Monday, April 8, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 109: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 94
January 1956 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #45
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Hands from Nowhere" (a: Bill Benulis) ★★
"The Vagrant" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★★
"Sabotage!" (a: Bob Forgione) ★1/2
"The Old House" (a: Ed Winiarski) 
"The Seekers" (a: Joe Sinnott) ★★

Police investigate the odd case of a pair of disembodied hands appearing out of nowhere in various parts of town. When the hands write out a message to "contact Professor Winston," the cops interview noted scientist Emmet Winston about the phenomenon. Winston relates a fantastic story to his audience; a colleague, Alfred Denning, was experimenting with other dimensions and was absorbed into just such a vacation spot.

The hands find their way to Winston's lab and the egghead promises the two fists he'll do everything he can to bring his old friend back from limbo. But when the magic potion is mixed and the hands are dipped into the vat, the appendages disappear and Winston finds a note from Denning, thanking him for his help. He rather likes his new home, but wandering around without hands was becoming cumbersome.

Other than a few guffaws at the ridiculous dialogue ("Prowl cars have already been alerted to hunt Denning's hands! We'll know when they're spotted!"), "The Hands From Nowhere" is another fine example of the pablum produced when the imagination is shackled. The climax just arrives and carries no emotional impact whatsoever. We're left only with the usual fine Benulis artwork.

Police arrest a man for loitering and take him to a nearby jail, where he claims he's from Mars and is awaiting the coming of his fellow Martians. The cops bring in a psychologist, who questions "The Vagrant" about life on Mars and then forwards the answers to the editor of Space Tales Magazine for verification. The editor writes back that the man's answers are indeed truthful and he would know because, as we see in the final panel, he's a Martian too! The most amusing aspect of "The Vagrant" is not that the cops would keep this well-dressed guy behind bars for what seems like months, but that they'd consult the editor of a sci-fi mag rather than, you know, a real scientist. As with dull stories featuring Bill Benulis work, at least we have the truly stylish Bernie Krigstein holding our hands as we make our way through the ho-hum script.

Jeremy Black hates mankind so much that, with the aid of "Solat's Mental Formula," he goes back to the day Noah is rounding up his animals into the ark. The idea is to "Sabotage!" the big boat so that mankind is extinguished, but Black ignores the fact that Solat was also studying reincarnation at the same time (no, really!) and the "formula" is a double-edged sword. Black arrives at the ark as a snake! Unable to lift a hammer to bash a hole in the ark, Black simply wills himself back to modern times, where he sulks about his defeat. More post-code revisionism. This guy is willing to eradicate all of Earth's life, but he's allowed to return to his humdrum existence rather than, maybe, being reincarnated as a unicorn and missing the boat. Weak.

A failed brush salesman faces eviction and, worse, the disappointment of his wife if he doesn't step up his game. After a long day of no sales, he trudges home but decides to stop at "The Old House" instead. The door is open and, as he walks inside, he hears an eerie voice call to him that it needs "brushes... lots of brushes!" and that money is waiting for him on the hallway table. Suddenly, his luck changes and everyone wants to buy his wares. Why? I don't know. Just because. Unlike the previous three entries this issue, we don't have great art to distract us from the ridiculous words.

Professor Anton Marin is convinced the Earth is shrinking and the cause is our unending thirst for oil, the Earth's blood. Resigned to the fact that he'd become a laughingstock for his beliefs, Marin burns his notes and keeps his theories to himself. Meanwhile, oil speculators gather in a secret room to discuss their recent trip to the moon to search for oil. Alas, the only thing found on the moon is the detritus of a long-dead civilization and its oil wells. The general consensus is to continue to dig for oil on Earth wherever they can. A fairly rare example of a "preachy" that doesn't outstay its welcome, "The Seekers" is, instead, a clever commentary on greed. Sadly, nearly seventy years on, things have not changed a bit. -Peter

Journey Into Mystery #30
Cover by John Severin

"The Lady Who Vanished!" (a: Bob Powell) ★★
"The Man Who Couldn't Breathe!" (a: Tony DiPreta) 
"And Then Something Happened" (a" Joe Orlando) ★★
"No Way Out!" (a: Carl Burgos) ★★
"The Endless Search!" (a: Doug Wildey) ★★★1/2

Lt. Jim Trent of the 42nd Precinct is investigating a series of bizarre robberies (the hoodlums seem to vanish with their booty into thin air) and late-night loneliness (the lieutenant has no dame) when a gorgeous blonde materializes before him in a dark alley and beseeches him to help her. Just as quickly as she appeared, she vanishes. A newspaper headline screaming that scientist Pierre Caron and his daughter Mimi have vanished catches Trent's eye. Mimi is his mystery woman! 

