Monday, October 24, 2016

Star Spangled DC War Stories Part 90: November 1966

The DC War Comics
by Corporals Enfantino and Seabrook

 Star Spangled War Stories 129

"My Brothers With Wings!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Russ Heath

"I Owe You My Life!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by John Calnan

Peter: When "air-minded" Alice Smith's plane crashes on a "solo hop from Australia to the Philippines," she's just able to rig a parachute to her baby Tommy's cradle and eject it into the Pacific night. The bundle lands on an island filled with monsters from a prehistoric stone age and the baby is brought up by a friendly family of pterodactyls. When mama ptero is struck by lightning during an afternoon out gliding with Tommy, a ship fishes him out of the sea and takes the young man back to America. Growing up without the power to speak anything but "Skreeee"s and "Skrawwww"s would be a detriment to anyone but the hardiest heart but Tommy grows lean and strong until, one day, he volunteers to join the service during WWII and is assigned to the Pacific.  During a bombing run, his battleship is destroyed and Tommy must search for an island on which to land. Out of the blue (literally), the island of his youth materializes before him and the lucky pilot lands. Since he had always hoped to come back to his home, Tommy had never thrown away his loincloth and so he dons it and sets foot on the island for the first time in years. Quickly, he set upon by a T. Rex but one of his "winged brothers" arrives to save the day. A wave of Japanese ships approach the island and Tommy must rig his winged brothers with bombs liberated from his plane. The squadron of pterodactyls make scrap metal out of the fleet and Tommy hitchhikes back to his base on a passing battleship, knowing he'll return again some day.

"My Brothers With Wings!"

"My Brothers . . ."
The "War That Time Forgot" series has always been 80% fantasy and 20% battle action, but "My Brothers With Wings!" takes that balance to 95/5. There's just so much obvious goofiness and WTFs here that, after a bit, your brain shuts down and you just don't care anymore. It's the most Burroughsian tale in a series obviously inspired by ERB's "Caprona" trilogy and so has a mighty charm to it that's missing from most of the other installments of the WTTF saga; there's just something cool about a man riding a dinosaur and blowing enemy ships out of the water. The fact that Russ Heath adds a huge dollop of wonderfulness to the proceedings doesn't hurt, helping to make the story more than just "Tarzan on a Dinosaur." A few hearty chuckles should emanate from the reader as well: it stretches the boundaries of the imagination that a woman would take her baby with her on a dangerous flight across thousands of miles, and when the unidentified boy reaches the States, the orphanage seems to know his name! Best of all, as Tommy is landing on the shore of his beloved island, he reaches for a sack containing . . . his childhood loincloth, ostensibly tailored since he last wore it. This is not the last we'll see of Tommy Smith and, if it will give us a rest from circus acts and reunited triplets, I'm up for it.

Jack: Is this the best installment of the War That Time Forgot? If not, it's surely the best one in recent memory. Did you notice that Tommy got a haircut between the cover and the splash page? Of course, I would have preferred to have seen what Kubert could do with this story in light of his later Tarzan work, but Heath turns in a very nice story. I also saw a bit of a Superman parallel with the mother jettisoning her baby from the plane in order to save his life.

"I Owe You My Life!"
Peter: Olson is haunted by the part he played in a robbery years ago, a botched heist that left an innocent man dead. Now serving in Viet Nam, Olson is convinced that a new recruit in his squadron is the son of the victim and is only waiting for a chance to his avenge his father's death. The boy saves Olson's life but the grizzled felon is convinced that was some kind of trick and that his own day of reckoning is nigh. Sure enough, while saving the kid in a mine cave-in, Olson dies and the boy asks his comrades why a perfect stranger would save his life. With "I Owe You My Life!," I'm not happy with the sub-par John Calnan art (I was never comfortable with his work on the Batman titles in the '70s, either), but Howard Liss's fabulous writing continues to dazzle me. Sure, we have to deal with what we might term a DCCO (DC Coincidence) much in the same way we have to deal with the dreaded MARMIS (innocent misunderstanding between two Marvel heroes) over at Marvel University, but at least Howard recognizes the restrictions he's been made to work under and manages to sneak in some new wrinkles. Olson is ambivalent about his own role in the murder until he spends some time "working" alongside the kid and even then, he's almost relieved when the kid is pinned in the mine. Only a last moment pang of guilt sends him back for a rescue. The kid's astonishment at Olson's sacrifice is a right nasty twist (and can we get even darker and hypothesize that Olson is wrong and this isn't even the right guy? Please?) and the fact that Liss leaves the grizzled G.I. dead is a much better alternative to what Hank Chapman might have cooked up (Olson saves the kid's life, confesses, and the two become the best of friends). Since Liss will take over chores for "War That Time Forgot" for the next few issues and see his contributions, in general, grow, I'd say Big Bob Kanigher was taking a well-deserved vacation around this time. When the cat's away . . .

Still more from "My Brothers . . ."
Jack: We part ways on this story, my friend! Howard Liss's casual handling of atrocities in Vietnam, such as the wholesale massacre by ambush of a group of enemy soldiers by our "heroic" G.I.s, turned me off completely. I also was unimpressed with Liss's use of the standard Kanigher trope of having two people who met before the war come across each other in wartime in a stressful situation. Having John Calnan's scribbles to endure only makes it worse. This was the artist's first credit at DC but sadly not his last.

