Monday, May 20, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 112: Marvel/ Atlas Science Fiction and Horror Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 97
February 1956 Part II
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Mystery Tales #38
Cover by Bill Everett & Carl Burgos

"The Man With Two Faces!" (a: Bob Powell) 
"The Ice Man!" (a: Bill Benulis) 
"The Searching Wind!" (a: Manny Stallman) 
"The Globes That Vanished!" (a: Al Hartley) 
"Lost in the Black Tunnel" (a: Tony DiPreta) 

Wandering the mountains of Tibet, really ugly sculptor Jon Carlton runs into a lama (not the four-legged kind) who tells him that beauty is only skin deep, ugliness is a reflection of the soul, and a lot of other mystic mumbo-jumbo. Jon balks and heads back to the States, where he discovers he can only create really ugly art. No one will buy his pieces and Jon is going broke. What he needs is a really good-looking woman.

Jon finds a hot dame in Marie Trevor, who is not only blonde, but intelligent! What a find, he thinks, but Marie would never date a gargoyle like Jon. Something has to be done, pronto. So the artist makes a mask and pops it on. He goes out socializing, hits it off with Marie, and before you know it, they're making wedding plans. Jon knows he has to confess about the big clay mask on his face because... well, you know, wedding night and all. So he tells Marie to turn her back and he whips off the mask, only to discover his real face has become the handsome Jon he'd only imagined. We'll never know if Marie was a superficial gold digger because she smiles and wonders what Jon is up to. If only she knew.

"The Man With Two Faces!" is another of these post-CCA tales that would doubtless have been completely different without restrictions. Jon, when it comes right down to it, is a good guy with a good heart (he's just a bit homely), so no real "just desserts" were on the menu. I'd love to see how long Jon's solution to his ugly mug would have worked in "real life." We never see him go back to his artist's studio and craft new masks every hour or so, but I gotta imagine after a while that face was getting pretty stiff. Poor Bob Powell; now that the comic industry has been gelded, he can't whip up the old ghoulish magic and has to make do with a whole lot of talking faces.

Deep in debt, 16th-century pauper George Wembly accepts an offer from King Edward himself and allows a scientist to place George into suspended animation. Four hundred years later, George is awakened from his slumber by a passing whaling ship. George vows to not slip into old habits of incurring debt, but when he falls in love with beautiful Eleanor, he discovers women of the 20th are not much different than women of the 16th. George grabs a rowboat and heads for his old iceberg.  "The Ice Man!" is a funny, sweet strip that I would call a "cautionary tale" if we men didn't already know. As with Bob Powell, Bill Benulis puts in extra effort even when it's a simple dialogue panel.

In "The Searching Wind," two 21st-century scientists theorize that hurricanes are plotted rather than random. When they take their jet up into the eye of the storm, their ship is forced down, but something is following them. Turns out aliens from another planet are testing out their weapons in preparation to invade Earth. The final panel, where the military prepares for space war, is a great wrap-up. I always like reading these stories set in the then-future to see how close the writer came to guessing how advanced we'd become. Pretty close.

All the globes in the world suddenly fly off their perches and head for space. Scientists are baffled until the orbs return and display a new world on their surface. The land masses are now underwater and the seas have dried up. When one of the eggheads spins his globe, a message appears: "The alternative to Peace." "The Globes That Vanished!" is preachy in a boring way and is caked with a mediocre sheen, care of Al Hartley. In the equally inane "Lost in the Black Tunnel," three thieves attempt to hide from the cops in a Tunnel of Love and stumble across a race of subterranean four-armed creatures.-Peter

Mystic #44
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Man from the Saucer!" (a: Bill Everett) ★1/2
"Those in Hiding!" (a: Bob Brown) ★1/2
"The Footprints" (a: John Forte) 
"Defeat!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 
"Danger in the Night" (a: Mac L. Pakula) 

A flying saucer that's buzzing the skies over London has the populace in a state of confusion and panic. The alien vehicle also has everyone doubting the identity of their neighbor. In fact, over at the Soho Cafe, the waitresses and diner owner, Edwin Rudley, suspect that top server Flo's new beau has another set of arms under that marvelous suit. The truth is predictable. The plot and reveal of "Man From the Saucer!" have been done to death (and don't think this will be the last time we'll see them, either), but who cares when you've got the devilishly good art of Bill Everett to ogle. Everett's women are unparalleled in funny books. Don't argue with me.

