Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-Francis and Marian Cockrell Part Seven: There Was an Old Woman [1.25]

by Jack Seabrook

The sadness and loneliness of old age are played for laughs in "There Was an Old Woman," where a solitary septuagenarian comes face to face with a violent and desperate man and his ravenous wife. Monica Laughton lives alone in her big, old house, her only visitor the milkman. A black wreath hangs on her front door, but who has died?

When the milkman stops by a lunch counter and chats with the proprietor, he happens to mention that he thinks that it is dangerous for Miss Laughton to live alone with all that money in the house--he once heard that her fiancee left her "near about a million dollars." This remark attracts the attention of Frank Bramwell, who sits at the lunch counter having coffee. He and his wife are broke and decide to pay a visit to the Laughton house to steal the old woman's money. When they arrive, she welcomes them in and seems to think that they are distant cousins who have come for the funeral of Oscar, who was to be the best man at her wedding.

Yet all is not as it seems at the Laughton house, as the Bramwells quickly discover. Monica introduces them to her guests who have assembled for the wake, yet the guests are all present only in her imagination. In the coffin, where Oscar is supposed to lie, they see a pince nez, bow tie, carnation, and gloves, but no body. Monica has created an entire extended family in her mind and speaks to them as if they were present. The only other inhabitant of the house is her cat, Tippy, and the Bramwells realize that the old woman has lost her grip on reality.

Charles Bronson as Frank Bramwell
A tragedy long in the past seems to have stopped time for Monica Laughton, who tells her new guests that her fiancee, Richard, was "killed in a carriage accident on the way to the church" and all the members of the wedding party have been dying off, one by one. Oscar is now gone and his fiance, Cecily, is the last survivor. Like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, a wedding-day disaster has arrested time for Monica Laughton, who allows herself a moment of sadness as she holds the bride and groom wedding cake topper before snapping back to her dotty, cheerful self.

Monica leaves the Bramwells in her bedroom and they begin to search for her hidden fortune. Finding nothing, Frank demands that Monica tell him the location of the money but she responds that Oscar left them nothing in her will. Not only broke but also hungry, the Bramwells seek food in the kitchen but find nothing edible; Monica promises a sumptuous dinner and, after she leaves the room, Frank tells his wife that they will have to kill the old woman to conceal their theft, arguing that "that old dame, she's lived long enough."

A long table is beautifully set for dinner, but the Bramwells discover that there is no food on the table and that the only living creatures present are themselves, the old woman, and her cat, who lounges where a platter of meat should be. After greedily spooning soup from a saucepan on the kitchen stove, Frank menaces Monica with his pocket-knife, forcing her to open a wall safe that had been hidden behind a portrait. No money is found, but the safe contains treasures of Monica's youth: "fans, dance programs, and valentines." Frank threatens to kill Monica's imaginary guests if she does not tell him where the money is, but his wife convinces him to wait till morning.

Estelle Winwood as Monica Laughton
Unbeknownst to the Bramwells, Monica is up early and in the kitchen, baking cupcakes for the mice and sprinkling a healthy dose of rat poison in the batter. The larcenous couple awake to the smell of freshly baked goods and race downstairs to confront Monica, who tells Frank that she sent all of her guests away because they are not safe with "a lunatic like you in the house." She slaps at Mrs. Bramwell's hand when she reaches for a cupcake, warning her that they are for the mice, then goes into the parlor to talk with Richard, her dead fiancee, saying "maybe he'd like me to join him." The Bramwells are overcome by their hunger and their greed and pay no attention to Monica's warning, ravenously eating the poisonous cupcakes as soon as she leaves the kitchen.

The final scene parallels the first, as the milkman arrives at Monica's front door and sees that now two black wreaths hang in mourning. Monica asks him to order a second coffin, remarking that two distant cousins have died. She insists on paying his bill and reaches into the large bag that she has carried with her throughout the episode; we see that it is full of money, and she gives the milkman a $1000 bill because she has nothing smaller, remarking that her purse is "the safest place in the world."

Norma Crane as Mrs. Bramwell
In "There Was an Old Woman," Marian Cockrell creates a world where the folks who think they are clever are fatally fooled and the woman who seems harmlessly insane turns out to be wiser than her guests. Monica Laughton manages to outwit Frank Bramwell at every turn by staying true to her personal narrative. Unable to face the tragedy that befell her as a young bride to be, she has withdrawn into a world of her own creation inside the safe walls of her home. She marks the passage of time by staging funerals for people who are not there, though there is a sense that she understands that the charade is nearing its end.

Does Monica intend to poison the Bramwells? I do not think so. Cockrell's script sets up the ending carefully, as two facts are brought up repeatedly throughout the story: Monica has a mouse problem and the Bramwells are very hungry. True, it is bizarre that she makes poisonous cupcakes for mice, but she does tell Mrs. Bramwell that the baked goods are for the rodents, not for her. The fact that the Bramwells eat them and die horrible deaths off screen hardly seems to be the fault of the old woman.

And what exactly does happen to the Bramwells? Presumably, they die from eating rat poison and Monica chooses to proceed with a wake for them, even though it means dealing with real corpses rather than imaginary ones. Monica must be a woman of great resources to be able to deal with their dead bodies, though one wonders what she will do with them after she holds a wake that will surely be attended by more imaginary friends.

Dabbs Greer as Theodore
"There Was an Old Woman" is directed by Robert Stevenson (1905-1986), an English director whose career in film and TV stretched from 1932 to 1982. He directed many films for Disney, including Mary Poppins (1964), as well as seven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "And So Died Riabouchinska." In translating the story of Monica Laughton from the page to the small screen, Stevenson has trouble striking a balance between tragedy and comedy and seems to have chosen to emphasize the comic elements of the story, which results in the show having an uneven tone.

Marion Cockrell's teleplay was based on an unpublished story by Jerry Hackady (1924-2005) and Harold Hackady (1922-2015). Jerry was born in Connecticut and died in Florida. I have been unable to find any published writing credited to him. IMDb shows that he had a brief career in television as an actor in a few shows in 1952 and 1953 and as a writer of this Hitchcock episode and of an episode of Lights Out in 1951.

Both of Jerry's TV writing credits list Harold as co-writer. Harold had a longer career in show business than did Jerry, writing for TV and film from 1950 to 1971 and finding success as a lyricist for Broadway shows, where he was better known as Hal Hackady. Neither Jerry nor Hal have any other credits on the Hitchcock TV show.

Emerson Treacy
The star of "There Was an Old Woman" is Estelle Winwood (1883-1984), who was born in England and began acting on stage as a young girl. She came to America in 1916 and continued her stage career, moving into film in 1931 and TV in 1946. She made her last TV appearance in 1980, when she was well into her 90s. In addition to roles on The Twilight Zone, Thriller, and Batman, Winwood was seen in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Charles Bronson (1921-2003) plays Frank Bramwell. Born Charles Buchinsky in Pennsylvania, Bronson worked in the coal mines as a boy before joining the Air Force in World War Two. His acting career began in 1949 and he appeared on TV and film before becoming a popular movie star in the 1970s in films like Death Wish (1974). Bronson was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "And So Died Riabouchinska" and "The Woman Who Wanted to Live."

The early seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents do not list character names in the credits, so Mrs. Bramwell is never given a first name as far as I can tell, though Frank does introduce her and Bronson mumbles her name, which might be Annie. Online credits list the character's name as Lorna. She is played by Norma Crane (1928-1973), who was born Norma Zuckerman and whose screen career ran from 1951 to 1974. She was in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Equalizer," and she played Goldie in the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof.

"Oscar" in his coffin
Dabbs Greer (1917-2007) plays Theodore, the milkman. He had a long career on screen, from 1949 to 2003, and was in two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Belfry." He was also seen on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and had a recurring role on Little House on the Prairie (1974-1983).

Finally, making a brief appearance as the man at the lunch counter is Emerson Treacy (1900-1967), who was on screen from 1930 to 1962. He had a popular radio and stage act in the 1930s called Treacy and Seabrook; his partner was an actress named Gay Seabrook.

"There Was an Old Woman" aired on CBS on Sunday, March 18, 1956. It is available on DVD here or may be viewed online here.

Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. 11 Nov. 2017. Web.
"There Was an Old Woman." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 18 Mar. 1956. Television.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2017. Web.

