Monday, April 29, 2024

Batman in the 1960s Issue 21: May/ June 1963

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

Batman #155

"Batman's Psychic Twin"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Return of the Penguin"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Bruce Wayne sees wanted murderer Jo-Jo Gagan strolling along the sidewalk of downtown Gotham City and decides to follow him, but a sudden explosion at the Pioneer Chemical Products Company temporarily blinds the uncaped crusader and Gagan runs away. That night, the Dynamic Duo respond to a police call about an unidentified copter landing at Gotham heliport and race to the scene, where they find Boss Bragg's gang holding up a mail delivery. Jo-Jo is with the gang but, when Batman throws his Batarang at Jo-Jo and it hits his wrist, Batman also feels a sudden wrist pain. Robin leaps on Jo-Jo and, when the crook's head slams into the side of the copter, Batman's head hurts, too.

The gang escapes and Boss Bragg deduces that Batman is feeling any pain felt by Jo-Jo. Jo-Jo leaps out a window into the harbor and, at the Batcave, Batman feels like he's drowning. Batman realizes that the chemical explosion has made Jo-Jo Gagan into "Batman's Psychic Twin" and, worse yet, if Jo-Jo figures out their new connection and recalls that Bruce Wayne was injured in the explosion, he'll figure out Batman's secret identity. Batman and Robin take a cruise in their new patrol boat and see Boss Bragg gunning for Gagan, who's still in the water. Incredibly, Batman and Robin climb into Bat-Torpedoes and launch themselves at Bragg's boat, sinking it. Batman and Robin capture two gang members but the boss and Jo-Jo escape.

Jo-Jo sees a picture of Bruce Wayne in the paper, recognizes him, and decides that he is probably Batman. That night, Bruce attends a society ball and dances with Kathy Kane. Jo-Jo is skulking nearby and injures his own foot to test his theory. When he sees Bruce complain of foot pain, he's certain. Batman and Robin visit the now-jailed gang members and figure out the location of Boss Bragg's hideout: an abandoned firehouse. Outside the building they capture two more gang members, but Jo-Jo escapes yet again. The next morning, Boss Bragg reads a letter from Jo-Jo, who invites him to meet at the Gotham Granary at noon, where Batman's secret identity will be divulged. Realizing that Batman's death could mean the same for him, Jo-Jo intervenes and is fatally buried under tons of grain. Batman pretends to be choking and captures the unwary crooks; he came up with an antidote and no longer suffers Jo-Jo's fate.

I have had it with Moldoff and Paris's art. It's just more of the same in every issue. Of all of the wacky things in Dave Wood's complicated script, the most astonishing to me is that Batman and Robin climb inside the Bat-Torpedoes, which then zip through the water and blow holes in Boss Bragg's boat. Why in the world would the Dynamic Duo do that? It's not like they're steering them. I wonder if Jo-Jo felt the impact when the torpedo Batman was riding inside of crashed through the hull of the boat.

A Chinese version of the Bat-Signal draws Batman and Robin to the Dragon Temple in Gotham City's Chinatown, where they encounter "The Return of the Penguin," newly released after a stretch in prison. The fowl fiend makes off with valuable rubies and subsequently escapes capture by riding on an ostrich. The boys at the pool hall aren't impressed with the Penguin's first crime, so he engineers another that involves a giant penguin-blimp and a robbery. The man of a thousand umbrellas manages to outwit Batman and escape again. Now the gang at the pool hall shows some respect!

The next day, mechanical penguins are delivered to Bruce Wayne and 23 other Gotham City worthies. Batman figures out that the Penguin will strike at a meeting of the Friends of Birds Society, which he does. Batman arrives and barely escapes with his life when a group of animated giant bird figures converge on him. He tricks the Penguin by using several fake Batman scarecrows to block every exit and, before you can squawk, the Penguin is back in jail.

Bill Finger's entertaining script brings back one of my favorite, eccentric villains, and the story is a roller-coaster ride of silly encounters until Batman finally comes out on top. Even Moldoff and Paris rise to the occasion; one panel reminded me of the atmospheric art from Batman: Year One.-Jack

I would buy a book called The Science of 1960s' Batman Comics in a heartbeat. I want to know (nay, I'm dying to know) how the explosion psychically and physically linked Bats and Jo-Jo. "Batman's Psychic Twin" includes what may be my favorite scene in any Batman strip this year: Jo-Jo purposely hurting his own foot and watching as Bruce Wayne agonizes on the dance floor with an obviously horrified Kathy Kane. Also, worst mustache of the year award goes to... Jo-Jo Gagan, who seems to be growing that baby right out of his nostrils!

"The Return of the Penguin" reminds us how sparingly the Rogues were used in the early 1960s; Riddler is nowhere to be found, Catwoman won't be back until '66, and this is the old bird's first appearance since Batman #99 in April 1956. I really enjoyed this goofy bit of nonsense, especially the fact that Penguin came out of a peaceful retirement because of the taunting of some pool hall flunkies! The psycho-Penguin of the '70s/'80s would have blown their heads off with his trick umbrella. It won't be long before Oswald makes a return visit.

Detective Comics #315

"The Jungle Man of Gotham City"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Man of 1,000 Disguises"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Deep in the jungles of Africa, a bizarre tableau is displayed before our very faces: Batman teasing a low-IQ "Jungle Man" with firecrackers before trapping the poor lunk with a steel mesh net. But let out that sigh, Bat-fans, your eyes are not seeing the whole picture yet. Once Jungle Man is captured, "Batman" heads off into the bushes and pulls off his cape and cowl to reveal... dastardly criminal mastermind, Eli Mattock, recently paroled and placed on the Gotham Most Wanted Unknown Hoods list in the same day!

