Monday, February 13, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 25: August 1952







The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
                        25: August 1952


Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #7

"Iwo Jima!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"The Landing!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"The Caves!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Mopping Up!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

This special seventh issue of Frontline Combat, like Two-Fisted Tales #26 before it, seeks to depict a legendary bit of warfare through four interconnected vignettes, the subject here being that symbolic mainstay of the Second World War, Iwo Jima, starting off with a blazing front cover by Kurtzman, one of his very best for the war titles.

The first titular tale finds us in an American bombardier plane as the crew tries to hone in on a suitable spot for landing after their engines suffer from heavy enemy fire. The navigator shouts that the nearby Japanese island will do in a pinch for their emergency descent. One of the boys on board prays that his big brother in the Marines has made it safely in his trek across the island. Following a stunning splash by Wally Wood, the majority of the story’s six pages are then devoted to setting the stage of Iwo Jima—literally. Kurtzman outlines the actual geological formation of the island from its origins as an underwater mountain range to the ugly, crag-studded piece of volcanic ash that it is "today." While this doesn’t necessarily come across as thrilling reading, the detailing of Iwo Jima’s “birth” gives the seemingly inconsequential island of eight square miles an epic and primordial feel, an unconventional arena for one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in modern warfare. As such, the lead story doesn’t end up feeling much like a story at all, more of a prologue, and it also means that Wood’s talents are limited to some staid and stilted layouts, but Wood’s power manages to shine through in the occasional panel and ably prepares us for all the hardship and loss to come.

The trusty team of Severin ’n’ Elder pick up right where we left off (and the pace) with their tale, “The Landing!” It’s D-Day, 1945, and the Marines rush ever onward against a constant barrage of Japanese firepower. Some troops are more acclimated to the heat of battle than others; others like the man called Blackie, who drags his feet at every possible moment in fear of death, a habit that leads to the slaughter of his own comrades when they stop to goad him along. Their advance comes to a standstill just outside a yawning cave as a sequestered sniper patiently takes out more of their number even after the Marines respond with their own artillery. Blackie insists on hugging the ground and keeping his eye on the cave. An end to the butchery finally seems to come with the arrival of a flame-throwing tank that promptly incinerates the cave. As the troops move in, the sergeant goes to lambaste Blackie for lagging behind yet again only to see that Blackie is dead and has been for some time, his position on the ground maintained and a bullet in his head.

"The Landing"

Though “The Landing!” has a twist ending that seems to indicate Kurtzman was trying to impart a moral lesson to the reader, it’s hard to say just what he might have been going for. (Don’t judge others lest, etc.?) The second chapter in this saga offers a decent amount of action and features several panels that are classic Severin/Elder compositions, from the bloodless yet blunt image of a Marine getting a sniper’s bullet right between the eyes to the silent, majestic violence of the tank pouring hellfire upon the cave like a dragon out of legend.

"The Caves"
In the next segment, “The Caves,” we see Severin going on one of his solo jaunts and our reader sympathies realigned to identify with the Japanese army ferreted away in the earthen honeycombs of Iwo Jima. There is only one soldier among the group who protests against his comrades’ slavish devotion to the Emperor and killing as many Americans as possible for the glory of their country. The rest are of a like mind as their steadfast commander who orders two kamikaze soldiers to attack the flame-throwing tank with bombs while the rest flee in the other direction. Machine guns force them back into the caves where they resolve to kill themselves via hand grenades rather than face torture and degradation at the hands of the Americans. Our doubting soldier is the only one whose hand stays on the grenade. His shame at his inability to join his brothers outweighs his fear of death, so he charges out of the caves waving his grenade to proudly die at the feet of his enemies.

Good on Kurtzman for shifting his perspective to “the enemy’s” side of the story, but in of itself “The Caves!” won’t be convincing readers anytime soon that there were “good guys” fighting on the side of the Japanese. The majority of the Axis troops are depicted here as dogmatic and completely resolute in their mission to take down every last man standing, even if it means dying themselves. (It’s funny, because had it been the Americans spouting these lines we would probably have viewed them as being terribly heroic and righteous. So it goes.) Severin seems to be improving with each solo assignment he takes on.

Davis doing what Davis does best.
With the brunt of the battle for the island mostly finished, all our American boys need worry about now is “Mopping Up!” The endless warfare has taken its toll more heavily on some than on others. Others like Corporal Ralph, a man desperately trying to cling to the last tattered shreds of his resolve as nearly everyone close to him dies from the final bursts of enemy attack. But witnessing mortars dropping directly on men, seeing buddies trip mines, and watching as fresh-faced comrades whose names he hasn’t even learned yet get felled by bullets is enough to crack Ralph’s fragile mind in two, leaving him a silent husk completely succumbed to a pall of war fatigue. As the shell-shocked corporal sits in the mud, the fighter plane from the opening chapter grinds into the earth behind him. A friendly, familiar voice rings out. Ralph recognizes his baby brother, and for a few blissful moments the corporal is able to celebrate the wonders of life even in the face of tragedy and death.