In "Those In Hiding," John Carter is about to be operated on when he gives the universal sign of hope, the crossed fingers. Suddenly, the surgeon stops the operation and orders Carter to be taken back to his room. Later, the doc visits Carter and explains that he is one of the "secret sorcerers" that invented the magic that made airplanes, nuclear bombs, and porta-potties; Mark's crossed fingers are a sign to the sorcerers that they've been recognized. Mark tries to explain that he's completely in the dark, but the doctor is hearing none of it. He sighs, apologizes, and lets Mark know that extreme measures will have to be taken. Yes, I'm afraid Mark is put into a trance and wakes up to remember only a bad dream. Talk about brutality. These post-code villains were ruthless. As is Bob Brown's stiff and elementary artwork. It's not horrible; in fact, it's serviceable. That's the problem; there's no life in any of the panels.

Little Freddy discovers there are elves hiding in the woods surrounding his parents' property. He can't get his Ma and Pa to believe him, but he knows better. Meanwhile, one of the elves is trying to convince his Pop that giants exist. "The Footprints" is a cute little fantasy with some sharp John Forte graphics.

Retired army general Ryder spends every waking hour trying to recreate Waterloo, with Napoleon as the victor. If only Ryder were there instead of Napoleon. Presto! He is there and in the midst of battle. Can this old fart succeed where Napoleon failed? Spoiler alert: Nope. "Defeat!" is another anemic variation on the overused "if you go back in time, you will alter history" plot device.

The final story this issue, "Danger in the Night," is an overlong and weakly-scripted rip-off of Orson Welles's famous War of the Worlds broadcast. In this version, a rural police chief receives an airing of an invasion of Saturnians and alerts the White House. Inexplicably, the Air Force bombers are scrambled and army boots hit the ground in neighboring towns but, in the end, it's simply a dramatized invasion of Earth. This one from Saturn itself. Mac Pakula's art seesaws between sketchy and too heavily inked to salvageable in spots.-Peter

Spellbound #26
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The Things in the Box!" (a: Dick Ayers) 
"The Stranger's Eyes!" (a: John Romita) 
"The Brain" (a: Robert Q. Sale) ★1/2
"Prisoner of the Dwarfs!" (a: Art Peddy) 
"Beware: The House!" (a: Bill Benulis) 

A miserable, 35-year-old man named Jan Elliot works as a janitor and lives in a dreary basement room. A large box is delivered to him and he thinks it's a mistake, but when he opens it, it's a birthday gift: a Rejuvachange Kit, with chemicals to change his appearance. He mixes the chemicals, drinks the potion, passes out, and wakes up to find himself suddenly handsome.

A man with a white beard and a strange outfit appears and tells Jan that he comes from two hundred years in the future and the box was delivered to Jan by mistake. The wonderful world of the future was made possible by the Galactic President, the first super-being, and the bearded man was supposed to receive the box. Jan hands it over and the man begins to fade away. As he disappears, he explains that he is the Galactic President of the future and he's also Jan Elliot!

I know that's supposed to be a big, surprising ending, but I don't really get it. Jan took the potion by mistake and will now be a mutant who changes the world for the better and lives another two hundred years. That part I get. But why does the Jan of the future need to drink it again? Is it to become young and handsome again? "The Things in the Box" doesn't make a lot of sense.

Sitting at a cafe, Howard Gleason complains about being an ordinary guy. The man sitting next to him proclaims that "there is nothing a man can't do if he concentrates hard enough!" Howard gazes into "The Stranger's Eyes!" and rushes out the door to catch the last bus home. As he runs after it, he concentrates hard on catching it and suddenly takes flight! At home, his wife Nina isn't happy with the change in Howard; she likes him just the way he is.

The next day, at work, Howard shows what concentration can do. By the end of the week, his boss has given him a big raise and a promotion. On his way home, he flies over a railroad crossing and prevents a crash, but a policeman complains that he could have handled it without help. Howard begins to feel sad that no one likes him anymore. He discovers that the man at the cafe was Sabatini, the world's greatest hypnotist, so he visits the performer in the middle of his show and has him reverse the spell. Within a few days things are back to normal, until Howard is late for his bus and again takes flight.