Mattock approaches Jungle Man, helps him out of the netting, and explains that Batman (whom JM refers to as "Bad-Man") has caught a "silver bird" and made off for Gotham to tell everyone there what a sissy Jungle Man is. Enraged, JM agrees to hop aboard Mattock's Cessna and pay his new enemy a visit. What evil (and complicated) scheme does Mattock have up his well-tailored sleeve?

Several days later, in Gotham, Batman and Robin answer the Bat-signal and head for Gotham Zoo, where they are told about the theft of an elephant, a rhino, a lion, a python, and several pounds of bananas. Driving from the scene, they overhear a woman screaming and find themselves face to face with Jungle Man, Mattock, and his gang at the Botanical Gardens. Robin grabs a canister of conveniently-placed DDT and starts spraying the hoods, while Batman confronts this strange loincloth-clad man from Africa. Suddenly, Jungle Man shrieks: "Unga Unga Uga Uga" and a python envelops our shocked Dark Knight Avenger. JM and the hoods escape and only Robin's gas pellet saves Batman from a tight squeeze.

Exiting the Gardens, Robin remarks on Jungle Man's obvious hatred for the Caped Crusader and Bats, in one of his incredible, spontaneous brainstorms, exclaims that Mattock must have traveled to Africa and convinced Jungle Man that Gotham's favorite warrior is his enemy! "Quick, Robin, we have to peruse the list of Gotham children who have gone missing in Africa. I have a hunch!"

The next day, while on patrol, the Dynamic Duo come across Mattock and his Jungle Dope, who's riding his pet rhino. The beast has overturned an armored car and Mattock's henchmen are pilfering the vehicle. "The Jungle Man of Gotham City" orders Robbie the Rhino to smash the Batmobile and the monster does just that. Luckily, a nearby bed of tar stops the animal's rampage but, as usual, the bad guys get away. Back at Gordon's office, Batman and Robin are introduced to Jungle Man's mom and dad, the Youngs, a perfectly wonderful couple who quickly try to explain why they gave up the search for their little Tommy in the African jungle. A match of Tommy's childhood footprint with that of his grown-up self confirms that Jungle Man was born Tommy Young!

Mrs. Young hands over Tommy's most prized possession, his childhood Teddy Bear, and the boys get back to work, vowing they'll bring the man-child home safely despite the poor-man's Tarzan having laid waste to half of Gotham. With the help of the small stuffed animal ("Bwango! Bwango!"), Batman is able to convince Jungle Man that he is his friend and Mattock is a bad guy. JM has his animals surround the Mattock gang while Bats and Robin apply the cuffs. A happy ending arrives when Tommy is reunited with the parents who were careless enough to lose him in a dangerous part of Africa, and he complains about the stuffy shirt he has to wear to elementary school. Batman and Robin chuckle.

Dave Wood seems to be filling in nicely for Bill Finger, whipping up ridiculous plots, leaps of the imagination, and smile-inducing dialogue. Who would have guessed that, after losing their kid, the Youngs would move to Gotham? I really wanted Mrs. Young to go into the particulars of the picnic they had on the veldt where little Tommy was playing hide and seek and never returned. It's understandable that the kid would speak English, since he wasn't a toddler when he got lost (or dumped), but how did he learn how to speak to the animals? And another thing, why does Jungle Man use different exclamations to tell his pets to attack? Tell me he's actually saying "Please upend the armored car!" when he yells "Pango M'Bango!" 

Mattock is another one of those of brilliant Gotham criminals who sits down and maps out an elaborate plan in order to knock off a luncheon with a bunch of old ladies. Why don't the hoods ask why they can't just head into the soiree with machine guns, rather than fly to Africa, help the boss impersonate Batman, and lay a trap for a wild and dangerous jungle guy? You'd think during one of these adventures, Batman would throw up his hands and ask the same question.

In "The Man of 1,000 Disguises," J'onn J'onzz faces the most dangerous villain of his career: a two-bit magician named Porto, who's been pulling off heists undercover in disguise. To catch Porto's henchmen, the Martian Manhunter impersonates Porto and puts the real McCoy under lock and key with little Zook as a sentry. But, as often happens with the so-cute-you-want-to-cuddle-with-him alien Zook, something goes wrong and Porto escapes. MM and Porto have a showdown, with J'onn J'onzz narrowly escaping cuts and bruises. The usual dopiness, but this adventure reveals something new (unless I was napping during an earlier adventure, which is perfectly understandable), and that's that J'onzz takes on the abilities and powers of whoever he impersonates. In this case, MM transforms into a Plutonian Bird-Man when Porto changes into his own Bird-Man costume and threatens our hero with fiery rocket exhaust. Everyone knows that Plutonian Bird-Men are not weakened by flames, so J'onn is able to nab the bad guy with no ill effects. This should effectively eliminate fire from future Martian Manhunter installments, no?-Peter

Jack-In the Batman story, how did Mattock learn of the Jungle Man? Did he read about him in the National Enquirer? If he had no trouble finding him, why wouldn't the Youngs have been able to locate their missing son in the course of fifteen years? The J'onn J'onzz story was better than the Batman story. Zook is unappealing but he does give the Martian Manhunter someone to talk to. The narrative was exciting, with punchy art. I agree with you about the problem with the Manhunter avoiding his weakness by transforming into another character. Let's see how this plays out.

Batman #156

"The Secret of the Ant-Man"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"Robin Dies at Dawn"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

Batman goes off on a top-secret mission so, of course, when Dick Grayson is at a school dance, crooks show up and try to rob a $20K cash donation meant to be used to purchase new gym equipment. Robin swings into action and receives unexpected help from a tiny, costumed figure who calls himself Ant-Man.

Robin and Ace, the Bat-Hound, end up at the research lab of Dr. Hanson, who has been working on a formula to shrink human tissue, but find it closed to visitors. Following a tip in a letter from Ant-Man, Robin interrupts a pair of crooks that night as they try to rob a safe at the Gotham Jewelry Co. After the tiny fellow helps the Boy Wonder defeat the bad guys, he makes off with a satchel of jewels!