“Mopping Up!” starts off with a great splash panel by Jack Davis showing a trio of Marines standing in the artist’s indelible hangdog style over the corpse of the doubting Japanese soldier from “The Caves!” and then proceeds to only get better from there. It is a fitting final note to the ceaseless fight for Iwo Jima, the art as bone-weary and ragged as the characters who occupy the story. Davis’s natural talent for depicting hysteria and its physical manifestations is put to good use throughout “Mopping Up!” as Ralph rants and weeps over each successive death of his brothers in arms. The note of happiness and renewal that the story leaves off on might strike some as an example of Dickensian-levels of coincidence, but the harsh arrival of the fighter plane that occurs behind a shaken and oblivious Ralph results in one of Davis’s best single panels yet, an image that more than a few contemporary readers could probably identify with in these interesting political times of ours.--Jose

Comfortably Numb: The 2016-17 Season in Images by Jack Davis.
("Mopping Up!")

Peter: Clint Eastwood tackled Iwo Jima much the same way as Harvey Kurtzman, looking at the battle from both sides in his films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both 2006). As with Harvey's special issue on the Chungjin Reservoir (in Two-Fisted #26), these four "chapters" aren't so much stories as vignettes but all four pack a punch. "Iwo Jima!" provides not only a history lesson but a geology tutorial as well ("molten lava when it cools becomes rock . . . ," etc.). Until the wrap-up panels in "Mopping Up!," we have no idea of the fate of the bombardiers. "The Landing!" and "The Caves!" both close with wallops of irony but it's the finale, "Mopping Up!," which has the most impact, thanks to Jack Davis's perfect art. Davis's G.I. grunts are unshaven, unwashed, mentally broken slobs. There was some concern months ago that Davis wasn't coming along as an artist; that may be true of his horror stories but his contributions to Harvey's war tales is undeniable. It's a nice change of pace that Harvey resisted having the reunited brothers taken out by hidden snipers. A semi-happy ending then to a costly battle.

Corporal Seabrook shows Private Enfantino
what he thinks of this issue.
("The Landing")

Jack: I liked "The Landing!" and "The Caves!" best but I agree that this issue is a letdown. "Iwo Jima!" is a boring waste of Wally Wood's talents. In "The Landing!," things start to perk up when humanist Kurtzman begins to focus on individual soldiers, but it's surprising that the famous flag-raising moment is not shown and barely mentioned. "The Caves!" features a fine switch of perspective and "Mopping Up!" has the best art of the issue but loses points for the coincidental scene at the end when the two brothers meet on the island. Bob Kanigher would later over use similar coincidences in his 1960s DC War comics.


Feldstein
Weird Fantasy #14

"The Exile!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Expert!" ★ 1/2
"The Ad!" 
Stories by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Close Call!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mad Journey!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, and Roy Krenkel



Dr. Hugo Strange weighs in.
("The Exile!")
The United Galactic Empire has devised a way to weed out evil from their planet: all criminals are brainwashed and shipped to a prison planet far away. Their memories are stripped to prevent them from remembering exactly where they came from and, as the years go by, each successive batch of "immigrants" is given just a little more intelligence so that they can fit in with the previous settlers. U.G.E. pilots X-51 and Z-7 (this planet has foregone names) commiserate on the state of the prison planet as they transport its latest "prisoner." Z-7, the elder of the two, explains to X-51 the history of the project as they prepare to land on the prison planet's moon. When asked, Z-7 tells X-51 that the planet's name is Earth, the year is 1914, and "The Exile!" is named Adolph (sic) Hitler. "The Exile" has a humdinger of a final panel but the whole narrative threatens to sag due to a needlessly complex expository (one you'll need to read a couple times to digest). Very clever how Al rolls out the first reveal ("The prison populace call their planet . . ."- turn the page - "Earth!") almost as though to settle the audience down before he drops the chandelier on them. We've known these space travelers are talking about Earth (even though they haven't named it) all along so we're actually pretty disappointed that this is the big shock, but then Al giggles and whispers, "You don't know the half of it, kid!" Wally continues to draw the fittest men in capes in all of EC science fiction.

"The Expert!"
Al and Bill are running out of ideas for science fiction stories (don't we know it!) when Al hits on the idea of a complete issue dedicated to landing on Mars. Despite his cheapskate mentality, Bill agrees to hire the preeminent expert on all things Red Planet, Professor Guernsey Von Holstein. "The Expert!" gets right to work, explaining to the EC boys that Mars has several canals, "und on de canals iss gondolas!" Martians look just like humans, with one exception: "ven a Martian iss getting excited, out from his head is popping two little antennas!" Realizing they've wasted time and money, the boys rip up Von Holstein's contract and kick him out of their office. This does not go down well with the nutty professor, as evidenced by the two antennae popping from his head.

