Monday, December 30, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Seventeen: October 1971


The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino,
Jack Seabrook,
&
John Scoleri



Bernie Wrightson
The House of Mystery 195

"Bat Out of Hell"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

"The Fantastic Wishing Well"
Story by Uncredited
Art by George Roussos
(Reprinted from House of Secrets #14, November 1958)

"Countdown"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Ralph Reese

"Things Old ... Things Forgotten"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Bernie Wrightson

"Who Am I?"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Bernard Bailey
(Reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #11, March 1957)

"Trick or Treat"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Michael W. Kaluta

"Bat Out of Hell"
Peter: Adam Leach is a worthless waste of life, a man who beats his wife and keeps his children starving while he drinks up all the money. One day, his drinking leads him to murder his wife, Martha, and, shortly after, he's haunted by a "Bat Out of Hell" he's convinced is Martha reincarnated. Jack Oleck submits another competent script, one not too deep in detail or characterization (Adam's a drunk and Martha's a saint is about all we know) but the obvious highlight here is Nestor Redondo's brilliant art. His work is reminiscent, to me, of EC and Warren vet Reed Crandall in its detail and eeriness. We're very lucky in that we'll be running across more of Redondo's work in our journey.

The pretty average "Fantastic
Wishing Well"
Jack: Oleck's story is above average but Redondo's art makes this tale really soar. You don't see art like this in a 1971 comic very often, especially not in the DC horror anthologies. I hope we do get more by Nestor. The period setting is well-handled and the ending is satisfying.

John:  Fantastic art by Redondo highlights this so-so tale. Whenever a character is so uniformly evil, beating women, children and animals, it’s a forgone conclusion that they’ll get their just desserts. It’s never a question of if; only when. Funny thing is they ask us to accept the existence of a giant bat that would give Man-Bat a run for his money. Other than that stretch of the imagination, sadly there’s remotely nothing supernatural about this one.

Peter: A counterfeiter discovers "The Fantastic Wishing Well" where all his wishes come true as long as he drops nickels in. I can't work up much enthusiasm for this but that's okay since the writer and artist obviously didn't have much either.

Jack: How did this guy survive the headfirst fall into the well? I have to wonder if this was done in Kirby's shop, because there are some real Kirby touches here. I know Roussos was inking Kirby at Marvel a few years later. What I really want to know is why this story was resurrected from the archives. It should have stayed buried in the well of history.

John:  We’re treated to not one but two installments of Sergio Aragonés single panel Cain's gargoyles comics. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, he’s one of the most entertaining cartoonists to have graced the pages of a comic book. Even today, his Sergio Aragonés Funnies is one of the most consistently entertaining comics being published.

"Countdown"
Peter: Pilot Peter has a jones for launching into space but his best friend, Jason, is the man scheduled to fly. Jason becomes just an obstacle though as Peter poisons the man's air tank and suddenly Peter is in the driver's seat. After the "Countdown" though, Jason's ghost has something else to say. I've always loved Ralph Reese's Wally Wood-esque art, especially in his Warren work, but this three-pager is just too short to work up any excitement. This space center actually has a button labeled "destruct" and Jason's ghost can activate it? Hmmm.

Jack: What just happened? Did Jason's ghost take his revenge? This is not a bad little story for three pages, but the story ends too abruptly. The artwork by Reese is very slick and reminds me of what Mike Grell would be doing later in the '70s at DC.

Peter: Despot Igor Lazlo strives to rule over all of ancient Europe but to do so he must cut a path through "the old hills" and sneak up on his enemies. Lazlo soon finds that these woods are protected by  "Things Old... Things Forgotten," creatures who will not stand by as the madman destroys all around him. What a treat we have: a well-written fairy tale illustrated by the uncanny Bernie Wrightson, whose "moss beings" are clearly a warm-up for the artist's moss-terpiece only a handful of months down the road.

Wrightson continues his reign of terror
John: This Bernie Wrightson illustrated tale meanders along for pages and pages before the Swamp Thing shows up. Oops – sorry. The ‘Moss beings’ show up. In the long run, it wasn’t worth the wait.

Jack: Ten pages of vintage Wrightson is fine by me! Too bad we don't know who wrote this, because the story is good and it serves as a springboard for some really nice pictures. The first sight of the creature from behind resembles Swamp Thing, but the subsequent panels of it and its fellow creatures look a little chubby and cuddly and not so scary. Still, Bernie is in full Ghastly mode here, with characters' mouths filled with lines of spittle, so I enjoyed it.

"Who Am I?"
Peter: "Who Am I" proffers the question "Can a robot find happiness in man's world even if he has to steal money and weigh a whole lot?" Below, Jack rightfully sums this up as a "post-code DC dud" but I'm not sure that's being fair. I've read several pre-code DC "horror" strips (primarily from The House of Mystery) and that work was just as tedious and unremarkable as the post-1955 stories. It's true that Wertham and his bunch sucked the blood right out of four-color horror and crime comics but I doubt if the DC editors had to adjust their guidelines very much at all. Only Lee, Kirby and Ditko over at Marvel seemed to work out a formula that kept imagination alive (and sometimes edgy) in the anthology titles following the cleansing of comics in 1955.

Jack: While I respect Bernard Baily for his Golden Age work, this tepid story from 1957 has all the hallmarks of a post-code DC dud. The "I didn't know I was a robot" plot has been done to death and there is nothing fresh here.

Peter: A mysterious twosome get set to unleash a deadly virus that will leave the entire world at their command. The only setback? The virus becomes worthless if mixed with water.

Jack: Early Kaluta is neat but a page and a half? This is hardly worth the trouble. This issue is an interesting mix of very strong new stories and weak reprints, hardly justifying the expanded page count and higher price.

Peter: I think you're being hard on Kaluta's "Trick or Treat" (dumb title though), Jack. I liked it, page count be darned, and that last panel (Spoiler Alert!) made me chuckle (even though it's been done countless times before and since). Kaluta's art is gorgeous and I really hope we'll be given something with meat on its bones before too long.


Nick Cardy
Unexpected 128

"Where Only the Dead Are Free!"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Bob Brown and Frank Giacoia

"The Vengeful Ghost of Glenville Gap!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by Sid Greene

"The Prisoner of a Dead World"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #94, January 1960)
(Originally titled "The Prisoner of the Wizard's Coin")

"The Haunted Violin"
Story by Uncredited
Art by Doug Wildey
(Reprinted from House of Mystery #89, August 1959)
(Originally titled "The Enchanted Violin")

"There's More Than One Way to Get Framed!"
Story by Jack Miller
Art by Bernie Wrightson

Jack: On the run after escaping from prison, Mr. Horne falls down a hole set as an animal trap and finds himself in a place "Where Only the Dead Are Free!" He is held prisoner by an old man who is confined to a wheelchair, but who has a giant servant named Munjo to do his bidding. Horne lusts after the diamonds that the old man says came from a nearby diamond mine, but Munjo makes sure that Horne cannot escape. He eventually is put to work in the mine and tries to escape but finds himself right back in the old man's home, this time to be chained for good. Bob Brown and Frank Giacoia can be counted on for art that never gets above average.