 Our Army at War 173

"Easy's Hardest Battle!"
(Reprinted from Our Army at War 99, October 1960)

"Fight to the Finish!"
Story by Howard Liss
Art by Gene Colan

Jack: In WWI, an American soldier has a "Fight to the Finish!" with a German soldier in a cemetery. The bursting of a stray shell separates the men and allows the German to escape. As a result, an American tank is destroyed, along with its crew. This event haunts the American soldier, who tells his young son about it after the war. The boy grows up and fights in WWII, finding himself back in the same cemetery fighting the son of the German soldier who had escaped years before. This time, the German is killed by the falling tombstone, allowing the American to head back to base to report on a new German jet plane he's seen in action.

Liss writes a story that Kanigher would be proud to have penned, where the most unlikely of coincidences occurs and brings the sons of soldiers together in the same place where their fathers squared off decades before. Colan's art is as good as we've seen from him in the DC war comics and reminds me of what he was doing over at Marvel around this time.

"Fight to the Finish!"

The Sgt. Rock story is a reprint from 1960, uncut at 13 pages. Also reprinted are two of the one-page "true battle stories" that are used as filler in the DC war comics. One comes from the same issue as the Sgt. Rock story; the other, from All American Men of War 81 (September 1960). Even the cover is repurposed from the splash page of the reprinted story! In 1960, DC readers got a 13 page lead story and two six page backup stories for a dime. By 1966, it was a 13 page lead story and a nine page backup story, or three fewer pages of story per issue, for twelve cents!

From 1966 to 1968, Joe Kubert was drawing the newspaper strip, Tales of the Green Beret, which gave him less time to draw Sgt. Rock and other DC comics. Presumably, that's why a reprint was slotted into this issue. I expect well see less new material from Mr. K for awhile.

Peter: A tad bit of a deception that cover, no? With its "Sgt Rock asks you to read first--then vote on which was--Easy's hardest battle!" tagline, you'd assume there would be some kind of follow-up on the inside, right? Nope, not one word of explanation for the supposed competition nor for the reasoning behind the reprint. I'm sure a good proportion of the readers didn't even know it was a reprint. Howard Liss finally strikes out with "Fight to the Finish!," a mess stuffed so full of coincidences that it might be construed as a parody of DC war stories if the bullpen went in for that sort of thing. At least we get another look at Gentleman Gene's splendid work.

G.I. Combat 120

"Pull a Tiger's Tail!"
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by Irv Novick

"A Carrier Has Nine Lives!"
Story by Bob Haney
Art by Jack Abel
(Reprinted from G.I. Combat 58, March 1958)

Peter: The crew of the Jeb Stuart are given orders to find an enemy tank and its crew and "Pull a Tiger's Tail!" The Jeb and three other tanks head into a town ravaged by Tigers and a massacre begins. When the Jeb is the only Allied tank left standing, Lt. Jeb is taken prisoner by the Tiger's commander. While plotting his escape, Jeb recollects how Sgt. Rock and Johnny Cloud taught him how to take the enemy hostage in order to elicit information from them. Just in time, Jeb's men arrive and save their C.O. from certain death. As usual, the guest spots are handled well but I wonder why Jeb is constantly crossing paths with Rock and the Navajo Ace (to add a further coincidence, it's Jeb's C.O. who sends him to train with Jeb's military buds). It's a small, small, small war. Negatives: I don't care for Novick's work and his shortcomings are only magnified when he's subbing on a strip usually handled by Russ Heath; and Jeb (the spectre) sees his screen time diminish with each passing issue, here represented by a mere two panels (with the obligatory "I think the looey's going nuts cuz' he's talking to himself" conversation between the rest of the men following). Is this tank really Haunted if there's no spook? "A Carrier Has Nine Lives!" is an enjoyable enough reprint about the crew of a battleship who continue to take a lickin' and keep on tickin', whether it be from the enemy or the elements. Bob Haney nicely spotlights the danger of a typhoon, not an enemy we're used to seeing.

"Pull a Tiger's Tail!"
Jack: The "battle guest shots" by Rock and Cloud that are touted on the cover must have been intended to pump up sales. When Jeb confronts the German tank commander, they both speak English and understand each other perfectly. I can almost buy that, but when Jeb mentions "the Rock" and "the Navajo Ace," does he really think a German tank crew will know who he's talking about? The flashbacks are gratuitous and bring the story to a grinding halt. The backup story, another reprint, is mediocre but at least it has above-average art for Jack Abel. On the letters page, Carol Lemmle of Richmond, VA, tells Kanigher that she thinks the Haunted Tank is "the mostest." I bet she dug the go-go checks on the cover, too.

"A Carrier Has Nine Lives!"

Next Monday!
The 18th issue of It's An Entertaining Comic
is finger lickin' good!

Monday, October 17, 2016

EC Comics: It's An Entertaining Comic! Part 17: December 1951 + The Best of 1950/51

Featuring special guest host, John Scoleri!

The EC Reign Month by Month 1950-1956
17: December, 1951

Weird Science #10

"The Maidens Cried" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"Reducing . . . Costs" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Transformation Completed" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

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

"The Maidens Cried"
Sensing they were on to a winning formula, Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein would occasionally double Wally Wood's workload for the science fiction titles beginning this month. Searching the galaxy for uranium, the crew of a rocket ship lands on the planet known as 205-D. Once there, they discover a race of gorgeous gals (well, gorgeous except for the webbing that runs under their arms) who treat the boys like kings. There's always the bad with the good though on Amazonian planets and the crew soon meet the male of the species: ugly, primitive and hairless. Soon, the spacemen forget about returning to Earth and put down roots with the babes, but the joy and laughter are short-lived. The captain (who remains a bachelor) discovers the truth: the women use their mates as a receptacle for laying eggs. The creatures kill their host and then live off its corpse. Only two of the crew make it back to the ship and then rocket off into space, bidding adieu to the ugly paradise. Yep, this one's got Wally's work and a twist that predates Alien by decades but "The Maidens Cried" is tough to get through; it's tedious and cliched. And our usual final panel shocker is replaced by a really bad pun. Yes, as they contemplate their dead comrades, the survivors crack bad jokes.