A newspaper headline stating that Dr. Hanson has discovered a formula to shrink humans, along with an antidote, leads Ant-Man to show up at the lab, looking for a cure. He is met by a shrunken Robin, who turns out to be a puppet, and by the full-sized Robin, who unmasks Ant-Man and discovers that he's Jumbo Carson, a gangster who was thought to have been killed. Carson fell into the river next to Hanson's lab, where he was exposed to waste chemicals that shrunk him. To his dismay, Hanson has not yet come up with an antidote; the newspaper story was planted to lure him to the lab.

Meanwhile, Batman is swept up on a swirling beam of light to another planet, where he is attacked by a giant plant and freed by Robin. The next morning, the Dynamic Duo face a giant stone statute that comes to life! Robin taunts the statue and is crushed to death when the figure drops a huge boulder. Batman buries his chum under a pile of stones. A big, red, alien beast with giant fangs and glowing eyes menaces Batman...who turns out to have dreamt the whole thing during a controlled experiment to duplicate conditions that an astronaut might face.

Batman walks off with Robin, but the doctor who conducted the test wonders if he'll have any after-effects. That night, Batman and Robin encounter three men in gorilla suits robbing the Acme Loan Co. The Dark Knight begins to hallucinate, reliving part of his dream when a crane seems to become the stone monster. The next night, the Gorilla Gang's getaway car seems to transform into the red, alien beast. Batman thinks he may have to hang up his cape and cowl, but when the Gorilla Gang capture Robin and send a message that "Robin Dies At Dawn," Batman springs into action.

He and Bat-Hound trace the gang to their hideout, where they have Robin tied to a hot air balloon that they are about to set loose. Batman defeats the gang, punctures the balloon, and saves the day. He tells Robin that the shock of thinking the Boy Wonder might be killed cured him of his hallucinations.

"The Secret of the Ant-Man!" stars Robin, though the reader is encouraged to join Robin in thinking, for a while, that the Ant-Man is really Batman in tiny disguise. This first story leads into the second, a two-parter that really doesn't live up to this issue's terrific cover. I think we've had other stories where someone or other seems to be killed, only to have it turn out to be a dream or something like that. Unfortunately, I was never able to work up much concern about Robin's fate.-Jack

Peter-"The Secret of the Ant-Man" is the usual silly nonsense. The only interesting aspects are that it's the rare Robin solo story and that, by the time this strip ran, Marvel's Ant-Man had been featured in Tales to Astonish for nine months. A blatant rip-off or just a coincidence? Would DC have been okay if Marvel had "borrowed" one of their heroes? It was a much different time, to be sure. 

"Robin Dies at Dawn" could very well be the first Batman story I ever read as a kid. It would be reprinted in Batman #185 (by 1966, the 80-page Giant "Annuals" would be folded into the regular title numbering) and I can remember being very affected by the tale. Ah, youth! Reading it now, Bill Finger's script reads as if Batman is on an acid trip and the reveal is not that far off. The Moldoff/Paris cover is a classic, striking and dramatic even if it's a cheat. 

Detective Comics #316

"Double Batman vs. Double X"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Sheldon Moldoff & Charles Paris

"The Bandits with Super Powers"
Story by Jack Miller (?)
Art by Joe Certa

Dr. Simon Ecks (a/k/a Dr. X) escapes his swanky room at Arkham Asylum and heads right for the duplication machine he'd hidden away years ago in a mansion on the outskirts of Gotham. With a flip of the switch, Double X materializes on the bed beside X. The pair head out into the night to secure an energy source for the blurry bad guy.

Answering a Bat-Signal call, Batman and Robin arrive at Gotham Harbor just as the two Xs are making off with a cruise liner's generator. Dr. X and Double X prove to be too strong for the Dynamic Duo and they easily escape capture. Batman knows there's only one thing to do: create a Double-Batman! Once the boys locate the duplicating machine, Bats turns the dials and watches in awe as his energy twin takes form. The birth of Double-Batman!

The trio head out to search for the deadly Xs and find them at a Gotham military station. The pair are trying to heist a tank and a bulldozer. Despite the added strength of Double Batman, the XX team prove to be formidable foes. In a last ditch effort, Batman uses deception and the gorgeous Vicki Vale to defeat the most powerful adversary he's ever faced! Catastrophe averted, Double Batman says so long to his new friends and disappears. Bats admits he feels he's lost a bit of his soul.

"Double Batman vs. Double X" is a bit too full of science fiction concepts for my taste. It's also chock full of exposition, as you would need to explain Dr. X's goofy powers. He's a pretty smart cat for being insane. This was not X's first appearance; that would be back in 'tec #261, which just missed our 1960s coverage by fourteen months. Though I didn't care for the story at all, I thought the Moldy/Paris art was pretty good; very reminiscent of 1940s/1950s Batman. The only character who didn't fare well was Vicki Vale, who seems to have aged about thirty years or so.

In the cleverly-titled "The Bandits with Super Powers," the Martian Manhunter must do battle with bandits who acquire super powers from a fallen meteorite. Unfortunately, the red rock proves to be J'onn J'onzz's Kryptonite and he loses his powers. As the bandits are about to kill MM, gorgeous cop Diane Meade happens upon the scene and is exposed to the mutating rays of the red rock. She becomes Super-Cop! Diane saves MM and the hero races to the cave of Zook, where he gets a brainstorm: the rock proves damaging to a Martian Manhunter, but what will it do to earthman John Jones?