While finishing up Weird Space-Operas #69, Bill and Al receive devastating news: one of their advertisers has pulled his spot in the latest issue and now the page is blank. What to do? Quick-witted Al comes up with a phony ad for a round-trip to Mars and the page is filled. Some time later, a fan shows up at the EC offices to thank the boys for running "The Ad!," which helped introduce him to his new wife, Glodsk, a three-eyed, four-armed beauty from Mars. Spa Fon! Harmless piece of fun; a look behind-the-scenes at the EC think-tank. It's heartening to know that both Al and Bill realized they were mining an empty vein with their stories on how "the world is wiped out" and a scientist with a gorgeous assistant and a shrew for a wife. Both benefit from an obvious self-deprecating humor; neither took themselves too seriously despite the thousands of letters received crowning them kings of comics. With the humor inherent in these little one-offs and in the horror titles, you just knew it was only a matter of time before the boys would break out a genuine funny book.

"Close Call"
Doctor Annette Beard is seemingly the last person left alive after a nuclear explosion at the Atomic Energy Commission wipes out . . . well, a good portion of something. Hunkered in her "lead-walled counter-radiation chamber," Dr. Beard manages to miss out on the deadly radioactive cloud that descends on . . . a whole lot of people. Ann strolls the streets, skipping over mummified remains and dreaming of the days when jewelry meant something to her and men fawned over her. Now, Ann would give anything to meet up with a big, strong, handsome, radiation-free male so she heads to the Hotel Grand, books herself into the Presidential Suite and has a nap. Her rest is interrupted by the ringing of the pay phone in the lobby. Ann rushes down, lifts the receiver and is ecstatic to hear a man's voice. When Ann identifies herself, the voice apologizes, explains he has the wrong number, and hangs up. The "last man on Earth" tale is an old one (perhaps best told by Richard Matheson) and we've even had "last woman on Earth" stories as well. "Close Call!," though not entirely successful, is at least a bit different if not forthcoming on some of the pertinent facts surrounding the "massive explosion." How widespread is the damage and death toll? It's only one power plant that goes up but Al seems to imply we're talking the whole U.S. of A., if not the globe. How does Annette keep that gorgeous blonde hair shimmering after months in a bunker and then days of wandering and tripping over corpses? Most importantly, who is the mystery caller? Actually, that last bit remaining a mystery adds an extra star to my rating.

"Mad Journey"
Crown Oil Company President Rodney Simon is presented with a fabulous gift from one of his employees: the man has concocted a jet fuel that would enable Simon to rocket a ship to the moon. Realizing what a P.R. dream this is (not to mention the "one small step for man . . ." stuff), Simon okays the project but, halfway through, signals are received from Venus. Simon decides to set his course a bit further and the ship blasts off on schedule. Unfortunately, the scientists had not planned on the thick cloud layer that covers Venus and the ship crashes. Simon is the only survivor of the "Mad Journey!" and he hightails it through the Venusian desert, looking for some form of life. Luckily for him, the Earthman finds a huge metropolis teeming with humanoids, but when he tries to explain his situation, his rescuers throw him into an insane asylum for Venusians who insist they're from Earth. Welcome Al Williamson, artist extraordinaire, who will deliver some classic work in the future for EC Comics, and Frank Frazetta, perhaps the greatest fantasy artist of all time and a man who will do much too little work for EC. Unfortunately, "Mad Journey!" does not stand with those upcoming goodies in the Hall of Funny Book Fame. Frazetta's and Williamson's work here is flat and uninteresting, with most panels consisting of close-ups of characters looking pensive or posed. The script doesn't help things either. Al Feldstein loves his science, no matter how boring the delivery will be, and this story's filled with endless expository: "The escape velocity from Earth is seven miles per second! The escape velocity of the moon is two m.p.s. . . . but the moon has no atmosphere, hence fuel would be used in braking the ship equal to the moon's escape velocity! That makes it four m.p.s. for a grand total of eleven m.p.s. escape velocities we'd have to overcome" is just one word balloon! I'm sure several kids who read EC science fiction went on to become great scientists but I ain't one of them. Just tell me the ship is going to make it to Venus and there'll be gorgeous babes there. Why would kooks on Venus insist they're from Earth and how would they know to call it Earth?  --Peter


The moral of this story:
blame the aliens!
("The Exile!")
Jack: I was excited when I saw that we were going to get a story drawn by Williamson and Frazetta, but the result was a terrible disappointment. Feldstein's script is yet another example of scientists standing around talking to each other and it gives the great artists absolutely nothing to work with. Similarly mind-numbing is "The Exile!" in which Wood also gets to draw people standing, sitting and lounging around while they talk to each other. The final panel is a surprise but it doesn't make up for the rest of the story. The two quickies are funny and cute and continue to demonstrate why Joe Orlando has quickly become the go-to guy for humor, but the biggest surprise of the issue is the Kamen story, which is rather entertaining and has a terrific surprise ending.