"Transformation Completed"
Much better is Wood's second contribution this issue, "Transformation Completed," wherein we meet the overly possessive Dr. Emil Hinde, and his beautiful daughter, Terry. If Hinde has his way, Terry will grow old taking care of him, ignoring the social life and marriage she covets. But nature takes its course and Terry meets the man of her dreams, Lee, who quickly proposes. This forces Dr. Hinde to turn to medicine for an answer; luckily, he's been working on a formula that, when injected, causes the patient to change sexes! When Lee drops by to ask for Terry's hand with an accompanying sneeze, Hinde helpfully suggests a flu shot! Days later, Lee calls off the wedding and Terry is heartbroken and suspicious of her father. Snooping through the medical logs, Terry discovers the truth and leaves home. Months later, Dr. Hinde receives a wedding invitation and arrives to find his son, Terry, and his wife, Lee, marrying. One wonders what kind of an uproar this edgy tale might have brought from the readership. After all, in the early 1950s, a man was a man and . . . so on, but "Transformation Completed" throws a few monkey wrenches into that old adage, doesn't it? Curious though, that Wood was assigned this simple tale since it requires only a few human characters and nary a tentacled monstrosity from Jupiter. The final panel, where we learn that "Terry made a very handsome groom . . . and Lee, a lovely bride . . ." could not fail to bring a smile to the most hardened reader.

"Reducing... Costs"
Duke and Ace own the Fourth Avenue Arena, a sports venue that's become eclipsed by The Garden. What to do? Hope arrives in the form of a slightly eccentric professor named Leon Von Feidel, who demonstrates for the boys his new invention, the Partial-Gravity-Insulator, a gizmo that can shrink anything to one-eighth its size. Therefore, Duke and Ace can get four times the capacity as they once could. The boys refit their arena with new seating and re-open to raves. A glitch in the system leaves the attendees a bit on the large size but the nutty professor excitedly declares a minor adjustment will take care of that. The next night, after the game, the machine malfunctions yet again and the crowd exit to find themselves all three-feet tall! Ace and Duke are trampled in the melee. A bad idea from the get-go, "Reducing . . . Costs" is just about the worst story we've encountered on our journey thus far. It's amazing that a big brain like the Professor would approach the boys with his invention; how did he find out the arena was experiencing problems and why in the world would this genius aim so low? And, like several of Al's SF tales, a long explanatory kills any momentum. Usually, after the classroom physics lesson, Al gets the motor restarted and the show goes on. Not so here, as we witness several sputters and a breakdown.

"The Planetoid"
In the final tale, "The Planetoid!" a group of space travelers stop on a small planet and are beset by miniature creatures. The astronauts are finally chased away by "insects of a winged variety" and Earth is safe again. Yep, in a final page reveal, we discover that the unwitting "invaders" had landed on, and completely destroyed, a village in Africa. A professor, called in to assess the situation, gravely states that it's "lucky they landed where they did! If they set down . . . say . . . near New York . . ." There are a few too many variations on this theme throughout the EC run but Joe Orlando (who fills in for Wally Wood remarkably) makes the trek tolerable. -Peter

 Other than the Orlando story, this terrible issue is all about metamorphoses. In "The Maidens Cried," the "women" are actually alien moths that develop into butterflies. In "Reducing . . . Costs," everyone changes their size. And in "Transformation Completed," the young lovers engage in a transgender switcheroo that would make Ed Wood proud. It's a shame that we can't just sit back and admire the art, because it's outstanding. The stories, on the other hand, range from bad to worse. "The Maidens Cried" starts out promisingly but then starts meandering and ends up just plain boring. "Reducing . . . Costs" shows how bad it can be when the best thing about a tale is Jack Kamen's art. "Transformation Completed" is just plain bizarre, and "The Planetoid!" uses the same old trick for the umpteenth time. Wood's art on "The Maidens Cried" is a thing of beauty, though, and Orlando's work is not far behind.

*Choke* *Groan*
("The Maidens Cried")
Jose: As my colleagues have pointed out, it’s interesting to note in retrospect that “Transformation Completed,” a story that bucks traditional (re: Catholic) views of gender quite roughly, apparently warranted no mention in either Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent or the Senate subcommittee hearings that would later condemn Entertaining Comics to Code-approved purgatory. There are probably various reasons behind this, but for me it points out the ultimate failing inherent in this kind of moral censuring: the purveyors of taste are only and always concerned with the superficial, of what they can immediately see on the surface and judge accordingly entirely free of the appropriate context. We probably would’ve heard about “Transformation Completed” had we lived in an alternate universe where society’s saviors actually took the time to study the material they were debating in order to learn more about it, but we didn’t then and we sure as hell don’t live there now.

