Monday, June 17, 2024

Journey Into Strange Tales Issue 114: Atlas/ Marvel Horror & Science Fiction Comics!


The Marvel/Atlas 
Horror Comics
Part 99
March 1956 Part I
by Peter Enfantino
and Jack Seabrook

Astonishing #47
Cover by Bill Everett

"Spaceship in My Barn" (a: Bill Everett) 
(r: Tomb of Darkness #23)
"The Man Who Looked for Death!" (a: Joe Orlando) ★1/2
"The Fat Man!" (a: Larry Woromay) 
"Eve of Halloween!" (a: Ed Winiarski) ★1/2
(r: Tomb of Darkness #18)
"The Hypnotist!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) ★1/2
(r: Weird Wonder Tales #19)

Caught in a vicious storm, a reporter takes shelter in a farmhouse and is told by the kindly old couple who host him that they've been visited by aliens from another planet. "Where's the proof?" asks the newsman. "There's a Spaceship in My Barn!" exclaims the old man. And so there is. The reporter is still dubious (commenting that the ship, while a very good construction, is obviously a fake) until he meets the crew, the very friendly couple, Luml and Xrtyl, from the planet Aldebaran (which sounds suspiciously close to one of George Lucas's planets).

The reporter asks if he can take a few pics but the BEMs hop in their tin can and grab a hunk of the highway. Now how will he write the greatest story of the century? He won't. And neither did the uncredited scripter of "Spaceship in My Barn" (which CGC guesses might be Bill Everett), who didn't seem to know how to finish off his sf yarn. This one merely sputters but Bill's talents as a draftsman save the day. Everett could do it all; really eerie horror and then cute fantasy like smiling aliens and adorable farmers.

Reporter Al Benton has been tasked with the job of finding elusive best-selling author Norman Hale and interviewing him. No other paper has been able to find the writer but Benton is convinced he can track the recluse down and bring home the "big story." Indeed, Benton is able to dig up enough clues to put him in the same forest as hunter Hale and, during a vicious rainstorm, he spends a bit of time in a cave with the author. When a landslide traps both men in the cave and they await death from suffocation, Hale spills the beans: he's thousands of years old, which is why his historical novels seem so real. Now, finally, he can rest.  

A rush of water washes away the rocks blocking the cave entrance and the men emerge unhurt. Benton asks Hale if he can still tell the story and "The Man Who Looked for Death!" smiles and tells him to go ahead. No one will believe it. Like "Spaceship in My Barn," the Joe Orlando-illustrated "The Man Who Looked for Death!" just stops rather abruptly without a satisfying conclusion. We never find out how this guy has managed to stay alive for so long and, if he's so miserable and simple asphyxiation can kill him, why has he been hanging on? 

"The Fat Man" is ridiculous nonsense about a reporter who observes the odd eating habits of an obese man and wants to get to the bottom of the mystery. Seems the man has to keep a minimum body weight of 250 pounds because Saturn has a "stronger gravitational pull" and he'll float away if he doesn't gorge himself on strawberry shortcake and rack of lamb. Yep, he's an alien! "Eve of Halloween" isn't so much bad as it is predictable. Precocious little Emily can't seem to stay out of trouble (playing in the mud, breaking fine china), even when her mom threatens to ground her from "riding" on Halloween Eve. That "riding" bit is repeated a few times so we know something's up and our patience is rewarded with the final panel when Emily's mom forgives her all her sins and the two go broom riding in the sky on Halloween Eve. Again, not awful (and Winiarski's pencils didn't make me want to run far away this time out) but the yarn would be more effective as a three-panel newspaper strip.

