Monday, March 13, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 27: October 1952

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
                   27: October, 1952

Frontline Combat #8

"Thunderjet!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Alex Toth

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

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

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

Stan is one of five American soldiers stationed in South Korea who is left to man the “Night Patrol!” The rest of their squad departs into the wet, rainy night with wishes of good luck, and Stan morosely considers that some of their number probably require it more than others. The job they are tasked with seems relatively easy: watch out for North Korean troops and report back if any are found in the vicinity. But the thick, damp darkness that ensnares the group on all sides makes it nearly impossible for the soldiers to see two feet in front of their faces, let alone their entire surroundings. Stan’s depression gets the better of him as they squelch forth in the mud, convinced that this will be the night that he dies. The sergeant halts the procession at the sound of others up ahead, taking young Junior with him to investigate while the other three hang back. They return shortly, confirming the presence of a whole company of the enemy hunkering down next to a burial slope, when suddenly the Americans hear someone muttering in Korean closely behind. Realizing they’ve been followed, the night patrol scatters and ducks for cover as bullets whiz through the downpour. Fear begins to eat at Stan’s heart as he realizes the sergeant and Junior aren’t with them, but the Yankees gain the upper hand when they see the gathered silhouettes of the Koreans and then lay waste to them. The boys run back to base and are happily received by their comrades. The next morning Stan awakens to see their squad heading in the direction of the burial slope to “wipe out” the Korean company. He muses that the countryside would look serene and peaceful if it weren’t for the sight of the army. One of Stan’s comrades suggests mailing headquarters to find out if the sergeant and Junior were received elsewhere, but Stan thinks it unlikely. As he grimly intones, “We… we didn’t even get to know their last names!”

"Night Patrol!"
“Night Patrol!” is one of the more harmonious collaborations between John Severin and Will Elder in the pages of EC Comics, a powerful story served greatly by understatement with dynamic, crackling art and exceptional coloring of deep and washed-out blues by Mrs. Severin herself that places you right in that soaking paddy field next to our huddling heroes. Kurtzman’s ever-handy moral compass guides the piece on a much more subtle level than is the author’s norm. Stan’s thoughts are fatalistic but scattershot; we can’t quite get a line on just what the “point” of his grim musings are outside the fact that he’s scared of dying, which is more than enough to work with, but typically Kurtzman’s procedure has been to “set us up” for the delivery of a spiritual lesson at the tale’s conclusion that acts as a “punchline” to the events that preceded it. Here, Stan’s assessment of the Korean landscape’s beauty and the ominous presence of the troops in the last few panels feels much more natural and off-the-cuff. The story isn’t about the incongruity of nature and war, yet the final send-off feels apiece with what came before. The story’s last lines are just as delicately wrought. You can hear the stunned silence that follows them and know intrinsically exactly what Stan means. Kurtzman doesn’t even add a “The End” caption to it, as if to do so would be to desecrate all the unspoken emotions stirred up by Stan’s simple response.

As the opening lines to “Thunderjet!” tell us, this story is based on an actual Air Force mission from the Korean war that has hewed as closely to the facts as is possible. This comes through most strongly in the depiction of the verbal exchanges between Capt. Wood Paladino, our second-person protagonist, and the rest of his mates, as they take to the skies first to destroy a hung-up train and then to bat off the fleet of “MiGs” that come soaring after them. As is the norm with “air battle” stories, “Thunderjet!” is mighty lean on plot but heavy on aviary action that, even when rendered with the masterful pen of Alex Toth, can’t help but strike me only as intermittently entertaining. That being said, there are more than a fair number of excellent panels here, my favorites being all the cockpit shots with steely-eyed Paladino squinting and grimacing through his face mask. Even if this strain of war story isn’t your bag, you can’t deny the mighty, mighty powers of Messr. Toth!

Jack shows Jose what happened to the last guy
who said "no" to participating in an EC Comics marathon.
Also in this issue: not one but two history courses courtesy of Dr. Kurtzman. The first, “Caesar!,” reads like a loving profile of Roman warfare and the might of the emperor before the latter’s collapse at the bloodied blades of his conspirators. This is another entry very light on narrative intrigue, detailing Caesar’s wrath upon two factions of German and French tribes who didn’t accede to his will after the third date and thus invited holy destruction upon their people and cities. The first affair gives us a good idea of the emperor’s vicious thoroughness—one soldier wearily complains at one point of his arm growing tired after helping to chop literally every man, woman, and child in half—while the second battle outlines Caesar’s cold cleverness as his foot soldiers barrage the French castle stronghold with a volley of arrows, stones, and flaming pots while simultaneously draining their water supply. And to think we eat a salad named after this guy! The story’s only misstep is a shoehorned conclusion that has Caius and Marcus commenting on the civility of Rome as they ingloriously stuff their faces with meat. Like Toth’s before it, Wally Wood’s art is the saving grace of a middling tale.

