Monday, May 22, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 32: March 1953

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
   32: March 1953

Tales from the Crypt #34

"Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Oil's Well That Ends Well!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Attacks of Horror!" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"There Was an Old Woman!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Another hottie from the pen of Jack Davis.
("Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall!")
You open your eyes and see a bald, bespectacled scientist with a crazed look in his eye. Though he tells you to stay put and leaves, you break free from your shackles and escape out into the night, where the crowds at a carnival run in fright when they see you. Finding your way to a road, you stop a car and murder the driver, then drive to your home, where your wife, Nancy, is so scared of you that she falls to her death from a second-story window. You return to the carnival and murder the scientist who made you this way. You stumble into a wax museum and see the horror of your own appearance reflected in a "Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall!" You destroy the mirror and run into a hall of mirrors, where the multiple reflections show you as your patchwork body finally gives out and you die.

You are randomly selected to summarize another tired take on the Frankenstein story. You enjoy the Jack Davis art but you notice he still can't draw a pretty girl very well. You wonder why the story is written in the second person. You move on to the next story, unimpressed and wondering just what caused the monster's death.

Smoking kills.
("Oil's Well That Ends Well!")
A couple of con men named Phil and Sam pull into a Midwestern town and set up in a hotel. Their scam? To pump some oil into the city park and then pretend they found oil in the middle of  town. The townsfolk raise $60,000 to pay Phil to handle the drilling to extract the Texas tea from the ground. Sam pretends to get into a fatal car accident while trying to skip town with the loot and Phil has him buried in short order. That night, according to plan, Phil digs up Sam's coffin, but there's a surprise--there really is oil in the ground and Phil is so surprised that he drops the cigarette dangling from his lips and both men are blown sky high.

"Oil's Well That Ends Well!" in a good crime story, one that would fit right into a noir pulp, and George Evans continues to impress me with his clean, sharp art.

A tax on the nerves!
("Attacks of Horror!")
Long ago, in a kingdom by the sea, lived King Moneymad, who spent his days counting his wealth. His royal advisor proposes taking the king's subjects, and what follows are a series of increasingly onerous levies: a Sir Tax on those with titles, and Excess Prophets tax on fortune tellers, and so on, until the people are so overwhelmed by the "Attacks of Horror!" that they rise up and slay the monarch.

Maybe this is funny to someone, but it was lost on me. Even the gruesome moment, when the king orders the thumbs of his subjects lopped off for failure to pay the Thumb Tax, is done off-panel, as is usual with the Kamen stories. The puns don't work for me.

And you should see what I can do with ping pong balls, too!
("There Was an Old Woman!")
"There Was an Old Woman!" known as Aunt Tildy, but when she died and the men came to take her body away, she told them to beat it. They finally cart her off, but her ghost harangues everyone so much that they let her spirit re-enter her body and return home. At least I think that's what happened in this story. I'm sure I read it many years ago, when I read every other Ray Bradbury story, but perhaps Al Feldstein got it a bit muddled up, since I'm not really sure what happened. Ghastly doesn't have much to do here other than draw a lot of panels of an elderly female.--Jack

Peter: "There Was An Old Woman!" seems a very strange story to adapt for a funny book; it's multi-layered and doesn't exactly put the message out in front for all to see. The only feedback on Bradbury's tale, in the letters page of #36, was a positive letter and a less-than-positive missive from Ed Redling of New Jersey, who got straight to the point with "Ray Bradbury's story . . . stunk!" I can imagine most pre-teen moptops shaking their head and wondering what that was all about. It's a well-done adaptation and a definite departure for the company. "Attacks of Horror!" is far from a departure, with its greedy king and jovial "art" from Jack Kamen, but what it is is very funny. You can just imagine Al and Bill, behind the scenes, giggling as they cleverly come up with examples for more taxes: "I've got it! Sails Tax!" The best Grim so far.

Universal's lawyers were napping . . .
("Mirror, Mirror . . .")
"Oil's Well" is yet another variation on the seedy business partners but this one has a hilarious climax and absolutely gorgeous George art. That leaves the opener, "Mirror, Mirror . . . ," which is just another disposable take on Shelley's favorite son. Universal Pictures must not have been clamping down yet on the copyright infringements on their 1931 vision of the monster as Jack Davis's version is a dead ringer for Karloff's. Later on in that decade, Universal would send lawyers to the House of Hammer when the studio announced they'd produce a new version of Frankenstein to ensure the British were aware that Uni's monster was untouchable.

Jose: A fairly bland issue from the Crypt. Gaines and Feldstein might have “freely lifted” plots from the old masters, but Feldstein lifts from his own resume with “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…”, a basic carbon copy of his earlier and more effective “Reflection of Death” from TFTC 23. Al would actually go on to use the conceit again in the final issue of TFTC with “Upon Reflection”, another Jack Davis monster-fest that puts the gimmick to more cunning use. I remember thinking “Oil’s Well That Ends Well…” was a really lame story to put in a horror book back when I initially read these, and although I still think that holds true my opinion doesn’t mar the fact that the actual yarn is pretty solid and includes a neat Chekhov’s gun-styled retribution for our oily shysters.

("Attacks of Horror!")
Believe it or not, “Attacks of Horror” is one of the more bearable and even legitimately funny entries from the much-maligned Grim Fairy Tales series. It might not be “The Funeral,” but it’s got enough risible puns and a torture scene perfectly suited for Kamen (thumb chopping—oh my!) to make it a good time. But it's Kamen’s trouble with drawing diverse faces that leads to the story’s biggest laugh on the final page when it appears that the peasant who just had his opposable digits removed in one panel shows up later swinging the axe (!) as his supposedly twin brother holds the greedy King Moneymad. Peter got it right when he stated that “There Was an Old Woman” was probably not the best choice for an adaptation in sequential art, and Jack echoes the same kind of dissonance and confusion I suffered (as well as many others have, I imagine) upon reading this. It probably could have been moderately enjoyable as an episode of The Twilight Zone (and if you count “Nothing in the Dark” from Season 2, then I suppose it actually was), but as a comic book story it comes across like much of Graham’s art: pretty but lifeless. How appropriate.

