. The conclusion is predictable for anyone who's read a handful of Atlas comics.

An elderly scientist named Reed rejoices over having discovered a way to see the core of the atom, which will give him control over the basic life force. On his way home to tell his wife, he recalls his younger years, when other scientists warned him not to experiment with the secrets of the universe. He realizes that he left his notebook at the lab and goes back for it, only to find the building gone. He walks home and finds his wife and children as they were forty years ago and himself young again. Is it a second chance? He decides to leave the secrets of the universe alone this time.

As Peter writes, the art is the main attraction (or distraction) in these stories and Joe Orlando does a nice job illustrating "Man in the Dark!"  I can't say that I'm entirely clear as to what happens, but the pictures look good and, as with "The Fish Man," at least it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, which is more than I can say for some Atlas tales.-Jack

Strange Tales of the Unusual #1
Cover by Joe Maneely & Carl Burgos

"Man Lost!" 1/2 (a: Bob Brown)
(r: Dead of Night #7)
"Who Waits in the Dark?" (a: John Romita) 
"The Gift" (a: Bob Powell) 
"Cry for Help!" (a: Bob McCarthy) 
"The Experiment That Failed" (a: Don Heck) 

Al is a gambler whose brother Greg, a scientist, has invented a time machine. Greg invites Al to dinner and shows him how the machine works, so Al gives Greg sleeping powder in his drink and sets the time machine's controls for tomorrow, where he learns the name of the horse that won a big race. Unfortunately, Al didn't pay close attention to Greg's instructions and now finds that he is a "Man Lost!" in time; no one can see or hear him, so he can't place a bet or even get Greg's attention to bring him back.

Bob Brown's art is the highlight of this confusing little story, where it seems like the writer didn't have enough pages to ensure clarity. Al seems to travel a day into the future, yet he also seems to return to the present, albeit with a copy of tomorrow's newspaper in his pocket. Though no one can see or hear him, he recalls Greg saying that, if the controls are not set properly, "'it may take weeks to come back.'" By "come back," does Greg mean return to today or return to a state where he is visible and audible? It seems like Al will be fine, so it's a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent problem.

Three scientists explore Darkest Africa in search of a large cache of the mysterious Element X. Their native guides abandoned them out of fear. The trio cross a natural bridge made of vines that are just strong enough to support their weight and, that night, they encounter giant creatures that must have been enlarged by the effects of Element X. The next morning, all of the creatures seem to be normal size once again and the scientists retrace their steps, not noticing that they have grown to great size overnight.

There is no menace and the conclusion is left out of "Who Walks in the Dark?" What will happen to the men when they get back to the natural bridge? They are too big to cross it and will be trapped forever. Yet the final caption does not mention this inevitable fate. Instead, it says "Element 'X' is indeed a strange element!" The art by John Romita is poor, which surprises me, since I think of him as one of Marvel's more reliable artists, at least in the 1960s.

What is the meaning of the strange bubbles that have started appearing all over the world, granting people's wishes? A cranky government panel thinks they are "'a spearhead for an inter-planetary invasion,'" but it turns out they are just gifts from outer space, meant to celebrate Earth's 3000th year in the solar system.

It's too bad Bob Powell's gorgeous art is wasted on such a banal story. He produced four pages of stunning work for "The Gift."

James Stark is awakened in the middle of the night by a "Cry for Help!" when his phone rings. A voice on the other end says it's the mayor calling and that armed men are trying to break into his house. Stark calls the police and they rush to the mayor's house, only to find a grumpy mayor in his PJs and no armed men. The process repeats twice and, the third time, the cops actually find three crooks and apprehend them. Stark is a hero, but when his phone rings a fourth time he fails to grasp that the call is coming from a mayor on the moon!

This was a predictable story until those last panels, where Carl Wessler resorts to a tried and true Atlas twist--when in doubt, involve spacemen! There is no explanation as to why the phone call is coming from the moon or why the Earth mayor's house was under siege. Just run with it. Bob McCarthy's art is adequate but nothing special.

After Dr. Dennis examines a young boy who is both handsome and extremely intelligent due to the effects of atomic testing in recent years, world leaders express concern that the new generation presents a threat. They ask the doctor to find an antidote, so he shows them a machine he has created to test whether cobalt pellets can destroy dangerous radiation. Alone, the doctor runs a test and sees that the new people will create a wonderful world in the future. He lies to the world leaders and tells them of "The Experiment That Failed," assuring them that radiation  will only bring good things.