We cried "More, more, more!"
“Chickamauga!” fares better, but only by a thin margin. Jack Davis makes for a natural fit in illustrating the battlefields of the Civil War—one wonders what he could’ve done with an adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage—and this six-pager features some primo shots of the artist’s prototypically grizzled bastards with corn cob pipes stuck in gritted teeth and moon-eyed Southerners letting rip with hearty rebel yells. Like some other stories before it, “Chickamauga!” outlines the series of seemingly small mishaps and miscommunications that led to the veritable slaughter of that battle’s losing side. Here, it’s the preemptive pulling-out of a few key Union divisions that leave the Northern army’s ranks wide open for a Confederate reception. Our key point of sympathy is a young Union buck whom we don’t learn much about other than gleaning that, in spite of his apparent fear, the youth remains resolute in holding his ground until the final minute. This minute comes all too swiftly and shockingly as a Southern general leading his troops through the gap in the Union formation makes the youth his first victim with a clear cut to his skull with the point of a saber. It’s an offsetting moment that Kurtzman brings us back to in the last panel as we contemplate the boy’s body bleeding out in the dust. Or as it’s known in the context of EC’s war titles, the usual. --Jose

Peter: It's a doggone crying shame that Harvey Kurtzman was only able to enlist the talents of Alexander Toth three times in the EC era (the first was "Dying City" back in Two-Fisted #22) as Toth has an undeniable command of his craft and I would have loved to see more of that craft on display around here. Not that the other artists are anything to dismiss (no Jack Kamen or Sid Check around these parts), but Toth's was a style you could spot a mile away; a style so keenly synced with the war story. And, holy moley, take a look at that final panel (right) and wonder no more where Howard Chaykin got his inspiration from. "Caesar!" is one of the better history lessons but that may be due to my lack of knowledge. (I, um, was sick that month my high school teacher taught Roman history.) The only fault I can find is that some of Wally's panels are so packed, it becomes hard to focus on what's going on. I found "Chickamauga!" to be a chore, especially with that annoying Southern dialect, but the panel where our young hero gets a sabre in the skull is pretty brutal. "Night Patrol" gets a high star rating from me for its thick tension and the Severin/Elder art which never fails to put across to us that these are really just a bunch of kids out there giving up their lives.

Jack: I was thrilled to see Alex Toth added to the EC stable of artists and disappointed when I read Peter's comment and learned that he only drew three stories. His work on "Thunderjet!" is gorgeous and he and Kurtzman succeed in conveying a sense of the great speed at which these air battles happened and the short reaction time allotted to the pilots. I am a student of Roman history and I also enjoyed "Caesar!" although the moralistic ending seemed forced. I was looking for a glimpse of Asterix and Obelix in the panels where the Romans occupied Gaul but to no avail.

After the panel in "Kamen's Kalamity!" where Jack Davis is portrayed with a southern drawl and a Confederate cap, stories like "Chickamauga!" have new resonance, though where Davis's own sympathies lie is never clear. Best of the issue for me is "Night Patrol!" where the colorist may be the star, using blue and black to show night action and then bursting into full color when the sun comes up. Like so many Kurtzman tales, this shows the utter confusion that reigns during battle. Overall, a satisfying issue with stunning art from start to finish.

Weird Science #15

"The Martians!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson

Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Bum Steer!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

Melvin Sputterly is a confirmed bachelor who has devoted his life to science but yearns for the warm touch of a female companion. This Melvin dreams of frequently throughout the day, even entertaining a romantic thought or two about his downstairs, old-maid neighbor, Miss Winkleman. The good lady comes up one day to give Melvin a package left by the mailman, but to Melvin’s supreme shock the parcel is actually addressed to a “Melville Slutterly” (!) and carries a postmark dated June 6, 2952. Great cats! Melvin’s received a delivery from the future! The nerd is too flabbergasted to figure out the space-time continuum mechanics of this snafu, especially after he discovers that the package is a “De Lux Personal Harem Kit.” Fitted like a box of sexy Whitman’s Samplers, the kit contains the dehydrated remains of five fabulous ladies just waiting for the right pinch of salt and water to be brought to a life fully dedicated to romancing the first man they lay their eyes on. Melvin’s mother raised no fool; he’s locked himself in the bathroom with his powdered courtesans faster than you can say “Zowie!” The futuristic measurements are a little tough to decipher, but Melvin thinks he’s got a good handle on it. Except the first skimpily-clad babe comes out weighing 700 pounds. Too much water! Thankfully, the kit has come equipped with a dissolving solution that when imbibed painlessly reduces the pulchritudinous lass into human soup. The next woman Melvin conjures resembles a walking skeleton. Not enough water! Confusion over the correct amount of salt results in the next courtesan being as tall as Melvin’s knee and the one after towering over him at 12 feet. With only one powdered lady left, Melvin nails down the formula but is suddenly interrupted by the building’s superintendent and Miss Winkleman, who has complained of the melted dames leaking through her ceiling. The gorgeous, busty blonde that rises from Melvin’s tub gets one look at the elderly superintendent and walks off arm-in-arm with him, leaving a weeping Melvin to the lascivious attentions of Miss Winkleman.

