Monday, August 14, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Issue 38: September 1953





The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
    38: September 1953


Kurtzman
Mad #6

"Teddy and the Pirates!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

"Melvin of the Apes!" ★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

"Casey at the Bat!" ★★
Original Poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
Adaptation by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Ping Pong!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Bill Elder

It's time for high adventure in Hong Kong with "Teddy and the Pirates!" Pat O'Bryan assigns Teddy and his sidekick Half-Shot to find the inside man who has been hijacking their opium shipments. After meeting up with a beautiful blond named Burma Shave and a zoot-suited Asian named Connie, Teddy and Half-Shot end up with the Dragging Lady. They are shanghaied on a pirate ship; Half-Shot is fed to hungry sharks and finally figures out who the inside man is.

"Teddy and the Pirates!"
It's really not possible to summarize a wild humor strip like this and, not being overly familiar with Terry and the Pirates, many of the details go right by me, but Kurtzman is in great form and Wood's art is exceptional. We all know Wally can draw lovely ladies like nobody's business, and this story gives him plenty of chances to show off his skill at depicting the female form.

Sir Whitegreen Greystroke is exploring the jungles of darkest Africa when he comes upon "Melvin of the Apes!" A mole shaped like the family crest proves that Melvin is the long-lost Lord Greystroke, so it's back to London and the bosom of his wealthy family. Melvin creates such a fuss at a fancy dinner held in his honor that several members of the London branch of the family flee to the African jungle to get away from their raucous relative.

"Melvin of the Apes!"
(Guest starring Wally Wood)
John Severin really tries, and I give him points for that, but his stories tend to be the least funny ones in Mad. The sheer lunacy of Melvin's behavior at the dinner in London carries this one along reasonably well, but when Wally Wood sticks a drawing of the Dragging Lady from the prior story in one of the panels, it's clear who really excels at this sort of thing.

The Mudville Nine are losing 4-2 in the 9th inning when a couple of surprise hits with two outs set the table for Casey, but when he strikes out at the end of the game the crowd is disappointed.

Do we really need yet another retelling of "Casey at the Bat"? I like this old baseball poem as much as the next guy, and Davis does a heroic job of trying to take everything literally and make it funny (a runner is really hugging third base, for example), but this seems out of place in Mad.


The panel that made Jose squirt milk from his nose.
("Ping Pong!")
A ship chartered by movie producer Cecil B.V.D. Mill makes its way through the Tropics to the island of the ferocious Ookabolaponga, where they find "Ping Pong!" a giant and terrible ape. They capture him and bring him back to New York City, where no one pays him the slightest attention.

King Kong is my all-time, number one favorite movie, so I automatically love this satire, and Will Elder is the ultimate Mad artist, with more gags per page than anyone else (though Wally Wood is getting close). The story has the usual amount of guys ogling pretty girls, natives speaking with unexpected eloquence, and little signs in the corners of panels, but the ending is a bit of a letdown.--Jack

"Casey at the Bat!"
Melvin Enfantino: I think that a key to finding a lot of these parodies amusing is a knowledge of the victim. F'r instance, I've never read a single installment of "Terry and the Pirates," so "Teddy" only comes off as slightly amusing to me. It's readable because Wally can draw no woman homely and Teddy's side-kick, Half-Shot, has some genuinely funny lines ("I know this dame's type, Teddy! They act business-like on the outside, but underneath it all, they're feminine . . . cringing . . . delicate . . . like any other woman . . . treat 'em rough, I say!"). "Melvin of the Apes!," a sequel to "Melvin!" (from issue #2) is just as scattershot as its predecessor, hoping to wring laughs out of sight gags that really aren't very funny. "Ping Pong!" is about the funniest thing in this issue (it's worth noting that the obligatory native tribe here becomes the Ookabolapongas rather than the usual Ookabolakongas), with its deadly Archaeopteryx Iktheposaurus Razzledazzlebus Pterodactyl Ptooey (actually just a giant pair of pliers!) and its hilarious climax where Pong and the crew arrive in Manhattan and no one gives a stuff. I can vividly remember reading aloud (in character) "Casey at the Bat!" with a Mad-pal of mine in my early teens and thinking it was hilarious. Now I wonder what possessed Harvey to run the poem in the first place. Not a dig at Kurtzman, mind you, just an interest in how the man ticked.

Jose: It’s such a joy (and a relief!) coming to an issue of Mad and seeing the title really starting to form its unique identity, thus ensuring a healthy supply of belly laughs whereas the first issues had only managed to be mildly amusing. Granted, not every story here is a sure-fire classic, but the overall charge and acceptance of the inane that Mad has gradually been acquiring allows for most of the entries to feel one of a piece. “Teddy and the Pirates” allowed me to warm up to the idea of Wally Wood as a humorist; I hope we see more like this and better in the future. I thought “Melvin of the Apes” was, like its predecessor, one of Severin’s funniest outings and a marked improvement over other examples of his solo work. Stuff like Melvin’s rapid departure via car at hearing of the riches that await him crack me up! “Casey at the Bat” is an oddity for sure, never quite finding a good balance between the words that are being parodied and the lampooning images themselves; this one just came across as a rapid series of lukewarm punchlines. “Ping Pong,” on the other hand, is the kind of humor that I live for. From that random aforementioned pair of prehistoric pliers to a terrified sailor swimming away while a shark chews on his head, this thing is just firing on all cylinders in every panel. If the success of a Mad story is gauged by how much it makes you laugh, then “Ping Pong” is surely the Eighth Wonder of the World.


Craig
Crime SuspenStories #18

"Fall Guy for Murder" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Johnny Craig

"Juice for the Record!" ★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"Frozen Assets!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"From Here to Insanity" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall





"Fall Guy for Murder"
P.I. Gregg Saunders gets a call from Harry Wilson, a man Saunders has a bit of history with. Wilson stole the love of Saunders's life years before and now that love, Edith, is missing; Wilson wants to hire Gregg to find Edith. The private dick doesn't believe Edith packed everything and left; rather, he believes Harry murdered the woman and disposed of her body, so he takes the case. Some detective work unearths the tidbit that Wilson has become a great murder mystery reader, checking books out from the library two or three at a time. The flustered librarian informs Gregg that the final straw was when Wilson "lost" a book titled, Fall Guy for Murder. Saunders can't find a copy of the book so he tricks Wilson into leaving his apartment long enough for the detective to comb through the place. Book in hand, Saunders begins to read and realizes he's been set up; all the events in the book mirror what's been happening in real life: the disappearance of the old flame, the hiring of the P.I., the P.I.'s suspicions, even the trip to the apartment and the reading of the book. In the book's finale, the murderer comes back to his place to kill the P.I. and frame him for the murder of the wife but Saunders is too smart for that so, when he hears the door open, he empties his revolver into the oncoming figure. Unfortunately, that figure is Edith, with Harry Wilson right behind, explaining that he had met someone else and Edith was in the way so he wrote Fall Guy For Murder and let nature take its course. A very clever little noir with some great Johnny Craig art but don't think about it too much or the silliness and the holes will materialize (for example, the entire drama is built upon Wilson's assumption that Saunders will show up when the man he hates the most beckons him). Al and Bill were definitely reading Manhunt and Ellery Queen for inspiration; writers like Frank Kane and Richard Prather were pumping out P.I. fiction starring dicks like Saunders.