This story carries a positive message, but it's also a dull one. I've always thought of Don Heck as a reliable workhorse whose art is decent but rarely much more than that.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #38
Cover by Joe Maneely

"Behind the Locked Door!" (a: Bob Powell) 1/2
(r: Crypt of Shadows #12)
"Something in Space!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"Morgan's Magic Picture!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
(r: Crypt of Shadows #21)
"Plague!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
(r: Journey Into Mystery #10)
"The Pharaoh Walks" (a: Manny Stallman) 
(r: Uncanny Tales #3)

A man named Harry drives along a wet highway at night, convinced that he is a failure. His girlfriend Kay refused to marry him because of his negative attitude. Suddenly, his car swerves and crashes. He climbs from the wreckage and makes his way to an abandoned house. Inside, he forces his way "Behind the Locked Door!" and recalls an incident from  his childhood in which he saved another boy from drowning. That boy grew up to be a statesman who "'saved the world from the brink of war.'" In another room, Harry recalls being kind to a beggar on the street; the beggar later heroically saved a ship full of passengers. Harry realizes he's not a failure after all and returns to his car with his head held high. The house is nowhere to be found.

Once again, Bob Powell's art elevates a straightforward story that briefly explores a man's psyche. Both this and "The Gift" feature panels where a character is drawn in extreme closeup so that only part of their face is seen and other figures are shown in the distance behind them./ I usually associate this technique with Wally Wood, but Powell uses it effectively.

When he almost steps on an ant on the sidewalk, a reporter meets a stranger who tells him not to crush the insect. The stranger tells the story of how "Something in Space!" had been spotted five years ago and all the nations on Earth had united to prepare a common defense. The stranger explains that he happened upon an ant hill in New Mexico containing a race of mutant ants that told him telepathically that they were taking ships to a tiny planet in outer space to escape humans. Their ships were what united all the nations, so the man never told anyone, fearful that the truth might set countries back on the warpath against each other. The reporter thinks the story is nuts but makes sure to avoid stepping on the next ant he sees.

The notion of an alien threat causing Earth's warring nations to unite is not new and was used long before Watchmen. The ant angle in this story is silly, but at least Joe Sinnott provides competent graphics.

Fred Morgan paints a portrait of Lois Wayne. When he adds a necklace and earrings, they appear in real life! Greedy Fred tells Lois that he loves her and starts painting more and more expensive items, all of which appear. He admits to Lois that he doesn't love her and that he's only in it for the money, so she leaves. "Morgan's Magic Picture!" doesn't work with any other model, so Fred begs Lois to come back, and she agrees. To prove that he's a changed man, he burns the portrait and all of his wealth goes up in flames.

Peter has noted how Bill Benulis is one of the more consistently good artists we're seeing at this stage of our Atlas journey, and this story shows that he's right. Wessler's plot has been used before, but the depictions, especially of Lois and the other models, are above average.

In the future, mankind acts as one to search for the carrier of the "Plague!" Peace has reigned for centuries and now the carrier must be found before the plague can spread. The trail leads to a shabby building and a frightened man and the source of the plague is found--it's a revolver!

I'm not often surprised by the ending of an Atlas story and I admit that when I saw this one was three pages long and drawn by Ed Winiarski, my expectations were low. I did not expect a message against gun violence; I'm impressed!

When two rich men offer to pay a million dollars for a genuine solar ship to carry them into the afterlife, just as Egyptian pharaohs did, bookkeeper Amos Clifton promises to fulfill their request. He flies to Egypt and finds a guide who will take him to such a ship, but Amos ignores the usual warnings. Workers dig all night and find a solar ship; Amos climbs aboard to rest and finds the ship carrying him into outer space. The ship lands on another world, where a pharaoh sets Amos to work as a bookkeeper.

Manny Stallman's art reminds me in spots of the work of Basil Wolverton and is the only bright spot in yet another meandering story by Carl Wessler.-Jack


 1 "The Devil-Man" (Astonishing #37)
 2 "Hail the Hero" (Marvel Tales #132)
 3 "What Happened in Midville" (Mystic #35)
 4 "The Fishman" (Strange Tales #41)
 5 "While Death Waits" (Marvel Tales #131)
 6 "Man Alone!" (Journey Into Unknown Worlds #37)
 7 "The Locked Drawer" (Journey Into Mystery #24)
 8 "Return to Nowhere" (Mystic #39)
 9 "The Locked Room" (Astonishing #41)
10 "They Wouldn't Believe Him" (Journey Into Mystery #28)

Next Week...
The Triumphant Return of
The Cat-Man!

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Calvin Clements, Part Two-The Old Pro [7.8]

by Jack Seabrook

The second and last teleplay by Calvin Clements for Alfred Hitchcock Presents was "The Old Pro," which aired on NBC on Tuesday, November 28, 1961, just two weeks after "Beta Delta Gamma," the first teleplay that Clements wrote for the series. "The Old Pro" is based on a short story of the same name by H.A. DeRosso that was published in the December 1960 issue of Manhunt. Clements did a fine job retaining the story's plot and expanding it for the small screen.

