Monday, March 11, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 107: Atlas/ Marvel Science Fiction & Horror Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 92
December 1955 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #44
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Abra Cadabra!" (a: Art Peddy) 
"Nightmare!" (a: Jack Katz) 
"Something in the Sea" (a: Bob Powell) 
"Through the Veil!" (a: Robert Q. Sale) 
"Inside the House!" (a: Doug Wildey) 

With the wave of a wand, The Great Emery has become a washed-up magician. The icing on the cake was his final evening on stage, when he carelessly forgot to lock the door during the "disappearing maiden" trick and the door swung wide, revealing his assistant fleeing through a trap door.

Crestfallen, Emery heads out into the night, pondering his future. It's during this brainstorm that he stumbles onto a bank heist and accidentally makes the getaway car vanish with a simple "Abra Cadabra!" Perhaps his career isn't over? Cute, but much too short for the reader to become involved with Emery's plight. 

International racing phenom Faletti never shows his emotions, even after one of his colleagues is killed while rounding the "Coresci Turn," an infamous curve that has taken the lives of many skilled drivers. The death of von Grantz doesn't seem to faze him, at least not to the outside world. But deep inside, the tragedy eats at Faletti.

That night, while driving a perilous stretch of road, Faletti loses control of his sports car and the vehicle violently leaves the road. The driver manages to gain control of the car and put it back on the road but the horizon looks odd and unfamiliar to Faletti. Before long, he comes across a race track and, sitting in their autos, all the drivers who died on the Coresci Turn! Faletti turns tail and tries to outrun the dead men but they quickly catch up. With death in his rearview mirror, Faletti exclaims that he's always carried the weight of death on his shoulders but can't display those emotions as it wouldn't be part of the "game."

Suddenly, the other drivers fall back and Faletti finds himself back on the road, his car a mangled mess. But the incident has taught him something about himself. What that something is, I have no idea. I'm not sure if the entire Death Race was taking place inside Faletti's brain or if there really was a video game landscape stretched out before him. The Jack Katz art is nice but the script is maudlin junk; I suppose the moral of "Nightmare" is that, if you're a famous race car driver, open up about the sorrow you feel deep inside or else it will come back to haunt you in the end. Yep, that's what it's about.

"Something in the Sea" is a deadly dumb fantasy about a dope who falls in love with a gorgeous mermaid while on a sea cruise. The Bob Powell graphics are some of his worst ever, as if the artist never had the time to finish.

In "Through the Veil," test pilot Tod Barclay ponders whether what he's doing is for the good of mankind or if it will hasten the apocalypse. He gets his answer when his jet breaks through the sound barrier and ends up 200 years in the future. A sparkling, bright future! At that moment, Tod realizes that war is not so bad and weapons are pretty cool. This is the kind of jingoistic claptrap Stan Lee was famous for in the 1950s and, while I do not have evidence before me, I kinda think "The Man" had a hand in this one. The Robert Q. Sale art, at times, very much resembles Reed Crandall's work.

Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Dale are notified that they've won a dream house, all expenses paid, in a national contest. Mrs. Irvin thanks the hubby for having the good sense to enter but Irvin shakes his head and says "I thought it was you!" The couple move "Inside the House!" and begin their new life, but there's one strange, circular room that Jane refuses to enter. There's something about the room she just doesn't trust.

One day, as Irvin is walking through the house, he hears an odd, hollow sound below the floor. Grabbing a convenient concrete drill, Mr. Dale chips away at the foundation and discovers a mass of machinery below the house. Irvin opines that it must be some newfangled kind of heating system. That night, the couple are visited by two strangers who introduce themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Dale! Irvin II insists that the house is theirs, since he was the party responsible for entering the contest. Irvin I tells Irvin II to blow and Irvin II tells him he'll see them in court.

But what with all the pain that goes into owning a new house (and the gardener just can't get grass to grow in that crappy soil), Irvin and Jane decide to sell the house to their namesakes and enjoy the extra funds the free house gained them. Unbeknownst to either couple, the house is actually a trap set by outer space aliens who needed one of each sex to complete their study. Once the Irvin II couple step into the circular room, the house blasts off into space! A fun, imaginative little SF yarn that has a few holes large enough to blast a house through (Who built the house? Who signed the deed? Who pays the utilities?) but possesses enough charm to make those speed bumps null and void.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #40
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Who Dwells Inside the Mountain?" (a: Dick Ayers) 1/2
"Not Quite Human!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) ★1/2
"In Your Hat" (a: Mort Lawrence) ★1/2
"The House of Secrets!" (a: John Forte) 
"He Went Too Far" (a: Art Peddy) 

Big Hank Blatt has dreamed of finding a vein of gold all his life. Then, while exploring caves one day, Big Hank runs into a solid wall of gold deep inside a remote cavern. Dream has become reality! But before Big Hank can so much as count the millions, his glee is interrupted by tiny voices. Yep, the biggest gold strike since the Beatles is being guarded by leprechauns!

