Monday, January 30, 2017

EC Comics! It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 24: July 1952

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
                     24: July 1952

Crime SuspenStories #11

"Stiff Punishment!"  
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"One Man's Poison!"  ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Two for One!"  ★ 1/2
"Four for One!"  ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Fool and His Honey are Soon Parted!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

He went to Jared's! (Again!)
"Stiff Punishment!" 
Anything resembling love has long flown the coop for Jo Ann and Fred and it's only a matter of time before they come to blows. Fred's a medical teacher at a local college and he uses corpses in his class like other teachers use slide rules or globes, so an idea suddenly pops into his diseased brain: he'll kill his wife, disfigure her beyond recognition and hang her up with the rest of the cadavers. The first two-thirds of the plan go as well as can be hoped for but, while the police are questioning Fred in his classroom, one of the students happens to pick Jo Ann's body to work on. Cutting her open, the boy finds Jo Ann's wedding ring and approaches his teacher about the discovery. The police get their man and, to add insult to injury, Fred hears one of his students remark that Jo Ann had advanced cancer of the liver and would have died in a matter of weeks! Drum roll (or dumb roll), please. "Stiff Competition!" is DOA, a story so cliched and inane that it really does shock. As usual, this EC couple is so vile and treat each other with such disregard that it stretches credibility but, in this case, it happens seemingly overnight. Are we to believe that Fred didn't tell Jo Ann that he dissects corpses until after they were married? And how about that one-two-three shock climax? At what point did Jo Ann swallow her ring? How exactly would hiding your wife's corpse at work be a good idea when dissection is how you make your living? Gibbs (the boy who cuts open Jo Ann) should just skip medical school and hang out his shingle now since he can diagnose terminal cancer in seconds! Oh Johnny, tell us it was the deadline.

Mary echoes Peter's sentiments about
Jack Kamen's stories.
("One Man's Poison!")
Mary has had enough of husband John and the feeling is mutual. The only way out is . . . murder (where have I heard that before?). Rather than stick her hubby with a knife or conk him on the head with a frying pan, Mary hatches a grand scheme: she'll expose several cans of string beans (sweet and sour string beans are John's favorite dish) to the elements, wait for them to go rotten, eat some a little at a time so she develops an immunity to food poisoning (no, seriously!), and then serve them for John's last supper. Mary invites over their mutual friend, Dick ("We love having Dick!"), as an unwitting alibi and sets the table. Promptly after finishing his meal, John complains of stomach pain and keels over dead. For the benefit of Dick (I really wanted to use that phrase in a sentence), Mary feigns nausea while her friend calls the doctor. The new widow lifts John's glass of wine and downs it in celebration just as Dick comes back in the room with startling news: he's found a note by the phone, written by John, confessing to Mary that he loves her but he couldn't go on so he poisoned his own wine.  "One Man's Poison!" proves that Al can write a War of the Roses-type tale just as badly as Johnny. The only highlight, for me, was the unique panel of Mary reclining on her sofa, explaining to us her plan. The unseen narrator usually lets us know what's going on but here we get a rare breaking of the fourth wall by one of the characters.  If nothing else, the tale contains the most unique method of murder: death by rotten string bean. Give Mary a lot of credit for sticking out the weeks of eating bad vegetables and developing an immune system that tolerates ptomaine. Reading this story is tantamount to eating bad string beans.

"Two for One!"
Carlton Ashley is deep into debt, or so his accountant tells him, and the only way out is to raise twenty thousand pronto. Coincidentally, Ashley is approached the next day by a stranger who promises the man he can get "Two for One!" on his investment immediately but Ashley rebuffs him, smelling a rat. When his accountant tells him that he has a week or two at the most before he must pony up the money or declare bankruptcy, Ashley calls on the stranger for details of the get-rich-quick scheme. The man opens a briefcase full of twenty thousand dollars in counterfeit bills and tells his customer the price is ten grand. Seeing no way out, Ashley agrees and heads for the airport. While sitting at the gate, the justifiably-nervous Ashley is approached by cops asking about the briefcase. He disavows any knowledge of the case and leaves, not knowing he's been the victim of an elaborate scam concocted by his accountant.

"Four for One!"
Leslie Stevenson, President of City Bank, helps a new customer who has a strange request: in order to impress a prospective client, Mr. Irwin would like Stevenson's tellers to act as though Irwin is a long-time customer of the bank and to accept any check signed by Irwin. After Irwin gives the bank president ten grand to deposit in the new account, Stevenson agrees. The next day, while he's out on business, Stevenson is not witness to five different men cashing five checks for ten grand, all signed by Mr., Irwin, effectively earning "Four for One!" The first set of a new series that will appear in the next five issues of Crime, these "EC Quickies" would probably have fared better as prose stories rather than illustrated short-shorts. Of the two, obviously, "Two for One!" fares better due to its greater length ("Four for One!" only runs two pages to "Two" 's four) and more elaborate con job. Al and Jack run out of room before they can illustrate the last twist so it has to be crammed in a last-panel prose expository. It's not a bad little story; it's just that there's not much to it. That goes double for "Four" (pun intended), where the brevity necessitates the inclusion of stupid characters (what bank president is going to okay such a nutty request for a brand new client?).

"A Fool and His Honey . . ."
Fellow plantation owner Armand tries to warn Charles Cartier about the visiting plantation inspector and his lecherous ways but Charles insists that his marriage to Nanette is solid as a rock. When Rudy Marchand, the plantation agent, arrives, he immediately begins a campaign to literally charm the pants off Nanette. The plot works, and soon the woman is making plans to leave Charles and go away with Marchand. The midnight trysts do not go unwitnessed, however, and Charles begins his counter-plan. The trio are invited to witness a ceremony celebrating the engagement of the daughter of a powerful local chief and, while there, Marchand becomes intrigued by the native girl. He discovers that the future bride must wait, totally naked, three days until her groom comes to her hut. Cartier warns the agent that if a stranger so much as looks at the girl, it is certain death. Marchand snickers and almost considers it a dare. Later that night, a dark figure enters the native girl's hut and is seen fleeing; the man leaves behind a pith helmet, very clearly the helmet of Rudy Marchand.