Irwin Botts is so timid, he's afraid of his own shadow. Help comes in the form of "The Hypnotist!" who assures Irwin he can cure him of all his phobias. Sure enough, after a hypnosis session, Irwin peels back the skin of the 'fraidy cat and becomes a lion, decking a very rude man in a restaurant. Seeing dollar signs flash before his eyes, the hypnotist talks Irwin into prize-fighting. The mouse that roared cannot lose and soon Irwin is contending for the Heavyweight Championship. Smelling stacks of green, the evil hypnotist bets against Irwin in the bout and then refuses to put his patient under. Regardless, Irwin KOs Rogan and becomes the champ. In the end, he tells the conniving hypocrite that he had the strength down deep inside himself the whole time. Inspirational? Maybe. Maudlin? Certainly. Well-illustrated by master Krigstein? Bingo. No one brought over their EC style quite as effectively as Krigstein.-Peter

Journey Into Mystery #32
Cover by Carl Burgos

"Elevator in the Sky!" (a: Bob Powell) 
"The Two of Me!" (a: Al Hartley) 
"The Skin-Diver!" (a: Paul Reinman) 
"Someone Out There is Calling!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"The Town That Lived Again!" (a: Joe Orlando) ★1/2

Tod Perry put all his money into a piece of desert where a meteorite had landed and buried itself in the sand. On that spot he built the Meteorite Hotel and watched as it became an overnight sensation. Then, one day, as he's giving a tour of the place to a buddy, he notices an elevator that shouldn't be there! Dazed riders exit when the doors open and Perry demands to know what's going on. The elevator operator tells Tod that the people who got off are the ones who "wanted to stay." 

Demanding to know what the hell is going on, Perry steps into the elevator and tells the operator to take him up. Carter, the hotel manager watches in awe as the elevator blasts off through the roof and disappears into space. Later, he and a crew of workers dig down below the shaft and discover an abandoned spaceship. It wasn't a meteorite that crashed after all! "Elevator in the Sky!" is one heck of a confusing story. None of it makes sense. Why would the aliens bother building an elevator through the hotel to escape their underground prison? How does the blast resulting from the take-off not destroy the hotel? Why would the alien pilot bother wearing a hotel uniform? Not even fave artist Bob Powell can save this one.

Businessman Don Macy discovers an alien from "another world in a parallel time" (whatever that means) has taken his identity and intends to kill him in order to pave the way for an invasion. But Don's smarter than your average office worker and finds a way to put an end to the identity theft once and for all. "The Two of Me!" is uninspired filler and Al Hartley's work is just about as straightforward and lifeless as it gets. A tiny bit better is "The Skin-Diver," wherein the titular sportsman heads out with some buddies for his first serious dive and gets separated from the bunch. He ends up surfacing in a world of fish-men. The reveal is handled awkwardly but the Reinman art is pleasing.

The North Star,
commanded by Captain Shea, is receiving odd S.O.S. messages from a mysterious ship that keeps changing its position. Every time Shea orders the change in direction, his ship narrowly avoids disaster. Who is this phantom bodyguard and why is it radioing The North Star? Turns out, thanks to a last-panel exposition, that the ship belongs to a Martian freighter taking on water in one of the red planet's seas. Why is the communication being picked up by a freighter on Earth and why are the Martian coordinates making it possible for the ship to avoid sinking? Don't ask me. I've got a feeling the uncredited writer of "Someone Out There is Calling!" had no idea either!

Paul Blake wanders through the mountains of Europe, gets lost, and has to find shelter from a snowstorm. Luckily, he stumbles upon the cabin of Clyde Buchler, late of Switzerland. Oddly enough, Clyde has an entire village erected in his front yard, based on his home town of Zern, tragically buried under an avalanche a half-century before. Clyde asks Paul if he'd like to visit Zern and, before the younger man can answer, they are both walking the miniature town. "The Town That Lived Again" is a fantasy that observes no rules; well, to be fair, it doesn't give us rules to follow in the first place. The climax, where Paul and Clyde must flee the village before a new avalanche strikes, is totally bonkers. Joe Orlando still seems to be finding that oomph he'll hit us in the head with a decade later. Overall, this is truly a dreadful issue of Journey Into Mystery.-Peter

Journey Into Unknown Worlds #43
Cover by Sol Brodsky

"The Man Who Couldn't Be Reached!" (a: Bernie Krigstein) 
"The Terrible Treasure!" (a: Werner Roth) 
"The Sea Waits For Me!" (a: Dick Ayers) ★1/2
"Forever is Too Long" (a: Dave Berg) ★1/2
"No Sign of Life!" (a: Doug Wildey) 