Sure enough, it grants MM's earthly alter ego the same powers as the bandits. But three prove to be greater than one and the bandits kick Jones's butt and then head into town to (what else?) rob a bank. Super-Diane arrives in time to rip the case of loot from their hands and then zip away. Later, Super-Jones, Super-Diane, and Zook team up to defeat the terror of "The Bandits with Super Powers!" More inanity and bad art, but at least we get to see Diane fly around in her little skirt and cap.-Peter

Jack-I enjoyed the Batman story and looked up other appearances of Double X, who would return in World's Finest #276 in 1982. I love the lab where Batman creates Double Batman--it looks just like the one in the Universal Frankenstein movies, with two tables and caps with wires. They could've switched Batman's brain with that of the Wolf Man! I was confused by the Martian Manhunter story. The rock gives Diane super powers and takes away the Martian Manhunter's, but he can still transform to John Jones. And then he can get super powers from the rock! At least Zook finally comes in handy and distracts the bad guys at the end.

Next Week...
Bill Benulis introduces us to...
The Man Who Had No Fear!

Monday, April 22, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 110: Marvel/ Atlas Horror and Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 95
January 1956 Part II
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystery Tales #37
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Martians!" (a: John Romita) ★★1/2
"Afraid to Look!" (a: Bob Brown) ★★
"The Man Who Moved" (a: Bob Powell) ★1/2
"The Evil Ones!" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★1/2
"The Man Who Stopped Living" (a: Doug Wildey) 

Looking to cash in on a billion-dollar uranium lode, Mark Eaton stows away on what he thinks is a jet and takes a quick trip to... Mars! Yep, for some reason "The Martians!" were here on Earth, heard about a big strike, and zipped back home, with Mark in tow. There's hardly a lick of sense to this one but Romita's art is eye-catching; it's stark and resembles that of Krigstein rather than the Romita we're accustomed to.

With his mirror factory barely keeping its financial head above water, owner Paul Martin cannot survive any more setbacks. And that's exactly what happens when an accident destroys thousands of dollars' worth of glass; Martin knows he'll have to sell the plant at a loss. Then a very strange thing happens when an employee brings Martin a piece of the ruined mirror... as the man is speaking, the glass reveals what's really on his mind. Paul knows he can make millions and rule the world. In the grand tradition of Batman's greatest foes, Martin ignores the benefits to mankind and goes for the green. His wealth (and truth-speaking mirror) make him a lonely man and, in the end, he destroys the glass when his own reflection shows him what greed can do. "Afraid to Look!" isn't a bad little yarn, but the post-code preachiness of the climax is eye-rollingly bad.

In "The Man Who Moved," Chic Nolan busts out of prison and holes up in a museum. Exhausted, he falls asleep on a beautiful carpet, wishing he were anywhere but there. Suddenly, he's whisked away to foreign lands, facing dangers he never dreamt of. After almost being killed for the 44th time, Chic wishes he was in the safest place in the world and... finds himself back in his cell. Not even Bob Powell's art can save this one.

Eight wealthy men are to stand trial for attempting to start a war in order to line their pockets with even more money. "The Evil Ones!" decide to hop aboard a rocket and escape before any jury can find them guilty. The eight men manage to land on a planet rich with jewels and uranium and quickly agree to stock the ship with as many goodies as they can and return to Earth when their notoriety has died down. Unfortunately, their plans are interrupted by the planet that is racing toward them on a collision course of total terror! Evil... greed... we get it, but could the sermon by Carl Wessler have been delivered with a little more pizzazz? The Sinnott art just sits there, but he's not given much to work with other than talking heads.

The finale, "The Man Who Stopped Living," is convoluted poppycock about a man who's trying to convince his physician he's really dead. There's a "twist" in the climax about a guardian angel that doesn't make much sense at all. Doug Wildey's art is good, very good in spots, but it reminds me of the kind of art you'd see in daily newspaper strips. Hey Wildey fans... it's not a knock, just an observation.-Peter

Mystic #43
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Private World" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"It Happened at Night" (a: Paul Reinman) ★★1/2
"The Man Who Watched" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"Jukebox!" (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★1/2
"In the Dark" (a: Syd Shores) ★★1/2

Edgemont Peters has a particularly rare impediment: he sees the world upside down. The calamity of living in such a world seems to be nothing but a nuisance until he meets the stunningly gorgeous Kitty, who immediately falls for Edge as well. Knowing that his handicap would frighten the girl away, Edge avoids future plans and never proposes marriage. This slightly irks Kitty until, one day, she takes it upon herself to read Edge's diary and learns why he won't take the leap. She leaves without saying goodbye and Edgemont is sad. But then he learns from his doctor that his sight can be restored to normal. 

He has the operation and, coincidentally, Kitty returns. They are married, but his new wife never tells him that she had an operation to reverse her vision so that she could share "The Private World." Sheesh! Right from the get-go, this is a little confusing as some of the panels are drawn with the backgrounds right side up; I'm not sure if that was to show us that our world was not skewed, only Edge's vision, but the randomness was baffling. The twist at the end is kinda cute but it's been done before. The biggest question I have is why this isn't in one of the Marvel romance books rather than in a horror/sf title.

During the day, the old man is nothing but a janitor at a sleazy diner but, at night, he dreams of another world where he's big and strong and blonde, a warrior prepared to save his world from a dangerous threat. "It Happened at Night" is just as confusing as "The Private World," but I enjoyed this one quite a bit more. About halfway through the yarn, a character in the dream world explains to the old man's alter-ego (the blonde warrior) that he and the old man are actually sharing a life across dimensions and, at some point, they'll become whole in one world. That's where the scripter lost me. Fortunately, the story isn't schmaltzy and the Reinman art is nice to look at.

On Uranus, women serve their men and don't complain. They don't ask for French vacations or diamond rings or lobster dinners. They just do what they're told. Tyssus of Uranus (🤭) seeks to learn how the people of Earth differ from those on his own world, so he takes a scientific journey to study earth men and their mates. He happens upon a young couple, Bill and Frances Barnes, who argue over the typical things: Bill's back-breaking work hours and Frances's desire for a mink coat. They argue but, when little Bobby gets sick, their entire emotional output is aimed at getting the kid to the doctor, even though a driving storm rages outside. This intrigues Tyssus, but what really fascinates him is, once Frances has shown she can drive a car and save her own son's life, Bill breaks down and buys her the damn coat! Tyssus decides to change his own lifestyle when he gets back to Uranus. 