Jose: There are great chunks of this issue that are drier than a two-week-old pork chop, but even so there can still be found several silver threads among the mold. “The Exile!” manages to play a good game of keep-away with the reader, cleverly navigating its way from one neat, if albeit obvious, revelation to another. Stories with this type of denouement can be fun in their own right, but I can’t help but always see them as sedatives for the conscience: wouldn’t it be preferable to think that all our worldly misfortunes were caused by alien jailers dumping their worst inmates upon us rather than dealing with the fact that it’s really just been us the whole time? The leaden science fair presentation-jargon that anchors “The Exile!” also makes reading “Mad Journey!” an unfortunate expedition in of itself. I was much fonder of the art than my cohorts. Sure the action may be limited, but Williamson, Frazetta, and Krenkel work a good amount of mood out of these static scenes, their lean, sinewy, and aquiline characters occupying some noir-shaded locales that include a posh office reeking macho status with its brazen sculptures of the human form. The two Quickies on hand are pretty hilarious; I love Gaines and Feldstein in this screwball mode. My favorite line was from “The Ad!”: just before he raids the cash-lined pockets of EC Comics’s biggest fan, Bill offers the proclamation, “Give this man a box of marshmallows, Al!” This is the Humor in a Jugular Vein that I pine for. They say every good story should leave you with more questions than answers, but “Close Call!” refuses to answer certain questions that would determine if the story ever had a genuine external conflict to begin with outside of Dr. Beard’s repulsion to the advances of men. At the end of the day, though, I much prefer a story like this over one that goes (way) out of its way to explain its central phenomena. Taken on its own terms, this is a fairly chilling parable that finds a coldly guarded woman being pushed back by a cold, guarded universe that wants nothing of her cries for companionship. For Dr. Annette Beard, the end of the world comes not with a bang but with the sound of a dial tone.


Ingels
The Haunt of Fear #14

"A Little Stranger!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"Take Your Pick!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Ship-Shape!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Sid Check

"This Little Piggy . . ." ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis


Some years ago, Bavarian villagers were horrified to find a corpse with two puncture marks in its neck and evidence of flesh eaten away. They conclude that it is the work of a vampire and a werewolf, and they're right! Up in a cave in the Alps, Elicia the vampire and Zorgo the werewolf are carrying on a torrid love affair that has to pause between full moons. The villagers find them, kill them, and bury them in the Devil's Graveyard, but that doesn't stop them from being wed by moonlight, with a crowd of corpses in attendance. A year later, Elicia welcomes "A Little Stranger!" to their new family, and the baby is none other than the Old Witch!

Ain't she a cutie?
("A Little Stranger!")

Although it was reprinted in the 1971 collection Comix, I don't remember this story, so I was completely surprised by the identity of the cute little tyke. Ghastly really outdoes himself here, what with the tremendous cover and the smooth and horrific art gracing this charming little fable. Gaines and Feldstein have fun with the Gothic horror genre and we are all the better for it.

Why so chipper?
("Take Your Pick!")
Stuart Braden is so mean! What is his worst act? "Take Your Pick!" Is it when he turns away a poor child at the door begging for a scrap of food? How about refusing to help the former partner from whom he stole a business? Putting the dog out in the snow? Refusing to help a man lying by the side of the road? For Stuart's wife Emma, the last straw comes when he refuses to pay for an operation and her mother dies. Stuart was proud of his heart of ice, so when Emma snaps she takes an ice pick and tries to chop it out. The cops find her still poking away with an ice pick at hubby's corpse.

Ebenezer Scrooge had nothing on Stuart Braden, who is so mean and cruel that it gets ridiculous. Kamen's art is particularly wooden in this story, but the final panel, with Emma chopping away at Stuart's chest, made me laugh out loud. For some reason, his cruelty toward Emma's Mom reminded me of Steve Martin's old routine, "Mad at My Mother."

Masterpiece Theater Presents:
The Grime of the Ancient Mariner.
("Ship-Shape!")
A small plane crashes in the Pacific and the four people aboard escape in an inflatable life raft, drifting in shark-infested waters for two days before seeing a ship. Yet not everything is "Ship-Shape!" on the abandoned and derelict tanker that they board, since it is covered with a hungry, oozing fungus that devours first one man and then another. The plane's pilot and the sole female passenger return to the life raft but, right before they can be rescued by a passing plane, they are eaten up by the same hungry ooze, a bit of which got on the raft when it touched the ship.

This is our first exposure to Sid Check, whose art looks more Golden Age than New Trend to me. Still, I like it, and I enjoyed the story, which seems rather Lovecraftian.

It's enough to make you spit!
("This Little Piggy . . .")
Lt. Horace Sturdy of the Royal Bengal Lancers visits his uncle, who is the governor of a walled settlement near Meerut on the River Ganges in India. Horace is dazzled by the local wild boars and wants to hunt and kill one, but his uncle warns him that the beasts are sacred to the local people and that killing one would be most unwise. The idiot nephew goes hunting anyway and his manservant is forced to kill a boar to save his master's life. Horace has it prepared and served for dinner to his uncle's horror. The uncle apologizes to the local tribal chief and tells Horace he must leave right away, but Horace decides he wants to take home a boar's head for display on his wall. He kills another boar but is then chased by a local tribesman, who drives a spear through him and kills him. That night, the governor is served Horace on a platter!

