Monday, February 20, 2017

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 98: February/March 1968

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Our Army at War 189

"The Mission Was Murder!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert and Jack Abel

"Tag for a Tail-Gunner!"
Story by France Herron
Art by Arthur Peddy
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #1, October-November 1954)

"You Can't Bust a Sergeant!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Sparling

Jack: When Rock and five key members of Easy Co. are dropped off by a submarine and paddle an inflatable raft ashore to meet French underground fighters known as Unit 3, they don't expect to be met by a half-dozen teenage boys with rifles. The lads' fathers were killed by Nazis so they take responsibility for leading Rock and his men to a radar station that needs to be blown up. A German patrol attacks and, while Easy Co. prevails with fisticuffs, they find themselves targeted by more Nazis with guns.

Too much Abel, not enough Kubert
Just then, the boys of Unit 3 emerge from the woods and shoot all of the enemy soldiers where they stand before leading Rock and Co. through the woods toward the radar station. They happen upon a Nazi truck filled with villagers being drafted for slave labor camps, so Rock and Co. make short work of the Nazis and save the civilians. After defeating a tankful of the enemy, Rock, Easy Co., and the boys of Unit 3 reach the radar station and attack. Another battle to the death ensues and Rock comes out on top before bidding adieu to the young men and heading back to the submarine.

I hope we've reached the bottom of the barrel with the Sgt. Rock series, because "The Mission Was Murder!" is not a good story. Kanigher's attempt to appeal to young readers is transparent and the Kubert/Abel art looks much more like Abel than Kubert, except in the occasional close-up of a soldier's face. A house ad in this issue tells us that Enemy Ace is coming back, so perhaps Kubert's time in the syndicated comic world is coming to an end and he can return to his DC War Comics work full time. Sgt. Rock without Kubert just isn't the same, even when it's drawn by Russ Heath.

Peter: I've got some good news and I've got some bad news for ya, Jack. You want the good first? Joe Kubert will indeed be stepping away from the "Green Beret" syndicated strip and will be taking over editor's reins from Bob Kanigher very soon (more on that in four weeks). Bad news? The Unit 3 stories have just begun. There will be at least three more adventures with the pint-sized G.I.s coming in the next few months. As for this initial offering in the Unit 3 saga, I'd have to say it's another case of "Wash. Rinse. Repeat." The diapered rebels of Unit 3 make our veteran heroes look like buffoons over and over again. And, Jack, you are spot on with your condemnation of the art, which looks like 90% Abel and 10% Joe.

Jack: Sgt. Joe Flannigan, an experienced tail gunner, is disappointed when the rest of his crew is sent home and he has to fly one more mission. It gets worse when he learns that he has been assigned to share a bomber plane with a brand new crew as a "Tag for a Tail Gunner!" Once they are in the air and battling Nazis, however, the green crew shows that they have plenty of heart and helps to save the day. Joe is so impressed that he refuses to go home and says he has more bombing to do with his new pals.

"Tag for a Tail Gunner!"

Kanigher reaches all the way back to the first issue of Our Fighting Forces from 1954 for this entertaining little tale of air action. Veteran comic writer Herron provides an exciting script and DC stalwart Peddy chimes in with solid visuals.

Peter: It's a simple script but I loved Peddy's visuals, much better than that of Kubert/Abel and Sparling. Peddy contributed to 52 stories in the DC war titles between 1952 and 1957. He also did work for other publishers (including Combat!, Marvel's entry in the newsstand blitz of war titles in the early 1950s) before turning to a career in advertising.

Jack Sparling--ugly but energetic
Jack: Sgt. Grady seems to care about his men and they respect him right back, so a new lieutenant busts him down to private for showing too much compassion. Grady then proceeds to lead the lieutenant on a battle by battle fight through the woods, causing the lieutenant to promote him step by step until he's back to being a sergeant. The lieutenant admits in the end that "You Can't Bust a Sergeant!" Howard Liss's script is exciting and features a good message and veteran Sparling's art, while it can be ugly at times, has a dynamic feeling to it and propels the story forward. This is a rare issue of Our Army at War where the backup stories are better than the lead.

Peter: I absolutely hated this story, script and art. It's so muddled and confusing (I thought the lost G.I.s were the band of Nazi scum who attack Grady's Guerrillas in the forest until I went back and re-read it) and just seems to go on forever but never tells us an interesting story. Grady is indestructible and manages to get the best of the entire lunk-headed German army.