"The Man Who Watched" (about as generic a title as Stan could come up with and, I quickly add, one of eight "The Man..." stories just this month!) is a hilarious snapshot of family values circa 1956. Writer Carl Wessler seems to be heading for a message of "commodities mean nothing without good health" until Bill brings home the fur on the last page. What if little Bobby had died? Would Frances have gotten her expensive toy just for trying? I used to look forward to reading a story illustrated by Tony DiPreta, but it seems as though his penciling is sparkly bright now instead of the eerily-inked work he performed in the pre-code days.

A quartet of musicians stranded in a bar during a storm are gifted a "Jukebox!" that delivers on what it plays. "Pennies From Heaven" delivers a shower of pennies, likewise "An Apple for the Teacher" and "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" bring on a multitude of delights. But then one of the celebrants accidentally plays "Gone With the Wind" and... no, this is post-code, so only their presents disappear.

In the finale, "In the Dark," Ben Darrow selfishly steals the money from the mine office, thinking it's every man for himself, and then is trapped in a cave-in with only cash to eat. Knowing Ben is going to starve to death gives this one a little more edge than most of the post-code strips. I expected his friends to rescue him and Ben to confess to his crime, but the alternative grim ending is much more welcome.-Peter

Strange Tales #42
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"The Faceless One!" (a: Bill Everett) ★/2
"The Man Who Said No!" (a: Joe Maneely) 
"Moon-Man!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
"The Vanishing Brain!" (a: Doug Wildey) 
"The Man in the Cell!" (a: Bob Powell) 

For many years, Lester Greer has been the devoted servant to millionaire Jefferson Horner, "a cranky old man without a friend." Lester assumes he'll inherit when the old man dies, but when he discovers a photo of long-lost Gilbert Horner, Jefferson's son, Lester fears he'll be done out of his rightful wealth.

That night, a traveling magician knocks at the door and Lester agrees to pay him $10,000 to make him look just like the heir. The magician casts a spell and takes Lester's face while transforming the servant into a dead ringer for the son. Horner dies that same night and, when the will is read, the money is left to Lester. The magician gladly accepts the inheritance and reveals to the real Lester that he's actually the missing son and he's now inherited what was rightfully his.

Bill Everett's smashing artwork makes "The Faceless One!" a delight; even though I suspected that the magician was the son and predicted the twist ending, the story by Carl Wessler kept me in just enough suspense that I wasn't sure until the end.

Emil was big in vaudeville but fears auditioning for a spot on Roger Chapin's TV variety show until his friend Burt talks him into it. Chapin is so busy that he never looks at Emil, ignoring his many talents and dismissing him. As Emil walks out of Chapin's office, we see that he's a walking, talking ape in a three-piece suit.

It's nice to see Joe Maneely's work turn up in the pages of Strange Tales, but the fact that Emil's face is covered by one thing or another until the last panel makes the reader expect some sort of surprise; what we get is a letdown. The weak satire of the TV variety show world reminded me of some EC stories but, of course, Feldstein and co. did it better.

When a "Moon-Man!" stands in the middle of Grand Central Station and announces his arrival, people think it's a publicity stunt. It doesn't help that the man forgot where he parked his flying saucer. He's arrested and taken to see a psychiatrist, who recommends that he be committed; just then, representatives from the Capel Sanitarium arrive and take the moon man away. Soon, back on the moon, the moon man is told that every normal person knows it's not yet time to travel to Earth.

You have to like an issue of Strange Tales that opens with stories drawn by Everett, Maneely, and Bernie Krigstein. "Moon-Man!" doesn't have much room to tell a story, since it's only four pages long, and it ends with the characteristic Atlas thud, but at least the panels look good. The moon man resembles Curly from the Three Stooges.

Professor Philip Hayden is a 98-pound weakling who boasts of his own intelligence and puts down the musclebound college students in his classes. Pretty Lorna Bond prefers Hank Cobb, the athletic instructor, and Philip chides her for thinking "'of the strong men, the cavemen as romantic.'" Hayden strolls off alone and soon finds that he's walked through a "'break in the time flow.'" He's back in caveman times and the cavemen make him their slave. Eventually, he builds his body up to the point where he can overpower his captors and escape, walking back through the time warp and onto the campus, still wearing his loincloth, muscles bulging. He visits Hank, hoping to borrow some clothes that fit his newly bulked up form. Hank shows him that Lorna has married Philip's replacement, "'a real "brain,"'" and Hank and a shirtless Philip agree that she "'doesn't deserve the love of a real man.'"

The last panel, which I've reproduced here, veers dangerously close to a homo-erotic bonding between the two muscle men who previously were rivals in "The Vanishing Brain!" Almost as unexpected is the sharp art by Doug Wildey, who I think of as someone who usually does a lot of photo swipes. Here, he's drawing more in the mode of Kubert on Tor or Tarzan. Go figure.

Jim, a reporter, is picked up and taken out for lunch by his best pal, Colin, and Jim's girlfriend, Madge. Jim quickly loses his temper when others in the newsroom joke about Madge preferring Colin to Jim. Colin, Jim, and Madge eat and then Colin drives them to the airfield, where he confesses to Jim that he also loves Madge. When Jim admits that he loves her too, Colin agrees to back off. Jim pretends to threaten Colin and two men walk in just then and witness the threat, unaware that it's not serious.