"Juice for the Record"
"Pop" Martin is a sweet old man who loves his job as caretaker of the giant generator at the city hospital, but his son, Richie, is a rotten apple who's taken to hanging out with mobsters and robbing banks. Pop tries to put his son back on the straight and narrow but Richie won't have any of that, spitting on his father's low-paying but honest job. One night, Pop tries to break up a fight between his son and a particularly shady goon who thinks Richie's holding out on him. Richie pulls a heater and ventilates the hood but gets one in the back while arguing with his father. Richie is rushed to the hospital and life-saving surgery is begun. Not wanting his son to die in the electric chair, Pop grabs a dictaphone cylinder (look it up on Google, you youngsters out there) and moans out a confession to the murder of the hood. Just then, one of the doctors hurries into the office and informs Pop that the electricity has gone out and they need him to reboot the generator fast--Richie will die on the operating table without power. Pop hands his confession recording to a cop and heads for the generator room. He gets the juice flowing again but it's too late as his son has expired on the table. The cop approaches the old man later and informs him that the recording was blank--the electricity had gone out before Pop had recorded his false confession! A maudlin dud through and through, "Juice for the Record!" resembles some of the product found in the titles published by the lesser funny book companies. Elder's art doesn't help either, giving the proceedings an amateurish look. Pop's story-length "woe is me" speeches are a drain. Yeccch!

"Frozen Assets"
Mort and Helen have murdered Helen's husband and locked him in a freezer for four months . . . but there's a good reason for that. You see, Jasper (the husband) has a really rich aunt who has named Jasper her only beneficiary when she dies, with one proviso: Jasper must outlive his aunt or the dough goes to a "state foundling hospital." With quite a lot of sweet talk, Mort convinces Helen that marrying Jasper is a great idea, and then, after the old bag croaks, they'll put Jasper in the ground and run off with the inheritance. The best-laid plans of mice and Morty, though . . .

After the marriage, Helen and Mort do their darnedest to keep their hands off each other while Helen's new hubby is around but, one night, Jasper surprises the couple while they're making out on his couch and he and Mort tussle. Helen gets some chloroform (which, I take it, was kept around the house for emergencies just such as this) and the couple lock Jasper in a freezer until a later date when he'll be thawed out. Jasper's aunt finally kicks the bucket and the ice-cold corpse is finally laid out for discovery but . . . not so fast. After an autopsy reveals that Jasper had oysters in his stomach, which hadn't been in season since four months before, the cops take the klutzy kouple into custody. I got a kick out of the twist in the tail of "Frozen Assets!" and the couple's choice of murder weapon (Death by Freezer!) is a particularly nasty one. If you've got to give Kamen work, this is the perfect vehicle for his assets: just some standard talking-head panels and character faces that are pretty much interchangeable; no heavy lifting here.

"From Here to Insanity"
A homicidal maniac takes a poor old woman hostage, forcing her to give him shelter while he's on the run from the cops. When the police go door to door and come to the old woman's apartment, the loony orders her not to open the door and tells her what to say. The landlord joins in the conversation and, after a bit, they leave. The murderer, relieved at last, informs the woman he's going to kill her and she asks if she can pray first. At that moment, the police break the door down and cuff the bracelets on the wacko. Smiling, the landlord informs the befuddled criminal that he knew that something was up since Mrs. Greene is stone-deaf. How could she be answering questions through the door? The final panel shows the maniac, now insane, giggling in his padded cell. Crandall’s creepy artwork almost out-Ghastlys Graham Ingels (the nut's eyes are constantly popping from their sockets). As great as the script for "From Here to Insanity" is, Al and Bill had a little . . . um, inspiration . . . from a story called "You Got to Have Luck" by Stanley Ralph Ross, which appeared in the October 1952 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. In that story (the author's first), the thug was an escaped con and his victim was a young mother. In the twist climax, the police show up after the woman's mother rings and her daughter answers the phone, telling her she's just fine. The story was later filmed for the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. If it wasn't for the more-than-a-tad plagiarism, I'd salute this story with four stars. Even so, it's the best tale this issue. --Peter

"From Here to Insanity"
Jack: Peter, you may not believe this, but "Juice for the Record!" was my favorite this time out! The story is well-told and has a satisfying payoff, and I'm getting to like Will Elder's proto-comix art more and more as we read through these comics chronologically. "Fall Guy for Murder" is a rare Johnny Craig story that he drew but did not write; I love the private eye theme and the lending library that operates out of a drugstore. No one can draw tension and sweat quite like Craig, but the ending petered out for me. "From Here to Insanity" shows Reed Crandall quickly ascending to the top of my list of favorite EC artists with his depiction of the homicidal maniac but, since I knew the twist ending in advance, the story did not have as much power as it might otherwise have had. That leaves this issue's Kamen Kontribution, an okay story until the dopey twist ending. Oysters are out of season? That's really the surprise ending? Come on!

Jose: “Fall Guy for Murder” is one of the more complexly-plotted EC tales that we’ve seen in a while that resolves itself in a mostly-satisfying manner. All the lead-up to the final twist works like gangbusters, especially the tense moments of Gregg slowly realizing that he’s practically reading his life story ala “The Aliens” (WF 17) and growing increasingly wary of his executioner’s inevitable arrival. But, as Peter mentioned, once you look at everything in retrospect it starts to sound pretty damn funny. Can you imagine Harry’s reaction if his plan had gone to hell? “It took six months to write that freaking book! Four to find an agent… a year before it landed on an editor’s desk…” Talk about patience! “Juice for the Record” puts me in mind of a super-saccharine morality picture from the 50s with its tender-hearted elderly protagonist just wanting to do the right thing in a crazy mixed-up world of hood rats and dope peddlers. It’s like a low-grade, male version of Mildred Pierce, but for all of that it’s relatively harmless and innocent, much like ol’ “Pop” himself. An opportunity was missed at the end of “Frozen Assets” for Mort to meet the news of his oyster-related punishment with a depressed cry of, “Aww, shucks!” You know you would’ve loved that. Speaking of puns, I’m glad Al resisted the urge to spoil the ending of the final story by writing the title out as “From Hear to Insanity.” Reed Crandall continues to please with his lovely and rugose artwork, all of his characters looking like bowls of jello set into motion. The homicidal maniac depicted here is one for the ages, a bug-eyed creep who revels in the pain of his victims in some unsettling flashback sequences that show him panting over screaming faces and still bodies. If my crime stories ain’t freaking me out, then they’re broken!


Davis
Tales from the Crypt #37

"Dead Right!" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Pleasant Screams!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Strop! You're Killing Me!" ★★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Bill Elder

"The Rover Boys!" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Carl Winston and Joseph Fairbanks are two old doctors who have been friends since they met in medical school. They like to get together and sip brandy by the fire, but Joseph has a disturbing habit of bringing up his pet theory that human senses may continue to function after death. Poppycock! says Carl, until Joseph poisons him and Carl sees, hears, and feels the entire process of being prepared for burial. His coffin is lowered into the ground and the dirt begins to be shoveled when Joseph reveals that it was all a gag! Too bad Carl had a heart attack and died just before the undertaker came.

Jack discovered a deadline had been missed.
("Dead Right!")
Jack Davis's art is very good in "Dead Right!" and the story is interesting--it's just not that interesting. The idea that a body could still perceive the world around it for a while after death would explain so many of the narrators in these EC stories who describe their own demise and subsequent events; here, it's more scientifically intriguing than dramatic.