 G.I. Combat 128

"The Ghost of the Haunted Tank!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #95, September 1962)

"The Haunted Tank vs. Killer Tank!"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #94, July 1962)

Peter: An all-reprint issue for only twelve cents? What a bargain! And in the same month we get an all-reprint issue of Our Army at War! We're in heaven!

Jack: A full issue of Russ Heath is nothing to sneeze at, even if it's all reprints. Besides, the house ads are great!

 Our Army at War 190

"What Makes a Sergeant Run?"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War #97, August 1960)

"Tank Raiders"
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #90, November 1961)

"Death Dive!"
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #84, April 1961)

"Jumping Jeep!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert
(Reprinted from All-American Men of War #38, October 1956)

"Trail of the Terror Rockets!"
(Reprinted from Star Spangled War Stories #89, March 1960)

"Underwater Gunner!"
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #51, November 1959)

"Foxhole Pilot!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat #50, July 1957)

Jack: Ever since he was a kid, Andy Jones hated to get his feet wet. Now he's all grown up and in the Marines, where he keeps having to trudge through water! Even when crossing a river, his conveyance turns into a "Jumping Jeep!" when it hits a mine and dumps him in the drink. A quick little filler from 1957, this features some pre-Sgt. Rock war comics art by Kubert.

"Jumping Jeep!"

Peter: It's startling to see how different Kubert's art was from decade to decade; he definitely improved from the sketchy and rough penciling he displayed in "Jumping Jeep!" to the stylized and exciting work he would do for Enemy Ace and Sgt. Rock ten years later.

"Foxhole Pilot!"
Jack: Pressured by his fellow pilots to bring back a souvenir for the wall in the rec hall, Nick flies one mission and then another, finally landing on the ground and becoming a "Foxhole Pilot." His third mission ends with a Nazi plane crashing through the rec hall roof, providing an unexpectedly large souvenir to add to the collection. The most interesting thing about this 1957 flying story is how smooth Novick's art looks--not very much like the rut he would fall into later on.

Peter: What we get with "Foxhole Pilot" is seven-and-a-half pages of silly build-up and relentless (and totally unbelievable) prattle about bringing souvenirs back to the rec room (never mind survival) but that final panel makes it all worth it. A huge smile replaced the yawn. What's most interesting in the "Readers--Sound Off!" column reprinted below is that Bob is staying mum on the return of Enemy Ace to Star-Spangled War Stories. That's odd as you'd think he'd want to get the word out there ASAP and the story appeared only two months later. Surely, the return was planned well in advance.

Jack: I love DC's 80-page giants! This issue has a superb Kubert cover and features reprints of stories with Sgt. Rock, the Haunted Tank, Johnny Cloud, Mlle. Marie, and Gunner and Sarge. All of the stories are written by Kanigher and three are drawn by Kubert, with another by Heath and another by Drucker. The table of contents page is cool but erroneously attributes the Gunner and Sarge story to Grandenetti, when it's really drawn (and signed) by Kubert.

An error in art credit

An interesting exchange between a reader and the editor

 Our Fighting Forces 111

"Train of Terror!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Abel

"No Movies in a Foxhole!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Sparling

Peter: Hunter's Hellcats are assigned an almost impossible task: to rescue French Freedom-Fighting Frau Mademoiselle Toni Devereux (a/k/a Alouette), who is being held by the Krauts on a "Train of Terror!" Hunter has history with both the lovely Toni and the Nazi scumbag who's holding her prisoner, college Hitler-rally youth Karl Brenner, now a highly-ranked German officer. The reunion goes about how the trio figured it would when Hunter's miscreants manage to take control of the train and dodge several deadly obstacles on their way to delivering Toni to her comrades.

Any "Hunter" entry automatically has two strikes against it because of its ludicrous nature (in one scene, the Hellcats survive a jump from a speeding train into a river far below and come up fists a' blazin' with nary a scratch) and the awful dialogue Big Bob fills his word balloons with. Fortunately, Big Bob took the issue off and laid the burden on another writer. While not always avoiding the bad-lingo land mines ("That's flippin' the ol' pineapples, juggler-boy!"), at least Howard invests some excitement in the script and creates a story that would be a worthy (low-budget) follow-up to The Dirty Dozen. Yes, I know, it's quite a stretch that Toni, Hunter, and Karl are all reunited in one spot during a really big war but I'll excuse that old plot device just this once. If he tries it again, though . . .