It's interesting to see the 1950s' work of John Romita, since his style would later become so familiar. Here, some of the panels look a bit like the work of Jack Davis, while others hint at the future Romita style.

Professor Stowe discovers a large, strangely-shaped brain in a jar in his lab one morning and wonders how it got there. No one knows, but when he opens the jar, the brain disintegrates. Another brain appears the next day and, like before, "The Brain" is labeled, "Martian Brain." With the help of a scientist named Keller, Stowe studies the brain through the jar. Keller draws what a Martian must look like, based on Keller's calculations, and sketches what looks like a giant ant. Finally, Keller notices that the jar magnifies objects inside it by a thousand times, so the brain is actually tiny. It turns out to be an ant's brain, so Stowe concludes that Martians are ants. Two ants on the lab floor wiggle their antennae excitedly now that interplanetary contact has been made.

Yeesh! That was dumb. Hard to believe two scientists could study the brain so thoroughly and not notice the glass was really thick. The ending, where we learn that ants put the brain there so they could make contact with humans, is ridiculous. Maybe they could crawl under the jar and put the teeny, tiny brain in, but how did they write the full-sized label saying it's a Martian brain?

Park Ranger Dave Morrow becomes a "Prisoner of the Dwarfs!" when he seeks out the source of a mysterious forest fire. Underground, the wee folk show him a dynamite charge that will destroy the Earth if the dwarves are discovered. Dave struggles and suddenly finds himself back above ground. Other rangers find the dwarves' hole and the dynamite blows up, but instead of destroying the planet, it just closes the hole. Somehow, in his underground struggle, Dave changed the angle of the explosives and saved the planet.

Too bad dynamite didn't blow up this script before Art Peddy was assigned to draw it. We all would've been better off.

Jack Delaney inherits a big, old house, moves in, spiffs it up, and finds that every aspect of his life seems to improve. Why, the house even seems to anticipate his needs! He makes the mistake of bringing pretty Jane Farley home as his wife and the house rebels, eventually catching fire. The couple manage to escape out a window and, in the charred remains of the structure, Jack finds a wooden heart, cracked in two.

"Beware: The House!" is not much of a story, but I see what you mean about Bill Benulis's art. It's clean and reminds me a bit of Krigstein's work.-Jack

Strange Stories of Suspense #7
Cover by John Severin

"Closed In" (a: Werner Roth) 
"Old John's Secret" (a: Bill Everett) 
"The House That Wasn't" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"Turnabout" (a: Ed Moore) 
"The Eyes!" (a: Vic Carrabotta) 

Val Kenyon is slowly going crazy due to overpopulation in the future. He takes a dangerous job in exchange for some privacy for himself and his wife and soon discovers that he is being trained to be on the first colonizing spaceship to the stars.

Werner Roth's art on "Closed In" is not bad--certainly better than I expected when I saw his name. I think of him as one of the X-Men artists I was never happy to see. The problem of overpopulation is one that used to be addressed frequently in science fiction stories but doesn't get talked about much nowadays.

Old John works in a factory manning a riveting machine, but he's poorly paid and makes frequent mistakes. One night he stays late to finish his work and there's a knock at the door. He admits a man who asks him to rivet together two split sections of a strange metallic plate. Old John tries his best, but half of the plate is held with broken rivets. The stranger is in a hurry; he grabs the finished product and pays John before rushing off into the night. In the driving rain, the stranger tears off his plastic mask to reveal that he's a green mutant from the future! He puts the riveted piece of metal in place on the side of a time machine and he and his fellow mutant take off for the future, having made note of the weapons of our time so they can later return and rule the world! Unfortunately, the poorly-riveted metal fails and the time machine explodes and crashes. "Old John's Secret" is that he'll never tell about the after-hours job he did, unaware that he saved mankind.

Bill Everett does a nice job with this one, though he doesn't get to draw any pretty girls as he did in "Man from the Saucer!" The story is one we've read before and the end is no surprise. The highlight is the panel I've reproduced here.