The story begins as Ralph Whitburn, who calls himself Burns, telephones a man named Mike Sargasso to hire a hit man to kill someone near Walton Lake this weekend. Whitburn lives in a small town in Wisconsin near the Michigan border. He has retired to the country after a life spent in cities, and when his partner, a beautiful redhead named Loretta, notices that he seems preoccupied, Whitburn tells her that he plans to spend the weekend alone at the lake.

"The Old Pro" was first published here
That weekend, he kills time by fishing while waiting for the hit man to arrive. Whitburn returns to his cottage to find the hit man, named Mace, already there. Mace quickly grasps that Whitburn is being blackmailed by Earl Cullenbine, a former police reporter with underworld connections, and that Whitburn wants Cullenbine eliminated. Whitburn asks Mace to make the death look accidental and Mace suggests that Whitburn accompany him to make sure that he kills the right man. Whitburn reluctantly agrees.

The men approach an island by boat, expecting to find Cullenbine waiting for his weekly Saturday night blackmail payment. Mace follows Whitburn through thick underbrush. Surprised to find Cullenbine unfazed by the appearance of Mace, Whitburn discovers that the blackmailer called Sargasso first and that Mace is there to kill Whitburn. Mace explains that he knows that Whitburn used to work for Sargasso before retiring and comments that he was "'his best.'"

Mace tells Whitburn to start walking back the way they came and Mace follows him. Whitburn turns the tables and succeeds in drowning Mace. He takes Mace's gun, returns to Cullenbine, and kills him, too.

Time passes and Whitburn is living happily with Loretta when Sargasso telephones and insists that he come out of retirement and commit another murder for hire. The boss threatens Loretta to make sure that the assassin will cooperate. Whitburn hangs up, aware that his happy life is at an end and that, eventually, he will be killed as well.

Richard Conte as Frank Burns
"The Old Pro" uses inference and subtlety to create surprise after surprise. Initially, Whitburn asks Sargasso to send "'an engineer experienced in removing obstructions.'" When Whitburn meets Mace, it becomes clear that he has hired a hit man to kill a blackmailer, but when they meet Cullenbine, the situation is reversed. Whitburn succeeds in killing both men and only toward the end of the story does it become apparent that he is a retired hit man himself. The final irony comes when Sargasso pressures him to go back to work; had Whitburn never called the boss in the first place, he could have continued to enjoy his retirement from killing, albeit with the annoyance of having to pay a blackmailer.

H.A. DeRosso (1917-1960) was known for western short stories and paperback original novels that were published in the 1940s and 1950s. His novels explored noir themes and there is a good article about him here. He also wrote a handful of crime stories, such as "The Old Pro." One other story of his was adapted for television as an episode of a western series in 1957.

The TV adaptation of "The Old Pro" is an excellent mix of suspense and black humor that features memorable performances by Richard Conte as Frank Burns (Ralph Whitburn in the short story) and  John Anderson as Joey "Nick" Nicholson (Sargasso in the story). The show begins with some new scenes that have been added to the story to provide background. The idyllic married life of Frank and Loretta (her first name is never mentioned until the end credits) Burns is shown as the two chat briefly at their home on the lake before he leaves to go fishing. Burns takes a small motorboat across the lake, where he meets Cullen (Cullenbine in the story), the blackmailer, who holds a rifle in his lap.

John Anderson as Nick
Cullen refers to Burns as a retired killer, thus removing one of the short story's surprises, since Whitburn's prior job is not revealed until later in the story. Cullen adds that Burns married a "'junior league beauty'" who thinks that her husband is a "'retired engineer.'" In Clements's teleplay, the short story's euphemism of "engineer," which is used in place of "hit man," is greatly expanded; gradually, as the episode plays out, it becomes clear that Burns has created an elaborate fiction about himself that Loretta believes to be the truth. Burns has paid Cullen $40,000 in blackmail so far and at first refuses to pay any more, but he quickly relents and promises to bring the money later that day, around five p.m.

Burns returns home to his wife and he and Loretta seem as happy as ever, but he goes into another room and telephones "Nick" Nicholson (Sargasso in the story); this is how the short story begins. In the first instance of the humor that will enliven the show's final scene, Nick takes Burns's call while receiving a  vigorous massage from a heavy-set man. As in the story, Burns asks Nick to send an "'engineer'" to the lake; he requests that the service be provided at about 4:30 that day, half an hour before he promised to return to meet Cullen with the money. Nick hangs up and asks the masseur, who looks like a criminal henchman, to "'get a hold of Mace.'"

Sara Shane as Loretta
Later, Burns again drives his motorboat to the same landing spot and meets Mace, who waits at the dock in a suit and tie that seem out of place in the rural environment. Mace is a fish out of water, a slick criminal more used to a city environment, and this will soon play to Burns's advantage. Mace tells Burns that "'Nicholson says you were the best in the business and I'm always willing to learn from an old pro,'" again underlining the fact that Burns was formerly a hit man himself, something that has not been revealed at this point in the short story. They walk toward the clearing where Cullen waits; as in the story, Burns turns the tables by the lake and kills Mace by drowning him. He returns to the clearing where Cullen waits, but Burns's murder of the blackmailer is not shown, just as in the story.