Jack: The snapshot of Toni Devereux that is shown to Lt. Hunter gives her huge eyes that make her look like a Disney princess. I always enjoy action on a speeding train, but this story is by the numbers predictable and features mediocre art by Jack Abel that (unfortunately) recalls the work of Jerry Grandenetti in spots, especially the overused technique of drawing shadows around soldiers' eyes that makes it look like they're wearing domino masks. It's an anti-climax when the two college rivals finally meet on the battlefield, as the fight lasts only one panel.

Peter: Corporal Hatton receives a special gift from his wife in the mail: home movies of his new-born son. Unfortunately, Hatton's wife thought her husband would be safe in an office somewhere, with access to a projector but, alas, the G.I. is out on the front and everyone knows there are "No Movies in a Foxhole!" Hatton's mission is simultaneously to kill as many Krauts as he can and find himself a movie projector. He manages to find the Holy Grail at a farmhouse held by Nazis but getting it through enemy fire becomes an arduous and, yes, tedious affair. The lens is broken but Hatton is set on finding a replacement. After the G.I. is wounded while saving a group of British soldiers, one of the  Brits offers up his monocle as a lens for the projector and the entire squad is entertained by Hatton's bundle of joy. Not an awful story (although Hatton's repeated mantra joins all the other boring catch phrases we've had to endure through this journey) and Jack Sparling's art is actually well put-together in spots (his final panel has a Frazetta-esque vibe to it). Love how the Brits get the same stereotypical treatment the Asians do in these DC war stories. Bad teeth and "blimeys." All that's missing is the Captain who demands tea on the battlefield.

Jack Sparling does Frazetta

Jack: The premise of a soldier trying to hold on to a movie projector on a battlefield is ridiculous. Sparling draws some very acrobatic poses that verge on the impossible in the midst of all the ugly faces. I guess Sparling will be a regular contributor to the DC War books now. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

 Our Army at War 191

"Death Flies High!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert

"Phantom Fliers!"
Story by Dave Wood
Art by Jack Abel

Jack: After Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. turn the tables on a group of Nazis hiding behind a hedgerow and bushwhack the ambushers, Rock looks up and sees an American flying fort being attacked by two enemy fighters. It looks like "Death Flies High!" until another U.S. plane joins the fight. Rock recognizes Johnny Cloud's Mustang and watches as the Navajo fighter pilot sends his own plane into the Nazi fighter, Kamikaze-style, to prevent it from destroying the flying fort. Cloud and the Nazi pilot parachute out and exchange gunfire, but only Cloud reaches the ground alive.

"Death Flies
The flying fort manages to land safely, but Rock and Cloud discover that the only living man aboard is the pilot. With his dying breath, he begs them to complete his mission and destroy a Nazi rocket base hidden in a windmill, since it hides long-range rockets that are due to be fired at the U.S. in two hours! Cloud pilots the flying fort with Easy Co. as his crew and Rock as his co-pilot and, after some thrilling air battles, everyone parachutes out and the flying fort crashes into the Nazi rocket base, destroying it before the rockets can be fired.

Landing in the woods, Rock, Easy Co. and Johnny Cloud are met by the teenage underground fighters of Unit 3, who promise to help the Americans get back through enemy lines to safety.

Will this be a rare continued story? I sure hope so, because it's the best Rock tale we've seen in some time. Joe Kubert is back to full strength, providing a superb cover and inking his own pencils once again. Kanigher's story is thrilling and, for once, the team up with another DC Battle Star does not seem forced.

Peter: I totally agree, Jack; this is the best Rock we've had in months thanks to both a stirring script and dazzling visuals. A rare cliff-hanger puts the bow on the package but, of course, that final panel brings us back to Earth as well. Next issue, the baby G.I.s are back and that can't be good. I always wonder, in stories like this where the men are led down a different path than they started on, if real G.I.s would have been in big trouble for abandoning their assignments on a whim (at least I assume Rock and Cloud head off on an unauthorized adventure since there is no scene of communication with their C.O.s). The other thing that I ponder (when I'm in the pondering mood) is why it seems like Easy is always somewhere completely different than in the previous installment. That could be down to me, though.