Colin takes a test plane up for a flight and is gone for hours. When he lands, he tells Jim a strange story: he passed through a dimensional warp and entered an idyllic land where he fell in love with a beautiful woman named Ila. A wise old man told Colin that he could not stay and that he could only return if his love is strong enough. As Colin finishes telling Jim the story, he fades away, traveling back to the other dimension forever. Jim is later arrested and jailed for Colin's murder, though he's sure he'll be set free because he knows there is no corpse to be found.

"The Man in the Cell!" is a terrific story with dynamite illustrations by the great Bob Powell. There's no real twist ending, just a solid conclusion that loops back to the first panel, in which Jim is in a cell telling us that he knows he'll never be proved guilty. I wish more issues of Atlas comics were this good! Maybe Strange Tales got the best of what was produced, and perhaps that's why it's been collected and reprinted in book form.-Jack

Uncanny Tales #39
Cover by Bill Everett

"I Dare Not Sleep!" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The Hunted!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"The Building That Grew" (a: Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (?)) 
"Lost and Found" (a: Syd Shores) 1/2
"Til Death Do Us Part!" (a: Paul Reinman) 1/2

A writer named Hugh Denby lies awake on the couch at night, trying in vain to come up with an off-beat idea for a new script. He goes for a walk in the dark outside, passes under a ladder that is propped up against his house, and enters a parallel dimension where he is walking down a strange corridor that is lined with doors.

Through the glass in the doors he observes various people sleeping and recognizes them as neighbors and people from work. From behind a door emerges a man dressed as a doctor; Hugh recognizes him as Dean Ritchie, from his college days. The dean explains that this is the real world and Hugh is dreaming the other world, where he lives with his wife and kids. Hugh is told to get back to his bed and resume his dream. He enters a room, sees himself in bed, dreaming, backs out of the door, and is awakened by his wife, back in his original home. Now Hugh has a great idea for a script and tells himself, "I Dare Not Sleep!" before I get it down on paper.

In the short time that I've been walking down the Atlas post-code road with Peter, I've read a few stories that seemed like prototypes for episodes of The Twilight Zone. This one seems to anticipate the movie, The Matrix, what with the parallel world where the main character and others are dreaming their seemingly real existence. As is often the case, Bill Everett knocks the art out of the park.

Jim Agat and Andrew Trent are wealthy hunters who've seen it all. One day, while out hunting, Andy wishes that they could be amateurs again and experience the thrill of new challenges. Suddenly, they come upon a T-Rex, which chases them into a jungle that has giant trees. In a clearing they confront a saber-toothed tiger, which Jim shoots and kills. Even the vegetation begins to attack them! Fortunately, they end up back in their home forest. "And in a time-world in a parallel dimension," we see young Bobby's mother chastising him for playing with the timelock again.

Yikes. The old Atlas surprise ending, where a series of weird events turn out to be due to an alien boy playing with toys. Vic Carrabotta's art is as dull as the premise.

Ambitious architect Tom Simms builds a building higher than anyone  thinks is possible. His workmen give up at 1000 feet high but Tom keeps building, aided by a seemingly self-guided machine. Eventually, after the building is about 100,000 feet tall, volunteers agree to scale it and reach the top in order to ask Tom to stop so he can give the secret of his construction machine to the world. They make it to the top, where Tom tells them that he has a new home and is not going back. For some reason, he now has green skin and pointy ears and behind him are others who look the same and wear yellow outfits.

Does building a structure so high make Tom turn into a Martian? I have absolutely no idea. At least "The Building That Grew" is only four pages long.

Postal inspector Clark is assigned to investigate a strange classified ad from the "Lost and Found" section of the newspaper. The ad asks that a "portable space-travel blaster" be mailed to box 431 if found. At the post office, Clark discovers that everything that is put in the box mysteriously disappears without any evidence of the box having been opened. When a ray gun arrives in the mail, Clark points it at himself and accidentally pulls the trigger. He disappears and, the next day, an ad in the lost and found section of the paper queries whether anyone wants a postal inspector to be returned. Meanwhile, Clark is stuck on Mars.

Yet another story that attempts to explain a series of mysterious events by a last-panel "twist" involving an alien from another planet. Yawn. The art by Syd Shores is better than the story deserves.

Mark Clifton is a scientist whose wife Nora is loving and supportive, so he is promoted to director of a huge atomic power lab. True love can't separate the pair, so when Mark goes on a sea voyage and there's a meltdown at the nuclear reactor, Nora is the only one who knows how to stop the dangerous radiation from spreading. She undergoes emergency surgery and can't recall the missing equation until Mark visits her bedside. His encouragement helps her to remember. The doctors don't tell Nora that Mark was lost at sea weeks before and they wonder why there are footprints and seaweed on the floor next to her bed.

At least I think that's what happens in "Til Death Do Us Part." Paul Reinman's art is only average at this point. The most interesting thing about this story is the panel I've reproduced; in less than a decade, Bruce Banner would have a similar experience with a very different outcome.-Jack

Next Week...
In His First Appearance of the 1960s...
The Penguin!

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Hitchcock Project-Albert E. Lewin and Burt Styler, Part One-Cheap is Cheap [4.26]

by Jack Seabrook

Albert E. Lewin and Burt Styler wrote the teleplays for two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Cheap is Cheap" and "Craig's Will," both of which explore the lighter side of murder.

Albert E. Lewin (1916-1996) was an animation artist at the Disney studio in the late 1930s and early 1940s, working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), and Pinocchio (1940). He also wrote gags for radio comedians including Bob Hope and Jack Benny. He began writing for the movies in 1949 and for TV in 1955. Among his many TV scripts are episodes of My Favorite Martian and The Odd Couple. His papers are archived at UCLA.

Burt Styler (1925-2011) served in the infantry in WWII and began writing for radio after the war, teaming up with Albert E. Lewin. He placed one short story in a pulp magazine in 1949 and wrote gags, movies, and TV shows with his partner until they split in 1966. Styler went on the write for The Carol Burnett Show and won an Emmy for a 1972 episode of All in the Family. Styler and Lewin wrote at least one episode of The Dennis Day Show in 1954.