In the short story, the murders of Mace and Cullenbine are followed by a short phone call between Whitburn and Sargasso that takes place at a later date. The TV show takes the narrative in a more interesting and entertaining direction that reaches the same conclusion after strengthening the roles of Loretta and Nick. Back at home the day after murdering two men and making both killings look accidental, Burns watches with delight as Loretta models three news hats. In passing, she mentions the "'two men who drowned yesterday,'" and the viewer realizes that she is referring to Mace and Cullen. Loretta goes inside to make lunch and Nick suddenly appears on Frank's deck. Burns looks down to the lake and sees two men with a boat by the dock (one is the masseur/henchman); he remarks to Mace, "'I see you brought your muscle along.'"

Nick admires Burns's way of living and, when Loretta emerges with lunch, the crime boss introduces himself to her; she asks him to stay for lunch and he agrees. As Nick and Burns chat, there is an underlying tension that Loretta fails to grasp. When she is inside the house, Nick lightly but ominously mentions another woman who had nice skin like Loretta's, "'before the affair with the acid.'" Nick is jovial, a charming rogue with a violent, dangerous undercurrent. Nick tells Loretta that he's there on business but she insists that her husband is retired. Nick says that he's hoping to talk Frank out of retirement and Loretta responds that she doesn't want to spend nights alone while her husband is away on a job.

Stacy Harris as Cullen
Nick tells her, with a smile, "'I always say an old pro never retires.'" She goes to the kitchen and Nick says that he needs Frank for a job in Vegas. Frank declines and Nick again mentions Loretta's lovely skin, implying that she could have an accident with acid if Frank refuses to return to the fold. "'Welcome home to an old pro,'" says Nick, and the show ends with the camera focused on Frank's face--he is clearly trapped.

The TV adaptation of "The Old Pro" adds new opening scenes, removes the mystery about Frank's former line of work, and adds the long final scene in which Nick pays a visit to Frank. In the story, he simply telephones sometime after the murders; the new scenes add greatly to the enjoyment of the show, as the words exchanged between the two men hide their subtext. The middle section follows the short story closely. Richard Conte, as Frank, is terrific, intense when he needs to be yet relaxed when he's alone with his wife. John Anderson, as Nick, is a delight, a cold-blooded criminal with a charming, affable demeanor.

Richard Carlyle as Mace
"The Old Pro" is directed by Paul Henreid (1908-1992) who began his career as a film actor. He started directing in the early 1950s and he directed 29 episodes of the Hitchcock show, including "A Little Sleep."

Richard Conte (1910-1975) was born Nicholas Conte and served in the Army during WWII. He started out on Broadway and on film in 1939 and began appearing on TV in 1953. This was his only appearance on the Hitchcock show; he was also in Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia (1953), the Twilight Zone episode, "Perchance to Dream," the film Assault on a Queen (1966), which was adapted from a Jack Finney novel, and The Godfather (1972).

John Anderson (1902-1992) served in the Coast Guard during WWII and started his acting career on Broadway in 1937. He began appearing on TV in 1950 and on film in 1953; in addition to a role in Psycho (1960), he was seen in many classic TV shows, such as The Twilight Zone, Thriller, The Outer Limits, and Night Gallery. Besides "The Old Pro," he was in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, one of which was Robert Bloch's "The Second Wife."

In smaller roles:
  • Sara Shane (1928-2022) as Loretta; she was on screen from 1948 to 1964 and also appeared on The Outer Limits, as well as in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Captive Audience."
  • Stacy Harris (1918-1973) as Cullen; he was a busy voice actor on radio from 1946 to 1960 and appeared in numerous TV shows and a few films from 1950 to 1972. He was also in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Thirty-First of February."
  • Richard Carlyle (1914-2009) as Mace; he appeared mostly on TV, from 1950 to 1994. He was on an episode of Star Trek and he appeared in one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "The Paragon."
Oddly, while making his closing comments at the end of the episode, Hitchcock is buried up to his neck in sand as the tide is coming in. This would have fit much better with "Beta Delta Gamma," the other episode written by Calvin Clements, which aired two weeks before "The Old Pro."

"The Old Pro" has the distinction of being the last episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to air in prime time; it was rerun on NBC on Tuesday, September 18, 1962, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour premiered two nights later, on September 20, 1962, on CBS, where Alfred Hitchcock Presents had aired for its first five seasons.

Watch "The Old Pro" online here.


Burwell, J. Charles. "The Seeker in the Shadowlands: Three Novels of Western Noir by H.A. DeRosso." bare*bones #3, summer 2020, 70-82.

DeRosso, H.A. "The Old Pro." Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories. Ed. Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. NY: Oxford UP, 1995. 405-417.