"Phantom Fliers!"
Jack: In the skies over Europe during WWI, an American and a German flier face off in a deadly game of chicken that ends in both of their deaths. On the ground, their ghosts vow to pick two new pilots to influence in order to continue their duel. They guide the new pilots in a tough battle but, when it looks like the result will be the same as before, they pull away, allowing the replacements to live to fly another day.

Jack Abel must have had some help on the inks with this story, because it has some very strong panels. I like the ghostly element to the tale and it reminds me of good old Jeb Stuart over in the Haunted Tank series, except these spectral pilots actually do something rather than just spout confusing riddles. This is an all-around terrific issue of Our Army at War, made even better by the house ads, which show covers that I can remember from early childhood.

Peter: It looks like all-Abel all the time to me, Jack. He could be great and he could be . . . not so great, but here he's all (pun intended) Aces. A very enjoyable Weird War Tale this one but, again, my mind wanders when we come across scenes like the one where the two pilots are killed and their ghosts fire their guns at each other. How can they be shooting those weapons? Are they ghost pistols? I would bet money that this is a "shelf" story since this is the first glimpse of writer Dave Wood we've had since beginning this journey. Wood (who was a regular in the pages of Detective Comics and helped co-create--with Jack Kirby--the syndicated strip, "Sky Masters of the Space Force") supplied several scripts to the pre-1959 DC war titles but "Phantom Fliers!" would be his sole credit post-1960.

More Kubert!

Star Spangled War Stories 137

"Fight to the Last!!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Joe Kubert

"Mud Soldier!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Jack Sparling

"Human Booby Trap!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Jerry Grandenetti
(Reprinted from Our Fighting Forces #1, November 1954)

Peter: Sub commander Lt. Tim Scott picks up a raft full of commandos in the middle of the Pacific; the men had just infiltrated a Japanese-held island and are bringing back the 411 to their bosses. Scott helps the commando commander aboard and—Holy Coincidence!—it’s his boyhood gang rival, Frankie Clary! Tempers immediately flare and Frankie warns Tim that he’ll be looking for the right moment to even a score (way back when, Tim beat Frankie to a pulp and Frankie has held the grudge ever since), World War II and service be damned. Before Tim has a chance to react, the sub is attacked by a sea monster and beached on a convenient island (just moments before, the sub was deep beneath the waves so how this piece of land appeared is anyone’s—or Howard Liss’s—guess). Tim and Scott must lead their men across the island of deadly prehistoric monsters of the primeval stone age and somehow find a way off to share their important intelligence. After a Stegosaurus Rex almost eats Frankie, the belligerent buffoon finally decides to put aside his grudge and, in a last second escape attempt, even saves Tim’s life. The two men become life-long friends forever after. The End. 

"Fight to the Last!!"
After eight years and forty-seven installments, the curtain falls on The War That Time Forgot (or maybe it should have been The Time That War Forgot seeing how many times these guys landed on the same island and had no clue) and not a day too soon. Sure, I’ll miss its goofiness and the artists’ variations on the classic prehistoric monsters (one of the creatures in this story has eyeballs on stalks, clearly a diversion from my Encyclopedia of Real Dinosaurs) but I’ve run out of different ways to say “ludicrous” and not make it seem as if I sleepwalk through these things. “Fight to the Last!!” is a great example: we have the, by now, cliched set-up of the boyhood enemies who finally meet on the battlefield and continue their beef despite the great odds thrown at them and the obvious advantages to joining up and fighting a common enemy. The hatred continues until an epiphany comes (usually in the penultimate panel) and suddenly these guys are bosom buddies. Oh, and then there’s the dino-pinball action. I’m sure Bob and Howard were just as tired of the formula as we were but they were slaves to good sales. Perhaps the avalanche of mail begging for the return of the Enemy Ace gave Bob the incentive to dump the dinos. In any event, I can pretty much assure you we’ll be better off when the four-year run of Hans von Hammer begins next issue.

"Mud Soldier!"
A G.I. who grew up on a hog farm and learned how to “grab a greased pig” in a sty becomes the ultimate “Mud Soldier!” when he has to fight a Nazi in a deluge of rain. His special talent allows him to capture the German for interrogation. Now this is the Jack Sparling I know and loathe; ugly, almost unintelligible scribbles and characters with animal faces and silly grins. Yecchhhh. 