On an unknown world, a soldier named Rex Valance is determined to destroy the Supreme Coordinator, "The Man Who Couldn't Be Reached!" Rex and his rebel band are stopped by guards and Rex is rehabilitated and returned to society, but his determination to outwit the Coordinator is undimmed. Deciding to fight alone, Rex zooms his rocket ship to the control tower where the S.C lives. He makes his way past a robot guard and reaches the inner chamber, only to find that the S.C. is an old man who has been testing people to find a successor. Rex has proved worthy and will be the new Supreme Commander.

At least it wasn't a big computer or an alien at the end! Bernie Krigstein's style of using lots of narrow panels must have worn him out. It can't have been easy or quick to draw so many individual rectangles. His art is fine but the story is unimaginative.

Maybe he'll run for president.
Martin Trump Fuller is a loudmouthed salesman who browbeats his wife. His favorite book is Rip Van Winkle and he imagines selling modern conveniences to mountain dwarves, if they really existed. Driving through the mountains one day in a storm, he meets a dwarf who takes him to a village of wee folk who agree to pay him treasure in exchange for modern appliances and housing supplies. Back at the office, Fuller orders tons of radios, TVs, etc., secretly cheating the dwarves by buying junk and planning to pocket the profits. The dwarves realize that the material is worthless and, when Fuller gets home and opens the treasure chests he was given, they're empty.

"The Terrible Treasure!" follows a pattern of more than a few Atlas post-code stories, where the writer manages, in only five pages, to tell portions of a few different stories that don't really fit together. On the splash page, we're told that Fuller has prestige, a family, and success in business, but on page two his wife complains that they don't have enough money and he acts like a jerk. The business about Rip Van Winkle comes out of left field and, when Martin meets the dwarf, it seems like it might go somewhere interesting, but it doesn't. As is so often the case, the conclusion just flops.

Night after night, Joan wheels herself in her wheelchair down to the water, certain that "The Sea Waits for Me!" She can't explain why she's drawn to the ocean and apologizes to her parents for being so much trouble. They decide that they had better move inland. Before they can, she wheels herself right into the water and out of their reach. A lifeguard says he'll rescue her but they tell him not to bother--she's a mermaid who's always been drawn back to her home.

A dumb story with by-the-numbers art by Dick Ayers. Was anyone not thinking Joan was a mermaid? I figured it out right away. I was mightily impressed by her ability to wheel a wheelchair over sand, something that would take incredible upper body strength if it were even possible. In reality, her parents would find her stuck in the sand about a foot from the edge of the grass. The final panel demonstrates the incredible ability of comic book mermaids' hair to always float right over their chest.

An old inventor named Irwin Harwell goes from place to place, trying to interest someone in his perpetual motion machine, but everyone insists that it'll stop eventually. Suddenly, everything and everyone starts to fly as if gravity has lost its hold. Irwin makes his way home and climbs down a long ladder to the center of the Earth, where he pulls a lever to restart the perpetual motion machine that's been keeping the Earth turning for billions of years.

It seems all the naysayers were right not to buy Irwin's machine! Even the giant version at the Earth's core stops now and then. I always liked Dave Berg's art in Mad and it's a little odd to see him drawing a regular comic book story like "Forever is Too Long."

Prof. Armand Kastel gets ready to read a paper on his theory of time. Meanwhile, Earth pilot Con Macklin is about to land on Mars and Martian pilot Ulm is about to land on Earth. Prof. Kastel explains to the audience gathered before him that it's possible that different worlds may experience time at different rates and be unable to see objects not moving at the same rate. Both spacemen land on their target worlds and see nothing but mist before heading home to report "No Sign of Life!" Kastel is ridiculed and walks home alone, tearing up his papers, unaware that he was right.