Hel-lo, nurse!
("There Was an Old Woman!")

Crime SuspenStories #15

"When the Cat's Away . . ." ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"The Screaming Woman!" ★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Water, Water, Everywhere . . ." ★★★
". . . And Not a Drop to Drink!"
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Hail and Heart-y!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

You leave my Dick out of this!
("While the Cat's Away...")
The magic has gone out of marriage for Jay and Emma; the two fight like cats and dogs and, what with Emma's weak heart, that could be fatal. Frustrated, Jay finds solace on the couch, if not in the arms, of best friend/next door neighbor, Dick. As Emma says, Jay is always "running to Dick"! One night, sick and tired of arguing with the old ball-and-chain, Jay asks Dick if he can use his guest room and Dick happily agrees. In the middle of the night, Jay finds he can't sleep and goes looking for some Dick but can't find it him anywhere! Figuring Dick must have slipped out the back door and headed to the office early, Jay decides to patch things up with Emma and heads home. Surprised to see his living room light on, he peeks through the curtains and espies a shocking sight: Emma with Dick! Feeling used (by which side is never clear), Jay hatches a plan: he tells Emma he's off to the big city on business for a week. He later overhears his wife make plans with Dick for "When the Cat's Away . . ." Instead of leaving on the train, Jay waits patiently a couple hours and then doubles back, surprising the dressed-to-the-nines she-cat at the door with a tall tale of woe: he's just witnessed Dick run down by a truck and is too shook up to leave on business. Jay monkeys with the kitchen light bulb and then sends Emma in to make coffee; the frazzled woman enters just in time to witness Dick arrive at her back door. The shock of Dick's rear entry causes a fatal heart attack and then Jay puts a tidy bow on the set-up by plugging his ex-besty with a bullet. He smiles and calls the police, reporting a "terrible accident!"

He's going for the touchdown, folks!
("While the Cat's Away...")
Let's get the obvious out of the way first of all: there is nothing even subtly gay about the relationship between Jay and Dick; it's all in your mind. There's no subtext in dialogue like Emma's "Go running to Dick like you always do! You two are so cozy-cozy, sometimes I think you're married to him instead of me!" or when Jay wakes in the middle of the night, restless and thinks, "Hang it all! No use even trying to sleep! Maybe if Dick hasn't gone to work .  . . ," there's no use hypothesizing what he's thinking after the dot dot dot but I'm amazed Wertham picked on the Batman and Robin team as obvious examples of "deviant behavior" and not these two "pals." Does Jay feel angrier at his wife for cheating on him or at Dick for ostensibly bowing out of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club? The wrap-up is a pretty conventional one; there's no real surprise even though Johnny makes it seem so. It's not one of Craig's best art jobs either; lots of partially-sketched faces and no beauties on display (Emma could be one of the boys). That is a beauty of a cover, though!

What we in the biz refer to as
"not-so-subtle foundation."
("The Screaming Woman")
While playing in  the detritus-filled lot down the street from her house, ten-year-old Margaret Leary hears a woman screaming from beneath a newly-dug patch of earth. It becomes Margaret's goal to liberate "The Screaming Woman!" but her efforts seem doomed to failure since neither her mother nor her father take her story seriously. Even her best buddy, Dippy, won't believe her. After quite a bit of cajoling, the little sprite convinces her pop to come down to the lot for a listen after dinner (where mom and dad discuss the local gossip, including the big dust-up between Charlie Nesbitt and his wife, Helen, who used to be dad's sweetie and even composed a song for him while they were courting--let's see, how did that tune go, dum de dum dum de . . .) but, of course, the voice from the ground is silent. Margaret goes door-to-door, searching for missing housewives and, at last, comes to the door of the Nesbitts. After hearing the little rugrat's story, Mr. Nesbitt insists that his wife is at the store and that Margaret should come in for a game of cards but, after about ten minutes, Margaret becomes antsy and tells Nesbitt she's going to take matters into her own hands and dig the woman out herself. When the girl gets to the lot, the voice is silent but, with a little coaxing, breaks out into song. Margaret heads home and sings the song to her dad, who quickly recognizes it as the pop standard that Helen had penned for him years before. Dad grabs a shovel, begins to dig, and they all live happily ever after (well, except mom who, in the sequel, murders dad and Helen for running away together).

"And, for my next ditty, a little
something I haven't sung in decades!"
("The Screaming Woman")
Not one of Bradbury's best but the perfect vehicle for Jack Kamen, whose forte was dimpled, pig-tailed little monsters and their dangerous adventures. "The Screaming Woman!" began life as an episode of CBS's radio show, Suspense, and was then transformed by Bradbury into a short story (published in May 1951 in Today). The plot is intriguing, albeit limited, but the outcome is pretty tame for a Bradbury crime story, with the reveal of Helen's lilting soprano performance, despite being buried under ground for several hours, if not days, drawing chuckles from at least one reader I know of. But that blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Bradbury since Al's adaptation is faithful to the source. Decades later, "The Screaming Woman!" would become a necessarily-padded ABC Movie of the Week starring Olivia de Havilland and an episode of the Ray Bradbury Theater starring Drew Barrymore as the precocious little rescuer.