Chunk-a, chunk-a burning love.
It seems evident that, by this point, Feldstein had taken note of Jack Kamen’s suitableness in the more tongue-in-cheek vein of SF tales that populated Weird Fantasy and Weird Science. Kamen, whose beautiful women and overall nicey-nice aesthetic seemed so dull and lifeless in straight dramas that came off as misfired soap operas, is perfectly at home in these screwball and oh-so-risqué parfaits. His shapely dames and helpless nebbishes are made to be part of the joke and, for the most part, stories like “Miscalculation!” succeed on multiple fronts. I can only think what a charge this one must have given pubescent boys who came in expecting material more in line with Wally Wood’s laser guns and dinosaurs from the front cover. You can detect the influence that stories in the camp of “Miscalculation!” had on John Hughes when he made Weird Science 33 years later, the SF teen sex comedy that paid homage to EC’s title and featured two anatomy-minded students constructing their very own 1980s version of a Jack Kamen hottie.

But the question we must all ask ourselves is
who are the *real* monsters here?
("The Martians!")
The first two stories in this issue are both only occasionally interesting but have ace art to draw the eye. “The Martians!” follows a team of four space explorers as they make the virgin voyage to the angry red planet. Marveling at the dried canals and signs of vegetation, their hope that intelligent life forms exist is snubbed when a search of Mars comes up empty-handed. What they do find are some old ruins half-buried in the scarlet sands that they eagerly break into and enter. They stumble into an odd laboratory of sorts with cylindrical gramophone-type recordings, metal-paged books, and a room housing the frozen figures of a humanoid adventurer dueling with a horrible, tentacled creature. After performing some very boring investigations, the team’s leader concludes that they are in a Martian film studio where a scene from the SF epic The Invasion from the Third Planet reveals that the native Martians viewed the "normal-looking" Earthlings as disgusting monstrosities. Yes, thought-provoking. The limited scene changes mean that Wood is confined mostly to indoors this time out, and the story desperately limps towards a conclusion that packs all the punch of a deflated whoopee cushion. Skippable.

Aliens! Dinosaurs! Everything else is irrelevant!
In “Captivity,” two mineralogists are taking radiation readings in the Grand Canyon when suddenly they are transported back in time to the age of dinosaurs. Chalk that up to the “freak combination of magnetic force fields and radioactivity.” Or don’t, and see if anyone cares. Our heroes only have a short time to take in the wonder of a prehistoric era-Grand Canyon before they’re being chased by a snappy Tyrannosaurus Rex. Fortunately, a Triceratops stops by to engage his “natural enemy” in mortal combat so that the boys can slip out. Traveling to the cliffs of the canyon, our heroes look on, astounded, at the canyon’s oddly smooth and sheer walls when rocket ships suddenly touch down in the distance. All the dinosaurs in the land happily line up at the ships as the alien zookeeper shows off the animals at “feeding time.” The menu specials? Neanderthal men and women, naturally!

Confused? Indifferent? Like the cause of time travel, it really doesn’t matter. “Captivity” serves as a great excuse to let Al Williamson go buck wild and fill his panels with all manner of reptiles great and small, which he does, all too happily. Definitely one of those stories where you can block out all the text and just enjoy it for the pretty pictures.

Things pick up a bit in the end with Joe Orlando’s reliably trippy (albeit predictable) assignment, “Bum Steer!” A cowboy putting his feet up by the campfire after a day of ranching gets literally picked up a horrific, equine monstrosity one night and dumped into the bowels of a spaceship. There are a number of gentlemen in there, all as clueless regarding their presence as the cowboy. One of the aliens enters and explains that all of them have been selected for an all-expenses-paid voyage to the aliens’ home, wherein they will be fed only the most delicious delicacies and relax in splendid luxury. Fat chance, says the cowboy, who smells a catch stronger than a stepped-in cow pie. The men are indeed fed (and fed and fed) to the point of chubbiness, and just when they’re wondering when the trip is going to pay off a buxom, stunning Earth woman joins the group with promises of a whole harem full of expectant ladies waiting for them in the next room. But the cowboy, you see, knows this setup all too well: years of watching steer being led to their bloody deaths in the slaughterhouse by a decoy steer has clued him into the aliens’ game plan. The other men poo-poo his paranoia and eagerly lumber into the next room, where the aliens wait with their braining mallets and their throat-cutting knives.