"This Little Piggy . . ." is obviously going to end with Horace on a serving dish, so reading it is just a matter of seeing how Feldstein and Davis get us from point A to point B. The art is nothing special but the last panel is fun.--Jack


When the bare*bones staff thinks of Heaven, it looks something like this!
("A Little Stranger!")

Peter: The synopsis for "A Little Stranger!" might sound like a really bad Spanish horror movie starring Paul Naschy but the sheer goofiness of the story is what pushes it into classic status for me. Gaines and Feldstein clearly decided to poke fun at the horror genre, in particular the Universal monster fests such as House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein, capped off by that wacky final full-page panel. Thirteen years later, Archie Goodwin would pay homage to “A Little Stranger!” with “Monster Rally” (Creepy #4, August 1965), an origin story for Uncle Creepy (illustrated by Angelo Torres). I only have one technical question: how did the lovely couple make it to the wedding and then . . . um, make it? They're both dead dead. Are they in some kind of spirit world? Should I stop asking dumb questions? "Take Your Pick!" is yet another utterly predictable Feldstein/Kamen preachy about loving your neighbor and "This Little Piggy . . .!" would be an utter boar without Jack's crazy graphics. That leaves "Ship-Shape!," which I liked very much. A nice, nasty climax and a plot-device not yet run into the ground (the deadly abandoned ship) add up to a solid chiller.

Jose: It’s stories like “A Little Stranger!” that make you genuinely thankful for being alive. For those who grew up on the horror genre and fell in love with all the creaky conventions from fluttering bats to tilting graves, the lead tale in this issue reads like a true love letter, inked in blood and written with the utmost affection. Bill and Al might have been attempting to poke some light-hearted fun and send up the genre’s hoariest tropes with this “origin story,” but “A Little Stranger!” is so sumptuously overheated and pulpy that it comes across to me more as a living testament as to just why all us freaks love the genre so much rather than a pointed look at some of its more silly clichés. Just look at that final scene: it’s a black wedding ceremony of a dead werewolf and a dead vampire attended by the moldering occupants of a place called the Devil’s Graveyard. If you’re not grinning ear-to-ear by the time Ingels rolls that scene out with his magnificent pencils then there is no helping you. There are few stories that could live up to the grandiose “A Little Stranger!;” the rest of this issue can’t help but look lacking in comparison, but if you’re like me you’ll be too far into your satanic swoon to mind it much. In “Take Your Pick” and “This Little Piggy …,” Feldstein goes about the business of setting up his nine-pin villains for their eventual meeting with justice in such a resolute manner that he fails to notice that his scoundrels are paper-thin; both fall limply to the ground under the weight of their one-note, incredulity-spurring behavior long before their respective punishments come rolling their way. “Ship-Shape!” tries to take a share of that old purple prose religion from “A Little Stranger!,” and though the narrative does have a small sense of robust adventure, the art by Sid Check is too ungainly to be enjoyed. His panel layout reminds me of Rudy Palais on a really bad day; all the clutter and weird anatomy but with none of Palais' frenzied weirdness to make it interesting or compelling.


Kurtzman
Two-Fisted Tales #28

"Checkers!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Pell's Point!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Alamo!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Saipan!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis




"Checkers!"
Korean soldiers Strauss and Kilpatrick are trying to finish their game of "Checkers!" when the order is given to move out. Mission: head out to a patrol that was ambushed and bring back the wounded. It's a suicide mission but the men jump in their tanks and roll. Things get dicey when the tanks run into land mines and anti-tank guns but, in the end, Strauss and Kilpatrick make it back to base to finish their game. Harvey lets the men (and the art) tell the tale; this is a rare example of a comic story sans captions. An interesting vignette, with great Elder/Severin art, but nothing we haven't seen already.

The American revolution in full force, our troops battle the British at "Pell's Point!" When the British arrive, commanded by Sir William Howe,  they suffer heavy casualties at the muskets of the Yankees but they just keep on coming. Though his comrades are ordered to retreat and regroup, Yankee Jamie Kemp refuses, opting to charge the Brits by himself. Left alone, he is captured and hanged.

Mexican troops storm the Alamo and kill all 150 Texians within the walls (including Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett). Santa Anna wins this first battle but the bloody siege reinvigorates a "disorganized Texas" and, soon, Santa Anna's men are wiped out. Gorgeously illustrated but little more than two chapters in Harvey Kurtzman Teaches History to the Kids. Not that I don't respect all the work put into these little glimpses into past conflicts; Harvey probably had the Encyclopedia Britannica and little else to draw information from, as opposed to today's world where the entire conflict is given in minute detail on Wikipedia. I give the edge to "Pell" thanks to its dynamic art; Severin without Elder turns out to be a glass half empty a la Elder's solo story in this month's Weird Science (below).