I hope you brought enough ocean
for the *rest* of the class!
("Water, Water, Everywhere...")
Louis and Henri escape from a prison on a remote South American island and head for the beach. They've bribed a guard to place a small boat at the beach so they can make their getaway but the guard has betrayed them and put only a smattering of fuel in the vehicle. The boat sputters and Henri and Louis are stuck in the middle of the ocean with "Water, Water, Everywhere . . . And Not a Drop to Drink!" The blazing sun drives Henri mad and he drinks the sea water, forcing Louis to shoot his friend and dump the body out of the boat. Determined not to lose his mind like Henri, Louis shoots himself just minutes before another boat approaches. The skipper tells his first mate that the dead man must not have realized that they were on the Amazon River and the water all around is fresh. In part two of this "EC Quickie," Louis and Henri escape from a prison in the Sahara desert and the jeep they are riding in runs out of gas. Henri goes mad, seeing mirages, and wanders off while Louis, again determined not to make the same mistakes, sits back against the jeep and shoots himself in the head. The bullet pierces the radiator and drips water on the face of Louis's corpse. One of the better installments of the "EC Quickie" series, helped along by George Evans's ghoulish art (the emaciated partners look like corpses long before they're dead) and a couple of genuinely good twists.

"Ben's Being Useful"
Lyrics by Helen Nesbitt
("Hail and Heart-y!")
Ben Storch is a lazy, good-for-nothing so-and-so who won't lift a finger to do chores or yard work, leaving the entirety of the maintenance to his overworked wife, Anna. Sure, Mr. Danbury will help Anna now and then (bless his soul!) but usually, after putting in a long day at the office, it's a long night's work around the house. Ben uses his weak heart as a crutch but, as his wife reminds him, changing a light bulb isn't that stressful! After a particularly grueling morning of shoveling snow, Anna heads off to work but is forced to stop at Doc Brewster's when she gets a sharp pain in her chest. The Doc reminds Anna that she isn't getting any younger and should try to rest a bit more but the exhausted woman reminds Brewster that Ben's heart forces her to do all the chores. The Doc chuckles and tells her that Ben has just been examined recently and all that ailed the lazy slob was indigestion--Ben's heart is "as strong as a man's half his age . . ." When Anna gets home, she beckons Ben to the cellar, where she chops him up with an axe. Later that day, Mr. Danbury sees Anna spreading ashes on the icy sidewalk and (choke!) finds a gold tooth on the path! I've said it before and I'll doubtless say it again (well, yes, I hear you comment with a heavy sigh, you're about to say it right now): it's hard to invest in some of these little seven-page morality fables when the sides are not evenly drawn.

Peter, contemplating the reading
of another Grim Fairy Tale.
("Water, Water, Everywhere...")
Anna's ascending list of neglected chores that opens the story (I asked him to clean the screens . . . It isn't hard to rake the leaves . . . I told him the door hinges needed oiling . . . Couldn't he change the bulb?) and Ben's behind-the-back grins and mugging at Anna's toiling make for a character devoid of any sympathy and, frankly, believability. The mental breakdown and violent transformation of Anna are a given from page one; the only question being how the act would manifest itself in the final panels. Poor Ghastly seemed to be handed quite a few of these predictable plays around this time and did the best he could with them. But the finale, of a nutty Anna strewing Ben's ashes here and there, does not make for one of Ghastly's grimmest realizations. --Peter

Jack: Overall, this is a strong issue of Crime SuspenStories. I thought the Craig story was superb, a great story of revenge without an annoying final twist. The Bradbury adaptation was my favorite so far and is a perfect vehicle for Kamen's art. The two Quickies are better than average, as well, with strong Evans art and--at least in the first part--an unexpected conclusion. I guess that in the 1950s, jeep radiators ran on potable water. The Ingels story is, as so many of his stories are, kind of blah until the great finish; one of the more surprising things I've discovered as we read our way through every EC comic is that Ingels is not as reliably good as I remembered.

Jose: I prayed that all the homosexual subtext I felt like I was picking up in “While the Cat’s Away…” was only in my mind. So the back doors to Jay’s and Dick’s houses face each other and are frequently brought up in conversation… So what? Not to mention Jay waking up in the middle of the night and going to Dick’s bedroom with the idea that his best pal will be in the middle of getting dressed for work. “What of it?” I ask you. And then there’s of course the title, which some liberal deviant could easily posit has more to do with Jay’s hopes of leaving his wailing minx of a wife than Emma’s own desires to have a little alone time with her hubby’s BFF. In a measure of ultimate bad taste, this same deviant would probably propose that a better title for this piece would be “Everybody Loves Dick!” Thankfully, we here at bare*bones don’t take to this kind of low humor or the presence of abnormal sexuality in our funny books, so it’s nice to have Peter’s reassurance that this is nothing but wholesome, safe American entertainment.

Speaking of wholesome, there’s Jack Kamen! Were it not for the seeds of discontent that Bradbury sows in the soil of "The Screaming Woman", this could pass as just another one of ol’ Jack’s “widdle kid” tales. Dig  that telling final line Margaret delivers about her Pops. “The last I saw of him.” Is that meant to imply that Dad hooked back up with Helen after rescuing her from a premature grave? Now that’s the story I wanna read! The EC Quickies manage to pack a brutal little punch this time out, their effect more pronounced and grim given that both short-shorts end with our two would-be “heroes” succumbing to madness and suicide respectively. Evans’ haunted-eyed cast allows us to feel the pain of the moment. “Hail and Heart-y” was one of the first ECs I ever read, tracked down to a far corner of the Internet in my desperate search for that GhouLunatic ghoulash. But whereas “Horror We…” and “Lower Berth” only proved their timelessness upon rereads in previous posts, “Hail…” showed signs of age and distress as clearly as Anna’s clapboard house. This feels like a rush job in spite of a number of nice turns of phrase that Feldstein sprinkles throughout, Ingels’ illustrations in particular reflecting the boredom the artist must have felt at receiving the assignment. You can’t go from gummy bayou cadavers to domestic power plays without feeling a little bit bummed about it!