Anyway, my ankles are sore from standing on that soapbox. This issue of Weird Science is pretty much another batch of “Exactly What You’ve Come to Expect from Us.” We have a the-aliens-were-on-Earth-the-whole-time story (“The Planetoid”), a the-hot-babe-was-really-some-bizarre-creature-the-whole-time story (“And the Maidens Cried”), and a this-was-a-real-drag-the-whole-time-man story by Jack Kamen (“Reducing… Costs”). I realize my tone may be a little flip here (ya think?) and it coasts over the valuable artistic contributions of Wood and Orlando, but at this point I find myself really yearning for the SF titles to take off for the stars like we’ve seen EC’s other titles steadily do over the last year of their publication. According to Peter, the worst is yet to come for our intrepid science fiction explorers.

I can hardly wait.

John: I was pleasantly surprised by "The Maidens Cried," as I expected to find out that the Mutant Men were the resulting offspring of the beautiful moth women (and I thought they were attempting to warn off our space-faring heroes). Still, quality Wood art goes a long way to make up for any shortcomings in the story. "Transformation Completed" surprised me by being a story ahead of its time. It would seem like the standard path of the story would have the daughter revolted by her lover being gender-swapped against his will. By turning the tables on the doctor, and having his daughter go through a gender swap of her own to be with the one she loves, it falls instead into the category of true love conquers all—not exactly standard EC fare. "The Planetoid!" is disappointing not just because we've read this story umpteen times already, but because they don't even show us the 'insects' attacking them. If doing so would have ruined the surprise, take the hint and don't bother telling that story again.

Should make for an interesting wedding night!
("Transformation Completed")

Frontline Combat #3

"Tin Can!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

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

"Prisoner of War!" 
Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"How They Die!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Bill Elder

A Navy destroyer cruises the sea, its men doing their various duties aboard, when it hits a mine and floods. Though the plot is short and simple, "Tin Can!" is a powerful slice of life aboard a battleship. Kurtzman limits the characters to a handful of sailors, most of them working below deck at menial jobs, and limits the action to reaction. We don't actually see the ship hit the mine; we see only the after-effects. It's a taut, suspenseful eight pages that climaxes with a harrowing event: when the ship begins to sink, hatches are shut against the incoming water to slow the inevitable and a lone sailor is caught on the wrong side of the door. Rather than stay with the drowning man, Kurtzman and Davis show us the reactions of his comrades on the dry side of the hatch. The seaman's frenzied banging grows weaker and weaker until it's The End. This is what makes Harvey Kurtzman such a masterful storyteller; while the competition focused on the battle, Harvey would show us the results, the consequences of war.

"Desert Fox!" is a necessarily truncated look at the career of Erwin Rommel, Hitler's army general who fought and won several key battles but was suspected of involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and forced into suicide (Kurtzman's version omits the fact that Rommel agreed to the suicide if his family would be left unharmed). Harvey interweaves various points in Rommel's WWII career with the atrocities the Nazis were committing at the same time, culminating in Hitler's paranoid delusions and the snake eating its own tail. Though the impact is not muted, the narrative is too disjointed for my tastes. Wally's art is incredible though, with Rommel's suicide a standout.

"Desert Fox"

"Prisoner of War"
American prisoners of the Korean War are marched endlessly, with very little food or water, en route to Manchuria. One of the POWs learns how to lessen his load by turning coat and buddying up with a guard but when American jets allow three POWs to escape, Benedict is shot to death just like the other prisoners. "Prisoner of War!" has a Bridge Over the River Kwai vibe to it but, incredibly, Kwai would not be published until the following year. I love Kurtzman's bare style but here it almost seems a little rushed and incomplete.

"How They Die!"
During World War II, an old Frenchman sits along a roadside and watches American soldiers preparing for battle, remarking on the hundreds of years of war this countryside has seen. Like "Desert Fox!" "How They Die!" is one of Harvey's education lessons; a noble feat in 1951 but a bit commonplace sixty years later. The climax, wherein we discover that one of the wounded soldiers the old man has been describing is himself, comes off as (dare I say it?)  a bit schmaltzy rather than poignant. -Peter

Jack: If this month's Weird Science had metamorphosis as its central theme, Frontline Combat focuses on the brutality and horror of war. Both comics have stunning art, but the war comic outdoes the SF comic in this department, presenting masterworks by Davis, Wood, Kurtzman, and Severin and Elder. I found Harvey's irony a little lighter than usual in "Tin Can!" which is a wonderfully told story about a little man who is sacrificed for the greater good. I liked "Desert Fox!" more than you did, Peter, and I was captivated by Kurtzman's contrast between Rommel's honorable soldiering and the horrors being carried out elsewhere by the Nazis. "Prisoner of War!" is another brutal lesson and "How They Die!" is a bit boring until the subtle revelation in the final panel. Once again, EC war comics outshine their other offerings.

The powerful climax to "Tin Can!"
Jose: It’s amazing to see how one type of story gets a pass over another when both are being judged by the same criterion. To wit, the cumulative body count in EC’s war titles outweighed that of their horror and crime comics by a grueling country mile, and yet it was these latter series that were lambasted for their inherent cruelty and sadism. I guess it’s all a matter of arithmetic. Bomb a village full of families and everyone shakes their head at the tragedy. Sear the skin of a gangster’s moll with a red-hot poker and everyone loses their minds. Is it any accident that you can’t spell “numbers” without “numb”? That’s certainly the way one feels after taking in the barrage of horror on display in the full-page spread of wartime atrocities that’s featured in “Desert Fox.” Though the delivery may be imperfect, the tangential asides that Kurtzman peppers throughout his history of Rommel’s successful campaigns leading up to his enforced suicide come across like sudden, vicious blows to the head, detailing the horrific retribution the Nazi Party would mete out to all who would oppose them. The aforementioned page of slaughtered innocents and rebels is rendered in almost photo-realistic detail by Wally Wood, making the already damning statistics even harder to swallow. Kurtzman makes no attempt to hide his disgust or make subtle his condemnation of the Nazis here as he very literally froths from the captions and shoves the reader’s nose into all the filth of war before asking “Enough? Have you had enough?” It’s one of the most frank and confrontational narratives I’ve ever seen in a comic of this or any other vintage, and I’d be very surprised to discover that Kurtzman had any contemporaries who could match his fervor to depict the war experience in all its truly inglorious light.