They Shoot Humans, Don't They?
("Bum Steer!")

As my esteemed colleagues point out below, anyone who’s seen the “To Serve Man” episode of The Twilight Zone (and if you’re reading bare•bones e-zine, that’s probably a foregone conclusion) will know the climax to “Bum Steer!” well in advance. Even for all that, Joe Orlando’s freaky Minotaur mutants are a real sight to behold, with their skeletal faces, perfectly coiffed manes, and burred scorpion tails. And although we realize what awaits for our fatted-up bovine on the other side of the curtain, it’s a special accomplishment on Orlando’s part that he manages to make the scene feel like a hellish abattoir without showing a drop of blood. --Jose

Jack: As usual with the science fiction comics, the art far surpasses the stories in this issue. Wally Wood's work on "The Martians!" is superb and having Florence grace most panels is a huge bonus; the story seemed unpredictable for much of its length but the ending was a letdown. Williamson's faces are a bit rough in "Captivity" and the twist ending, where the Grand Canyon of long ago is revealed to be a zoo, has been done to death but perhaps was not so tired in 1952. I really enjoyed Kamen's story and thought his art was a perfect fit for the humorous tone--I laughed out loud when the first harem girl popped up. "Bum Steer!" was a chore to read, since I got a "To Serve Man" vibe right away and it never left me.

Peter: "Bum Steer" would have been a good sub-title for this issue as none of the stories included were stellar. Sure, we get the requisite glorious Wally on "The Martians!," but the story just kind of limps along until it reaches its anti-conclusion. "Captivity" is a really dumb story with fabulous art (I know, I know, just give me Williamson dinosaurs and screw the script, right?); we're never really told if it was the "freak combination of magnetic force fields and radioactivity" that transported Hank and Lou to the zoo or whether they were beamed up by the aliens. A galactic zoo? Wow, that one's been used almost as much as the fattening up of the humans in "Bum Steer!" Al spills the beans on what's going on halfway through the story and then expects us to recoil in shock when Joe Orlando shows us the results. I'd say it was a foregone conclusion, wouldn't you? "Miscalculation!" is like a long, elaborate joke told in a bar; not a very good joke at that. Are those quadruplets on the splash (left) you ask? Nope, just a Kamen stencil.

The Haunt of Fear #15

"Chatter-Boxed!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"All Washed Up!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by George Evans

"Marriage Vows!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Death of Some Salesmen!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

One day in November 1941, Jacob Filburt keels over dead on the sidewalk. It takes a while for the morgue to get through to his wife on the telephone, since she likes to chat at length with her friend. At Jacob's funeral, he suddenly sits up in his coffin and shocks everyone in attendance. His doctor tells him that he had a cataleptic fit that mimicked death, so Jacob decides to give specific instructions to the funeral director to prevent his being buried alive the next time he has a fit. Soon, he appears to be killed in a car crash and, when he is buried, his wishes are followed: he is not embalmed and he is buried with a telephone that is connected to the outside world. Sure enough, he wakes up in his coffin underground, but can't get through to anyone because they're all talking on the telephone. He tries to call the operator but finds that all the circuits are busy. He suffocates and dies, not knowing that the telephone lines were jammed because the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor.

The best panel in the story!
When a story like "Chatter-Boxed!" starts in November 1941, you just know the war is going to figure into it in some way. The story is predictable up until the final twist, which is not really worth the trouble. Ghastly's art is always steady but there is nothing here that stands out--I've noticed a pattern with his stories where the initial, large panel is sometimes the most impressive.

Marcia tells Harry he's "All Washed Up!" because he hasn't proposed to her. She agrees instead to marry wealthy Gregg Sanders, so Harry kills Gregg by bashing his head in with a rock. Harry picks up the expensive diamond ring that Gregg dropped and puts it in his shirt pocket. When he pushes Gregg's body over the side of a deep well, the ring falls out of Harry's pocket and follows the corpse to the bottom far below. In the months that follow, Harry tries night after night to fish it out but finally has to get a rope and climb down. Marcia hears screams and rushes to the well, where Harry begs her to pull him out, since Gregg's corpse is pulling him under the water. The rope breaks and Harry falls to his doom, destined to spend eternity at the bottom of the well, decaying with Gregg.

How Peter got Jose to do this blog.
("All Washed Up!")
We haven't seen much of George Evans's art so far, but his work on this goofy tale is not half bad, especially the gruesome/hilarious panel reproduced here. It's not clear why Harry feels the need to fish the ring out of the well, but I can say I would not go down there if the rotting corpse of a man I murdered was also down there, ring or no ring.