The Vault of Horror #29

"The Mausoleum!" ★★★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Let's Play Poison!" ★★★
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Sock for Christmas" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Pickled Pints!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Evinced by his doddering old uncle’s steadfast refusal to accept the offer of a wealthy American eccentric to buy up the familial English castle and transfer it to the States for a hefty price, ne’er-do-well nephew Nathan promptly shows his disapproval by giving the old boy the ax—right down the middle of his skull. Nathan passes off Uncle’s death as a disappearance and then passes off the house keys to the American, Howard Martin, but the murderer insists that the family mausoleum be left intact on the moor grounds. (After all, that’s where Uncle’s hanging out now.) But what neither man counted on were the host of crumbly ghouls who live in the mausoleum to tear the structure asunder and conveniently rebuild it in the garden of Martin’s estate. Martin is thrilled to see that his place is genuinely haunted, but Nathan is less than thrilled when he travels to America to give Martin a piece of his mind but ends up losing all peace of mind when the ghouls snatch him up and nail him into a coffin to be interred alongside Uncle’s ferreted corpse. In the nights to come, Martin delights in unsettling his dinner guests with the ghastly, ghostly wails that emanate from his garden mausoleum.

Though much more gruesome in appearance than the typical Craig fare that would regulate the oozy monsters to a few brief glimpses, “The Mausoleum” is shot through with enough droll wit and winking humor to leaven the nasty sight of the zombie construction workers with a light air. The two elements are really at perfect balance in this tale, similar to how Craig experimented with horror and humor in earlier tales such as “Horror House” (VOH 15). Glancing back at that tale and studying the layout of “The Mausoleum” is just as good a testimony as any of how far Craig had advanced as an artist in those few short years. Along with the specific shots that Jack mentions below, the opening splash of the prototypically Gothic mise en scène displays a wonderful use of scale and architectural detail that captures your attention just as brilliantly as any putrid cadaver.

Kids Do the Darnedest Things!
("Let's Play Poison!")
Mr. Howard hates kids. In a sense, one can hardly blame him. After all, he did witness a group of his students surround young Michael, shouting that they hated him just before pushing the boy from a third-story window. Still, Mr. Howard takes his theories further than even the most rotten ol’ bastard: he remains convinced that children are an entirely demonic breed unto themselves, separate from the adult human race and forever preoccupied with the strange occult ritual known as “playtime.” He finds out one of these morbid games goes by the name of “Poison” and entails the little brats skipping over “gravestones” in the sidewalk marked with names of the dead, really just the inscription of the company that laid the concrete. But Mr. Howard finds out that there just might be something to the game after all when a group of pranksters rouse him from his home and lead him to fall ass over teakettle into an open pit, bashing his head on an exposed pipe and effectively burying him into a sidewalk grave that will respectfully henceforth read “M. Howard R. I. P.”

I enjoyed this Bradbury adaptation more than I thought I would (“There Was an Old Woman” had left me a little leery), and Jack Davis shows that he was just as crafty wielding a pen to depict the macabre merry-go-round lives of children and the miserable teachers who loathe them in this quietly insidious yarn that is oh-so-softly infused with some autumnal tidings.

Kamen gets the lead out!
("A Sock for Christmas!")
Melvin, the baker’s child, seems to get the break of a lifetime when the great King Irving comes down from his mighty castle yon high to enlist the child in becoming his son, Prince Tarby’s, new royal companion. But Melvin, already saddened at being wrested from the home of his peasant family, quickly finds out that the only break he’ll be getting is the crack of a hand against his hindquarters as Prince Tarby’s new royal whipping-boy! Tarby, you see, is a little jackass of all trades whose brilliant father has devised a means of handing out rightful punishments for his son’s crimes without actually having his son suffer the consequences: get some other poor little bastard to take the beatings instead! Heartbroken after hearing from Tarby that as a “naughty boy” he’ll be receiving no presents for Christmas, Melvin is reassured by his father upon his return home that the King will help to fill his fireside stocking. And that Santa makes sure of… even if it means taking the King and stuffing him into the stocking one bloody chunk at a time!

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals! Yet another entry from the Grim Fairy Tale line, “A Sock for Christmas” scores big by not only going for the laughs but for being built around a fairly original and intelligent premise: what happens to the boy who takes all the real jerk’s punishments when the holidays come around to reward only the good children? We could probably poke fun at Jack Kamen’s stencils for the whole marathon (and let’s face it, we probably will), but stories like “A Sock for Christmas” clearly illustrate (har-har!) what a consummate professional and draughtsman he could be at times. I found myself staring at the finely-wrought details of certain panels a number of times with this one. And talk about surprises: how ‘bout that ending folks? Yee-haw! I’m sure most children probably wouldn’t be comforted by the fact that Ol’ St. Nick would happily smite their enemies like an avenging guardian angel in fur, but this 26-year-old degenerate couldn’t think of a more heart-warming end to this Yuletide tale. God bless us, everyone!

Warren and Cal are operating a pretty sweet racket: by offering bums and hobos a cool ten dollars to donate blood to their derelict loft clinic, the two shysters then turn around and sell each pint to a legitimate blood bank for thirty bucks a pop. It’s a set-up that can’t lose, except when the bowery bums start repeatedly returning to Warren and Cal’s place to give blood so that they can buy their next bottle of rotgut. The literal final nail in the coffin comes when one of the bums kicks the bucket, effectively scaring off any willing donors from the premises. So Warren and Cal take up their cudgels and take to the streets to rustle up some blood, but the con men get the scare of their lives when they nab a napping derelict from the loft basement only to discover that the box the gentleman was snoozing in was actually a coffin and that come sunset the drifter has plans to make a considerable withdrawal from Warren and Cal’s personal blood banks.