Rommel's last minutes.
("Desert Fox")
The other stories in this issue also hit nerves and heart strings alike in a very similar manner. We see Kurtzman reviving the slow, pitiful death from the previous issue’s “Zero Hour” with “Tin Can,” another story whose dénouement finds America’s fighting finest standing helplessly by as one of their comrades gradually—very gradually—breathes their last only a few feet from where they cower in the hopes that they at least might be able to see another day. (Random note: I love the vitality and audaciousness of Kurtzman's prose. Take this beaut from the tale: “And, like an animal dropping waste, hot shell casings tumble from beneath the steel...”) “Prisoner of War” demonstrates that Harvey’s editorship and script drafting for all the other war stories lead his own contributions to look rough around the edges, as they do here, but the tale is a classic example of how death loves a traitor just as much as anyone else. I can understand both Peter’s and Jack’s assessments of “How They Die!” as being schmaltzy and boring at turns, but for me the final reveal more than makes up for the “history lesson” we are given on the various modes of battle and gives the story a whole other layer of complexity that warrants additional readings.

John: What a difference an artist makes. I still can't stomach most of Kurtzman's art, but when paired with someone like Davis for a story like "Tin Can!," even I can be surprised from time to time.

The Haunt of Fear #10

"Grave Business!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Graham Ingels

"The Vamp!" ★ 1/2
Story by Johnny Craig
Art by Johnny Craig and Jack Davis

"My Uncle Ekar!" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"Bum Steer! 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Davis

Detail from Davis's snazzy splash.
("Bum Steer")

Manuel Rodero is the champion Spanish bull-fighter of his time, but on the day we are brought into the ring with him we find him of wobbly knee and resolve. It seems that nerves have finally caught up with Manuel and gotten the best of him, and as the gouged, pain-maddened animal hurtles his way Manuel’s hand betrays him as he drops the sword meant to deal the death-blow and instead he runs hysterically in the opposite direction. The rabid audience and Manuel’s lady-love, Maria Carlo, do not take kindly to this embarrassing showcase, the latter insisting that Manuel return the good-luck handkerchief she proffered him. The only person to gain from the indignity is Arturo Elzar, the strapping young novice who sweeps in at the last minute and makes short work of finishing the beast off. Spain has a new hero, Maria has a new boyfriend, and Manuel now has a bout of seething jealousy to go along with his new unemployed status. Nothing a little REVENGE can’t fix. Purchasing a blind bull, Manuel trains the animal Pavlov-style to attack at the scent of Maria’s perfumed handkerchief. After the mad matador (madador?) wrangles his pet into the competition, the audience can only look on in horror as the bull “ignores” Arturo’s red cape and savagely gores him as the bearer of Maria’s good luck hanky. But Manuel barely has time to nibble the fruits of his labors when Arturo’s rapidly-decaying cadaver makes a house call and takes him back to the ring for a little training session with one revived and severely pissed-off bull.

"Hey, that was fast."
"Just go with it!"
("Bum Steer")

Though its patented copying and pasting of the vengeful corpse shtick into an “exotic” setting offers no great surprises, “Bum Steer” is still a workmanlike and even fun effort that showcases what to my eyes is a marked turning point in Davis’s tenure in the horror comics. There’s a finer level of detail here than in some of his earlier efforts, the realism and ruggedness that he brought to his war stories finally beginning to surface. The shots of the bull-fights are particularly impressive, with attention given to and care taken with the animal’s anatomy and the tension of the moment that makes Manuel’s fear all the more palpable. Though this is another in a line of solid, unique premises ending with a dead guy just dragging his killer somewhere, I can still applaud the effort even if I can’t fully commit to offering it my good luck-hanky. (Anybody else note that bizarre, sudden narrative shift on the last page that brings us to Manuel and Arturo’s confrontation? Seems like we’re missing something there!)

The beautiful dentition we've come to expect from Ghastly.
("Grave Business")
Did you know that funeral directors and undertakers were a bunch of low-life vultures? If you didn’t, then after reading “Grave Business” you most certainly will! Ezra Cooper—all of EC’s undertakers are named Ezra—is the main skinflint under our focus here, and along with his partner Charles Mitchel he cuts, swipes, and manhandles the very last penny from all of his clients under the false pretense of jacked-up funeral costs, even when they’re trembling old widows who have nothing to live on but their dead husband’s insurance policies. Ezra’s EC brand of justice comes down hard and swift: after yucking it up at a funeral directors’ convention with all of his fellow vampires, Ezra gets into an automobile accident that leaves him perfectly paralyzed and horribly aware of everything that’s occurring around him. That’s right; before you can yell “Joseph Cotten!” Ezra’s immobile carcass is frisked by hobos scrounging for cash, pronounced DOA by the coppers, wheeled into the morgue, and identified by his good friend Charles Mitchel who, as it turns out, is an incredibly quick and faithful study who gloats to his old pal’s body that he’ll be buying out Ezra’s share of the company by charging Cooper’s estate with the most exorbitant funeral they’ve had yet! Despite allowing Ingels to roam in his natural graveyard habitat, “Grave Business” hits too close to the much-mimicked mark of Louis Pollock’s “Breakdown” (as had Johnny Craig’s “The Corpse in the Crematorium” [CSS #2] before it) to thrill readers already familiar with that tale. Those flesh-sucking undertakers are a morbid hoot though.