"Where Only the Dead Are Free!"
Peter: George Kashdan manages to take one of the oldest frameworks in horror comics--the escaped prisoner who happens onto something sinister in the swamp--and goes absolutely nowhere with it, literally if you take the climax into account. I thought for sure we were going to be graced with Hoary Horror Cliche #6 ("I was in hell the whole time and my captor is Satan!") but we were spared a reveal that never happens and, in fact, got Creaky DC Mystery Cliche #1 ("The writer can't think of an ending so there isn't one!"). That was Unexpected! And, if we're to take that this is really happening, not a dream or a vicious circle being played out in Hades, how the hell could Munjo be so big?

John:  What are the odds that you’d find a diamond mine adjacent to a prison; a mine run by an invalid and his 12-foot tall faithful manservant. So when our unwitting escapee finds himself a prisoner of said neighbors, I guess we’re supposed to find this silly tale ironic. While I have to admit, I was surprised when the story ended abruptly, I can’t say that I was disappointed it was over.

"The Vengeful Ghost of Glenville Gap!"
Jack: When Jud Harrow is convicted of murder, he vows to take revenge from beyond the grave. Sure enough, his ghost comes back and kills D.A. Wayne Rutland. "The Vengeful Ghost of Glenville Gap!" is caught the next night when he falls to his death from a roof; he turns out to be none other than Harrow's defense lawyer, Grey. In an "unexpected" twist, Harrow's "death mark" is seen on Grey's forehead! This story made very little sense to me. I had to go over it a few times to figure out who was who.

"The Haunted Violin"
Peter: An utterly confusing mess. What was going on at the end there? I have no idea. Sid Greene's pedestrian art reminded me of Grandenetti in some spots.

John: A by-the-numbers tale that wants us to believe a killer sentenced to die came back to exact his revenge. Yawn. Just what I’ve come to expect from Unexpected.

Jack: "The Prisoner of a Dead World" packs more story into its eight pages than some new stories manage to cover in twenty! Even better is "The Haunted Violin," which features some impressive 1950s-era art by Doug Wildey.

Peter: The art is good enough on both of these but the stories are silly and unengaging. Definitely not my cup of tea.

John:  If you find yourself asking, 'How bad could a tale of a violin that turns water to fire, or causes structures to melt be?', the answer is, bad enough to find itself right at home in the pages of Unexpected.

Wrightson
Jack: When greedy old Ivan O'Toole discovers an old candle that lets him enter a painting in his attic, he starts grabbing treasure from the chest in the painting. He learns that "There's More Than One Way to Get Framed!" and greed gets the best of him when he climbs into the painting and tries to drag the heavy chest out; his wife comes along and blows out the candle, leaving him trapped forever. Easily the highlight of this issue, this story features creepy art from Bernie Wrightson in a nice tale of just desserts.

Peter: Nice, now and then, to get an EC-type horror story that actually works on both levels, story and art. Yeah, the reveal is another one of those we've seen a zillion times before but it's nicely handled and there's just the hint that Ivan's wife, Sybil, may not be as daffy as she seems.

John: As Unexpected stories go, this one is above average. The only thing I would have preferred is if it were clear that the old man’s wife trapped him in a painting on purpose…


Nick Cardy
Ghosts 1

"Death's Bridegroom!"
Story by Geoff Browne (Leo Dorfman)
Art by Jim Aparo

"Ghost in the Iron Coffin"
Story by David George (Leo Dorfman)
Art by Sam Glanzman

"The Tattooed Terror!"
Story by John Broome
Art by Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #112, December 1952)

"The Last Dream!"
Story by John Broome
Art by Carmine Infantino and Sy Barry
(reprinted from Sensation Mystery #107, February 1952)

"The Spectral Coachman!"
Story by Leo Dorfman
Art by Tony deZuniga

"Death's Bridegroom!"
Jack: London-1965. America actor and gigolo Ron Tracey has left another unhappy woman in his wake after marrying her and taking off with her money. He and his pal Cy Horne drive into the countryside to lay low when they happen upon a gloomy, fog-enshrouded mansion. They are invited in by beautiful Sharon Dean, who soon becomes Tracey's latest meal-ticket. Little does he know that she is really a ghost and her mansion a ruined heap! "Death's Bridegroom," the opening story in the first issue of Ghosts, might pack a bit more punch if the surprise ending were not exposed both on the cover and the splash page!

Peter: You're so right, David... I mean, Jack! It might just be me but there's a definite homoerotic vibe bubbling just under the surface when it comes to the relationship between Ron and his... best mate, Cy. At one point, David even calls his partner "baby." Not that there's anything wrong with that! As far as the story itself goes, it's a dreary one-noter stretched out to nine pages but Jim Aparo's art is nice to look at, a precursor to his fine work on Brave and the Bold, beginning just a few months later.

John: This one was saved by Aparo's art, but rendered unnecessary when they give it away in a single panel—twice!

"Ghost in the Iron Coffin"
Jack: In WWII, resistance fighter Franz Kollmer is killed while trying to sabotage a U-Boat. With his dying breath, he curses the boat and vows that it will be a jinxed ship forevermore. Sure enough, every time the men of the U-313 get in trouble, there's Franz, "The Ghost in the Iron Coffin," to freak them out. Finally, they aim torpedoes at an injured ship, and old Franz rides the torpedoes right back into the Nazi sub to blow it up. This is the second story in a row to be penned by Leo Dorfman under a pen name, and--like the first--it's not bad! I am declaring an official warning on what seems to be a theme to this new comic--a narrator keeps asking me if I believe in ghosts. We'll see how quickly that wears out its welcome.

Peter: It's not bad but, just like the first one, it's bland and overlong with the art being the highlight. If I didn't know better, I'd have said this was a 1950s reprint. Why didn't Kollmer's ghost wipe these Nazis out on the first page? Why toy with them?

"The Tattooed Terror!"
Jack: Like the other 52-pagers, Ghosts is filled out with a couple of reprints. "The Tattooed Terror!" is a mediocre 1952 tale featuring decent art by Carmine Infantino and a story about a crook who gets what's coming to him. "The Last Dream!" also illustrated by Infantino, is even worse. One thing I do like about these 1952 stories is the surfeit of text. That's something I miss in today's comics, which seem to be all art and no words. Most interesting (to me) is that Sensation Comics was renamed Sensation Mystery in between the issues in which these stories originally appeared, undoubtedly to cash in on the horror craze.

John: Aside from the lead story, I would have pegged the entire issue as a collection of reprints.

Peter: I loved "The Tattooed Terror" for what it is: kitsch nostalgia. One of the most meandering, nonsensical tales I've read in a long time. Are we to believe that Jorgens not only steals into Forman's bedroom nightly and tattoos the man without waking him but also has orchestrated several near brushes with death as well? And what's with the climax, where we see the final tattoo on Forman's back (Jorgens' grinning face)? "Now do you believe in the supernatural?" the narrator asks us as we exit the final panel. Not if Jorgens was responsible for the artwork, I don't. Check your brain at the door and you'll love this dopey slice of DC's Golden Age. "Tattooed" and "The Last Dream" (about a centuries-old family feud carried on by a ghost) have some belief-stretching moments but they're both much more enjoyable to read than the previous two stories.

John: Wait—tattoos hurt? 