King Kindheart's daughter, Princess Buttercup, wants to marry Prince Dashing, but her dad is broke, so he has to borrow money from King Blackheart, who insists on getting Princess Buttercup's hand in marriage if he'll agree to the loan. The big day arrives and King Blackheart is shocked to see that "Marriage Vows!" are to be exchanged between the Princess and the Prince and all King Blackheart gets is what he asked for--her severed hand on a pillow.

Jack Kamen has his talents and, lately, it seems the editors have decided he is most useful in illustrating humorous stories. This one is just okay. It goes on way too long and the payoff--which is not really one I saw coming--should have been a lot more gory to be included in a horror comic.

Why we put up with Jack Kamen.
("Marriage Vows!")

"Death of Some Salesmen!"
Traveling salesman Stuart Thatcher is driving through a remote area on a rainy night when his car gets stuck in the mud. Hiking to a nearby farmhouse, he meets Eban and Henrietta, an old couple with a shotgun who show him what they did to cause the "Death of Some Salesmen!" who visited their house. The freezer salesman's corpse is in the freezer, the oven salesman's corpse is in the oven, and so on. Eban goes out to Stuart's car and brings in a sample of his wares--a "handy-dandy meat slicer"! To quote Stuart: "choke . . ."

Jack Davis rescues this issue from mediocrity with a home run of a story, featuring a tasty selection of things I love: a traveling salesman, a remote area, a creepy old couple, clever twists, gruesome deaths, and a horrible end promised right after the last panel. Now THIS is what I signed up for! --Jack

More fun from Jack Davis.
("Death of Some Salesmen!")
Peter: Even though it rates an eleven out of ten on the ludicrosity meter, I had a lot of fun with "Death of Some Salesman." Al dispenses with the "suspense" and tells us what's going on very quickly so that it's only a matter of working that punchline. My only thought was that Thatcher dodged a bullet by hawking meat-slicers and not marital aids. "Chatter-Boxed!" is the latest pilfering of a classic but it's harmless enough. One question, though: why wasn't Jacob embalmed the first time? "All Washed Up!" has a great build-up but then peters out in the finale. The story is secondary to the gorgeous art, though; this is the first George Evans work for EC. Evans will quickly ascend to the first-tier horror level currently occupied by Ghastly and Davis. In her opening monologue for "Marriage Vows!," The Old Witch explains that a story in Vault of Horror #16, "a story I called 'A Grim Fairy Tale'," went over so well the editors decided to pump another out. There's no story in VOH #16 that is so labeled, so I have no idea what Al is talking about, but "Marriage Vows!" becomes the first of fifteen Grim Fairy Tales to see print in EC over the next two years and across the three horror titles. Never one of my favorite off-shoots of EC, the Grims are, for the most part, a waste of precious space. You can see why Mad was launched; these guys are itching to unload something that will tickle our funny bone. Harvey Comics, one of the better EC rip-off houses, would ape the Grims with "Mother Mongoose's Nursery Crimes." You can read all about the Harveys here.

*choke* *splutter* *fart*
Jose: Color me obtuse because I could not foretell the ending to “Chatter-Boxed!” Usually, I tend to get worried any time the GhouLunatics start cropping up too frequently within the stream of the story itself; their constant interjections and “banter” with the reader typically have served as manifestations of Feldstein’s insecurities about the story, basically inserted to say in our horror-host’s colorful language, “Yeah, this one’s not so great, but it’s our mag and we have to fill it with something.” Thankfully the conclusion to this one was pretty good, but the story’s slightly cheeky tone felt out of step with Ghastly’s art this time around. (That opening splash is great, though. With her crooked beak of a nose and stockinged claws, Ingels renders the Old Witch as if she was a giant chicken!) “All Washed Up!” was memorably and fondly recounted by Stephen King as one of his favorite EC tales in his seminal genre study, Danse Macabre, and it’s easy to see why. I believe Steve might have misattributed the art to Ingels, which is a shame since George Evans proves to be a lively and game draftsman whose work will happily adorn future issues across the genre titles. This one would make a suitable double feature with “A Biting Finish” (HOF #5), another story of a ne’er-do-well meeting justice at the skeletal jaws of his romantic competitor. As Peter said, “Marriage Vows!” is clearly desperate to be goofier than it really is, an itch that would be appeased with the release of Mad as well as some of the later Grim Fairy Tales. As it stands, this entry from Storybook Land makes for comparatively weak sauce. It feels like we should have gotten more from the finale than just a lobbed-off hand, but I have to admit that there’s something richly perverse and naughty about the idea of Prince Blackheart retiring to his conjugal quarters with nothing but Buttercup’s digits. While we’ve sung the praises of Jack Davis in the war comics over his horror work, “Death of Some Salesmen!” finds him in that gonzo, cartoonishly violent strain that I particularly love and find suits him so well. Here, it’s all about setting up that one-note joke and delivering the bloody punchline again and again. Happily, the effect never gets wearying, and Davis even wisely conceals some of the grimier remains to the shadows in order to prey on the reader’s imagination. (The mind wonders at how that vacuum salesman was refashioned!) A great, gory, brainless affair to end the issue.