"No, no Nanette!"
Humor in a Jungle Vein.
("A Fool and His Honey . . .")
The next morning, Charles and Nanette awake to find Rudy gone and Nanette breaks down, confessing her sins to her husband. Meanwhile, in the jungle, Marchand has been staked to the ground, honey poured on him, and abandoned for the red ants to have their way with him. Some time later, Charles stumbles on the flesh-picked skeleton of Marchand while on the way to see his friend Armand and witnesses that "A Fool and His Honey are Soon Parted!" Charles carries Marchand's white Panama suit and admits that he's only sorry he had to leave Marchand's pith helmet in the hut that night as Armand would have loved that as well. Great twist ending to an above-average adultery tale; it's nice to see that not all of the EC females who stray down that path are evil and murderous. Some are simply human, like Nanette. Gorgeous Ingels art here; in particular, the moody depiction of Rudy and Nanette's late-night stroll. And, hey, here's a first: every one of Ingels's characters seems to have a full set of teeth! --Peter

"A Fool and His Honey . . ."

Jack: The splash panel for Johnny Craig's story is fantastic, but the tale goes downhill from there and the twist ending is too little, too late. I chuckled when Fred addressed his boss at the college as "Dean Martin"; the singer was famous enough by then to make me sure that this was an in-joke. The Kamen story is yet another tough dame murders her husband piece and it makes me wonder if one really can build up immunity to ptomaine poisoning with increasing daily doses. I'll let someone else test it out. Jack Davis was a good choice to draw the two quickies and, while I always enjoy a good confidence game, I agree with Peter that the first one seemed more likely to succeed than the second. I got another chuckle out of the Ghastly story when Rudy was described as a "love-pirate"--that sounds like a long lost hit by Duran Duran! While the twist ending was good, I think they missed an opportunity to show something a bit more horrible involving ants devouring a body.

Jose: A fairly average installment of Crime that starts out at a slow, almost grinding chug before managing to pick up a bit of steam (in more ways than one) with the final third. “Stiff Punishment!” is a bill of goods that stiffs the reader on anything engaging or half-way inventive and it shows the usually stellar Craig in pure, unadulterated work mode. The rush job crops up not just in the narrative department but in the artistic department as well. “One Man’s Poison!” looks pretty enough but, boy, is this one loop-de-loop of a plot. This has got to be one of the most befuddling, roundabout routes that someone has taken to murder their spouse. And what exactly happened in the ending there? Why was John planning on killing himself? Because he couldn’t stop himself from arguing with his wife? Not impossible, but the fact that we don’t see the smallest bit of anguish painting John’s demeanor makes the final events of the story feel like a naked bait-and-switch. The two Davis “Quickies” are certainly interesting on an experimental level; I echo the sentiment that the first is the more successful of the two. “A Fool and His Honey…” is a diverting bit of soapy operatics that hinges on a unique twist that finds our cuckolded hubby accepting his remorseful wife back into his arms and having an outside party fulfill his vengeance upon the romantic traitor following a sly bit of deception on his own part. Like Jack, I could have stood to see more nibbly action from the ferocious ants. 

Tales from the Crypt #30

"Gas-tly Prospects!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"A Hollywood Ending!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Orlando

"Auntie, It's Coal Inside!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Mournin', Ambrose . . ." 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

Jeff "Whitey" Whittaker discovers gold in California in 1849 but a stranger with a gun happens along and plants two slugs in his gut. The two men wait each other out until the stranger stabs Whitey to death in his sleep and buries his body in a shallow grave. One night, a week later, a wildcat digs up the corpse and leaves it sitting up against a rock for the stranger to find the next morning. The stranger decides to try tying weights to Whitey's body and putting him at the bottom of a stream. Another week goes by, and the ropes are worn through, allowing the body to bob up to the surface. The stranger decides that burning the body is the only way to get rid of it, but the decaying gases built up inside the corpse contribute to a fire that gets out of control and kills the stranger once and for all.

"Gas-tly Prospects!"
"Gas-tly Prospects!" is part of the "corpse that wouldn't stay buried" tradition and the best thing about it is Jack Davis's art, which treats us to the sight of the gradually decaying form of poor Whitey. The story is obvious in its development and there is no payoff at the end. The copy we're working from is fairly decrepit and makes me appreciate the great restoration work done by Russ Cochran for his reprints.

Hollywood movie producer and all-around man's man Hugh Howards flies up to the Arctic to see what's what and meets Terry Arlen, a certified hottie who was brought there six years before by "Daddy," a doctor who took her in after her father was killed in a car crash. Hugh offers to take the fox to Hollywood and make her a star and he throws a marriage proposal into the bargain. She is completely on board with the plan, despite the protestations of her "Daddy," and she elopes with Hugh. Once she's in the warm California sun, however, she starts to decompose and, when "Daddy" arrives to tell Hugh the sad truth about his new bride, it's too late. It turns out that she was killed in the car crash and revived and that the only way to keep her fresh was to preserve her in the cold arctic air. "A Hollywood Ending!" indeed!

This variation on Lovecraft's "Cool Air" is a lot of fun, especially the hilarious business about Hugh falling for the beautiful gal from the first time he lays eyes on her. He wants her to take off her parka so he can evaluate her figure, which is not a far cry from asking her to join him on the casting couch. Feldstein manages to keep up the suspense for awhile as to just what terrible fate will befall Terry and/or Hugh and, by the time it begins to become apparent what's going on, the story is about over. Joe Orlando turns in a bang up job, drawing both a gorgeous gal and her horrible corpse quite effectively.

Jack Kamen forgot it was Aunt Agnes and not Uncle Agnes.
("Auntie, It's Coal Inside!")
Toby is a seven year old orphan being raised by his mean Aunt Agnes. He hears a voice in his head that encourages him to do things that he knows will get him into trouble, such as venturing down into the cellar for a lump of coal with which to mark up the sidewalk and keep score in the game. Auntie comes home and is upset that he went where he wasn't supposed to go, so she hires a locksmith to put a lock on the cellar door. After she orders a delivery of four tons of the stuff, Toby hears her calling to him from the coal bin, where she is accidentally locked in. He thinks it's the voice inside his head pretending to be his aunt, so he doesn't go open the door, and she is crushed under the weight of all of the coal when it is delivered.

Al Feldstein must have kept track of the stories he wrote for Jack Kamen, since they seem to go back and forth monotonously from stories about beautiful women with cold hearts to stories about little kids. "Auntie, It's Coal Inside!" is the latter and it's a real dull entry. Feldstein just used the bit about someone putting a lock on the basement door not too long ago. (That'd be "Kickback" from Shock #2, Jackie-Boy! -Jose)

Peter Enfantino, circa 2027.
("Mournin' Ambrose!")
Young Andrew Demert takes a trip to visit his elderly Uncle Ambrose and Aunt Elsa at their creepy mansion. Ambrose tells him that Elsa has lost her marbles over the last three years due to the unexpected deaths of three other relatives who paid a visit to the mansion. On the other hand, Elsa tells Andrew that Ambrose is a fiend and keeps babbling about Macbeth. The next morning, Elsa is dead and soon Andrew observes that Ambrose likes to visit her body in the mausoleum. Andrew finds Elsa's diary hidden in a copy of Macbeth and discovers that she documented Ambrose's murder spree. He goes to the cops, who ask to do an autopsy on Elsa, but Ambrose refuses. That night, Andrew follows Ambrose and discovers that he's a ghoul who has been snacking on the corpses of his dead relatives out in the mausoleum.