High school teacher Felix Purdy struggles through a dark wood and is killed by a werewolf. He then finds himself in a lonely alley, where he is killed by a vampire. A zombie next kills him in a deserted graveyard, then he is executed by guillotine, then buried alive by gnomes. Finally, he realizes that he's in someone else's dream and will disappear when they awaken. And awaken they do--the dreamer is a high school student who harbored particularly gruesome "Pleasant Screams!" about his teacher.

Jack makes sure no more deadlines are missed.
("Pleasant Screams!")
Like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story, this is a dud from start to finish, despite competent art by Joe Orlando. The parade of deaths by the usual suspects quickly grows tiresome and, in the end, the revelation that it's all the dream of a poor student is tiresome and obvious.

Nothing ever changes in the Lyndale Fire House, where Old Dan Harper and Clem Dunlop have served the small town of 452 souls faithfully for 17 years. But when Clem retires, Mayor Witter hires Frank Miller, a young taskmaster, to be the new fire chief and Dan's boss. Frank immediately sets out to modernize the firehouse and works Dan ragged, trying to get him to retire. Old Dan hangs on as best he can, so when Frank is on duty one night and a call comes in that Dan's house is on fire, Frank takes so long getting there that the house burns down and Dan is killed. After a new fire truck arrives a month later, Frank is again on duty one night when a call comes in that his own house is in flames, He throws on his fire-fighting clothes and slides down the newly-installed descent pole. In the morning, the townsfolk arrive to find Chief Miller sliced all to pieces, since someone (or something) had replaced the descent pole with a steel strip, sharpened to a razor edge.

Bill Elder plays Can You Top This?
("Strop! You're Killing Me!")
There are several stories that appeared in Horror Comics of the 1950s that disturbed me so much that I have not been able to forget them more than 40 years after reading them for the first time. "Strop! You're Killing Me!" is a key example of one of those tales. Like the razor across the eye scene in Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, there's something about the slicing and dicing that really bothers me at a visceral level. The story is a brilliant tale of revenge and the end is a real shocker.

Dr. Sheldon Remson won't take being stripped of his license to practice medicine lying down! Inspired by a vaudeville act with trained seals, he murders the five members of the medical board that sanctioned him and then implants their brains into the craniums of five dogs, thus creating "The Rover Boys!" The dogs are the toast of vaudeville and seem incredibly intelligent for canines. One night, the pups get their revenge, killing Dr. Remson and placing his brain into the noggin of a horse; from then on, the horse that pulls the milk wagon is harried by five very persistent pooches.

Jack makes double dog sure no deadlines will be missed.
("The Rover Boys!")
Why does Ghastly seem to get some of the dumbest scripts from Bill and Al? Your guess is as good as mine, but this one gives him very little to do. As is often the case, his best panel is on the first page, where the Old Witch introduces the story. Healthy dog and horse cartoons don't give him much to work with.--Jack

Peter: I have to give "The Rover Boys" a couple of extra stars for being just about the most ridiculous thing I've read in a long, long time. I'm hoping Al was kicking back a few pints when he dreamed this one up but, for heaven's sake, let's see the full eight-page version that was censored, the one showing the dogs doing brain surgery on a horse. I'd buy that for a dollar! Did we really need the prologue that's also the epilogue? "Dead Right!" has a twist built on a ridiculous amount of extremes. Surely, Joseph knew that Carl had a bad heart, so why would he play such an elaborate joke on the man if it was all in fun? "Pleasant Screams!" has a great O. Henry twist but is saddled with some of the worst Joe Orlando art we've seen yet (and that trend will continue into Shock SuspenStories, below); I'm not sure why Orlando hit such a wall at this time as his earlier work was outstanding and the stuff he contributed to DC a decade later stood with the other superstars DC had in their bullpen at the time. "Strop, You're Killing Me!" is remarkable for two reasons: the bad guy turns out to be Chief Miller instead of old Dan Harper, the obvious heavy since he's being wronged. The other stand-out element of this one is the over-the-top final panel, resplendent with reds and cut meat and bone. Bill Elder was an odd choice to draw this strip (it's more of a natural for Davis); you almost expect to see little banners on the firehouse wall reading "Your mother wears army boots" or something along those lines. With Elder at the helm, you can almost substitute Archie and Jughead for Chief Miller and Old Dan.

Jose: “Dead Right” is yet another story that plays that old “Breakdown” song by putting us in the headspace of a protagonist who is “mistaken” for a corpse, but the thing that surprisingly kept my attention for the duration was Jack Davis’ art. Whereas before Davis seemed to wilt a bit in the horror mode when compared to his war stories, he really looks like he’s coming into his own here with “Dead Right,” adding more detailed linework and upping his facial expression game considerably. “Pleasant Screams,” on the other hand, has neither art nor story to recommend. Fittingly, it plays very much like what we eventually find out it is: the demented, monotonous murder-fantasies of an idle-brained student. Sadly, that means that the yarn becomes a slog to read through early on. If I have to read one more line about “needle fangs rending flesh…” etc. etc. “Strop! You’re Killing Me!” is the biggest surprise and winner this time around. After reading this, I wish that Elder had been given more horror stories. Sitting comfortably right between the barely-restrained zaniness of Jack Davis and the wholesome apple pie aesthetics of Jack Kamen, Elder’s illustrations take you gently by the hand and guide you smoothly across pages populated with those charming little doll-like people of his before whacking you upside the head with that final tenderloin shot. Zow-ee! More of that, please! Like Peter said, “The Rover Boys” cut out at the exact moment that would’ve made this story worth all that dreary buildup. All we get is a pack of mad hounds and one of them menacingly gripping a hypodermic in its jaws? Yer killin’ me, EC!


Kamen
Shock SuspenStories #10

"The Sacrifice" ★★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

". . . so shall ye reap!" ★★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"Home Run!" ★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Sweetie-Pie" ★★ 1/2
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Reed Crandall

The whole mess gets started when insurance salesman James Reed hits up his old chum John Fielding to offer a hot deal on a policy only for him to fall head over heels for hot dish Mrs. Fielding. Gloria definitely reciprocates the feeling, going so far as to tell James to come on back now, ya hear? Thus begins their steamy affair, and it isn’t long before Gloria is whispering sweet something-somethings in James’ ear about offing John. (Murder? P-p-perish the thought!) But James’ objections last as long as it takes for him to look at Gloria again, and then we’re off to the races and John is off to the pavement when James gives him the heave-ho over the balcony. Enter Paul Nichols, the friendly neighborhood pervert who spied the homicide from across the way and who now plans on using his knowledge to blackmail Gloria into becoming his sex slave marrying him while James blubbers away on the bench. Crushed at seeing his beloved degraded on a daily basis, James pens a confession taking all the blame for the plot, sends it off to the cops, and then chugs some poison. Gloria is delighted by the news; as James lies dying, she phones her lover Paul to tell him that their plan has gone off without a hitch.

Get this guy a lollipop!
("The Sacrifice")
Sure, you can see James M. Cain’s fingerprints all over “The Sacrifice,” but Al manages to pen a sordid little shocker that matches up quite nicely with Kamen’s sensibilities. Once Paul enters the scene he cuts through the staid “lovers kill the husband” mechanics like a hot knife through butter and kicks the narrative into gear with his not-so-subtle allusions to just what he plans on doing once him and Gloria tie the knot. Not quite Snidely Whiplash, but Kamen seems to be enjoying the chance to draw a character so vulgar and oily for a change. James, on the other hand, is one of the most thin-blooded protagonists we’ve seen yet; the panel of him self-admittedly crying in Gloria’s arms like a kid running to his mama is like a parody of the typical nicey-nice fellas Kamen has traded in in the past. Thankfully there’s a lot of seediness and anguish that follows that up before the perfect capper of Gloria’s dimpled, cheery face brings it all to a close.