In two weeks: "The Gentleman from America," starring Biff McGuire!

Monday, November 20, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 45

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
  45: May 1954

Crime SuspenStories #22

"In Each and Every Package" ★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

"Monotony" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Cinder Block" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Sight Unseen" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Joe Orlando

Norman has hatched the perfect murder plot. It’s so damned good that he can’t help but regale his fat wife Bertha, his intended victim, with every minuscule detail as he carves her into cutlets with his hatchet. Wrapping up the beef in brown packing paper and burying it in the backyard, Norman hightails it to New York City where friends and family have been told the couple will be vacationing. There he meets up with Sally, his girl on the side who, after some quick plastic surgery, has been made to look just like a slinkier version of Bertha. Now able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, the scheming couple takes in a new quiz show being filmed at Radio City Music Hall. The program, called “Treasure Hunt,” selects random members of the studio audience and teases their brain with some trivia. You guessed it: Norman and Sally are chosen to compete, and they end up winning. Their prize? Three thousand dollars in cash, the sum total of which is now being buried in Norman’s backyard for his happy return home.

He's waited this long, right?
("In Each and Every Package") 
One can’t help but wonder if Norman simply missed the fine print asking for his permission to excavate his private property or if TV producers in the 1950s couldn’t be bothered with such trifles. Either way, “In Each and Every Package” is fair enough, and even if the plausibility of the climax is questionable Feldstein still does a good job of building up the suspense in the closing panels, drawing the story to a close with a line that probably would have made Ray Bradbury proud: “Then, somewhere backstage, a telephone began to ring…” The art seems to be indicative of a creative slump on the part of Reed Crandall, his previous effort “Upon Reflection” being similarly uneven. Here’s hoping the master gets his groove back soon!

The life of a bank clerk is far from an exciting one, and Milton Gans has just about had his fill of it. Wearied by the unending sameness of his days, Milton gets the opportunity for a break from routine when his manager Mr. Thrumble tasks him with carrying out one of his own unfavorable chores. Mrs. Courtright, the bank’s oldest and largest depositor, has a routine of withdrawing $50 on a semi-regular basis, a withdrawal that she requests be hand-delivered to her old brownstone house. A crabby old biddy, Mrs. Courtright nevertheless warms to Milton’s good manners and requests that Milton act as her personal delivery boy from here on out. Milton does so grudgingly, but one day after he accidentally requests a withdrawal from the lady’s account for $500 rather than $50, the seed of avarice is planted in the banker’s brain. Knowing that Mrs. Courtright never bothers to check the withdrawal slip before signing it during his house calls, Milton proceeds to draw more and more funds from the biddy to fuel his new journeys into the extravagant nightlife. But, finally, the other shoe drops: Thrumble gives Milton the news that Mrs. Courtright has kicked the bucket. Fearing the inevitable findings of an investigation, Milton takes a nosedive from his apartment window nine stories up, just a moment before receiving a second piece of news: Mrs. Courtright has willed her entire estate to her dear young friend Mr. Gans.


Perspective is everything, it would appear. “Monotony” might come across as a brief flash in the pan in the story department, but Bernie Krigstein manages to keep the flame going strong for all seven pages through the benefit of his art. The phrase “mannered surrealism” comes to mind when studying his characters and backgrounds; there’s a European sense of civility and class to his illustrations that the brawny stylings of his other American colleagues didn't have, but it’s a civility that seems to be on the brink of descending into total bohemian madness at any point in time. Suffice to say, I dig it.

Oh, OK, thanks!
("Cinder Block")
Conrad and Pat, yet another pair of scheming lovers, have cooked up a plot between them that would make anti-nicotine activists proud: they plan on pitting her husband’s nasty habit of smoking in bed against him by knocking the sod out with some heavy medication and then setting the mattress aflame. Pat, for her part, will be locked in her bedroom the whole time, just as her possessive husband would have normally ensured. Conrad will call the fire department, Pat will be saved, the lovers will bask in their inherited riches, and the whole affair will just look like one happy accident. What could possibly go wrong? A couple of things, as it turns out. While Pat’s snoozing hubby is consumed by the ensuing inferno in no time at all, the fire trucks remain nowhere in sight. With the fire getting more out of control by the minute, the frenzied Pat is left with no alternative but to dive out her penthouse window. Conrad, in a last ditch display of chivalry, tries to catch his missile mistress from the street below. It ends as ideally as you guessed. The firemen, when they do finally arrive, place the blame on a cream-colored Cadillac that had ignorantly been parked and locked tight right in front of the station: Conrad’s car.

Jack Kamen’s assignments have gradually become the Fruit Loops of EC’s balanced breakfast. “Cinder Block” may not be healthy for you, and the artificial coloring may be a little dull, but man oh man can you depend on them for some sugary frills and spills. Conrad’s plot is so nutty and short-sighted as to be almost commendable. Relatively speaking, it might not be such a long throw from all those conniving lovers who staged car accidents only to barrel-roll out of the moving vehicle at the last second that appeared in a whole batch of other EC stories, but Conrad kicks up the probability of fatal backfire to Evel Knievel levels with his hare-brained scheme. At least he’s enough of a gentleman to break his lady’s fall.

Our kind of newsstand!
("Sight Unseen")
Bert Stanton, private eye, is called upon by Mrs. Morgan to help her blind husband Philip, who has recently been receiving typewritten threats against his life. The Morgans’ marriage seems to have been rocky from the start, with financially unsteady Philip lashing out against his independently wealthy wife and demanding a divorce. One morning, Philip awoke from sleep completely blind, but his wife promised to remain with him always. Things have escalated so much recently with the threats that Philip has invested in a shotgun, so Stanton agrees to take Mrs. Morgan’s case and act as Philip’s bodyguard under the disguise of Mrs. Morgan’s visiting cousin. But the dick doesn’t even get the chance to write up his first expense report when news of Mrs. Morgan’s accidental killing greets him upon arrival. The panicked Philip, thinking his wife an intruder when she didn’t respond to his calls, shot her dead. While the police captain berates Philip for a proud fool, Stanton thinks there’s something fishier at work here. Following up on a hunch, Stanton slips a message beneath Philip’s door later that night and sees a light turn on inside. He crashes in, calling Philip out for the fraud he is. The private eye is quicker on the draw than the murderer, who is laid low by Stanton’s .45. Picking up the newspaper in Philip’s apartment that he had been reading earlier, the dick spots the detail that made him question the whole set-up: the evening edition, which only Mrs. Morgan could have gotten immediately before her murder, shows a crossword puzzle completed by the late Philip Morgan.

“Sight Unseen” reads a lot like a second-fiddle yarn from a pulpy men’s magazine, but even that comes across as a lot of fun thanks to its gritty narrative voice. Bert Stanton won’t be erasing the memory of Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer from anyone’s mind anytime soon, but he’s a good no-nonsense noir boilerplate character whose constipated tough-guy squints are leavened with the intellectual smoking of a pipe. Like Peter says below, that anyone would swallow the story of a man who was pretending to be blind seems more than a touch far-fetched, but we’ve seen far crazier things here in the merry old land of EC. So there’s that, I guess. --Jose

Peter: The obvious pillar of quality here (aside from the iconic cover) is Bernie Krigstein's "Monotony" (well, technically it's Al's story but the art is what carries it over the three-star mark), which could very well have been adapted faithfully for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show a few years later. It's that good. Krigstein's work is so startling compared to the work of the other bullpen artists (the closest comparison, to me, is Harvey Kurtzman's stuff, but you can call me crazy if you like) that it almost begs to be taken "seriously." On the other end of the spectrum we find the other three tales of tedium. Perhaps the most horrifying thing about "In Each and Every Package" (and similar stories featuring cold-as-ice killers) is how methodical the murderer can be while chopping up his victim. Odd that Bertha (why are heavy women always named Bertha?) changes shape and size from panel one through eight. She's positively svelte on the splash and a bit porky in the third. We find out another charming thing about the 1950s in "Cinder Block" and that's that insurance companies would pay out for sheets and pillows burnt by cigarette fire. The art is bad even by Kamen standards. But, by far, the worst story this issue is "Sight Unseen," with uncharacteristically poor Orlando art and a dopey, pseudo-Spillane script. Only in the 1950s could a guy dupe the entire world around him into thinking he's blind. Where the hell were the doctors sixty years ago?