Feigned-Shock SuspenStories.
("The Vamp")
Two decent slices of bread can’t make a great sandwich when there are three-month-old cold cuts stuck between them, though. “The Vamp” and “My Uncle Ekar” arrive on the scene with past-due expiration dates already stamped on their foreheads. The former is an interesting collaboration between Johnny Craig and Jack Davis, two artists whose styles couldn’t be any more different it would seem, but whose combined efforts here blend fairly organically. (Where’s the Jack Kamen and “Ghastly” Graham Ingels team-up though? Now there’s something I’d like to see!) Sadly, Craig’s story shows not one shred of the wit and sophistication of his other work. I’m tempted to say the story “boils down” to a honeymooning couple whose European vaycay is upset when a smoky-eyed, cloaked beauty steps between them, woos the husband amidst a series of “vampire murders,” reveals herself to be the perpetrator only to be jilted by the husband (with a slap to the face!) before coming out the victor after she puts the bite on the wife and has her carry out the bloody payback, but that is really and truly all there is to this one. It puts me in mind of Davis’s similar ultra-vanilla, no-frills early assignment, “The Beast of the Full Moon” (VoH #17). Standard monster with a narrative as linear as a flat-lining pulse, with Craig’s branded, exclamatory final panel exactly like the ones he did for “Vampire!” (HoF #16[2]) and “Werewolf Concerto” (VoH #16) to distinguish it as his.

Also, I'm blind, apparently.
("My Uncle Ekar")
“My Uncle Ekar” admittedly does have a dose of wiseguy humor to perk it up courtesy of native New Yorker Al Feldstein. A street kid gets dragged into a nearby precinct and then goes on to frankly explain that he was watching his Uncle Ekar kill some lady before he was rounded up. Uncle Ekar is a little peculiar; besides the whole “homicidal maniac” thing, he also sports a third eye in the middle of his forehead and a forked tongue. The police think the kid’s too big for his britches (technically they’re right; the tyke claims he’s actually twenty-four years old), but it turns out there just might be something to his claims. As you knew there would be. This is another leisurely stroll through Kamen Land, with most of “the action” confined to the precinct lobby. I can see you getting excited from here. Still, you have to hand it to Feldstein at least for giving the kid a priceless nugget like this: “I said I watch people get murdered! Now can I have my ice-cream pop?”-Jose

Peter: "Grave Business!" is nothing more than a macabre variation of Louis Pollock's short story, "Breakdown," and it may be my imagination but Ghastly's male villains are starting to blend together--chubby with bad teeth. "The Vamp!" and "My Uncle Ekar!" are drivel, with the only point of interest being the weird mating of Craig and Davis in the former. It's the damnedest thing because in certain panels it's clearly Craig and in others you can see nothing but Jack. That leaves the entertaining "Bum Steer!," featuring stellar Jack Davis work (no matter what my lunkheaded colleagues may say); doing what he can with yet another script light on irony and heavy on "Let's just have the dead guy show up!" In this case, the dead guy shows up with the bull as well. Strangely, even though Arturo and his bovine buddy died only hours before, they're as rotten as year-old meat.

Jack: Ghastly's "Grave Business!" is the best of a fairly run of the mill lot. Ingels has really hit his stride now and every story he does shows why he was the king of Gothic horror. The Grand Comics Database helpfully notes that Johnny Craig drew the first four pages of "The Vamp!" and Jack Davis drew the last three--even more strange is that a story written by Craig is such a flop. The Kamen story is awful, especially because we don't ever get to see Uncle Ekar, and the Davis bullfighting story is about as run of the mill as an EC revenge story can get.

John: “Grave Business” once again shows us the dark underbelly of the funeral service industry. This time out, it's paired with the 'I'm conscious but unable to move or speak' routine which leads one of the nasty purveyors to find himself on the receiving end of their standard treatment. "My Uncle Ekar!" reminds me of the recent story from WS/WF where the kid befriends the monster from space. It was much more effective in that setting. “Bum Steer” is interesting, primarily thanks to Davis's art, but ultimately it's a lesser dead guy gets his revenge tale. Last and least, if you're not disappointed by "The Vamp!," you're already dead.

Jose's proposed title for his autobiography.

Two-Fisted Tales #24

"Hill 203!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Jack Davis

"Bug Out!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by Wally Wood

Story and Art by Harvey Kurtzman

"Weak Link!" 
Story by Harvey Kurtzman
Art by John Severin and Will Elder

A dead soldier sits slumped behind a machine gun mounted on "Hill 203!" in Korea. Twelve hours before, a four-man team set up the gun and quickly got to use it on a small band of Chinese soldiers pretending to be South Koreans. Darkness fell and more Chinese came toward them; the machine gun mowed them down. One by one, the four American soldiers are killed until only one remains. The sun rises as U.N. planes mop up the last of the enemy but, for our heroes, it's too late and the last man is dead. Kurtzman and Davis can do no wrong in my book at this point and this is another tense, exciting story of men doing their job in the middle of a horrible situation. No one would head off to war with a positive frame of mind after reading a few EC stories!