("Pickled Pints!")
“Pickled Pints” is solid B-grade entertainment, but it goes down smoothly. I recall being fairly surprised by the twist ending to this one when I first read it; though in retrospect it makes perfect sense, Feldstein doesn’t overburden the metaphor ahead of time like he has before so that we see the payoff coming a mile away. Here the introduction of the supernatural comes as a sudden shock. Nothing in the trajectory of the story prior to the vampire’s arrival points to the possibility of that happening, yet in the end it feels entirely appropriate. This isn’t Ingels’ most standout work, but the story is worth it alone for those super glamour shots of the Old Witch throughout (dig that poached egg eyeball at the top of Page 6!) and the gnarly Nosferatu that rips across the final page. --Jose

Yow! Pt. 2
("Pickled Pints!")
Peter: The word that best sums up the contents of Vault of Horror #29 is "average." Not bad, not especially good, just average. Johnny Craig's visuals for "The Mausoleum!" are among the best we've seen but the script could have used a little work. "Poison" is not one of Ray's best short stories but Al does what he can and Jack does a better job than Kamen at creating a Bradbury child's POV. The Grim Fairy Tale (a subspecies that is, seriously, wearing out its welcome) has a great twist and (-choke-) actual blood in a Kamen story but "Pickled Pints!" is strictly low-grade Ghastly.

Jack: "The Mausoleum!" is four stars all the way. Craig can do so much with a wordless panel at the right moment, and that moment comes with the axe attack in this story. Mr. Martin is a man after our own hearts, grinning as he watches corpses assemble the mausoleum by moonlight. Like the rest of the Bradbury adaptations, "Poison" features higher quality writing than we're used to and it's interesting that we're seeing so many adaptations of Ray's horror tales when he was best known for science fiction, at least at this point in his career. The Christmas story is terrible and having St. Nick kill and dismember the king shows misguided revenge, if you ask me--the little brat was the one who deserved it! The best thing I can say about the Ingels story is that he really excels in drawing the Old Witch and sometimes seems more inspired to draw her panels of narration than he does to depict the characters in the main story.

Shock SuspenStories #7

"Beauty and the Beach!" ★★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Bribe!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Infiltration!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Small Assassin!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Ray Bradbury
Adaptation by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

Two couples sit on the beach in the hot summer sun: John and Mary Milton and Percy and Ginger Fullman. The women love to display their beautiful bodies in bikinis and soak up the sun; the men aren't so keen on the subject. Mary is approached to enter a beauty pageant and Ginger is invited to be spokesmodel for a tanning oil; both women jump at the chance, despite the protestations of their men. When the gals get too wrapped up in their work, the men are forced to act: John encases Mary forever in plastic so she can show off her body for all time, while Percy subjects Ginger to a bank of heat lamps and burns her to a crisp.

Peter does not approve.
("Beauty and the Beach!")

Bill Gaines must have decided he'd forced Jack Kamen to draw enough bratty kids and Grim Fairy Tales, so it was time to let the man run wild with his greatest talent--drawing beautiful gals posing with very few clothes on. "Beauty and the Beach!" is the Cheesecake Factory, circa 1953! The plot is entertaining, too, if one even notices that there is one.

Peter finds this scandalous.
("The Bribe!")
Fire Inspector Frank Wilson is appalled by the crowded Blue Swan Club, which lacks sufficient exits for safety, and tells the owner that he'll report the situation. His daughter, Jeannie, meanwhile, is in love and wants to get married, so Frank agrees to take $1200 from the club's owner to look the other way. After "The Bribe!" has been paid, there is a fire and many patrons of the club are killed. A photograph shows Frank that Jeannie and her beau were there that night and, in despair over causing his beloved daughter's death, he kills himself. He never hears the phone ringing and thus fails to learn that Jeannie and her fiancee left the club and eloped before the blaze began.

A bracing story of corruption and misunderstanding, "The Bribe!" is elevated by tremendous art by Wally Wood, who can draw serious men thinking serious thoughts in one panel and then a gorgeous babe like Jeannie in another. It's a shame he came to the same end as Frank.

"Unacceptable," says Peter.
Miss Curtiss is hired by Col. Shaw to work at a Pentagon bureau responsible for ferreting out Martian invaders. He tells her that there has been an "Infiltration!" and that she must watch what she says and be on guard. She meets Phil Brady, another employee, who says he knows there is an alien among them. She accepts his offer of a date and tells Shaw, who informs her that Phil is the alien! That night, she takes Phil back to her place but he is shocked to discover that both she and Shaw are Martians. In fact, everyone in the bureau except for Phil is a Martian, and he must be eliminated so he does not stand in the way of the invasion.

I had a sneaky suspicion Miss Curtiss was a Martian but I did not suspect Col. Shaw, so they got me. Like Peter and Jose, I am enjoying Joe Orlando's growing place as a regular artist in the EC stable.

Since before her baby was born, Alice thought the little guy was trying to kill her. Dr. Jeffers explains to her husband David that she's just emotionally upset, but while David is away on a business trip Alice contracts pneumonia. He comes home and slips on one of the baby's toys, nearly falling down the stairs. Alice has the same accident and he finds her dead. The baby soon does away with Daddy as well by leaving on the gas at the stove. Dr. Jeffers finds David's body and, convinced that the infant is "The Small Assassin!," advances on the child with a scalpel.

"Sexist and exploitative," warns Peter.
("The Small Assassin!")
There is just too much text in this story for me to fully enjoy it as a comic book entry. George Evans's art is photo-realistic but the pictures are crowded out by words and the action is quite static for such a tense narrative.-Jack

Peter: The more work I see by George Evans on this journey, the higher his name climbs on my list of favorite EC artists. "The Small Assassin!" benefits not only from an eerie, noir-ish visual style but also from the source material, a tale with a very bold climax for its time (it would be bold for our times as well). Bradbury builds his fable around the common fears a woman has post-childbirth and magnifies those fears a thousand-fold. We all think our kids are trying to kill us at one time or another. The other standout this issue, "The Bribe!," fools us into thinking we've guessed what the twist will be but then Bill and Al smile and say, "Oh, we're not done yet, kiddies!" The Wally Wood/Shock story is fast becoming the "Sure Thing" of the month. "Infiltration" sees no such double-trickery in its climax; it's utterly predictable and that reveal has already been used by Al in the past. "Beauty and the Beach!" could very well be the nastiest and most vile story we've seen yet (well, okay, second place behind "Cutting Cards"), a tale that exists only to display torture (and to two women who didn't even commit adultery) and misogyny. A forerunner of today's so-called "torture porn" films like Hostel and Saw.