From the battle-blazing pages of the premiere issue of Our Fighting Forces comes “Human Booby Trap!,” a decent short about Sgt. Baker of Easy Company, who questions every scenario he comes across, the better to keep himself alive. As we’ve seen in the past, Jerry Grandenetti could pump out some decent work before he became impressionistic (or whatever you’d call the fate that befell Jerry) and “Human Booby Trap!” is nicely rendered.

"Human Booby Trap!"
Jack: I saw that the last story featured art from Jerry G. from 1954 and I was expecting better. So much for my narrative that had him doing pretty nice work in the '50s and going steadily downhill in the '60s and '70s. The Sparling story has some hideous art and it's the third time we've seen him in this post, so chances are we'll have to suffer through plenty more of his drawings before we're through. Thank goodness for Joe Kubert, whose art on the final War That Time Forgot story is classic. Liss does about as well as can be expected this time out, while hitting all of the usual points in one of these stories. After 47 of them, a change is most welcome.

Coming Next Week!
16 All-New Tales of Suspense!
It's An Entertaining Comic!


Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hitchcock Project-James Bridges Part Four: Dear Uncle George [8.30]

by Jack Seabrook

The fourth episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour to be credited to James Bridges is "Dear Uncle George," which first aired on CBS on Friday, May 10, 1963. A delightful hour, the teleplay is credited to William Link, Richard Levinson and James Bridges, with Link and Levinson getting an additional credit for the story. A thorough search has failed to turn up any published story that would have served as the source material for this episode, so I suspect that it was a treatment by Link and Levinson. Perhaps they then wrote a teleplay and Bridges was brought in to do some revisions.

Richard Levinson (1934-1987) and William Link (1933- ) were one of the great writing teams in television mystery series. They met in school in 1946 and went on to a long and fruitful collaboration on radio scripts, plays, teleplays and two movies. The team was active in TV from 1959 until Levinson's untimely death in 1987 and together they created Mannix (1967-1975), Columbo (1971-2000), Ellery Queen (1975-1976), and Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996). They also had a number of short stories published between 1954 and 1966 and won four Edgar Awards during their career as partners. After Levinson died, Link continued to write and his short stories have been appearing on and off since 1996. He was president of the MWA in 2002 and has a website here.

Gene Barry as John Chambers
There has been some speculation among writers online that the character of Lt. Wolfson in "Dear Uncle George" was a prototype for Lt. Columbo, but I do not think this is true. Wolfson does wear a rumpled raincoat, but that is where the resemblance ends. Link and Levinson created Columbo in their short story, "Dear Corpus Delecti," which was published in the March 1960 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. They then adapted the story for TV on The Chevy Mystery Show under the title "Enough Rope," and the episode aired on July 31, 1960, with Bert Freed as Columbo. The detective next appeared in Prescription: Murder, a play by Link and Levinson that opened in San Francisco in January 1962 and featured Thomas Mitchell as the lieutenant. This play was adapted for television by the team six years later under the same title, and Peter Falk finally took over the role. A TV series followed in 1971 and lasted, on and off, until 2003.

Another coincidence is that Gene Barry (1919-2009), who plays the killer in "Dear Uncle George," also plays the murderer in "Prescription: Murder." However, the characters and their stories are quite different.

Alicia Li as Bea
The scene is set in the first shot of "Dear Uncle George" as the camera lingers on a sign that reads, "New York Examiner Publishing Company." The camera then travels up to a high floor in a skyscraper, where John Chambers (Barry) listens as his secretary, Bea (Alicia Li), reads letters to him. As he dictates responses, he cuts out paper dolls, demonstrating the character's boredom with his job as "Uncle George," a newspaper advice columnist. His answers are facile and his mood jaded; he asks Bea if there are "Any more cries of pain for this human wailing wall?" The second letter Bea reads is from a busybody, who signs her name as "Good Samaritan" but who has been watching the woman in the apartment across the court from hers. This woman is having an affair and Good Samaritan asks Uncle George if she should tell the woman's husband.