Weird Fantasy #15

"Revulsion!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Quick Trip"  ★ 1/2
"The Long Trip" 
Stories by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson

"He Who Waits!"
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"By George!!"
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Al Williamson and Jack Hearne

Just another day at the Olive Garden.
Commander Kreeger and his small crew of astronauts, scientist Larson and mechanic Bellman, bemoan the condition of their star-spanning vessel when Bellman announces that roaches have eaten away at the gyro-control and the ship will now glide through space without the ability to land. Larson tells his comrades that insects are extremely intelligent and could have ruled the world had the Big Bang happened a little bit differently. Luckily, the crew manage to find a planet with an atmosphere and the ship makes an emergency crash-landing. Larson is killed but Kreeger and Bellman survive to explore the strange new world. They are quickly set upon by strange creatures but manage to fight them off with the blasts from their uranium-destroyer. Just as they put the kibosh on a winged beastie, they hear the huge rumble of something big approaching and they head for the underbrush. Bad judgment call: the foliage they duck under turns out to be a huge head of Romaine lettuce and the two are scooped up into the salad bowl belonging to a giant cockroach. Some of the EC yarns have subtle "tell"s; not so with "Revulsion!" Several panels are given over to a discussion on how disgusting roaches are and "hey, you know that roaches could have been the dominant species on Earth!," so that we know immediately what the reveal will be. Joe Orlando does his best Al Williamson impersonation but the silly script sinks this one.

A Quickie.
("The Quick Trip")

In “The Quick Trip,” Philip Donnel commands a space-ship traveling to the planet, Pollux, in another solar system thirty light years away. In order to survive the journey, the crew will be put into suspended animation and revived when the planet nears. Donnel revives to find one of his crew has died due to a malfunctioning S.A. unit and that Pollux is nowhere to be found. When Donnel revives the scientist on the team, the men are dismayed to learn that, according to their calculators, Pollux exploded fifty-five years ago, twenty-five years before the ship had launched!

A Longie.
("The Long Trip")
In “The Long Trip” (an “alternate version of “The Quick Trip”), Donnel is offered the trip to Pollux, but this time without the use of suspended animation. The trip will take all of thirty years and the men will have to bide their time in whatever way they can. The men arrive on Pollux (which, obviously, has not exploded) to a welcoming party of English-speaking Polluxians. When Donnel explains that his ship is from Earth, the friendly “aliens” explain that they’re from Earth as well. Several years after Donnel’s crew left Earth, a scientist invented a gizmo to enable travelers to planet-hop in only two days!

Both stories are entertaining and clever but the reveal of “The Quick Trip” relies on some complicated theorems and I barely made it through high school. Two questions though: In “The Quick Trip,” engineer Jim Murtha rots away to bone when his unit doesn’t seal. Why would that kill him? Ostensibly, there’s oxygen pumped into the ship at all times, correct? In the second story, Donnel is told that “Pollux is our only chance!,” but we’re never told why we need to make the trip. Is Earth dying or are we just bored of our little playground?

Tom gets thumbed.
("He Who Waits!")
Percy finds a wondrous discovery perched atop his Mariposa Lupina Lumina, a plant gifted to him by his dear friend, Alec Burnside, who traveled the backwoods of Africa on a secret expedition. There, lounging on the lush green plant, is a gorgeous lettuce-bikini’d brunette. Though the girl cannot speak, the two become quick friends (he names her ‘Petite’) and then … well, the relationship progresses as far as it can before Percy realizes that something must be done. The scientist hightails it over to Burnside’s estate to grill him on his knowledge of the plant. Burnside allows how the African trip ended  mysteriously, with the disappearance of famed Doctor Arnold Digby. When Percy exclaims that he really must become nine inches tall in order to be with the woman he loves, his old pal explains that there might just be a way: Hornstone’s Aqueous Atomic-Compression Formula, known only to he and Dr. Digby (Hornstone must be deceased, I guess), a serum that can shrink a man as far down as he wishes. Percy jots down the ingredients and prepares the rest of his life: he withdraws his life savings, builds a huge wall around the estate, and stocks up on as much food as the loving couple will need for the rest of their lives. Percy downs the formula and before you can say "Richard Matheson," he incredibly shrinks! The honeymoon is on and the gaiety lasts for weeks but then one day, Petite takes ill and, within a week, she dies of old age. Grief-stricken, Percy buries his love out in the garden and begins a life alone. The next summer, a plant pops out of Petite’s grave and, suddenly, it all becomes crystal clear to Percy: Petite was a flower that blooms for one season and then dies. The nine-inch bachelor sits and waits for a new bride to grow. “He Who Waits” is fabulously dopey and I usually don’t take to such inanity but, for some reason, this one kept me entertained and, I must say, Kamen’s art was perfect for this kind of fluff. How did Fred Wertham miss the not-so-subtle sexual undertones in the panel on page 2 (above)? The mailman must not have delivered this issue to Fred, who found sex in everything!