"The Spectral Coachman!"
Jack: Arizona-1956, and the legend of Rafe Brady, "The Spectral Coachman," is still told. When Johnny Cass's jeep breaks down one night as he is out searching for a lost mine, he is attacked by a pack of wolves and saved by the timely intervention of Brady himself. Next day, the townsfolk show him Brady's rotting coach, but how to explain those fresh coach tracks and bullets from a 19th century gun? Leo Dorfman turns in another solid story to end this issue, in which he wrote all of the new material under a few different names. De Zuniga's art is impressive. Just stop asking me if I believe in ghosts! I believe, OK?

John: But Jack, like they told you right on page one— Abraham Lincoln believed in ghosts... Arthur Conan Doyle believed in ghosts... Mark Twain believed in ghosts... and Peter Enfantino believed in ghosts...

Peter: I think this was the best story of the issue but, like Dorfman's other contributions, I could have whited out the captions and word balloons and looked at the pretty pitchers. DeZuniga has a natural flare for western creepiness and he would go on to perfect that style with Jonah Hex (which debuted in March 1972's All-Star Western #10), a series that often blurred the line between horror and western. DC's second supernatural title to debut in the 1970s, Ghosts would have a healthy run of 112 issues published from October 1971 through May 1982. By the time Ghosts was put to rest, the only mystery title left standing was House of Mystery. The majority of stories in the first dozen or so issues were written by Leo Dorfman, a writer who came up through the ranks writing Superman in the 1950s. According to Mark Evanier (on his website, as noted on Wikipedia), Dorfman was writing and selling stories to both DC (for Ghosts) and Gold Key (for Boris Karloff, Twilight Zone, Grimm's, and Ripley's) at the same time.

John: I just have one final question. Jack, do you believe in Ghosts?

Jack: Stop torturing me!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Christmas Special: "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" [1.12]

by Jack Seabrook

In "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid," written by Good Housekeeping's assistant editor Margaret Cousins and published in that magazine's December 1943 issue, paroled thief Stretch Sears is gently pushed into the job of department store Santa Claus at Sampson & Cole. He is "not the happy, wistful bum," who elicits feelings of charity in passers-by on the street; rather, he is an embittered old man, who finds the idea of imitating the jolly old elf to be distasteful.

He takes up residence in "a white papier-mache mountain on the sixth floor, sprinkled with tinsel silver dust and banked with boraxed cornflakes" where, among the many toys on display was "a magnificent airplane model" costing $59.50. He survives his days at work, though he has nothing in common with the privileged children who visit him: "There could be between them and this weather-beaten old derelict no happy concourse of ideas or emotions." Three weeks of this experience seems "almost worse than prison."

On the day before Christmas Eve, as the work day ends, the Tenth Avenue Kid appears. He is a poor child, "completely out of place in the plush environment." The boy surprises Sears by speaking a language he understands: "'You can fool babies and dopes,'" he says, "'But I ain't no dope.'" The Kid asks Sears to prove that he is Santa Claus and points to the expensive toy airplane as the object of his desire; he admits that he wants to be a pilot when he grows up.

Barry Fitzgerald
Sears sees himself reflected in the boy and promises to "'get out my reindeer and stuff'" and deliver the toy the next night. He makes the Kid hand over various small items he had shoplifted from the store and the Kid leaves, chastened. On Christmas Eve, when the rest of the store's employees head for the after-hours store Christmas party, Sears grabs the airplane and climbs out a window and onto the fire escape, in his element at last. He walks through "a maze of alleys and courtyards and back streets," still dressed as Kris Kringle, and finds the "narrow, squalid house" on whose top floor the Kid lives.

Virginia Gregg
Picking the lock on the door to the Kid's apartment, he leaves the plane as promised and exits the building, only to be arrested two blocks away for stealing the Santa suit. At the police station, he takes out $60, which represents his pay for three weeks' work as Santa Claus, and lays it on the sergeant's blotter as payment for the airplane. As he is led away to jail, no one notices the new twinkle in his eye.

"Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid" is a charming story with gentle satire and warm humor. The portrayal of Sears and the kid as kindred spirits is classic, and there is real emotion when the older man recognizes himself in the Kid and takes action to try to prevent the boy from walking the same path in life.

In the ten-year run of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, there was only one episode that specifically focused on the Christmas holiday: "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid." This episode aired on Sunday, December 18, 1955, on CBS, and was adapted for television by Marian Cockrell and directed by Don Weis. The TV version stars Barry Fitzgerald as Sears, with Virginia Gregg as Miss Webster, the woman who shepherds him back and forth between the men's shelter where he lives and the department store, and Bobby Clark as the Kid.

Bobby Clark
Weis chose to dramatize Sears's thoughts through voice overs by Fitzgerald, and the camera lingers on his aging, Irish face as his spoken thoughts contrast with the words he speaks to those around him. Sears spends much of the time with eyes downcast, chewing constantly. On first arriving at the department store, he is already misbehaving; when the store manager pats his tummy, a silver platter falls out and crashes to the floor--Sears explains that he couldn't find a pillow!

Unlike the Sears of the story, Sears on TV becomes lovable almost immediately when he begins interacting with the children, though he comments in voice over that "'I'd rather be doin' time. Look at the little monsters!'" The Kid visits him twice: first, as a member of the line of children waiting to see him, and second, at the end of the day as in the story. The Kid looks a bit like one of the Little Rascals and accuses Sears of being a fake in front of the other children. On Sears's last day of work, he goes to pick up his pay but instead receives a note from Miss Webster, who writes that she helpfully took his money and opened a bank account for him. This sets up the ending, which differs from that in the story.


After being denied his cash, Sears is disgusted and rude to the children who come to see him. The Kid returns, and one of the episode's best scenes follows as he and Sears argue until the Kid begins to believe in Santa Claus and his attitude changes. At the end of the episode, when Sears is taken to the police station, he is about to be booked when Miss Webster arrives. Sears is accused of stealing the $50 airplane and she takes his money out of her purse, claiming that she was too late to get to the bank. She explains that it is really her fault for forcing him to charge a purchase that he otherwise would have paid for in cash. Sears is let off because it is Christmas, and Miss Webster invites him home for dinner. They walk off arm in arm.

Perhaps the more downbeat ending of the story was deemed inappropriate for television; in any case, the episode is essentially a vehicle for Barry Fitzgerald, who turns in an effective performance as Sears. Virginia Gregg is also strong as Miss Webster, especially in a scene (not in the story) where she tells Sears that she sometimes has trouble keeping a positive attitude. Young Bobby Clark is believable as the Kid, going from a broad portrayal of a street tough to a more nuanced portrayal of a boy who is convinced to believe in something he did not expect.


Margaret Cousins (1905-1996), who wrote the short story, was a magazine and book editor who wrote over 200 short stories. At various times in her career, she was the editor of Good Housekeeping, McCall's, and Ladies Home Journal, slick magazines that published a large selection of popular fiction in the middle years of the twentieth century. She also wrote book-length biographies for children of such historical figures as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, as well as editing the memoirs of President Lyndon Johnson. This was her only story to be adapted for the Hitchcock series.

The teleplay was by Marian Cockrell (1909-1999), a novelist who wrote for TV on occasion from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. She wrote eleven episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Wet Saturday," and her husband Francis wrote an additional 18.