Jose: Damn, that climax to “Beauty and the Beach” is rough, isn’t it? With its buxom babes drawing lascivious glances and the over-the-top savagery of its final kills, one could easily be fooled into thinking they’ve stumbled across a lost Herschell Gordon Lewis film. That being said, I did enjoy Feldstein’s ping-pong narrative that has events and dialogue occurring with one couple resurfacing with the other, a mirroring method that shows that there’s always somebody else out there who has the same problems as you do, even if they may prefer vats of bubbling plastic to human toast. “The Bribe” has all the best qualities of a top tier “Shock SuspenStory”: stark, uncompromising, and haunting. Frank could’ve easily been broadly drawn as a bull-headed nasty or an upstanding Samaritan, but instead Feldstein presents him as a believably conflicted man with varying shades of light and darkness within him, thus making his conflict and grief over the outcome of his crime all the more palpable. You get the impression that he’s a good guy and a loving father who just made one bad mistake, so his suicide comes across as legitimately tragic, and then Gaines and Feldstein grind their heels into our hearts a little deeper by revealing that not only were Jeannie and her betrothed not at the immolated club but that they left to elope, thus rendering the bribe Frank took completely meaningless. “Infiltration” pierces these dark clouds with an OK scifi yawn (sorry, yarn) that would’ve been dead in the water had anybody but Joe Orlando drawn it. I’m not sure exactly where I stand with “The Small Assassin.” (Hopefully not anywhere near that staircase!) Chilling, creepy story and tense, uncomfortably realistic artwork by Evans, and yet… Like Jack said, it might be that this one just suffered in translation. I can understand the urge to leave in as much of Bradbury’s text as possible, but here it makes the journey from one panel to the next feel more arduous than it should.

In Our 105th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories...
Oh Goody! More Canine War Heroes!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 104: February/March 1969

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 202

"The Sarge is Dead"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Trench Trap!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #39, October 1955)

Jack: While working its way through the Italian Alps, Easy Co. comes upon a group of Nazis dug in among big boulders. Rock runs straight at the enemy and lobs a couple of grenades at them but they appear to shoot him right in the chest. When the smoke clears, the Nazis are dead and all that's left of Sgt. Rock are his helmet and ammunition belt. Thinking that "The Sarge is Dead," the men of Easy Co. press on with Bulldozer as their new leader, guided by the spirit of Sgt. Rock.

"The Sarge is Dead"
Fighting their way through a snowstorm, the men of Easy Co. stop to rest for the night until Bulldozer wakes to see Nazi soldiers sneaking up on him and his men. He wakes his fellows and they get the best of the Nazis in fierce hand to hand combat. They then find and conquer a Nazi encampment on the edge of a nearly frozen lake before taking the men prisoner and heading back to the stockade. When they report to the C.O. they discover Rock in the medic's tent, wounded but alive. He comments that they did well without him but they reply that his spirit was with them all the way.

Kubert's art continues to be highly impressive, especially in the second half of the story where the snow flies and Rock's ghostly face hovers over Easy as they advance and fight. The splash page features floating heads of six members of Easy Co. mourning the seeming death of Sgt. Rock. I know five of them, but who is Shaker, the sixth? I thought sure he would be dead by the end of this story, but he disappears after page one.

Peter: Despite the obvious cheat, I like "The Sarge is Dead." It's exciting and has some fantastic images provided by Joe Kubert (my favorite has to be the one below--my gosh, just look at that detail!). The men hardly seem to bat an eyelash when they assume the worst but I guess that's just what you do in wartime, buddy or no buddy. I love how the C.O. says nothing as the men tell him of Rock's death, other than to tell them to take their wounded to the infirmary. What a jerk keeping them in the dark.

Beautiful work by Kubert!

"Trench Trap!"
Jack: In civilian life, Mickey Williams always felt cooped up, both in his job as an elevator operator and on the subway train commuting back and forth to work. Despite his desire to be out in the open when he goes to war, he is assigned a job inside a tank and laments the fact that he's not in another branch of the service where he could get some air. His tank is menaced by a plane and manages to elevate itself on some timbers in order to shoot the plane out of the sky. After a tread is blown off, the tank finds a convenient hole and lowers itself in order to destroy a ground-level anti-tank gun. Mickey finally gets out of the tank to do some reconnaissance but is soon shot at and forced to take cover in a "Trench Trap!" before a well-thrown grenade erases the danger. After that experience, he is only too happy to hop back into the tank.

Kanigher and Heath give this story a little more personality than we're used to seeing in the DC War comics reprints from the early to mid-fifties. Heath's art is solid, as usual.

Peter: "Trench Trap!" is one of the better reprints we've seen around here in a while. Russ's art is as fabulous as ever, that's a given, but Big Bob pumps out a rousing battle tale with a sense of humor as well. I just can't get enough of that Heath.

G.I. Combat 134

"Desert Holocaust"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"The Iron Horse!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #51, October 1956)

"The Second Champ"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #76, September 1959)

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are assigned to lend back-up to the MacBane Brothers, three siblings who all command Pershing tanks, at the Oasis of Seven Skulls. Things don't go as planned, though, when Nazi fighter pilots transform all three tanks into smoldering wreckage. When the Haunted Tank arrives at the "Desert Holocaust," Jeb Stuart vows to avenge all three MacBane Brothers when the Nazis arrive at the Oasis. Seeing the tank graveyard, the Germans believe the passage to be safe but, when their guard is down, the Jeb blasts them to hell!