When Trent arrives at the Caron residence, Mimi makes another quick appearance, letting the lieutenant know he's "close!" Trent lets himself in the basement window, where he discovers the Carons held against their will by master thief, Al Bront. The criminal explains the plot to Trent: Prof. Caron has created a vehicle that allows its passengers to transport to another place and then return without leaving a trace on the other end. This is how Bront has pulled off the crimes of the century. The hoods tie up Trent and the Carons and hop into the teleporter, but they didn't guess Trent would be so clever as to keep his hands apart while being bound (!!!). He loosens his ropes, frees the Carons, calls the cops, and pretty much proposes to Mimi on the spot.

Atlas horror/sf writers have mixed genres before, but usually it doesn't work; "The Lady Who Vanished!" works for a couple of reasons: first, the dynamic Bob Powell art (see that splash I've reprinted here) and second, the fun ratio. It's camp of a high order and it doesn't take itself too seriously, making fun of both the private eye and science fiction genres at the same time. Trent whines that he probably won't get that promotion he covets because of the unsolved heists, then counters himself with the fact that he has no one to support, so why the long face? Then, at tale's end, after having saved Mimi, he tells his boss he's going to need that promotion, pronto!

After being deemed "The Healthiest Man in the World" (and receiving a nifty gold trophy), Roy Grant suddenly breaks out in a rash and finds it hard to breathe. A specialist comes to the conclusion that "The Man Who Couldn't Breathe!" can only survive on Mars. Roy is put in a chamber that mimics the Martian environment and he enjoys a brief time without wheezing and eczema but, shortly thereafter, a medical crew rushes in and must administer oxygen to the fallen hero. Turns out Roy has been the subject of invisible Martians, testing humans to see if they could live on Mars and vice versa. One of the dopiest Atlas tales I've yet read, this one at least is good for a long chuckle when Roy's doc hypothesizes that Roy's condition would improve if he were rocketed to Mars. Why it has to be the Red Planet is not fully dissected, but at least it fell in with the Martians' plans.

"And Then Something Happened" is a charming fantasy about an old man who buys a sports car and discovers that every time he drives it, he becomes young again. To impress his wife, who's not let in on her husband's fountain of youth, the man enters a sports car race and wins second prize. When he gets home, much to his surprise, he discovers his wife was one step ahead of him: she won the gold. I usually hate this kind of "stroll down memory lane" plot, but "And Then..." never approaches the maudlin heights of past such entries. Marie's reveal, that she bought a similar sports car and wanted to become young again, is handled so well. The Orlando art is sharp, but so is Carl Wessler's script. Haven't said that in a long time.

Two dopey criminals happen upon a town that doesn't guard its banks, its jewelry stores, or its clothing shops. The town's occupants, in fact, don't seem to care about their worldly possessions, so Archie and Burt grab everything they can, throw it in their back seat, and hightail it. They don't get too far out of town, however; their car comes to a stop and the townsfolk approach. Archie and Burt are informed that they've failed the test of "Honesty Town" and now must become permanent citizens. Other than covers, Carl Burgos didn't do much art for the Atlas horror/sf titles (3 pre-code and 22 post-code stories), so it's a shame that his talents were wasted on such drivel as Paul S. Newman's "No Way Out!" Those two stars are entirely for Burgos.

Searching for something better for his two boys, Nord Brosso boards a plane for "the new world." He gives each son one half of a coin in case they should become separated. When they reach America, hatred awaits and a mob chases the trio into the woods. Jon is lost in the woods and cannot find his father or his brother, Dal, but is saved by a couple out for a walk. They adopt Jon and continue to help him in his quest to reunite with his family. Years later, Jon is an adult and is informed by his neighbors that aliens are attacking. He grabs his rifle and heads off with his friends to do battle with the invaders but, once they are face to face, Jon has a better idea. 

He confronts the leader of the spacemen and extends a hand of friendship, explaining that humans are naturally suspicious of things they don't understand. If the cosmic boss will accompany Jon, he'll introduce him to his friends and peace will win out. But Jon is not such a great guy after all; he shoves the alien into a nearby building, where the townsfolk empty their shotguns into him. The remaining aliens are warned that if they don't turn tail and head back to Mars (or whatever hell they came from), they're next in line. As Jon smiles over a job well done, one of his accomplices shows him a half coin found in the dead man's pocket. Now Jon knows he comes from another planet! 

"The Endless Search!" is wildly erratic and takes several interesting twists and turns, and that's just fine with this reader. If we can't have living corpses and vampires, then what we can hope for is crazy and imaginative storytelling. "The Endless Search!" fits the bill. Jon's cold-blooded betrayal of his alien brother is chilling and Doug Wildey (doing his best Benulis impersonation) paints a perfectly creepy picture. Journey Into Mystery #30 is the best post-code comic I've read so far and (hopefully) an omen of good things to come.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #41
Cover by Carl Burgos

"He Hides in the Night!" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"He Never Grew Old!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
"It Happened to Finnegan!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"The Living Dream!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"The Flying Saucers!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2

A wandering thief named Lew Jones sees what he thinks is a dirigible that has crashed, so he enters it, thinking he might find something worth stealing. He encounters a man running from a pair of Mercurians who accuse him of treason; when the man promises to reward him with diamonds, Lew knocks over the Mercurians and helps the man escape.