Don Weis (1922-2000) directed the show, one of five episodes where he was behind the camera. He directed a smattering of movies in the 1950s and 1960s but most of his work was in episodic television, including episodes of The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Beloved Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald (1888-1961) was born William Shields and started his career on the stage in Ireland in the late 1920s. He came to Hollywood in 1936 and appeared in many great films, such as And Then There Were None (1945), The Quiet Man (1952), and Going My Way (1944), for which he won an Oscar. He only made three appearances on television, all in the early to mid-1950s, and this was one of them.

Virginia Gregg (1916-1986), who comes to the rescue as Miss Webster, was born Virginia Burket and acted in countless radio shows, TV shows, and movies. She was one of three uncredited actors to play the voice of Mrs. Bates in Psycho (1960), and she appeared four times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including supplying the voice of the doll in "And So Died Riabouchinska." She was also seen in three of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour shows, including "A Home Away From Home." A website devoted to her work may be found here.


Finally, Bobby Clark (1944- ), who plays the Kid, was on TV and in movies from 1951 to 1961. His most memorable role was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

"Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid is available on DVD or may be viewed online for free here. Merry Christmas!

Up next: we return to Henry Slesar with "The Throwback."

Sources:


Cousins, Margaret. "Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid." 1943. Christmas Keepers: Eight Memorable Stories from the 40's and 50's. San Antonio, TX: Corona Pub., 1996. 158-79. Print.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
"Santa Claus and the Tenth Avenue Kid." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 18 Dec. 1955. Television.

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 17: October 1960


By Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook


Special Giant-Sized Guns-Ablazing 300th Issue of Bare Bones!!


Joe Kubert

Our Army at War 99

"Easy's Hardest Battle!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"We're Still Flying!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

"Booby Trap Tank!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: The men of Easy Co. pass by the men of Baker Co, Charlie Co., Dog Co. and Fox Co. only to get shelled by the Nazis. As they await their next move, Sgt. Rock thinks back to an earlier battle when they fought Nazi tanks that displayed a tiger emblem. Back in the present, Rock sees that the tanks ahead of them bear the same emblem as those he was recalling, yet he receives a message that Easy needs to fall back. They retreat past all of the companies they had passed earlier, until they receive the order to turn and fight. The retreat drew the tanks toward them and allowed them to surround and defeat them. Sgt. Rock tells his men that "Easy's Hardest Battle!" was when they had to obey orders to fall back! According to this story, Easy fought in North Africa, on Omaha Beach, and in the Normandy hedgerows, among other places. I am beginning to think Sgt. Rock is more of a mythical figure than a real soldier, since he seems to have been everywhere and he never dies.

Easy's Hardest Battle!"
Peter: A bit of a coincidence that Rock and his men come up against the same Panzer division that did a number on them so long ago but, with Kubert flying high, I don't mind.. Add the name Vic Lester to our roster of Easy men (well, for this issue at least). In the Sgt. Rock's Combat Corner this issue, our hero keeps two readers from coming to blows by settling a bet: spiral khaki leggings were replaced by canvas leggings in 1938, three years before WWII. You don't get this kind of info on the Spider-Man letters page, do ya?

Jack: The crew of the bomber plane "Bustin' Belle" has flown 50 missions and never missed a target, but when they are sent to destroy a Nazi oil field on their 51st mission they are shot down and imprisoned in a camp right next to their target. They keep up their discipline and escape, insisting that "We're Still Flying!" and destroying the oil field even without their trusty aircraft. I thought it was neat how the crew kept practicing as if they were still flying, though lighting an underground oil leak seems a bit of an unlikely way to destroy an oil field. Did they really throw a time bomb over the fence or were they pulling the Commandant's leg?

"We're Still Flying!"
Peter: What I want to know is why do all officers in command in the German army wear monocles and have scars on their cheeks? I was sure we were going to see a cameo by Mademoiselle Marie! And I join Jack in his doubt about underground oil explosions. Is there an unbroken stream of the stuff and wouldn't the fire go out when you bury it with dirt?

Jack: With Nazi infiltrators everywhere, how is a lone G.I. to know whom to trust? He hitches a ride on a "Booby Trap Tank!" and figures out it's being driven by Nazis masquerading as American soldiers. He wipes out the men inside the tank and drives it back to his unit, where he has no trouble telling that the sergeant is a real-live American. The highlight of this story for me was the plotting--the U.S. soldiers take target practice at a picture of Hitler tacked on a tree and later the soldier realizes that the inhabitants of the tank on which he is riding are Nazis because they don't take shots at the same picture.

Peter: You hit the bullseye, Jack. That one moment, where our hero realizes just what's going on because of a brief occurrence earlier in the story, is dynamite storytelling. And, is it just me, or are we entering an age of more good Jack Abel than bad?

"Booby Trap Tank!"


Russ Heath
All American Men of War 81

"Ghost Ship of Two Wars!
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"Time Bomb Trench!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: All his life, his two older brothers fought battles for him and set him up with the prettiest girls. Now, World War I pilot Mickey watches as both his brothers are shot down by a German known as The Black Ace. Vowing revenge, Mickey makes it his mission to shoot down the deadly pilot. Finally facing a rematch, our hero is, alas, shot down and is in the ace's sights when fate intervenes in the shape of a hole in time. After he's parachuted, Mickey passes through a cloud and finds himself in 1944 amidst World War II battles. When the base he's recuperating at is strafed by enemy planes, the boy escapes and finds his plane waiting for him in a field. Once airborne, he discovers his old enemy, The Black Ace, waiting for him but this time, through some crafty maneuvers, Mickey is able to bail out yet again and use his plane as a torpedo. The Black Ace is retired forever. Once he's safe on the ground, he discovers he's back in 1917. At seventeen and a half pages this is the longest DC war story we've encountered (and the first to be divided into three chapters) yet could have been so much better. I love time travel stories, can't get enough of them, but here's one with a unique hook: the time travel is inconsequential. It has no bearing whatsoever on the events that transpire post-travel. Mickey lands in 1944, is questioned by the present-day air force, watches as the base is bombed, and then escapes to his magically-landed aircraft. How the heck did that plane get down on the ground? Last we'd seen it it was heading for the ground without a pilot! Mickey's mantra of "I'll come after you no matter where I am!" obviously sets the reader up for the obligatory it-was-all-a-dream climax but, inexplicably, we find out it really happened! Why Kanigher thought to piece together a story that had been done to death already (brothers who stick together even in war) with a science fiction concept and not go the distance, we'll never know. A big disappointment (especially since Irv Novick is at the top of his game here).

"Ghost Ship of Two Wars!"

Jack: As I read this story it dawned on me that it may have been "inspired" by the Twilight Zone episode, "The Last Flight," written by Richard Matheson and based on his short story, "Flight." The TZ episode aired February 5, 1960, and it's quite possible it was the source for this comic book story, which must have come out that summer or early fall, with an October cover date. Only Bob Kanigher would know for sure, but the similarities are striking, especially the trip through the cloud that sends a WWI fighter plane decades into the future. I liked this story, especially the length. I would love to see longer stories in the DC war books!