An unusual HT outing this time 'round to be sure. Let's get the art out of the way first (oh, if only it was that simple); Andru and Esposito are not welcome in our bunker but, when considering what we got last issue from Sekowsky and Giella, I can turn my head the other way sometimes, and this is one of those times. The script is surprisingly good, with Jeb's stirring vow to the dead Ed MacBane a highlight, but a tad abrupt. The whole thing seems rushed and, for once, I could have stood a few more pages of this story. The most interesting aspect of "Desert Holocaust" might be the involvement of the old spook himself. This is the first time the General has no interaction with his descendant and also the first time the ghost is the narrator (I find it odd that the old goat calls the Jeb "the Haunted Tank" in his narration). Usually the cover shot is indicative of the content of the lead story but no such scene takes place (oddly, we reviewed EC's Frontline Combat #10, an issue that has a very similar cover, just last week!).

Jack: If J.E.B. Stuart is nothing but a ghostly narrator, then what makes the Haunted Tank a haunted tank? Andru and Esposito's art looks like they dashed it off and the thirteen pages contain very little in the way of plot.

Turn Up the Heath!
Peter: Johnny has always wanted to ride an "iron horse," all the way back to when his dad set up the HO train set and wouldn't let him play with it. Now, in the army, Johnny gets to ride in a real "iron horse," his own Sherman, and knock bad guys out of the air. There's not much to "The Iron Horse" (it's only three and a half pages) but it's got Russ Heath art and tanks so it's better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick. On the letters page, a teenage Paul Gulacy (who would turn pro pretty soon after this issue hit the stands and make his mark in the early '70s with his art on the classic Master of Kung Fu) complains that finding the war titles every month is getting to be too much for him and he wants to subscribe. Well, Joe Kubert poo-poos that idea by, inexplicably, informing Paul that subscriptions aren't available for the war titles! Say what? Then why does the Circulation Statement list 264 paid subscriptions? Someone call the Post Office; I'm afraid we've got fraud on a major scale going on here.

Jack: I looked up Gulacy's birth date on Wikipedia and it turns out he was all of 15 at the time. It looks like he started working for Marvel in 1973. The last story in this issue is also a reprint, with some impressive art by Mort Drucker and an entertaining story with a big guy and a little guy working together in and out of war. I enjoyed it.

 Our Army at War 203

"Easy's Had It!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #103, February 1961)

"Trap of the Dragon's Teeth!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #98, March 1963)

"T.N.T. Spotlight!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #87, November 1959)

"Battle Eagle!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #85, June 1961)

"Col. Hakawa's Birthday Party!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #68, May 1962)

Jack: This great 80-page giant includes five stories, one each featuring Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Mlle. Marie, Johnny Cloud, and Gunner and Sarge. All five were written by Bob Kanigher but there are four different artists: Kubert, Heath, Mort Drucker, and two by Irv Novick. A house ad teases that Mlle. Marie may return! We've provided links above to our original reviews of each of these stories.

The table of contents page

A teaser at the end of "T.N.T. Spotlight!"

Found at the end of "Battle Eagle!"

 Our Fighting Forces 117

"Colder Than Death!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Frank Thorne and Jack Abel

"The Three GIs!"
Story by Bill Finger
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #62, October 1957)

"Medal in the Mud!"
Story and Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Mlle. Marie gives the Hellcats their latest assignment: to climb Mt. Vincent, find the Nazis' newest secret weapon, and destroy it. At the peak, the Hellcats witness a bizarre sight--a line of really buff soldiers in helmets, boots, bikini trunks, and gun belts. These are super-soldiers who have been trained to fight in the coldest temperatures. The Hellcats use their machine guns to start an avalanche and bury the buff dudes in snow, but despite being "Colder Than Death!" the human Popsicles dig their way out and best the Hellcats in a fistfight. The Hellcats then throw drums of gas at the Nazis and set the gas on fire with machine gun blasts; the heat from the flames weakens the human blocks of ice enough that the Hellcats can give them a solid thrashing.

We can't make this stuff up!
("Colder Than Death!")
Despite the fact that the record player in my head started playing "I Can Make You a Man" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show as soon as the Hellcats first laid eyes on the semi-nude, body-building Nazis, I enjoyed this story, mainly because it's so ludicrous. Once the Hellcats beat up the Nazis, what then? Do they kill them? Drag them down the mountain? Who knows? How is this neutralizing the latest secret weapon? All we see is Lt. Hunter getting another smooch from Mlle. Marie and the couple walking off with their arms around each other!

Peter: According to a secret source (actually Wikipedia), Mlle. Marie had a kid with Batman's butler but this installment got me to thinking: how the hell did she know who the brat's pop was when she was sleeping with darn near every character in the DC Universe (except maybe the rebooted Green Lantern) between machine gun bursts? Despite the fact that "Colder Than Death!" is crap, I'll give it a thumbs-up because it's the kind of thing Larry Buchanan would have made on a budget of $10,000 back in the late 1960s and I've a soft spot for that sort of thing. Big Bob cleverly sidesteps the scientific impossibilities of training a human being to exist in sub-freezing weather (without being a zombie or an abominable snowman, of course) and just gets on with the silliness. That cover dreams up much more tantalizing action than an army of Germans in S&M garb.

Note the helpful monkey clue
("The Three GIs!")
Jack: Everyone made fun of "The Three GIs!" because one seemed like he couldn't see, one seemed like he couldn't hear, and the third seemed like he couldn't speak. When the trio are injured in battle and really can't see, hear, or speak, they use their wits to defeat the enemy anyway and their senses return even sharper than before.