Somewhere, a middle-aged husband and wife sit together in their home while, somewhere else, their adult son sits in the dark, thinking. All three of them are reflecting on the past, specifically the events that lead to the son’s current, sorry state. The parents are confused: didn’t they treat him well with the utmost respect and instill the best of morals in him? The son is angry: didn’t they see how hypocritical they were in their life lessons, how obliviously cold they were when he needed them most? The parents accuse him of tramping around with his girlfriend when they spy lipstick on his collar, but the son knows that it was only from when she fell asleep on his shoulder; they criticize him for bullying a smaller kid before turning around and boasting of their victories over their lessers. And so the pendulum swings back and forth until finally the son’s (legitimized?) offenses escalate to the full-blown crime of gunning down a woman for her purse. Even as the son writhes in the electric chair, the parents are filled with indignant rage at what he has done to them while the son, in his final conscious moments, finally confesses to himself that maybe everything happened just because he wasn’t a good person.


Say what you will about the ping-pong effect that “…so shall ye reap!” may have on your eyeballs, this is undeniably one of the more powerful “preachies” that have come from Feldstein’s pen. The thing of it is, though, one pauses to give it that name as there really isn’t any cause or message that’s being broadcast here, at least not at the volume that previous examples like “The Patriots” or “Hate” have had. What allows “…so shall ye reap!” to become so haunting in the final analysis is that the accusatory finger that Al normally has prepared by the opening splash still hasn’t settled on either party by the end of “…so shall…” We’ve seen both parents and son perform incredible acts of kindness as well as incredible acts of selfishness. But the brilliancy here lies in the fact that *all* of these events are filtered through personal memory, that most fickle of narrators, so that even in a tale that is ostensibly third-person we have no way of telling for sure just how accurate any of this is. All that we can objectively know is that two parents sat in their living room crying while their son was executed in prison, and that they blamed all their misfortunes on him while the son came to accept the fact that maybe, just maybe, he really was a rotten bastard the entire time. And if you’re asking me, that lets you know right there which one of them was probably telling a story closer to the truth.

The blob, five pages too late.
("Home Run")
Doctor Muller wants nothing more than to transfer out of operating the atomic pile and attempt to take  a crack at developing a rocket capable of shooting man out of Earth’s orbit and to the moon—and beyond. At first army brass laugh off his requests as fantasies, but when the doctor insists they relent and let the old greybeard have his fun. Color them much surprised when Muller turns around and delivers on his promises, and soon he’s rounding up a team of space explorers to man the first-ever trip to that angry red planet, Mars. But on the way into Mars’ orbit, Muller lets loose with a bombshell: he is in fact a castaway Martian inhabiting the body of Dr. Muller who has used his disguise and advanced alien intellect to construct the only means of returning to his home base. Pulling a gun on the crew, he promises the men a quick and fairly painless absorption by his fellow amoebas upon touch-down. The crew get the upper hand and Muller is shot in the scuffle, but the victory proves short-lived as the horrified men watch the corpse revert to the Martian’s protoplasmic body and hear the dreadful, sucking advance of his pals up the ship’s ramp.

Writing out the synopsis of “Home Run” like so actually makes it sound like it might be worth a damn, but sadly this is not the case in reality. After the engrossing and heartstring-tugging “…so shall ye reap!” this SF tale sinks the issue like a lead weight, nearly begging the reader to close their eyes and give in to sleep after seemingly endless panels of Muller and his disbelieving military supervisors going about the terribly exciting business of proposing space travel, testing rockets, talking about how determined and amazed they are and oh no zzzzzzz… The last-minute revelation that this has all been an insidious plot by an evil blob to suck its way through mankind just barely salvages this one, but I would’ve definitely preferred it had “Home Run” just introduced that thread on Page 2.

Can we keep it?!
("Sweetie-Pie")
Something is causing multiple car crashes to occur at night along lonely highways—and something else seems to be snatching the bodies of the victims from the scene—and by gum Phil the reporter is going to find out what and what! But the cars keep stacking up and the corpses keep slipping out no matter how hard the police search for them… until a handful of cadavers begin turning up of their own accord. Autopsies reveal that the bodies have been entirely drained of blood, and the presence of two telltale marks in the throat has Phil shouting “vampire!” and everyone else shouting “can it!” Phil’s fiancé Sally pulls him away from his Nosferatu obsession just long enough for them to get married and drive off for their honeymoon, but a pair of brilliant lights send the happy couple ass over teakettle down a hill. Phil, completely paralyzed from the neck down, can only watch in dread as a dark, menacing figure collects him and his wife and transport them to a makeshift morgue. There the odious gentleman pleasantly explains to Phil his love of sweet things and how his late-night snack runs have rustled up the occasional rotten morsel; thus the random cadavers that have turned up. As the gentleman prepares Phil and Sally for blood draining, the case becomes quite clear: this man is no vampire, but a ghoul!

“Sweetie-Pie” manages to build up genuine intrigue as we try to suss out the riddle of the disappearing/reappearing bodies, and the introduction of the grinning fiend in the climax and his matter-of-fact manner of talking to his food is authentically chilling, but all of this loses some of its—ahem—bite when we discover that we were being set up for the old “monster switcheroo” trick that EC so adored. Still, it feels good being in the hands of Reed Crandall, whose jittery George Evans act produces some striking compositions. --Jose

Peter: Poor Gloria (of "The Sacrifice") is stuck in a world where all her paramours look alike. What's a bad girl to do? "Home Run!" is ruined by pretty poor purple prose and one of Joe Orlando's lesser art jobs. "Sweetie-Pie" has some great Crandall work but suffers from a script torn from the pages of Spicy Terror Tales ("I'm not a vampire! I'm a ghoul!"). ". . . so shall ye reap!" rises majestically over its three mediocre compadres this issue. The "He Said . . . They Said" format actually acts as the great divide; we have no idea which side is closest to the truth and Al seems very happy keeping it that way. The climax still packs a wallop and I can't even begin to guess how it went over 64 years ago. Not being a wealthy man myself, I'm reading these EC funny books courtesy of the reprints Russ Cochran published in the 1990s. Not only did Cochran do us a service by sharing these classics with us but he also would, from time to time, take us behind the scenes of EC. Such is the case with the letters page for Shock SuspenStories #10 (December 1994), wherein Russ reprints before-and-after panels from   ". . . so shall ye reap!" Evidently suspecting that the panel reprinted below would cause trouble, EC self-censored the art before it was published.

Pre-censoring.
(". . . so shall ye reap!")

The panel that was published.
(". . . so shall ye reap!")

Jack: I thought ". . . so shall ye reap!" was a chore to read and a waste of good art. Who wants to read this sermon? On balance, I sided with the parents. As I began to read "The Sacrifice," I thought the writing style was a joke, since it sounded more like a Love Story pulp than an EC comic, but if there was a joke in there I must have missed it. The tale is yet another variation on James M. Cain's Postman with no surprises. "Home Run!" is boring and overly talky, but I did like the panel where the Martian blob eats the scientist. That leaves "Sweetie-Pie," which I loved from start to finish. A great mix of crime and horror with a worthy twist, it features more superb art by Crandall.