After arguing with his strong-willed wife Alice in the morning before leaving for work, Dan Reed returns home at day's end to find a duplicate house next to his own, with a duplicate Alice who is completely subservient to his needs. He quickly tires of her agreeing with everything he says and goes next door to the real Alice, grateful for her independence. He assumes he imagined "The House That Wasn't," but how can he explain the hair clip in his pocket from the other Alice?

John Forte's art looks nice on this four-pager, which is essentially just a series of panels showing Dan and Alice talking to each other. The replacement Alice seems like the ultimate 1950s wife, but the ending with the hair clip is unnecessary.

Lou and Emmy are in the attic, trying on clothes from 1910 and wishing they could go back in time and be young again. Suddenly, they begin to notice some unusual things. A grandfather clock that they sold thirty years ago is back in its place, the old telephone is hanging on the wall, all of the old furniture has returned, and on the piano is a copy of "Latest Hits of 1909." Emmy and Lou look at each other and realize they are young again and they're back in 1910!

Outside, they run into friends who remark about a wedding the night before, and Emmy and Lou hop into their old jalopy for a drive down the street. They return to the attic and decide they'd like to go back to 1955 but, no matter how hard they wish, they remain stuck in 1910. In 1955, another couple have just finished putting on unfamiliar clothes and look out the window to see a jet plane fly overhead. They realize that they're now in 1955 and happily exclaim that "'we got our wish!'"

"Turnabout" starts out charmingly, very much like one of Jack Finney's 1950s' time travel stories. The art by Ed Moore is clean but, like so many Atlas stories, the writer doesn't know where to go after three and a half pages and ends it with a letdown of a twist.

The day after he robs a store, Barney Harper hides out in a run-down room, afraid that the police will catch up with him. When he opens the shade to let in some light, he sees a detective staring in at him. The second time he looks out, he sees strange creatures watching him! Barney leaves the building, but everywhere he goes, the detective seems to follow. Upset by all of "The Eyes!" that he's sure are watching him, Barney turns himself in at the police station and confesses to his crime. The desk sergeant shows him the daily paper and Barney sees that the detective and the creatures were really giant balloons in the annual Christmas parade! When he's put in a cell, the prisoner in the cell next door has eyes like those on the balloons.

I was going to give this story a star and a half, mainly due to the art, but I let out a loud laugh when I saw that the detective and the creatures were really big parade balloons. A laugh is worth an extra half star, even if the writer blew it by tacking on a second twist that's less effective.-Jack

Next Week...
Jack and Peter will try to figure out
how the enigmatic No-Face actually eats!


Glowworm said...

Ah, yes, "The Man with Two Faces", the second of three versions of a homely man flirting with a pretty woman with a handsome mask that later becomes his actual face to match his inside. My favorite version of this trope in a comic book, was a pre-code version from 1952 called "The Ugliest Man in the World" from Tales of Horror 1. The story itself is sweet as the man in question just wants to befriend people but unintentionally scares them away due to his unsightly face. He also has a handsome playboy brother who's an absolute prick and tries to hide him away from everyone. The poor guy finds a mysterious store that sells masks and gets one--not a super handsome one, just a normal face. Later, the store disappears when he tries to take the mask back and the mask won't come off. He ends up befriending a little girl and her nurse and ends up asking her out. The jealous brother tries to break them up by insisting the brother wears a mask, but the woman doesn't care and when the mask is forcefully removed, the ugly man now matches his mask and his brother now has the ugly face! It's cute. There's also a Black Magic story with a similar line where a homeless violinist ends up getting a mask to hide his face and suddenly his face matches the mask. However, there's a bleak plot twist where he loses his new handsome face after cheating on the young woman who originally befriended him.

Peter Enfantino said...

I sure wish I had your memory. The most maddening thing about reading so many horror comics at one time in such a short amount of time is when you finish reading a story and it definitely reminds you of that one you read in... was it EC? Harvey? Avon? Atlas. Arghhh! If you ever read my words (I know I've read this before, but I sure can't remember where..." please jump in and remind me! Thanks!

Grant said...

I definitely don't know the whole history of these comics, but four-armed alien invaders posing as Earth people are something that got repeated a lot, especially ones with whistleblower characters trying to expose them. It's almost as if they were trying to make some comics SERIES out of the idea, along the same lines as THE INVADERS, but it never took off.
About the spookiest one I know of is called "The Madman," reprinted in black and white in Monsters Unleashed # 2.