When the Mercurians give chase, Lew follows the man into his metallic, yellow house. Inside, the man reveals that he has four arms and that the house is really a flying saucer. They take off and head for Mars, with the Mercurians in hot pursuit on their ship. The Mercurians zap the Martian ship's directional monitor, leaving Lew and the Martian drifting aimlessly in space. The Martian is hopeful that they'll drift toward a friendly planet in five or ten years.

"He Hides in the Night!" doesn't make much sense as a title for this goofy story, with a Martian trying to escape from Mercurians. It features the usual, mediocre Atlas art (by Paul Reinman, this time) and the usual, unsatisfyingly abrupt conclusion at the bottom of page five.

Allis Crater claims to be turning 100 next week, but he looks about 50. He demands that his insurance company start paying the pension he's entitled to when he reaches the century mark, so the company sends Jason, its private investigator, to find out what's going on. Jason trails Crater to Florida and sees that he's discovered the fountain of youth! Jason tastes the water, which seems ordinary, but when he is called in to his boss's office two days later, Jason has reverted to what looks like about age twelve.

Well, I saw that one coming when Jason took a drink of the water. "He Never Gets Old!" may be the title, but Ed Winiarski's art gets old fast.

Don't believe in reincarnation? "It Happened to Finnegan!" Or to Finnegan's best pal, O'Hara, that is. The duo love racehorses and spend all of their time at the track, but their horse, "Miracle," always finishes at the back of the pack. Always, that is, until O'Hara, whose wish had been to come back as a noble horse, suddenly keels over from a heart attack and his spirit inhabits Miracle, who starts winning every race with ease.

A touch of Irish whimsy is welcome in these pages, but this story is so wordy that it's a struggle to get through, even at five pages. As is often the case with Atlas comics, the surprise is tipped off early on, so by the end I knew exactly what was going on. The best panel is the last, where Finnegan is chatting with Miracle just like Wilbur with Mr. Ed.

Young Timmy Creighton is visibly delighted by the performance of FlapFlap, the circus clown, and the clown enjoys seeing the boy's happiness in the crowd. Jimmy never tells his parents about FlapFlap, though, so when he falls ill and begins to murmur "'FlapFlap,'" they have no idea what he's talking about. The mystery is solved when Jimmy's dad sees a newspaper headline reporting that FlapFlap is seriously ill.

Jimmy's parents rush to see FlapFlap, only to discover that he's bedridden and not expected to survive. When they return home, they discover FlapFlap putting on a private show for Jimmy, who feels much better. At FlapFlap's home, the clown suddenly recovers and reports having had "The Living Dream," in which the little boy from the circus enjoyed his private performance. The clown laments that it was just a dream, unaware that his avatar saved the real Jimmy's life.

There's probably an interesting story buried in here, but four pages isn't really enough time to develop the characters or the plot. As it is, John Forte's wooden art and the brevity of the tale, not to mention the poor color reproduction in the copy I'm reading, doom this story.

After flying bombers in WWII, Lionel Arden studied to be an architect, but his plans are turned down. His gorgeous fiance Jean supports his decision to work as an airline pilot instead and, on one flight, Lionel sees "The Flying Saucers!" He talks to a reporter and is fired when the news comes out. Worse yet, Jean breaks off their engagement.

Determined to prove himself right, Lionel rents a helicopter, takes to the skies, lands on a flying saucer, and enters. He meets aliens, who look like refugees from Prince Valiant but who are really refugees from the planet Albus, which exploded. Jim agrees not to tell anyone about them, but soon his architectural drawings are a hit--he designs a city where some of the homes look like the flying saucer!

I'm not entirely sure what happens in the last panel of this story, since it depicts a quiet street, lined with palm trees, along which some houses look like flying saucers and others look like what one might see in Palm Springs. Weirder still is the fact that the man and boy Lionel met on the flying saucer are walking happily down the street! Did the aliens move into the new neighborhood? Your guess is as good as mine.-Jack

Marvel Tales #142
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"The Vanishing Boy" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Man Who Shrunk" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
"Man on Mars!" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"It Wouldn't Let Go" (a: Art Peddy) 
"The Thing in the Crate!" (a: Dick Ayers) 

On the run from the police, fugitive Jimmy Blackton finds himself in his old neighborhood, where he meets a 14-year-old boy who seems familiar. Jimmy tells the boy that he's a big-shot businessman and the boy disappears. Jimmy spends the night in a hotel and sets out the next morning to look for the boy, who he sees hanging around with some shady-looking gents. Jimmy warns them to leave the lad alone.