Peter, Jack, and Jose seen after being told there are
more Jack Kamen stories on the way.
("Cinder Block")

Jack: Funny that you should mention Alfred Hitchcock Presents, since "In Each and Every Package" is an uncredited adaptation of John Collier's "Back for Christmas," which was filmed for the TV show and broadcast in early 1956 starring the great John Williams. The EC version amps up the gore and adds a bizarre plastic surgery angle, which begs the question: why would you have your hot, young girlfriend get plastic surgery to look exactly like the wife you hate enough to kill? There has to be a better way. I agree that "Monotony" is a beautifully illustrated story, though Krigstein's breaking of the 180 degree rule from panel to panel for no apparent reason is a little jarring. When was the last time Jack Kamen drew a decent story? It's been quite a while, and "Cinder Block" ends with a panel showing two dead bodies that look like department store mannequins. As for "Sight Unseen," it reinforces my feeling that there is something  little bit strange about Joe Orlando's art that I can't put my finger on. The story is not a good one, but I have to like the following, from a caption near the end: "My .45 came out of my shoulder holster, barking flaming death." Now that's prose!

Panic #2

"African Scream!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Lady or the Tiger?" ★★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder and Basil Wolverton

"Breakfast with the Fershlugginers" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Come Back, Little Street Car!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"African Screech"
First up is "African Scream!," a parody of the now-classic The African Queen (a film that had just won Humphrey Bogart a well-deserved Oscar a couple years before), the story of Humphrey Yogert and Katharine Heartburn, two disparate characters who find adventure and love when thrown together during World War I. Al's script follows the film fairly faithfully but, unfortunately, there aren't very many laughs. Wally does his best Elder imitation by jamming panels with sight gags but, like the script, there's not much in the way of guffaws. There's a running gag about the production crew of Mogambo (released in 1953 and starring Clark Gable and Ava Gardner) being somewhere in the vicinity. and Humphrey commenting that, if not for his willingness to ignore danger, "there ain't no pitcher, so . . ." Those are good for a couple of smiles but, otherwise, this is pretty slim in the humor department.

Rome, 2000 B.M. (Before Melvin). The King has found an interesting way of dealing with felons: the guilty is plopped in an arena and must choose between two doors. Behind one is a beautiful lady and behind the other is (you guessed it!) a tiger! Melvin is having an affair with the King's daughter and all is going well until His Majesty finds out and sentences Melvin to the arena. While waiting in his cell, Mel is visited by his lover, who promises all will be right; come game time, she'll indicate to Mel which door to open. When the princess tells Mel to pick the right door, his mind suddenly goes into overdrive; would the princess really want Mel to open a door to a gorgeous dame . . . or . . . is she setting him up for a quick death? After much deliberation, Mel decides to go with the girl's choice and opens door #2. A look of terror envelops Mel's face and he slams the door quickly and pleads with the King to release the tiger instead. When Door #1 opens, a slew of tigers race out: Detroit Tigers! Door #2 opens again and out pops a Basil Wolverton girl. Mel once again pleads with the King for a merciful death and it's granted. A tiger emerges and licks Mel's face. It then disrobes and we discover the tiger is actually a disguised Clark Gable, searching for the Mogambo set! Now this is more like it, thanks to a peppier script and the usual Elder antics (with a brilliant Wolverton cameo). The original story, "The Lady or the Tiger?" was written by Frank R. Stockton (who doesn't even receive a credit here!) and left it up to readers to decide whether the guilty man had picked the right door but Al nicely obliterates the mystery.

"The Lady or Rhett?"

Breakfast at the Fershlugginer residence is a bit more interesting than your average American morning meal; Nick and Penelope broadcast their mornings over the radio to their millions of fans. Penelope hawks any item that strikes her fancy (such as the latest sports car, the Phnult, which you "can order at 400 Motors, 1259 Broadway") and poor Nick is left to eat all sorts of horrid breakfast concoctions ("Mother Murphey's quick-frozen hominy grits and corn pone"). The duo manage to pull down a sizable sum of dough for their infomercial rantings and ravings, never suspecting their producer is at wit's end and ready to explode. I'm torn by "Breakfast with the Fershlugginers," a lampoon of the then-burgeoning industry of morning radio shows. It's got some great one-liners and send-ups of the industry but it's a one-note joke stretched to six pages. Penelope's signature phrase, "Isn't that gauche?" is hilarious the first couple times but by the hundredth (on page two), it's become gauche. Joe Orlando is handed the easiest assignment of his EC career as most panels feature nothing more than the faces of Nick and Penelope.

Peter puts up with Jose and Jack but sometimes
they can really get on his nerves.

"A Desirable Streetcar Named Death"
Lola Kowalski stands in front of her dilapidated flat every day, screaming out for the streetcar that halted service years ago. Her alcoholic husband, Doc, berates her for her tenacity while her sister, Blanche, and brother-in-law, Willie, live a pauper's existence upstairs. When Doc beats Lola and threatens her with a switchblade, the streetcar comes and hauls him off to the nuthouse. All the while, an audience watches in rapt (and drunken) attention. The third story this issue to break the fourth wall, "Come Back, Little Street Car!" combines elements from Come Back, Little Sheba, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Death of a Salesman to so-so effect. Feldstein's acidic commentary on the absurd seriousness of then-modern theater is pretty bold considering all three plays were critical favorites (the intro identifies the playwright as "Tennessyringe Miller"). And there's that Mogambo reference (odd that Fershlugginer offered no such cross-over) to remind us all we're in on the joke. Despite Al's best efforts though this one, like most of the issue, just isn't very funny. Panic is still coming off as the little brother wanting to follow in his football-star brother's footsteps but not even getting to try-outs yet. --Peter

Jack: Peter, you're being kind to what has to be one of the most tedious humor comics I've ever had to slog through. "African Scream!" is a completely unfunny takeoff on a great movie and, while I love Wally Wood, I did not get a single smile out of this story, even though it points the way to the direction that Mad magazine would take in the future. "The Lady or the Tiger?" has some great gonzo art and I admit I chuckled at the Detroit Tigers. "Breakfast With the Fershlugginers" will be hard to top as worst story of the month and features more of that strange Orlando art, while "Come Back, Little Street Car!" demonstrates that sometimes Jack Davis's drawings are just plain ugly. The last two stories in this issue were read purely out of duty and were no fun at all.

Shock SuspenStories #14

"The Orphan" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Whipping" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein & Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Wally Wood

"You, Murderer" ★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Bernard Krigstein

"As Ye Sow . . ." ★★ 1/2
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by George Evans

She may look like a little blond angel, but ten year old Lucy Johnson has it rough: Dad is an abusive drunk and Mom wishes her child were never born. One day, things start to look up when Lucy catches Mom with her new boyfriend Steve, who treats Lucy with kindness, but when Lucy overhears Mom and Steve planning to run off without her things turn nasty. Dad comes home and catches Mom and Steve in the act of leaving. Dad is shot to death and the cops arrest Mom, who has the gun in her hand. Steve is caught and he and Mom are tried, found guilty, and executed in the electric chair. And what of "The Orphan," little Lucy? She lives happily ever after with her spinster aunt and confides in the reader that she shot Dad from an upstairs window and then planted the gun in Mom's hand before the cops arrived.

I'm apprehensive about any EC comic from 1954 that opens with an eight-page story drawn by Jack Kamen. This one is at least better than the Grim Fairy Tales we've had to put up with, but Johnny Craig could have told it so much more effectively.

When Peter met his first girlfriend . . .
("The Whipping")
When a Hispanic family moves into Ed's neighborhood, the bigoted Ed tries to rally his friends to drive them out before more deplorables follow. Things go from bad to worse when Ed's daughter Juliet Amy announces that she's in love with Romeo Louis Martinez, a young man from the new family on the block. Ed finally convinces a group of men to join him by claiming that Louis assaulted Amy. Next thing you know, the men have donned white sheets and white hoods and are heading for the Martinez house to dole out "The Whipping." Under cover of darkness, they enter the house and drag out the inhabitant, putting a gag in the unfortunate person's mouth. Ed whips the person to death and Louis comes running; only then does Ed realize that the person he was whipping was Amy, his own daughter, who had secretly married Louis.