Goofy but enjoyable, this reprint gives us handy tips as to each soldier's disability by putting a small monkey in the corner of a panel at the top of the page each time one man loses his senses. How considerate!

Peter: Even Russ Heath can't save the ultra-silly "The Three GIs!," written by the real creator of the Joker (no, not that scam-artist Kane), but tantamount to a heaping helping of Hank Chapman. Even in a Universe where donkeys can become sergeants, Tom's dive from a high tree branch into an open tank hatch without breaking his neck defies the laws of Man Meets Metal.

Jack: In civilian life, a circus clown had to endure people throwing mud pies in his face. In wartime, he falls in the mud again and has to struggle to pick up a bazooka to destroy a group of Nazi soldiers shooting at him. Did he earn a "Medal in the Mud!" or not? It's unclear what happens at the end of this four-pager, since it looks like the soldier is dying from his gunshot wounds. At least he stopped people from laughing at him.

So . . . is he dying?
("Medal in the Mud!")
Peter: "Medal in the Mud!" is the first DC war work by Fred Ray, an artist best known for his long run on the company's Tomahawk title, and it's not a bad little short-short. The art is a bit rough in a Grandenetti-style way but it's short and to the point with a poignant climax. Can't ask for too much more from a four-page story, can you? Ray will provide the visuals for sixteen DC war sagas before retiring from the funny book business in 1972. In the letters column, future pro Mark Evanier begs Joe to bring back Gunner and Sarge, Johnny Cloud, and Captain Storm in back-up strips to replace all the flippin' reprints. Mark's going to get his wish . . . sorta . . . very soon.

Our Army at War 204

"Battle of the Bugles"
Story by Nat Barnett
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #16, November 1953)

"Trench Battle!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #43, March 1956)

"Stand-In Soldier"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #19, February 1954)

"The Golden Gladiators"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #58, May 1957)

"Sword for a Statue"
Story by Nat Barnett
Art by Gene Colan and Joe Giella
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #17, December 1953)

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. take cover in a big shell hole and the sergeant entertains his men with takes of battles from other wars. In "Battle of the Bugles," a bugler plays a big part in the taking of San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War. A "Trench Battle!" keeps a lone doughboy busy during WWI and the Civil War is the setting for one man to pay another to be a "Stand-In Soldier." Roman Gladiators fight in 200 B.C. in "The Golden Gladiators," and the issue wraps up with "Sword for a Statue," a story from the War of 1812.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale . . .
(from page one of this issue)

From the looks of things, Sgt. Rock was trying to bore his men to death with these random tales from DC War comics of the mid-1950s. Three of the stories are six pages long, one is four pages long, and "The Golden Gladiators" takes up just one page. Even at those brief lengths, these are a chore to read.

Peter: Surely, with the hundreds of stories in the 575+ issues of the DC war titles thus far published, Joe could have found a more rousing batch of reprints. The only tale worth noting is the opener, a very Harvey Kurtzman-esque fable that seeks to entertain and educate at the same time. Unlike the other four time-wasters, "Battle of the Bugles" accomplishes both and has a very sharp Andru/Esposito contribution to boot (yes, I did use the words "sharp" and Andru/Esposito" in the same sentence!). There's no reasoning on the letters page, nor anywhere else, for two full issues of reprints in the same month and, heads up, the trend continues in #205 as well.

Star Spangled War Stories 143

"The Devil's General"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

Peter: General von Kleit pressures the Hammer into accepting his son onto the Ace's squadron, hoping that a bit of von Hammer's bravado and skill will rub off on the youngster. Werner's first patrol does not go well and he gets into trouble early. Rather than abandon the rest of the squad to help the new pup, von Hammer watches in dismay as Werner von Kleit's plane erupts in flames and heads for the ground. When the general learns of his son's death, he makes the Hammer's life a misery, ordering the Ace and his Staffel pilots to fly suicide missions. One day, after several pilots have been killed, one of Werner's boots falls out of the sky, attached to a message claiming the general's son is alive and being held prisoner of war. Knowing that a valuable prisoner would be kept at dungeons of the Castle at Voisy, von Hammer flies to the prison, breaks in and rescues Werner. The two make their getaway thanks to a contraption the Enemy Ace has invented, a "collapsible umbrella" that allows the escapees to glide safely to the snow-packed ground. Von Hammer delivers the boy back to his belligerent father, hoping "The Devil's General" will cease his bloodthirsty punishment.

A change of pace for the Hammer of Hell, in that he faces adversity from one of his own higher-ups, a man who holds the Hammer in high esteem until his son goes missing and he can't face up to the fact that, despite the Ace's warnings, he pushed the teenager into danger himself. Kubert's art is spectacular; I especially like that right profile shot of the Ace as he speaks to his men before the fatal patrol (above). The detail Joe would put into even the simplest panels is astounding, a love for craft seemingly long-dead if you look at today's funny books. Another stellar script from Big Bob, with not one word of dialogue wasted. This series is the peak of DC war, my friends. In a couple of side features, Fact File #4 presents a history of Golden Age DC hero, the Vigilante (a quasi-Wild West hero on motorcycle), and a really bad one-page cartoon titled "Old Army Times" (art and "script" by John Costanza, who would letter a heck of a lot of Marvel Comics in the 1970s) answers the question: "When is another ad better than new material?" Circulation numbers reveal that Star-Spangled War Stories was selling an average of 170,310 copies in 1968, up more than 10,000 copies from the year before.

Jack: I think it's safe to say that Enemy Ace has surpassed Sgt. Rock as the finest DC War comic series running as of 1969. Kanigher's writing is outstanding, presenting adult situations without sacrificing suspense. Kubert's art is as good as it's ever been, and that's saying something. I liked that there were no "super-villains" like the Hangman this issue and that it's purely about war and the sacrifice of young pilots. It's hard to heap too much praise on this series.

Next Week:
Jose Faces Down Another Deadline!

From G.I. Combat 134