"Mournin', Ambrose!" features more fine art by Ingels and has a bit more plot than we're used to in the typical Feldstein seven-pager, but the revelation that Uncle Ambrose is a ghoul comes out of left field. Now, I have no problem with an ending that is truly a surprise, but it doesn't go anywhere and just kind of sits there. In the last panel, the police explain to Andrew that he's lucky he didn't become Ambrose's next Happy Meal. It's never good when a story ends with the cops explaining something--it didn't work in Psycho and it doesn't work here.--Jack

Jack Seabrook, circa 2017.
("A Hollywood Ending!")
Peter: Love that Jack Davis art on "Gas-tly Prospects!" Jeff takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin' . . . well, that is if you consider that his corpse clocks a lot of mileage and only loses bits and pieces here and there. The concept's a good one, and the corpse as narrator (like Mary's fourth-wall lounge in "One Man's Poison!") is a great hook Al can hang his hat on, but the story just limps along and runs out of gas in the end. I declare, here and now, a moratorium on stories like "Auntie, It's Coal Inside!," wherein the protagonist is a precocious tot who hears voices. "Mournin', Ambrose!" is, like "Gas-tly," gorgeously rendered but a bit slim in the script department and the "shock" climax just lies there. Why didn't we notice that Uncle Ambrose had fangs? That leaves the winner by a large margin, "A Hollywood Ending!," with Joe once again putting on his best Wally Wood masquerade (and I assume that's exactly what Al wanted, since Wally was spread thin with all the science fiction work). That final panel, with its perfumed corpse and chunk-blowing hubby, is a classic but, seriously how was this not assigned to Ghastly?

Jose: I’ve carried fond memories of “Gas-tly Prospects!” with me since the first time I read the story in middle school, and revisiting it now has only reinforced that fondness. I just love visiting ornery ol’ “Whitey” and seeing his stanking carcass popping up to give his killer a good spookin’. I actually think the story develops quite nicely, with the little detail about “Whitey” stowing the shotgun shells in his pocket evolving organically into a biting, righteous finish for our villain. Though I honestly do have to wonder how those shells didn’t float away when Whitey was dumped in the river … or buried in the ground … or wrestled over by two wildcats. (Whatever! I still like it!) “A Hollywood Ending!” is grand, grim, and gruesome EC at its most prototypical fun. We’ve seen the Valdemar/Cool Air ending before, but melting corpses never get old, and if you think otherwise you should go and get your pulse checked. Orlando has some fantastic work on display here; I especially adore his conception of Dr. Wheems, a bespectacled coot whose horns of white hair seem to anticipate Cain from DC’s House of Mystery of 16 years' hence, and the final panel beautifully pairs the ludicrous (Howard getting ready to eject his lunch) with the grotesquely sublime (Terry’s putrefying corpse clasping the “Desire” perfume to her hollow chest). Now that’s what I’m talking about! Things get decidedly mundane with “Auntie, It’s Coal Inside!” I’ll give Feldstein credit where it’s due for working a neat twist into little Toby’s dissociative voice (Agnes’s blubbering concession that Toby’s father wasn’t a drunkard but was in fact a good man convinces the tyke that what he’s hearing must be his imagination and certainly not his incessant bitch of an aunt), but the rest of the story plods along to a climax that wouldn’t even strike a featherweight as being the least bit terrifying. Ingels is left to ratchet the quality back up a few pegs which he manages to do with the modest Gothic frills of “Mournin’, Ambrose…” I appreciate the unique, somewhat subdued approach that Feldstein is going for here with the familial insecurities and the almost murder-mystery aspect of the entire affair, but the final reveal that Ambrose is a skin-snacking ghoul feels arbitrary by the time we get around to it.

Shock SuspenStories #3

"Just Desserts!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Guilty!" 
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Wally Wood

"The Big Stand-Up!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"Stumped!" ★ 1/2
Story by Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Bernard washes his hands in the bathroom and returns to his dinner party, where he proceeds to tell each of his five guests how they've wronged him. His nanny wasn't paying attention and so his son's stroller rolled in front of a truck and the boy was killed. His business partner ran him out of business and his aunt refused to help him financially. His wife had an affair with his best friend. Bernard decided they all needed to be served their "Just Desserts!" so he invited them to dinner and cut off all of their heads.

"The Guilty!"
It's rare for a Jack Kamen story to get first place in an EC comic, so I expected something great from this one, but the full-page splash that ends the story just left me scratching my still-attached head. Why did Bernard lop off all of their heads? How and when did he do  it? Why is there no blood? And why in God's name do we get this big page with five headless corpses and then make it gore-free?

A black man named Collins is arrested for killing a white woman and held in a small town jail while the townsfolk gather around, hoping for a conviction for a man who is obviously "The Guilty!" The D.A. tells Sheriff Dawson to move Collins to the county seat to keep him safe but after this is done under cover of darkness the townsfolk begin to worry that the slick defense attorney will get Collins an acquittal, since the only evidence against him is the testimony of a witness named Hank Barker. On the day of trial, the sheriff and his men transport Collins back to town but on the way they force him to make a run for it and shoot and kill him. Returning to town to tell the D.A. that the prisoner was shot trying to escape, they learn that Barker has just confessed to the murder.

"The Big Stand-Up!"
Telling a story like this in a comic book in 1952 was a bold move, and Gaines, Feldstein and Wood should get credit for tackling such an adult theme. Wood is at his best here but the story is predictable and preachy and it ends up seeming like something that's good for you rather than enjoyable.

Television engineer Bart Thompson is working late one night at the studio, trying to adjust the picture on the small screen, when a gorgeous babe starts chatting with him. It turns out she's Lara, from another solar system, and she and Bart hit it off immediately. He convinces her to come to Earth to marry him, but when her ships lands and she emerges, she's 200 feet tall!