Galactic Central,

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. OTR Pub., 2001.


"The Old Pro." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 7, episode 8, NBC, 28 November 1961.

S, Sai. “H. A. DeRosso - Western Noir Pulp Author.” Pulp Flakes, 14 Dec. 2012,


Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "The Cream of the Jest" here!

In two weeks: "Don't Interrupt" starring Chill Wills and Cloris Leachman!

Monday, March 18, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 18: November/ December 1962


The Caped Crusader in the 1960s
by Jack Seabrook
& Peter Enfantino

Batman #151

"Batman's New Secret Identity!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Mystery Gadget from the Stars!"
Story by Jerry Coleman
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman and Robin are involved in a car crash when Batman drives in front of another vehicle that is heading straight for a stalled school bus. The Dynamic Duo are dazed; Batman's cowl falls off and a passing newspaper reporter notices that his secret identity is Bruce Wayne. Back at the Batcave, Batman tells Robin that he'll have to wind up Bruce Wayne's affairs, so he sells all of his holdings and clears out, even saying goodbye to Kathy Kane.

A headline reports that Bruce Wayne has disappeared, so "Batman's New Secret Identity!" becomes Bret Wilson, cab driver. The cabbie happens upon the hijacking of a freight car at the Gotham Freight Terminal, so Batman springs into action and foils the robbery. Bret Wilson drives back to the Gotham Hills Garage, which sits above the new Batcave, where Alfred Edward the butler meets Bret/Batman. Meanwhile, Robin is no longer allowed to be Dick Grayson, so he has assumed the identity of Ted Grey, a resident at the Wickham Boarding School for Boys.

The next day, the boys watch a televised social studies lesson that is suddenly energized by video of a gang holding up the Gotham Foundry Plant! Batman and Batwoman appear and thwart the holdup; Batwoman says they make a great team and she and Batman kiss on camera, causing Dick Ted to shed a tear when he realizes he's been replaced as the Dark Knight's partner. In the days that follow, the papers carry one story after another about the new team defeating crooks. Batman's new identity is exposed when a highway construction crew accidentally blasts the mountainside behind Gotham Hills Garage, exposing the new Batcave.

Crooks hold Bret at gunpoint and tell him to drive to a nice, quiet farm. Another radio report reveals that Ted Grey is really Dick Grayson--and thus Robin--so Dick/Ted celebrates by showing off his athletic skills to the other guys at school. He rushes to the Batcave, where Alfred Edward says he's worried about Batman. Twenty miles south of Gotham, Bret drives at gunpoint to an abandoned farm, where a bald crook pulls off the cabbie's fake mustache to reveal that he's really Bruce Wayne before ripping open Bret/Bruce's shirt to reveal his Batman costume.

Robin and Batwoman arrive and save the day! Fortunately, Batman had turned on a radio transmitter in his Bat-Belt that alerted the Boy Wonder to his location. Batman wonders what they'll all do now...and Bruce and Dick enter Alfred's study, where they find the butler typing out another one of his imaginary stories. This one is not about the second Batman and Robin team, however; since the Joker recently almost discovered Batman's secret identity, Alfred used his imagination to posit what might happen if Batman needed a new alter ego.

It took me five paragraphs to summarize this story, which runs sixteen pages (two chapters), twice the length of a typical story in Batman. Frankly, it's pretty bad. The GCD credits the art to Bob Kane and Charles Paris, but I found an online site where the original art for page 16 is for sale, and it credits it to Moldoff and Paris. As I read the story, I thought it looked like sub-par Moldoff, so I wondered if it really could be by Kane, but I have trouble accepting that he'd suddenly decide to draw a Batman story after years of letting ghost artists do all of the work. The most interesting thing about the story comes at the end, when Alfred mentions a story from several issues back. That's extremely rare in this era of stories that seem to exist in a vacuum.

They moved the giant penny to the new Batcave,
but where's the dinosaur?

While out collecting rare herbs, Ed Manos finds "The Mystery Gadget from the Stars," a red box that emits a beam of light when he picks it up. The light hits a nearby outcropping of rock and water gushes forth. Batman and Robin are summoned to the site of the discovery, where Batman figures out that the ray from the box speeds up natural development by centuries. Batman is concerned because he knows that, in a few centuries, the tiny flaws in the bedrock under Gotham City will cause disastrous earthquakes. He doesn't want the box to speed up that development!

The box falls into the hands of a crook after he sees its ray turn a hunk of coal into a diamond. Batman tracks the crook to an animal preserve, where the ray causes three small, harmless animals to grow to giant size and suddenly become violent. Batman manages to reverse the ray and shrink them back to safe size. He then takes the box back to the Batcave and smashes it with a sledgehammer.