The little people tell Big Hank that no one sees the gold and returns to the outside world, so he's got a choice: die or remain in the cave with the little guys forever. Big Hank vocalizes the latter but strategizes his escape inside his devious mind. No way a bunch of midgets are going to keep Big Hank from his riches. The leprechauns rejoice when they hear Big Hank's decision and propose a toast with some potent bubbly. After Big Hank downs his quaff, he hightails it for the cave exit and heads for a nearby field to make his re-entry strategy. It's then that he falls asleep, dreaming of gold, unaware that the bubbly has caused him to shrink to leprechaun size. "Who Dwells Inside the Mountain!" is more evidence that Dick Ayers was a really bad penciller. The outcome at the finale must be guessed at since no explanation is provided but, seeing as how Big Hank is tiny, it's pretty obvious. 

Android #2166 is aboard a ship bound for Venus. All the androids on Earth have been rounded up for what #2166 believes is a final trip before they are decommissioned. But, after #2166 stages a riot on board, he's notified by the ship's captain (who is also an android) that the ship is actually bound for Venus, where humans cannot exist. It will be the new Eden for plastic men and women. Though the happy ending borders on schmaltzy, "Not Quite Human!" actually comes off as sweet and compassionate. I always wonder what these scripts would have looked like had they been produced a year earlier. The mini-riot on board the spaceship doubtless would have been more violent and the climax darker.

The raft of shipwrecked magician The Great Sandini hits the shore of an uncharted island somewhere south of Borneo and the showman knows he's in trouble when he's greeted by a band of very unfriendly-looking natives. Realizing he'd better dazzle them with his skills, Sandini dons his garb and whips out his wand, making an egg appear out of the medicine man's hat. He's got his audience eating out of his hands yet again!

It's then that Sandini notices the pearls hanging around the necks of his hosts and decides he just has to have them. In exchange for more tricks, the natives happily hand over more and more pearls. Before long, Sandini has them diving for the precious objects. Finally, a ship comes and Sandini flags them down. The natives do not want him to leave, but the magician offers his magic hat and paraphernalia for his freedom. He stashes the pearls in a sack and climbs aboard the ship. Once underway, the captain demands payment, but when Sandini opens the sack, a rabbit pops out. Back on the island, the natives have nothing but pearls.

The climax of "In Your Hat" is confusing. Well, I think I understand but, like "Who Dwells Inside the Mountain," it's open to interpretation. I love how The Great Sandini is shipwrecked but manages to get what looks like a very heavy luggage trunk on what looks like a raft constructed from logs. First, how did this guy get his magician's locker from a sinking ship and, more important, who helped him build the raft? 

In the supremely dopey "The House of Secrets," Harvey and Faye Tanner adopt Michael Bryant, a boy they stumble upon on an airport tarmac (!!!) and raise him as their own. Though they love Michael, they refuse to tell him their secret and, for Michael's part, he loves them too but refuses to give up hope that his real parents will come back for him. Then, on his 18th birthday, the Tanners decide to tell Michael everything. At night, they grow whiskers and a cat nose because they're actually from the planet Mars. But that's okay, sighs Michael, because he's from Jupiter and his parents should be back soon to pick him up because a round trip to Jupiter takes eight years. So, for eight years, Michael never saw the Tanners at night? Pulpmaster Carl Wessler was responsible for this knee-slapper, a script that could have written itself.

In the finale, "He Went Too Far," Matt Heggerty sees fortune teller Madame Ulga, who predicts that the man will go far in his work life if he steps on his co-workers and spares no emotion. Matt does just that and ends up where he belongs. Awful, sketchy art and a convoluted script make "He Went Too Far" the perfect capper to a dismal issue of Journey.-Peter

Journey Into Mystery #29
Cover by Joe Maneely

"Three Frightened People" (a: Reed Crandall) ★1/2
"The Black Book" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"Mr. Know-It-All" (a: John Forte) 
"Into Thin Air!" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"Someone is In My Room" (a: Bob Brown) 

Joe and Helen Barkley are so glad that their G.I. son Ken is coming home from Korea that they invite the young man's girlfriend, Barbara, over to celebrate with them. Unfortunately, at that moment, three thugs (led by Doyle) break into the house and hold a machine gun on Pop Barkley, demanding sanctuary. They've just escaped prison and need to lay low for a few days until the heat is off. Pop explains that his tough-guy son will be there any minute, but the hoods pay no mind. Moments later, a telegram comes informing Pop that Ken will be delayed due to weather but that he'll be there in spirit. That leaves just "Three Frightened People" and suits the convicts just fine.