Joe Orlando has picked up where Harvey Kurtzman left off with the humorous stories, and this one is a doozy. Basically just two people talking to each other, it has to be jazzed up by funny pics of Bart and sexy poses by Lara. The best thing about "The Big Stand-Up!" is that it reads just like a story of a guy chatting with a girl online and then getting a big surprise when they meet in person. Who knew sci-fi comics were so prescient?

Jose Cruz refuses to read another Jack Kamen story.
Way up in the Canadian woods, a fur trapper named Henri Petite discovers that his bear trap was sprung accidentally when a tree limb fell on it. Henri gets Marcel Duval to help him reset the trap but a jealous rival named Jaques Soubret comes along and moves the trap, hoping that Henri will get caught in it and Jaques can take over his territory. Sure enough, Henri steps in his own trap and Jaques stands there and gloats. A week later, Henri appears on Jaques's doorstep and blows his rival away with a shotgun. His foot is missing and he confesses to Marcel, with his dying breath, that he chewed his own leg off.

Well, yuck! Jack Davis is on his game and the art looks great, but the story is kind of disgusting and the punch line to "Stumped!" isn't that surprising. James Franco would do pretty much the same thing in the 2010 movie, 127 Hours, which was based on a true story, which is disturbing enough.--Jack

The last bare*bones e-zine staff meeting.
("Just Desserts!")
Peter: Forget the silliness of a man chewing his own leg off (he'd have to be very limber, wouldn't he?) and then crawling for an entire day while bleeding to death and then hopping through Jaques's doorway with the shotgun. Yeah, forget all that silliness, if you can, because "Stumped!" elevates itself above similar revenge fare thanks to Jack Davis's crazy art and the sheer nastiness of the proceedings (The shotgun in Henri's hands explodes and Jaques' face melts into a red mash). That Jaques sure looks like the Crypt-Keeper. We've all seen some kind of variant of the final panel of "Just Desserts!," but this one is pretty effective even given that it's delivered bloodlessly (it almost looks as though the victims' heads were removed post-delivery) by the king of stick-figures. The rest of the story is a boring mess though; poor little Jimmy--who looks to be about fourteen while sitting in his stroller--is pretty much forgotten about after his date with a milk truck. And is it my imagination or are all the dinner guests wearing the exact same clothes they wore when they slighted Bernie? "The Big Stand-Up!" is an amiable little bit of nonsense that taps into every man's fantasy while exhibiting some spot-on Frazetta/Williamson apings from Joe Orlando. Hard to believe Al and Bill would surround a gallery-piece like "The Guilty!" with such pablum. It's been nearly forty years since I read these Shock issues and nostalgia can play tricks with your memory. I don't recall there being so much filler in EC's premier quality title. It's a tough task to consider pre-code comics stories like "The Guilty!" sixty years (and a whole lot of free press) on but it's nice to see that, despite a bit of preachiness, the tale still packs a lot of wallop and, unfortunately, seems just as timely today as then.

Jose: “Just Desserts!” is a heaping pile of old news; there isn’t a thing here that we haven’t seen before. (Quite literally, actually: Kamen recycles the old “three-intense-close-ups” of his psychotic characters here that he also put to use in “The Neat Job” [Shock 1] and “Board to Death” [Crypt 29]). Those hoping for a similar triumphant Crime SuspenStory from the artist akin to the former tale will be sorely disappointed. Ol’ Jack shows in the depiction of Bernard’s frosty aunt that the cross-dressing gent posing as Aunt Agnes in “Auntie, It’s Coal Inside!” was not a one-time offender. “The Guilty!” has all the shocks and the fumbles of a ground-breaking piece of art, but even if the final editorial caption, as historian Bill Spicer says in the hardcover reprint of Shock, essentially shoots the story’s morality in the foot by saying it “does not matter” whether Collins was guilty or not, Bill and Al’s “preachie” still packs a wallop as it allows banal, everyday evil to take the stage in a setting uncomfortably close to home. Those worn down by the grim truths of this parable will find a fizzy tonic in “The Big Stand-Up!,” another of EC’s jokey amusements drawn out and fitted with science fiction trappings. You gotta love those exaggerated expressions and contortions Orlando puts his characters through. They almost give Jack Davis’s Snidely Whiplash stand-in from “Stumped!” a run for his money. Jaques is a funky-looking knave if ever there was one, with a mustache that could be mistaken for two frozen icicles of snot hanging from his nose. This story tries to play a straighter hand than the Orlando, at least on the surface, but the sight of a one-legged bandit toting a rifle to the cabin of his tormentor to literally wipe that stupid mustache off his face is one of the most beautifully campy moments we have yet to witness.

The Vault of Horror #25

"Seance!" ★ 1/2
Story and Art by Johnny Craig

"Kickin' the Gong a Round!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

"Practical Yolk!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Jack Kamen

"Collection Completed!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Graham Ingels

Ben Gantner and George Dent are two slick businessmen who manage to close a deal with wealthy investor John Chalmers and later toast their good luck … in suckering yet another loser into their skin-deep scam! Ben and George have no business to speak of (literally), and so they manage to squeeze every red cent out of Chalmers until the old goat overhears them boasting their fortunes one night. Chalmers swears swift legal action before storming out; Ben and George, desperate to elude the law at any cost, race after Chalmers in their car on a lonely road and send Chalmers careening down an incline to his death. Under the pretense of offering condolences, the two con men visit the Widow Chalmers to gauge what the old broad might know of their operations. Mrs. Chalmers has apprehensions about keeping the business and tells the gentlemen that she’ll have to contact her husband’s spirit through the offices of Madame Gilda, her confidant and personal medium. The boys know a fellow crook when they see one, though, and easily manage to grease Madame Gilda’s palms so that she may go along with the charade wherein George will depart the séance and reappear as Chalmers with the help of stage makeup to make an appearance and advise “his wife” to stay in business with Gantner and Dent. On the evening of the séance everything goes off perfectly. Almost too perfectly, Gantner thinks, as Gilda goes into a very convincing trance and Dent appears as the phosphorous spirit. But the figure makes no move to speak, instead looming right over to Gantner and strangling the man in his seat. The spirit departs, the lights are turned on, and Gilda, in her fright, confesses the whole plot to Mrs. Chalmers. The lady’s anger quickly evaporates when they discover Dent’s corpse behind a curtain, strangled to death and terror frozen on its face. But who could have gotten in when Gilda had the key on her to the only door in the room? Who indeed …?