"Time Bomb Trench!"
Peter: The intricate mind games played between a U.S. regiment and the Germans who have held a trench on the other side of "No Man's Land" are at the core of the fascinating "Time Bomb Trench." A bit complicated at times (it's tough to tell which troop is which in a few panels), the story nevertheless has several powerful images thanks to the gritty art of Mr. On-Again-Off-Again, Jack Abel, whose work here is worthy of Frontline Combat or Two-Fisted Tales. The most terrifying aspect of the scenario, of course, is being caught without a trench (almost like a deadly game of musical chairs) while battle rages all around you. We're also introduced to the terrors of the "sappers"--specialists who dig below trenches and plant explosives, setting them off while troops are trapped by artillery fire. These are the kind of perils Gunner and Sarge never seem to face. Jack Seabrook should be a happy man with this all-World War I issue (well, mostly WWI).

Jack: You called it right, Peter! I was thrilled to see another WWI story after the long opener by Kanigher and Novick. I thought that this story had promise but that Abel's art failed to create the necessary suspense. As I got to the end, I was thinking how great this would have been in the hands of an EC artist. The suspense would have been terrible! Here, it's OK, and certainly above average for a back of the book story by Haney and Abel, but it could have been better.


Jerry Grandenetti
Our Fighting Forces 57

"A Tank for Sarge!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti

"The Frogman and the Porpoise!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel

"Soften 'Em Up!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Irv Novick

Jack: Every afternoon around 3:20, a Japanese speedboat comes around the island and strafes Gunner and Sarge's position. One day, our heroes save a transport plane from an enemy Zero and who pops out of the transport but Miss Julie, the pretty nurse they met back in Our Fighting Forces 53 (February 1960). Sarge assigns Gunner a patrol so that Sarge can frolic in the water with the cute nurse, but they are surprised when the Japanese speedboat shows up early and only a well-placed bazooka shot from Gunner saves the day. Gunner suffers a concussion and spends the next few days "healing" with Miss Julie, until Sarge--who had finally gone out on patrol by himself--returns tied to an enemy tank that threatens the U.S. position. Once again, Gunner must blast away to save the day, but this time Julie turns her attention to Sarge. I think Miss Julie is a little scamp! Her affections go from Sarge to Gunner and back again very quickly. And why is she the only woman on the island?

One of Jerry Grandenetti's more
"creative" renderings of Sarge
Peter: Not only is Miss Julie a scamp but a mistress of elocution. I believe she may believe she's on a stage doing Hamlet: "It is I, Julie!" I risk sounding like a broken record yet again but this series will never be one I look forward to reading (even if they did temporarily get rid of Pooch). It's too light-hearted and carefree, void of any elements present in a great war story. That's not even taking into account Jerry Grandenetti's annoying caricatures. Oh, and break time is over. Next issue: the return of the most annoying dog this side of Benji.

Jack: Frogman Andy is assigned to Operation Tin Shark, in which he must single-handedly take down a Japanese killer sub that is protected by all sorts of traps. Luckily, he happens upon a friendly porpoise who helps him get through the dangers and reach the sub. This episode of Flipper has been brought to you by Bob Haney and Jack Abel.

"The Frogman and the Porpoise!"
Peter: We're never even given a reason as to why this porpoise would want to help Andy through all his arduous tasks. Is he perhaps a reincarnation of the buddy Andy lost while in Okinawa? A new US marine experiment in intelligent mammals? A dream Andy had in sick bay after the real-life anti-frogman mines blew him to kingdom come?

Jack: Outside the French town of Dulac, a couple of G.I.s watch as artillery, planes and tanks mount an initial attack to "Soften 'Em Up!" before the foot soldiers move in. One grunt grumbles that, no matter how much damage is done, they'll still have to fight the Nazis on foot when they reach the town. This turns out to be true, since the rubble left in the town serves as a perfect place for Nazis to hide. Another of the stories where a catch phrase is repeated over and over, this one is unusual in that the whiners don't learn a lesson--they turn out to be right!

Peter: One thing I can't figure about these war stories is the amount of explosive force the soldiers can take without losing life or limb. In one scene of "Soften 'Em Up," our two soldiers open fire into tank slits until it explodes... with them atop the turret. They hit the ground with nary a scratch. As Jack mentioned, this one's the equivalent of a K.C. and The Sunshine Band song: find a title and run it into the ground. This one's not as catchy though. A whole month without Russ Heath always makes me cranky.

Jack: At least he drew one cover!

"Soften 'Em Up!"

There will be no DC Showcase next week (we take the Christmas week off) but there will be a special Christmas Day Hitchcock Project. Jack and Peter will return on Monday, December 30th with Do You Dare Enter? Installment #17. Until then, Happy Holidays!!!



Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hitchcock Project-Henry Slesar Part Eighteen: "The Last Escape" [6.17]

by Jack Seabrook

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was the greatest escape artist of his day, as shown in the 1953 movie, Houdini, that starred Tony Curtis as Houdini and Janet Leigh as his wife Bess. In Henry Slesar's story, "The Last Escape," published in the July 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Joe Ferlini fancies himself at least as great as Houdini, but he comes to an unhappy end.

The story opens as he plays to a small crowd in a club with Wanda, his wife and assistant. Both Ferlini and Wanda are past 40 years old and their age is beginning to show. Ferlini remains egotistical and boastful; cruel to his wife, he points out the lines in her face. When they go out to dinner with Joe's agent, Phil Roscoe, Joe refuses to accept that escape acts are no longer a big draw and talks Phil into promoting his water escape trick.

Slesar writes that "the great Ferlini needed only one admirer, and he saw him in the shaving mirror every day." Wanda is not an admirer, and is instead in love with Tommy Bagget, an "aging crooner." She muses about rigging the water escape so Joe can't get out.

Following a big publicity buildup, the day of the water escape arrives. Joe is tied up and handcuffed, put in a sack, locked in a trunk, and dropped into the lake. After six minutes, Wanda faints. Late that night, Joe's body is recovered. When it comes time for the funeral, the ceremony is interrupted when the pallbearers complain that the coffin seems too light.

When it is opened, it is empty--Ferlini has made his last escape. Later, Phil explains to a doctor that he had made a deal with Joe many years before to pull off one last trick. He never suspected that the shock of seeing the empty coffin would drive Wanda insane.

"The Last Escape" features themes of infidelity, revenge, murder and insanity, all set in the milieu of an escape act and featuring characters who are similar to circus or carnival performers. There is a fine line between entertainment and deception; the ability to fool people is central to the success of the Ferlinis' act, yet they are not able to combat the ravages of time and aging, nor are they able to create a strong, loving bond that would prevent hatred from growing into the need to kill.

Slesar adapted his own story for television, and "The Last Escape" was broadcast during season six of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on NBC on Tuesday, January 31, 1961, the week after the previous Slesar episode, "A Crime for Mothers," had aired. The teleplay follows the story closely, with some insignificant exceptions. Keenan Wynn is perfect as Ferlini, boasting and preening in his dressing-room mirror, puffing out his chest to demonstrate the expansion that allows him to wriggle free from ropes in his act. Also perfectly cast is Jan Sterling as Wanda, looking like a showgirl who is beginning to get too old for the outfits she wears. The teleplay adds a bit of foreshadowing, as Wanda comments about the danger of the water trick while she and Joe argue in the dressing room; later, at dinner with agent Harry (Phil, in the story), she comments that the trick sounds "like a ticket to the graveyard."

