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!


Glowworm said...

There's going to be two more variations of "The Man Who Said No." One will have the punchline being a dog wearing a trench coat. The second one will go meta on us where we're already aware from the beginning that the main character is a dog wearing a trench coat. However, the punchline is that the story takes place on a planet where everyone is a dog to begin with. I wish I was making that last one up.

Jack Seabrook said...

Hey, when Atlas had an idea, good or otherwise, they'd pound it into the ground.

Peter Enfantino said...

Thanks for the warning, Glow.
I can't wait to read the latter story. Sounds like a dog.

Grant said...

I wonder how many criminals have stowed away on spaceships outside of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS. It seems like an awful lot of these Atlas-Marvel comics use the idea.

This is already familiar to fans of "We Are Controlling Transmission," but the OUTER LIMITS episode "Second Chance" has a weird twist on that, where an alien abducts people who aren't criminals but have skeletons in their closets, because he sort of naively thinks that that will be enough to keep them from resisting.

Jack Seabrook said...

I love Abbott and Costello, even their bad movies. The Outer Limits comparison is a good one.