Craig
The Vault of Horror #32

"Whirlpool" ★★
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Out of His Head!" ★★
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"An Ample Sample" ★★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and William Gaines
Art by George Evans

"Funereal Disease!" ★★
Story by William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels





Taking a hot dip in the "Whirlpool!"
Why are three strange and ugly creatures trying to kill a poor, distraught young woman? Why is she subjected to tortures such as the rack, long needles, scalding baths, and freezing ice, with the pièce de résistance being the electric chair? Well, actually she's not. This poor woman is caught in a "Whirlpool" of madness within her own mind. When she awakens and a kind man leads her down a hallway, three doctors (the three monsters from the intro) explain each phenomenon to the distraught young lady: the long needles (simply a sedative), the scalding bath and ice (shock treatment!), and the electric chair (electro-therapy). You guessed it; our heroine is an inmate at an asylum and, as the three doctors transform back into monsters in the woman's mind, we learn that this madness will continue. "Whirlpool" is akin to a 8-page funny book version of the Hitchcock/Dali dream sequence from Spellbound; it works for what it is but it won't make anyone's Best of the Year list. Johnny Craig is vague as to this woman's circumstances (we're never even told her name) and, in this case, that might be a good thing. There's a risqué, almost S&M vibe to some of the "tortures" the protagonist is put through--dress unbuttoned, cleavage exposed, the poor maiden is grabbed by the hair and stretched out on a rack a la the Spicy pulps.

"Whirlpool!"

He thinks he's so cleaver.
("Out of His Head!")
Out in the woods, Alex buries a meat cleaver in the skull of his law partner, Stanley, but the man refuses to stay down. Though he flees the scene and heads back to his lush apartment, Alex can't get rid of the walking corpse. Everywhere he turns, there's Stanley with that ridiculous cleaver halfway through his skull! Alex finally gets the bright idea that if he can't see Stanley, Stanley won't be there, so he takes an ice pick to his own eyes. Waking up in the hospital after an eye operation, the first thing the murderer sees is a bright, shiny object embedded in a skull. Knowing he can never escape Stanley, he throws himself out the hospital window. The doctor, with his head-reflector atop his noggin, mutters that Alex must have been "Out of His Head!" Like Johnny Craig with "Whirlpool," Al sidesteps motive and history (other than to have Alex exclaim that "everything is mine now!") and, while he's at it, an involving story. This is a two-pager strrrrrrretched to seven.

Irwin braves a steady downpour to return a hammer and saw to neighbor, Bert, and asks Bert to come over to his place to see what he's built. Bert tells him that as soon as the rain stops he'll be more than happy to see his neighbor's new project and invites Irwin to wait out the storm. Irwin begins crying and Bert pulls the story out of him. Years before, Irwin and his wife, Hannah, were happy as could be but then Hannah developed a sweet tooth and would spend every dime of Irwin's meager pay on fancy chocolates (as a substitute for what Irwin "as her husband, couldn't satisfy"). Gaining an enormous amount of weight, Hannah eats the couple right into the poor house but the final straw is when the behemoth finds the money that Irwin has been saving up for a new set of duds (he hasn't bought any new clothes in years!). "I murdered her, Bert!," the distraught man confesses and begs his friend to follow him back to the house. When they get there, Bert sees exactly what Irwin has been up to with the borrowed tools: a giant candy box filled with "An Ample Sample" of Hannah! Milking that "Foul Play"/" 'Taint the Meat . . ." climax yet again, Al proves that what he needed most in 1953 was a little time off and maybe another writer on these horror stories. Hannah's transformation from lovely (and thin) girl to selfish (and obese) shrew seems to be pulled out of whole cloth, with the throw-away rationale being that Irwin can't give his wife that extra something in bed, so she turns to the cocoa bean for comfort. I love George Evans but there's not much room for the artist to flex his muscles, with just a couple of loony panels (Irwin's bug eyes as he shows Bert the new toy and the reveal panel itself).

Ya never know what ya gonna get.
("An Ample Sample!")

"Funereal Disease!"
Gardener Jasper Milliken has been working on the Fairchild Estate for decades and now, nearing the end of his life, he's saved up just about enough for a nice funeral. Since a proper burial was denied his mother and father (they got the potter's field), it's been Jasper's life goal to have a nice send-off. His boss, Niles Fairchild, on the other hand, hasn't got the proverbial pot to piss in and discovers Jasper counting his pile of greenbacks one night. Knowing that the money could get his life back in order, Niles enlists his business partner, Tom, to help murder Jasper. Deed done and Jasper buried in the same potter's field as Mom and Pop, Niles re-establishes himself in the world of profit and success. The partners have a celebratory drink and Tom heads for home. Soon after, the rotting corpse of Jasper Milliken makes a call on Niles and beats him to death. The authorities arrest Tom for murder so he can't make Niles's funeral but that's okay, neither can Niles. Jasper's dumped his body in the potter's field and taken Niles's place in the sumptuous coffin. With a few variations, we've seen this one before. I thought it interesting that Niles involved Tom in the murder but the rising of Jasper is almost, note for note, the resurrection of Arthur Grimsdyke in "Poetic Justice." Is the title a take-off of "venereal disease?" If so, it's another example of Al pushing that envelope. All in all, a very average issue of The Vault of Horror.

Rich man, poor corpse.
("Funereal Disease!")

The cover was self-censored post-production (but before the issue was published) in a ludicrous fashion. Are we to take that the corpse at the door has just been crapped on by an enormous seagull? No, nothing that sinister. Fearing that they'd take hell for the violence on the cover as well as between the covers, Bill and Al had the original cover (shown below) tinkered with. Not that the tamer version kept Wertham off their backs.--Peter


Original cover for Vault #32,
pre-censoring, from a house ad.
Jack: Peter, did we read the same comic book? I think this may be the best horror comic I've ever read, with no story getting less than three stars. Craig's cover is astonishing in its violence and makes me want to write to my congressman. "Whirlpool" is another classic that I remember from the big book and my young friends and I used to chant its refrain of "Who are you? What's your name?" to each other. Craig and co. make great use of words, pictures, colors, and lettering to tell a gripping and horrible story, and the final transformation of the three doctors into three floating heads of horror is truly terrifying. The circle is closed and we return at the end to where we were at the beginning.

Jack Davis also does fine work in "Out of His Head!" though his drawing of the head with the cleaver stuck in it is not as brilliant as Johnny Craig's version on the cover. Still, the image is a shocking one and it is repeated over and over until we readers can almost sympathize with the monstrous choice to put out one's eyes with an ice pick! EC is going farther and farther with the gore here and it will soon be the end of them. "An Ample Sample" has a great buildup and a socko ending and, while it does recall the earlier stories Peter mentions, this kind of creativity never gets old.

Finally, "Funereal Disease!" finds Ghastly in top form doing what he does best--drawing a shambling corpse exacting its revenge. I'll say it again: from cover to cover, perhaps the best horror comic I've ever read.