Keenan Wynn
The episode features a larger cast than usual, as well as some outdoor filming in the scene by the lake. The direction by Paul Henreid is competent but unremarkable. The big lead-up to the water escape in the story is cut down considerably in the teleplay; at the end of act one, Wanda tells Tommy of her plan to kill Joe; act two opens with the crowd by the lake, waiting for the water escape.

Unfortunately, the two moments in the show that should be filled with suspense fall flat. The first occurs when Joe fails to emerge from the lake and Wanda reacts with feigned horror; the scene seems too quiet without any music and does not last long enough to build tension. The second marks the most noticeable change from the source story. At the funeral, instead of pallbearers saying that the coffin is too light and opening it in front of the crowd, a man appears and says he is from the county coroner's office. He has orders to re-examine the body and he has the coffin taken back to the caretaker's cottage, where only four people witness it being opened. Wanda screams, but the shock is much less than it would have been had the event occurred at the funeral in front of a crowd.

Jan Sterling
The best shot in the episode is the last, when the doctor takes Harry to see Wanda, who struggles to escape from her straitjacket. Sterling looks insane, her hair askew, as she turns to face the doorway. The shot provides a nice parallel to the show's opening scene, where Joe sits onstage in a straitjacket, trying to escape. In the end, pretending has become reality and what was only make-believe has turned into a life sentence, punishment for a murderess whose crime is known only to her and her lover.

Kennan Wynn (1916-1986) had a long career in movies (from 1944) and on TV (from 1955). The son of vaudevillian (and, later, TV actor) Ed Wynn, Keenan appeared twice on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, once on The Twilight Zone, and twice on Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He also had notable roles in Rod Serling's live TV drama "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1956) and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (1964).

Dennis Patrick
Paul Henreid (1908-1992) directed 28 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "The Kind Waitress" by Henry Slesar and "The Landlady." He directed one episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Annabel."

"The Last Escape" was the second and last appearance on Alfred Hitchcock Presents for Jan Sterling; the first was Slesar's "On the Nose." Playing Harry, Ferlini's agent, was Dennis Patrick (1918-2002), who was on the Hitchcock series three times. He made more than 1800 TV appearances in his career, including "Age of Peril" on Tales of Tomorrow and a recurring role on Dark Shadows. Finally, John Craven (1916-1995) played Wanda's lover Tommy; he was also on the Hitchcock show three times and made single appearances on The Twilight Zone and Thriller.

John Craven
"The Last Escape" is part of the newly-released DVD collection of Alfred Hitchcock Presents season six, and may be viewed for free online here.

It marks the seventeenth episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to be adapted from a story collected in the Avon paperback, Clean Crimes and Neat Murders (T-485), which was published in 1960 with a 35 cent cover price. The 160-page book features an introduction that is signed by Alfred Hitchcock, but which was probably written by Slesar, in which Slesar is called "a soft-spoken young man with an excellent criminal record." The book was probably published in the fall of 1960, since the introduction urges viewers to watch the television show every Tuesday night on NBC, and the series did not begin broadcasting on that network or that night until September of that year. The book contains 17 of the first eighteen Slesar stories to be adapted for TV; the exception is "A Crime for Mothers," which would be the lead story in a subsequent collection.


Sources:
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
"The Last Escape." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. NBC. 31 Jan. 1961. Television.
Slesar, Henry. "The Last Escape." Clean Crimes and Neat Murders: Alfred Hitchcock's Hand Picked Selection of Stories by Henry Slesar. New York: Avon, 1960. 103-113. Print.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Do You Dare Enter? Part Sixteen: September 1971


The DC Mystery Line 1968-1976
by Peter Enfantino,
John Scoleri,
Jack Seabrook

Nick Cardy
The Witching Hour 16

"Never Kill a Witch!"
Story by Carl Wessler
Art by John Calnan and Bernie Case

"The Spell of Sinner Ella!"
Story by Bill Dennehy (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Gray Morrow

"You Can't Hide From Death!"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron"
Story uncredited
Art by Lee Elias
(reprinted from House of Secrets #58, February 1963)

"Last Meal"
Story by Charles King
Art by Joe Orlando
(reprinted from House of Mystery 177, December 1968)

"The Curse of the Cat"
Story by Howie Post
Art by Bill Draut
(also reprinted from House of Mystery #177)

"Never Kill a Witch!"
Jack: One night, by the light of the full moon, young lovers Harry and Stella enter the creepy house of old lady Crafton. Harry has long heard rumors of her fortune and he is determined to steal it. When the old lady/witch confronts them, he bludgeons her to death, only to find that she returns and he has to do it again. One should "Never Kill a Witch!" though, because she comes back a third time and sets the house on fire. Harry carries Stella outside to safety and both end up in the hospital, being treated for burns. The bandages are removed and Stella's face is fine but Harry now resembles the old witch! In the panels where Harry carries Stella out of the burning house, he looks pretty healthy, but for some reason he has to have his entire face bandaged for burns. Gangrene must have set in due to a delay in treatment, because when the wraps come off he has turned green!

Peter: I thought it hilarious that the doctors said nothing to Harry about the new tint on his face even though they'd done surgery on it. Seems like something you'd want to discuss with the patient. The GCD claims that inker Case is actually Bernie Wrightson. There's no trace of the BW we know and love here but then John Calnan has a way of showing through even the best inkers.

John: I liked the art in this one, though I had a hard time buying that a witch would have her fortune in nice crisp bundles of bills...

"The Spell of Sinner Ella!"
Jack: Young and pretty "Sinner Ella" helps her sisters get ready for the ball and is delighted when her fairy godmother sees to it that she may attend as well. The prince falls in love with her but things take a new twist when Ella murders her sister after the sibling tries to steal the prince. Ella gets home safely and the prince tracks her down by means of a lost slipper. When he finds that it fits her dainty foot he has her arrested for murder! Gray Morrow's art is superb and the story is funny, if a little bit muddled, what with a policeman who looks like he came from Napoleonic-era France and the girls riding around in cars!

Peter: I thought "Sinner Ella" was a surprisingly clever reworking of the fairy tale, with a very Grimm ending! Fabulous art by Gray Morrow, who seems to have been experimenting with his style constantly.

John: It's my bias, but thanks to Burnt Offerings, as soon as I see a chauffeur, I prepare for the worst. I thought it was perfectly appropriate when the limo became a hearse.

"You Can't Hide From Death!"
Jack: After a duel ends with only one man firing his pistol, one man promises to hound the other until it is completed. Though Henri marries and raises a family, he learns that "You Can't Hide From Death!" when his fellow duellist catches up with him years later, insisting that the second shot be fired. Henri complies and fires his gun into the ground, sparing his pursuer and starting a new friendship. This is a clever story that turns out to be a bit too short. DeZuniga's art is impressive, coming right after the fine work by Morrow in the previous story.

Peter: Despite nice art from DeZuniga, this is nothing more than a fragment of a story with nothing resembling the supernatural whatsoever. Why it's in a title like The Witching Hour, I have no idea, but it would better fit in Unexpected.

John: I agree. This was bad enough to be right at home in the pages of Unexpected.