"Bug Out!"
After the enemy starts lobbing mortar shells at them, a unit in Korea is ordered to "Bug Out!" and return to safety. A nighttime ambush causes one of the American soldiers to run for his life, and he collapses alone in a bombed-out village. He's starving, so when he sees four enemy soldiers cooking rice in a G.I. helmet, he murders them with one of their own guns and gulps down the food. Just then, American planes bomb the village, leaving him crawling amidst the rubble. Or was he? He wakes up in a hospital, where he sits in a wheelchair in a catatonic state. The nurses remark that he looks sensitive and gentle but he knows the truth about his own animal nature. Up until we see the soldier in the psych ward, there is no dialogue in "Bug Out!"--only captions, which represent the main character's thoughts. By the end, we're back to captions, as it looks like he'll go on reliving the horrors that brought him there.

Somewhere in Korea, a big gun blasts amid a pile of "Rubble!" that used to be a house, built lovingly by hand by Chun for his family and destroyed in the war. Harvey Kurtzman's heart was in the right place, but this story is obvious and boring. Pile of rubble used to be a house and isn't any more. War is Hell. We get it.


"Weak Link!"
Toward the end of WWII, U.S. soldiers trek through a German forest, trying to get to a river before the German tanks reach it. Men are spread out in strategic positions, but the "Weak Link!" appears when a coward named Pringle refuses to stay on top of a bluff and use his bazooka to fend off the oncoming tanks. As a result, everyone is killed. Take a look at the lineup of writer/artist combinations in this month's Frontline Combat and then compare that to this month's Two-Fisted Tales. Notice anything? --Jack

Peter: The Korean War provides the backdrop for three-quarters of this issue's stories but the stand-out, for me, is the WWII drama, "Weak Link!" Harvey shows us the chain of events that lead to a disaster but makes no judgments; hard to know if one would stand and fight or turn tail and run in the same situation. High marks also go to "Bug Out!," especially its haunting climax with the shell-shocked GI reduced to staring out a window, literally "bugged out." On the letters page, future author and mega-fan Richard Lupoff corrects Harvey on a misidentified fire-arm.

Oh, snap!

"Hill 203!"
Jose: For high-octane thrills, the award probably has to go to Kurtzman and Davis this time around for the white-hot moments in “Hill 203” where the American G.I.s strap themselves to the machine gun and let loose with unholy fury on the incoming waves of Chinese troops. Davis’s art makes the intensity of the scenario palpable; that shot of the GI screaming “POUR IT ON!” is equal parts terrifying and inspiring. “Bug Out” and “Weak Link” provide strong support, with the team of Severin and Elder providing the more attractive artwork here. The true “weak link” in this bunch is, once again, Kurtzman’s own illustrative submission, “Rubble.” The details of Chun’s slow, arduous construction of his house are wonderful and really give you an appreciation for just how challenging and rewarding a task it is, but Kurtzman fails by “giving away” the ending at the start of the story. It takes the wind right out of his sails, like starting off a rendition of “The Three Little Pigs” by saying that it’s a story about a wolf who ate two out of three pigs.

Weird Fantasy #10

"The Secret of Saturn's Ring!" 
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"A Timely Shock!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Jack Kamen

"The Mutants!" ★ 1/2
Story by Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines
Art by Wally Wood

"Not on the Menu" 
Story by Al Feldstein
Art by Joe Orlando

"The Secret of Saturn's Ring!"
One of the crew on a mission to Saturn complains about how long the trip takes but another crew member reminds him that the much quicker mission to the moon was marred by the disappearance of ten astronauts. Getting close to Saturn, the men discover that its rings are made up of many small "moonlets," which they decide to explore for mineral samples. The first two men on a moonlet dig and disappear. The others decide to tow the moonlet back to Earth for more study. On Earth, scientists discover that the moonlet is really a spore that contains a horrible, oozing bacteria. Their attempts to destroy it backfire. We're off to a bad start with "The Secret of Saturn's Ring!" which is one of those stories where there's so much dialogue that it's hard for the artist to fit in his drawings. The story just ends without any surprise or excitement.

"A Timely Shock!"
Mineralogist Steven Chadwick is out fly fishing in a stream when he comes across a strange crystal rock. After a sudden bolt of lightning melts the crystal, Steven wanders upstream and finds a beautiful girl wading. Leeta leads him to her futuristic cabin in the woods and comes on strong, proposing marriage to Steven. They visit the Justice of the Peace and Steven receives "A Timely Shock!" when he learns that he has somehow traveled to the year 2051. Leeta explains that the crystal was part of an experiment in time travel. They are wed and Steven is surprised to learn that they will be joined on their honeymoon by Leeta's five other husbands. The Grand Comics Database says that this is based on a Fritz Leiber story called "Nice Girl With Five Husbands." Hopefully, the original was a tad more interesting.

The babies born to those who witnessed an atomic bomb test are all unusual. "The Mutants!" display unusual intelligence as they grow up. Their brilliance is seen as a threat so they are herded onto a rocket ship and launched into space. The mutants witness a large meteor speeding toward Earth and deflect it from its path by sacrificing one of their ships. Grateful Earthlings welcome them back, but soon the old hatreds begin to emerge. Thank goodness Wally Wood got the chance to draw some crazy mutants, because this would otherwise have been another heavy-handed message story from Feldstein and Gaines.