Doug Wildey is an artist whose work I'm starting to like, mainly for his clean lines and detailed panels. This story is fairly interesting in the way it presents the theory, but five pages is too short to develop more than just an idea.-Jack

Marvel Tales #144
Cover by Carl Burgos

"The City That Time Forgot!" (a: Al Williamson) ★1/2
"Nine Days Wonder" (a: Joe Sinnott) 
"The Unseen World!" (a: John Forte) ★1/2
"It Is Written in the Stars" (a: Mac L. Pakula) 
"Make a Wish..." (a: Bernard Bailey) 
"The Missing Ingredient" (a: Bob Forgione & Jack Abel) ★1/2

On a fishing trip, Joe and Andy stumble upon "The City That Time Forgot!" It's built of marble and alabaster and it's dazzling white. Days pass and the city seems to do what it can to please the duo, but they realize that they must return to their families. A plaque reveals that the city was built by an ancient race that was forced to abandon it; when Joe and Andy depart, the city crumbles to dust.

It's nice to see a story by Williamson and Krenkel, even if it's only three pages long and not their best work.

Danny likes to read books about outer space, but his father is a doctor who thinks Danny is wasting his time. When a comet lands nearby, Danny and several others come down with a mysterious virus. At Danny's suggestion, Dad examines the comet and finds that it's the source of the virus. It turns out that its purpose is to open up new areas of the human mind to prepare us to head for the stars. Chastised, Dad sits down to read some of Danny's outer space books before bedtime.

"Nine Days Wonder" contains no surprises and the usual solid but unexciting art by Joe Sinnott.

Ada Roberts is miserable! She's reached the advanced age of 18 and sits home every night watching TV, while the other girls at the office all have boyfriends and go on dates. Several days later, Ada is delighted to receive an invitation to a party. Her Mom drops her off at the Friendly Club that evening, and Ada is the belle of the ball, dancing with all the young men and having a wonderful time.

When Mom arrives at midnight to pick up Ada, she witnesses the young woman all alone in the club insisting that she's at a great party. Mom calls Dr. Nelson, who rushes over (at 12:30 a.m.!) and  tells Ada that there was no party. Ada shows him a rose she was given and displays the invitation she received. A "helpful" caption above the last panel tells the befuddled reader that "Ada was one of the privileged few to be invited into an invisible dimension of happiness, where only the very lonely may enter!"

"The Unseen World!" is going along fine, as so many Atlas stories do, until it comes to a screeching halt with the incomprehensible ending. I'm getting to like John Forte's art, though it can be a bit stiff, but I wonder what he made of this story when he was handed it to illustrate.

Joe Taylor is a real jerk. He reads cards from a penny fortune-telling machine that warn him, but he doesn't listen and his misfortunes mount. Finally, he fails to read his horoscope and goes on the run! Had be but known that he was destined to spend a year roaming the earth, he might have made better choices.

Another dopey story with below average art, "It is Written in the Stars" meets the definition of filler. Were the Atlas editors just clearing out the drawers at this point before the inevitable axe fell?

Adam and Mary Finley buy an inexpensive house because that's all they can afford. They start to fix it up and discover an old well on the property. Mary imagines that it's a wishing well and, after she goes inside, Adam wishes that he had all the things he ever wanted--money, a mansion, and sexy Corrine. Lightning strikes and Adam discovers that the life he imagined isn't all it's cracked up to be.

He goes into his lab and is catapulted back to caveman times (still in white shirt and tie), where he has to run from hungry cave wolves. Finally, he awakens back at the side of the well and realizes that his life with Mary isn't so bad after all.

"Make a Wish..." is another story scraped from the bottom of the barrel, featuring scratchy art by Bernard Baily and a storytelling left turn back to the days of the cavemen.

A hobo named Walter Marley finds a bottle bobbing in the water and uncorks it to release a sprite who grants any wish! Money, a big house, friends--Walter gets them all but remains unsatisfied. What is "The Missing Ingredient" that Walter can't identify? He wishes the sprite back into the bottle and, penniless again, realizes that it's...wait for it...happiness--the one thing money can't buy.

And with that, a truly dreadful issue of Marvel Tales comes to an end.-Jack

Next Week...
The Return of
The Mad Hatter!

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