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .
("He Who Waits!")

It's Pee-Wee's Slayhouse.
("By George!!")
In 1952 Beirut, two archaeologists, Alan and Marvin, discover a strange cubed-shape object covered with foreign inscriptions dating back to the 6th Century. Marvin, being the brains of the outfit, takes the cube home, deciphers it, and excitedly calls Alan over to discuss the revelations. The cube is the plaything of a giant young extraterrestrial, stranded on Earth when he takes the family spaceship for a spin. Though he tries to make friends with the locals, they persist in stabbing him with their swords and the poor critter has no choice but to fight back. At some point, the locals decide that human sacrifice is the way to keep the "beast" at bay. Though the alien tries to release the captives, something always goes wrong and the sacrificed end up dead. One day, a gorgeous brunette is left for the monster and, shortly afterwards, a knight approaches the visitor. Rather than stab the creature, the knight beckons it to follow him. At this point, the inscription ends and Marvin finishes the story himself. The alien is lured to a castle and then beheaded by . . . St. George! "By George!!" is hard to criticize;  a clever little sci-fi tale, but the twist would have been more effective if it hadn't been given away in the title. The panel where the big nipper loses his noggin (below) is a heartbreaker; I always assumed St. George slew a big nasty, man-eating dragon, not a poor, defenseless space urchin. Al Williamson's art is, as usual, a highlight and our old friends, Spa Fon and Squa Tront, are joined by their new siblings, Bas Crod, Frud Nyuk and, my favorite, Chaz Furnd. --Peter

What a drag(on).
("By George!!")

Jack: It's funny, but in an issue with two stories drawn by Al Williamson and one by Joe Orlando, I think the most consistently enjoyable tale was the one drawn by Jack Kamen. Williamson's art still wavers between brilliant and clunky and the best thing I can say for his stories is that they're uneven. The GCD credits an artist named Jack Hearne with drawing some of the faces on "By George!!" but I don't know if they're the good ones or the bad ones. Williamson is at his best here when not drawing humans at all. The half-splash on "He Who Waits!" displays another stunning gal courtesy of Kamen.

Jose: This was certainly one of the more wholly entertaining issues we’ve read from the SF titles. There seems to be a concentrated tonal shift just to the left side of gravitas and into wryer territory. I can’t help but wonder if the imminent arrival of Mad—cheerfully ballyhooed in an advertisement at the front of this issue—has infected Feldstein’s stories with a touch of the absurd. Whether it was orchestrated or accidental, I’m happy with the results. The conclusion to “Revulsion!” might be more predictable than a sunset, but the journey in between is quite enjoyable; I especially love Feldstein’s early descriptions of the junker rocket-ship and the bickering banter of its on-edge crew. “The Long Trip” and “The Quick Trip” could easily have been real drags had they run the length of a standard story, but thankfully Al took an abbreviated approach that gave his two “Quickies” the feel of a pair of complimentary knock-knock jokes. “He Who Waits!” is easily one of the most jubilant jobs Kamen has turned in under the science fiction banner. As Jack says, this story plays up his best qualities: bespectacled nebbishes and plant girls in two-leaf swimsuits! My favorite story of the issue was “By George!!” After working through a creaky and familiar framing story, we’re treated to a tale at turns deliciously zany and adorably sweet that features one of the darn-cutest reptilian ankle-biters from beyond the stars that you’re ever likely to see. Had our joy-riding alien been a grown emissary from another galaxy, the ending would have been merely surprising, but making the creature a harmless child who just wants to play with his new friends and get the car back to the house before Dad finds out leaves his decapitation at the blade of St. George feeling incredibly harsh. Can you imagine if E.T. had ended that way? Brutal!

Two-Fisted Tales #29

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

"Red Knight!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

"Fire Mission!" ★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Dave Berg

Four American soldiers are ambushed in "Korea!"; two of the men are killed and their jeep is stolen. The two survivors hop into another jeep and track the enemy until they get a good shot at them. When the boys unloose a machine gun barrage at the enemy, the jeep is destroyed and all but two of the men killed. The Koreans hightail it into a rice paddy but once they emerge, our boys mow them down. One is wounded and surrenders but one of the U.S. soldiers, who lost a good buddy in the initial ambush, wants to murder him. He's talked into sparing the "gook" 's life and they take their prisoner to a field hospital. There's not much to this "Korea!"; it's more of an incident. I respect that not every "slice of war life" is going to have three acts but it becomes tough to rate something fairly that's hard to synopsize in the first place. The climax is muy preachy, with the kind-hearted U.S. soldier looking to the sky and pondering life on Earth.