"Pell's Point!"

"Saipan!"
Battling the Japanese on the island of "Saipan!," an American platoon is told that a banzai attack from the surrounding cane fields is imminent. Realizing they're too close to effectively stave off a banzai attack, the soldiers pull up stakes and head further down the road. Platoon leader Bartoli is hit (by enemy fire? maybe.) and critically wounded so Pvt. Leinhoff falls back to aid him, knowing he'll be flying solo against the enemy. Meanwhile, a single Japanese is beating the cane with his sword, looking for soldiers. Finally realizing they're missing Leinhoff, the platoon stops on a nearby hill and spots both their comrade and his impending doom. They unload on the Japanese soldier and reunite with Leinhoff just as their C.O. marches up and informs them that the banzai attack was nothing but a rumor. Like the previous two stories, "Saipan!" is designed to teach us a little something about our military history but, unlike "Pell" and "Alamo," there's a separate story to be told within the story. The situation these men find themselves would be almost comical if it wasn't highly fatal. Leinhoff drops and waits for the wave of banzais sure to come out of the cane field any minute, unaware of the menace from behind. When the platoon first spots Leinhoff, they mistake him for a "Jap" with a machine gun, lying in wait for an unlucky GI. FUBAR indeed! --Peter

"Alamo!"
Jack: You think he was hanged at the end of "Pell's Point!"? I studied that panel and still can't tell. I think he was stabbed with a bayonet or shot, but it's very hard to decipher. Such is the confusion of war as depicted by Harvey Kurtzman in each of this issue's stories. "Checkers!" gives a sense of the disorientation one must feel during tank fighting and "Saipan!" mirrors "Pell's Point!" in demonstrating how a single man's death may be overlooked in the chaos of battle. It was hard for me to read "Alamo!" because my ancestors died there and I don't want to see it from the enemy's point of view.

Jose: This is an issue from the war titles that manages to have very good art from all the contributors across the board. I even enjoyed John Severin’s solo effort this time out; “Alamo” is, in my opinion, head and shoulders above his past work without Will Elder at his side, and there are a number of panels that could almost pass for another of their collaborations. Both that tale and “Pell’s Point” are fairly strong entries from Professor Kurtzman’s War History class, but for me “Alamo” gets the edge because it has dynamic art throughout—art that doesn’t rely on those lame topographical map shots from “Pell’s Point”—and is much stronger and more complex on a narrative level as it tells of the infamous siege nested in the framework of a Spanish soldier on a firing squad executing the last five remaining Texans from the battle. “Saipan” could pass for another of the strange-but-true anecdotes from Bennett Cerf that Bill and Al liked (and appropriated) so much. If Kurtzman really did hear the story straight from the mouth of WWII vet, he struck the right note of urban folklore in this tale of high coincidence.

"Saipan!"


Wood
Weird Science #14

"There'll Be Some Changes Made!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Inside Story!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Will Elder

"Strategy!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Sid Check

"They Shall Inherit" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Sixty-two light years out from Earth, an intrepid space crew gets the literal jolt of their lives when their overdrive conks out, leaving them without feasible means of returning home. The only thing they can do is to search the nearest solar system for a life-sustaining planet to land on and make their repairs. This they find in the form of a vertiginous world that contains ample amounts of I-life (that’s “an intelligent form of life” to all you kids playing hooky out there), including a race of humanoids bearing a remarkable likeness to Earth’s race of Homo sapiens. The aliens retreat to weird, igloo-shaped structures at the advance of the astronauts, but once the Earthlings make nice with the natives by way of that ever-handy EC invention, the universal translator, all’s fun and feasting among the new set of friends. Things get decidedly friendlier when Commander Morrison sets his sights on gorgeous alien Luwana, and soon Morrison figures he’s head over heels, turning in his resignation to his second mate and vowing to stay on planet Gastropodia (wait for it) with his new mate. It isn’t long before Morrison starts to add up some odd facts about his new home, like how all of Gastropodia’s children are housed in an enclosed nursery and only brought into the city once they can leave their own igloo-huts behind. There’s also the matter of Luwana cutting her hair short and losing all her luscious curves. (Good Lord! *Choke*) With his romantic advances spurned for the last time and all the mental tumblers clicking into place, Morrison enters the secluded nursery and confirms his worst suspicions: the people of Gastropodia are snails! Well, they look like people, but they act like snails: the igloo-huts are actually their shells, and the changes that Luwana has been undergoing are signs of the mollusk’s hermaphroditic nature. That’s right; when Morrison returns home he finds hunky blonde Luwana in bed tsking her husband’s slowness in changing his gender.

Hubba-hubba-hubby.
("There'll Be Some Changes Made!")