John steadies Cupid
This letter will turn out to be much more than a standard missive to Uncle George, since Chambers will soon learn that the unfaithful spouse is his own. He telephones his wife Louise to say he will be working late at the office; unbeknownst to John, Louise is entertaining a male visitor, whose identity is hidden from the viewer. Back at the office, Bea remarks that Good Samaritan happens to live in the same apartment building as the Chambers. Later that night, John arrives home to an empty apartment. Louise shows up minutes later and rebuffs his attempt at a romantic advance, claiming to be tired. She has misplaced a comb and nearly knocks over a statue of Cupid on her makeup table, a statue that John keeps from falling. I think that this could be a James Bridges touch, drawing the viewer's attention to what will later become the murder weapon and also using it as a metaphor: like the statue of Cupid, the couple's marriage is shaky and the husband is trying to keep it from shattering.

Louise closes the drapes in the living room and complains that the old woman across the court has been spying on her neighbors. At the office, John had referred to Good Samaritan as a witch; now, Louise comments that she would not be surprised if the old woman turned up at the door with a poisoned apple. Both husband and wife use witch imagery to describe their neighbor and, like a witch in a fairy tale, the old woman's letter will lead to the destruction of their marriage and to Louise's death.

Patricia Donahue as Louise Chambers
George begins to put two and two together and suspects that the letter from Good Samaritan was referring to his own wife. Working late at the office another night, he telephones Louise to tell her he will be delayed. Bea comments that working late every night may cause her to lose her husband--as Uncle George, Chambers gives advice to his readers but plays havoc with the lives of those around him. Slipping out a side door of his office, Chambers goes home early and finds an open bottle of champagne and two glasses. Louise hears someone come in and emerges from the bedroom expectantly, dressed in a gold lame pantsuit, but is surprised and disappointed to see that the man who entered the apartment was her husband rather than her lover. John confronts her in the bedroom and she angrily confesses her affair. He picks up the heavy statue of Cupid and bashes her over the head with it, killing both her and their love. He wipes his prints off of the statute and closes the blinds, not wanting his act of violence to be witnessed by the Good Samaritan across the way; fortunately, her blinds are also closed.

Dabney Coleman as Tom Esterow
John is able to slip back into his office unseen. After summoning Bea as an unwary witness, he pretends to telephone Louise and acts like she is in trouble on the other end of the line. He must rush to her aid and asks Bea to call the police while he heads home, seemingly for the first time that evening. When he arrives at the apartment, the police are already there, and Lt. Wolfson tells John that Louise was murdered. John sees an unfamiliar coat on a chair and asks if anyone else was there when the police arrived, so Wolfson brings out Tom Esterow (Dabney Coleman), a former colleague of John's who discovered the body. Claiming that Louise asked him to paint her portrait, Esterow elicits a bemused comment from Wolfson, who asks: "You 're not one of those abstract painters, are you?"

Esterow admits that he picked up the Cupid statue when he found the body and so his fingerprints are on the murder weapon. A key to the apartment is found in his coat pocket and he is accused of murder and taken to the police station. Wolfson suspects that the murder was a crime of passion and asks Chambers if his wife had been involved with another man, but John denies it.

John Larkin as Simon Aldritch
After the funeral, John returns to the office but his publisher, Simon Aldritch (John Larkin) thinks that it is too soon and suggests that Chambers take a vacation. Before John can accompany Simon to his country home, he pays a visit to Esterow, who is in prison, accusing the man of murder and telling him that "I hope you're convicted." We next learn a bit more about Lt. Wolfson when he is visited by Sgt. Duncan, a younger policeman whom he is training. Wolfson is retiring in ten days and tells Duncan, "You'll learn after a while, no matter how instinctively you feel about the case, you're bound to the evidence."

Chambers has a big surprise in store for him when he visits Aldritch's country home: left alone in the steam room, he finds Louise's missing comb and realizes that Aldritch, and not Esterow, was her secret lover. Simon admits to the affair and John accuses him of murder. Chambers goes back to the jail and apologizes to Esterow, suggesting that the Good Samaritan who watched his apartment might be able to identify Aldritch as his wife's lover and, by extension, her killer. John next visits Wolfson and explains his plan and his suspicions. When the Lieutenant is not persuaded by Chambers's story, John takes matters into his own hands and locates his missing neighbor, the Good Samaritan, who has been visiting her sister upstate. Back in his office, John is fired by Simon for going to the police, but a telephone call from Lt. Wolfson results in both men heading for the police station.