Just then, a voice emanates from the shadows. It's Ken! The G.I. warns the hoods that they'd better hightail it pronto or face his wrath. Doyle guffaws and lets loose a volley of lead into Ken, who doesn't seem fazed. In fact, he disappears in a wisp of smoke, only to reappear again behind Doyle. The hardened convict threatens to mow down Barbara but, at the last moment, lowers his weapon. Ken vanishes, Pop calls the police, and the three cons surrender. Soon, Ken arrives through the front door and asks why no one is happy to see him. When Pop admits they were happier when he showed up to thwart the criminals, Ken admits that he just arrived from the airport a few minutes ago after being delayed in California. All involved shrug, sigh, and look to the heavens above. 

Reed Crandall makes a welcome comeback to Atlas after the collapse of EC several months prior. Though there's not much for Crandall to do (most of the panels involve the Barkleys and hoods standing around talking), his pencils are so comfortable and detailed, I'll take what I can get. The script by Carl Wessler is pure pulp nonsense. Ken's "spirit" asks Doyle to surrender his weapon but could the astral projection actually hold anything if it tried? It's a pretty cocky spirit, too, as it actually dares Doyle to empty his Tommy into Barbara. Not sure the real Ken would have liked his spirit much if Babs was reduced to rubble by the time he got there in body.

With the help of "The Black Book" and its magical incantations, Josiah Stone becomes the most powerful and wealthy captain in the Atlantic but, in the end, he becomes too greedy and reads the wrong spell. Oops! The final panel (after Stone wishes for a sea "as smooth as glass," he and his ship end up in a bottle) has been done to death and better, but Manny Stallman's dark, atmospheric art at least makes the journey worthwhile.

In the silly "Mr. Know-It-All," Professor of Astrology Robert Emory is a stick in the mud as far as his babe-alicious wife is concerned. Mae just wants to get on the "Rocket to the Moon" ride and have a good time, not be lectured about how many microorganisms it takes to fill a lunar pothole. Bob gives in and the ride begins, taking them to the moon, where they exit the machine and walk the lunar surface, discovering moon men and their homes. All the while, Bob can't keep his mouth shut so Mae hoists a moon-axe and cleaves Bob's head in half just listens patiently. Once back on Earth, Bob lectures the ride's owner about factual inaccuracies and the jovial man just laughs and points to the exit. Once Mae and Bob have left, the stowaway moon men disembark and take their place in the carnival. I found Bob's pretentiousness delightful (I've encountered several "Bob"s in my lifetime), but the bit I loved is that the ride took our protagonists to the moon, they got out without any kind of suit to protect them, and then returned to Earth in what must have been an hour's time. That's some rocket ship.

Elephant hunter Roger Colton is determined to track a dying elephant to see where the beasts go to die. Roger tracks the animal to the graveyard but there's no corpse. It's vanished "Into Thin Air!" That's because when elephants die their bodies teleport to another planet. And on that planet are scientists trying to figure out where these huge corpses are coming from! Oh boy.

In the equally dreadful "Someone Is In My Room," George Johnson is amazed to find an extra bed in his room and evidence that someone has slept in that bed. But no matter how late George stays up, he can't catch a glimpse of the stranger. Is it Goldilocks? No, actually it's George's spirit, broken away from him during a particularly bad bout of the flu. He finally confronts himself and his two halves agree to reunite and everyone lives happily ever after. Except us. Besides bad scripts, the last two stories in this issue are graced with simply horrendous art. Winiarski's is scratchy and made me physically ill, while Bob Brown's safe, uncomplicated pencils put me to sleep.-Peter

Marvel Tales #141
Cover by Carl Burgos

"From Out of Nowhere!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"Swap Shop" (a: Manny Stallman) ★1/2
"The Spelunker!" (a: Mort Drucker?) 
"The Last Chance" (a: Pete Tumlinson)
"The Iron Brain!" (a: Bill Benulis) ★1/2

Two amorphous alien creatures arrive on Earth, study the ways of humans, and meet a lonely scholar. Transforming themselves into replicas of perfect humans (white, young), they announce their mission: to learn all they need to know about humanity, find our weak spots, and then invite the rest of their dimension's inhabitants to conquer our dimension!