I'll admit that I guessed the ending a page early, but this is still a powerful story, one in a series of social commentary tales that stand as some of EC's most sober, adult fare. Wood's art is, as usual, fabulous, and he can't stop himself from making Amy a pinup gal. The title has a double meaning: the whipping is not only the physical attack on the girl but also the whipping up of the neighbors into a frenzy.

Where do you find a coat when your arm is too long?
("You, Murderer")
A man walks alone through the city on a dismal, foggy night. He is accosted by another man, who hypnotizes him and tells him to commit murder. The man carries out his orders, killing the hypnotist's wife's lover with a length of chain. The next morning, the story of the murder hits the papers, and the hypnotist addresses the reader, reminding him that he is the murderer.

"You, Murderer" shows me that Bernie Krigstein was not infallible. In fact, the art is pretty bad for the most part. Otto Binder's story is a run of the mill second-person approach, something Cornell Woolrich did years before and Al Feldstein already wore out at EC. The story ends on a flat note as well.

"As Ye Sow . . ."
When Laird Kimball married Nora, he was a happy man, but when she started to get bored with married life and spent her evenings visiting friends, he became depressed. Once he discovered that she was cheating on him, things only got worse until he confronted her and she admitted it. Laird hires a mob hit man to follow Nora and rub out her lover, but when Nora changes her mind about leaving and runs home to Laird, the hit man thinks the husband is the lover and puts a bullet in his chest.

"As Ye Sow . . ." features a fairly good script by Carl Wessler and some nice, noirish art by George Evans; in the quickly deteriorating world of EC comics circa May 1954 this is an above-average story, but a year or two before it would have been below average. I find it somewhat frustrating that this is the second story in a row in this issue with second person narration, an affectation that wears thin quickly.--Jack

"The Orphan"
Peter: I continue to admire George Evans's moody artwork but "As Ye Sow . . ." has a few convolutions heaped upon convolutions, don't you think? The very nicely-drawn Nora can't stand to be in the same room as her husband, but a dozen panels later can't live without him. The final twist has been done a few times too many. "The Orphan" is dreadful schlock with interchangeable Kamen faces. How about those pre-CSI days when the Keystone Kops couldn't tell if a bullet was fired from an angle? As Bill and Al work their way through their Spin-the-Discrimination-Wheel, we land on "The Whipping," a sloppy Shock that reboots several of the "grabs" that highlighted more powerful Shocks in previous issues. The question is, do these lesser Shocks diminish the power of the classics? Dr. Caligari Krigstein contributes some interesting art to the best script this issue, that being "You, Murderer," of course. Why I find Krigstein's doodles more rewarding than the comparable chicken scratch that made Jerry Grandenetti's stuff (a decade or so later in the DC mystery titles) so irritating is anyone's guess. I'm nothing if not consistent. My favorite story this issue would have to be the one-page prose piece, "Slaughter!" I've never commented on these things other than in an "EC was forced to publish one page of prose . . ." historical blahblahblah, but "Slaughter" made me stand up and take notice. The story of "little Petie Dildo," who witnesses something awful, runs home to the "Dildo barn" and notifies papa Dildo that something bad is going on at the Winsted place is highlighted by such elbow-and-a-wink sentences such as "At last, with a gasp and a stagger, the two Dildo's [sic] sprinted toward the open Winsted barn" and "Dildo felt his flesh crawling with horror," I felt just like a pre-teen again.

Tales from the Crypt #41

"Operation Friendship" ★★★
Story by Otto Binder
Art by Jack Davis

"Come Back, Little Linda!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Current Attraction" ★★
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mess Call" ★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Graham Ingels

"Operation Friendship"
Philip and Andrew have been having a nice, friendly chess game every night for decades. They've been friends since childhood, formed an unbreakable bond, and worked their way to college degrees and successful practices, Philip in electrical engineering and Andrew in medicine. The years roll by and their friendship remains strong until one night when Philip tells Andrew he'll be marrying. The news shocks Andrew to the core; he can't accept that a dumb blonde like Philip's belle, Jondra, could split up a friendship bordering on . . . well, something else. When Jondra goes away for a spell to visit relatives, Andrew invites his friend to come stay with him. Twenty years later, Andrew answers a knock on the door and invites Philip and Jondra in for a visit. When the couple leave, Andrew remarks to himself how astonishing it is that Jondra never noticed a change in her husband all those years ago. The doctor then goes down into his lab and starts another game of chess with "the important part" of Philip's brain, the "creative artistic part." Though we're pretty sure where this is going to land from the get-go, Otto Binder still manages a couple of interesting and humorous twists. There's no denying a not-so-subtle gay vibe throughout "Operation Friendship," one I'm sure didn't escape Witchfinder Wertham. Just before Phil breaks the news of his impending nuptials to his old friend, Andrew exclaims, "I can feel something standing between us!" That final panel, with Phil's 25% brain (though it sure looks like a really big 25% floating in that tank) arguing that it's his move, is priceless.

"Operation Friendship"

"Come Back . . ."
Asylum director Dr. Ullman has been making a killing at the County Nuthouse, saving a bundle of cash by storing inmates in the dungeon cells instead of in their nice, clean rooms. He and his assistant, Eric Hagen, scrimp on non-essentials such as food, medicine, sheets, and beds, and pocket the extra dough every month. When Ullman gets a telegram from the state inspectors, informing him there will be an inspection the following day, the penny-pincher gets nervous and moves the loonies back up into their regular rooms. Only one inmate wants to stay, an old man who keeps calling for his "Linda." Ignoring the patient's exclamations, Ullman and Hagen manage to clean the upstairs as best they can, giving the illusion that everything is above board, and the inspectors are delighted to find the place relatively spotless. Everything's going peachy until the old timer starts screaming for "Linda" and hoofs it downstairs to the dungeons. The inspectors, smelling something fishy (and, in a moment, something worse), follow the bellowing man downstairs where he heads right to his cell. Once in there, he finds his "Linda," a really "big fat ugly foul-smelling rat . . .!" and Ullman's beans are spilled.

". . . Big, Fat, Ugly, Smelly Linda!"
Bill and Al are obviously digging on Come Back, Little Sheba (which had hit movie theaters the year before), since "Come Back, Little Linda!" is the second variation on the title this month. "Linda" is one of those rare stories where the cliches are thrown about (the asylum director who treats his inmates like crap to save a buck) but the outcome is far from obvious. Since this is Tales from the Crypt, we're assuming "Linda" is a witch/vampire/ghost/whatever, not your average "big fat ugly foul-smelling rat." Evans's noir-ish art is perfect for the subject matter (although the panel where Ullman and Hagen skedaddle to put mop to floor is a hoot, with Hagen's left leg breaking the panel, attempting something akin to a Michael Jackson dance move), with the splash of the old man in his cell, sitting "amid the foul odor of decay and rot and unremoved human excrements . . .," a chiller. Al's prose here is very strong as well: Far below the bleak grey insane asylum, down in the valley, lights blinked on as twilight turned to night. The people in their clean white houses sat at clean white tables and ate from clean white dishes and never dreamed of the horrors going on above them . . . Particularly bleak and grim, which spells success.

Kamen's fans clamor for more!
("Current Attraction")
Trapeze veteran Rufus is teaching his daughter the ropes (hee-hee), hoping young Jean will become the circus sensation her late mother (taken entirely too young after a "mistimed double forward summersault") was years before. But Jean drops a bombshell on her old man: she's in love with ace knife-thrower Enrico, a slimy Lothario who's gotten tired of his drunken wife (who's the "straight man" in his act) and is set to run his fingers all over the virginal Jean. Rufus will have none of it, but a talk with his daughter about morals goes nowhere so he confronts Enrico, who tells the old man to go fly a kite. Enraged, Rufus decides to get rid of the predator in his own way; the old man rigs a powerful magnet behind Enrico's knife board, hoping the magnet will attract one of the thrower's weapons and cleave the drunken wife's head in half. Enrico, who has made no bones about wanting a divorce, will be arrested and problem solved. That night, Rufus heads for the big top to watch what should be an interesting show but is headed off at the pass by his boss, who wants him to do a favor for him. The favor is to take Enrico's wife to the train station. Rufus blurts out a question to the sloppy drunk about the act tonight and the woman replies that Enrico replaced her with Rufus's daughter! Just then, behind him under the big top tent, the crowd groans. The big top story has been done to death and, usually, that foundation has the sleazy love triangle. What's different here is that the "good guy" is the perpetrator; Rufus only wants to get his daughter away from Enrico's tentacles and will use any methods available to him. The twist in "Current Attraction" is almost a mirror image of "The Whipping" in this month's Shock. Kamen's art is . . . oh, never mind.