It may be low on shock and missing other hallmarks of the EC house style, but “Séance!” is easily one of Johnny Craig’s most accomplished narratives during his tenure with the company. The story is told so cleanly and so naturally, following a solidly logical progression of events to an inevitable and satisfying conclusion. One never gets the feeling that events are being contrived at the whim of a writer with his own agenda. I realize this all sounds very general and vague, and also a little like, “Duh! That’s how stories are supposed to work!” True enough, audience in my head. Yet I can’t stress enough how difficult this can be, moving pieces of plot and characters without the reader taking notice of what you’re doing. To put it another way, it’s the difference between seeing a stage magician guiding his assistant through a trapdoor and watching a magician make his assistant disappear in thin air and then wondering just how the hell he did it. Technically speaking, both magicians have made their assistants disappear, but only one of them has done so with grace and without drawing attention to what’s up his sleeve. Craig is the second magician. I took half a star off of this one just because the story is, for me, overly familiar and lacks the other indelible charms of Craig’s craft that covered up this fact in the artist’s other works, like “Sink-Hole” (Vault 18).

Jack and Peter ask Jose to step outside
so they can go over the word count cap for posts again.
("Kickin' the Gong Around!")
Patty Marko is on the fast track to becoming the middleweight champion. He’s clobbered his way up the line of boxing opponents all the way to reigning title holder Jake Houseman and things are just looking peachy for him and his family, though Patty’s wife Judy wishes that her husband will be able to quit the ring soon and that there’ll be a better future in store for their infant son, Mickey. Judy just about gets her wish when two gun-toting hoods knock on the apartment door and whisk Patty away to Houseman’s training camp where the corrupt pugilist offers the young scrapper 5,000 clams to throw the match, a payment far higher than what Marko will make by winning the fight. Idealist Patty rejects Houseman’s offer down flat, so Houseman retaliates by having his hoods kidnap Li’l Mickey and threaten Marko should he win the fight. With his son’s well-being on the line, Marko lets Houseman pound him into the dust and effectively to death, but not before Marko swears on getting even with the rat. Flash forward several months latter and Patty’s moldering corpse is ambling through Houseman’s camp, ready to fulfill his promise. Dragging the gibbering villain into his outdoor ring, Patty proceeds to make patties out of Houseman’s face.

The one aspect that really ends up sinking “Kickin’ the Gong Around!” is the complete disparity and total arbitrariness of the final page compared to the rest of the story. Going through the first few pages, one can’t help but think that Feldstein got his assignments mixed up and started drafting a tale for Crime or Shock SuspenStories but that, upon taking the sixth sheet of copy from his typewriter, was suddenly stricken with the thought, “Oh crap! This is supposed to be a story for Vault of Horror!” And thus, with all the work expended on crafting a fairly decent if completely by-the-numbers melodrama on all the maladies of the boxing life, our intrepid editor busted into the case of go-to endings marked “Break in Case of Emergency,” blew the dust off the file marked “Vengeful Corpse,” slapped it on to the end of this punchy mix and then called it a day. The ending mars what could have been a satisfying conte cruel with a randomly supernatural intervention. The fact that the last page could have been swapped out with literally anything else shows how disconnected the ending presented here is with the remainder of the story. How cool would it have been had both Marko and Houseman kicked the spit bucket somehow and then return from the grave for a final ghoulish showdown? Now that’s a fight I’d get ringside seats to.

This looks like it's going to be
a really socially progressive story!

Your name is Frederick Hamilton, and you’re a cheery, lovable doof just returned from a voyage to the dark heart of Africa with a new manservant in tow. B’uuna acted as your guide during your expedition, and being a cheery, lovable and charitable doof you figure “the least you can do” is to tear this savage away from his home and bring him with you to America where his life will undoubtedly improve now that he has a job saving you from tripping over your own ass and keeping your apartment clean. However, you run into a slight snag in introducing B’uuna to Louise, your beautiful fiancé. (She’s so beautiful, you can hardly tear your glassy eyes away from her.) Though cordial, the two of them don’t seem to know what to make of the other, but thankfully you’re there, Frederick Hamilton, to smooth over any wrinkle with a cheery jest and a puff from your ever-at-hand smoking pipe. Louise makes her own efforts to establish a bond with B’uuna by purchasing him a scenic Easter egg, a delightful little ceramic contraption that comes with a viewing window the onlooker can peer into to see an adorable scene of the Easter bunny with his gaily-colored eggs. But the gift isn’t enough to give B’uuna sudden insight into American sarcasm: listening in on a conversation between you and Louise, he overhears the lady say that she doesn’t think she’ll marry you since you’re intent on keeping her in your sights for all the boring days to come. Being your sworn protector and a practitioner of black magic to boot, B’uuna hands you the egg later and promises that Louise will never leave you now. Looking in, you confirm your worst fears: inside is another cheesy ending to a Jack Kamen story!


A hare-brained tale indeed.
("Practical Yolk!")
Time has not been kind to “Practical Yolk!,” in more ways than one. I remember thinking this story was a harmless little fancy when I first read it, with an ending that was just the right level of creepy-cute, even if that level wasn’t in keeping with the overall tone of EC’s other horrors. Reading it with more mature eyes has become an exercise in tallying each uncomfortable bit of cultural tunnel-vision as they come at you by the fistful. I needn’t enumerate them here; discerning readers can pick up on the general tenor of the piece through my overly-snarky summary. Outside of that, Hamilton—who Feldstein has the nerve to identify with us, people who actually have brains—is a particularly bizarre brand of Kamen imbecile, infantile and near-obsessed with ogling his fiancé with all the fervor of a trench coat-wearing perv. Or perhaps I’m just not savvy to the story’s tongue-in-cheek nature and missed the sarcasm. Maybe I’ll shrink “Practical Yolk!” down and stuff it inside a rotten egg.

Anita and Jonah Tillman are a middle-aged couple living a blessed and blissful life in suburbia, doting on each other to no end and generally enraptured in their mutual love for one another. Wait, that’s not right. This is an EC story. These two hate each other’s guts! Anita, a childless nurturing type, is forever tending to the stray and wounded animals of the neighborhood while Jonah, a card-carrying member of the He-Man Animal Haters Club, can’t stand the furry beasts. When Anita suggests her husband take up a hobby to filter his impotent rage, Jonah delightedly takes her up on the offer and returns the next day from the store with all the tools of his new trade: sewing thread, knives, and formaldehyde! (Oh my!) That’s right: Jonah’s new hobby is taxidermy! The old bastard wastes no time luring and trapping every critter he can lay his greasy mitts on, turning out perfectly rendered replicas all stuffed, mounted, and ready to make Anita vomit in her mouth. The last straw comes when the basement-dwelling sadist lays claim to Anita’s adopted kitten “Mew-Mew,” and Jonah only has a few seconds to gloat before Anita turns his own knife on him and shows him that he’s not the only one with a hand for taxidermy.