Lou Jacobi as Lt. Wolfson
The last scene of "Dear Uncle George" is like Ellery Queen's gathering of the suspects, except this time the get-together is driven by the murderer himself, in a clever attempt to deflect suspicion onto his rival in love. Lt. Wolfson, Tom Esterow, John Chambers, and Simon Aldritch are together when Sgt. Duncan brings in a chatty old woman named Mrs. Weatherby, the Good Samaritan herself, who puts on her glasses and identifies John as her neighbor across the court. Gossipy as ever, she remarks that Louise's murder was predictable in light of her behavior. She identifies Simon as Louise's lover and, when he admits the affair but denies the murder, it seems like Chambers has succeeded and the story is over. But Mrs. Weatherby has a bit more to say on her way out of the office and director Joseph Newman presents a series of Sergio Leone-like tight close-ups of each character as Mrs. Weatherby mentions that she wrote a letter to Uncle George about the affair.

Earlier, Simon had told Lt. Wolfson that Chambers was Uncle George, asking the policeman to keep it quiet in order to avoid a scandal that could hurt the newspaper's circulation. Suddenly, as Mrs. Weatherby talks, everyone in the room realizes exactly what happened, that John had been alerted of his wife's infidelity and had murdered her. Mrs. Weatherby, the Good Samaritan, has the last word, addressed to John Chambers: "I'm sure that if you knew what was going on you'd have done something about it."

Charity Grace as Mrs. Weatherby
William Link, Richard Levinson and James Bridges wrote a great script in "Dear Uncle George," Joseph Newman does a creative job with the direction, and all of the cast members give excellent performances, resulting an a highly entertaining hour of television. Many small touches enhance the show's enjoyment while the plot is tight and takes unpredictable twists and turns.

Early in the show, we meet Bea, John's secretary, who is played by Asian-American actress Alicia Li. Surprisingly, for a 1963 television program, Bea is not a stereotypical Asian; instead, the character could be played by an actress of any heritage. Asian-American roles on TV were few and far between before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and those that were seen often portrayed Asians in traditional roles.

Chambers returns home in shadow
The show's lighting is also notable, especially in the two scenes where Chambers returns home to his apartment from work. He enters in shadow, suggesting that he is walking into an unfamiliar place, even though it is his home. The chemistry between John and Louise (Patricia Donahue) is impressive, and their banter, which quickly turns vicious, is that of a couple who have been together for a long time. Perhaps best of all is Lou Jacobi as Lt. Wolfson, who plays the part as if he finds everything about this murder investigation to be highly amusing. In a later scene, when he tells Sgt. Duncan that John Chambers and Uncle George are one and the same, Wolfson telephones his wife and hands the phone to Duncan, telling the sergeant to ask Mrs. Wolfson to tell him about Uncle George. Wolfson is a man who enjoys his job and, rather than provide the information himself, he plays with the idea of who is the audience for newspaper advice columns by having his wife explain things to the younger policeman. Best of all is a scene late in the show when Chambers goes to Wolfson with his suspicions. The lieutenant seems barely to be listening to Chambers; he offers the man a cup of tea and then stands absently swinging a teabag around in circles while his visitor talks.

Chambers and Esterow are doubled
As Chambers, Barry is utterly convincing. A frustrated novelist who has been working on his book for six years, he finds himself stripped of his dignity both at work, where he is an advice columnist so bored that he cuts out paper dolls, and at home, where his wife is cheating on him. When he bludgeons her with a statue of the god of love, he is asserting his manhood, and the rest of the show traces his attempts to shift the blame onto the men whom he thinks were his rivals. John is always hiding behind a mask: as Uncle George, as the grieving widower, and as the innocent man. When he first visits Esterow in prison, there is an impressive shot that shows John's face reflected in glass right next to Esterow's face--the men are doubled, former colleagues now integral parts of a murder investigation, one guilty and not suspected, the other innocent and under suspicion.

The only false note in the show--and it is a small one--occurs when Sam, presumably the superintendent of the apartment building where Chambers lives, has a scene with Chambers. Sam is portrayed as a stereotypical Irishman who can be bought with a drink of alcohol, a portrayal of an immigrant quite different than the enlightened portrayal of Bea by Alicia Li.