* * *

In an interview, Burt Styler said that he and Lewin had a story idea for Markham, a private eye series starring Ray Milland that ran from 1959 to 1960. The idea was thought to be too strange for that show, so the producer called Joan Harrison, who was producing Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and she gave the go-ahead for the duo to write the script. Styler added that it was written for Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, but the show was filmed starring Dennis Day and Alice Backes.

Dennis Day as Alexander Gifford
"Cheap is Cheap" is a superb example of the macabre humor that usually was found in Hitchcock's remarks before and after each episode of the TV show, an extension of the sort of humor displayed in his film, The Trouble with Harry (1955). Yet there is no happy ending in this episode, and the consistency among the characters, who each behave the same way from start to finish and never change, makes it a delight.

The show begins as Alexander Gifford, played by Dennis Day, trudges up the stairs to his apartment and laments in voiceover that he did not get a Christmas bonus. The first sign of his extraordinary cheapness is that he does not lament his inability to splurge or to buy presents; instead, he laments the fact that he cannot earn interest by putting the money in a bank! There is a sight gag where Gifford picks up a newspaper that is in front of the door to an apartment and looks at it; only when he refolds it and puts it back in place does it become apparent that he is reading his neighbor's paper, since he walks across the hall to his own apartment!

Alice Backes as Jennifer
A viewer watching "Cheap is Cheap" in spring 1959 would be primed for humor, since Day was known as a singer and sidekick on The Jack Benny Show, a comedy. Unlike that show, whose star had a persona of being extremely cheap, in this episode, Day plays the cheap one. He enters his apartment and chides his wife, Jennifer, for turning on a three-way light bulb all the way; she appears unhappy and tired of his penny-pinching antics. The apartment itself is no frills and resembles the one inhabited by Ralph and Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners, with an icebox and a kitchen table rather than a modern refrigerator and a separate dining room.

Throughout the episode, cheerful music sets the tone, in contrast with the events depicted. It is this contrast that makes the episode succeed as black comedy. Alexander is distressed to see a present on the kitchen table, and he's even more concerned to see a steak on his wife's dinner plate. She explains that when she was dusting in the back of the bedroom closet, she found bankbooks that he had hidden, showing over $33,000 saved in six different banks. To his horror, Jennifer is determined to live like other people. When he makes a weak attempt to forbid this, she announces that she will get a divorce. Once again, Gifford's reaction is unexpected yet consistent with his extreme cheapness; in voiceover, he is concerned about the cost of divorce in a community property state, not with the loss of his beloved spouse. When Jennifer suggests that she would rather not live at all if she can't live the way she wants to, he immediately thinks of murder, once again in voiceover.

There is a dissolve to a scene showing Alexander at a drugstore, where he examines a spinner rack of paperbacks and selects one titled The Bashful Killer, which features a fake cover that can be seen in a few other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He is certain that he cannot commit murder himself, so Alexander vows to find someone else to do the job.

Another dissolve leads to a closeup of the scowling face of Monk McGinnis, a prisoner in the county jail. Alexander meets with Monk and matter-of-factly asks for the name of a colleague to help have someone "'bumped off'"--according to newspaper reports, Monk was a member of "'Crime, Inc.'" The mix of naivete and forthrightness in Gifford's approach to hiring someone to kill his wife is very funny, and Dennis Day makes the actions believable by performing them with a straight face. Monk, on the other hand is shocked (or at least he pretends to be shocked) by the request, loses his temper, and storms out of the interview room. Alexander is nonplussed.

Frank Richards as Monk McGinnis
Back at home, he sees that Jennifer has purchased a new hat and dress. Absentmindedly, he saves the string that has been tied around the package. There is a knock at the door and Alexander opens it to find someone who casually identifies himself as a hit man sent by Monk, who must have been more receptive to Alexander's request than he seemed at the time. Alexander and the unnamed hit man meet later on a park bench for one of the best scenes in the episode. As they begin to discuss the cost of murder for hire, a cop on the beat strolls by and the hit man immediately begins to speak gibberish until the policeman is out of earshot.

The hit man tells Alexander that "'five bills'" includes murder and disposal of the corpse. Alexander is pleased by the price and counts out five one-dollar bills, but when the crook clarifies that the price is $500, Alexander is shocked. The hit man is quite understanding and admits, "'I'm a family man with expenses myself.'" He suggests that Alexander do the job himself and, in what may be the only time a character on Alfred Hitchcock Presents refers to an event from another episode of the series, mentions a TV show he saw where a "'cute dame...clobbered her old man over the head with a frozen leg of lamb.'" Of course he's referring to the classic episode, "Lamb to the Slaughter," which had aired a year before, on April 13, 1958. Alexander, remaining true to form, shoots down this suggestion with his reply, "'at 59 cents a pound?'"

The hit man takes out a little notebook and draws a diagram of how to blow up a car, but Alexander thinks this would be too costly as well. Finally, the hit man suggests poison and recommends that Alexander visit his friend Arthur, who will sell him poison without keeping a record of the transaction.

As great as the scene on the park bench is, it may be topped by the scene that follows in the laboratory of the poisoner. With bubbling beakers all around, Arthur resembles a mad scientist and, though he is at first reticent about talking to Alexander, once the visitor reveals that he is there to buy poison to murder his wife, Arthur perks up and pulls out a scrapbook with newspaper clippings of what seem like accidental deaths but what are really examples of his skilled work with poison. All seems to be going well until he tells Alexander the price of a bottle of "'L'amour de Nightshade'"--$600! Alexander exits as fast as he can.