Though they might have lacked in execution at times, EC surely made up for the deficit with a surfeit of new and completely strange ideas. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made!” features one such springboard with its race of sex-swapping aliens, but the lead-up is fairly mundane and completely identical to any number of the other “astronauts stranded on an alien planet” stories we’ve read. The disparate clues shaping this mystery make for a solid head-scratcher as the reader tries to decipher the strange rituals and “changes” alluded to in the text, minus Feldstein’s on-the-nose dubbing of the planet, yet for all that I couldn’t quite get invested in the proceedings, superior Wood art notwithstanding. Having said that, this story has a wild round-up of a climax, one that skates along the rim of the sticky sexual situations that EC was so fond of portraying in their SF books. How those last two panels escaped the wrath of Wertham and the Senate Subcommittee, we’ll never know.

Don't we all?
("Inside Story!")
There’s some high strangeness going on in the Big City: men are being found inexplicably dead. Not only that, but when examined by the coroner, the bodies are found to be missing internal organs, organs that have been harvested without any visible incision marking the skin! How could this be possible, and why are only notorious gangsters and racketeers being targeted by this unassailable murderer? Coupled with these bizarre crimes is a series of mind-blowing miracles: several key government figures—the Secretary of State, an atomic scientist, an army general—left for dead by modern medicine to each man’s respective illness recover seemingly overnight, their diseased organs now healthy and vital. No one manages to put two and two together, and the police only receive a gruesome stroke of luck when the coroner digs out a wallet from the body of the third victim! The owner of the wallet, one Smedley Throbbins, surgical engineer, is brought in for questioning, but the little old elf gives himself up right away, claiming that he has used a device of his own invention to slip in and out of the fourth dimension to swipe organs from the naughty and bestow them upon the nice for the betterment of mankind like a macabre Santa Claus. Needless to say, incarceration is impossible for Throbbins, as he amply demonstrates by disappearing from police headquarters.

Come on, kids! Time for your lECture!
("Inside Story!")

The gonzo workings of this humorous SF tale are given a sheen of Golden Age innocence by Will Elder’s cutesy illustrations. Despite the graphic nature of the story, there’s not a drop of blood to be seen, further adding to this one’s docile charms. Judging by this first solo effort, Elder sans Severin is a more palatable brew than Severin sans Elder; for all the art’s primitiveness, it remains easier on the eyes than the naked pencils from past Severin assignments. You might think for a moment that you’ve accidentally stumbled upon a strip from the Sunday funnies rather than a yarn from the house that the Crypt-Keeper built, but “Inside Story!” has an offbeat beat all its own.

Peter and Jack ready Jose to
write his parts of the EC post.
("Strategy!")
The year is 2152, the place an idyllic wood where Andrew Hufflebein sits in isolated reverie far and away from the humming space cabs and gleaming towers that compose this bustling world of the future. His reverie is suddenly and rudely spoiled by the arrival of two chitinous aliens, aliens who waste no time in attacking Andrew and severing his brain from his body. Scuttling back to their ship hidden in the woods, the aliens gloat in triumph at the mental pictures from Hufflebein’s brain they are able to conjure with the help of their advanced technology. From what they can see, Earth’s military forces are shockingly puny and helpless, with crude weapons and impractical uniforms all adding up to a surefire defeat in the bulging eyes of the two invaders. Figuring that the planet’s defense system is so weakened that they can conquer the terra all on their lonesome, the aliens take off into space and fire a missile aimed at the capital of the world, Paris. Their preemptive attack is snuffed by the military who then promptly respond with a missile aimed at the alien ship. Meanwhile, back in the woods, two custodians  go out to bring Hufflebein back to the Briarwood Insane Asylum where he permanently resides as a delusional fanatic who fancies himself the real Napoleon Bonaparte.

You said it!
("Strategy!")
“Strategy!” certainly earns points for wryly turning the “Napoleon nutjob” trope on its (cracked) head by using it as the plot device that drives our alien villains to believe they’re more than a match for the planet, but one has to seriously wonder why aliens who have technology advanced enough to peer into a man’s brain and scan through his thoughts like a slideshow wouldn’t be able to, you know, infiltrate Earth’s military system to see for themselves just what kind of firepower we were packing. It’s like seeing Superman punch his way out of a bank vault and then strain to open a jar of mayonnaise. The twist is almost clever enough to allow us to avoid that rather large oversight, and Sid Check’s bland, mucky artwork does everything it can to sink our opinion even lower (his grubby insectile aliens are pretty cool), but “Strategy!” manages to walk away from the rubble as a quirky little tale.