"Just a Mess"
Hans was a good soldier until the night he had to kill an enemy soldier who had stumbled into his trench. Now, he is plagued by a nightmare of that incident every night. He spends time in a hospital before kindly butcher Herr Heinrich "adopts" him and takes him back to his home, where he gives Hans a cleaver and a job. Every night, Hans has the same horrible dream but Herr Heinrich patiently calms him back down and points him into the butcher shop, where the shelves are full of delicious, red meat. In fact, Herr Heinrich's shelves are oddly overflowing with meats since there is a shortage throughout Germany. Hans's bad nights continue until he awakens during a particularly vivid dream to discover a cleaver in his hand, a body in front of him, and Herr Heinrich ordering him to continue carving. It's at that point that Hans discovers why Herr Heinrich's shelves are so full. Hans adds a little more when he slices and dices his boss. Perfectly predictable fluff, "Mess Hall" is not very memorable in either script or art department. Writer Oleck doesn't bother explaining why Hans suddenly awakens during one of his nasty dreams; he just does. Ghastly's reduced to mostly head shots (and those are weirdly angular) and not much else. --Peter

Jack: I am a sucker for a story involving an insane asylum, so "Come Back, Little Linda!" works for me, especially with the delicious ending involving a rat. Next up in my list of favorites after asylum stories are circus stories, so I also enjoyed "Current Attraction." where Kamen's cheesecake skills are on display. "Operation Friendship" seems a little weird to me, even for the '50s, as if Otto Binder is trying to imitate the EC style and not being too successful. If you're trying to inject new blood into your comics, is Otto Binder really the best choice? I think he was writing comics when Bill Gaines was still buying penny candy at the corner store. As for "Mess Call," the less said the better. Ingels is not someone who should be drawing a war story and the writing is terrible.

Mad #11

"Flesh Garden!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Mad Reader!" ★★★
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Basil Wolverton

"Murder the Husband!"/
"Murder the Story!" ★★★★
Story by Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Jack Davis
("Murder the Husband!" is reprinted from Crime SuspenStories 12, September 1952)

"Dragged Net!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Will Elder

"Flesh Garden!"
Mega-hunk "Flesh Garden!" fights evil in space alongside his companions Dale Light and Dr. Zark and there's no shortage of bad guys on the planet Ming. Flesh must stand up (and run away) before the likes of the rockmen, owlmen, airmen, grassmen, treemen and, worse of all, the dreaded menmen. The trio are finally brought before Ming's emperor, Mong, where Flesh is sentenced to die in the arena. Only quick thinking (and a bit of foul play) save Flesh from certain death. After a long flight, the Duck Dodgers spaceship arrives back on Earth but when the craft is opened, only Dale emerges, explaining to the waiting crowd that her two partners remained back on Ming. Meanwhile, back on that far-away planet, Zark and Flesh recline in a room full of beautiful Ming-girls. Another of those unfortunate Kurtzman/Wood comic parodies that sound better on paper than they read. Wally's SF chops come in handy here; the monsters, space costumes, and rocket ships all have that Wood pizazz, but Harvey's script is a bundle of unfunny one-liners and strained events. As with all of the Mad parodies, there are a few hilarious bits such as Flesh, waiting for his opponent in the arena, checklisting his available weapons and including the thought balloon over his head or the seemingly endless array of "-men" villains. Let's have a moratorium on the hero who flaunts his machismo, heads to danger and then, once the threat presents itself, runs the other way. It's getting old.

"Flesh Garden!"

Yep, you guessed it.
Seabrook at the EC Convention.
("Mad Reader")
Building from the foundation of the ground-breaking cover (the first not featuring the standard "Mad" title and obviously based on the then-popular Life magazine), "Mad Reader" is a series of full-page portraits of the typical humor magazine peruser, all intricately detailed by the warped pencil of Basil Wolverton. Exaggerated foreheads, bulging eyeballs, and grotesquely large teeth accent Wolverton's snapshots of what the editors "believe to be a cross-section of the people who read Mad!" My favorite would have to be the "Elderly Mad Reader," a green-tongued, ostrich-necked, barefoot (and note the nail in his sole!), skirt-chasing old codger (a man after my own heart). Two decades later, Wolverton's similar portraits would define the look of DC's Mad imitation, Plop! (ironically, by the '70s, a better rag than Mad).

In "Murder the Husband!," Walter Graham is madly in love with Jeanne, the wife of his best friend Kenneth Martin so, naturally, he plots Kenneth's murder. On the pretext of a relaxing day of fishing, Graham gets his best bud way out on the lake in a rowboat and then plugs him with a heater. Unfortunately, one of the bullets blows a hole in the bottom of the boat and dopey Walter can't swim. The End. Well, it would be the end if this wasn't a parody of the retired "EC Quickie" horror series, wherein Al Feldstein would present a three- or four-page story and follow it up with the same story/different twist (not always successfully). With "Murder the Story!," Harvey roasts Al (or perhaps politely pulls his tail) by showing the same three pages of Jack Davis art but with a completely different script. Cracker Graham is in love with Melvin Martin's row-boat, Jeanne, and aims to make her his own. He and Melvin row Jeanne out and Cracker suggests the duo scuba dive to find a body at the bottom of the lake, a body rumored to have pockets full of Indian-Gum tickets. Cracker "needs them tickets to complete" his set. Melvin spouts out his exclamations in Russian, Chinese, German, and fancy font, but Cracker seems to comprehend with no problem. When Melvin starts singing little ditties, that pushes Cracker over the edge and he ventilates his old chum.

"Murder the Feldstein Script"

I'd love to know what Al Feldstein thought of this shish-kabobbing of Al's baby. "Murder/Murder" is a laff-riot that only gets more irreverent as the pages turn, going from slightly skewed to downright nonsensical. Kurtzman, waving a banner that says "Yeah, we know these things are pretty silly even when we take them seriously," fills dialogue balloons as if he has his eyes closed and half-inebriated (while racing to meet a deadline in a unique way). How else to explain Cracker's fondness for Indian-Gum tickets (whatever those are!) or Melvin's multi-lingual retorts or Cracker's final exclamation that he's stuck in a sinking row boat and it's time to listen to Dragnet! Wild and wacky and downright genius.

The proper way to conquer deadline doom.

"Dragged Net!""
Detective Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner Mike Sunday work the homicide detail on Monday and the chief wants the duo to work stake-out (that's stake-out not steak-out). First, the boys follow a gorgeous, beautiful damsel home and happen upon her poisoning her boyfriend for the insurance money. Where did she slip up?, she insists on knowing. Friday admits she dumped a maraschino in the dope's martini rather than an olive. DOMM-DA-DOM-DOMM! Next up, the boys foil a bank robbery, even while smoking thousands of cigarettes. The robber insists on hearing how the cops caught him. What was his slip up? "Easy, fella," says Friday, ". . . on this banana peel!" DOMM-DA-DOM-DOMM! A parody like "Dragged Net!," of course, defies description, never mind a synopsis. It's Elder and Kurtzman, so chances are it'll be a winner. There are sight gags (some are familiar to me and some that I don't get at all but they're usually funny regardless) and wonderful plays on words ("the stake-out" for one) galore to keep the reader's sides stitched. Funny funny books don't get much funnier than this funny book. --Melvin Enfantino

"Dragged Net!"

This is the best issue of Mad yet! Even the house ads are funny! "Flesh Garden!" is my favorite, in part due to Wood's gorgeous art and in part because Kurtzman clearly knows the material inside and out and has a deep love for it that allows him to write a perfect parody. I get my wish with six full-page illustrations by Wolverton and there are some iconic Mad images here. I did not think "Murder the Story!" was quite as funny as you did, Peter, but I appreciate the idea of EC poking fun at itself. "Dragged Net!" is the usual Elder treat and I love the emphasis on the musical theme, especially with the band following Friday around everywhere. If you know anything about Dragnet, you know the theme music, and it repeats in your head as you read the story, to hilarious effect.