Fred Essler as Arthur
Home again, Alexander sees a front page story (in the neighbor's newspaper, of course) about food poisoning at a picnic and gets an idea. In a scene where the only dialogue comes in Alexander's voiceover, he visits a biologist, who is not among the criminals Alexander has been visiting and, while the man's back is turned, Alexander pilfers a sample of botulism toxin by dipping his fountain pen into a test tube and filling it up with the poisonous liquid!

Back at home, Jennifer--dressed in a new outfit and very happy--leaves, at which point her husband emerges, takes a ham out of the refrigerator, and draws a big, black X on it with his poisoned pen. Later, at dinner, his wife has eaten the ham; Alexander says he was not hungry. That evening, while getting ready for bed, Jennifer collapses to the floor, poisoned by the contaminated ham. Alexander is visibly delighted. The next day, after Alexander gets home from work, a doctor makes a house call and emerges from the bedroom to tell Alexander that Jennifer is very ill. The doctor takes what's left of the ham to have it tested for botulism and, after he leaves, Alexander watches as his wife writhes in pain in bed. He ensures that she does not recover by smothering her with a throw pillow that bears the slogan, "Home Sweet Home."

Gage Clarke as the doctor

Next day, the doctor again visits and fills out the death certificate. Alexander is unhappy at the prospect of a costly funeral but, in the show's final shot, he is seen emerging from the front door of a medical school, where he has just sold his wife's corpse for $75!

There are moments in "Cheap is Cheap" where director Bretaigne Windust achieves a noir look, such as the shot early on when Alexander is looking into the living room light and criticizing Jennifer for turning on all three filaments. The first view of Monk's face in jail and the nighttime conversation on the park bench also feature noir lighting, though these shots contrast with the humorous conversations taking place.

Alexander is utterly consistent throughout the episode, viewing everything that happens through a lens of cost and waste. His wife seems like a reasonable person, yet to Alexander, her behavior is unacceptable and he is justified in seeking her demise. To him, marriage is far less important than money and he thinks of murder as "'the only sensible solution.'" Alexander completely fails to understand how his actions appear, so he matter-of-factly approaches Monk and asks for help planning his wife's murder.

Jack Lambert as the hit man
Of all of the criminals whom Alexander encounters, the hit man is perhaps most like him. He arrives at the apartment door like a door-to-door salesman, only what he's selling is murder for hire. On the park bench he tells Alexander that "'we depend on a volume business'" and he is nonplussed by his potential customer's cheapness; instead, he is quite understanding and they engage in a civil discussion. Arthur, the mad scientist, laughs hysterically after he reads each headline about death from his scrapbook aloud; once again, murder is treated lightly. Only when a price is quoted does Alexander decide that Arthur is a "'dangerous maniac.'" In the end, Alexander never seems psychotic, despite his murderous behavior: everything he does is perfectly in line with his love of money above all else. The humor in "Cheap is Cheap" is similar to that which Hitchcock usually engages in during his comments before and after each episode. Most satisfying of all is that Alexander never changes, never sees the error of his ways, never gets a comeuppance. He lives in a world where murdering one's profligate wife is completely understandable and not deserving of punishment.

"Cheap is Cheap" is one of two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Bretaigne Windust (1906-1960). Born in Paris, his family escaped to London during World War One and returned to Paris after the war. His parents divorced in 1920 and he and his mother moved to America, where he became a successful Broadway director, staging plays from the mid-thirties to the late fifties. He moved to Hollywood in 1947 and directed films from 1948 to 1952 and television shows from 1957 to 1960. He directed one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Avon Emeralds."

Dennis Day (1916-1988), who stars as Alexander, was born Owen McNulty and began appearing on the radio in 1939. He served in the Navy in WWII and was a regular singer on Jack Benny's show on radio and TV until Benny's death in 1964. Day continued to appear on screen until 1981 and this was his only role on the Hitchcock TV show. "Cheap is Cheap" aired two hours after The Jack Benny Show on CBS's Sunday night lineup.

Alice Backes (1923-2007) plays Jennifer; after serving as a WAVE during WWII, she worked in radio and then in film from 1948 to 1978. Her busy TV career lasted from 1952 to 1997 and included roles on Thriller, The Night Stalker, and six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including "The Jar."

In smaller roles:
  • Fred Essler (1895-1973) as Arthur, the mad scientist who sells poison; born Fritz Essler in Vienna, he appeared on screen from 1943 to 1966 and this was his only role on the Hitchcock show.
  • Jack Lambert (1920-2002) as the hit man on the park bench; he started on Broadway and then went to Hollywood, where he played many tough guys in a screen career that lasted from 1942 to 1970. He was on Thriller and appeared in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Better Bargain."
  • Gage Clarke (1900-1964) as the doctor; he was on Broadway from the late 1920s and his screen career lasted from 1949 to 1964. Clarke was on The Twilight Zone and Thriller and he appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Right Kind of Medicine."
  • Frank Richards (1909-1992) as Monk McGinnis, the prisoner; he served in WWII and appeared on radio; his screen career lasted from 1940 to 1984. He was on The Twilight Zone and one other episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Baby-Blue Expression."
"Cheap is Cheap" aired on CBS on Sunday, April 5, 1959. Watch it online here or order the DVD here. Read the GenreSnaps review of this episode here.

This cover shows up in other episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. See "Breakdown" (where the book is called Wolf Woman Strikes),  "Nightmare in 4-D," (Night of Horror) and "Insomnia." (The Bashful Killer).


"Burt Styler." Burt Styler Oral History,

"Cheap is Cheap." Alfred Hitchcock Presents, season 4, episode 26, CBS, 5 April 1959.


"Finding Aid for the Albert Lewin Papers PASC.0314." Online Archive of California,

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



Listen to Al Sjoerdsma discuss "I Killed the Count, part one" here!

Listen to Annie and Kathryn discuss "Cheap is Cheap" here!

In two weeks: our short series on Albert E. Lewin and Burt Styler concludes with a look at "Craig's Will," starring Dick van Dyke and Stella Stevens!