Two British soldiers watch as a red Fokker flies over them, without strafing their foxhole. The identity of the pilot is then revealed to us: Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the infamous Red Baron. We witness several of the Baron's celebrated "kills" before the narrative returns to the field, where von Richtofen has landed. The Brits advance, approaching the plane with much caution, but soon discover that the Baron is inside the cockpit, dead from two bullet holes to the chest. The Red Baron is dead! Another of Harvey's history studies and not one of the better ones; the framing is interesting but the "guts" are simply the Baron writing reports on his latest missions. "Red Knight!" does have stellar work from John Severin but it would have been nice to have had some kind of storytelling to hang that art on.

"Red Knight!"

George "Washington!" suffers a bitter early defeat when the British invade Manhattan Island and Washington's men hightail it in fear. Washington tries, in vain, to rally his troops but the men retreat until George is the only one standing (well, sitting on his horse, actually). Washington's victory will have to wait for another day. Like "Red Knight!," "Washington!" comes across as nothing more than facts yelled out in a classroom. Although, it's a bit of a kick to see the guy on the dollar bill swearing like a dock worker and threatening to kill his "rag tag" miscreants if they don't stay and fight.

Jack Seabrook in his usual Sunday evening address to Peter and Jose.

"Fire Mission!"
In Korea, a mortar crew waits (not so) patiently for the word to become a "Fire Mission!" It's dangerous work (especially when the boys have to put themselves out in the line of fire to figure out where to fire the mortars). After taking on heavy casualties, a green GI volunteers to climb a hill to get a read on the enemy and he succeeds where so many failed. "Fire Mission!" seems like a few other EC war stories we've read recently: the jaded pros and the courageous newbie, all hung on a skeleton of a story. If Harvey Kurtzman's cartoony art turns you off, you'll have major problems with the style of Dave Berg. Way too exaggerated and sketchy for my tastes (as if the artist of Archie had taken the reins for seven pages). Berg will justifiably become a star years later when he becomes a mainstay in the pages of MAD Magazine with his "The Lighter Side of . . ." feature. "Fire Mission!" was Berg's only work for the four-color EC. --Peter

Jack: A very disappointing issue of Two-Fisted Tales, this features sharp art by Jack Davis and not much else. His story is great up until the last page, when a preachy finish replaces the usual twist. Severin gives us a lovely depiction of WWI planes but the Red Baron story represents a rare instance where the DC War comics topped the EC War Comics--Kanigher and Kubert's Enemy Ace is much better than Kurtzman and Severin's Red Baron. Adding Elder's inks always helps Severin and it's interesting to see George Washington portrayed as something other than the stiff figure we know from portraits but, as Peter said, the story falls flat. I always liked Dave Berg's cartoons in Mad and was surprised to find his work here. It has an underground comix/Robert Crumb feel to it and just seems weird in the context of what we're used to. Once again, Harvey gets too preachy at the end.

Jose: Kurtzman could be a writer of great control and composure, but “Korea!” finds him forgoing all pretense and laying his Great Big Message right out in the open during the conclusion. The sympathetic US soldier might as well have been drawn looking out at the reader saying, “I learned something today, and I hope you did too.” John Severin’s grungy pencils look rather fitting in “Red Knight!,” but sadly the story has nothing else going for it. If you’ve seen one aerial dogfight in an EC comic book, you’ve seen ‘em all. I didn’t even know the story was based on a historical figure! Truth is stranger than fiction and all that. If nothing else, “Washington!” makes for a rib-tickling six pages of rampant cursing and impotent fury that not so much tells a whole, compact story as it gives us a brief glimpse of a George Washington who was just as likely to bite somebody’s hand off with his wooden teeth as he was to lead and command a nation. My favorite bit from his the profanity-filled final pages is when ol’ George threatens to kill one of his men but, upon whipping out his revolver, curses as the bullet catches in the stock. So what does our First President do? Hurls the weapon at the jerk’s head, of course! “Fire Mission!” is another so-so story (does that make it a one-fisted tale?), and as my compadres have mentioned, Dave Berg’s horsey, bug-eyed characters aren’t really simpatico with the overall vibe of Harvey’s series.

Next Week:
Hans von Hammer returns to help celebrate our
100th Issue!


AndyDecker said...

I never realized that Feldstein wrote so many of the stories.

Jack Seabrook said...

It's amazing, isn't it? He kept up a reasonably good level of quality for writing so much. Too bad he stopped illustrating them after the early EC comics--I liked his art, too.