The Vault of Horror #36

"Twin Bill!" ★★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Witch Witch's Witch!" ★★★★
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Jack Davis

"Pipe-Dream" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Bernie Krigstein

"Two-Timed!" ★ 1/2
Story by Jack Oleck (?)
Art by Graham Ingels

After Larry Bannister catches on to the fact that his wife is stepping out with another man, he tracks them down to their cabin hideaway in the middle of the woods to break the news to them. This he does at the other end of Colt .38, and with it he guides the lovers deep into the forest until they come to a clearing where Larry forces them to dig their own graves. The lover attempts to strike out, but Larry clobbers him on the head and then buries the two of them alive. Torment and misfortune plague Larry from that point on, as he’s forced to abandon his dead car and take the lover’s auto back into town before he can return with a new battery after settling business with the police. Returning to the undiscovered crime scene, Larry realizes the keys to the car have been lost and heads out to the grave site to retrieve the spares from his wife’s buried purse. But a grim surprise awaits: the grave is empty. Seeing the shadows of his escaped would-be victims in the distance, Larry barrels back to the cabin and waits in the dark, his Colt at the ready. Once the couple has finally made their agonizingly slow entrance, Larry clicks on his flashlight only to see that his wife and her lover are now a conjoined pair of festering, ambulatory corpses. The Colt barks, Larry screams, and the zombies rejoice.

("Twin Bill!")
The denouement of “Twin Bill” may feel perfunctory and like business as usual on the surface, but on closer examination it’s a worthy conclusion taken on its own terms. Johnny Craig approaches the tale as if the walking corpse shtick hadn’t become synonymous with the publisher he was working for; he conceals the fact until the very last minute, not unlike Al Feldstein did in “The Dead Will Return” all the way back in VOH 13, another exemplary yarn that played with the possibility of the supernatural. Craig’s mastery of psychological suspense is just as fine as ever; we can feel Larry’s squirmy fear as he bites his lip and sweats bullets and gives off those thousand-yard stares. Craig’s art only seems to be getting better with the passage of time, too.

The inhabitants of Blumstadt greet the return of young Eric Holbein and his new bride Helena with malice and suspicion. It’s no wonder why: Eric had been betrothed to the chaste Alicia Gruenwald prior to his departure, and his sudden breaking-off of the engagement and marriage to “cheap, brazen slut” Helena has caused a stir of controversy and bad feelings, most vociferously expressed by Eric’s and Alicia’s mothers, not to mention Alicia herself during a private conference with Helena. Helena for her part is mortified and depressed by all the slander and alienation, but she can only sit back and watch as everyone in town turns up their noses at her. But, one by one, Helena seems to be claiming her vengeance: first Eric’s mother drops stone dead, then the leader of a church group that had barred Helena from attending services falls into a coma. The sudden, unaccountable death of Alicia’s mother and then later Alicia’s frenzied claims of having her heart torn out by “the witch” during the funeral service finally whips the people of Blumstadt into the frenzy that had been simmering all the while. They storm into the Holbein household, beat and shoot Eric, and then drag Helena into the town square after they discover a voodoo doll hidden in the attic. Helena, broken at last, cries into her hands and then shouts above the roar of the crowd… but her words aren’t any known by God-fearing people. The wicked crone, revealed at last, stands exultant over the mob she has just transformed into a swarm of rats.

Worth a thousand words.
("Witch Witch's Witch!")

If “Twin Bill” acts as if the tropes and familiar plots EC developed over time didn’t exist, then “Witch Witch’s Witch” cleverly uses the house formula to its distinct advantage. After being inundated with other “mob mentality” yarns both in Shock SuspenStories (which told us the real monsters were the angry villagers) and the horror titles (which told us the real monster was some other monster in disguise), Craig inverts reader expectations by revealing that Helena really is exactly what every frothing bumpkin believes her to be. And like a consummate professional, Craig doesn’t let us down in delivering this game-changing gobsmacker: the last two pages of this story are pure adrenaline and terror, the screams of the parties involved too big and raw to be contained by puny speech bubbles, Jack Davis giving it everything he’s got as he sells the utter pandemonium of this crucial moment. And then, just like that, Helena throws up her hands and gives the crowd just what they’ve been begging for. Craig has utilized wordless panels to great and notable effect in his own stories from the past, but the final panel in “Witch Witch’s Witch” just might take the cake for visual power. When I first read this story, I interpreted the army of rats as a bubonic plague that the witch summoned upon the town. Reading it now, it became clear to me that Helena transformed the mob into vermin, which is unquestionably creepier.

In a Chinese opium den, aged Chen Chu Yang smokes away his sorrows in clouds of fragrant smoke. This is a retreat he has gone to many times throughout his life, but now he remains a permanent denizen, for he has suffered many a great sorrow of late. First his hard-working and devoted wife passed away after Chen saw the tragedy in his drug-addled dreams, leaving him to provide for his adult son and daughter. Chen attempted to enter the world of business, but a combination of his age and a general lack of ambition led to his son picking up the slack. This ends once the son is drafted into the war, and Chen’s precognitive visions ring true once more when Chen’s son dies in a road accident on his way home. The strongest vision of all comes after Chen’s daughter weds a brute who beats and shames her; the old man dreams of slaughtering the fiend with an axe and living happily ever after. Upon awaking, Chen discovers that the reality has altered from the dream: the fiend has indeed been killed, but Chen’s daughter is accused of the murder and sentenced to death. And so, now with nothing truly to live for, Chen returns to the land of his dreams forevermore.

Krigstein! Pt. 2
("Pipe Dream")
And now for something completely different. It’s a real bummer that Craig assumed editorship of VOH so late in the game and didn’t get a chance to assign more of his own scripts to the EC bullpen, because if weird experiments like “Pipe Dream” are any indication then fan-addicts then and now missed out on seeing all the interesting directions Craig could have taken this horror title. One feels tempted to say that we would’ve gotten a good number more of stories that could be seen as having a direct lineage to the more surreal entries from Warren’s stable of terror magazines a decade later. Though Craig's prose tends towards the overly-affected, Krigstein employs his spare, expressionistic style to good use here, lending all the characters and set-pieces an appropriately smoky and ephemeral air and loading the panels with some indelible bits of nightmare imagery such as the horned reaper of war and all the contorted shades of suggested violence. I can’t help but laugh at remembering how much I disliked all of Krigstein’s stories when I first read them. Now I can thankfully appreciate them for the bizarre and utterly refreshing breaks from tradition that they are. Hooray!

In 1900, young Dickie (or is it Tommy?) awakens one morning to the sounds an argument occurring just outside his house. Venturing into the woods, the boy is horrified to find a man beating a woman senseless with a lead pipe, but he’s even more terrified when the assailant spots him and begins to strangle him. Just as Dickie passes out, he hears the sound of a gunshot. He awakens yet again that day to the sight of his worried parents and the investigating Constable Phyfe, who is befuddled by the sight of scorched grass near the site of the incident and the relative lack on any clues. The assailant is never found, but Dickie goes on with his life and grows up to marry a two-timing hoo-er who ends up breaking his heart, so Dickie resolves to break her bones. Gathering the necessary tools for his plan, he drags her out into the middle of the woods and begins beating her senseless with a lead pipe. He stops once he realizes he’s been spotted by a young boy whom he then attacks. Dickie realizes that he’s somehow found himself in a time loop of some kind, but just before he can lay it all out for us and allow this story to start making sense (yeah right), an older Constable Phyfe arrives on the scene and guns Dickie down just after he’s set fire to his wife. As the policeman explains to the dying man, he was given a lead all those years ago to return to the scene of the mystery when he found a scrap of paper with that day’s date written on it.