When Batman finds the crooks in the animal preserves, the head crook exclaims, "Great griddle cakes!" I had a similar reaction to this awful story which, if anything, was worse than the one that preceded it. For once, we have an explanation, however silly, for the presence of giant-sized items in Gotham City!-Jack

Peter-Alfred definitely saved the day for Bill Finger, since nothing that preceded the climax made much sense. Batman's secret identity as Bruce Wayne is revealed and he goes out and gets another secret identity? How does that work when the whole world knows who Batman is for as long as he works the streets? These "Alternate Universe by Alfred" stories are genius; the writer can toss out any goofy stuff he wants to and then write it off as Alfred's lunchtime break. In the second story, Batman steps on some big toes when he hypothesizes that aliens are responsible for our rapid evolutionary development. Oh heavens, I wonder what Wertham made of that. Scary to think that all animals will grow to giant size in a few centuries.

Detective Comics #309

"The Mystery of the Mardi Gras Murders"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Man Who Saved Earth"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Dangerous criminal Mike Kelso has escaped Gotham State Pen (I guess waiting to serve out his maximum three months for Murder-One was getting to him) and his cellmate confesses to Batman and Robin that Max bragged that he'd be doing a big deal at the Gotham Mardi Gras. The Dynamic Duo hop in the Batmobile and drive down to the fest. Bats quickly realizes that broadcasting the news that Kelso is among the participants in the carnival would only start a riot, so he goes to the Mardi Gras office and speaks with its promoter, J.J. Ashley.

Ashley introduces Batman to Ed Burton who, with partner Tom Hawes, runs concessions and rides. The two men agree to keep their eyes open and report back to the masked avenger. The duo mingle with the crowd but Bats is soon accosted by ace photographer, Vicki Vale, just returned from a hot assignment overseas. As the two are flirting, a man falls off the carousel... dead. Batman examines the corpse and deduces that it's Mike Kelso and that he was murdered with a poison dart! 

Tom Dawes approaches, introduces himself, and apologizes for having not met up with the superhero as he was on the mend in the doctor's office. Vicki Vale intrudes, telling Batman she had snapped several photos before the crime and her award-winning photography might just have captured something integral to the case. Batman agrees and has a look at Vicki's Polaroids. In one, Kelso is clearly handing a package to a man dressed as a musketeer. "This is our main suspect," exclaims the world's greatest detective.

The boys scour the crowds for any suspicious musketeers and voila! one is seen running from the cops. The Caped Crusaders chase him down to the dinosaur ride, but the Duo are attacked by an Arab riding a T. Rex (granted, the thing is on wheels and hooked up to a rail, but it looks dangerous!). Our heroes duck out of the way just in time but this enables the Arab to blow a dart at the fleeing musketeer, killing him immediately. The murderer escapes and the boys are left with a warm corpse. Unmasked, the dead man is... Ed Burton! The plot thickens (and so does the dialogue).

Investigating Burton's trailer, Batman runs across a puzzling artifact... a map of the United States with X's and mythological beasts written on certain cities (Boston=Unicorn, Chicago=Dragon, etc.). Remembering an exhibit on the carnival grounds, Batman races over to the Wax Museum of Mythological Creatures and heads straight to the Unicorn. Twisting the horn reveals a trap door on the body, where Robin finds the Vanderdine Necklace, stolen in Boston the week before! "Golly!" enthuses the Boy Wonder.

Batman hypothesizes that the carnival is being used as a front for a fencing operation and that the other mythological beasts will give up even more riches stolen across the nation. Following up on a clue, the boys head over to the "Crazy House," where Batman is entrapped in the grip of a giant metal hand and Robin is held tight by a pair of costumed goons. The musketeer emerges from the shadows and pushes the lever operating the giant hand to "Full Force," thus squeezing the Dark Knight even tighter. But Batman is too clever for a common criminal and breaks free, delivering a killer left upper cut to the chin of the musketeer. 

Unmasked, the culprit is revealed to be none other than... J. J. Ashley, who was hiding gorgeous ten-dollar counterfeit plates in the Crazy House in hopes of getting very rich. Once back at the precinct, Ashley confesses to the murders of Kelso and Burton. Batman is crowned king of the Mardi Gras and Batwoman is his queen. When Bats proves just how much he knows about females and suggests that the queen's crown should be shared with Vicki Vale, who broke the case wide open with her candids, he opens a huge can of worms with his female counterpart.

"The Mystery of the Mardi Gras Murders" was a somewhat dreary yarn that seemed to go on forever. I absolutely hated the numerous interludes where Batman had to explain (to us) what the hell was going on. You know when the action stops for a rundown that your plot is too complicated. That hand on the wall visual is pretty lame. It looks like the paw is higher up the wall in the second panel. At least there was a bit of violence to break up the unending string of alien-starring stories. Honest-to-gosh murders in the age of the CCA. Dead horse department: this Moldy-Paris art is about as simplistic and childish as it gets. In a lot of action panels, Batman and Robin seem to be on a loop: waving their hands in the air and running in place.