Jack: "Last Meal" is a text story with an illo by Joe Orlando. It is reprinted from HOM 177, the first "new look" issue. "The Curse of the Cat" is also a reprint that we just saw a couple of years ago. "The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron" also seems like we read it not so long ago. In fact, it was also reprinted in House of Mystery 177.

"The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron"
Peter: You can find a review of "The Curse of the Cat" here. I find it to be a bit of a rip-off that editor Murray Boltinoff chose a story published only three years before when the vault of DC material to reprint was so vast. Of the reprints, the only one worth discussing is "The Wondrous Witch's Cauldron" and that's for Lee Elias's wonderful art. The story of a magical cauldron (which can actually think!) has a decidedly pre-code look to it despite having popped up in post-code 1963. Just a few issues after "Cauldron" appeared in HoS, Elias co-created (with DC war story vet Bob Haney) the bizarre demon, Eclipso, one of those third-tier hero/villains that DC has continued to reboot through the years.


Bernie Wrightson
The House of Secrets 93

"Lonely in Death!"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by Jim Aparo

"The Curse of the Cat's Cradle"
Story uncredited
Art by Alex Toth
(reprinted from My Greatest Adventure 85, February 1964)

"Nightmare"
Story uncredited
Art by Jack Abel

"The Beast from the Box"
Story uncredited
Art by Nick Cardy
(reprinted from House of Secrets #24, September 1959)

"Never Kill a Witch's Son!"
Story by John Albano
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Lonely in Death!"
Peter: Cynthia is convinced her dead mother is trying to kill her but her brother, Morris, is not sold on the idea. He thinks his mother's death has driven his sister mad and that she's been the orchestrator of her own deadly accidents. In the end, the poor girl is partly right: her mother has been visiting her daughter but only to warn her that Morris is trying to inherit the other half of the estate. While trying to set up one final accident, Morris falls to his death, aided by invisible fingers. It's not bad enough that Steve Skeates frames his ghost story around one of the oldest cliches in the book (the haunting that's not a haunting but actually is a haunting) but he then sets it up with a cheat. When Cynthia confesses to her brother that she believes their mother is trying to kill her, the proclamation sends "a shiver up her brother's spine." If Morris was behind the haunting the entire time, why would he be chilled by his sister's statement?

Jack: I'm usually happy to see a story drawn by Jim Aparo, but this does not represent his best work. The script by Skeates did not impress me, either. Abel (or Able, as he is spelled in this story's introduction) can do better than this!

John: Hard to believe this is the same Jim Aparo who would work wonders with the Caped Crusader.

Peter: Dick Ellis is trapped in a "Nightmare" that never ends but we, luckily, are spared no more than three pages of this waste of paper.

John: Couldn't this have been done as effectively in a single page?

"Nightmare"

Jack: Oh no! A story that ends at the beginning! It will just keep going in endless circles! Aiieee!

"Never Kill a Witch's Son!"
Peter: With help from her husband Randy, Andria Winthrop murders her uncle in order to collect on the insurance but curses from her grandmother have the pair worried. Andria becomes convinced her uncle is still alive but it's all an attempt by Randy to drive his wife mad. The joke's on Randy, though, when his wife mistakes him for her uncle and pushes him off the balcony to his death. Like Steve Skeates before him, John Albano shows little imagination and little respect for his audience with this cliched faux haunting tale. "Never Kill a Witch's Son" is not, contrary to popular belief, a sequel to The Witching Hour #16's "Never Kill a Witch" but it's just as bad. Not even DeZuniga can save this one.

John: Surely it can't just be a coincidence these two have similar names so close together?

Jack: The story is tired and the art is quite uneven. I have to wonder if the reproduction quality was not very good.

Peter: "The Beast From the Box" is a knock-off of all those 1950s big monster movies (done much better by Lee and Kirby at about the same time) with primitive Nick Cardy art its only asset. Much better is "The Curse of the Cat's Cradle." Dan Hearn is sent out to Guatemala to take charge of a plantation run by Mike Trammel, a man the head office has lost faith in. While there, Dan is led to a bog of quicksand punctuated with a giant pair of hands holding a "cat's cradle." Hearn soon deciphers the rope as a message from the giant, trapped under the quicksand, and he follows the clues to a cave located under the bog, where he hopes to find the rest of the big man. Once there, he discovers Trammel looting the giant's gem-filled cave. A fight ensues and the cave collapses, with the men barely escaping. Who was the giant and what happened to him after the cave-in? No one knows but, as Mike exclaims, "right now, there are a lot of people in the states who are waiting for bananas!" "The Curse of the Cat's Cradle" is one of the most bizarre and eccentric tales I've ever read, eight pages of sheer kookiness graced by yet another knockout art job by Alex Toth. Once more, a vintage reprint trumps all newcomers.
"The Curse of the Cat's Cradle"

Jack: "The Curse of the Cat's Cradle" is a truly strange story with another good line: "I felt the rope in my hands--hung onto it tighter than the first dollar I'd earned mowing a neighbor's lawn . . ." From 1964, this is an example of a story that makes one wonder just what the DC writers were thinking. As for "The Beast in the Box," if I did not know the artist was Nick Cardy I would never have been able to identify it. This looks nothing like the great covers he was turning out by 1970 or so.


Bernie Wrightson
The House of Mystery 194

"Born Loser"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Alex Toth

"The Human Wave"
Story uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from House of Secrets #31, April 1960)

"The Negative Man"
Story uncredited
Art by Jack Kirby
(reprinted from House of Mystery #84, March 1959)

"The King is Dead"
Story by Jack Oleck
Art by Nestor Redondo

Peter: "Born Loser" Homer has found a way to conjure demons and fake his own death. This little magic trick is nothing more than a hobby until Homer finds a way to put it to good use: the murder of his shrewish wife. Before he does the deed, he has his friend, Judith, promise that no matter what happens she'll claim his body. With that in place, Homer shoots his wife and surrenders to police. While in prison, he conjures his impish friends and falls into a death-like sleep. Judith comes to the prison to claim Homer but, unfortunately, the warden informs the girl that there is a policy to cremate all bodies. I saw the "twist" climax coming but the rest of the story moves along at a nice clip and Alex Toth's art, as usual, is a delight. Toth, in fact, seems to be finally moving into that style I know him best: lots of dark inks, simplistic (at times crude) facial features, bug-eyed creatures, and BIG BOLD CAPITAL LETTERING. There's no artist quite like Toth when he's bringing his "A game."

"Born Loser"

Jack: It's interesting to compare Wrightson's take on the characters as depicted on the cover with Toth's version inside. Both are younger and more attractive on the cover. I like how Wrightson has Priscilla holding a book entitled "Revolting Revelations" by B. Wrightson! I was not a fan of Toth's before we started this project, but I have completely changed my opinion of his art and now I really enjoy it.

John: I wasn't really familiar with Toth's art when we started, and the more of it I see, the less I understand what it is people like about it.