As time passes, they begin to discover that being human is actually pretty nice and realize they can never go back to the way they were. They tell the scholar that they want to become fully human, but he replies that their lack of emotions will prevent them from achieving their goal. Overcome by the strain of worrying about the fate of our dimension, the scholar grows weak and the aliens care for him. When he sees them shedding tears, he explains that they have finally developed emotions and can join the human race.

Hoo boy, if I wanted to read The Velveteen Rabbit, I wouldn't pick up a comic called Journey Into Mystery. The end of this tepid tale hardly comes "From Out of Nowhere!"--instead, it is utterly predictable.

Alice and John Marston are on a camping trip when they discover a fish tank with an unusual power--anything John puts in the tank is returned in such a way as to seem like a gift given by an intelligent being that is trying to figure out what John wants. Maybe Dr. Stevens at the observatory can help figure out what's going on! The Marstons drive through the pouring rain, ignoring a flood warning, and reach Dr. Stevens, who opines that the fish tank is allowing them to communicate with another world!

The river overflows and flood waters approach, but the miraculous tank draws the torrent in and pumps it back out to safety. Dr. Stevens determines (don't ask me how) that the tank must be communicating with the planet Pluto, and when he looks through his telescope he sees the (then) ninth planet in our solar system enveloped by a swirling gaseous mass. Assuming the gas spells trouble and the Plutonians need help, he takes a block of uranium, the element that has done "'remarkable things for this world,'" and transports it to Pluto by means of the fish tank. Suddenly, deep in space, an atomic explosion occurs and the gas disappears from around  Pluto. Back in the observatory, the mysterious tank is gone and Dr. Stevens assumes the Plutonians determined that Earth was not ready for "'permanent contact.'"

The title of this story is "Swap Shop," which comes from  an offhand remark made by Alice when she sees that things John puts into the tank are traded for other things. A better title might have been "Nonsense." The leaps of logic that are required to go from a fish tank to Pluto needing uranium to dissolve a gaseous cloud are astounding. The GCD posits that Stan Lee wrote this but, as Peter has taught us, there are no Commies, so I have my doubts.

"The Spelunker!" is Jeff Cord, who explores caves beneath the Earth's surface in  part because he seeks to escape the reality of his life above ground. During one expedition, he is separated from the other spelunkers and explores a shaft that goes deep into the Earth. At the bottom he finds a paradise, where the people live forever and never die. He soon gets tired of their meaningless existence and escapes back to the surface, pledging never to tell anyone what he found.

The GCD credits the art on this one to Mort Drucker with a question mark, but it's clearly his work, and it's easily the best thing about the story. Often, post-code Atlas stories end with a character deciding he likes his life just the way it is. It's the opposite of a surprise ending and it gets dull.

A Broadway bit player named Arthur Rowland gets a starring role when a lead actor is in bad shape, but when he's offered a contract to replace the man, his conscience won't let him ruin the star's career. He gets another break three years later, but this time he refuses to play a serious scene for laughs. Finally, "The Last Chance" comes along, but a fire breaks out during the performance. Arthur sacrifices his own life saving others and, after his funeral, a brand new star is seen in the night sky.

Unfortunately, Pete Tumlinson is no Mort Drucker, so this maudlin four-pager fails to rise above its mediocre script.

Jeffrey Donell spends ten years building Ferro, a machine equipped with "The Iron Brain." Ferro impresses all of the bigwigs in town with its ability to erect buildings with incredible speed, but all of the laborers are unhappy at being put out of work. Jeffrey gets rich until Ferro decides the money should be his. A trial is held and the jury decides that Ferro deserves the money more than Jeffrey. Ferro retires, the laborers return to work, and Jeffrey is left begging for change.

I liked "The Iron Brain," partly due to the art by Bill Benulis and partly due to the tongue in cheek story. In a few places, Benulis makes good use of white space, and his design for Ferro is amusing--the robot has a big wheel instead of legs and a propellor atop its head. The conclusion, where each gets his just desserts, is satisfying.-Jack

Mystery Tales #36
Cover by Carl Burgos

"What Am I?" (a: Art Peddy) 
"The Strange Sink" (a: Bernie Krigstein)  
"Eyes in the Night" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) 
"Man in White" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"The Unseen Enemy!" (a: Joe Sinnott) 

When he emerges unscathed from a building explosion, Don wonders, "What Am I?" All his life, he's never been hurt or fallen ill. Is he an alien from another planet? He's kept his secret hidden from his wife Mary, who doesn't realize that Don doesn't even need sleep. And who is the man who has been following Don for weeks, trying to talk to him?