While investigating the disappearance of cute cop Diane Meade, John Jones stumbles across an invasion of Earth by aliens from the planet Centuria (three miles past Pluto, turn right at the asteroid belt). In an effort to find out just what the Centurians plan, J'onn disguises himself as earthling Horace Reeves (the man Diane was searching for) and lets the invaders fly him to Centuria. Unfortunately, on the way, he discovers Diane has been tossed on board as well. Once on Centuria, the Martian Manhunter discovers his problems are only beginning as he finds himself in the middle of a military coup. How can J'onn juggle a coup and Diane at the same time?

For the first time in history, I actually enjoyed the Martian Manhunter backup more than the headliner. I won't go overboard and say this is among the best stories of the year, but "The Man Who Saved Earth" at least kept a smile on my face. That Diane... (growl)... I wonder if she's ever actually saved anyone. And does she wear a gun? And how many more times will J'onn have to divert attention from his earthbound alter ego?-Peter

Jack-I also preferred the Martian Manhunter story to the Batman story, but it's not the first time that has happened. J'onn's ability to transform himself into anyone certainly increases the story possibilities! I was thinking he was going to become Diane Meade, but that may be too progressive for DC in 1962. Once again, I feel like I see Mike Sekowsky's handiwork in random spots. He was drawing the Justice League, which includes the Martian Manhunter, so it's certainly possible he might have cleaned up a few panels.

As for the Batman story, it's not great but at least it's better than what we got in this month's Batman. I was struck by the comment that the first day's receipts at the Mardi Gras were going to charity. It seems like every dollar earned in Gotham City goes to charity! How did anyone make a living? The highlight of the story was the Vicki Vale reappearance and Batwoman's jealousy at the end. I can't wait to see those two battle it out!

Batman #152

"Formula for Doom"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The False Face Society"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Memorial to an Astronaut"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Bat-Hound tracks down a renegade scientist named Arnold Taney, who confesses to having been hired by a European named Kuzak to create a chemical formula. Batman and Robin trail Kuzak to the Greek island of Hydra, where they discover a second formula after Kuzak escapes. In the Swiss Alps, Kuzak confronts a scientist who had been the assistant to a Nazi scientist named Krueger. The Nazi was working on a formula for an explosive "'with the force of a tiny atomic bomb,'" and mixing the ingredients provided in the formulas will complete the project. Batman and Robin ski to the rescue and Bat-Hound makes a mighty leap and grabs the vial containing the explosive from Kuzak's hand just in time.

It's nice to see a Nazi menace instead of more aliens! It's also good to see Bat-Hound back in action and wearing his mask. He was getting a little bit bored hanging around Stately Wayne Manor, being fed kibble by Alfred. 

A mysterious crook has set up a contest for criminals! Each must wear a costume and commit a crime; they will all meet and vote on the best heist. The winner gets most of the loot, except for a percentage that the organizer will take. First, a man dressed as a deep-sea diver steals a valuable necklace and gets away from Batman by swimming underwater. Next, a man dressed as a knight robs a painting from an art exhibit and gets away on horseback.

Batman disguises himself as Nick Bayles, a "'crook that nobody knows is dead,'" and infiltrates the underworld, quickly learning about the crime contest and "The False Face Society." The next night, a bold crook disguised as Batman tries to steal a rare violin, but the real Batman captures him, unbeknownst to anyone. Batman plans to attend the meeting of the False Face Society in costume, pretending to be a crook masquerading as the Caped Crusader. A night later, Batman and the other crooks are taken to an abandoned lighthouse, where a crook in a mask and top hat conducts a vote and declares Batman the winner!

The bad guys quickly realize that Batman is the real deal and Batman convinces them that the contest was rigged in his favor by the organizer. Robin appears with the cops to round everyone up and the crook who set up the contest is revealed to be the Joker!

The random appearance of the Joker in the story's final panel surprised me, since nothing else about this story seemed consistent with his usual M.O. Still, it's a fun tale with some unusual situations, and I was glad to see Batman go undercover as a crook, even though his disguise just consists of a mustache and some stubble.

Batman's old friend, mineralogist Luke Haley, is on death's door and has always dreamed of being on the first rocket ship to travel to outer space, so Batman makes his dream come true by rigging up a movie prop spaceship and tricking Luke into thinking that he and the Dynamic Duo really fly to Mars! When they supposedly reach the Red Planet, actors dressed as Martians welcome the trio, but three criminals hiding nearby put on the Martian costumes to make off with gold and platinum that had been planted for Luke to find. Just as the crooks disguised as Martians are about to shoot Batman and Robin, Luke rips off his space helmet and throws it at them, spoiling their aim. He collapses and dies without ever knowing it was all fake.