Portrait of the prime EC family.
("Collection Completed!")

The vitriolic husband and wife were no strangers to the pantheon of stock EC characters, but “Collection Completed!” is so steeped in venom that it becomes an almost wearying experience just trying to finish the tale. Whereas similar stories drafted by Jack Kamen would be leavened by a dose of sardonic humor, this Feldstein script fleshed out with the considerable talents of Graham Ingels is practically pure hatred from Caption 1. For all we can tell, Jonah and Anita have been living in this Hell since approximately the minute Jonah proposed. There’s not a shade of affection past or present in the narrative; it seems at times that these two people were brought together in unholy wedlock for the sole purpose of getting under each other’s skin, as it were. The fact that Jonah’s hobby of choice is so upsetting in and of itself—at one point he lures a sad-eyed dog down into his den of horrors after finding it on the street without a collar—makes that development just another dollop of depression on this I-scream sundae. By the time we get to the final panel, the feeling we have is not one of catharsis but one of exhaustion. We’ve seen insidious mental torture, the wanton slaughter of harmless animals, and finally the gibbering descent of an innocent woman into the depths of madness. In the ken of all-consuming horror, few tales from any of EC’s other terror titles can hold a candle to “Collection Completed!” --Jose

Peter Enfantino expresses his eye-re.
("Collection Completed")
Peter: Naturally, being the snarky guy I am, I have to ask why Patty Marko becomes super-human after he dies (a trait often found in the recent EC dead) and is able to beat Houseman to death even while his body falls apart. "Kickin' the Gong A Round!" is just another by-the-numbers revenge-from-the-grave tale with nothing new to add but a change of vocation and the usual snappy Jack Davis art. There are no surprises awaiting us in the climax of "Seance!," except the fact that the Great Gilda was in on the con. I fully expected her to be a part of the ghostly revenge side of things so her admission was unexpected. There's not much heavy lifting for Johnny this time out (not even one of his signature babes), but the art is serviceable and sometimes atmospheric (George's face illuminated by the glow of his cigarette). I'm not sure how, but Bernard, the whacky dinner host of "Just Desserts!" (in Shock #3, review above) has changed his name, visited Africa, and come back with a native as his servant in "Practical Yolk!" What's that, Jose? It's not the same character? Then why do they look exactly alike? Oh, I got it. They're both drawn by Jack Kamen. I'm usually pretty easy when the "twist" is introduced but this one is really "out there." Is Lu-eez dead or has she lost her mind, sitting in that egg, smiling? From the opening page, there's no doubt what fate awaits Jonah of "Collection Completed!," is there? The tale begs the question: where do these dysfunctional couples meet and what pushes them to such vile and hurtful deeds? Was it a reflection of Al's beliefs in marriage at the time or was this plot (used over and over again) just a way of meeting a deadline? Jonah's such an evil character, whose sole joy, it seems, is to torture his wife, that it stretches credibility to the snapping point. A very weak Vault this time out.

Jack Seabrook knows wart it's all about.
Jack: I love Johnny Craig's art on "Seance!" His depiction of the Vault Keeper is the best I've seen, especially in a gruesome close up that focuses on a big wart at the end of his wretched nose. Reading Craig's stories for this blog is such a delight; I think he's in the tradition of Will Eisner in his dramatic and technical skills, and the fact that he usually writes and draws his own stories makes him the most all-around accomplished of the EC creators, in my opinion. "Gong" is by the numbers until the last page, when the dead fighter suddenly returns as a ghoul and the prose turns extra-purple, which is entertaining: "the fetid, rank, rotted corpse of Patty Marko fights once again" is just plain fun writing. It's hard to believe that the same man who wrote this month's "The Guilty!" wrote "Practical Yolk!" in which every African stereotype is trotted out in service of a ridiculous story, but I guess we have to take the good with the bad when Feldstein is cranking out so many tales per month. The Ghastly story is a hoot, though any woman who would name a cat "Mew-Mew" gets what she deserves, if you ask me. Is taxidermy so easy that one can pick it up quickly and do great work? An intriguing hobby.

Next Week!
In Our Double-Sized 97th Issue of
Star Spangled DC War Stories:
Jack and Peter Once Again Argue Over
The Best Stories of the Year!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 96: October/November 1967

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 185

"Battle Flag for a G.I.!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Hold the Bridge With Your Life!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: Easy Co.'s latest new recruit brings with him an American flag that his girl back home made for him to fly while marching into battle. Sgt. Rock points out that, in this war, they don't fly flags because they make too good a target. The soldiers fight Nazis as they approach Broken Neck Hill, but the new recruit doesn't get to fly his flag. When the young man is wounded and acts heroically while taking the hill, Rock helps him raise the flag and drags him onward as Easy Co. finishes the job.

"Battle Flag for a G.I.!"
Pretty thin stuff, this; "Battle Flag for a G.I.!" has a central idea and then passes the time with lots of fighting. I was glad that the young man didn't die at the end, for once. No such luck in the issue's second story, "Hold the Bridge With Your Life!," in which Stan Stone, a life-long loser, is the lone survivor of a band of G.I.s told to hold a bridge that the Nazis are trying to blow up. It comes down to Stan against the last Nazi and Stan hangs on a little bit longer than the enemy, just long enough to keep him from destroying the bridge. The story is not very good, and Abel's art is weak, but the final panel is surprising. A U.S. tank rides up to the bridge and sees Stan's dead body propped up against the railing. The tank commander says, "Well--will you look at that G.I. sittin' there without a care in the world! Just like he was king of the hill!" I had to look back to the previous page to make sure what I thought I was seeing was really what I was seeing, and there, in the panel before last, he is referred to as "the dying G.I." Too bad the rest of the story was not as effective as the final panel.

"Hold the Bridge With Your Life!"
Peter: I got so sick and tired of hearing Flag Boy whine about his flag that I was joining in on the chorus of "You'll never fly that flag in this war, boy, so shut the hell up!!!" even while knowing, all the while, eventually he's gonna get to fly that damn flag. There was no way Big Bob would miss out on shoving that last panel right down our collective throats (well, actually I was also tipped off by the spoiler splash). Bad Liss and Bad Abel team up for the umpteenth telling of the little boy who couldn't, who grew up to be the big G.I. who could. We're definitely stuck in a rut this month.

Jack: Great Kubert cover, though--a candidate for year's best.