Jose: While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that VOH 32 is one of the best horror comics I’ve ever read, I will say that I lean more closely to Jack’s estimation of this issue than Peter’s. “Whirlpool” has a bit of a lag to its pacing, but it’s a worthy experiment in terror and form that’s a pleasure to drink in with your eyes. The frequent comparisons Jack has made between Johnny Craig and Will Eisner feel especially warranted by this story, as we see Johnny constantly toying with the limitations and the opportunities of the comic book medium to add to the mood of his story. (Take for instance the canny utilization of the shrinking room to create a series of four diminishing panels against the dark backdrop.) “Out of His Head” was a tale that I had a lot of fondness for back in my salad days, and though like “Fare Tonight…” from TFTC 36 my adoration of it might have cooled just a bit it still remains a fun read that showcases Jack Davis’ ever-increasing prowess at depicting more convincing anatomy and great facial expressions. I see what Peter means about this one feeling stretched, but if you ask me—and you are, aren’t you?—“Out of His Head” is just about the perfect length for a dramatized adaptation. I remember thinking “An Ample Sample” was a lazy retread on my first exposure to it, but my growing affection for George Evans’ art and keener critical eye (ha!) have allowed me to appreciate this one much more on its own terms. A simple yarn that falls back on the old “what-can-we-do-with-the-body-parts-this-time?” shtick, perhaps, but under Evans’ unerring pen it strikes truly unsettling chords, particularly in that final, grimmer-than-I-first-realized panel. “Funereal Disease” is another serviceable story that benefits from Feldstein’s and Ingels’ charming portrayal of poor, old Milliken. The gardener doesn’t elicit the sympathy of an Arthur Grimsdyke, but we get just enough of his personal history and motivation that we can’t help but root on that hobbling, sour-looking cadaver when it comes back to literally kick the crap out of his tormentor and then pull the bastard’s funeral ceremony right out from under him. (P.S. I could never put a finger on just what pun was at work in this title, but now that Peter has pointed out that one salacious possibility I'm kind of in shock.)

Next Issue
War may be Hell but . . .
Heath is Heaven!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Issue 110: February/March 1970

The DC War Comics
1959-1976
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook


Kubert
Star Spangled War Stories 149

"Reach for the Heavens"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"The Terror Stone!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Brave and the Bold #11, May 1957)

"Boadicea Queen of the Iceni!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Ric Estrada

Peter: Years ago, when he was still a young recruit, Hans von Hammer flew beside the very unfriendly Heinrich Muller, a pompous young man with no morals or qualms about fighting dirty. For reasons unknown to Hans, Muller develops a dislike of the future Enemy Ace and that dislike turns into hatred after a practical joke played on Muller by von Hammer's mates. Muller challenges Hans to a duel and gets the better of him, leaving a scar on von Hammer's face. On their first flight, the two are forced to fly in the same Fokker and Hans is witness to Muller's blood lust when he shoots down a helpless French pilot. Now, in present day, Hans learns that Muller will be joining his squadron and he's none too happy about it. But men hardly have time to exchange steely glances before they're called in to battle. Once again, the Hammer watches as Muller shoots down a defenseless pilot but then must suffer when the enemy exacts their revenge on Hans and shoots him down. Inexplicably, Muller maneuvers his Albatross to rescue Hans and deliver him safely to the ground. When the Enemy Ace approaches the cockpit to thank his colleague, he discovers that Heinrich Muller is dead.


"Reach for the Heavens" finds Bob Kanigher safely back in stellar script territory after the misfire that was "Enemy Ace and His Pal, Schatzi!" Some might say that the climax is weak and Muller's about-face and rescue of Hans makes no sense but I'd argue that's what makes the script so strong. Muller is an enigma; thank God Kanigher didn't inject any last-panel pathos or Muller expository about "seeing the light" or anything like that. Muller was a really bad guy who did one good deed. Every post we rattle on about how great Joe Kubert was but all you'd have to do to win that argument is present evidence like that on page 10. Does any artist in today's comic biz take such pains to visualize action?

I'm not happy about the Enemy Ace strip being halved but if the vile deed must be done then at least we're not given a "My Sergeant Was a Jackass" reprint but an exciting installment of Joe Kubert's classic Viking Prince strip that ran in The Brave and the Bold from #1-24 (in the days before B&B became the inspiration for Marvel Team-Up). In "The Terror Stone!," Jon, the Viking Prince, must somehow defeat the dastardly Thorvald, who has rescued a meteor from obscurity and is using it to disrupt life in Jon's village. Joe's art is fabulous and the script is an exciting one but wouldn't it have been ideal to reprint the first chapter rather than the tenth? The VP will also see an appearance next issue as Joe and Bob stall for time before closing the curtain on Hans von Hammer and unleashing another long-running strip  in SSWS.


"Boadicea Queen of the Iceni!" is the latest in artist (though the writer is uncredited, I believe it's Big Bob doing the chores but I've been wrong before) Ric Estrada's profile series of war and warriors of centuries past. Though it only clocks in at four pages, "Boadicea" is intriguing enough to set the modern reader off to Wikipedialand for more info. Estrada had an almost cinematic style to his work (witness the unique way he shows us the battle through the calm and serene of the trees below) that's easy on the eye and keeps the pages turning.


Jack: Agreed on all counts. I welcome a bit of back story for Hans von Hammer in the opening tale, and it's interesting that von Hammer appreciates having the heartless Muller on his side in battle. Story and art are excellent and the ending is slightly mysterious. The Viking Prince story is also terrific, but does it really qualify as a war story? I know there's some fighting, but don't we get that in every DC superhero comic? Even the 4-page Estrada story is entertaining, with its depiction of a battle between Britons and Romans. A fine issue all around!


Kubert
Our Army at War 215

"The Pied Piper of Peril!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"The Face of Death"
Story Uncredited
Art by Fred Ray

"Liegnitz and the Mongol Tide!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

Jack: Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. are met by a Nazi ambush when they approach a French town that is supposed to be clear of enemy soldiers. Rock machine guns the Nazis, all but one, who asks to be spared. As the men of Easy Co. hold the town and await reinforcements, it becomes evident that the surviving Nazi is like "The Pied Piper of Peril!" He has some strange hold over the town's children, who steal Easy Co.'s rifles under cover of dark to protect him. Rock challenges the enemy soldier to a man to man fight and quickly gets the best of him; the children reveal that the Nazi said their parents would be killed if they failed to shelter him.

"The Pied Piper of Peril!"

This issue has a classic Kubert cover but, despite decent interior art by Heath, the story doesn't live up to its promise. The Nazi isn't much of a pied piper, though he does whittle a flute while he sits around killing time, but it makes no sense that he would have the kids protecting him with Easy Co.'s guns and then get so offended by one of Rock's taunts that he agrees to a fistfight.

"The Face of Death"
A newspaper artist named Joel Kurt visits the front lines of a Civil War battle, hoping to see and capture on paper "The Face of Death." He draws pictures of Union soldiers mowing down approaching rebel troops with a Gatling gun, but he's not satisfied. He gets down in a trench and draws the same troops firing on more rebels, but it's still not good enough. Running into the midst of battle, he is shot and uses a mirror to capture his own image as he dies. But the soldiers gathered around see nothing on the page and conclude that no one living can ever see the true face of death.

This story reminds me of something I might have seen in a Red Circle mystery comic from the early 1970s hosted by Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. It's not very scary and it's not drawn very well. While I applaud DC for trying to tell stories of wars other than WWII, they need to try a little harder than this.

"Liegnitz and the Mongol Tide!"
Europe, 1241: "Liegnitz and the Mongol Tide!" tells of Duke Henry of Silesia's battle with the Mongol hordes. At first, his troops seem to be winning, but when the Mongols pull a surprise flanking move, it's all over for Duke Henry, who is pierced with many lances.

These little stories are getting to be cool! I love learning about battles from hither and yon in days of yore. Ric Estrada's art is growing on me as well.