After seeing the kid again, Jimmy begins to think about his own life, contrasting the reality of his fugitive state with the way he appears to the boy. That evening, he warns the boy to stay away from the gang and, when the men are picked up by the police, the boy thanks Jimmy for his guidance. Jimmy confesses the truth about himself and the boy fades away. Jimmy suddenly realizes that he has been talking to his younger self, and the realization drives him to turn himself in at the police station, promising to reform.

Reading these rather ephemeral stories can be an interesting experience. I suspect my reaction to many of them depends on my mood, the time of day, my level of fatigue, and any number of other factors that have nothing to do with the stories themselves. I found "The Vanishing Boy" to be a moving tale; though I knew right away that the boy was the younger version of Jimmy, the way it was written drew me in and I was satisfied with the conclusion. The Stallman art is nothing special, but I have to hand it to our perennial whipping boy, Carl Wessler, for some effective writing. Maybe I'm just a sap.

Behind the Iron Curtain, a cruel dictator basks in the adulation of the crowd assembled before his palace; his soldiers ensure that the cheers are loud. The dictator takes a shower and uses an unknown cake of soap that he finds in the dish; he emerges from the shower, dons his uniform, and sees in the mirror that he is "The Man Who Shrunk"! The country's leading scientist tells the leader that the soap contains unknown chemicals. Soon, the dictator's guards begin to laugh at his reduced stature and, before you know it, the country is free and holding elections. In outer space, two aliens admire their work on a visi-screen and agree that, when the last tyrant is gone from Earth, it will be time to establish interplanetary contact. In another country behind the Iron Curtain, another dictator starts to shower with an unknown cake of soap.

Krigstein's use of multiple, narrow panels from left to
right recalls his similar work in "Master Race."

Bernie Krigstein's art fits this story perfectly and elevates it beyond most of the four-page fillers we see in these comics. The need to have people from outer space involved is silly but, as a whole, it's a satisfying read. If only laughter were sufficient to end the threat of politicians who aspire to be dictators!

On a spaceship bound for Mars, all but one member of the crew are less than excited to reach the Red Planet. Ken Destry, however, looks forward to visiting a "new world of hope." When the ship lands, everyone but him gets out and finds just what they expected--a barren wasteland. However, when Ken exits the ship, he is welcomed to a paradise and told that it only exists for those with eyes to see it.

"Man on Mars!" is four and a half pages of whining, followed by an inexplicable finale where Destry finds that Mars is Heaven after all. These post-Code stories sometimes go too far with all of the sunshine and light. It might have been better to have it all in Ken's head and a final panel showing him lying dead on the dusty wasteland.

Phil Jamison lies to his boss and says that he can't work today because his wife is sick. In truth, he goes to a World Series game where he catches a home run ball. When he tries to remove the object from his hand, "It Wouldn't Let Go"! Phil visits a doctor, a carpenter, a cobbler, and a welder, but no one can separate ball from hand. Finally, he goes to the office, confesses to his boss, and the ball falls out. After Phil leaves the boss's office, the boss calls the chairman of the board to confess that his wife isn't sick, either, and we see that he also has a ball stuck to his hand.

So the boss was at the World Series, too, and also caught a home run ball? What are the odds? If this issue came out in October 1955, that was the year the Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in seven games. I wouldn't mind a home run ball from that series!

A crate arrives at the U.S. Customs office with a return address of Outer Galaxy 13, Planet 206. What is "The Thing in the Crate!"? It looks like a selection of space toys. The crate is picked up that night by someone from the Neptune Delegation. At a big Eastern hotel, someone signs the guest book as being from Saturn and evidence in their room suggests that they're twelve feet tall. Elsewhere in town, a souvenir guidebook is bought and paid for with money from Jupiter. What's going on?

A reporter picks up the story and finds that someone rented a car and signed for it from the Martian Office of AAA. At the botanical gardens, the reporter finds a new plant that looks like nothing on Earth. He concludes that delegates from other planets have been passing through. Two days later, a Midwestern farmer takes a large hunk of uranium to a bank for appraisal, explaining that it was left in his mailbox as payment to rent an out of the way ranch house for a big meeting. At the ranch house are gathered representatives from all of the planets in the Solar System; they chose Earth because it's a neutral planet!

An issue of Marvel Tales that started out surprisingly well sputters to a finish with this dopey story, where there is a ton of setup and no real payoff. Dick Ayers's art is an acquired taste and I've yet to acquire it.-Jack

Next Week...
Will Pete and Jack Make It Through
Another Adventure With the Zook?


Grant said...

I don't know "The Flying Saucers" firsthand, but judging by that one panel, Jean was probably a draw for a lot of male readers.

Jack Seabrook said...

Our interest is purely intellectual...