Even Mrs. Weatherby (Charity Grace) is fun to watch, as she must put her glasses on each time she has to look at someone to make an identification. The fact that her need to gossip leads her to make a comment that seals John's doom provides a perfect ending to the show, since it was her letter to Uncle George that led to the murder of Louise Chambers in the first place.

Unlike Lt. Columbo, who always seems to know who the murderer is and to hound them until they make a mistake, Lt. Wolfson does not seem to intuit the identity of the guilty party. Instead, as he says, he follows the evidence and likely is as surprised as anyone else to discover the truth.

Joseph Newman (1909-2006), who directed "Dear Uncle George," started out as an assistant director in the Golden Age of Hollywood, from 1933 to 1942, before becoming a director of short subjects (1938 to 1947) and finally of features, starting in 1942. His most memorable film is probably This Island Earth (1955), a science fiction classic. He worked in television from 1960 to 1965 and directed ten episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including "The Second Wife"; "Dear Uncle George" was his first. Newman also directed four episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Gene Barry as Bat Masterson
Gene Barry is the star of the show, and he had a long career on screen as a leading man. Born Eugene Klass, he started out on stage in 1940 before appearing on TV and in the movies from 1950 to 2005. His most memorable film, The War of the Worlds (1955), came early in his career; he then had a recurring role on the TV series Our Miss Brooks (1955-1956) before starring in four series over fifteen years: Bat Masterson (1958-1961), Burke's Law (1963-1966 and 1994-1995), The Name of the Game (1968-1971) and The Adventurer (1972-1973). Barry appeared on the Hitchcock series three times and there is an informative website devoted to his career here.

Second billing goes to John Larkin (1912-1965), who was a busy actor on Old Time Radio from the 1930s to the 1950s, playing Perry Mason over the air. He began working in TV in 1954 and appeared in various shows for the next decade but never made much of a splash. He was on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice.

Patricia Donahue in "A Stop at Willoughby"
The unfaithful wife, Louise Chambers, is well played by Patricia Donahue (1925-2012), whose career on screen was mostly spent on TV from 1956 to 1984. Born Patricia Mahar, she was on the Hitchcock show twice and on Night Gallery twice, but her most memorable role was as the nasty wife on the classic Twilight Zone episode, "A Stop at Willoughby."

Dabney Coleman (1932- ) is convincing as the unjustly accused painter, Tom Esterow. Coleman has been a fixture on TV and in the movies since 1961 and appeared on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in "Dear Uncle George" and "Isabel." He was on The Outer Limits three times and later appeared on various TV series, including Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-1977) and in the film, 9 to 5 (1980).

Lt. Wolfson is played by Lou Jacobi (1913-2009), who was born Louis Jacobovitch in Toronto. He began acting on stage in 1924 and spent decades treading the boards before his first appearance on screen in 1953. He was on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour twice.

In smaller roles, Alicia Li and Charity Grace both shine. Li (1924-2008) was born in Philadelphia and had a brief career on screen between 1961 and 1965 with six TV credits and three movies. Unlike her role as Bea, some of her other roles included "Chinese girl" and "Third native girl." Grace (1884-1965) was on the Hitchcock show five times and had small but memorable roles in "Party Line" and "Final Vow."

Unfortunately, like the rest of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Dear Uncle George" has not been released on DVD and is currently unavailable for viewing online. Hopefully, Universal will rectify this soon, because this episode is well worth seeking out.

Thanks to Peter Enfantino for checking all of the Link and Levinson stories in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine through 1963 to confirm that none of them was the source for "Dear Uncle George"!

"Dear Uncle George." The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. CBS. 10 May 1963. Television.
"The FictionMags Index." The FictionMags Index. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
Grams, Martin, and Patrik Wikstrom. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion. Churchville, MD: OTR Pub., 2001. Print.
IMDb. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

In two weeks: "Run for Doom," starring John Gavin and Diana Dors!

Monday, February 13, 2017

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

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

Frontline Combat #7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Landing"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Fantasy #14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Haunt of Fear #14

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

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

Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Sid Check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-Fisted Tales #28

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

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

Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin

Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

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

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

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

"Pell's Point!"

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

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

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


Weird Science #14

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

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

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

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

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

("There'll Be Some Changes Made!")

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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