Peter: "The Pied Piper of Peril" is a pretty good tale but Big Bob seems to lead us down the wrong path with a DC war version of The Village of the Damned, only to resolve the eerie affair in a couple of cop-out panels. Those kids were acting a little too weird for there to be a logical explanation. Still, a crackling good script and Russ Heath put this near the top of this year's Sgt. Rock stories. I liked "The Face of Death," especially its eerie climax, but what's with the Cain and Abel appearance after the last panel? It's probably supposed to be an in-house ad but it looks more like a sign-off! Ric Estrada goes two for two this month with fascinating history lessons. This guy's head and shoulders above my old history teacher, Mr. McKinney, in the "involve while teaching" department.

Our two friends bring back fond memories
for a couple of old bloggers


Kubert
G.I. Combat 140

"The Last Tank!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #50, October 1957)

"Time Bomb Tank!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #63, October 1961)

"Second-String Soldier!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Mort Drucker
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #71, June 1958)

"Face of the Enemy!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #56, March 1957)

"The Last Tank!"
Peter: Joe Kubert was obviously feeling the ominous shadow of the deadline looming over his shoulder as this is an all-reprint issue of GIC but at least he stocks it with four very good trips into the past. First up, "The Last Tank!" gives us what is essentially a warm-up for Gunner and Sarge; a Sergeant and his bazooka-man tear their way through World War II, with Sam, the anti-tank bazooka-man, being called on to dispatch everything under the sun except tanks and complaining the whole way (a la Gunner). But the big difference between "The Last Tank!" and just about any episode of the Gunner and Sarge sitcom is that the entire affair is not played for laughs; there's a very tense moment when Sam has to take out German artillery, firing several times before hitting the mark.

The hero of "Second-String Soldier!" has been warming the bench all his life, as a youngster playing cowboys and Indians, as a college football player, as . . . you get the picture. But now, with a bazooka on his shoulder and a field full of Nazi Tigers, this guy is anything but second-string! Bob Haney (remember him?) falls back on the "lousy sports guy makes stellar G.I." chestnut (but what DC war story of the 1950s didn't?) but still manages to invest his script with exciting dialogue ("All right, scrub team--don't let 'em brush us back! LOAD ME!") and then does the smart thing: sit back and let ace Mort Drucker fill those panels with gritty magic!

"Second-String Soldier!"
In the final reprint, a green G.I. becomes obsessed with seeing "The Face of the Enemy!" up close and personal. Tired of seeing Nazis on posters and in films, this guy desires a one-on-one with a German but a series of mishaps sees him landing on top in private battles but never actually taking the enemy on hand-to-hand. That is, until a Nazi jumps him from behind and our hero must work his way out of a dangerous situation. "The Face of the Enemy!" is the perfect example of Big Bob reeeeeeeaching for a plot and grabbing hold of whatever he can; the G.I.'s fascination is irrational. But, like "Second-String Soldier!," the writer makes us look away from the obvious and concentrate on the action at hand.  While Russ Heath's art is very good here, it's evident rather quickly that Heath was an artist that got better with time.

Jack: For an all-reprint issue, this is darn good! Kubert, Heath, Drucker, and Heath--what a lineup! The first two stories fly by at six pages apiece; the third relies on repeating the same phrase ad nauseam but is propped up by great Drucker visuals. The fourth includes some interesting, subjective panels by Heath. Reprints, yes, but well worth fifteen cents!


Kubert
Our Army at War 216

"Doom Over Easy!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #107, June 1961)

"Silver Star for a Tin Can!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #33, May 1958)

"Last on a Match!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #77, October 1959)

"Unknown G.I."
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Russ Heath
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #41, January 1959)

"Return to Beach Red!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #11, July 1956)

"Introducing--The Haunted Tank"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #87, May 1961)

"Chaeronaea!"
Story and Art by Ric Estrada

"Silver Star for a Tin Can!"
Jack: An aircraft carrier is guarded by a small destroyer when the Japanese fleet attacks. The little ship protects the big ones until Allied planes arrive and bomb the Japanese ships. A star-shaped hole in the bow of the destroyer looks like an award of a "Silver Star for a Tin Can!"

After a top-notch, full-length, Easy Co. reprint opens this annual, things get silly very quickly with a reprint that features one of our least favorite techniques: two boats talking to each other! Heath draws ships well but there isn't much to this six-pager from 1958.

"Return to Beach Red!"
Despite my permanent dislike for the art of Ross and Mike, I enjoyed "Last on a Match!," another six-page reprint from 1959. It's followed by the story of an "Unknown G.I.!" A general at Army HQ examines photos taken from aerial reconnaissance of the field of battle; they show an unknown G.I. wreaking havoc among the Nazi troops and artillery and then blending back into his unit, bound to remain unknown despite his heroism.

Heath does nice work here and we never see the face of the soldier, making his efforts seem universal. The story is followed by another six-pager, this time by Kubert, in which Charlie Burke makes a "Return to Beach Red!" to try to recover the memory of what happened to him ten years before when he was part of the assault at Normandy. The story rings all of the familiar changes but the art strongly reminds me of the work of Steve Ditko.

"Chaeronaea!"
Another long story follows, "Introducing--the Haunted Tank!" This is, of course, the first entry in the long-running series that made the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart a household name. It is interesting to note that, in this issue's letters column, editor Joe Kubert writes that he is writing the scripts for Sgt. Rock while Russ Heath draws them. News to me!

The lone new story in the 1970 annual is "Chaeronaea!" by Ric Estrada, another of his historical war pieces. This time, King Philip of Macedon defeats the Greeks with a big helping hand from his son, Alexander, soon to have "the Great" added to his name. For now, he'll have to get by on his flowing red hair and matinee looks.

Another year, another annual! 68 pages for a quarter. We'll never see the likes again!

Peter: Of the reprints, the most distracting might be "The Unknown G.I.!," which is another take on a formula that's been run right into the ground. Very disappointing art by Russ Heath; disappointing in that it's notably unremarkable. Whereas pert near every panel of a Russ Heath story deserves to be taken in with both peepers wide open, this one shows Russ knocking a few dozen panels out without much pizazz, a feat I would not have deemed possible. "Silver Star for a Tin Can!" is another old trope utilized way too many times. All I could think was that, as the two ships are yelling at each other, the Japanese boats surely could be listening in and plotting their own strategies. "Return to Beach Red!" is built on a pretty wild stream of coincidences and weak Kubert art. "Chaeronaea!" is another in a series of enjoyable history lessons; short and tight, the way they should be.


Kubert
Our Fighting Forces 123

"Cold Deadly as a Bullet!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Russ Heath

"No Medals No Graves"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Ken Barr

Peter: Ever since he was a kid back on the farm, Joe just can't seem to get away from the cold. Now, as a G.I., it's even worse as Joe pinballs from one freezing nightmare (breaking through a thin icy layer of a lake and being swept downstream while fired on by Nazi m.g.s!) to another (ambushed by Krauts and having to play possum in the snow) before finally getting some good news from his CO: his company needs only take a Nazi-held town and, afterward, hot showers and food for all the men! With a goal now in sight, Joe and his comrades invade the town but are driven back by a sniper. With the will of a madman, Joe makes his way to the tower the sniper is located in and destroys the menace but is mortally wounded. As the wreckage of the tower burns around him, Joe finally gets warm. A really solid opening tale this issue (a rare non-series opener although Joe, on the letters page, identifies the opener as the Losers story, so perhaps last-minute changes were made?), "Cold Deadly as a Bullet!" takes us back to the days a few years ago when Howard Liss could do no wrong. Once again, Liss ignores the cliches and cold-shoulders the happy ending to bring us what these titles promise: gritty war drama. If there's a "yeah, but . . . ," it would have to be my doubts about the human body surviving freezing cold temperatures and exposure for such a long period of time.