That cat has seen some serious crap.
("They Shall Inherit")
Everyone stationed at the base for the Savannah River Project breathes a sigh of relief when the radiation spill from the atomic pile is quickly and efficiently contained. None are more relieved than Dr. Heston and Professor Krinsky, two lab coats working diligently on mastering a new time-traveling device of their own making at the behest of one Colonel Abel. Abel has his own worries outside of this pet project, namely the mounting nuisance of large, feral rats breaking into the base and wreaking general havoc. Poisoning by the contamination squad eventually proves fruitless, and simply tracking down the beasts becomes progressively more difficult as the crafty little devils seem to be two steps ahead of their would-be assassins. Meanwhile, Heston and Krinsky have started placing lab cats in their chronological transmitter, but their attempts to send the kitties into the future by increments of millennia results first in the cats' returning in states of heightened fear and frenzy and then later slashed to ribbons. A simultaneous discovery by the Colonel’s crack team reveals the inevitable truth: the rats are consciously outwitting their hunters and even using tools to make their escape. Back at the lab, Heston and Krinsky behold the latest slaughtered cat returned from the future and the figure who speaks to them from its corpse: an ambulatory, talking rat in full military regalia who chastises the “savage-brained” humans for teleporting his people’s mortal but long-extinct enemy to his time.

General Ratton takes command.
("They Shall Inherit")

“They Shall Inherit” isn’t quite the rip-snorting farce that Joe Orlando has penned for the last few issues of the SF books. It saves the trippiest image for the very end, as well as those trademark gaping-mawed faces, but for the most part Feldstein’s script, whether intentionally or not, acts as a nicely rendered mounting of suspense that pits two tangentially-related storylines against each other to highlight the cryptic clues and discoveries that crop up in each of them. Thankfully, there isn’t any time wasted on a drawn-out explanation for the rats’ advanced progression along the evolutionary scale either; the brief mention we receive of the “contained” radiation leak is enough for us to understand that the vermin have become contaminated and have now mutated into super-rats. Science! --Jose

Peter, seen here feeling the sudden loss
of no Jack Kamen stories in this issue.
("Inside Story!")
Peter: Al continues to fiddle with what's acceptable in a 1950s funny book; first, he showed us a pregnant man (to think!), then a men's room (shudder!), and now, a transsexual (GASP!). The big question, of course, is: will Arnold, who loved Luwanna so much he shunned his job and his planet, stand by his man even after the ultimate change? "Inside Story!" is one of those Feldstein stories (like  "Mad Journey!" in WF #14) that's so jam-packed with scientific theories and intellectual gobbledygook that my brain was misfiring by the third page ("I don't care what anyone says! You can't cut out a man's heart and still leave his flesh intact!"). Will Elder and John Severin made a dynamite team but Will was not so spectacular when he went the solo route (at least not yet). Sid Check still sticks out like a sore thumb (here he's trying his darndest to be Wally but failing miserably) but the story's a keeper, capped with a clever twist. Speaking of clever twists, the one waiting for us at the climax of "They Shall Inherit" is laugh out loud hilarious. That Atomic Energy Commission sure gets around (they destroyed part or all of the Earth in WF #14); devious devils those guys. Joe Orlando does a good enough job with the visuals but this was, obviously, aching for the Wood. (Nice phrasing, Pete! -Jose) So, with the exception of the dreary "Inside Story!," this was a stellar issue of WS!

Jack, pictured here responding to
Jose's request for a check.
("They Shall Inherit")
Jack: It's all relative, isn't it--the science fiction books seem to be the biggest letdowns every other month, so when one is better than usual it stands out. I laughed at Al's goofy captions in "There'll Be Some Changes Made!," where he feels to need to define "I-Life" and "Humanoids" for the reader. The story is funny and surprising and thank goodness they picked Wally Wood to draw a yarn where all of the women on the planet are beautiful! I enjoy Will Elder's art more than you do and, while I love his work with Severin, I think Elder solo is better than Severin solo. "Strategy!" seems overly long but Check turns in another nice job on the artwork and the twist is funny. "They Shall Inherit" is just bizarre, but once again Joe Orlando's art is a real hoot.



Next Week:
The curtain closes on
The War That Time Forgot!
Join us as we get sorta emotional.


4 comments:

B McMolo said...

I can't thank you enough for doing this series. Just awesome fun. What a bizarre month. I think I like those WEIRD FANTASY stories more than you do, but I'd be a terrible EC reviewer and all my entries would just echo the Chris Farley Show. "Remember this one? Wasn't it awesome?"

That Graham Ingels "A Little Stranger" panel is just beautiful. Ditto for all the FRONTLINE COMBAT and TWO-FISTED TALES panel. Such a treasure trove.

I congratulate you on another successful overview and also for managing to showcasing the wonderful weirdness of this month's issue of WEIRD SCIENCE. That's probably one of my most-remembered issues of the title.

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks for the kind words! It's a lot of work but we all enjoy reading and writing about these comics. I'm very glad you enjoy our posts!

Peter Enfantino said...

And we can't thank you enough for coming around the tree-house every two weeks, B!
I often fall into the "Chris Farley" method of reviewing when it comes to Wally Wood's art; I just have to get out the thesaurus to change the words now and then!
I hope you're reading and enjoying the War blog as well.

B McMolo said...

I am indeed and the Hitchcock one, as well. I'm not as familiar with those, so the wealth of detail in those is very enjoyable. It's interesting terrain.

I've got to up my commenting game to keep up with you guys! Cheers and keep 'em coming.