Yeah, I was disappointed too. “Two-Timed” is certainly interesting in concept, a step away from the more visceral thrills that were to be expected from the horror titles in general and Graham Ingels specifically. Alas, the anonymously-penned script here (possibly the work of Jack Oleck) is certainly no “Shoe-Button Eyes” from the previous issue of VOH, despite the presence of dewy-eyed moppets in both stories. Like Jack mentions below, “Two-Timed” features more of Ingels’s inconsistencies than his strengths, and it’s a sad sight to witness from a man who was (and is) considered by many to be one of the eminent kings of horror comic art. --Jose

Peter: "Two-Timed!" uses a variation of a theme used several times in the SF titles. It's got an intriguing build-up but an outlandish finale. What set this whole scenario into effect and will it repeat again? And it certainly takes Tommy quite a bit of time to put two and two together. "Twin Bill!" similarly hauls us in with its suspenseful plot but then delivers a lazy pay-off. When in doubt, deliver a walking corpse, right? "Witch Witch's Witch!" has exactly the opposite effect on me. The build-up is repetitious and not very involving, but the final four panels, revealing Helena's true self, are very effective (in particular, the panel of Helena spouting her arcane mumbo jumbo). That last panel is a fabulous kick in the nuts. "Pipe-Dream" is in a class all by itself. Amazing that Johnny Craig wrote this and handed the script over to Krigstein. Craig's one of my favorite EC artists but "Pipe-Dream" needed someone a little more . . . eccentric (in Squa Tront #6, Bhob Stewart suggests that Craig wrote "Pipe Dream" for Krigstein after seeing how well "The Flying Machine" turned out). The only other artist that might have pulled this off would be Harvey. Again, Krigstein's spare style wouldn't ring everyone's bell but, here, even his most staunchest of critics would have to admit the style suits the subject.

Jack: "Twin Bill!" is the issue's standout for me, since Johnny Craig does the best crime/noir work at EC. There is a great use of rain to create atmosphere and the dark and shadowy panels set up the big payoff. I agree with you about the Davis story--it's boring for six and a half pages and then has a shocker of an ending that just sits there. "Pipe-Dream" is yet another of the stories etched in my memory from the big book and Krigstein's expressionistic art fits the Asian setting perfectly. The Ingels story is too confusing for me and unfortunately has more examples of Ghastly's difficulty with figures and faces. I'm sorry to say that the more Ingels art I see the less I like it. This issue of VOH is inconsistent, just like this month's EC fare as a whole. Gorgeous cover, though, with stunning color.

Next Week . . .
More DC War Crossover Madness
As Sgt Rock Meets the Unknown Soldier!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 117: April/May 1971

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

Our Army at War 231

"My Brother's Keeper"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"In the Frying Pan!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: A group of young, new replacement soldiers join up with Easy Co. and Rock takes Private Danny Anderson under his wing because the young man reminds him of his kid brother Eddie. After their father died, Rock looked after Eddie, who wasn't much good at sports but took up with a motorcycle gang and died in an accident during a rally at Devil's Ridge. Seeing Eddie in Danny, Rock tries to protect the soldier from harm until Easy Co. has to clear a bombed-out building in a ruined town. Trying to stop an anti-tank gun on his own, Danny is killed and Rock tells the dead young man that he is proud of him.

"My Brother's Keeper"
When I see a three-plus page long flashback in the middle of a fourteen-page story, I take notice. "My Brother's Keeper" is most interesting when looking back at Rock's younger years, when he had to be the man of the house after his father died in a mine accident. What's really strange to me is the one-panel mention of Rock's other brother, who was a high school football star. We get a lot about Rock looking after young Eddie but next to nothing about the third Rock. He seems to have dark hair but wait--wasn't Rock's brother Larry Rock, the Fighting Devil Dog, who saw red due to shrapnel in his head? A quick look online tells me that Kanigher screwed up Rock's chronology more than once and some kind and dedicated young readers tried to make it all work out. We do not take that approach here! We pride ourselves on Gotcha! moments.

The U.S.S. Stevens sets out for its first voyage in 1943 and reaches Pearl Harbor, where the sailors are immediately thrown "In the Frying Pan!" Planes fly off on a bombing mission and return in various states of disrepair, giving the new men on the Stevens their first taste of the ravages of war. This is a middling entry in the Stevens saga, with Glanzman doing nice work to show the effect that initial exposure to battle can have on new sailors. The most interesting part of this series is the sense that it's more reporting than fiction, as lived by the creator.

"In the Frying Pan!"

Peter: Another month, another sea of green replacements, but at least this entry in the Rock saga comes with some of the Sarge's back story, bits of which we've seen glimpses of in the past. So, Rock was a miner and had two brothers. Let's add that to the biography notes we've taken and see if, years later, Big Bob doesn't report that Rock was an orphan. Russ's art is dazzling as usual; I've run out of exclamations for Heath's work so will just let the evidence speak for itself. "Frying Pan" is another interesting U.S.S. Stevens vignette but I'd prefer it if, now and then, Sam would have written a larger piece with an actual plot.

G.I. Combat 147

"Rebel Tank"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Sniper's Roost!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

"Tin Pot Listening Post!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #70, June 1959)

"Broomstick Pilot!"
Story by Ed Herron
Art by John Severin
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #69, April 1958)

"Battle Window!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #36, August 1956)

"Target for an Ammo Boy!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #71, July 1959)

Peter: After a particularly grueling tank battle, in which the men of the Jeb Stuart watch their C.O. lose his life, the ghost of General Jeb Stuart appears before his descendant and vows, before the day is over, that the young man will be fighting on the same side as the spook. Though the message is, as usual, nonsensical when delivered, the gist of the warning becomes clear before too long when the boys run across the tank commanded by Major Bragg, a nut who still believes the South's Gonna Rise Again and that Jeb Stuart is a yellow-belly who let his commander die and stole his name from a Rebel legend. Bragg immediately assigns the boys of the Jeb to what amounts to K-P duty, running errands and rearming the other tanks "after the shootin's over." But, as we all know, Jeb Stuart and his men are made of sterner stuff and it's not long before they're saving Bragg's bacon and completely changing the Major's attitude about "damn yankees." A whole lot of nothin' goin' on here, as Major Bragg might say. Yes, we have Russ's fabulous imaginings to keep us entertained through "Rebel Tank," but the script smells awfully tired. The idea that a nut like Bragg is in command isn't exactly new (and it would reach its peak several years later in Apocalypse Now) but Bragg seems nothing more than a cliche and his 180 degree turnaround at the climax is one of Big Bob's oldest and moldiest tricks.

When we were kids, we dug dug dug these sixty-eight page "giants" and, to an extent, we still do, but what a racket this package was. Original page count plummets to fourteen, yet the cover touts this as "Two Magazines in One!" Be that as it may, the reprint selection this issue isn't that bad. Two of the golden oldies, "Sniper's Roost!" and "Target for an Ammo Boy!" received high marks from Jack and me way back when we covered them. "Broomstick Pilot!," about a stubborn pilot who bucks his C.O. and flies his fort very close to the ground to avoid flak, suffers from too much inking over Severin's work. I swear there are panels (such as the one reprinted to the right) here that look like Howard Chaykin's work. There's not much of John to be discerned here. "Battle Window!" is another of Bog Bob's run-that-phrase-right-into-the-ground time-wasters with typically amateurish work from Andru and Esposito. Though I will say that I thought A/E used an interesting perspective to get their idea across in the panels below. Nice break from the monotony.

Jack: I could not decide whether the artwork on that page was creative or just cheating! This issue is one of the weaker ones we've seen in quite a while, with 14 pages of new story and the rest reprints. I did not know our Jeb Stuart was a Yankee but it's ridiculous that a Southern commander would strip him of his command. There is also a one-panel cameo by Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. that serves no purpose. Kanigher's story lacks interest and Heath's art is uninspired. I agree with you about Severin's art on "Broomstick Pilot!" being far from his best work--we've seen enough of his efforts in the E.C. comics to know that he could do better than this, and this story was from 1958, not long after the EC stories we've been reading. In "Battle Window!" the first look we get at our hero makes him look like a dead ringer for Frank Sinatra and I wondered whether there is any profession that Kanigher has not used to tell a war story--this guy's a window washer who's sick of windows and, wouldn't you know it, he sees plenty of windows when he goes to war. Yawn.

Our Fighting Forces 130

"Nameless Target"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Three Graves to Eternity"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

Jack: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gets on the radio and challenges the Allies to attack Rouen Beach in France, certain that the invasion will fail. He does not know about the planned attack at Normandy, so the Losers are given the task of acting as decoys, flying a bomber that is towing a series of empty gliders toward Rouen. The Nazis must be distracted from the area of Normandy, where commando frogmen will sneak ashore to chart enemy defenses before the real invasion.