"Cold Deadly as a Bullet!

Jack: I agree with you. Joe should have died from the exposure to cold long before he did. It was too bad that he made through the freezing water and snow only to end up getting shot to death. It's strange that this story opens the issue, especially with the comment on the letters page and the cover. And what's with that giant text box on the cover? I'd like to see Kubert's art without that in the way.

Peter: It's high time that Hunter's Hellcats (and the readers) got a break from the war, so the new team on the block for deadly missions is The (Born) Losers, made up of Captain Storm, Lt. Johnny Cloud, and Gunner and Sarge.  The team is called to headquarters, where an Army colonel explains their first mission: Storm just happens to be the exact twin (right down to the wooden leg!) of Howard, an agent captured by the Nazis, who has escaped to bring info to the Allies. Storm will impersonate Howard and drop behind enemy lines, where he will be captured and tortured. He's to hold out for 48 hours and then give the enemy the false info that a commando team will be raiding Sur Le Vence. The plan goes off without a hitch and Storm is introduced to S. S. Colonel Von Kleit, a sadistic Nazi (with a brace supporting his broken neck--gotta have those infirmities), who buys into Storm as Howard and then dangles him high over a mountain cliff until the man will spill the beans on Allied activity. Meanwhile, the rest of the Losers parachute behind enemy lines, take out an ammo train and then commandeer a plane to rescue Storm. They arrive just in time and rescue Storm.


Ignoring for a moment that "No Medals No Graves" is one of the dumbest scripts we've yet encountered, I'm vague as to what exactly the mission was. Storm impersonates Howard for what reason? To give false information about a raid that is actually going to take place, but pulled off by Cloud, Gunner, and Sarge? And what was the raid to accomplish? The trio parachute in and stumble upon an ammo train that was, seemingly, not in the plans. I'm afraid Big Bob lost sight of the plot here and just tossed in whatever he could. The groaners come fast and hard here:


- In a goofy prologue (appropriately titled "Exit Laughing") that shows Hunter's Hellcats the exit, Hunter says the only way the Hellcats catch a break from the war is if they find suitable replacements and he knows "just the right guys!" How? The foursome soon to be known as "The Losers" aren't a team yet and the only G.I. who might know anything about them is Jeb Stuart, who helped form the team back in G.I. Combat #138. Did Hunter read the inter-Army newsletter? Hear chatter on the walkie-talkie? Inquiring minds want to know.

- Gunner and Sarge (as well as the rest of the future Losers) are stuck in a "Replacement Depot" and inquire as to their status. They give their names as "Gunner" and "Sarge" and are astonished to see their names are not on the transfer list! "Why, yes, my name is Sarge. Can you check the list again?"

- Perhaps the howler to end all howlers this issue is the case of agent Howard. We've seen enough "exact twins" in these comics to ignore that coincidence and maybe even the coincidence that "London intelligence" has such incredible cross-filing that they can find an exact replica of Howard in only a few hours, but the fact that both Howard and Storm have wooden legs (and the same leg!)? Yes, men are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound in the DC Universe but twins with matching logs? I think not. Oh, and immediately after giving out the important info, Howard dies. Oh, boy!

Not a good sign of things to come if the first installment of a new series is just as ludicrous as the series it replaces. If nothing else, we have Ken Barr's sparkling visuals to distract us. Barr, at times, nears Heath territory but then veers away into something akin to Novick. Whichever extreme he experiments with, the results are always exciting and well-choreographed. At least, Andru and Esposito are nowhere in sight. What's that you say, Jack? A&E take over next issue? Noooooooooo . . .

One more look at the opener to wash away that nasty taste . . .

Jack: You're kidding about Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, aren't you? Aren't you?? The cover touts the new series and we open the comic to find a random Russ Heath story. We then get a one-pager with the Hellcats that leads into the Losers story, during which the Hellcats make another quick appearance. If the new series is so thrilling, why stick it in the back of the book? You hit all the right notes regarding the plot and I agree with you that the art is nice, but they're going to have to do better than this if the new series is going to be any better than the one it replaced. And by the way, Hunter's Hellcats replaced the adventures of Captain Hunter, which weren't very good either. Since this comic lasts another eight years and almost sixty issues, this series must get better, right?


Kubert
Our Army at War 217

"Surprise Party!"
Story and Art by Joe Kubert

"Come the Revolution!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Fred Ray

Jack: Sgt. Rock notices that the men of Easy Co. are unusually quiet, but they deny that anything is going on. The captain calls Sgt. Rock into his tent and tells him that Easy Co. needs to cross a river where Nazis are guarding a bridge so that Rock and his men can meet up with Able and Baker Companies. Rock takes Bulldozer, Little Sure Shot, and Ice Cream Soldier and starts crossing the river in a rubber raft, but Nazi frogmen upset their plans and the good guys are captured by the Nazis on the other side.

Rock tells the Nazi commander that the American troops are heading for the bridge and so the Nazis aim their big guns at the crossing. The rest of the men of Easy Co. cross the river quietly, climb up the banks, and surprise the Nazis by attacking their flanks; the battle is over quickly. Wildman then reveals that it's Rock's birthday and they found him a helmet and new shirt--unfortunately, the gifts were shot full of holes during the battle and Rock looks as distressed as ever!

"Surprise Party!"
I wondered what Joe Kubert meant about writing the Rock stories in the letters column in the annual, and now I know--he wrote this one and it's a treat! The double-page spread on pages two and three includes six "floating heads" of men in Easy Co.--five we've heard of and someone named "Woeful Willie." In spite of ten-plus years with Sgt. Rock and Easy Co., they still can't scrape up six Combat Happy Joes we recognize. The story itself is exciting and the business about Rock's birthday is a welcome bit of fun. Kubert's art is outstanding.

Back in 1777, tensions were heating up in the Ohio Valley. Davy saves Dan's life by shooting a bear right before the beast could attack Dan; the two agree to be best friends forever. Both of their farms are destroyed by rebels and Dan joins up with the British soldiers so he can exact revenge on the rebels. His commander tells him to calm down but Dan heads off into the woods alone, where he is shot in the shoulder by a hidden sniper. He locates the sniper in a tree and kills him with a single shot, but his commander gives him a letter found on the sniper's body and tells him to see if he can figure out where to send the body for burial. Dan is horrified to discover, on reading the letter, that the sniper he killed was none other than his old pal, Davy.

"Come the Revolution!"
"Come the Revolution!" is surprisingly good and takes an almost Enemy Ace approach to the American Revolution. When we first meet Dan and Davy, we think they'll be on the side of the revolutionaries, but we quickly learn that they're not, and why. The British soldiers are shown to be more reasonable and compassionate than Dan, the American colonist, and the ending is tragic. Even Fred Ray's rather rudimentary art can't hurt this story.

Peter: I enjoyed both stories this issue, but the Rock was a load of fun. A couple of really nifty twists I didn't see coming. "Come the Revolution!" also finished off with a welcome surprise but I'm not warming up to Fred Ray's art--it's still a little too much like Grandenetti's for my tastes. Circulation figures show the Our Army at War fan base slipping drastically. OAaW sold an average of 180,137 copies in 1969 as opposed to the 189,221 numbers of the previous year.

Next Week...
Is this the most Shocking SuspenStory
of all time?

From Our Army at War 217

From Our Army at War 217