"The King is Dead"
Peter: A monster stalks a village in the Carpathian mountains and the newly crowned king is convinced that he, himself, is the bloodthirsty creature. He orders his guards to lock him in a cell and a strange battle takes place. When his men open the dungeon door, they find "The King is Dead." Here's an odd one indeed. No explanation is given at the climax for the goings-on or if the king was responsible and, all through the story, it seems as if an alternate explanation will be offered up. Bizarrely, the fact that the king is a hunchback is never mentioned though it might have provided writer Oleck with a perfect gremlin (was the hunch, in fact, a creature who broke off from his highness at night to slake its bloodlust?) or red herring at the very least. In the end, we're left with a whimper rather than a scream. Nice art by Nestor Redondo (in his comic book debut) gives a hint at what direction the DC mystery line would soon be heading in, a path I heartily applaud.

Jack: I did not even notice that the king was a hunchback. Your idea is just plain sick! You have been reading too many horror comics. For my part, I could not get beyond thinking of Young Frankenstein when the king tells his men not to open the door, no matter how he may beg or plead. I had Gene Wilder's voice in my head at that point.

John: I liked the art, but I was more entertained by Jack's comments than the story itself.

Peter: The reprints this issue both draw from the same well that Kirby and Lee dipped their buckets in constantly for such titles as Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish in the early 1960s. Russ Heath's exquisite art elevates the average script of "The Human Wave," about an adventurer who lays claim to the fabled Latour sword, lost at sea for centuries and guarded by a monster made of sea water. Yep, the script is about as silly as they come but just give Heath some panels of underwater diving and there shall be light. "The Negative Man" serves up a boring smattering of scientists who really shouldn't dabble in... well, anything. This was one of Jack Kirby's last jobs for DC (until he returned in 1970) and by the beginning of 1960 he was pumping out tales just like "The Negative Man" for Atlas.

Heath!
Jack: The main character in "The Human Wave" is an idiot. He is told that whoever seeks the sword will be in trouble with the Human Wave. So he gets the sword and is chased all over creation by the Human Wave. When his gal pal throws the sword back where it came from, the Human Wave dissipates and what does the genius say? Maybe the sword was the problem all along! As for "The Negative Man," does anyone really enjoy this Kirby art? I know it's sacrilege to say that the King did anything but brilliant work, but come on! This is weak.


Nick Cardy
Unexpected 127

"Follow the Piper to Your Grave!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Tuska

"The Cats Who Knew Too Much!"
Story and Art by Jack Kirby
(reprinted from House of Secrets #8, February 1958)

"The Ferry Was Waiting!"
Story uncredited
Art by John Giunta
(reprinted from Sensation Comics #109, June 1952)

"The $30,000 Corpse"
Story by Al Case (Murray Boltinoff)
Art by John Calnan and Vince Colletta

"Queen of the Snows!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Alex Toth and Sy Barry
(reprinted from Sensation Comics #107, February 1952)

"Frightened to Death!"
Story by Murray Boltinoff
Art by George Tuska

"Till Death Us Do Unite"
Story by George Kashdan
Art by Jim Aparo

"Follow the Piper to Your Grave!"
Jack: Vic Mason and Mona Evans are seeking a haunted house to write about for a magazine. They find a promising house and drive a little further down the road, where Mona beds down for the night. Vic heads back to the haunted house but soon learns that a storm washed out the bridge that leads back to Mona. He revs his engine to fly across the river. Meanwhile, Mona is awakened by strange music. She is drawn to "Follow the Piper to Your Grave" and nearly drowns in a swamp until Vic rescues her. His image disappears and the police inform her that he died when his car tried to jump the river. This is a run of the mill ghost story with better than usual Tuska art.

Peter: "Follow the Piper" makes no sense whatsoever but I enjoyed it anyway. Why was the ghostly Mr. Lucey blowing a pipe? Did it have anything to do with the way he murdered his wife? I'm not sure that was made clear so it was out of left field. The ghostly lover warning of danger has been used countless times and yet it's pretty effective in this case. Mona seems pretty calm as she witnesses Vic's wrecked car (complete with a wrecked Vic half hanging out the car window!) being lifted from the lake. George Tuska seems a little more reined in here than over at Marvel. Beautiful Mona somehow manages to avoid the signature Tuska buckteeth.

John: It's no Carnival of Souls, that's for damn sure.

"The $30,000 Corpse"
Jack: Sprung from jail after serving three years for robbery, a man goes home to discover that his father has died and is about to be buried in his son's favorite suit. Unexpectedly, it's a "$30,000 Corpse," since the son had sewn the loot from the robbery in the suit's lining. This four-pager is too short to get any momentum going and the art is weak.

Peter: The title of "$30,000 Corpse" pretty much gives away the "surprise," doesn't it? I'm not sure a guy who committed cold blood murder for thirty grand would stand by while his dead father is buried in it. Not even a late night exhumation?

John: And this one's no Mr. Sardonicus.

Jack: A castaway is "Frightened to Death!" by his own haggard reflection in the water right before he reaches land.

Peter: Two stories by George Tuska in one issue has been determined by the surgeon general to be hazardous to my, and Jack's, health.

"Frightened to Death!"
Jack: When Truman's wife tells him that she plans to cut him out of her will, he pushes her overboard into the drink during what was supposed to be a romantic moonlight cruise. He learns to his sorrow that "Till Death Do Us Unite." The death is ruled accidental at the inquest but poor Truman is told that, since his late wife's body was not recovered, he must wait seven years for her to be declared dead so he can inherit. He soon goes mad, convinced that she is torturing him from beyond the grave. He dives into the water to find her body and two corpses are washed ashore the next morning. Every time I see this business about having to wait seven years to be declared dead I am reminded of a Superman TV episode where a crook hid in a box for seven years. It's called "The Mysterious Cube."

"Till Death Do
Us Unite"
Peter: "Till Death" is a slightly above average "revenge" tale with a few Unexpected twists. Truman's revelation that he's actually been doing the deeds himself surprised me, as I kept waiting for Vivian's ghost to pop up. The spectre never shows, so all the creepy goings-on could be ascribed to Truman's guilty conscience in the end. Another Unexpected plus was the constant murmur of "Poor man, he really loved her" from the neighbors around him, the same neighbors who pity Truman for committing suicide because "he couldn't stand the thought of living without her!" The only borderline supernatural occurrence then would be the two bodies washing ashore in the same place at the same time. What's not Unexpected about this one is the stellar art job by Jim Aparo (channeling Neal Adams).

Jack: Aparo's art here is quite nice, like the work he did on Batman.

Peter: "Till Death" is good, but the best story of the issue is the reprinted Johnny Peril tale, "Queen of the Snows!" wherein Johnny must climb Mt. Subara to get to the bottom of a legend that has claimed the life of a skilled climber. Beautifully illustrated by Alex Toth, "Queen" is a genuinely suspenseful story. We never find out exactly what Subara is, but I think that adds to the general eeriness of the piece. Definitely the best Johnny Peril story I've yet read and, all in all, a good month for reprints. This 52-page metamorphosis might not be a bad one after all.

"Queen of the Snows!"
Jack: I agree with you about the Johnny Peril story. I wonder if the decision to increase the page count caught the editors short of new material and they had to plug holes quickly with reprints. That could explain some of the reprints that we'd just seen a few years before. We'll have to see if the number of new pages goes up in the upcoming months. As we learned from our Batman blog, the 52 pages for 25 cents experiment won't last long.



What, no Yoko?