The gang at bare*bones makes a cameo appearance.
("The Mutants")

Not Joe's best work.
("Not On the Menu")
The spaceship is losing its fuel! An emergency landing on Planet 590-C is a must, but it will take months to fix the fuel source and there's not enough food. The plants and animals on the planet are all laced with cyanide, so rationing is instituted, but eventually the food is running out and the crew starts to consider cannibalism, but it's "Not on the Menu." The captain announces that he's found a way to remove the cyanide from the food, so the crew chows down and drops dead; the captain tricked them in order to prevent them from eating each other. He eats his own dose of poisoned food but is chagrined when he sees that the fuel source is now ready to go. Joe Orlando's art is surprisingly poor this time around, but at least there's a legitimate plot in this story. Oh, and by the way, notice anything about the lineup of writers and artists, as well as the story order, in this month's two sci-fi titles? -Jack

Peter:  Yes, there are the obvious McCarthy-esque trappings in "The Mutants," but this is just terrific storytelling with plenty of pathos. Wally Wood once again demonstrates why he was the best science fiction artist who ever graced the EC titles. Strange that the mutants are held “off-camera” for three pages and when they’re finally revealed, it’s very matter-of-fact. Wally's second blast this issue, "Saturn's Rings," has a very abrupt climax but the plot device is imaginative and effective. "Not on the Menu" proves, once again, that if you can't get Wally to draw all your sci-fi for you, there's always Joe Orlando to fall back on. Nice double twist there. The only dud here is the Kamen-illustrated "A Timely Shock!," which features more of Jack's stencil faces and a dreary plot.

Jose: I’m getting tired of these space captains ordering their crews to bring stuff back to Earth. Haven’t they read the heavenly Word as dictated in previous issues of Weird Fantasy? That’s a quick path to alien infiltration, as our flesh-shucking bacterium so aptly demonstrates in “The Secret of Saturn’s Ring.” Alien infiltration of a different and all-too-topical nature is the focus of “The Mutants.” Like Rod Serling’s plays for The Twilight Zone, one need only turn on the television to see that the social themes discussed in these science-fictional parables are thriving more than ever. Feldstein’s story is a bit too meandering though to really work emotionally. Emotions flatline in Feldstein’s insipid script for Kamen this month. There’s more than enough mumbo-jumbo science and leaps in logical action—“Mystery woman of the future I just met proposed marriage to me? Sure, I’m in love with her!”—to ensure the induction of “A Timely Shock” into the “Best of the Worst” category. “Not On the Menu” is an odd little bird, not-bad-but-not-great in both the story and art departments. As we say in my family about recipes that we don’t particularly care for, “You don’t have to make this for me again.”

John: "A Timely Shock!" asks us to believe that someone might be transported 50 years in the future and NOT notice the changes to the world around them. "The Secret of Saturn's Ring!" is saved by Wood's art, but is otherwise uninspired. “The Mutants" choose to sacrifice themselves to save the people who basically sent them away, only to buy them a little more time before history repeats itself. Maybe next time they'll let the 'normal' folks get the future they deserve...


  1. Faced With Horror (Crime SuspenStories 3)
  2. Massacred (Two-Fisted Tales 20)
  3. Heads-Up (Crime SuspenStories 4)
  4. Sink-Hole (Vault of Horror 18)
  5. The Sewer (Crime SuspenStories 5)
  6. Enemy Assault (Frontline Combat 1)
  7. Zero Hour (Frontline Combat 2)
  8. The Gray Cloud of Death (Weird Science 9)
  9. Death Stand (Two-Fisted Tales 23)
  10. Hatchet-Killer (Crime SuspenStories 7)


  1. The Gray Cloud Of Death!  (Weird Science 9)
  2. Reflection of Death!  (Tales From the Crypt 23)
  3. Seeds of Jupiter!  (Weird Science 8)
  4. Reunion  (Vault of Horror 19)
  5. Rescued  (Weird Fantasy 6)
  6. Sink-Hole! (Vault of Horror 18)
  7. Scared to Death! (Tales From the Crypt 24)
  8. Forbidden Fruit (Haunt of Fear 9)
  9. Deadlock!  (Weird Fantasy 17)
  10. The Dead Will Return! (Vault of Horror 13)

  1. Old Soldiers Never Die (Two-Fisted Tales 23)
  2. Enemy Assault (Frontline Combat 1)
  3. The Sewer (Crime SuspenStories 5)
  4. Sink-Hole (Vault of Horror 18)
  5. High Tide (Crime SuspenStories 1)
  6. Jivaro Death (Two-Fisted Tales 19)
  7. Gorilla's Paw (Haunt of Fear 9)
  8. Escape (Vault of Horror 16)
  9. Atom Bomb Thief (Weird Fantasy 14)
  10. The Dead Will Return (Vault of Horror 13)

  1. The Radioactive Child (Weird Science 15)
  2. Jivaro Death (Two-Fisted Tales 19)
  3. Zero Hour (Frontline Combat 2)
  4. The Last City (Weird Fantasy 16)
  5. Ambush (Two-Fisted Tales 21)
  6. Television Terror (Haunt of Fear 17)
  7. Bouncing Bertha (Frontline Combat 2)
  8. Revolution (Two-Fisted Tales 18)
  9. Room for One More (Haunt of Fear 7)
  10. Tin Can (Frontline Combat 3)

You'll never believe us if we tell you
what happens in this space next Monday!