 G.I. Combat 126

"Tank Umbrella!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

Peter: Amidst the hot desert sands, the Jeb Stuart is in big trouble: Nazi Panzers are patrolling the area and the men are out of water. Up over the next rise, smoke is spotted and Jeb orders the tank to investigate. They discover the ruins of comrade Phil Smith's tank, but footprints leading away give them hope that Phil is still alive and kicking. Sure enough, minutes later, Phil is spotted shambling through the desert heat, but an enemy tank disrupts the revelry. Only some quick thinking keeps the Jeb from joining the scrap heap and, soon, Phil is picked up. Unfortunately, the man is not coherent, babbling on about a "whole army of Panzers hidden by an umbrella." Just then, the ghost of the General who "bodyguards" the tank materializes before Jeb's eyes. When Jeb asks the spirit about water, the ghost will only say that water will "spring forth out of flame" (or, two pages later, " . . . out of rock").

The tank lumbers on in search of either an oasis or a flock of Panzers. The oasis comes first but it's soon revealed to be nothing but sand. That is, until an enemy plane rat-a-tats the desert all around the tank and the men are forced to blow it out of the sky. The plane crashes into the oasis and a funnel of water shoots from the sand. Water from flame (and maybe rock at the same time?!)! With their reserves replenished, the men get on to the task of finding the "Tank Umbrella!," and it's not long until they stumble on just such a sight: a herd of enemy tanks hidden below a tent covered with sand. Jeb radios the info to a bomber in the area and very soon the sky is on fire.

A very satisfying installment of the (sort-of) Haunted Tank, full of dazzling visuals and blazing combat action; another feather in the HT cap. Russ's depictions of the desert always leave the reader feeling wrung out and over-heated and his battle scenes are unparalleled in the DC war titles. No one does it better! There are literally dozens of panels I could use to demonstrate my point if we had the room: the shot of Jeb from below as an enemy plane heads for the ground; Phil's maddened face, wet with sweat, as he tries to convince the men of an "umbrella" out there somewhere; the ghostly approach of an enemy tank through the smoke of another flaming Panzer; the list goes on and on. Big Bob does a great job of avoiding his usual potholes and junk food, with the only stumbling block the unfortunate editing gaffe that allows the General to claim that "water will come from flame" on page six and Jeb to repeat the quote as "flame springs from rock" on the following page. It's not just a simple typo but an error that changes the flow (never mind that when water comes, it's actually springing from flame and sand). Forget my nits though, this is a terrific story, one that will be near the top of my "Best of 1967" list next issue.

Captain Carter's company is being torn to pieces near the small town of St. Pierre, coincidentally where Carter's father bought the farm back in WWI. Just as it seems all hope is lost, Pvt. Jesse Zeno pulls the Captain's fat out of the fire time after time before disappearing after a bomb blast. Later, when Carter visits Zeno's grave he discovers that the Private actually died in World War I. Zeno's spirit hovers nearby, confessing that he was the sentry who fell asleep the night Carter's pop died and now the ghost's debt is paid. "Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!" might have been a bit more impactful if we didn't see the Twilight Zone-esque twist coming all the way from page two (if not the title tip-off), but I'll take it over the usual "Battling Brothers" back-up.

Jack: I thought the Haunted Tank story was dull, except for the usual fine art by Russ Heath. The mistake about what will spring from where distracted me and had me thinking there were going to be two signs, so when it just turned out to be a mistake I felt like I'd wasted my time paying attention. The other guys in the Haunted Tank's crew remain interchangeable, as much as Kanigher and the letterer put their names in bold--"Rick" and "Slim" could be anyone. As for "Not Even the Dead Can Sleep!," I also knew what was coming early on but I enjoyed it nonetheless, partly because it went exactly where I was hoping it would go. Jack Abel's art works this time around and the ghostly vibe is most enjoyable.

Novick and Kubert
 Our Fighting Forces 109

"Burn, Raiders, Burn!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"The Unsinkable Subs!"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: The Hellcats' new assignment is to parachute into France and destroy camps where Nazis are being trained to invade Britain. When their transport plane is shot down, they parachute 50 miles from their target and hook up with the Mobile Underground, a traveling circus run by resistance fighters who will take them to the Nazi camp. The leader, Mlle. Cherie, welcomes half of the Nazi garrison to that night's show, allowing the Hellcats to attack the undermanned camp. Trapped in an arsenal, it's almost "Burn, Raiders, Burn!" when a Nazi with a flame thrower nearly fries Lt. Hunter and his men, but they break out of the arsenal, steal a truck, and head back to the circus. A Nazi menaces Mlle. Cherie but Lt. Hunter rescues her and she opens the wild animal cages to let the beasts go after the Nazis. Later, she gives Lt. Hunter a peck on the cheek before he and the Hellcats head back to England.

From left to right: Suranne Jones, Peter Enfantino, Jack Seabrook

Call me crazy, but I enjoyed this adventure, even though Hunter's claim that "all we've got going for us is surprise" reminded me of the Spanish Inquisition on Monty Python's Flying Circus. As in the other DC War comics, the Hellcats always set out thinking that they are doomed, but none of them ever gets killed. The circus setting is a nice change of pace and Abel's art is decent, but I would love to see Neal Adams tackle one of these stories.

Peter: Howard Liss is on Jack Seabrook's enemy list right now for not including Mademoiselle Marie in this dopey adventure. At least Mlle Cherie speaks fluent English rather than zee peejun. If I didn't know better (and I don't), I'd say our old friend Jerry Grandenetti had a hand in visuals this issue; lots of dark, sloppy faces. The story is just the same ol', with tensions flaring within the Hunters only long enough to  remind us they don't like each other but will never take it to the next level. The massive talent of Howard Liss, evident the first year he's been with us, is very quickly being stymied by Big Bob's awful series constraints. At least I hope that's Howard's excuse.

A cool panel showing the vertical drop into the drink
Jack: A Nazi sub nicknamed the Steel Shark is wreaking havoc on Allied ships and escaping seemingly into nowhere. Three frogmen brothers fear that their kid brother Pee-Wee was on one of the doomed ships, so when they are sent on an underwater search and destroy mission it is personal. They find Pee-Wee's dogtags snagged on some kelp at the opening of a huge coral cave where the subs are hidden and use unexploded depth charges to cause a cave-in and trap the subs forever.

Howard Liss must be rubbing off on Hank Chapman, because this story starts dark and stays there. Pee-Wee is not found or rescued and the dogtags left behind by the dead sailor tip off his brothers to the location of the hidden subs. Not a bad issue of OFF, considering it's all drawn by Jack Abel!