A fitting "Memorial to an Astronaut" indeed! Finger's story manages to work in some Martians without having to send Batman to Mars. The whole thing reminds me of Capricorn One or the wacky conspiracy theories espoused by folks who think the moon landing was staged. Of interest to me is the panel at the bottom of page five where the head crook announces that they'll "'take a tip from the False Face Society we read about in the newspapers.'" This is the second time in one post where a character  refers to another story. The DC Universe is becoming self-referential!-Jack

I thought "Formula for Doom," albeit densely packed with expository dialogue, was pretty good, certainly more interesting than any other Bat-adventure this month. Bat-Hound is right up there with Bat-Mite for annoying gimmicks. Why don't the boys bring the dog on every escapade? Why are only certain cases dog-worthy? I had high hopes for "The False Face Society," but the story was dopey and complicated (just try to make sense of the dialogue in the panel I've reprinted here) and, yet again, an appearance by the Joker is wasted. 

"Memorial to an Astronaut" is enjoyable because it's so dopey. Batman could have probably sponsored an actual trip to Mars with what he must have spent on the faux journey. The every-panel explanations about "Luke doesn't know that Martian soil is actually brown and not red" are annoying, but the whole adventure is worth reading just to get to the climax where Luke dies and is buried on the movie set! That Batman will do anything for a buddy.

Detective Comics #310

"Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Miniature Manhunter"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Bat-Mite is bored! Usually this means a dangerous adventure is in store for the Dynamic Duo. Sure enough, opportunity presents itself to the mischievous cosmic imp in the form of three wanted criminals: Tate, Graff, and Dorn. To make the impending battle fair, Bat-Mite gives the Terrible Trio superpowers. Gone are three slightly demented crooks and in their place are Strongman (really strong and a caveman skirt to prove it!), Rubberman (he can stretch all over the place just like Elongated Man!), and the Cannonball (rolls himself up into a big ball and flies!). All three really don't like Batman and Robin and prove it by pounding the Caped Crusaders into dust. Round one goes to "Bat-Mite's Super-Circus!"

Unfortunately, everyone's favorite Bat-costumed leprechaun gets knocked upside the head and loses his power to turn the trio back into normal thugs. Bat-Mite, Batman, and Robin are tossed into a water tank and left to drown while the Terrible Trio head to Gotham to pull off a string of robberies. Only Batman's incredible detective skills (and Bat-Mite's relative weightlessness) allows our heroes to escape a watery death. Batman and Robin curtail the heists of Rubberman and Strongman while Bat-Mite (who suddenly regains his powers) eradicates the Cannonball's plot to steal a rare Rembrandt just before he detonates a huge cache of explosives. Bat-Mite congratulates himself for a job well done and heads back to his dimension while Batman sighs and predicts we'll see more of the pesky gremlin.

Of that I am sure as well. The Batman stories of the 1960s, for the most part, are juvenile and aimed at a younger audience. I get that. But a lot of the Bats yarns we're reading are filled with magic and imagination. These Bat-Mite adventures push my patience to the limit. There's a pattern to them that's grating (Bat-Mite becomes weary of whatever it is he does when he's not here and cooks up a danger for B&R to navigate) and it feels as though Bill Finger couldn't give a flying *%#@ about this character but knows the boss wants the little shit in the picture now and then. The art is as awful as usual (see the panel reproduced below for some strange anatomy lessons re: the human bicep) and if these guys can't give it their best, why should I?

J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter From Mars, faces the deadliest danger he's ever come up against since emigrating from the Red Planet: the crazed genius/scientist Victor Vance, who's perfected a machine that can both shrink and enlarge an item in its path. The Manhunter tries to sneak up on Vance but the loony crook is too fast for him and reduces J'onn to the size of a Barbie doll. The Martian superhero must now prevent Vance from getting his hands on an experimental "Force-Field" machine that will make him the most powerful man in the galaxy.

The big brain criminals in these things are always either one can short of a six-pack or short-sighted. Why doesn't Vance travel to the police precinct and shrink it down to microscopic size, thereby eliminating the police force? The hero of "The Miniature Manhunter" is not much brighter; police warn him that Vance is super-sizing and shrinking stuff left and right and JJ goes after the cycling psycho without flipping on his invisibility switch. What a dope.-Peter

Jack-Bat-Mite must have been reading DC comics, since it turns out in the end that he was only pretending that being knocked in the head took away his powers. He tries to tell Batman that a second head knock (of course) caused them to come back, but Bats is too smart for him and points out that the timeline makes no sense. The Martian Manhunter story once again demonstrates the fascination at DC for giant things. The entire premise of  the Atom is based on a man shrinking so that everything seems giant sized. Here, the Manhunter never really seems to be in much peril, so the story is an excuse to turn him into a green Atom for ten pages or so. The year 1962 ends with a whimper for Batman; we are slowly approaching the 1964 reboot and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Next Week...
Joe Orlando Joins
the Atlas Bullpen!