One day, Don arrives home to find Mary standing in the kitchen, staring at the milkman, who lies unconscious on the floor. She picks up the man as if he weighs no more than a feather and carries him out the back door. It turns out he was overcome by fumes from the gas stove. After the milkman leaves, Mary and Don confess to each other that they are the same! Neither gets hurt, neither gets sick, neither needs sleep. The man who has been following Don appears at their house and explains that they are products of the atomic age, formed by nature to ensure man's survival as radiation on the planet increases.

Well, that conclusion landed like a lead zeppelin, didn't it? I was expecting Don and Mary to be robots, but instead they're somehow genetic mutations. The oddest part of the story is the way the scientist just turns up in their living room right in the middle of their mutual confessions. Creepy.

A poor old woman named Martha is astonished when she washes her ragged dress in "The Strange Sink" and, when she lifts it out of the water, it's brand new! She shows her husband, Henry, and admits that she was wishing for a new dress when she put it in the water. Henry wishes for a box of fine cigars, and they suddenly appear in his humidor! Determined to make their next wish a good one, they wish that the mortgage on their home was paid in full. Mr. Holden, the man who holds the note, appears at the door and explains that he just got rich from an oil field and is canceling their mortgage to keep himself out of a higher tax bracket.

Holden accidentally drops his pen into the sink, and the ink turns the water blue. As he leaves, Martha lets the water out so it won't stain the sink, which she then scrubs clean. She fills the sink with more water, but its wish-granting properties have vanished. On a nearby estate, young Tommy gazes down into a wishing well and remarks that the water at the bottom has suddenly turned blue.

Peter handily informs me that this is the first we've seen of Bernie Krigstein at Atlas in over two years, since "The Untouchable" in Strange Tales #22. I'm happy for more work by a former EC artist, but I would prefer it if he were assigned a story that had some meat to it. The tale of Martha and her sink hardly warrants the artwork of the man who drew "Master Race." What's next, "The Terrible Tub?"

No one likes Char, a black cat, and the poor kitty thinks that if only someone would trust him, he'd lead them to great riches. Char spends his nights in the basement of a deserted stone house, sitting atop a chest of gold coins. Along comes Joe Ruddey, an escaped convict on the run who is being pursued by bloodhounds. Char rubs against his leg and Joe follows the cat to the basement, where he discovers the gold. Unfortunately, when Joe is dragging the heavy chest out of the basement, a wall collapses and traps him under its debris. His calls for help alert the cops and he is taken back to jail, but Char thinks Joe will see him as an omen of good luck that led him to wealth.

There's nothing wrong with "Eyes in the Night," which features some decent layouts by Bob Forgione and Jack Abel, but it suffers from the same problem so many of these post-code stories do--it's too tame. Having the cat narrate doesn't help.

When the cops respond to a burglar alarm going off at the bank, all they find is a "Man in White" who speaks Latin and is dressed in a toga. A Latin teacher is brought in to translate, and the stranger explains that he's Caius Aneas and he lives in Rome in 40 B.C. He conducted scientific investigations but his conclusions, such as demonstrating that the Earth revolves around the sun, forced him into exile. One day, a group of peasants summoned Caius to examine a strange, red box that had dials and levers inside. He got in and, the next thing he knew, he was transported to 1955. Meanwhile, in Rome of 40 B.C., a bank robber wonders what happened to the time machine he used to hide out after robbing the bank. Now he has to wait 2000 years for the bonds he stole to mature!

Ed Winiarski's primitive art ruins any chance that this quickie had of being entertaining. As is so often the case, the ending falls flat. I'd like to see what happens when the Romans discover the bank robber, who wears a jacket, tie, and fedora!

Flight instructor Col. Luke Roehm tells his students that Earth is at war with Mars and flying saucers have been sent to spy on us. As a result, he's court-martialed. A professor of astronomy testifies that there is definitely no life on Mars. Smiling to himself, Roehm hops in his flying saucer and returns to Mars, where he reports that Earthlings are morons and the planet is ripe for takeover. Unfortunately, Martian scientists have concluded that there is definitely no life on Earth and thus nothing to conquer! Roehm is kicked out of the Martian army.

I was hoping for a brief interruption in the mediocrity when I saw that "The Unseen Enemy!" was drawn by Joe Sinnott, but no such luck--it looks like he phoned it in. The end of the story, where the Martians are certain that there is no life on Earth, is kind of cute, but the story is a series of talking heads.-Jack

Next Week...
The False Face Society!


Grant said...

"Inside The House" sounds like one of those "alien breeding experiment" stories, at least in a subtle way. (The kind that's about abducting COUPLES, not SINGLE Earth women or men.)
Were those ever popular in early SF comics, as opposed to movies and some shows?

Jack Seabrook said...

Peter is the expert! I'm just along for the ride.