Of course, things don't go well for the Losers. The Nazis shoot down the bomber and the Losers are captured and taken aboard a Nazi ship for questioning. They manage to set fire to the ship and take it over briefly, but it is soon torpedoed and they reach land, where they sneak into a small village. This "Nameless Target" turns out to be a camouflaged supply town, and when a warehouse full of arms blows up the Losers are able to get away with some help from French resistance fighters. Back in England, they are told that their diversion worked and the scouting of Normandy was a success.

Looks like Kubert drew Capt. Storm in this panel
Joe Kubert lends a big hand to Ross and Mike in this installment and it definitely helps the artwork, but Kanigher's story is all over the place, seeming to trade any sort of characterization or plot for a series of quick battles and explosions. One thing troubles me: the Losers' mission succeeds, but by the end of the story they're still whining about being losers! Their big complaint is that they don't know the name of the town where the arms blew up. Who cares? Mission accomplished! Cheer up, guys!

In the North African desert during WWII, the men of Dog Company come upon the graves of three soldiers. Who were they? In a flashback, we see that they were the three Anderson brothers, who were making their way toward Dog Company as replacement soldiers. Inseparable since their youth, the brothers are killed one by one fighting off Nazi advances and keeping the enemy from reaching Dog Company. Red is killed first and buried by his brothers. Hank follows, and Rooster buries him, then digs his own grave and stands in it until he, too, is killed.

Russ Heath's art is very strong in "Three Graves to Eternity" and helps take a run of the mill Kanigher plot and elevate it to make an entertaining work. One question, though--who filled in Rooster's grave? He dies standing in it but when Dog Company arrives it's been covered over. Was it the work of sympathetic Nazis?

Nice work by Heath!
In the letters column, editor Kubert remarks that Pooch enlisted at age 17 and is now taking a well-deserved rest, presumably due to old age. The Kubert cover is very sharp and is yet another good example of the late '60s/early '70s DC cover style where a person or a group of people think they are safe and don't realize that they are about to face something awful.

Peter: Yet another ridiculous installment in what's shaping up to be the worst DC war series we've had to endure on this long journey (yes, even worse than Gunner, Sarge, and Pooch!), complete with bad one-liners, endless reminders of the group's moniker, and the requisite shot of Captain Storm taking lead in his wooden leg. Wouldn't machine gun fire blow his timber into so much balsa wood? Oh, and let's not forget the contribution of Andru and Esposito. Second thought, let's forget it. At least we have something to look forward to (hopefully) when John Severin begins his long association with "The Losers" next issue. In his excellent overview of Severin's non-EC work (in Squa Tront #11), writer John Garcia comments that "The Losers" series has "a feel for visual storytelling (if not plausibility)" and promises that the upcoming run is "Severin at his peak." I'm intrigued. With "Three Graves to Eternity," Big Bob takes one of the oldest DC War plots (the brothers who are all assigned to the same company) and caps it with a poignant final scene, rescuing the story from sliding into the same old cliche and, instead, tugging at the heart strings. I would question whether a hail of bullets would have covered Rooster with a layer of soil but . . .

Star Spangled War Stories 156

Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert

"A Dream Came True!"
(Original Title: "Slowpoke Spad"
Reprinted from Our Army at War #154, May 1965)

Peter: The Unknown Soldier is assigned to his most difficult masquerade ever: Adolf Hitler! US is told of an "Assassination" plot from within the Reich, so he dons a mask of downed Luftwaffe pilot Helmut Knauss and infiltrates the Wolf's Lair, where (he's been told) a super-secret meeting between Hitler and his top brass will take place. When he gets to the bunker, our hero discards the Knauss and pops on his Hitler disguise, easily fooling the guards. Once inside the Lair, US plants a bomb but, unfortunately, his plans go awry when the real Hitler shows up and discovers there's an impersonator in the ranks. Meanwhile, Col. Von Stauffenberg, one of "Germany's military aristocracy," plants his bomb and makes a quick getaway. Now back in his Knauss get-up, the Soldier also tries to make a quick exit but is stopped at the gate by a clever guard who never saw Knauss enter the compound! One of the bombs blows and the Soldier is able to escape. Hitler is understandably upset and orders the execution of everyone he suspects of having had a hand in the plot, including Von Stauffenberg. Disguised as an old woman, the Unknown Soldier slips across the border to safety.

Melding real-life intrigue and espionage with a little super-hero melodrama, "Assassination" is a fun little dive into history. Of course, I'm constantly wondering how US can make such incredible latex head pieces that everyone around him is fooled but if you don't go with the flow, there's no show. I like that the Unknown Soldier strip, like the much-missed Enemy Ace before it, highlights the "darker aspects" of war, such as Hitler's mad, murderous, paranoid cleansing spree, killing off his most trusted men (most of whom were still loyal to the nut) while searching for the traitor. The panel of the hanged "traitors" is pretty dark stuff. A variation of this story (sans the Unknown Soldier, of course), is the film, Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. I am digging this series.

Jack: Me too! The story has a very good opening sequence, where US's contact is killed in a London bombing, and I love the bandaged-face look that Kubert has settled on now that the series is really underway. The story is only 11 pages long and seems to be wrapped up too abruptly but I enjoyed US's multiple disguises.

Our Army at War 232

"3 Men in a Tub!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!"
Story and Art by Sam Glanzman

Jack: Marching through southern Italy, Easy Co. is attacked by a jeep driven by what are surely Nazis. Yet when Rock and his men destroy the vehicle with a well-placed shot from a bazooka, they discover that the three riders are actually Italian soldiers who claim that they were forced to fight alongside the Nazis and now want to join up with the Americans.

The Italians turn out to have surprising talents. One is a former shoemaker and he fixes Bulldozer's shoe. Another is a chef and he makes a tasty meal for the troops. The third keeps insisting that they are all good soldiers, too, despite what everyone thinks. These "3 Men in a Tub!" help Rock sneak into Cortina Castle and seem to turn on him before switching sides once again and machine gunning every Nazi they see. As the foursome goes up in an elevator, they blow away Nazis on every level until they reach the castle's roof, where the entire pile blows sky high. Fortunately, Rock and the Italians are safe on a tower and the third man finally reveals his special talent, singing an aria into the night as the flames crackle around him.

"3 Men in a Tub!" shoot a lot of Nazis!

An above-average Easy Co. story with above-average art, this is a rare tale where the guest stars are not replacement soldiers or boyhood pals. The three Italians are something new and Kanigher's treatment of them is both sensitive and entertaining.

"Buck Taylor You Can't Fool Me!" is what the Doc on the U.S.S. Stevens says when the title sailor fashions himself a long knife and begins to assume the personality of Captain Bligh. After some hi jinks, he is discharged as a nut. Sam Glanzman is at his best here, and his art is better than usual, especially in the large face of Buck Taylor reproduced here.

Buck Taylor can't fool us either!
Peter: Both stories this issue have a humorous side to them. "3 Men in a Tub!" could be a Three Stooges skit if not for the deadly Nazi menace. Incredible that Big Bob resisted using the old Eye-Talian accent for his three dopes ("Im-a cook-a. I like-a de spicee meataballas!") but anyone could see the "surprise" ending coming. "Buck Taylor" is one of my favorite U.S.S. Stevens entries yet and I can't tell you why. Captain Bligh is a little crazier than Corporal Klinger and you have to wonder why they kept a possible powder keg aboard for so long.

And . . . it's that time of the year again when we present and discuss circulation figures, those fabulously fascinating numbers that spell doom for comic books. The news was no better for 1970 than it was for 1969 as all four titles showed significant drops (the worst being Star Spangled, which plummeted a whopping ten per cent in copies sold). Don't hold your breath hoping the trend is bucked when the figures are in for the new "Giant" packages.

                                                                   1970               1969     
G.I. COMBAT                                          178,363          186,264      
OUR ARMY AT WAR                             171,510          180,137
OUR FIGHTING FORCES                    139,770          133,154
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES      136,204          149,170

Next Week . . .
More Family Fun
As the Golden Age of EC Begins to Wind Down