Peter: "The Unsinkable Subs" reads like a throwback to the early DC war days but maybe it's because it uses a tried-and-true hook as its theme: the battling brothers. It's confusing (we never find out how these subs manage to get back into their deep-sea cave seconds after unloading their torps) and outlandish (Pee-Wee's G.I. Naval gear pops up everywhere but in Macy's store window), but what do you expect from Hank Chapman?

Star Spangled War Stories 135

"Save My Life and Kill Me!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Russ Heath

"There's No One Left!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bob Forgione
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #57, February 1958)

Peter: Japanese Zero Ace Yasuo Kiwara and American fighter pilot Bill Brooks shoot it out high over the Pacific when both of their planes enter a mysterious cloud formation and are plunked out of the air by two giant flying terrors from a prehistoric stone age! Parachuting out, the pilots trade bullets on the way down but Kiwara's chute is eaten by one of the pterodactyls and he falls, seemingly, to his death . . . until Bill grabs his hand on the way down. The men land on the strange island below and are immediately set upon by a ferocious T. Rex. Kiwara has been injured so Bill must hoist him upon his broad back and hightail it. Luckily, the Jap Ace awakens and lobs a TNT pineapple at the overgrown iguana. Kiwara explains that, since he's a Samurai, either Bill must die or Yasuo must kill himself. The two must fight to the death once the War That Time Forgot is over. They duck into a cave and find a cache of grenades and weapons, enough to blow their way across the island and get back to the beach. At turns, each has the chance to kill the other when he has the upper hand but they make a pact not to duel until the odds are even. Once the destructive duo make it to the beach, they find a wing from Bill's plane and use it to row away from the island. Bill is stung by an electric eel and is paralyzed; a giant horror/terror monster/nightmare rises from the polluted ocean and sets its eyes on the helpless Ace but Yasuo Kiwara, in a final act of heroism, sacrifices himself to save his sworn enemy. Bill sees a rescue plane flying overhead and half-heartedly waves. Today, his heart is half-broken.

Definitely a case of style over substance, "Save My Life and Kill Me!" is a boring, but gorgeously-rendered, dud rife with the kind of WTTF tropes that beg the question, "Was Big Bob even submitting a script by this time?" Consider that the two sworn enemies landing, ironically, on an island full of beasties that forces them to become comrades has played itself out long before this 45th installment. Bob's never been shy about recreating scenes in this series but how about the empty LST that reveals itself to be full of monsters (yep, "borrowed" from "You Owe Me a Death," just two issues ago!)? How many times do we have to watch as one of the warriors is lifted up by claw (or tongue) and his enemy thinks "Hmmm, if I let the monster eat him, I don't have to worry about him killing me!," followed by an act of bravery? The only bright light in this entire 17-page stinker is the ending, wherein Kiwara does the right thing and blows the sea monster into sushi. Of course, Big Bob can't leave well enough alone and has to punctuate the pathos with one last bit of (awkwardly-worded) dialogue, as Bill Brooks ponders the meaning of life and heroism in World War II: "It's a war . . . that time forgot! But . . . that's only one war . . . I fought . . . I fought another one . . . I'll never forget . . . with a guy that saved my life . . . then wanted to kill me . . . and wound up saving it again . . . losing his own!" Kill Me and Save My Mind. Meanwhile, Russ just keeps pumping out beautiful art.

Jack: Boring? Are you kidding? This is one of the best War That Time Forget stories I've ever read! Heath's art is excellent (no surprise) and Kanigher's script remains consistent to the end. Did Japanese pilots really think this way or is this an example of our Western misunderstanding of their code? Either way, it's a fascinating look at a foreign man whose code of honor makes no sense to us but who behaves in an honorable fashion to the end. Having him blow himself up to save the life of his sworn enemy is a much more adult ending than we're used to in this series. Thank goodness this wasn't drawn by Ross and Mike.

Peter: An Allied Sergeant must go out into battle when "There's No One Left!" to send. He's nabbed by the Nazis and interrogated by a smarmy German who continually bombards him with "Whom do you send out when there's no one left, Sergeant?" Our hero manages to escape and, while on the run, manages to shove a potato masher down his interrogator's gullet, forever silencing his annoying voice. Geez, what a dopey story. This Nazi has an Amerikaner soldier to torture and all he does is berate him with a stupid question. No wonder they lost the war.

Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!

Jack: I thought it was exciting and a very swift read. It's interesting to see how much simpler the 1950s DC War stories were in comparison to those from the 1960s. The amount of repetition in the story makes me think Kanigher wrote it.

Our Army at War 186

"3 Stripes Hill!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #90, January 1960)

"My Life for a Medal"
Story by Hank Chapman
Art by Neal Adams

Jack: A WWII soldier named Gallagher is desperate to earn a medal for some reason. Unhurt in an explosion, he does not get a Purple Heart. Blowing up an enemy pill box gets him nowhere because no one on his side witnesses it. Destroying a Nazi plane is also not good enough for a medal, since his partner was unconscious when it occurred. When Gallagher is sent to see why Tank 777 has been lost to radio contact, he ends up destroying an enemy tank. Impressed by the American's bravery, a dying Nazi pins his own Iron Cross on Gallagher's lapel, and the man finally has a medal to enclose in a letter to his son back home.

One of many great pages.
In another artist's hands, "My Life for a Medal!" would not work nearly as well, but Neal Adams continues to dazzle us with his astounding art as it grows by leaps and bounds from month to month in the DC War comics. The way he uses the panels like a movie director and the way he draws faces is impressive.

Peter: If the powers-that-be have to rip off the kids with a recent reprint, at least they pour that sugar on us with the back-up. It's one of Hank Chapman's better efforts, I must say, despite that annoying catch-phrase (Wouldn't it be great to run across a DC war story where two of the characters traded catch-phrases? There must have been dozens of these parrots running around in the same outfit, right?). "My Life for a Medal" ends on a surprisingly uplifting note when a Nazi-Rat Bastard has an epiphany and awards his Iron Cross to the guy who's killed him!

Big Bob hosts his first two-page letter column but gives the entire space over to one Rondy Hiteshaw of San Luis Obispo, Cali, who offers up many suggestions and pert near orders to the editor for changes in the four war titles. One of the requests, a regular feature for Enemy Ace, draws this from Kanigher: "I appreciate and thank your (sic) and other fans (sic) interest in Enemy Ace, but it is logistically impossible to put it out at this time or in the near future." Fortunately, some of the logistics were worked out and we'll see Hans begin his four-year run in SSWS in just a few months!

Next Week:
The Guilty!